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Knit Nordic Wristwarmers

My knitting habit certainly did well out of Christmas.  I received 9, yes 9 knitting books, 6 balls of yarn and a huge set of 20 wooden knitting needles!  One of the books I got was Knit Nordic by Eline Oftedal.  In it was a pattern for wrist warmers that I simply loved and had to start right away, on Boxing Day no less.  I knitted a practise one first because I’ve not done any colour knitting before and really needed to get used to holding two yarns at once.

Anyway, I finished them today and here they are, although I haven’t pressed them yet:

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There are a couple of mistakes I’m sure, probably around the thumb which I found quite tricky.

The book has lots of lovely patterns which I will try, although I might give the knitted hot pants a miss!

Next on the needles is a Fair Isle cushion by MillaMia which was another Christmas present.  It’s 3 balls of yarn along with the pattern presented in a lovely gift box.  Really looking forward to getting to grips with colour knitting, especially as my new year’s resolution was to really improve my knitting this year.  I hope to have knitted my own jumper by the end of the year.

A Change of Scenery to say the least!

Well it’s been nearly 3 months since my last post, but I have a good reason, honest!  In the past 3 months my other half graduated from his PhD and got a job which meant we had to move house and move fast.  In 6 weeks we put our own house up for sale, sold it within 30 hours of it going on the market, pack up and find a new place to move to.  So we’ve gone from living just outside of a city in Norfolk to fairly rural Oxfordshire, more specifically the Cotswolds.  No buses on a Sunday, that’s how rural it is!  We didn’t have time to find a place to buy, so we’re renting at the moment, which is quite a strange feeling.  Still it’s not exactly a bad place to be renting.  It’s one of those quite picturesque, typical Cotswold honey coloured stone cottages.  Apparently it used to be an off license which might explain al the broken glass in the soil in the garden.  We’ve got a fireplace with a real fire, not gas or electric, which is a marvellous novelty for myself as I’ve never had such a thing.  Less so for my other half who grew up with a coal fire.  And the new garden is 4 times the size of our last one!

Because of the speed at which we had to move I had to resign from my job in Norwich but within a couple of days of our being here, I did manage to pick up a job in the local café here.  It’s only two afternoons a week but it helps pay my bills.  We’ve been here about 6 weeks now and things are beginning to settle.  The cats didn’t run away, most of the boxes are unpacked, my other half is getting on well in his new job and my hair seems to have stopped falling out from the stress, although apparently I have been left with a few grey ones!  I’m still looking for work, which should be easier as unemployment is very low in this region of the country and London is also within reasonable commuting distance.

The best thing about living out in the country for me isn’t the fresh air or the country walks, but the night skies!   I’d never seen the Milky Way before, but on clear, moonless nights here it is impossible to miss so our amateur astronomy is even more enjoyable and rewarding.  I wish I could photograph it to share.

As you may be able to imagine, I haven’t had much time for crafting, cooking or learning Swedish, but I have managed to make a couple of things, including a knitted pair of socks!  As soon as I can track down my camera I shall update properly, but until then, it’s good to be back.

Scandinavian Inspired Cross Stitch Birds

Apologies for there not being an update in a while, but this is down mostly to pressure here at home and because I hadn’t completed any projects.  Not any more though!  Yesterday I finally finished my set of three ‘Folksy Fowls’ from the March 2013 issue of Cross Stitcher.  I did start these back in February but lack of linen to stitch on put it on hold.  These are stitched on 28 count cream linen for those interested.

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I should add that they’re not completely finished yet as I need to mount and frame them.  I’m going to get some plain square frames and paint them.  I really can’t wait to hang them on the chimney breast in my living room which has always been bare because I’ve never found anything that I felt would look good on the large empty space.  I’m hoping that these will fit the bill.  Anyway, some close-ups!

Large bird

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Medium bird with a penny to show the size of the stitches they really are quite tiny, measuring about 2mmx2mm I think.

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And finally, the little bird.

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These Scandinavian inspired birds are completed at an interesting time here as my partner and I have decided to try to move to somewhere in Scandinavia ourselves.  It’s for a number of reasons too complex to go into here really, but we’re quite smitten with the idea.  We’ve decided to try and learn Swedish first and get fairly competent before we even start looking for work.  Swedish is also a good place to start as Norwegians understand spoken Swedish and the Danes understand written Swedish and I think that’s really quite amazing.  I have a tiny little bit of a head start as I learnt German at school (though most is now largely forgotten) so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with umlauts and such.  Anyway, it’s all a bit of a pipe dream at the moment but watch this space.  Maybe one day I’ll update this blog from Sverige possibly in svenska!

A Little Distraction Needed

Just thought I’d do a little post with one of my previous finished objects since I’m in need of some distraction from my worry and guilt.  My youngest cat Lilly, a ‘petite’, as the vet put it, black and white cat with the sweetest nature had to be left at the vet this morning for possible spaying.  We’re not sure if she’s neutered or not since we know nothing of her history and sometimes even if a cat has been neutered, the scar is not visible so they have to go in and look.  I love most animals but cats occupy a special place in the hearts of Mr & Mrs Lauren.  Lilly turned up in the garden last spring and decided that she liked the lay of the land and just never left.  We weren’t looking for another cat as the one we adopted, Poppy (grey, claims my unfinished projects for herself) was very much an ‘only child’.  Hostile to other cats and sometimes us, not overtly affectionate and very much full of cupboard love, we had come to love and accept Poppy as the Grumbliest Cat in all of Grumble Town.  Lilly is the polar opposite of Poppy and when she arrived, although  we knew she probably had owners, try as we might, she just wouldn’t leave.  She camped outside our kitchen door mewling for days, never moving anywhere where she couldn’t see the door.  So we caved in and let her adopt us.  A year later and here we are.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve betrayed her sweet, trusting nature.  I know the operation is utterly routine and she will most likely be absolutely fine, but I still feel so anxious and guilty for putting her through it.  I have to phone in this afternoon and she should hopefully be home by tonight.  Fingers crossed that all is well, and that she will forgive me.

Meanwhile, in more crochet related matters; I made a little bear around Easter as my friend had a baby boy in November last year and she and her little family came up to Norwich to visit us on the Easter weekend.  I wanted to make him something but not clothes as I was sure he had enough of those and I saw the pattern for the bear in a crochet magazine I had bought that month using the very same Rooster Almerino DK yarn, so I didn’t even need to buy yarn, which was good because I was of course skint.  I love that the instructions for stuffing the arms and legs was not to overstuff them to make them a little squishy so they’re highly grabbable (it is so a word!) for little hands.  As the first toy I’d ever made, I was rather pleased with the results.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture myself, my friend sent me this one that she took when I presented him in the restaurant we were meeting in.  Don’t be alarmed – those are my hands emerging from the gloom, looking a little like a face crab from Alien.

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My friend kindly sent along with the photo an update on Mr Bear’s and Baby Boy’s relationship.  Apparently baby finds him very soothing and especially holds on to him when he’s in his pram and falling asleep and the arms and legs are indeed very easy for him to hold on to.  This was lovely to know and I discovered just how much I love the feeling of making for others.  I have another gift in mind, but it will have to wait until payday before I can start on that.  As for the bear, I think the crocheted ears were my absolute favourite part.  I tried to embroider a traditional looking face on him as they’re always the sweetest in my opinion.  I look forward to making one for my own baby one day.

In the meantime, I have my cats to unload my maternal feelings on.  I feel awful when I have to take the cats in just to be vaccinated and today had been very tough with Lilly and her operation and it’s only 10:30am!  I dread to think how much of a worrier I’ll be as a mother.  Lord help my future children!

Bank Holiday Baking – Dorset Apple and Almond Cake

I was rooting through the fridge on Monday trying to find a tiny thumb sized piece of fresh ginger that had gone astray when I found three wrinkly apples sitting sadly in the veg draw.  I’m quite fussy with fruit and I can’t bear the eat bananas once they’re completely ripe and I loathe eating an apple unless it’s perfectly crisp.  But I also can’t stand food waste.  The whole food waste outcry seems to be a recent thing for some, but I was brought up with parents who had experienced post war rationing and the effect it had on households even when it came to an end, so it’s far from a new idea to me.   I remember watching the Delia Smith cookery shows as a kid and my mum would be aghast when Delia would fail to scrape every last morsel out of a bowl.  ‘What a waste!’ my mum would cry, followed up with ‘Well, she can afford it.’ from my dad.  Poor Delia carried on regardless with her dishes for dinner parties that would never be cooked in our house.  I doubt my mum knew of anywhere to even buy a pheasant, even if she ever had the inclination to buy one.

I’d spotted a recipe in last month’s BBC Good Food magazine for Dorset Apple and Almond cake and thought this the perfect recipe to use up the apples and some other odds and ends hanging around in the cupboards, namely what turned out to be 10g of ground almonds (I had to make up the missing 90g with flour) and I used some blanched almonds instead of the required flaked, which were bought in flash of optimism before Christmas in the hope I’d get around to making a Dundee, cherry Genoa, or stollen (as it turned out, nothing other than the traditional Christmas cake got made).  As an aside, I feel I must extol the virtues of having well stocked cupboards (I’d give my right arm to have a genuine, bona fide pantry).  Having various pulses, grains, tins of tomatoes, tinned fish, flour, stock cubes, spices and good oil stocked means that even when the fridge is empty (as mine is want to be at the end of the month) there’s always something cheap and nutritious to eat.  One of my favourite meals from childhood that persists to this day is tinned plum tomatoes, warmed and served on toast with plenty of white pepper.

Even with my haphazard alterations, the cake turned out beautifully and the flavours seemed especially apt for the relatively cold late spring bank holiday, being autumnal with the apples and almonds that I always associate with Christmas.  I’m most definitely an autumn/winter person and I do tend to dread the summer which makes me something of a pariah in England.  The demerara sugar top was a particularly lovely addition in the recipe, giving a beautiful toffee hint to each bite.

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Rightly or wrongly, I always feel myself to be a more accomplished cook when I don’t need to go out a specifically buy ingredients and I can use what I have to hand.  As I write, I have the same feeling because I’ve got a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart in the making.

Saturday Stitching – Dala Horse Cushion

I suspect that like many crafters, I go into, or at least I’d like to go into, a crafting overdrive at Christmas.  Craft magazines are filled with various beautiful, festive related creations that just make me want to lock myself up and create for days on end.  But as many of us know Christmas, or at least the run up to it, can be one of the most stressful and busiest times of the year with far less time for creating than usual.  This is doubly so if you happen, like myself, to work in retail.  I haven’t had Christmas eve off for 8 years: when I do make it home, usually at about 5pm after having been up since 5am and at work since 6 or 7am, all I can manage is to cook an easy but relatively special christmas eve dinner for my partner and his mum who joins us, finish wrapping any presents, prepare whatever I can for the impending feast on the morrow and conclude the day by flopping down into a sofa coma to nurse a strong drink and gaze at the bejewelled tree in the twilight glow of dozens of fairy lights.    I can’t help but glare in envy of office workers who, coming to buy their christmas food on the 23rd/24th have had, compared to me, a relaxed run up of parties, get-togethers, and shopping outings.  Thank goodness I don’t have any friends who expect me to throw parties because they’d be disappointed every year.

By the time I get around to making anything, it’s usually January:  such is the case with the Dala Horse.  The reason for the scenic route into this post is that I only bought the christmas edition of the Cross Stitcher magazine, which contained the pattern for the dala horse, because it came with a free kit to stitch a robin ornament for the christmas tree.  I did stitch this kit in time for christmas but alas I didn’t have time to put it together in order to hang so it’s been stuffed into my sewing box until I remember to buy some fabric glue and finish it.

Embroidery and cross stitching is another craft I did quite a bit as a child but never touched it again until late last year.  Even so, as I child I never stitched anything complicated.  My mum would buy big bits of aida (which she pronounced eye-ee-dah, I’m still unsure of the pronunciation), cut me squares or rectangles of it and I would stitch freestyle borders or my name, or sister’s name or ‘mum’, using lengths of unsplit, ie. 6 strands, embroidery silks.  We’d occasionally go into Canterbury on the weekends where there was a large fabrics shop called C&H Fabrics (which a quick search reveals is still standing, I’m pleased to say).  My mum would peruse fabrics to makes curtains and I’d head straight down to the haberdashery section to pick colourful silks off the towering display wheels adorned with its rainbow colours.

I was so happy to partly recreate this part of my childhood when I came to stitching to the dala horse.  The suggested fabric was 20 count linen which I had to buy online as I couldn’t find anywhere local that stocked it despite living 5 minutes from 2 fabric shops and a knitting shop that sells embroidery silks to boot.  Progress was immensely slow as I have never in my life stitched on linen, which is much finer than aida.  Indeed the pattern suggested aida for a faster finish, but I don’t mind spending the time when I know it’s something that I’m going to keep forever.  Having never stitched on linen, or with split thread, or read a cross stitching pattern for that matter I made a fair few mistakes in my counting which then I dutifully unpicked, determined to make the dala horse perfect.  Three months of stitching solidly in my free time gave me everything that I wanted and I was awash with pride at my creation.  I bought a cushion pad and some red striped cotton fabric and quickly machine stitched an enveloped cushion for the dala horse to reside on.

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Unfortunately, with there only being two of us in our house, and our house being very little, I don’t have a charming, cosy armchair for him to reside on.  There simply isn’t the space or need for a third chair, as much as I would love one, so the cushion tends to reside on one of the dining chairs.  However, as we’ve got a nice sunny day, I took it into the garden to photograph, coincidentally enough next to a miniature christmas tree that I bought in December that is still going strong despite my neglect.

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I have since cross stitched a couple more things, but again, mainly due to monetary constraints they are, like poor christmas robin, awaiting finishing.

The Knitty Kitty

Well WIP Wednesday may have to wait until a) I’m paid and can afford materials for a new project and b) my camera resurfaces from the depths of its hiding place.  Fortunately, I have outsmarted my camera’s intentions for I have pictures of my first ever knitting project.  Let me explain: knitting has always been a big bug bear for me.  Although I never had any parental tuition in crochet despite both my parents apparently being able to, although I never saw either of them crocheting, when I started teaching myself it just seemed to come naturally. I understood fairly quickly how to read patterns, but more than this I quickly and easily found my own way of controlling the yarn, holding the needle.  I still made mistakes, but more often than (k)not, I could seem where I had gone wrong and correct it.  Knitting, however, is an entirely different matter.  My mum tried to teach me on several occasions, but I never got beyond knitting scarves that were far too small for even the smallest human being and they were too big even for my dolls, essentially straggly, holey swatches.  I couldn’t find a comfortable way to hold the needles or control the yarn, and mistakes appeared out of the blue and it just took so bloody long to produce anything.  I never tried to knit again for another 20 years and then I discovered crochet.

Knitting and crochet seem to be inextricably intertwined.  As I got more into crochet, the more I saw about knitting.  I’d be searching out patterns for crochet and find knitting patterns that I prefered.  Not being able to knit had me feeling left out: all those beautiful thing that I could make if only I could knit!   I even owned knitting needles, after expressing my desire to learn I was given some for Christmas presents.  So a couple of months ago, mired in the frustration of the poverty portion of the month where there is not enough month to buy lovely yarns, I decided to have a look through my stash and found a pair of still packaged 5mm needles.  “Enough is enough” said the inner voice, so I grabbed some needles, some aran yarn and a knitting tuition book (also a gift), marched downstairs and began, once again, to teach myself to knit.  Within a couple of hours, somehow, I had picked it up.  I had to work at it much more than I did crochet and mistakes were frequent, but the tuition book really helped me to see what I’d done wrong, and came with a the sage advice ‘never be afraid to undo your work and start again’.  I discovered that I knit tightly, a problem I had when I was 8.  I just couldn’t get the needle through the stitches after my first row so I had to force myself to knit loosely.   After a couple of holey, and subsequently unpicked, swatches later a perfect one emerged.  Oh the pride, the joy!

In a flurry of excitement, I bought my first knitting magazine.  After flicking through various patterns for sweet little baby clothes, a beautiful fair isle type red dress for a little girl (that I will make one day!) I realised I still didn’t really know how to follow a complex knitting pattern.  Tucked in the last pages through was a pattern for a toy,  a sweet little cat.  All stocking stitch with a few increases and decreases.  The yarn was Drops Baby Merino which is so soft and quite fine so I bought new needles, and set about the pattern.  The magazine had conveniently come with a free row counter, a piece of kit I’ve never had cause to use before.  It was like it was meant to be!  I discovered that I enjoyed knitting with finer needles and yarn.  I can understand why chunky needles and yarn are recommended for beginners, so that mistakes can be seen and whatever you’re knitting knits up quickly, but I found I much preferred the opposite.  Little knitted stripey legs and arms appeared on the side of the sofa and not long after I started I was ready to assemble and stuff the knitty kitty, as he came to be known in my home.

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Here he is.  I’m so pleased with him.  After not being able to knit for so long, and feeling almost left out, I’ve begun to make inroads into knitting.  I’m also quite pleased with my fairly ropey embroidery skills as the mice, claws and facial features, apart from the eyes are all embroidered.  I’m desperate to improve my skills though, and I’m not particularly a scarf person, but I think I’ll have a go at some mittens and a blanket, and then hopefully progress on to knitting some clothes.  I’ve read that local knitting groups can be a good place to learn new skills, but I feel a bit bad just turning up to mooch instruction, so I’m going to try working on it by myself for a while.  I love cardigans and I’m rarely spotted not wearing one so would love to knit my own selection of cardis.  I also love knowing that when I eventually get round to having children, I’m sure I’ll be able to knit them something.  Indeed my first child will be the one to have the Knitty Kitty.