Saturday, April 28, 2007

28 April: And the felt slippers -

Just in case you thought the felt slippers were a figment of my imagination, here's the story so far.

The 2 pieces of felt were made, with much exertion and sweating - sorry, glowing. The sole pattern was made by the simple method of putting my foot on a sheet of paper and drawing round it; the uppers were drawn by the *place paper over foot, hold down, draw round* method.

It took a while to summon the nerve to cut into the felt. After all, it's quite thick and solid enough to make a yurt out of, and it took me 2 days to make and another day to dye.

Then the only thing left to do was stitch it together. They are just a little bit gently lop-sided, but then probably my feet are too.

And here are said feet in their new slippers. They are warm and soft, but need something on the soles to prevent Orville and Bean impressions on the tiled floors. And they need some sort of decoration. I had planned to do that before sewing them together, but I didn't want to waste effort if they didn't work out OK. I think they are working out OK.

While I was pausing in mid-slipper production, I spun up some yarn from a mixture of Blue Faced Leicester and soy fibre.

The soy is very silk-like, and the yarn is soft. The dyeing process has very slightly felted the BFL, but that will perhaps forestall any felting when it is worn and washed. Dyed in yellow, mustard and brown, it will make an interesting pair of socks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

25 April: Felt, hat, and a star

I made the second piece of felt. Then I couldn't decide what colour to dye it. A couple of things I've made recently have had dye problems - aaargh! The orange and purple socks lost dye when they were washed, and the red/pink dye ran on a hat in white and raspberry Shetland wool, to the same pattern as this one, also in Shetland wool -

It's slightly adapted from the one in Elaine Eskesen's book Dyeing to Knit. Not quite a tam, and very easy to knit.

I cast on a scarf and knitted nearly a foot before I frogged it; decided it wasn't drapey enough.

Then today I decided that I would dye the felt green, and got the dye stuff out. There was a lovely sage green in the box, but I thought it should be a bit darker, so in went a bit of charcoal. (You'll notice the accuracy with which these chemicals are measured - in "bits") That was a little too dark, but there was no more sage left. Try a touch of jade, which is a ferociously strong and lurid shade. That looked good in the pan on the stove, so in went the felt and on went the gas.

Then I settled down to read my current book - The Ode Less Travelled, by Stephen Fry (I just couldn't pass by a book with a title like that, now could I?). Meanwhile the felt simmered away, and when I looked at it after half an hour or so, most of the dye had been absorbed, so in went a bit of vinegar to encourage it to soak up the rest, and a few minutes later it was Done. A quick spin in the washing machine, and now it's drying. Next the process of cutting and sewing - and perhaps a bit of embroidery.


I have always known that DH is a Top Class, All Round Good Egg, excellent at his job; now it seems that his line manager has discovered this, and deemed him to be Outstanding.

Am I too cynical, or do I suspect that this is a pre-cursor to his being expected to do even more of the difficult work, with more responsibility and stress but without any extra recognition?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

22 April: Overdoing it

I've been trying to find a new pair of slippers for a while. The current substitute, some canvas beach shoes, are falling to bits.

It's not Christmas, but a few shops do have slippers. Only not in my size. Unless they are men's leather ones, or sheepskin ones (no thanks), or those check woollen ones with a zip up the front.

So I decided that I would make some, out of felt. Some Internet research gave me some ideas, and when I was in town I found a pair of shoe insoles which will make good non-slip soles. (Don't want to go and slip in your slippers, do you?)

Yesterday I wasted several sheets of paper drawing up a satisfactory pattern. And I planned to make the felt this morning.

So as I was getting dressed, DH suggested we go for a bike ride. It was overcast, with rain forecast for later, so it seemed sensible to go out during the better part of the day.

We ended up cycling about twice as far as any ride we have done recently. And this poor OAP had 2 asthma episodes on the hills. My knees were very wobbly when we got home.

A shower and some lunch, then I got out the felt-making stuff. It needed to be good and thick for slippers, so I made as large a piece as I could lay out, and used plenty of wool.

Hard work, making felt, all that rubbing and rolling and kneading. But the final felt looks good, nice and thick, fairly even and flat. I can dye it any colour I choose.

The only snag is that it's not quite big enough to cut out all the pieces for both slippers - I'll have to make another piece tomorrow!

Think I'll go and have a lie down.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

19 April: Bluebells! - oh, and socks.

Yesterday I went to the bluebell woods.

No stitchwort or red campion to be seen yet, though there were carpets of celandines and wood anemones as well as the bluebells. And further on -

There is a "Discovery Trail" through here. A large notice tells the visitor that only a small part of the wood, which was given to the University in 1836 by the Bishop, has ever been in private ownership since the 12th century; and goes on to say how remarkable it is to have such an asset within a mile of the City centre.

It was a glorious morning. It was good to be alive and among these friends.

I even found some wool-bearing friends, Jacob sheep that belong to a Guild member. This ewe has twins.

And let's not forget the socks. Terribly un-subversive ones, these, but just the ticket for the nippy wind today. And yes, although knitted from the same ball of wool, they seem to be slightly different colours, but not quite as markedly as in the picture.

(Fancied a bit of a change in the Bag's appearance. Everything changes, remember.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

17 April: Swallows and a Bishop

As I walked past the farm, something swooped past the barn and low over the field. Familiar flight. Another one, perched on the wire overhead. The swallows have arrived! Just two of them so far, sitting and sorting out the feathers from the long journey. It won't be long before the house martins will be zooming about outside our windows.

It was a beautiful morning for a walk, so I went all the way into Bishop Auckland. Along the path which used to be the railway line there are several bridges, taking lanes and farm tracks across the cuttings.

One bridge is quite peculiar; it has trees growing on it. It is also more than twice as wide as the other bridges.

Here are views from both sides.

This is what it looks like on the bridge; trees growing close to the stonework of the parapet -

And what used to be the roadway, now part of a field - this morning full of sheep and small lambs shouting for their 10 o'clock -

I've been told that the reason for this strange bridge is that this used to be a main approach to the Bishop of Durham's Palace at Bishop Auckland. When the railway was going to be constructed, cutting through the Bishop's land, the then Bishop didn't want to see the railway or the trains from his driveway, and so trees were planted on the bridge to hide the railway from his view. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but it explains the curious bridge quite nicely.

Nowadays Auckland Castle, the Bishop's Palace, is approached from the end of the Market Place, past raised flower beds not yet planted up, under the arch with the clock -

Along a wide tree-lined gravel driveway, and round through the gate in the wall -

I think he must be having some friends round, as there was a gigantic marquee on the lawn over to the right through the gates.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

15 April: Stitchwort

The stitchwort surprised me yesterday as we walked along the old railway line.

Last year I posted a picture of it on 5 May, when the bluebells were out. No sign of bluebells here yet.

Perhaps stitchwort flowers according to the temperature, and bluebells according to the light levels.

Anyone know?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

11 April: The aforementioned socks

The Toast socks are finished -

And here they are, modelled by my feet, although they are for DH and rather big for me -

You will note that they are Subversive Socks, in that when worn with ordinary shoes and trousers, they will appear to be dull old charcoal socks, whereas Really they are Toast and Marmalade Socks!

(DH doesn't wear open-toad sandals with socks, so we don't need to even think about that.)

And here is the first of the 'new design' socks in progress; just past the heel shaping and now galloping up the leg -

This yarn was dyed with purple and orange, and where the two dyes have merged, there are some wonderful intermediate colours, lilac-chocolate, pink-tan, steel-mauve. I love those subtle and unexpected colours that come when you're not trying for them.

I like the way hand-dyed yarn is not the same colour all over - the marmalade goes from yellow through several shades to strong orange, and the charcoal varies too. It makes the colour much more alive, in the same way that flowers are not the same colour all over.

Happiness is a ball of hand-dyed wool. Definitely.

Monday, April 09, 2007

9 April: Socks

The charcoal and marmalade socks are finished and are drying in the bathroom. Even though the skein of wool was rinsing clear when I dyed it, some dye came off on my fingers while I was knitting, so I've given the finished socks a couple of good hot washes to get rid of any remaining loose dye. Photo to follow.

So pleased with those socks that I have started another pair. The pattern I usually use for socks is designed for a thinner yarn than my handspun, so I have dug out a different pattern and swatched to get a gauge. And as I've never made socks starting at the toe, I've turned the pattern upside down and cast on at the toe - having changed the pattern already before I started as I didn't like the slope of the toe shaping. Oh, and I'm trying out knitting them on 2 circular needles too, as I've never done socks on circs before.

Do I know what I'm doing? Well, sort of. It's fun using the *what if* approach, and so far it looks good. The cast on came from the latest issue of Spin Off magazine, and worked very well. The wool is purple and orange, with some interesting shades where the dyes merge. And if it goes wrong, or I don't like it, I can always frog it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

7 April: Easter holiday

DH has had a week off work, so I haven't had time to sit and compose my usual literary gems - well, postings. But I'll make up for it this morning.

We've been going out on day trips and local outings. One morning we went over to Gibside for a walk; the house is ruined, the stables have been restored and the orangery is in the process of restoration, and the chapel is very tiny. When we go there, it is for a walk along the river and up through the woods, and then a coffee and cake in the tea-room.

The woods were particularly lovely in the sunshine, but sadly Blogger will only upload the beautiful photo sideways, so we shall move on.


Washington Old Hall is another NT property quite near, and somehow we have never got round to visiting it until this week. It is a small house, furnished in a 17th century style, and has been extensively restored after being divide into tenements in the 20th century, It trades on the George Washington connection, which is in fact extremely tenuous - the family originated in Washington, from which they took their name, but George's branch of the family had moved to Lancashire centuries before his ancestor went to America, and he was the second or third generation born in America.

The main hall of the house is large, and the kitchen is reached through two pointed stone archways from one end of the hall - looks as if it was an early version of open-plan living. At the other end of the hall is a wonderful oak-panelled parlour, with some very handsome furniture. And there's another storey, with another large and well-windowed room, given over to the American connection. There are also bedrooms, one converted into a display of photos of the house before restoration, and the stories of the people who used to live in it; another bedroom is now a small tea-room.

The gardens are not extensive, but I found a view of an interesting knot garden -

And there were stone eagles (Sam, the American Eagle, probably) at the top of a flight of steps -

Then one day we spent walking in the Yorkshire Dales. The weather was perfect for walking, the lambs were gambolling in the fields (even though the spell checker thinks they should gamble), and there were primroses and violets on the extremely steep banks as we climbed down into Arncliffe.

Here's one of DH's photos, showing the rest of us after climbing out of Kettlewell and pausing to remove jerseys, catch our breath, and admire the view.

I discovered that I am still frightened of falling on rocky bits. Still, better to be slow than having to wait for the Mountain Rescue team.


And yesterday we planted 2 apple trees in our new border in the back garden (photo in earlier posting); one is Fiesta and the other is Ashmead's Kernel. Then in the empty bit in the middle we planted the potatoes that have been chitting in the conservatory (also earlier photo). I was particularly pleased to be able to plant them on Good Friday, the traditional day for planting potatoes, though that was probably because it was the only holiday people used to have in the days when traditions were made.

4.15 p.m. Spent the afternoon in the garden, spinning some black Shetland; lovely and peaceful. Lots of bees in the borders. But where are all the neighbours? The MetroCentre or Disneyland, probably.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

3 April: Congratulations and comments

Congratulations to the British team, particularly Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, on their wonderful performances at the World Track Cycling Championships! Heroes, every one.
(Google for full information, if you don't know.)


Blog-visitors and their comments seem to have been a recent theme on several blogs. Naturally this leads to musings on one's own blog, its visitors, and what everyone wants from a blog.

My StatCounter tells me how many people have come to The String Bag, and what their search (if any) has been for. It tells me where they are, more or less, and also purports to show how long they spend here.

So I know there are a number of visitors from the UK and the US, and one regular from New Zealand, and one I think of as my Spanish stalker*. And the last few days have brought another flurry of visitors, this time from Denmark, looking for information on Fred Knit*le - they must have had the Young@H*art film screened on their TV.

Most of these people don't leave any comment, though there seems no way of connecting the StatCounter information to a specific commenter. There may be nothing in particular they want to say, of course. They may be copying my knitted hats, or avidly following the progress of my garden. They may enjoy the photos of places I've been to, or agree with my occasional rants. Imagining is usually more fun than knowing (think of Christmas presents).

What sort of comment to leave on someone's blog? There's the "me, too", which doesn't take anything further on, though it can be reassuring to have sympathy or whatever. There's the "aren't you wonderful", which gives a short glow, followed by embarrassment. There's a sensible question, or an answer to a question - practical and helpful. And there's the amusing comment, the sideways look at a topic, the pun, the joke between friends.

And that's really how I see the blog, as a sort of conversation in the cyber-pub. You drop in, listen to a few people, have a brief chat with one or two, find out how they are and what's happening with them, you amuse each other, and enjoy the different characters. Sometimes you pop into the cyber-pub down the super-highway, and enjoy a different crowd; you may join in the conversation or not. You may even become a regular.

So, let's go and see who's in the bar today.

*No, I know you aren't really stalking, it's the alliteration....