Monday, 29 December 2014

Another year over...

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun...

The best laid plans got waylaid sometime back in early November when I signed up for volunteer work. Every year I have visions of doing a fully handmade Christmas but somehow never get round to starting that in the January before, which is clearly when you need to make a start!

There was just one touch though and those little fabric gift bags were made on Christmas Eve no less! A glass of wine helped make sense of the instruction booklet for the sewing machine and I discovered just how one little cotton guide thingy can make all the difference between sewing machine cooperation and sewing machine rebellion. Sewing machines and me just aren't meant to be.

Molls enjoyed her Christmas thank you very much. She spent most of the time on laps being made a fuss of. This is contrary to her home behaviour where she seems to prefer to sleep anywhere but a comfy lap.

The dogs behaved themselves right up to the point where one of them decided to dig up a few bulbs in Mum and Dad's back garden. I had to do a little gardening to put it right.

I must confess I'm not keen on the whole Christmas thing. I can guarantee that in the run up to Christmas I run into a horrible dark place, a place where even the jolliest Christmas jingle doesn't reach me. This year was no exception. Luckily the wine was taking the edge off by Christmas Eve!

M surprised me this year by making a freestanding rug hooking loom! This may sound completely random but he did ask me what I'd like and I said I would like a rug hooking tool and a big frame. After some proper research we came to the conclusion that what I really wanted was only available in America and so I suggested four lengths of wood fixed in a doormat size rectangle. I was so suprised to find he'd made the floor standing type and without any woodworking plans too! The photo was taken in poor light but you get the idea. The top tilts whichever way you want so that you can work with one hand underneath the hessian and one on top with the rug hooking tool.

I've started off with a simple design of random falling leaves just to practice the technique of drawing up loops of wool to the same height (rug hooking). It sounds easy enough but there are variables such as how big the hook is, how thick the wool is, how splitty it is, what backing is being used, the pile you want, etc. I'm using up all my super chunky wool ends which seems to be quite a comfortable weight with the hook but I have a feeling chunky would be even better, and would allow more detail perhaps.

I always like to have something creative on the go over Christmas and I did manage to hook up quite a bit more than the solitary leaf shown above. It works up fairly quickly. I have a lot to learn but for now I'll be happy if I produce a usable rug!

There was another surprise... he actually went into a yarn shop without my knowledge and asked what he could buy someone who could already crochet but wanted a challenge. I think he was helped considerably but even so I think he deserves brownie points. He bought me some Tunisian crochet hooks in different sizes and two fantastic books (which I will photograph for my next post), one of which was a beginners guide to Tunisian Crochet and the other was a book of the various Tunisian stitches. I have been wanting to try this out for some time but it's been a bit like cables in knitting, it looked scary! I jumped right in with the book open on my lap and it wasn't scary at all! I've only got as far as learning Tunisian Simple stitch and Tunisian Knitting stitch, TSS and TKS I think. I'm not sure if I'm turning in the right place but I am producing perfectly square samples. TKS is amazing, just like stocking stitch but so much quicker! Curls up like crazy but I think that could be overcome by adding a rib or edging. I've got a way to go yet before I can follow a Tunisian pattern, but I like a challenge.

Here's hoping you all had a lovely Christmas.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Silly stuff...

Tomorrow I will be the mother of a seventeen year old. Hell, how did that happen? There are a few things that go with the territory and one of them is laughing at their quirks, even if they are 'not amused!'

I find the whole selfie thing absolutely hilarious. It doesn't matter what you weigh, what shape face you have, what you're wearing... They all come out looking like the top photo here. Pouty alien faced. OK it took me a few goes and I was being silly, in the end I remembered the feature that let's you swivel the camera round. Duh. I blame the mirror I was standing in front of, it confused me. Apparently taking a selfie just got easier this year; those telescopic arms are set to be on millions of Santa wishlists this year. (You can give mine a miss Santa.)

Anyway, after much faffing with hat and iPod I realised I could have just taken a photo of the pattern cover! She's much more photogenic, bless her. Still looks like an alien to me, but a pretty one.

I love this hat I've made for E. It's a beginners knitting pattern by Erika Knight. Worked up on 10mm needles using just two balls of super chunky. They didn't have the colour I wanted in her own range of wool so I used Sirdar's Big Softie which turned out to be ideal, extremely warm and a bit cheaper. It didn't take long at all which is just as well because even with this I had to keep stopping for a bit of wrist rubbing. I don't know why I can crochet for hours but only do short spells of knitting. Very annoying.

I like this pattern for several reasons. It has a very generous amount of ribbing which makes the whole issue of fit a walk in the park. Previous hats, whether knitted or crocheted always seem to be just off the mark when it comes to the fit. Secondly it was quick and easy and not fiddly knitting in the round stuff. Finally, you could knit everyone you know a hat on Christmas Eve and still have time for a nightcap with mince pies!

Thursday, 4 December 2014


I've had my first week day off from the charity shop since we first set it up three weeks ago. I had to take Ella to an appointment that was bang slap in the middle of my day so it wasn't worth going in before or after. In fact a day off was long overdue. It's been pretty full on work at the shop. Lots of bending, lifting and climbing up and down stepladders, with little time to stop for coffee or lunch. So much so I had to make a return visit to hospital. I never did have gas and air whilst in labour with Ella or Jake and now I know what a waste of time it is. It didn't take the pain away as such but it did turn the inside of the ambulance into a very weird shape with very weird sounds. In fact it was just plain old weird and after a while the pain was the last thing on my mind, so it does kinda work.

So I'm having a few days of rest. Mainly to keep the nagging husband from...well, nagging. The trouble is that now I've got the bug for rearranging junk at work all I want to do is come home and rearrange my own junk. Just a glance in the direction of a stepladder and he looks at me with ridiculous disapproval. Lucky for me he's off to work nice and early tomorrow. I need to go up into the attic to find those elusive Christmas decorations!

That wasn't all the drama that's happened around her lately either. I woke this morning and sleepily went into the conservatory to pull up the blinds. I saw what I thought was a bloody white tissue on the floor and wondered who'd had a nose bleed... It wasn't a tissue. It was the mangled little body of Lorelei; Ella's white Roborovski hamster. It was quite an unpleasant shock. I've never had to pick up a dead animal in my life but with M not home I had to get a wodge of tissues and pick it up and pop it in a box quickly and quietly (I was breathing extremely fast and puffing and ok, swearing too) before Ella woke up. I wasn't looking forward to breaking the news. 'Oh by the way, the cat has murdered your hamster'. What I have to say about the cat right now can't be said out loud.

The culprit was an external tube that she must have a managed to dislodge. Needless to say that cage is being donated to the charity shop and a cat proof replacement has been purchased along with a new addition to take Ella's mind off the loss. She really gets attached to these little fellas. Batman and Flash are about to spend their second Christmas with us. They are girls but E didn't let that spoil her plans for their names. Lorelei had a completely different personality and was chosen because she was on her own, with all her chums purchased. Daisy is the new girl in town. She came with that name. She was not for sale as such, but up for adoption because she was too old to sell. They sell them at 8 or 9 weeks and Daisy was the grand old age of 12 weeks. It was suggested we make a donation to the charity, so we did.

So far so good. She seems to be settling in well. They are best kept in pairs but Ella has a soft spot for the ones that end up alone. She's got a little strawberry house, a brand new wheel, a chinchilla dust bath and some natural fluff for her bedding. It's practically a penthouse suite!

Happier news includes the presentation night at E's school tonight. She received her GCSE certificates shortly after we listened to two of the most dull and rubbish guest speakers. She also received a special award for excellence in Art. She was chuffed to bits. Along with the wooden shield she also got a book voucher. She's going to buy a clothbound edition of a novel that is slightly art related and then she can attach the bookplate they also gave her (this book was awarded to...). Such a nice touch I thought. Made up for the dull speakers.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cats sleep anywhere...

So you get the general idea that Mollie has a few choices when it comes to places to sleep? Yep. So I think you'll agree that sleeping on top of my Dairy Milk Oreo bar was bang out of order? Yes. I knew you'd agree. M swears cats don't get senile dementia, but I disagree. I may have mentioned ringing her scrawny little neck. A bit of an overreaction said M. Have you seen the state of my Oreo chocolate? This isn't just any old bar of chocolate you know! It was melted into a wafer thin version of its former self. Let's just say the cat had better stay out of my way from now on!

She is probably about 14 or 15 years old. She didn't come with an exact age. The paperwork just said between approx three to four and a half years old. That was about eleven years ago. Roughly. Either way I think she's going senile. We've started on a grand tour of places-to-sleep-that-will-irritate-the-heck-out-of-mum. A few days ago it was on top of a bookcase in the kitchen. This special spot meant she could leap from there to the top of the tall fridge just at the precise moment you entered the kitchen scaring the hell out of you. Next, she decided to sleep in the middle of the kitchen island. This follows years of never, and I mean never, allowing her to jump up on any of our kitchen work surfaces. She just brazenly decided to plonk herself in the middle of one. That night I covered every square inch of that worktop I with obstacles. Ha ha I thought. Sleep on top of my cake stand if you dare. Make yourself comfy on my set of saucepans why not? Never fear though, cats are always one step ahead. Where did she sleep that night? On the blinking oven hob of course!

And so it went on until the night of the Oreo bar. When I mention that I've had enough of scraping up black fur and mud from inappropriate sleeping places everyone says, 'but you'll miss her when she's gone!' Mmmh, debatable.

So what delights have I had today at the charity shop? Oh yes, the pushchair. In wheels a little old lady with a pushchair and I immediately realise it's going to be a donation. How nice I think. She probably has grandchildren that have outgrown it. 'Is this any good to you?' she says. Yes, thank you very much I say, looking it up and down and thinking to myself, this is a good quality pushchair with rain hood and foot muffler. Perfect. Off she trots, off I trot with the booty. 'Oh' she says. 'I used it for my dog. Until he died that is.' On closer nose inspection yep, it smelt like a stinking dog bed. Lovely. It's surprising what a good Hoover and a bottle of Febreze can do!

I love making friends with the decent regulars. By decent I mean the ones that aren't shoplifters. One such regular is in his eighties but as fit as a fiddle. He cycles by most days and if we have any clock radios he always buys them. I've no idea what he does with so many of them. Today he came by and bought a tape deck and whilst he was paying for that he noticed I had unpacked a couple of watches. I said they weren't working but might do with a new battery. He went home with his tape deck and a bit later he came back with a big knife and a handful of tiny little batteries. The knife was to pick the backs off. Anyway, two of the four were working and the other two we had to throw away. We know who to ask if we get any more watches in!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Secret confessions of a charity shop volunteer...

Pssst! It's me! Have you ever tried to photograph yourself wearing a cowl whilst trying not to get your 'just woken up' face in? Well if you have, it probably looks something like the above photo!

I was really pleased with this quick and easy cowl. Pattern in Simply Crochet fairly recently. It was cheap and cheerful too. Less than £4. It's very warm despite being done in v stitch. I used a basic aran weight wool (Boyes own) which has a lovely light and airy feel, with a bit of give, perfect for this project.

It looks nicer when not worn like you want to hold a bank up!

I've drafted several blog entries since I started working at a charity shop. They all end up mentioning unmentionable type things. If I write about any one particular day it will have references to things which would make you question why I'm still there!

I'll give you an example, or two. A cute kid of about eight years old, pushes an overloaded pushchair to the shop door and politely asks if we would like some donations. He's a little grubby and the pushchair is a little grubby. Alarm bells should have been clanging in my head. I thank him as we unload the last of the black sacks and bits and bobs. The donations go straight through to the back of the shop, but hang on, a smell is following me through. It seems to be the smell of human wee. (I make a distinction between human and cat here because we've already been there with the cat variety). Sure enough, upon opening a bag of baby shoes the stench of human p*** hits me full on. Oops. Maybe some little kid was caught short (here's a handy carrier bag full of baby shoes I can pee into!) I try the second bag.... I don some rubber gloves and shoot the entire lot into our mini skip of a bin.

I did a local delivery today. A lovely old man, a regular. He speaks with a very hoarse voice. He helped me unload the car and we lifted the cabinet into his flat (ground floor thank goodness). I'm not sure how he could see where he was going with the grey fug that hung in the air (cigarette smoke). I got back to the car and it took me half an hour to stop coughing.

On the plus side I sold a pink Christmas tree to a young woman who was debating whether to part with five whole pounds for it, when I asked if she would like to see it lit up (it had pre fitted lights). 'Its got lights on it?' She was beside herself with excitement. I got out our demo batteries and fitted them and sure enough it all lit up and she clapped her hands together and said it was the best tree she'd ever seen. Sold.

A small boy of about five or six, with the filthiest face and shirt I've seen since I last saw the film version of Oliver, purchased a 10p matchbox truck. He said something like, 'Ine gunna drive one when Ine bigga!' Yeah and you'll probably be one of those filthy devils who pee into a coke bottle and chuck it out of the window!

A man came in and purchased an electric can opener. He looked around and realised he was the only customer and decided to be chatty. His opening line was, 'I've just got out of prison, yeah, two days ago, actually, yeah, I got fifteen years, yeah, I done ten though, yeah.' Was it wrong of me to wish we had a panic button at this stage of the conversation?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Ted and Rufus...

I'm back and I'm glad to report my absence wasn't anything to do with hospital visits for a change! In the absence of interesting photos about the goings on of the last few weeks I've used a recent picture of Ted and Rufus who have been boxed and are finally making their way up into the attic.

Note that I intentionally only use the names Ted and Rufus despite the fact there are two teds. Mothers everywhere will be familiar with 'The Chosen One' which in J's case was this £1 teddy from IKEA. I went back at a later date and purchased another just in case the special Ted was lost or left behind somewhere. There were, however, obstacles to overcome with the stand in. For a start he was honey coloured compared to the pale and interesting shade of the original Ted. Ella, who was in on this conspiracy, decided we would say he's been away on holiday and now he is... 'Suntan Ted' yay! In the event we never had to produce Suntan Ted. Phew.

Rufus, on the other hand, came to live with us when he got dropped into a shopping trolley by the cunning nearly two year old Jake. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and planned to drop the dog straight back where he came from before checking out, hoping that he'd be long forgotten. Never underestimate the brain and memory of a nearly two year old is all I can say. Thence followed years of taking Ted and Rufus e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!! Most heartbreakingly to stay with his Dad on occasion but let's not go there.

I should add here that they weren't recently relegated to the box. That was actually some time ago. They weren't allowed to leave the room though, that is a recent thing. At nearly six feet tall I've had to teach J it's time to let go! I guess I have to learn the same lesson. If there's one thing motherhood has taught me it's that it's not so much to do with looking after and nurturing, it's being there while, bit by bit, you actually let go.

With letting go in mind I have at last had proper thoughts about becoming more than just a housewife, mother, chief dog walker, chief dog bather, one woman Chinese laundry...etc. I had fun being a graphic designer before the children were born and for a little while afterwards. I bought and restored and sold on, both antiques and tatty old furniture, for quite a long time. Now it's time to do something less taxing and less risky perhaps. A quick glance through job websites told me that I don't really have any up to date skills that I can market. I can only capitalise on the ones I already have. Being able to talk to people on the telephone is not one of them which does seem to rule out a few things. (Type talk, or type relay or whatever they've renamed it will always be a rubbish substitute, for me anyway).

So to cut a long story short, and still wanting very much to work in an environment with tatty old things :-) I've been setting up and now volunteering for a new charity shop! So far I think the setting up was more fun than the day to day running but it's had it's funny moments. The local community has it's fair share of colourful characters.

I've been able to put to use the knowledge I've gained from a decade or so of attending and buying from auctions. I know my Moorcroft from my Meakin! We don't get much of the former but we've got piles of the latter. I've been able to price things according to current values which has gained us a few more pennies than they would have got. I've used my arty flair to design the window displays. The china and glass window, which is the smaller of the two, gets lots of comments. I've also discovered the power of the window display for selling. We sell so much of what is in the window. When I sold my furniture it was a space within an antiques centre so the whole pitch was my window so to speak.

The larger window is more clothing and household. I aim for a family appeal. So we have a male grouping to one end; a male mannequin, our delightful collection of old radios (they come in just as fast as they fly out), manly things like messenger bags, crime books, taps, drumsticks (yes really). The female side has clothes, shoes, bags, mills and boon (sell like hot cakes believe it or not!) and the central area is dedicated to our best toys and cuddly toys. I'm hoping we can get some child mannequins eventually.

Other skills I've had to brush up on; how to collapse a pram or pushchair in order to demonstrate it to potential buyers! I haven't lost a finger yet. How to put up a travel cot (when the last time you had to do that was at least 13 years ago). Mostly though it's how to stop people stealing things which has been the really disappointing side of it. Just recently we had a price sticker swapping expert. It only came to light after we were discussing sales and an antique jug had been sold for £2.50 which is not what I priced it at all. On inspection we discovered a smaller jug was missing it's £2.50 price sticker. We have a good description of the man and surprisingly he was quite smartly dressed.

I could write a whole book on the goings on behind the scenes in a charity shop. It's been a real eye opener in many ways. I had never imagined how hard it was to get volunteers who are capable of putting clean clothing on hangers with the right size toggle. Not rocket science is it? It is for the ones we've had apply. Most want to volunteer so that they can get jobseekers allowance without having to travel into town or do other mind numbingly boring schemes like make greetings cards. They see the shop as an easy option.

Just don't get me started on the quality of the donations. Especially if you're eating or about to eat. I could put you off your food quite easily.

The perks? There aren't many. A staff discount of 50%. Socialising with the local community which include drunks, drug addicts, neglected filthy children, lonely old people (my favourite kind of customer). Getting home before the rush hour is a good thing. Collapsing in a heap feeling you've provided a useful, vital service for the community, not to mention the charity, which is Relate by the way.

In the meantime, all crochet has been on hold. Quite a bit of the housework has been on hold. On the plus side carpet and surfaces have been appearing where I've taken stuff in to donate! My perfect job!

Christmas is creeping up on me! Can't wait until 1st December though, I've got my Christmas window all planned! Must remember to take a photo for my blog!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The experimental pair...

We had quite an eventful week last week. I turned a year older. Briefly toyed with the idea of never dying my grey out again, got a frightening response from E and banished that idea. She did mention that I'd need to be at least 90 before grey would look right for me. 45 years and counting. Note to self; add this one onto the long list of things to do when children leave home!

On said Birthday evening M, E and J went to see Ed Sheeran live at Nottingham. Wish I could have enjoyed something like that too. Say no more. I did enjoy the bottle of Pinot Grigio I had to myself not to mention the remote control. The latter was so unfamiliar to me I had to get my reading glasses on to examine what each button did. Am I a doormat for not putting my foot down and insisting we share the choice of tv or am I a candidate for UN peacekeeper?

We also had a wedding anniversary. Seventh. Wool. Happened to be passing a wool shop with M that day. Chose my own wedding anniversary present while M got comfy on the shop sofa and talked about all things crochet with the shop owner. I've trained him well.

And so half term began this week. We kicked off with a train ride to Nottingham. It's been a very long time since I took the children on a train ride, just me and them. When they were small we would make the odd journey specifically just to have a ride on a train. I would make sure they each had a small rucksack with colouring things, small games, a few matchbox cars, an apple and a box of raisins... Oh boy have we gone downhill since then! Jake packed his own rucksack yesterday which consisted of one iPad and one pair of headphones. That's all he needed to keep himself occupied for two hours.

I got out my wool and crochet hook and he mouthed, 'you are kidding aren't you?' To which I just shook my head with a mad woman's grin. He turned a lovely shade of red and looked out of the window, trying very hard to look as though he wasn't with me. He was, however, a superb shopping partner. Our main task was to buy him a winter coat/jacket/whatever. We found that in the first five minutes and bought it. Boys are sooo easy! I dragged him into the wool department in John Lewis and plonked him down at the patterns table while I browsed (it was seriously rubbish!). I then suggested a couple of charity shops and he was still game. He carried all our purchases without so much as a moan. Well ok, he did say it whiffed a bit in the British Heart foundation shop but he did have a point.

I finished off one of these mock cable fingerless gloves/wristwarmers on the train and started the second. I'm calling them the experimental pair because I really couldn't remember how to do raised stitches. For some reason I ended up slip stitching them and afterwards I realised that double crochet would have been much better. I'm tempted to rip that bit out and redo it, or just leave this pair with a more subtle cable detail and do the next pair properly.

They are extremely easy to make. I didn't even take the pattern with me on the train. Just rows of trebles interspersed with slip stitch rows, sewn up to leave a thumb hole which could be made into a proper thumb bit if you wanted to. The instructions suggested sewing up the glove before doing the raised stitches... very bad idea! Much easier to do the cable bit and then sew up. I used two balls of ALASKA by Drops (bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show). That's 100g of aran wool, a very economical project. The pattern lends itself to all kinds of modification.

If anyone would like the pattern it's a free pdf which I can email. I don't have the website link.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Off the hook...Sunday Shawl

Well I seem to have photographed this on the wrong side even though it's not really supposed to have a wrong and right side. I guess the shell row stands out more as having a right and wrong side. I'm definitely not going to brave the wind and rain to re-photograph it though! Various things from the garden took off last night and landed in the field. I've retrieved them and weighted everything else down.

So, I've been doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I've made some Christmas gifts that I can't show you yet. I've also made this shawl for myself. It's from a pattern I bought just before we went to Italy and I was hoping to find some suitable yarn out there to make it with. I ended up not finding any but when I got back to the UK I discovered an alpaca yarn in my local yarn store and set to work. The pattern calls for 300 grammes of the main colour in DK weight, so I reckon that makes it a suitable candidate for something slightly luxurious. The border colours can be done from existing stash, though 7 colours of 50g was recommended.

I haven't blocked it; it's too much bother. It's quite large and we lack large unused surfaces at the moment. It is very soft and snuggly though. I'm not big on shawls and I've no idea when I will wear it. My guess is when it turns really cold and I'm watching a Western of an afternoon! It's also probably suitable to wear as a scarf.

It was quite an easy make. The main body is made up of double treble rows and half treble rows. The border rows were much more fun, with puff stitches, shells, trellis and a lovely picot round to finish off.

The pattern is called The Sunday Shawl and is available on Etsy.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Happy kid...

Who got Under 13s County Bowler of the Year Award? Yay! The big smile says it all, he's chuffed to finally get this one, and to be selected for the Emerging Players Programme (EPP). Happy boy.

It's a rubbish photo (taken on M's phone) but he's difficult to pin down for a serious shot. We have what looks like scribbling on the wall by his head. It is in fact where we have measured the kids height progress for the last few years. Ella has stopped at 5'6 much to her disgust. Jake is currently at 5'11. His latest cricket shoes are size 11. Insane.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Knitting & Stitching Show 2014...

Well, I survived The Big Smoke! Only just though, I can barely walk today. Not a usual reaction to a day out in London but probably par for the course at the moment. I think I need some vitamins, or a gin and tonic, or both.

The journey itself was remarkably straightforward. Announcements are sometimes a worry, especially when the other passengers stop what they're doing, listen intently and then frown. For me the announcements may as well be in Dutch. Years ago, on a train journey, an announcement was made and everyone started getting off! I didn't have a clue what had been said, it could have been a bomb scare for all I knew. I started to look for someone in uniform and then realised that they were all getting onto another train. So I just followed. Then half way through that journey they started talking amongst themselves about which half of the train they were supposed to be in! Oh bother! Actually that wasn't the word I was thinking of at the time. Through sheer luck I was on the right half of the train. Phew. It's probably about time they started using those running light display things for important messages. Equal access and all that.

It was a relief to be meeting up with friends for the tube part of the route. It's been a while since I was last in London and Kings Cross has changed beyond recognition. The last part was in a red double decker bus especially for Alexander Palace shows.

I know this is slightly un-pc but when I return to my native South I always gain a little hearing back. I no longer have to struggle to both hear and interpret an accent that I have not grown up with. It's so much less tiring on my brain and my eyes. Having said that, groups and with shed loads of background noise are always pretty tricky.

Anyway, on to the show stuff. Wow! This was my first visit and it was so hot and busy that I abandoned any thoughts of taking photos for my blog. I took one or two and then realised it was going to be hard work. I may post those yet if my iPod starts communicating with my iPad like it is supposed to do.

I didn't plan what to see or what to buy. For a first visit I thought I'd just wander and see what caught my eye. It was so nice to see familiar faces. Things I've read about on blogs or seen in magazines. Toft for instance, and Edwards Menagerie, they were all dangling down from the stand waiting to be squished and admired. Very expensive though!

Locally I don't think we are well set up for wool. It's easy to get hold of the run of the mill stuff but I'd have to go to another major city to see more British Wools and undyed wool. Thankfully there were lots of stalls selling British Wool at the show. Some of the show prices didn't look very inviting so I jotted down a few names and will order from their websites as and when I have a requirement.

Jamiesons was a lovely stand. Lots caught my eye and they do woven fabric too. I now have one of their crochet bag kits on my wish list which I think could be lined with one of their tweedy Shetland wool fabrics.

Piiku was a name that I'd not heard of before. The name of the company is an old sheep calling, to bring the sheep in at the end of the day. They are based in Finland and the two women serving were very friendly and polite, they were rushed off their feet too. They sell roving, felt pieces, felt... They have a website that needs clearer photos of what they sell, but it's lovely stuff in all colours of the rainbow. I chose three undyed shades of fleece suitable for spinning (only £2.30 each). M thought I might like a drop spindle for my birthday but it turns out I may be able to borrow one just to see if I can get the hang of it. I bought some of their little felt pieces too, they look like pebbles. One of the women was wearing a necklace made from them and they also had a lovely mat made using the pieces. You could trim a scarf with them, use them for fake buttons, all sorts really. I like the idea of bracelets, because bracelets go with everything!

Drops was another name that I've known about for years but never actually seen or handled. They had a modest stall with several lovely people serving. Such reasonable prices for such a lovely product. By this time I'd seen some lovely shawls, triangular scarves, wristwarmers etc done in beautifully understated stitches, in natural tones with gorgeous colour combinations. The wools displayed with them though were hideously expensive so I gravitated to the Drops stand to buy equivalents. Hence my purchase of just two of their alpaca four ply balls. Only £3 each and all that was required for a triangular scarf made using a slightly larger hook than suggested on the ball band, a simple stitch and fat and thin stripes. I hope I can pull it off!

I also bought some of their aran weight wool, Alaska. I really love 100% wool! It smells divine and like I've said before I'm lucky to be able to wear it next to my skin without a problem. I bought four in mustard and two in charcoal with fingerless mitts in mind. I haven't made any for a while and yet we all wear them. Ella was particularly approving of the mustard colour! They were only £1.60 each!

I like the fact that Drops have such an enormous online resource for free patterns. They have some great designs. Most probably something for everyone.

Collinette do the most amazing arty yarns and are hard to find up here. The two hanks I bought are aran weight again, this is the weight I find most comfortable to work with. The shade is called 'Thunder', it's hand dyed and made in Wales. I'm thinking linen stitch cowl for these. I wouldn't normally be so extravagant but it was a birthday treat and there was no point coming home with armfuls of acrylic!

I bought a Tunisian crochet hook from The Knitting Gift Shop. I've never tried Tunisian crochet but I fancy a go. They also had ceramic yarn bowls and wooden wool stands. There weren't any (as far as I know) stands dedicated to crochet alone but that didn't matter because the whole show was so inspiring and full of wool!

Texere Yarns had quite a bit of crochet going on for their display and they sold Axminster wool for making sturdy crochet bags. Tempting but I thought it would be a bit unkind on the hands.

It was fascinating to see student work from a textile course too. I wished Ella had been able to come because I think she would have been interested. It was more art than textile and that's what I think she would have been inspired by. 

I would have to write for hours to explain who else was there and what else was fascinating. There were lots of oversized knitting needles and crochet hooks. I fancied one of the broom handle sized hooks but it was £20! What a wool eater too! The rugs they made were fabulous though.

I haven't been able to make these company names into links using blogger on an iPad but they are very easy to find by googling. It was so valuable to go and see ranges of wool I'd only seen on websites. You get a feel for the product (thank goodness I didn't buy nettle or hemp online, it was so scratchy and yet the description used the word 'soft'!) and you also get a feel for the people behind the names.

If I were to go again I might go with a shopping list. Some of the prices were clearly a good deal whereas others were not at all. It would pay to do some research on product ranges/prices beforehand if you have a shopping list. I would also jot down all the names I particularly wanted to see. I know I missed a few yesterday just based on bags I saw with company names. If you have never been and are going, take plenty of bottled water. It's crowded, it's hot and there are not enough places to sit down and rest. If I hadn't taken water I would have passed out, I'm sure! A small rucksack is the perfect way to carry your essentials and even better if you can put your purchases in it. I took my own food mainly because I can't eat certain things but the food queues were long and mostly the cafes were expensive.

I forgot to mention that there was plenty of fabric for sale, sewing machines, displays of quilts, dressmaking supplies and patterns, embroidery, cross stitch and tapestry. Buttons, threads, appliqué, you name it, it was there for the stitching side of things. Thank goodness I can't sew!

I'm buzzing with woolly ideas. I've made loads of new discoveries. I had a lovely day out with friends. I came home with some goodies. It was one of the best birthday presents I've ever had, thanks Mum!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Granny squares and more granola squares...

Well I'd like to say this wonderful blanket was the result of many a winter's Eve spent hooking up left over yarn from a basket beside my comfy armchair. (Throw in a wood burning stove and you have my dream scenario). I'm afraid not. I spotted it from across a crowded charity shop and quite frankly I moved pretty fast to check it out. It's another whopper (see the one Harvey snuck onto in the header collage above). My last one cost just £3. This one, is rather more expertly put together and I'd say it was done with a 3mm hook, the stitches look quite fine. I love the joining method! All that work and history and they still only wanted a tenner for it.

In other news we have made a tiny tiny bit of progress with the kitchen. We have a new windowsill! It's an old scaffolding plank sanded and sealed. In my attempt to photograph this lovely piece of wood I spotted Mollie on the windowsill outside and in my attempt to capture her I completely forgot to make sure I was also photographing the windowsill indoors!

We are on our third batch of 'healthy' granola/flapjack squares. This time I used two slightly overripe bananas instead of apples. I added a tablespoon of golden syrup like last time but because that was nearly gone too I also put in a heaped teaspoon of set honey (runny would have been better but it seemed to work ok). It doesn't seem a lot of sugar compared to the amount of oats and raisins. This batch held together much better than the second batch of apple flapjacks (M made the second batch and refused to believe they needed squashing down like I had done for the first batch, he's obviously an experiential learner, like Jake!) I didn't heat the mixture in a pan before transferring to the oven for the banana version. They mush down without the need for heat. Yum, they taste pretty good!

I've flicked back through my baking posts and realised that these were similar to some I made before but with olive oil as a binding agent, as well as the fruit. This latest recipe proves the oil is completely unnecessary.

If you're thinking, wow, three batches of flapjack/granola in as many days then I must explain. The first batch was something new so everyone tried it and liked it. Whoosh, gone in minutes. The second batch, novelty has worn off and they were very crumbly so not ideal to put in a lunch box and eat on a train in front of people. Third batch, perfect, ideal for eating on a train journey. I'm off to London to visit the Queen! No not really. I'm off to London to indulge in some woolly inspiration! I can't wait!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Apple and cinnamon healthy flapjack...

In the last couple of years food had become a big pain in the neck (and other places too.)

It's been difficult to adjust. It's been expensive. It's been hard work and it's been dull.

It seems the gluten is still an issue but now so is fat. Goodbye butter, donuts, quiche, chocolate, croissants, crisps, pain au chocolats, sausages, bacon, sausage rolls, pork, lamb, beef, biscuits, cake, peanut butter, hash browns, fish and chips, cheese straws... Ugh, I feel sick just writing all of that.

Hello fat free marshmallows! I'm sick of these already. I've had three or four a day for a few days and ugh, I never want to see another marshmallow as long as I live. It's not a successful chocolate substitute. Never will be.

When I first realised my problems were food related M rose to the challenge and cooked amazing meals using less than amazing ingredients. Gram flour, buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, you know who you are! We are now at the stage where it might just be possible to go back to making just one meal per evening that everyone can eat. So last night, having done the rounds of Sainburys with my reading glasses permanently on to read all the labels we decided upon Quorn mince for shepherds pie. Can't go far wrong with vegetables, potato and ahem, mince. At least that's what we told the kids. Near the end of the meal we asked their verdict on the basis that M had left out a bit of oil for browning the meat. E said she didn't like the celery and J said that the carrots were too crunchy but then went on to have seconds. A riproaring success I think! Sssh, don't tell them it was Quorn.

Not only did the Quorn experience surprise me but E actually asked to taste one of my 'healthy' flapjacks. I used an American recipe which I copied down for our recipe box but haven't bookmarked on my iPad. It makes a good, moist, tasty flapjack that would be incredibly easy to adapt. You could add nuts, chocolate chips maybe, dates.

Here's how:

Chop up two large or three small eating apples (peel if you prefer, but I didn't) and heat in a pan with a little water and a squirt of lemon juice.

When it becomes a liquid pulp remove from the heat and add a cup of raisins.

When the raisins swell a little with the moisture then stir in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Now stir in two cups of oats making sure they are all covered with the apple mixture and leave to stand for five minutes. (This makes sure the oats absorb the flavours).

At this stage I wasn't convinced it would all hold together and since I'm not avoiding sugar (just cutting it down a little) I squirted a tablespoon of golden syrup in. I'm not sure it made much of a difference to the final thing to be honest.

Press down into a grease proof paper lined baking dish and bake until golden brown. Mine took about twenty minutes on 170. My flapjacks were about an inch thick.

Children might not like the apple peel which does tend to separate from the apple during cooking. I like it with peel because it gives a bit of texture.

The original recipe was given without the golden syrup and I reckon that would work just as well, making it a low fat and low sugar flapjack. I used to make something similar with banana but E doesn't like banana so these will probably be made weekly from now on!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Almond macaroons...

I've had an eventful week.

Another visit to the local hospital curtesy of the blue flashing light brigade, and very nice they were too. I was much more sociable after an arm full of morphine!

The health stuff is boring. I do hate that blooming place. It was particularly hot on this occasion. Coming home wasn't a moment too soon.

I thought I'd recuperate with a trip down memory lane. Does anyone remember those large round macaroons with the whole almond on top? Why don't they do those anymore? When I was small my Nan used to take me shopping and we would usually stop at a bakery (Nan would always say that Grandad deserved a treat but I reckon she liked a treat just as much!). I thought that shopping in a bakery was the height of luxury since Mum did most of her shopping in a supermarket. I got to choose a cake or biscuit and I would always choose the macaroon. Yum!

This is the simplest recipe which uses just ground almonds, sugar and crushed cardomom seeds. I was supposed to roll them in rose watered hands, but c'mon rosewater! Not in my kitchen cupboard at the moment but I'm sure Nigella would have some in hers!

The recipe didn't mention that they don't spread that much. I was hoping for an exact replica according to my childhood memory thank you very much! Next time I will squish them down a lot more, make them almost the shape and size they are supposed to end up.

Have you spotted the rogue pecan? I ran out of almonds! They weren't bad at all. Even Ella approved but she said she'd prefer them without the cardomom. Fair enough.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Cake and quiche...

When it all goes wrong there is always cake. There was a bit of drama last night. Someone was trying to top my door slamming teenage behaviour, and she did. I think the last of my patience has gone.

So this morning, with that someone safely out of the way, I decided to make a Victoria sponge cake. I don't think I've made one before and I may never make one again. Yes it does look a bit flat but that's gluten free flour for you. Yes the buttercream looks a bit on the generous side but that was a lucky mistake that just happens to compensate for the dryness of the aforementioned flour. Yes the cake is perfectly round, it's just the dome making it look kidney shaped!

It was quite an adventure; I used nearly every bowl and utensil in the house, and I've well and truly mastered the Kenwood Chef. I love that thing. So simple to use and saves my arms from unnecessary work which means they're ok for crochet. That's the main thing ;-)

So quiche was next on my hit list. I found my idea of a perfect recipe on the Internet. It didn't call for ready made short crust pastry. It did call for lots of things that needed using up. We have a fridge full of tomatoes. A basket full of onions and a lot of farm eggs. Tomato and onion quiche. It should really be called tomato, cheese and onion quiche. There was talk of this being a thrifty recipe using up things you already have in the house (the chances of us ever having that combination of left over stuff again is very remote).

My inexperience in cooking in general meant that I didn't realise the pastry quantity would only make a tiddly little quiche in a tiddly little flan dish. Nowhere near enough for M's healthy appetite. I only realised this when I came to roll it out. I had to abandon my new flan dish and grab the smallest baking thing we have which is a glass Pyrex thing. I'm a bit disappointed my quiche doesn't have those lovely wavy edges. Pants. It smells good though, I just hope it's edible. (Update: yum, my first ever quiche, I wish I'd tried making one years ago!). M gave the cake the thumbs up too but he knows not to expect cake and quiche too often. My baking enthusiasm comes and goes!

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...

Remember that song? Oh the drivel we had to sing when we were kids.

Don't be fooled by that fixed stare, he's 'armless! Ha.

Man that head was fiddly!

Arms are next. Followed by mushroom hat. Woohoo!