A new pin

As you may remember during British Wool Week I started knitting a shawl in British Suffolk wool. By the end of the week I had only completed a bit of it, but because the wool was chunky and the needles large it was soon finished. It is great for wearing around the house, especially when sitting still… as I am now, writing this post. However, I realised that I needed a pin to hold it in place… something that I didn’t have.

As you know, I like to support small producers, so I hunted around the internet, but just couldn’t find anything that appealed. Eventually, however, a friend recommended a company in Portugal who sell via etsy and who will make items to order, so I contacted Pedro and Cris at Artis Ignis. What a lovely experience – they told me that they had been thinking of making shawl pins for a while, so my request had given them a nudge. Then, they sent me some sketches, asked me which I liked and offered to make up a couple of pins, photograph them and I could choose – with no obligation to buy if I didn’t like them.

Artis Ignis shawl pin - designed for me

Artis Ignis shawl pin – designed for me

When I received the photographs, I was delighted… I had asked for a pin with leaves and was given the choice of a vine theme or ivy leaves. For me it had to be the latter to fit in with my British wool – ivy is characteristic of British winters (think of the Christmas carol ‘The Holly and The Ivy’) so seemed the perfect companion to my cosy shawl. In total from first request to the pin arriving it took just over three weeks, including me spending a few days making a decision about designs!

I have been waiting until I had a pin to photograph the shawl , but here it is:

British Suffolk Wool Shawl and Portuguese Alder Wood Pin

British Suffolk Wool Shawl and Portuguese Alder Wood Pin

Wool week round-up

Here we are on the last day of 2013 British Wool week, so I thought it appropriate to show you what I have made using wool and yarn in the past seven days:

British Wool Week 2013: The results

British Wool Week 2013: The results

The slippers were felted last Sunday; one and a bit of the socks were completed in the past seven days; the bacterium was crocheted one evening, and the chunky shawl was started on Friday evening.  Not an insignificant amount of creativity in a week, if I do say so myself. I did all of the knitting and crochet at the same time as something else: watching TV, listening to an audiobook, attending a meeting or quietly thinking about some permaculture design work.

If you don’t already do it, I encourage you to try being creative when you are relaxing… it’s very satisfying.

And here’s to you Mrs Robinson

A few weeks ago, as a result of reading the story of how The Snail of Happiness was born, Metan suggested that I might like to create a Germ of an Idea. I produced a prototype soon after, but was not entirely satisfied with the pili (hairs). The answer seemed to be eyelash yarn, but I was reluctant to buy a whole ball without doing a test. And here, the wonders of social networking came to my aid – a quick message on Facebook and I had two offers – some oddments of eyelash yarn and a couple of balls of a yarn called Filigree.

As this is British Wool week, I am trying to produce something with yarn or fibre every day, so yesterday I thought I would try a new bacterium. This one is made with oddments of blue acrylic and the eyelash yarn sent to me by the lovely Mrs Robinson. It is Escherichia coli, inspired by a picture by David Mack. I have taken the liberty of giving it a single flagellum with pili (because I like the yarn so much) rather than three without, but I’m quite pleased with the result:

Amigurumi Escherichia coli

Amigurumi Escherichia coli

Basically it’s a sausage shape with every third or fourth round crocheted with the eyelash yarn. I will have to take a slightly different approach with the Filigree yarn, as that has a much finer core so will need to be worked at the same time as the main yarn I think. So, do you think there’s a market for them?!

Having a woolly week

This week, 14-21 October 2013 is UK wool week… I’ve only just found out, but I feel that I got it off to a good start with my felt slipper-making yesterday.

I love sock knitting... especially with self-patterning yarn

I love sock knitting… especially with self-patterning yarn

As usual, I have a pair of socks on my needles, but (a guilty pleasure) it’s not British wool. In fact it’s a yarn made by Opal in the bizarrely named ‘Smokey eyes and coloured lips’ range (shade 6640, if you are interested). I do feel, however, that I should celebrate wool week by knitting something in a British wool, and so I have decided to cast on some yarn from my stash. Specifically, I’m going to start a chunky shawl/poncho in undyed Rowan Purelife Suffolk yarn… it’s a lovely steel grey. In fact, I’m not a great fan of knitting weighty yarns on fat needles (hence my love of sock knitting and amigurumi), but I really want a nice warm ‘personal blanket’ to keep me toasty over the winter and reduce the need for heating, so I’m biting the bullet and going to make a start. I might also get round to perfecting crochet amigurumi bacteria, so I can sell anyone who wants one a ‘germ of an idea‘!

Chunky British Suffolk yarn for a really warm shawl

Chunky British Suffolk yarn for a really warm shawl

Seize the day

I was supposed to be teaching this weekend – a course on land restoration and habitat creation. Sadly, it had to be cancelled and I was left with three empty days, Not that my days are ever really empty, but I was very conscious that some time had appeared that would otherwise have been filled with teaching and I was keen not to let it slip away. Happily, I got the chance to go on a  felting course today… an opportunity too good to miss.

So, I have been making felt slippers at Denmark Farm Conservation Centre with Lorraine Pocklington of Greenweeds. In fact, it’s a course that I have done before, but a girl can never have too many pairs of slippers and I knew that I would really enjoy myself. So the day was seized and there’s now a soggy pair of handmade slippers drying in our bath!

We started off by selecting the wool that we wanted to use: Masham, Texel, Gotland, Icelandic or Hebridean, all produced in Britain so not many yarn miles!

A selection of undyed, British wools

A selection of undyed, British wools

Then we made our resists (the thing that goes in the middle or your felt to stop the two sides sticking together and allowing you to make three-dimensional objects without the need for seams). Once you have a resist, you build up layers of fiber around it, using water and soap and then you begin to felt.

The felting begins

The felting begins

You rub the fibres to encourage them to mat together, and once they have started to develop a structure, you keep on working them to form the felt. Today we rolled our felt in bamboo mats to achieve this

Bootee slippers still joined as a pair about to be rolled up in a bamboo mat

Bootee slippers, still joined together, about to be rolled up in a bamboo mat

And eventually, you form two slippers and mold them around your feet… or get a friend to do it!

Felting to fit your feet

Felting to fit your feet

Get a friend to help!

Get a friend to help!

And at the end of the day, we all ended up with at least one completed slipper!

Lovely slippers - mine ore front left

Lovely slippers – mine are front left

Since I had the advantage of having done the course before, I finished both mine: Gotland exterior, Texel Interior with decorations using some scraps of yarn from Colinette. What a productive and satisfying day.

I’ve got it pegged

The original felted peg bag

The original felted peg bag

Ages and ages ago I bought a felting kit for a peg bag. It seemed like a great idea and having a kit would give me a chance to practice my (then) recently acquired felting skills but with a safety net, so the speak. I made it up following the instructions and produced a lovely, fancy little felted bag… much more beautiful than I would have designed if left to my own devices. The problem was that the main way to describe it was ‘little’: it held about 12 pegs. I simply couldn’t fit all my pegs into it and so, however beautiful, it really wasn’t much use. Since I  completed it, it has been sitting on top of the washing machine, unused.

The new felted peg bag

The new felted peg bag

Last week, I decided that the time had come to make a more functional peg bag – one that would hold all my pegs and that would be good for years of use. I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it, so I chose a single colour for the interior and three for the exterior, with no embellishments. All but the  purple wool, which is Merino, is British Blue-faced Leicester. I used a wire coat hanger for the hook and to help it to hold its shape inside and edged the hole with embroidery silk that I’ve had for about 35 years! It’s a bit more square than I would have liked – the pod-shape of the original appeals to me – but I’m quite pleased with it.

... and together for comparison

… and together for comparison

I may have gone to the other extreme in terms of size and it’s certainly not as fancy as the first one, but I’m really pleased with it and, other than the stitching, it only took a couple of hours to make. The tiny original, I’m going to hang up in my office and use if to keep little USB cables in because I’m always putting them down and forgetting where… I knew it wouldn’t go to waste.

A germ of an idea

This post is all thanks to Metan over at Buried Words and Bushwa, who commented on my Happiness and Doom post that as well as having a ‘Worm of doubt’ in my teaching tools, I should have a ‘Germ of an idea’. So, here is my prototype:


Crochet bacterium

He’s a sort of generic bacterium, such as you find in diagrams in microbiology text books (here, for example) with a flagellum (tail) and pili (hairs).

Two lovely friends (thank you Sarah and Kate) have offered to send me some eyelash/fur wool so that I can have a go at making Escherichia coli (like these) , which seem to have three of four flagelli and much finer pili than I have managed, and cholera , which appear to have pili on their flagelli.

I’m thinking I could make a whole compost-heap of micro-organisms!

Just tell me if you think this is becoming an unhealthy obsession…

The fruits of our labours

Here we are in September – according to Keats this is…

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
      Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Potato variety Valor... blight-free and delicious

Potato variety Valor… blight-free and delicious

And, we do tend to think of harvest at this time of year. Certainly we have some swelling gourds in our garden… well, winder squashes actually. We are enjoying an abundance of runner beans and still more courgettes, plus the other day Mr Snail-of-happiness harvested nearly 9kg of potatoes from a plot measuring less than a square metre (we can recommend this particular variety heartily, it’s called Valor). A rather busy summer meant that these particular potatoes were never earthed-up, so the abundance is especially welcome.

Pearl's blankie

Pearl’s blankie

Other projects have their yields too. I was pleased to finish my latest blankie in time to be able to give it to my friend when I saw her last week. Fingers crossed that the babe will arrive happy and healthy and that my work will be used for  years to come. Many folks confine their knitting and crochet to the cooler months of the year, but I love to make things all through the summer too… mind you those often are cooler months!

Winter vegetable seedlings will help to fill the 'hungry gaps'

Winter vegetable seedlings will help to fill the ‘hungry gaps’

But autumn is not just a time to rest on our laurels and enjoy the fruits of our labours – it’s also important to think about what we will be able to harvest later in the year and at the beginning of next year, when there is often little fresh food in the garden. I will be allowing some of my runner beans to go to seed so that I can dry the large butter bean-like seeds for use in soups and stews over the winter (I grow the variety The Czar specifically because they are good for this) and, of course, the squashes will keep for months, but I also want fresh vegetables. I’m happy, therefore, that my seed-sowing from a couple of weeks ago is also showing a yield… not that we will be harvesting these for a while.

It’s really important to remember the cycle of growing and harvesting, so that we don’t get carried away with current successes and forget to plant for the future.



Sissie snuggling in her blankie

Sissie snuggling in her blankie

Last year Patty and Perkin loaned us a dvd; the film was called Lars and the Real Girl. Have you seen it? It’s rather odd, but very endearing and a story that, at the end, you really wish was true because you want to believe that there actually are communities that care enough about their members to overlook their odd behaviour. However, this post is not really about the film, it’s just that the main character – Lars, a sad and troubled man – has a beautiful baby shawl that his mother (who died at his birth) knitted for him whilst she was pregnant. He wears the shawl as a scarf, giving him comfort and acting as a security blanket. I found this rather touching (despite it being fictional) and it inspired me when I found out that Patty was expecting a baby.

I don’t really enjoy knitting the sort of lace shawl featured in the film and, anyway, all those fine threads are just asking for little fingers to get tangled in them, so I made a much more serviceable blankie for little Sissie. It’s got a simple knitted pattern to add a bit of interest and I made it with Sirdar’s Simply Recycled yarn, which is more than 50% recycled cotton and easily washable (another important consideration with items for babies). Apparently, Sissie is rarely without her blankie… I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t have made two of them so there was a chance for washing!

A new blankie from left-overs... it will be creams and yellows with a cornflower blue border

A new blankie from left-overs… it will be creams and yellows with a cornflower blue border

Another of my friends is also expecting a baby. This one is due in the autumn, so a warmer blankie seems in order and this time I have decided to exercise my new crocheting skills and make one out of granny squares. The yarn I’m using is left over from someone else’s baby projects and was bought for a few pounds on e-bay… as usual, it feels good to be turning waste into useful items. It also feels good to avoid jumping on the baby gifts bandwagon. So many new-borns are showered with brand new stuff, which is then hardly used. Perkin and Patty specifically asked family and friends to avoid this consumer-madness, so my gift was made specifically with this in mind… even down to the choice of yarn. Avoiding waste is an approach that permeates their lives, from gardening to running their delightful holiday cottage, so it is natural for them to want the same ethics for their family.

A little bit of internet research reveals how much new parents do spend on a baby, even before it’s born. An article on Netmums from last year states:

…new parents are spending 13% more on their new baby than they did three years ago and are forking out an average of £2,538 before their baby is born. One reason is thought to be that they are copying celebrities who are photographed with the latest ‘must-have’ strollers and baby clothes and equipment. In a poll new mums admitted they were inspired by ‘A-list’ lifestyles and many also said any money sense flew out of the window when it came to buying for their baby. The survey found that newborns in Britain have a £600 wardrobe, £180 toy collection and a nursery costing £463 in furnishings and decorations.

EEKK! And that doesn’t cover all those presents that come with the birth of a baby and the spending afterwards. Well, I’ve been assured that Sissie’s blankie was most welcome and that her pre-birth spend was nowhere near that amount. I’m sure the same will be true for the other imminent arrival and since she is going to be a third child, there will be lots of hand-me-downs as well as the blankie from me.

I hope that Sissie, like Lars, will continue to value her blankie into adulthood (although for different reasons) and if it ever wears out, I can always make her a new one… possible recyled/upcycled from something else!

Sissie in her blankie in the garden at High Bank

Sissie in her blankie in the garden at High Bank… perhaps they found her under a gooseberry bush!

%d bloggers like this: