Hanging out to dry



There are some things in life that you don’t buy very often… not because they don’t get used, but simply because they don’t wear out very quickly. A particular example is clothes pegs (pins). It’s probably 20 years since I bought any new ones and at the time the problem of plastic waste did not occupy my mind, although I can remember cursing about my old plastic pegs breaking. I think I looked for wooden ones, but couldn’t easily find any and so bought a (plastic) basket of (plastic) pegs from Woolworths. The basket has long since disintegrated and I made a felt peg bag some years ago. Recently, however, there has been an outbreak of exploding pegs. The plastic is finally breaking down and I’ve been cut several times as a peg snaps whilst being squeezed to open it. Some pegs have even snapped whilst in place on the washing line – leading to even more cursing and some essential re-washing.

My very old wooden pegs (given to me by my mum about 30 years ago) are still going strong, although they probably need soaking in something to get them clean, as I think things may have started growing on them. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. So, a purchase was required. In this case I did not need to do any research because I knew exactly what I wanted. Years ago I read about a company in Scotland that was selling a product called K-pegs – strong metal pegs capable of holding washing on the line in the windiest of conditions. A little bit of hunting around and I found the company (Exquisite Scotland) and placed my order. They arrived a few days later and I have been very impressed. I’ve already tested them out in windy conditions and to secure a heavy mat and I’ve had no failures. There’s no plastic and they are easy to keep clean, so I think I am on to a winner…. and will probably never have to buy another peg again in my life. Oh, and wonderfully they arrived in re-used packaging… a company after my own heart.

My laundry issues did not stop there, however. I also have some plastic ‘smalls’ driers. I really like these because it means that when the inevitable rain comes, all those little things on the washing line can be brought in quickly and with minimum effort. Like the pegs, though, these elderly plastic items were starting to disintegrate. One was thrown out a few years ago and the remaining ones have started losing pegs and arms:


gradually deteriorating

Replacing these took a little more research, but I found that several metal options are available. In the end I chose a version that does have plastic cables to suspend it, but that is mostly metal. The pegs are good and strong and, although the hook does not grip the washing line, the new K-pegs can be used to secure it.


lots of pegs

So, I’m now all set for many years of hanging the washing on the line – no matter how windy it is.

Holidaying Hens


doing their thing at home

Keeping livestock, even on a small scale involves lots of responsibility. When you go away, there are kennels in which to house your dogs and there are catteries for your kitties, but henneries (chickeneries?) are few and far between. Big farms may have staff or helpers, but back gardens do not. In years gone by our neighbours – previous chicken owners themselves – would pop round and care for our four ladies. However, now they are in their nineties (the neighbours not the hens) we think it’s a bit much to ask. So, some dear friends who also keep chickens have taken on the job.

The problem is that said friends live a half hour’s drive away, so calling round twice a day to let chickens out and put them to bed is not an option. And so, every time we go away, so do the chickens. First, they get stuffed into cardboard boxes and then transported by car to their holiday home. Fortunately our friends have a two-part run with two houses, so their flock and ours are kept separate (we don’t want any squabbles). They always continue laying whilst they are away, although the space is more restricted than at home, so they are clearly happy with their alternative accommodation.


holidaying hens

And there are interesting neighbours to shout at…


brown hens next door

We have considered installing automatic doors on the coop that have light sensors so that they open in the morning and close at night, which would mean that we could (in theory) leave them unattended for a few days. We are not, however, very comfortable with this idea. Taking care of animals comes with responsibility to attend to their needs and protect them, and leaving them unwatched would mean that we couldn’t be certain of their welfare. So, for now, they go on holidays and we are very grateful to have good friends who will help us out this way.


Springing into life 2018

Today is the vernal equinox – the first day of ‘astronomical’ spring. Despite the late snow here in the UK, spring has arrived with glorious sunshine and I have been busy potting up some of the plants that have grown from the seeds I sowed back in January. As with all seed sowing there have been successes and failures – and a minor slug invasion at germination time did for a few of the seedlings. The loofah seeds have not germinated and neither have some of the varieties of chilli, but I have not given up hope yet and I they may eventually appear.

I sowed generous amounts of parsley seed because it is notoriously fickle when it comes to germination. It appears that every single seed, however, has produced a plant, so I will be able to share these with my local friends (a particular pleasure when it comes to gardening). Last year I planted another unreliable germinator – lemon grass. Again, I was swamped with plants and gave lots away. Since it grows to quite a size, I only retained three plants for myself and these have been happy in the limery over the winter. Today they have been transplanted to larger pots and I’m looking forward to fresh, home-grown lemongrass in my cooking for the first time this year.

A few weeks ago, before things in the limery had actively started to grow, I decided to divide some of my carnivores. This was a little nerve-wracking as I’ve never done it before and I was not sure how they would respond. Several weeks down the line, however, I’m happy to report that they seem to be thriving, and there are lots of new pitchers (for the Sarracenias) and sticky leaves (for the Droseras). Several of these plants are destined for a friend who lives locally, so I’m delighted that the operation has been so successful. The tatty old pitchers from last year (or even the year before) look very sad compared to the vigorous new ones. The plants that I didn’t split are also springing back into life and it looks like flies are going to have a very hard time if they come into the limery this year.

There’s still more potting up to do and plenty of new seeds to sow later on in the week. I love harvesting, but the promise of abundance at this time of year really does lift my spirits.

Life and death

I haven’t written a proper post for ages and the longer I leave it, the more difficult it is to get going again. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write – quite the opposite. The real problem is deciding what to write about… soap dishes or lovely British wool, clothes pegs or plants,  knitting or crochet, a new home or hens on holiday… I seem to have been so busy the past few weeks. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll get round to telling you about some or all of these things, but in the mean time, here’s a little collection of photographs…


My busy weeks ended on a sad note. Quite a significant part of Saturday was spent remembering our lost knitting friend, Pauline Bambrey. The funeral was held at the crematorium in Aberystwyth. If anyone ever writes a ‘good crematorium guide’, this must come out as one of the most beautiful settings. The room where the celebrations are held has a huge window at the end, so those gathering to remember their loved ones look out over the most beautiful view. I don’t think I’ve ever been when there wasn’t a red kite swooping over the wooded valley, and Saturday was no exception. The sheer beauty of the place is always poignant:

And this was the music that the family had chosen to close proceedings…



For Pauline

We lost a lovely, funny, talented lady last week. Knit Night at Red Apple Yarn will not be the same without her. I can do no better than Jude’s words…



Last week our friend Pauline died. Our thoughts are with her family, who have been through so much during her illness.

She was a warm and generous person with time for people. We shared the enjoyment in making knitting, collecting wool and sharing a hobby with others. While the shop has been open she has been a rock, encouraging me, listening to my struggles with commerce and buoying me up when things went wrong. I enjoyed her company. I wish I could have protected her from the cancer that ended her life too soon. I would have liked to get on and do all the things we had talked about doing  – visiting the lavender fields and that infamous trip to Shetland in a minibus with all the other ‘mad knitters of Lampeter’.  Every time I pick up needles and start a lace pattern I’ll remember her in my stitches…

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From snow to snails

This has been a glum weekend. We were supposed to be away celebrating a birthday, but we couldn’t get out of Wales…

Usually I would be only too happy to stay at home, but missing spending time with my family, having posh afternoon tea, eating at a lovely brasserie and going to the theatre has put an enormous damper on my mood. Often I cheer myself up with creative activities, but it’s been hard this weekend. I have forced myself to start a new knitting project and to return to yet another long-abandoned crochet project, but progress has been slow and my mood has been low. It’s certainly not been helped by the weather improving, such that two days later, there would be no problem travelling.

Anyway, I have a pair of Nordic socks underway The pattern is Starry Night Socks and I’ve only modified it a little bit! I’m mostly using the wool I bought in Norway a couple of years ago, half of which was used for another pair of socks.


warm socks now it’s warming up again

The ‘old’ project is a cardigan that I wanted to wear for a wedding 18 months ago! The wedding came and went and the cardigan was not finished. Then I discovered that the pattern was very poor and didn’t properly describe how to align the little flower motifs in the border – there being a point where the flowers up the front simply didn’t line up with the flowers up the back (they are off-set by a third of a flower and it would only get worse when you add the next row and the final third row):


this is where I stalled – any additional flower would be in the wrong place in relation to one of the existing rows (both correctly placed according to the pattern)

I contacted the designer to get advice and she was unhelpful, basically telling me just to fiddle around with the flower motifs until they fit. I was so fed up that I put it to one side and didn’t pick it up again until a few days ago. By this stage I had decided not to follow the pattern (what there was of it) and instead to do my own thing. Since I was already glum, I started by removing the row of flowers up the front and weaving in all 248 ends that remained, then I added a simple border along the fronts and back of the neck that would be easy to attach other things to. Once these tasks were done, I felt a little better about the project.

As you can see, I left the row of flowers up the centre of the back, but I don’t plan to repeat them for the borders. So, it was a case of playing about with what I actually wanted. Initially I thought about paisley motifs and combining these with some free-form crochet, but then I had an idea: snails! Why not make it a snail of happiness cardigan? I’ve only just started, but I think this sort of thing might make a splendid border:


a cluster of snails

I can join them as I go and shape the border easily… and it will be both unique and very personal.

So, the weekend is drawing to a close and although I’ve wasted lots of time being sad, I’ve also made some things and I’m feeling happy about a project that, until now, was something of a millstone. I hope you have been having a happier time than me.



Being asked to make something for someone does not always fill me with joy – it may be that the thing I’m asked to make does not inspire me, or uses techniques that I’m not keen on/good at, but there is also the fact that I’m not sure that I can actually make the thing that the person asking envisages. Anything that requires lots of sewing together at the end is off-putting to me and these are the sort of patterns I would not choose for myself and I’m particularly worried when someone says they want a thing “just like this”.

So, when my friend Kate asked if I would make her a couple of tiny baby sloths from a pattern by The Twisted Crocheter, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them anywhere near as cute as the photographs:

I really wanted to oblige to say thank you for the waxed wraps she gave me a while ago, but I wasn’t sure I could do them justice. And then inspiration struck – I offered to do the crochet if she would do the sewing. This way I avoid the possibility of making sloth faces that look like demented frogs, but I do the thing that I am skilled in.

So, yesterday afternoon I settled down with my hook and some lovely Cambrian Mountains Wool (they will be Welsh sloths – sadly, my dictionary does not have a translation). I made all the crochet pieces for two of the little critters – most of them look like sausages (hence slothages).

Now I just need to pop them in the post and await the final results.

A long time coming

Those of you who have been with me for a while may remember me beginning work on covering my sofa with crochet (apparently, that was July 2014). I started well – I made a cover using a different design for each of the five large cushions that we lean on:


phase 1 completed a long time ago

Next I planned to make a large rectangular piece to go over the seat cushions. The colours were the same, but this was stripy. I started, but I got really fed up with the very long rows and work ground to a halt. I also started to wonder whether it was the most sensible way to cover the seat cushions – would it move about to much when in use?. Boredom combined with uncertainty does not lead to finished projects and so it remained a work in progress.

When the beginning of this year arrived, however, I decided that I wanted to shift some of my unfinished projects – either I was going to complete them or they were going to go. So, once the woolly hug and a charity blanket were completed, the sofa cover was next on the list. I braced myself for long, dull rows, but actually it wasn’t too bad. On further consideration, I decided that the seat cushions would each need separate covers, but the stripy piece could cover the back of the sofa. So I crocheted on and finally reached a size that seemed suitable. I edged it with a single row of double crochet and here it is:


those rows are SO long

Initially I was going to make some gussets for the sides, but actually it works really well (at least for the time being) as a simple throw. Of course, once the fancy cushions are in place, you can’t see much of the stripes, but I know they are there!


stripes peeking out

So far all the work has been done using double knitting wool, but I’m going to progress on to something a little thicker now. Fortunately, New Lanark, who make the wool, do the same colours in aran weight and that’s what I plan to use for the seat cushion covers and the pieces to go over the arms… I probably need a sort of pelmet for the front too. This project is not over by a long way, but at least there aren’t any bits languishing around the house unfinished now.

Funnily enough, I’m not the only one celebrating the end of a long-incomplete piece of work… The Twisted Yarn seems to be in the same position today. Anyone else managed a recent big finish?


Crochet, frog, repeat

Sometimes you make something and everything goes smoothly… the instructions contain no mistakes, the materials are cooperative, it ends up looking exactly how you want it to and you’ve enjoyed the whole process. And then sometimes that’s not the case.

I had some lovely New Lanark aran yarn in “Blackberry” that Mr Snail bought for me a couple of years ago. I had fallen out of love with the crochet pattern that it was originally intended for and I couldn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted. So, I bought a pattern that I was sure I could adapt. It was knitted rather than crochet, but that was ok – I’m happy to do either. I made the sleeves full-length rather than 3/4 and that worked well. Rather than adapting the wide, low-cut neck, I decided to in-fill with crochet once it was knitted. And that was where my problems started…

First I crocheted in a little triangle so it wasn’t as low-cut, but on inspection I discovered that it wasn’t quite centred, and in fact I’d made the triangle slightly too wide at the top, so it distorted the neck shape… so I frogged it. Then I decided to start slightly differently, so I edged it first, but it was saggy… so I frogged it. Then I edged it with some decreases and that was better, so I tried the triangular insert, and some more edging, but when I tried it on it still gaped and seemed very low… so I frogged it. Then I switched to a smaller hook and edged it and made a triangle using a different stitch pattern (which got partly frogged as I went) and then I realised I’d miscounted stitches down one side of the front edging, so it was uneven… so I frogged it.

Finally I got out my notebook and wrote down how many stitches I needed to work in each of the five sections. Then I counted as I worked and recounted once the first row was done. Then I put in a second row and counted again. Then I made the triangular insert based on all that I had learned from my previous attempts, which included using stitch markers to ensure that the two sides matched exactly. Then I crocheted another row and then I tried it on. It seemed to be ok, so I finished off with a crab-stitch edging.

It’s worked and I’m happy with it (it really is the colour in the first four pictures not the last one), but my word it has taken hours and hours and hours. Once all the ends are woven in, that will be another completed item made from my stash. I’m planning to spend time on something less challenging now before I return to the stripy cardigan that I abandoned months ago because of some technical issues with the pattern. Have you been struggling with any challenging makes recently?

The Dancing Skeleton

Many moons ago we made a blanket… it was called “The Masterpiece” and it represented lots of aspects of my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I made squares and you made squares and each of you who did so also sent me a letter or note telling me what the square represented in terms of helping make the world be a better place. Then I used The Masterpiece as the focus for my diploma presentation*:

alan 6

I’m a very enthusiastic speaker! © Alan Carlton

The central nine squares each represented one of the projects in my diploma portfolio. If you look closely, you can see that there’s a little dancing skeleton in one of them… here it is a bit closer:


let’s dance!

It represented a design that I did about end-of-life planning, which I called A Dance with Death. The square turned out to be rather popular in its own right and I got several requests for the pattern. So, I found some charting software and made a chart and then I stalled. Other things needed doing and I lost momentum. Every year as we approached halloween I intended to get a pattern sorted and every year I failed. I thought that having ‘publish two knitting/crochet patterns’ amongst my goals in 17 for 2017 might provide the motivation, but even that failed**. However, producing a (completely different) pattern for Mandy at Faithmead got me back on track and so, the dancing  skeleton pattern is finally written up and available to buy as a digital download from etsy. I’m delighted to have Hattie to model it – although I really must sort out some hair for her (anyone have a wig they don’t want?)

Of course the charted pattern could be used as a motif on anything, I just thought that the hat would be a good starting point. Next I plan to make a crochet version… and sort out a few more skeleton poses to chart up.


* The blanket is still in use, in fact I am sitting on it now

** I did manage to get my bird roosts pattern sorted out, though

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