Wednesday, January 30, 2008

30 January: Greens

Yesterday's occupation was dyeing some fibre and sock yarn, trying to get a good green colour.

Green is always a rather awkward colour to get right; you know, of course, that blue and yellow mixed make green, but yellows vary and so do blues. And then there's the added problem that the colour of the dye liquid isn't always quite the same as the colour the wool takes, and then again it's wet when you're doing it, and it changes a bit when it dries.

All this is waffle to explain why none of these is quite what I was after!

The best one turns out to be the bright one on the right of the picture, which horrified me when I first saw it. It's got some jade dye in it, which is very strong - only needs a small dab (that's the technical term).

The fibre was done in the microwave, but the sock yarn went in a pan on the stove. The skein seemed to be tied properly in two places, but when it was being rinsed, I realised that the ties had come loose, and the whole skein was falling apart. What fun, trying to get that tangle sorted out. I'm going to try and wind it into a ball now, so excuse any cursing you may hear.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

27 January: While the gales rage

This week I have been knitting mostly neckwarmers.

(And listening to audio books. Alan Bennett and Wilkie Collins.)

The last scarf I finished was quite a nice article, but totally boring to knit. So I have been experimenting with different ways of using knitting to keep necks warm. Here's one version, in undyed handspun merino, incredibly soft and warm -

And this version uses up some oddments of BFL with some undyed white Shetland in a rather attractive mixture -

Both items were very quick to make, used far less yarn than a long scarf, and will both be excellent at keeping the draughts out.

Which will be good if the gales we've had this week continue. On the top of a hill, we catch most of the wind coming over the Pennines, and for several days now it's been howling round the houses, with trees and bushes bending at 45 degree angles, and something up in the roof has been rattling. Nothing seems to have fallen off, though, and the most violent gusts have abated now. The borders look a bit tidier - some of the leaves have been blown away. I wonder where they have ended up.

Our 3 snowdrops are out, as is a primula and an auricula, there are big buds on the hellebores, new leaves on the clematis and lots of shoots from various bulbs. Any day now I'll be able to bore you with more snaps of the plants in the garden.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

23 January: Not quite an SBB*

Through the murk that has recently passed as daylight, I have seen a new visitor to the hanging peanut feeder (it's the feeder that hangs, not each individual peanut).

Peanuts have never been a real hit with our local birds, largely being ignored in favour of the pet shop's special mix containing some sort of dried up dead caterpillar or worm thing. (You may be able to tell that insects are not my specialist field of knowledge.) One summer a peanut feeder hanging from a pole on the lawn was popular with fledgling starlings, who were most entertaining, and even with a pair of magpies and one of their youngsters.

So it was with some surprise that I saw a few times this small unfamiliar bird clinging to the mesh and pecking away. But what was it? Not a blue or coal tit, not a finch, wren, robin, or dunnock, and definitely not a blackbird. The robin darts to a hanging seed feeder, snatches a morsel, and dashes for cover. The dunnocks, supposedly ground-feeders, have seen this, and have eventually copied, though they are not at ease with the procedure, and generally knock some bits to the ground and eat them there. This creature hangs there for perhaps as much as five minutes, alternately pecking then checking all round, pecking and checking.

Smaller than a dunnock, with a beak finer than a finch, paleish in colour, with some streaks on the sides and underneath, it had a definite greeny-yellow cast to its feathers, and a suggestion of a yellowish eye-stripe. Who lives in a plumage like this?

Might it be a chiff-chaff - only they aren't streaky, and shouldn't be here in winter. Perhaps a siskin? But the picture in the bird ID book in the kitchen shows a boldly marked bird with strong black and yellow, and goes on about black legs. Well you can't see the legs when it's on the far side of the feeder, nor its back and wings. And this body isn't splashy, it's subtle, and more hinting.

Oh, hang on, that picture is, of course, of the male bird in his breeding plumage - half the birds of any variety are not going to be male, are they? In the summer, there's juveniles as well - they can be really difficult to identify too. But the illustrations are always the male, in breeding plumage. The background may show a small female and/or juveniles, or they get a mention in the caption - "female duller" or "juveniles without..". But if you go to a large and expensive reference book (in the room we like to call the study), on page 1565 of Volume 2 you find a decent picture of a female siskin. And the text confirms that, though mainly birds of conifer woods, they also like birch and alder (plenty of them around here), and may visit gardens to eat peanuts.


*small brown bird

Monday, January 21, 2008

21 January: L-Urchin-g

Over the weekend, I ran out of knitting projects!!!

The fancy socks were finished last week, and the other 2 projects on the needles, a scarf that seemed endless, and an experimental hat, were both cast off on Saturday, and will be photographed soon.

So I picked up a pattern found through Ravelry - one of the many - and assembled needles and balls of wool. I swatched to get the right gauge, then cast on. On Sunday I picked it up again, looked at the pattern, and discovered that I couldn't make head or tail of the instructions. Clearly it involved short rows, with stitches left at each end of the piece of work to make the shaping, but the instructions as written didn't make sense to me.

So I worked out on a sheet of squared paper how it must be shaped, then I altered the shaping slightly, and made it. The original is called Urchin hat, so I reckon my version is L-Urchin-g.

Excuse the self-portrait style of photo, but the only way to get enough light in the right place this morning (it's snowing) was to use the bathroom mirror.

Even though it doesn't suit me, I was inordinately delighted with this hat, until DH remarked that it reminded him of someone out of Last of the Summer Wine.....

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

15 January: Fancy that!

The rest of the knitting world makes socks with fancy patterns on them, so I thought I'd better try it and see if I like it. (You may remember there was a previous abortive attempt when we were in Suffolk in September.)

So, after much cursing and unpicking over dropped stitches - and there's still one error on the foot of one sock - here they are:

As the yarn (Fyberspates superwash merino) knits up in stripes, I didn't want a pattern that would fight too much with that, and experimented with simple lace patterns. This one, Horseshoe Lace, looked fairly OK, and was easy to fit into the number of stitches needed.

I'm not sure if it's the stitch pattern or the yarn, but using the usual needles for socks in my size, they have worked up a little smaller than expected. So they are a snug fit rather than a generous fit, but they may relax with wear. I might even get to like them quite a lot.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

9 January: In the olden days

A couple of things have made me cast my mind back 50 years.

Doing some family history research, in the form of asking a very old relative about various people, brought to mind that 50 years ago you wouldn't speak openly about people who'd been born out of wedlock (even the phrase is out of date now), nor about your German relatives, or anyone who'd committed suicide.

In 1958, few people had cars, and they weren't used in the way they are today, to take children to school and to pop down to the paper shop.

There were some TVs about, thanks to the Coronation in 1953, but programmes were very limited - children's hour, then later on some informative and educational stuff like What's My Line? and The Brains Trust. I'm not sure when ITV started, as my Mum never let us see it because it was common. Or was it because it was commercial?

Central heating was a rarity, for the affluent only. We had a coal fire in the front room, and a small electric fire in the kitchen. The bathroom (our house was modern - a proper bathroom and an indoor toilet) was heated by a paraffin stove for a while before bedtime washes. In the winter ice formed on the inside of the bedroom windows, and most of the kids had chilblains.

Most telephones in our area were party lines (that is, a shared line between 2 households), and take-away food was strictly fish and chips only.

The cinema in the local town provided fleas along with the film, but the last bus to our village left before the end of the film, so it was a good move to arrive before the end of the previous showing, so that you got the whole story.

Nobody suffered from stress or road rage, though, and food allergies were still in the future, as was any sort of foreign food (croissants, sushi, curry, pizza).

Scarlet fever was still a killer, but there was no MRSA.

Were things better then? Are things better now? Will things be better in another 50 years?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

6 January: A walk in East Durham

East Durham - land of pit villages and closed pits, poverty and poor health. The place for our country walk on this bright sunny January Sunday.

We set off along an old wagon way, and then turned into fields with the remains of ancient hawthorn hedges -

One of the fields sloped down to this limestone outcrop covered with beech trees -

The sheep have prevented any natural regeneration of the trees, so there are only old ones to be seen. The path wound between trees above a sunken trackway -

Further on we got confused, as the leaflet describing the walk had clearly been written several years ago, as gates, fences, and stiles had changed or disappeared, and we had just walked off the edge of the Ordnance Survey sheet we took with us.

Eventually we found the right path, with only a small trouser tear and several hands covered in muck from clambering over fences, and in an overgrown tussocky area we sat on mossy logs in the sunshine and ate our lunch.

More fields, lots of clarts, and as the boots grew heavier with the accumulating mud, we reached a lane, where we turned towards the main road; we crossed this, then took a bridleway through another wood, past a small lake where members of the local angling club were enjoying gazing at a bit of dark water; onto a tarmac path (EU investment in economically depressed areas), and up another bit of wagon way, back to the car.

I used to drive through here on my way to work for several years, but had never explored it on foot. From the road there is no hint of how pleasant the landscape is. We plan to return and explore further another time.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

3 January: Rhubarb and custard

That's what the colour of my new socks reminds me of.

No fancy stuff, just plain knitting for these, as they are not expected to stand up to washing and wearing. They are also a bit baggy, but then they are also expected to shrink. In fact, such a disaster is anticipated that they will probably be the best socks ever knitted.

The other, larger, project completed this week is this shawl -

For the non-knitter reader, there is a currently popular pattern for an entrelac (technical term for the sort of basket-weave effect) wrap called Lady Eleanor Entrelac Stole, which is rectangular and therefore involves lots of fiddly little triangles to make the edges straight. It seemed to me to be easier to utilise the natural shape of the work and make something triangular, hence this Not Lady Eleanor shawl. It's good and thick, nearly 6 feet across the wide end, and has used up loads of thickish yarn from my early adventures with spinning. (Hence the different colours.)

There's another pair of socks under way (can't have too many pairs of wool socks in this weather), and another scarf -

It was rather dark when this was photographed, and it's really a warm tawny mix. Unfortunately, the lace pattern is not terribly easy to remember, and I have to keep checking that I'm doing the knits, purls, and holes in the right places. So not so good for TV knitting.

This morning I had to venture out in the sprinkle of snow to get some groceries, so I decided to do the weekend shopping early. Just as well, because when I got back there was another 2 or 3 inches more snow on the ground at home; now I can stay in and admire the pretty snow from a nice warm room.