Thursday, 26 November 2009

I ain't dead... Honest!

I know it's been well over a month since I last posted, but life has rather run away with me and I haven't had much of an opportunity to write or really do very much at all. Work is being it's usual autumnal, crazy self and as I get into the run up to Christmas it feels like I've barely had time to draw breath let alone find time to do anything creative.

In the past few weeks I have...

  • Moved office - imagine lots of drama, missing furniture, bullying, amazing disappearing crates and general craziness
  • Prepared for a major upgrade at work - still ongoing and I am counting down the days until I am done
  • Gone to the LARP kit fair in York where I weakened and bought stuff
  • Visited the Hobbycrafts/Crafts for Christmas show at the NEC where I bought lots of expensive gifts
  • Gone to a Living History Fayre and bought stuff
  • Gone to the Original Re-enactment Market where I was rather restrained but still bought stuff

In between all this, I haven't been feeling well and we've had a family crisis to deal with, so life hasn't been all it could be either. I've done very little knitting, crochet, sewing or spinning as I just haven't had the time.

The lack of time and stalled decorating (due to the general lack of time) means my sewing machine is off limits and some parts of the house are in more disarray than usual... Which are my excuse as to why I've bought the odd piece of kit of late rather than making it.

Personally I am waiting on Christmas because that's when I have a few days off and I'm really hoping I will have a little time to myself and that I will have time to relax. Then I intend to have a hot date with my spinning wheel... Such is life.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Birthday and something different

It was my birthday on Thursday and I am now a proud owner of a Sunflower Swift. How excellent is that? Not that I've had a go at winding anything yet, but I've been itching to dive into the stash looking for a suitable skein all weekend. Pesky housework and a steely desire to work on ongoing projects stopped me, but oh the temptation.

I've also got a good haul of books, all on knitting or crochet. Some are very old and are ex library stock from the Knitting and Crochet Guild. Every single book looks interesting and is full of things I'd love to make... Now if only I had the time!

Yesterday we made a rare trip the the Cinema and saw 'Up' which is a very, very good film which I highly recommend. It was a bit sad in places, but had a strong story, likeable characters and was very well animated. A good choice all round. We'd intended to go to Nando's afterwards, but on arrival we were told to expect a 30+ minute wait for a table, followed by at least a 45 minute wait for food to arrive. Dave and I were hungry cinema goers and couldn't wait that long, so we nipped around the corner to Pizza Express where we were seated immediately. I felt a bit underdressed but otherwise it was very good, the food was seriously hot (scaldingly so) and very tasty. Yum.

This weekend I also decided to follow on from turning my first handspun into something by having a go at a three ply. I'd spun up three bobbins of singles over the past month or so and this weekend I bravely decided to try to put them together...

Hmmm. It's not as easy as it looks.

Trying to ply three singles, with the same plying point to produce an even yarn rather than a two ply with a third ply wrapped around it, was very tricky. Keeping the singles evenly distributed in my hand was difficult enough, trying to keep the tension steady as they came off the bobbin was the seriously hard bit. And every time I had to let go with my back hand to move the plied yarn onto a new hook on the flyer, things would go to pot.

I was doing it though. Not necessarily very well, but I was doing it. And then Dave walked into the room and offered to make a drink. At that point, my carefully positioned fingers became all thumbs and I lost control of the yarn. It was like I just couldn't concentrate on even a simple question and still make like I maybe knew what I was doing.

In the end, I concentrated on making a real three ply, rather than trying to come up with an even and balanced yarn. Apart from a few places where it's obviously just wrong, I think I didn't do too badly...


Here the yarn is on the niddy noddy, straight off the wheel and to be honest it doesn't look that much different from the two plies I'm used to making. It looks like yarn and under tension it looks fine - still a little on the skinny side, but that's just my singles being thin to start with.


Here it is once I took it off the niddy noddy and before finishing. You can see that there is a lot more plying twist than spinning twist... Now part of that is down to the fact the singles had rested, so don't have the same spoingyness of a freshly spun single, so the stronger twist is always going to be in the plying.

I need to finish it now... Then I can see if it my first three ply may be considered a success.

Monday, 12 October 2009

My first handspun is now a hat

Last week was the first week of term and was predictably stressed at work, leaving me with little time or energy to think once I escaped the confines of the office. I was however thinking about crafting, especially when cycling to work... The weather has turned nippy and is in that in between phase, when it's not quite cold enough to wear a coat on the bike without risking some serious overheating... But first thing, it is cold enough to make setting off from the house in the morning decidedly chilly.

So last week I thought a lot about cowls or snoods. You know, the knitted (or fleecy) tubes that you pull over your head and wear around your neck like a scarf, but without the dangly ends, plus the added bonus that they can be pulled up over your ears if needed.

I thought about cowls a lot and as is customary my current thought is that I don't have the yarn to make the cowl I want. Now this is plainly ridiculous thinking, given that my stash is huge and ever growing and I'm trying to knit some of it up before it erupts from behind the sofa and buries us in mountain of wool... But the instant I start thinking about something I might want to make for me (rather than to give away) I immediately start thinking maybe I need more yarn. Perhaps I need to make time to go stash diving again to reassure myself that I do indeed have yarn and should pick something I already own?

Talking about knitting from the stash, I decided to make something with my first handspun, originally glimpsed in this post about the pain of a broken needle. Fortunately a replacement needle tip winged its way to me within two days (three cheers for Get Knitted!) and I resumed knitting.

This hat is a simple, stocking stitch slouchy hat pattern called Felicity, by Wanett Clyde. I picked it for its simplicity, not wanting anything complicated for this first attempt to use my own yarn. I'm working on the basis that the point of spinning is to produce yarn that can actually be used and rather than just knitting swatches, I wanted to make a something and here it is!


Since the pattern calls for a 'worsted' and my 2-ply handspun is more like a 'fingering' weight, I decided to knit held double throughout. After knitting a guage swatch, I cast on 84 stitches so the finished hat would fit my 56cm head without cutting off the circulation to my brain.

The pattern also calls for 4mm needles and then a switch to 5mm needles once the hat measures 3.5 inches from the cast on edge. I didn't want such a sudden jump in stitch sizes, so I switched to a 4.5mm needle after 3.5 inches, knit for approximately another inch or so and then switched to the required 5mm needle. I then knit for another inch, bringing me to the 5.5 inches specified by the pattern before starting the increases. After that I knit as per the pattern, with allowances for the higher stitch count.

This is a very easy knit, although I did have a worrying moment when I'd done all the increases but hadn't started the decreased and began to worry that I was knitting some sort of mushroom! Once I was working through the decreases, it all came right though and I'm very pleased with the result.

The most revealing thing about this knit was that my handspun knits like real yarn. It handled like yarn, it dangled like normal yarn and it behaved itself, never tangling or winding back on itself. I was amazed since I'd been expecting it to be difficult and didn't really believe that I'd produced usable yarn. In other words, my handspun is real yarn! I now stand corrected and can admire the end result.

The hat itself is not really in the colour pallete that I'd normally wear, but since this is Blue Faced Leciester in Humbug (from Wingham Woolworks) it is the colour it should be. In some lights it looks more grey than brown, but is in fact a light beigy colour with a subtle variegated effect. It definitely is not unpleasant to the eye and the handle of the finished fabric is very soft in the crown of the hat. The brim, knit on the smaller needles is very dense and I suspect will be very, very warm to wear.


So my first handspun, knit up and looking presentable.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The humungous doily

After the drama of last week's broken needle, which was promptly replaced by Get Knitted, this week has largely focused on getting ready for the AscendancyLRP tabletop roleplay and skirmish game this coming weekend.

There have also been several visits from British Gas who now apparently do annual electrical tests for Homecare customers as well as servicing gas boilers. Unfortunately, my house's wiring failed and needs a new RCD as the current one turns out to be too sensitive and is cutting out with only minor provocation. With the house's wiring being of unknown provenance and age, the fusebox is no longer in common use and so a replacement RCD is a special order... We now await the electrician's call to say its arrived.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I finished the humungous doily which came to an end abruptly after several nights of working on the last row, when I suddenly ran out of doily to crochet. Once I'd bound off it looked fairly impressive, but I waited to take any photographs or blog it until I'd had a chance to block it. On Sunday morning, with the weather dry if rather grey and non-descript I thought maybe I could dry it outside and so I decided to have a go.

After gently washing and soaking the doily in hot water for over an hour to make sure it was properly wet, I put it in a mesh laundry bag (the kind I use for delicates or containing fleece for scouring) and spun it on a low speed in the washing machine to get most of the water out. Then I set to work with my foam squares and three pots of quilting pins...


The Between Meals Centerpiece (Ravelry Link) doily is huge and is a combination of fairly dense crochet bands with openwork in between. I tackled the pinning by starting with the centre circle, then moving onto the middle circle, stretching the damp cotton out as I went. I placed the pins at wide intervals and then went around again placing pins between pins, so I evened out the tension. I put in another row of pins just inside the border, ending up with pins every two inches or so. The final row of pins stretched out the border.


Once I was done, I got Dave to help me carry the whole thing outside very carefully so the foam tiles didn't come apart. We left the doily sat on the bins to catch what sun there was, bringing it in again at dusk and laying it on the floor overnight to make sure it was absolutely dry before I removed the pins.

We did try propping the doily, still pinned to the mats up against a wall (something I've heard of folks doing on Ravelry) but while that looked promising initially, it didn't prove to be cat proof. The instant Charlie came in, he made a beeline for the huge doily and spotted the tiny gap between doily and wall. As I'm sure everyone knows, any tiny gap is always improved by the addition of a cat and Charlie is a cat who has no appreciation for the size difference between tiny and a rather large tom. He has wriggle power and a big head, a combination that has always worked well for him.

Fortunately, I saw the cat dart over the doily; was already moving as I saw him stick his head down the side of the mat made up of foam squares and caught the doily before anything catastrophic happened. Phew!

Monday, I unpinned the doily and allowed it to relax a while before laying it out on the bed to photograph it properly...




I give you my version of the Between Meals Centrepiece an original pattern from 1917. I managed to find it again on Annie's Attic, despite it having disappeared the last time I looked. There may be other sites out there that are hosting it if you hunt about.


My Between Meals Centrepiece was crocheted with Clea from Circulo Yarns, shell beige or colourway 7650. I used a 2mm hook because I'm a tight crocheter which gave me a final diameter of 32.5 inches or 83cm, which isn't far off the expected 30 inches reported on Ravelry. I didn't block this one to death, but I did stretch it out to dry although tension was minimal. Before blocking the Clea looked a lot more springy whereas after, it looks exactly like a huge doily should.

This is my first ever go at a doily and I deliberately picked the BMC because it was challenging but it really doesn't contain anything too difficult in the way of stitches. If you can follow American notation (rather than UK), can make a chain, slip stitch, single crochet, double crochet and treble treble (or is it triple triple in American?) you can make this doily. The most difficult thing is the need for perseverance as it takes a long time and those last few inches take forever, with time seeming to slow to a crawl.

The one drawback to the pattern is that it isn't charted, so if you need charts to work this kind of pattern you'll need to make one yourself. Fortunately for me, I'm not dependent on charts although I prefer to work with both so I can compare from written instructions to chart if I need clarification. However, there were moments when I certainly wished I did have a chart as it wasn't always easy to understand what the written instructions were trying to tell me to do.

There are also a couple of minor mistakes in the pattern, where the stitch counts don't work out and I had to fudge things a little. Silly me though, because I didn't note them down I just sort of got on with it... The other thing I'd advise when making up this doily is to read ahead. Understanding what you'll be expected to crochet into the row you're working is essential as is keeping an eye on the tension, otherwise you could find that you get to an end of a round and can't actually crochet the next row into this one, because you can't get the hook through the tiny, tiny little loops.

Overall, I really enjoyed making this doily although I still claim I do not have the lifestyle that supports the use of such frivolous pieces of lace. It took me two months, but I was working on other projects alongside it. I didn't get bored or lose heart and found the whole thing a fascinating experience. This is the first time I've worked something on so tiny a hook and that did give me tension issues at first, but over time I got the hang of it. Even though I have nowhere in my tiny house to display such things, I may well have to make another doily or two, just to prove it wasn't a fluke.


Finally, here is it again, this time displayed on a table at this week's meeting of Coventry Knitwits. The Britannia has dark wood tables in the bar which I thought would show up the pattern nicely. As you can see, the doily is so huge only just fits...

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Feel my pain...

So I finished the humungous doily... It happened suddenly and without warning as I just ran out of doily to crochet, taking me completely by surprise. No pictures yet as I need to weave in the ends and do some blocking, but in the meantime my thoughts returned to my handspun.

I did a little swatching and decided on a 4mm needle, casting on last night so I'd have something to work on at the Knit-Wits meeting tonight. I'd been there maybe ten minutes when disaster struck.

You're looking at a snapped 4mm needle tip from a brand new, never before used Knit-Pro Harmony Options set. These were a present from Dave last year and I've not had a chance to try them out. I certainly wasn't expecting this set of tips to have such a short lifespan!

I wish I could say I was doing something dramatic or exciting with these needles when they broke but I wasn't. The needle snapped less than 2 minutes after I picked them up, only 4 and half rounds into this project - a very simple hat. Looking at it, the tip has sheered off where it joins the metal cuff and since this was this pair of tips' (and indeed the whole set's) first ever use, I'm thinking a manufacturing fault.

I am not impressed. :(

I was impressed with how the handspun was working up, held double it was looking quite striking and giving an even fabric... Unfortunately, I've been rather stymied by defective tools. Darn.

I've used Knit-Pro Harmony needles before, in DPN and circulars and I've never had this problem, so I really do hope this is a one off. Meanwhile, I've emailed the shop Dave bought the needles from, just on the off chance they're under some sort of guarantee.

2009-09-24 ETA
By way of a quick update, I had a prompt response from the shop where Dave bought the needles and they're sending out a replacement tip. So much kudos for good customer service to Get Knitted in Bristol. :)

Monday, 21 September 2009

A very busy but not so productive weekend

This weekend was marked by being 'bitty', as in I did a bit of this and a bit of that and didn't really seem to achieve very much.
On Saturday morning we headed over to the local Ford dealer to have a proper look at the new (ish) Focus Estate. I currently drive the original design and excepting the tendency towards developing an indoor swimming pool in the passenger footwell, I'm very happy with it. However, it is getting on a bit and I probably need to start thinking of changing it and so off we went. My intention was to look properly at the new body shape, to sit behind the wheel, play with the seats and look at how the changed shape has effected its loading capacity. I was just intending to look you understand.
Sadly I was thwarted. The dealership did not have a single Focus Estate on the lot and the lady I spoke to said she'd been there three months and this was the first time anyone had asked after one!!! I don't understand this as the original estate version of this car was and is very popular. I see them everywhere. *sigh*
The sales lady said she'd try to get one in for me to look at, so I left contact details and walked away. This does not bode well and shows why I hate car shopping.
That afternoon, I settled into starting processing the second fleece. This fleece is the muckier of the two, is really heavy on the grease and has a lot more guard hairs. I'll admit I wasn't convinced as I struggled to seperate enough locks from the main fleece so I could start scouring them. However, having washed that first sample, apart from the guard hairs I'm going to tentatively say that the locks are actually nicer than the first fleece. Very white and creamy, far less matting and it just looks better...
Or possibly, I've improved on my tearing off of locks and initial processing stage which means I'm producing nicer scoured fleece? Who knows, but fleece processing is continuing apace.
I did some more picking. That's it really, I picked fluff a little while I washed fleece but still don't have a huge amount to show for my work.
I've also started eyeing up my first handspun...



There isn't a lot there and it seems to take me an age to produce yarn, mostly because I get so little time to do any actual spinning at the moment. An hour a week ... sometimes... if I'm lucky... just isn't cutting it. The quality is variable too; I tend towards spinning quite thin singles with a lot of twist so this two ply is very springy, tightly spun and about the weight of a conventional 4-ply, in most places at least. In some places it's a lot skinnier than that, while in the odd place it gets a bit thicker. Controlling the drafting process is coming along, but very slowly because I'm not getting enough practice.
However, I'm getting an itch to try out my handspun and see what it actually knits up like. I wouldn't like to try crochet with it yet, as the yarn is very variable in quality and I think it needs the control that knitting offers. So, I'm thinking a hat. Maybe this hat. And maybe, if I held it double the two strands would even out the yarn?
I think some swatching may be required and soon, given that I'm on the last round of the humungous doily (finally and this last round is taking an absolute age). With this in mind, I loaded up my swift and wound two skeins into balls.

After two balls, each of approx 120m, Dave said he's going to have to buy me a real swift as he doesn't think he's up to the job. He was happy though because I made cake...

This is my first ever banana cake and it was very yummy; it didn't get a chance to cool properly before we started on it. Unfortunately it smelled too good and we just couldn't resist. I'm not much of a baker, but we had overripe bananas and so I thought I'd give it a go. Given how tasty and moist it is and not at all like how I remember my mother's banana cake, I'm going to call it a success.
Finally, we went to an art exhibition in Coventry's Canal Basin last night. Dave takes weekly lessons with Al Davison of The Astral Gypsy, so had an invite to see his work. The theme was Dr Who and the pieces on display were very good.
So a very full weekend, doing lots of things but not really centred around a single theme.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Hello and ... Socks!

Last night I found out that this little blog of mine has more readers than I thought it did, with quite a few ladies at the Wednesday's Coventry Knit-Wits get together admitting to dropping by. We also had a new lady come along, who said she'd recognised me from my profile picture. So to any unknown readers out there and my friends from the knitting group - hello!

The humungous doily continues apace and I'm now slowly working may way around row 51 of 60. When I say slowly, I'm hoping I might get this round done by the time I go to bed tomorrow night, which will have meant it's taken me about four nights to complete one round. That's the problem with this kind of project, it starts off really fast but as the project gets bigger progress slows down to a crawl.

The other problem is that I find crochet far harder on the hands and wrists than knitting. In particular, the left hand (which tensions the yarn and holds the project) is prone to stiffening up, while the right hand (doing the actual hooking) just aches after a while. I'm currently trying out a Clover Soft Touch crochet hook, courtesy of Jane and I've got to admit has helped quite a bit, even with the left hand which took me by surprise. I can only assume that less pain in the right hand means I'm not so tense and hence don't hold my left hand in a death grip.

Jane (who is ever industrious) will be requiring her hook back and so I'm looking to get hold of one of my own, but the smaller sizes of the Clover hooks seem to be harder to source. Get Knitted have them, but on the off chance I emailed the Knitting and Crochet Guild to see if they had them, but hadn't updated their website. I had a promptish reply from the lady who deals with the KCGTrading side of things who said she'd order them in for me! Kudos to the Guild for customer service and me I guess for trying to support them (being a member and all). I'll have to wait until the hooks come in before I can place an order, but Jane has kindly allowed me to continue using her hook for another week, so all is good.

No new photographs because I don't think the doily looks significantly different to the last one I took.

I do however have a finished project!

If you cast your mind back to July, you might remember that I started a pair of blue and green stripey socks, currently known as the Ork Deathskull Socks. Well, they're finished!


Not only are they finished, but I actually got the stripes to mostly match up, despite having a yarn crisis and only just having enough to finish the pair.


Personally I'm putting the problems down to the long colour repeats on the stripes. I started the first pair at the start of a 'green' phase, while the second ball started at the beginning of a blue phase. This meant I had to wind off all the blue to get to the next green starting point, and unfortunately this meant I ran out of yarn as I approached the toe! There was a serious 'Eeek' moment there as I like socks to match and I feared Dave may end up with one green toe and one blue one. Not a serious disaster and I'm sure he'd have loved them anyway, but it would have grated with me every single time I washed them. Fortunately, I had enough green left over from the first ball (just and I do mean, just) and was able to finish the second sock more or less in step with the first.


I give you Dave's Ork Deathskull Socks, in his favourite shades of blue and green.


This is a simple, plain sock knit to the guidelines suggested by the Yarn Harlot in her excellent Knitting Rules!. It's knit on 2.5mm needles to a tension of 7 stitches per inch - note my usual mix of imperial and metric in the same sentence. The yarn is Regia's 'Mini Ringel Color' in colourway 5220, which knits up pretty much as you see.

Dave loves them and is pleased with the colour and will be delighted to know I've blogged about them as it means he can actually wear them now. :)

And finally, because I rarely get to include a decent picture of Charlie as he normally comes out over exposed or blurry or is under (i.e. in) a bush, another pic of him sat under the lavender bush while Dave was modeling socks.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Being picky with fleece

This weekend has mostly been focused on fibre related activities. I did some spinning, but not enough to really make much progress. I washed the last of the first fleece. I worked a little more of the humongous doily. I knitted some sock. And I learned about 'picking'.

Picking fleece - sometimes called 'teasing' and others 'sorting' - is something I learned about from my spinning bible, a wonderful resource titled "Start Spinning" by Maggie Casey. It's the process of picking the scoured fleece apart, loosening the fibres and removing all the 'undesirable' bits. This prepares the fibre for carding, which in turn readies it for spinning.

Apparently there are such things as mechanical pickers which will pick the fibres apart for you, but I've never seen one and certainly don't own one, so I'm doing this manually.

After rather optimistically starting yesterday morning and thinking I'd have a nice bag full in no time at all, I've not made much progress at all. Maggie Casey warns "...A lot of people find teasing wool boring, and I will admit that I would never do it if I didn't get to spin the wool I had teased." And after having a go at this, I have to agree with the lady.

I sat down with a handful of wool and began picking through it, loosening the fibres by pulling them apart and watching the larger pieces of debris fall out. Then came the problem, all of the little, tiny pieces of unidentified detritus which seems to be embedded in the tightly compacted fluff. To get at it, you really do have to pull the fibre apart a few strands at a time and this takes you into a sort of timeless zone where whole hours disappear without you noticing!

Admittedly, I haven't spent the whole weekend doing nothing but picking but I've certainly returned to it whenever I wasn't doing anything more stimulating (i.e. not as mind numbing). I even got Dave to have a go, with him working through a couple of handfuls for me. After a good few hours work between us, we have maybe a third of small bag full of 'picked' wool.


To show you the transformation - fleece starts out looking like this...


Once it's been washed and scoured, it looses the grease, becomes a lot nicer and softer to touch, but is still very compacted and full of undesirable bits.


After picking, the wool fibres open up and increase in volume considerably. They're fluffy, light and airy and don't really resemble the original form very much...


I'm impressed, but it sure is hard work and very time consuming. Dave and I were theorising that back in the day it would have been the kind of job that would be given to small children who have little nimble fingers. It isn't difficult, but requires persistence, a resistance to boredom and very good light.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

A trip to the zoo

Yesterday, it being a bank holiday weekend, we decided to visit the zoo. The only real zoo I've visited in the past has been Paignton Zoo, although as I pointed out to Dave, Plymouth used to have a little zoo when I was a small child. I remember it vaguely and believe it later became a skateboard park!

Our local zoo is Twycross and according to Richard (who came along too) they'd had a recent arrival in the form a new baby elephant. Not being at all sure where Twycross is (my local geography is still terrible), Richard drove and I did the picnic.

The first thing we saw or rather heard as we were queuing up to get in, was the gibbons. I don't have any photo's of them as they were not being particularly obliging, but boy oh boy were they loud!

While were trying to see what all the fuss was about in the gibbon enclosure, I noticed a ruckus ongoing in a nearby paddock, where a rather large cameloid appeared to be trying to climb over a fence while sounding rather angry. Dave looked over and said 'Oh they've got alpaca'... Which is close, but not quite.

This is a guanaco having a set to of some sort of with a vicuna in the neighbouring paddock. The guanaco was the larger and noisier of the two, but the vicuna seemed to be trying to get at the guanaco, so I'm fairly sure this was a two sided argumment.

Meanwhile, the families of the two antagonists got on with the important things which mostly involved sitting around. The guanaco and vicuna being from the same region of South America and the vicuna is a wild cousin/ancestor of the domestic alpaca. Both the guanaco and vicuna are apparently valued for their fleece.

Next door to the guanaco and vicuna were the prairie dogs, which were very sweet and very reminiscent of the equally sweet meerkats. So began a long day of walking around and taking lots of photographs, many of which didn't come out well because of the reflective properties of glass.

Twycross's main thing seems to be primates of which there were many. Those that caught my eye being the orangutan...

This chimp...

And the bonobo...

Looking at the higher apes made me feel rather sad that they were locked up in cages. But what really got to me was the insensitivity and ignorance of some of my fellow members of the public who were staring at them. Despite signs saying "Quiet please" and "Don't bang on the glass, it will frighten me" I saw many people, mostly women with children, doing exactly that, shouting and generally trying to make the animals do something more interesting. And one memorable overheard conversation in one of the Chimp enclosures started...

- "Look mum, chimpanzees!"
- "No... They're MONKEYS." his mother wrongly corrected him, despite the fact that they were clearly chimps.

I'm going to leave you with two of my favourite photographs from the day...

Firstly this baby meerkat which was playing with one of the "ANIMALS BITE" sign that warned caution against those parents lowering or dangling their children over the wall of the enclosure.

And then this one, of a baby emperor tamarin asleep on its mum's (I assume) shoulders. I must have taken about 20 shots of this pair and this is the only one that came out well!

Friday, 28 August 2009

A productive day off...

I've ended this week with a couple of days off from work, using up time I'd otherwise lose. I hadn't got any particular plans, other than carry out an errand or two, do housework and maybe do something crafty...

So, with a brief break in the weather yesterday I decided to turn my back step into a fleece laundry, trying to make some headway in processing the fleece I was gifted at the beginning of the month.


The tools required. A old washing up bowl to wash the fleece in. A mesh laundry bag, designed for washing your delicates but very good at keeping the locks together. An old roasting dish which is somewhere to put the wet (and very hot fleece) while refilling the washing up bowl. A wooden spoon for gently pressing the fleece into the water, as recently boiled water will scald if it touches skin.

Not in shot, the kettle, my detergent of choice (washing up liquid), vinegar and rubber gloves.

I've modified my technique slightly and have done away with all notion of cooling the water, going instead with completely unadulterated boiled water from the kettle. I've decided that this fleece is so greasy it needs it! I'm also being very, very generous with the detergent. So generous that I'm lucky to get three lots of fleece washed with one bottle.

I've also looked around for suitable drying racks, something portable that will lift the fleece off the floor and allow good air circulation. I was trying to get hold of a sweater dryer but have been having problems, so in the end I picked up some cupboard shelves from Wilkinsons. They're doing the job nicely.


Naturally, while I was engaged in being productive, the cats helped.

Missy demonstrated what fluff should look like...

And Charlie guarded the drying fleece from potential marauding squirrels from under the lavender bush.

I'm getting through the fleece at a good rate now and think that I'll be done with the first one after a few more afternoons spent washing it. I really want to see if the fleece is worth the effort I've put in so far before getting started on washing the second one, so this week I've ordered hand carders from Winghams. Hopefully I shall soon be in a position to spin up a test skein!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Little pieces of lace...

So... Last weekend we had an AscendancyLRP event at Unstone Grange, where I played several NPCs and largely avoided combat where I could. Richard has already done a write up, including some photo's of me, with more photo's on the website here. I was horribly tired most of the event and really worn out most of last week, hence the lack of an update here. What brain power I had left, I reserved for work!

I was very relieved when RichS's tip about breaking out the Clearisil to remove green makeup proved to be true, as I'd made myself up for one NPC and spent the rest of the weekend wearing a faintly green beard that no amount of wetwipes would completely eradicate! Alas, no photographs of the NPC but please take my word for it that she looked very impressive.

This weekend we had nothing planned, which was good considering we'd had two events back to back!

I got to horrify Dave by mentioning the 'C' word and procuring a magazine covered in baubles and packed with patterns for angels, snowflakes, Rudolf, snowmen, etc...

This is an American publication that I found in the one newsagent (Hamilton News) in town that sells such things, while hunting for the elusive Vogue Knitting (or Designer Knitting as it is apparently renamed for the European Market). Admittedly, Crochet World is neither Vogue or knitting, but the contents caught my eye and seem to be nothing but patterns with very little editorial content.

Apart from the sight of Christmas decorations in August, the reason this magazine caught my attention was the sight of a few doily patterns, because I'm on a bit of a doily kick right now.

Despite having been crocheting since I was a child, I've never actually made a doily, with my efforts initially being focused on more practical things such as blankets. But just recently, thanks to the extensive pattern library on Ravelry, I began to see the possibility of doilies. I've become intrigued by these little pieces of lace and have started wondering about how they'd look if I used proper yarn rather than thread with much bigger hooks?

Never having made a doily before and having quite a bit of cotton thread in my stash, I thought I'd give it a go. I trawled Ravelry looking for a free and preferably old pattern that might suit this initial foray into the art of little lace coasters before settling on the Between Meals Centrepiece (Ravelry Link). This is an old pattern, circa 1917 and I originally downloaded this from Annie's Attic, but it doesn't seem to be hosted there any more and I can't find where it's moved to... I did discover some very pretty alternatives though at Free Crochet.

This is no ordinary doily. It is a huge doily which should measure around 30 inches (or 75 cm) across by the time I'm done! A few weeks ago, it looked like this...


While this weekend, after 35 rounds of stiches and with another 25 to go, it looks like this...


I've included the row counter to give some idea of scale, although I haven't measured the doily as of yet. I'm expecting the stitches to open up a little when I get around to blocking it, but otherwise I'm very pleased with my progress so far. It's slow but definitely getting there!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Walk like an Egyptian...

After a washout of a week, this weekend we've actually had glorious weather, which was fortunate as yesterday we headed up to Shining Cliffs (also affectionately known as Shining Death) in Derbyshire for a spot of LRP. This was a closed AscendancyLRP player event and someone's birthday bash, so I'm hoping they enjoyed it.

I wrote most of this one, so had a fair understanding of what was going on and had a couple of enjoyable moments. I got to shout at the birthday boy and set him up to embrace a nightmare, so I think I did my bit. I'm sure Richard will do a writeup and post some pictures when he gets a moment.

Today we stayed at home and did lots of things that we didn't get a chance to do yesterday because we were running around the woods being scary. This mostly involved housework, laundry, ironing, more fleece washing and this...

I actually dusted off my sewing machine and made costume.

This is a kalasiris, or an Egyptian style robe inspired by the one in Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, which incidentally is a great book and one I highly recommend - providing you have some dressmaking or costuming experience and know how to construct your own patterns. It is a brilliant resource but doesn't hold your hand, do much in the way of instructions and assumes that all you need is the basic shapes and can pretty much do everything else for yourself.

Anyway, I was after a simple robe that could be worn in a variety of ways and would stand me in good stead for crewing. I went stash diving and found this piece of linen which I'd purchased back when I started sewing. It's one of those lengths of fabric which I fell in love with (it was the colour), went "oooh linen" and it fell into my shopping basket. I feel good about making this costume as it was using up stash fabric and I only added thread and ribbon.

Last weekend, I washed the linen and spent a whole afternoon ironing it (while also washing fleece) and then I drafted out my pattern.

I cut, edged and sewed the main seams through the week, leaving today for the finishing touches - namely adding trim and making a belt. This is the first time I've sewn ribbon on with a sewing machine as I normally hand finish everything. The lack of time available meant that this time I decided to have a go at using the machine and I don't think I made too bad a job of it. It was however very fiddly and while faster, I think sewing ribbon on with a machine is a lot harder than doing it by hand!

Naturally, any Egyptian outfit needs a cat in shot and Missy was determined to get in on the action. In fact, there was no shifting her so I think I can say that this robe has Missy's seal of approval.

The robe itself is a very simple garment. In its most basic form, a kalasiris is nothing more than a big rectangle of fabric with a hole cut in it for the head. The sides are then sewn closed with holes left for the arms. The whole thing is pinned or belted in place to form a sort of dress and can be worn on its own or with an underdress of some sort (i.e. a tunic or shift would do it).

In this case, I'm sporting it over a t-shirt and modern skirt but hopefully you get the idea.

Modifications on the basic idea... I decided to add in a back seam and cut at the shoulder seams. This was for ease of cutting and drafting since I was handling smaller pieces of linen. The linen in question creased if I looked at it funny and anything that helped me to keep it flat while I drafted and cut was a good thing.

I decided to split my kalasiris up the front to give me more future flexibility in how I might use this costume. Then I decided that ribbon was needed at the neck and sides to make the whole thing gel properly, so the whole thing look like a proper garment rather than a big piece of linen. The ribbon, in red and gold as a good match and I'm pleased with how it looks now its in place.

The final mod to the basic idea was to curve the sleeves or sides slightly as they fell towards the hem. This was mostly so that if it ever gets worn open, they don't drag on the floor quite so badly!

Overall, I'm pleased with this one and hope to get lots of use out of it.