Thursday 30 April 2015

Happy Birthday to me! Part 2, yarny things

Earlier this month I had a birthday, and was given lots of wonderful yarny things.

Cuddlebums yarn
I've been eyeing Cuddlebums yarn for a few months now, Jodi dyes the most amazing rainbow yarn, and she happened to have a rainbow market night a few weeks before my birthday so I asked my sister (very nicely) if she might buy me some Cuddlebums yarn. And she obliged, sending me two beautiful sock-weight skeins.

The top skein is pale melted crayon, the second is a double rainbow - one pastel rainbow and one bright rainbow in the same skein, very clever and very beautiful.

I also added an extra skein to the order, twilight rainbow, where half the skein is a rainbow and the other half is purple (my favourite colour).

As you can imagine I am very excited about getting started with this yarn, I just have to get a couple of other things done first.

Drops Delight
My other sister is also aware of my current love of sock weight yarn, so sent me some surprise yarn, Drops Delight in Turquoise/purple print. The colours are perfect, and I think this will become a shawl as I'm not sure about knitting socks in single ply yarn.

Stitch markers
One of my Monday night knitters bought me an unexpected present, a lovely quirky set of fruit stitch markers from Crafty Cat on Etsy. I am looking forward to using these, and need to find a pattern with lots of lace repeats so I can use them all at once!

A uni friend who lives in Cumbria sent me these gorgeous daffodil stitch markers from Wychwood Dreams. They're going to be perfect for mid-winter knitting when I need a little sunshine!

Project bag
The aforementioned Monday night knitter has a friend who makes beautiful project bags, so I requested one from my sister in law who sent me this fab yarn print bag. Isn't it gorgeous! It's also really roomy and very well made. I love it!

Thank you to everyone who sent me good wishes, presents and cards. Two more birthday posts to go, and there might even be a bake and a competition to go with them...

Sunday 26 April 2015

Happy Birthday to me! Part 1

This month I celebrated my 32nd birthday, and while birthdays are not generally as exciting as they were when I was small, this was a good one!

I was greeted by my son with breakfast in bed - I probably wouldn't have chosen a Mullerlight yoghurt, but it was the though that counted. And he announced that there would be lots of surprises (he's memorised the Mummy's Birthday episode of Peppa Pig; this was clearly the first my husband had heard of these surprises). It turns out that the enthusiasm of a three year old makes for a good birthday.

My husband doesn't generally bake, so I made a cake with my son. The standard Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cake, with chocolate butter icing, chocolate fingers (over bought those, turns out the cake was as deep as half a chocolate finger, so I only used three-quarters of two boxes, leaving two whole spare boxes, oops), 'leftover' Mini Eggs from Easter (yes, I did have to make a special trip to the Co-op to buy these as we had managed to eat the ones that were actually spare after Easter, fortunately they still had some! I had wanted to fill the whole of the middle of the cake with Mini Eggs, but this was two bags worth and they barely made a dent!), and 8 candles, which were a present from my friend Fluffy Owl (thank you Fluffy Owl). I even remembered that our 9 inch tin leaks (it's taken me three cakes to work that out - there's a dent in the side, which is obviously stopping it from sealing), so used the 8 inch tin instead and had a lovely deep cake.

The day was relaxed: we had late lunch in town, and browsed some shops, coming home with some lovely presents for me (my husband had ordered things from Amazon, but they hadn't even been dispatched by my birthday, so he bought other things instead). I also got lots of wonderfully well thought out presents from family and friends (including some yarny and baking things, which I'll tell you about in another post), so all in all a good birthday!

Friday 24 April 2015

32 things, #5: Host a KAL

Last week I introduced you to my robot (who has been Christened Ronnie, thank you to everyone who made suggestions), and I am delighted to announce that he is now available as a blanket square pattern and intarsia tutorial.

So here it is, the second thing I can start to cross off my 32 things list: number 5: Host a KAL. This knit-a-long has been in the pipeline for a while - I seem to recall I agreed to it when my daughter was really tiny and May seemed like ages away! - and is being hosted by the Knitting for Boys group on Ravelry* as part of a series of skills building KALs. The KAL officially starts on May 1st, but the thread is already open, so you can cast on whenever you like. I shall be checking in frequently to cheer everyone along. Anyone is welcome to join in, you just need to be a member of Ravelry and post to the KAL thread; there will be random spot prizes (codes for patterns from my Ravelry store) and if you complete your square by the end of May you will be eligible for one extra round of pattern prizes.

So what are you waiting for? Ready, steady, knit!

*Note that this link will only work if you are logged into Ravelry. Membership is free, and it's a great place to hang out if you like all things yarny.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

WIP Wednesday: super socks

Just a quick one today as I am solo-parenting this week while my husband is away with work. I caved yesterday and cast on a pair of socks with my very special DIY hand dyed yarn. And I am loving it!

I've merged a couple of patterns - I've used the toes from the last pair (but cast on 8 stitches per side), but am using the heel from this pair as I fancied trying a short row heel. And I'm using fewer stitches than for my red pair as they're a little baggy round the heel (68 here vs. 76 on the red socks). All going well so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing how these turn out.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

32 things, #6: Dye my own yarn

Last weekend I finally got round to doing something I've been meaning to do for a long time: dye my own yarn. I've spent the past few weeks reading lots of blog posts about dyeing your own yarn using Kool Aid (the option that requires least start up cost - it's food safe, so you can use regular pots and pans, and it's safe for kids too, which makes life easier), and a couple of weeks ago finally bit the bullet and ordered enough sachets of Kool Aid to dye the three skeins of Araucania Ranco I bought just before Lent.

Rather than get excited and dye all three skeins in one go I decided to dye just one skein, in blue and pink. I was aiming to follow this tutorial on dyeing gradient yarns, dyeing one end of the skein pink and one end blue, with some lovely purple in the middle.

I started by winding my yarn into two 50 g balls - I'm planning on knitting socks with it, and I wanted two socks the same, rather than a gradient spread over two socks - then soaked my yarn in cold water while I dissolved four sachets of pink Kool Aid (Pink Lemonade) in a really big pan. Once the balls were wet all the way through I transferred them to the pan and simmered them gently for half an hour, taking care not to let the water boil. I moved the balls of yarn around occasionally, making sure I was gentle with them so they didn't unravel or felt. After 30 minutes there was still lots of dye left in the pan, so I continued to simmer the yarn for another 30 minutes, which is much longer than I was expecting the process to take, part of me thought it might be pretty much instant (I have no idea why!).

Once the yarn had simmered for an hour, I removed it from the pan, allowed it to cool for a bit, then rinsed it. And no dye came off! My yarn was fast.

I wound the rinsed yarn round a box lid, which was easier said than done - I spent rather a lot of time untangling knots. At this stage the yarn was a little flamingo-like for my liking - the dye hadn't penetrated as far as I wanted, so rather than rewind the yarn in reverse as I had planned, I decided to make it into a skein and overdye it in blue instead and see what happened.

I mixed four sachets of blue Kool Aid (Blue Raspberry Lemonade, which smelt revolting!) into the freshly washed pan and threw the yarn in. I simmered the mixture for 30 minutes, deliberately not stirring it as I wanted a variegated effect and waited to see what would happen.

At the end of the 30 minutes all the dye had been sucked up by the yarn, so I fished the yarn out and rinsed it in cold water. I carefully squeezed the excess water out and lay the yarn out to dry. And I love it. I spent most of Sunday evening staring at it and appreciating all its little nuances. I can't wait to get it knitted up. Or to dye some more yarn!

My first ever hand dyed yarn

And that's one thing crossed off my list of 32 things.

Sunday 19 April 2015

A day out at Whitley Bay

At my usual knitting group on Monday evening I realised that I had no plans for Tuesday - my first day in almost three weeks with only one child to keep track of. So I asked for suggestions of things to do. Obviously if you ask this question among knitters you get answers that involve yarn, and one suggestion was to take a trip to Whitley Bay, and visit Ringarosie.

I've been following Ringarosie on Facebook for a while, and love to see her updates, which include lots of beautiful hand dyed yarns. So why not, a day out at the seaside and a little yarn shopping always makes for a good day.

And so on Tuesday morning I drove to Whitley Bay (in spite of the total lack of sunshine), and spent a good half hour browsing Ringarosie. I had a great time. The shop has an excellent range of stock, with a good selection of cheap acrylics for those on a budget, lots of baby yarns, and lots of more expensive ranges, but overall a good balance and I think every knitter could find something they liked. I liked the table of sock yarn, lots of choice, and a few sample socks so you could see how the yarns knitted up. The shop also has a good range of needles and notions, and a large selection of buttons (I adore buttons; 20 might have slipped into my basket). The only issue I had was that it was a little tight in places with the pushchair, but next time I'll take my daughter in her carrier, which would solve that!

I left with two balls of Rico So Soft Prints, a yarn I'd not seen before, but will make a lovely stripy cardigan for my daughter, two balls of Sirdar Heart and Sole (which is one of the things I was specifically looking for; I wanted a couple more skeins of basic sock yarn to work with while I'm still experimenting with fit and patterns), and a skein of hand dyed sparkly teal sock yarn, which will be turned into a Hitchhiker. I could have bought a lot more!

Once I'd finished yarn shopping, we had a walk along the seafront (we didn't go down onto the beach as it was high tide, and pushchairs and sand do not mix),then headed back up to the town to have a browse round the other shops. Whitley Bay is a classic Victorian seaside town: lots of beautiful large Victorian houses (many of which have been converted into hotels and B&Bs). It's seen better days, and there are lots of charity shops, but there are also lots of little boutiques and small quirky shops, so I had an enjoyable couple of hours browsing. It is the sort of place I could fall in love with, especially as it is so close to Newcastle.

I had wanted an ice cream, but I couldn't find anywhere selling them in an obvious manner, so settled for afternoon tea instead. I stumbled across The Vintage Powder Room while I was browsing, and lunch was lovely - they were happy to serve afternoon tea for one, and didn't mind me sharing it with my daughter.

Having finished lunch we drove home again, just in time for the sun to come out. All in all a lovely day, and I'll definitely head back to Ringarosie.

Friday 17 April 2015

April bakes

I had lots of plans for Easter baking, but none of them happened. Not such a bad thing though as the reason for them not happening was a week of glorious weather, which it seemed a pity to waste, so rather than spend time in the kitchen, we spent time running around outside and enjoying the spring sunshine. By the weekend though, we were all exhausted, so my son requested a day at home baking a cake.

My son decided that he'd like a pirate cake, and as Lent is now over, I went for my default Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cake. Thankfully we've run out of blue food colouring, so the cake had chocolate icing, and was entirely decorated by my three year old. Not necessarily terribly artistic, but very tasty!

And on Monday we finally got round to going to a local group - cupcake decorating for 18 month to 4 year olds. An excellent idea! Each week has a different theme and this week's was Hairy Maclary. The session started with a story, followed by a craft related to the story (making dog faces from paper plates; my son decided that he just wanted to colour his plates in, which was fine), then cupcake decorating, again following the doggy theme. My son didn't quite follow the decorating scheme for the cupcakes (he objected to them needing marshmallows for eyes),but he had a lot of fun sticking the decorations onto his cakes. And a lovely time afterwards eating his cakes (actually he was good and let me have one).

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Devon Sun Yarns: April yarn club

I was very excited earlier this week to find a parcel from Devon Sun Yarns on my doorstep: April's yarn club package was here! I excitedly opened to box to find some Donegal nep aran weight yarn in marled purple.

The colourway is inspired by the colours of heather on moorland, and while I am usually very excited about the colour purple, this yarn just isn't singing to me. It's lovely and squishy, but I think it's just a bit too pink for my liking (it's more pink than the picture suggests), and as it's now April and we've been blessed with almost a week of sunshine, I'm just not thinking about winter weight yarns and accessories. I'm hoping it grows on me as I'm sure it will be lovely to work with, but for now it's going in the cupboard while I wait for inspiration to hit me.

Little extras: heather seeds, a purple flower stitch marker, and a yarny postcard (which I love; I wonder whether my husband will let me frame it and hang it on a wall in the house somewhere?)

This is my last yarn club instalment for a while - over the past few months I've accumulated rather a lot of lovely yarn, and I know I have more coming for my birthday. I also have a backlog of baby presents - somehow I have seven babies to knit for by September - and I can't justify knitting baby blankets in luxury yarn (wonderful as that would be!). I'm sure I'll cave though and rejoin in the next few months, there's something so lovely about receiving yarn in the post!

Monday 13 April 2015

Help! My robot needs a name!

Several weeks ago, I showed you a work in progress that involved lots of rainbow squares. Well now I can finally reveal that those squares are going to become part of a robot themed blanket. The blanket is not ready for its big reveal yet, but I am ready to show you one robot square.

While the pattern for the whole blanket is a long way off, I will be releasing the pattern for this square in the next couple of weeks, along with an intarsia tutorial, which will be used for my first KAL (I'll tell you about that soon). But that means that this robot needs a name; any suggestions? Comment below. If I choose your suggestion, you'll get a code for one free pattern from my Ravelry store, so remember to leave me a way to contact you.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Shade card excitement!

I do a lot of my yarn shopping online, mostly for ease if nothing else (yanr shopping with two children isn't all that much fun). And while a lot of effort goes into getting the yarns photographed to best show off their qualities, there is no substitute for being able to touch the yarns and see what their colours are like in real life. When I was little mum used to buy most of her yarn mail order, and every few months would be sent a shade card that covered everything a particular company sold. I loved to look at them and to feel all the different yarns, so I am very excited to see that the shade card is making a bit of a comeback.

This month Stylecraft have released a shade card for their very popular Special DK range, so I ordered one (from Wool Warehouse) and it arrived a couple of days ago. I've used this yarn before, and it comes in an excellent range of colours, is a good basic yarn, and is very good value for money. It's great to be able to see the colours in all their glory, and I'm going to have a great time project planning this weekend.

I saw on Ravelry a month or so ago that Artesano have decided to make their yarns exclusive to their website. To make up for the fact that there is no longer anywhere that you can go to squish their yarns, they are happy to send out sample cards for their full range, as well as mini skeins so you can have a proper feel of their yarns! This approach will definitely encourage me to order from them - I love the feel of their sock yarns, and the colours of their hand-painted ranges are amazing!

Another company who routinely send out shade cards are Bergere de France. I ordered some yarn direct from them a couple of years ago,and since then have received a couple of excellent look books, complete with yarn samples for many of their yarns. When a new one arrives I merrily lose a couple of hours browsing.

So yarn companies, yes please to more shade cards!

Friday 10 April 2015

Little red riding socks: Part 3

Last time I wrote about my red socks, I had just knitted the heel. Well now I have a finished pair of socks, hooray!

This pair of socks hasn't been incident-free. Earlier in the week I accidentally dropped loads of stitches when getting my socks out of my bag, and took ages getting them all back on the needle. I thought I'd counted them, but when I got to the ribbing I realised I had lost one stitch. I had a good look at the socks and located the dropped stitch, about twenty rows down the sock. Rather than pull all the way back to the dropped stitch, I carefully carried it up all 20 rows! At least I got to use one of my under-used tiny crochet hooks! There is a bit of a close section from the carried stitch, but it's copeable. And hopefully I've learnt to count stitches after losing all of them...

I decided to make these socks shorter than the first pair - in general I prefer my socks closer to ankle length. Once the sock leg got to 6 inches I added 1 inch of 2x2 ribbing for the cuff, and the sewn cast off. I cast off first half of first sock, then couldn't get my head round finishing the cast off without transferring the stitches to another needle. Instead I threw the final stitch onto a stitch marker and cast off the second sock. And now I have a pair of pretty red socks.

Things I liked about making these socks:
  1. Can measure the gauge as you rather than having to make a separate tension swatch
  2. My cast off is looser than my long tail cast on, so the socks go on my feet more easily
  3. No Kitchener stitching
  4. I have two socks!
  5. Both socks are identical
  6. The yarn has knitted up really nicely and densely

Things I was less keen on:
  1. The sewn cast off takes way longer than Kitchener stitching the toes!
  2. There's a little pointy bit at the back of the heel that I don't like
  3. I need a longer cable on my needles to deal with having all the gusset stitches on the needle - 100 cm will be fine
What's next?
Well, my plan had been to get started on a pair of socks for my husband - one item on my 32 things list. But having worn these socks since this morning, I think they're a tiny bit looser than I'd like. So I think I'll knit myself another pair of socks to make sure I can get the fit right before knitting socks for anyone else. And actually I might have a break from socks for a week or two - my daughter needs a new cardigan, and my son has again requested that I get started on his wiggly worm blanket, so I probably ought to get on with those things first.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

32 things before I turn 33

In the next few weeks I turn 32, and I'm not really looking forward to it. It's not the I don't enjoy birthdays, I do. It's more that 16 doesn't seem like it could possibly be half a lifetime ago. So rather than dwell on it, I've decided to make something positive of it and write a list of 32 things that I need to do before my 33rd birthday. Some are fun, some are things I've been meaning to do for a long time. Some are with the kids and my family, some are things purely for me. Hopefully I'll manage to get them all done. And of course I'll keep you updated over the year on how my list is progressing.

Woolly things
1. A pair of non-vanilla socks
2. Go to a yarn festival
3. Make a wiggly worm blanket for my son
4. Join in a mystery KAL
5. Host a KAL
6. Dye my own yarn
7. Make my own stitch markers
8. Knit a shawl featuring at least some lace
9. Knit socks for my husband
11. Knit a striped shawl
12. Submit a pattern to Knitty
13. Knit myself a cardigan

Baking things
14. Make fudge
15. Bake a battenburg
16. Make macarons
17. Make meringues
18. Make a tarte tatin

Photography things
19. Take a photography course
20. Make our wedding photo album
21. Make our 2013 photo album
22. Fill the empty frames with photo collages

Work things
23. Finish my PhD
24. Write a scientific paper
25. Get a proper job

Other stuff
26. Take my son to the North York Moors Railway
27. Sew a dress for my daughter
28. Get rid of any pre-baby clothes that are never going to fit again
29. Visit Edinburgh
30. Get all my badges stitched on my camp blanket
31. Get my birthdays calendar up to date
32. Walk barefoot along a beach

Sunday 5 April 2015

Easter in the Bird house

So here it is, Easter. A four-day weekend here in the UK, and very welcome it is too. And, just this once, the weather is glorious! We have hunted for eggs, basked in the sun, played cards, eaten far too much chocolate and generally had a lovely lazy day.

I started the day as I meant to go on, with Nutella on toast for breakfast - heavenly having not eaten chocolate for the whole of Lent (if you excuse the inadvertent mouthful of Maryland cookie I ate in the first week of Lent).

There are plenty of Easter treats to be had. I may have got carried away, as you can tell from my own personal stash. Oops!

My husband was pleased with his egg-box full of chocolate eggs though. I would have gone for 12 of his favourites (the Lindt ones), but Durham was pretty low on Easter eggs of any variety by the time I went shopping for them on Good Friday, so he had to have an assortment.

I totally failed on giving up yarn for Lent, and totally caved on Friday by going to my local yarn shop and picking up 300 g in the sale. Ah well, I've probably bought less than if I hadn't told myself I'd given it up.

Hope you are all having wonderful Easter holidays. I'm off to enjoy the rest of the sunshine.