Friday, 20 December 2013

Heading Towards Christmas with Mistletoe, Books and Charity Knitting...

I love mistletoe. This year I'm going to leave this sprig on our apple tree and hope it grows! Meanwhile, I've positioned it prominently in our kitchen...

Isn't this cup the best present? My girlfriend brought it back from Germany for me. I've drunk out of it pretty obsessively since! Nothing like an early Christmas present!

These are the charity mug-huggers in situ, at The Coffee House on Moreton Hall. They're selling for £3, with £1 of that going straight to our local hospice - an indisputable good cause!

Last charity knit of the year: these mugs with their own crochet warmers are on sale at Workwise on Hatter Street with a portion of the money going to Workwise itself. Having finished these, I had no project on the go - but friends gave had a baby girl surprisingly early, so I've got an excuse to get knitting again!

Final picture of this week: I'm reading a superb novel called The Professor of Poetry by Geraldine McCleen. It is lyrically written with an unusual - 50s, single, academic female - protagonist. I've read about a third of it and am loving every sentence. More when it's finished!

Hope everyone's had a good week and is getting ready for a lovely Christmas!


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Reading, Knitting and Someone Else's Crochet: what could be better?

Ta-dah! I finished these last night, to the entertaining accompaniment of several episodes of Big Love. The pattern is from Mollie Makes, Issue 33, and they've worked up pretty well. They're made in 4-ply, on DPNs, and as I don't often use wool that fine, I found they took quite a while to knit up. The instructions are clear, though, with really good photos so that you can check how your pattern is going! The snowflakes are crochet and I cheated a bit on them by using DK and a size 14 hook, so they don't look as fine as the ones in the magazine. I realised, once I'd sewn the snowflakes on, that the gloves can be worn with the snowflakes on the palm or back of the hand - lovely. There will be more on my Ravelry page soon about little changes I made to the pattern. I was going to give these away as a Christmas present - but I might keep them for myself instead!

This week, I also finished a brilliant novel: Charlotte Mendelson's Almost English:

I expected to enjoy this as I've read all of her novels; she has a gift for articulating precisely what a character thinks or feels. Her choice, for this novel, to alternate between writing about a teenage girl and her mother (as well as their brilliantly-drawn troupe of Hungarian female relatives and friends) means that the novel also demonstrates how a mother's and a daughter's experience of an event can be. Marina's experiences at her new boarding school are particularly entertaining and Mendelson effortlessly recreates the mix of mortification and exploration that characterises teenagers. Laura's anxieties about her absent daughter as well as her own romantic life show a loving but cautious and reserved kind of motherhood which, I think, is rarely the subject of films or books. Mendelson's novel is beautifully written, right down to the level of the wit and clarity of individual sentences. Possibly, if you want a thrilling plot, this might not be the novel for you. But if you enjoy superb observation, convincing characters and pitch-perfect writing, then it most certainly is.

Finally, I saw this fabulous crochet bike basket. Is this yours?! Get in touch, if so! I love it!



Monday, 18 November 2013

She cooks, she knits...

I seem to have been knitting this baby jumper for some time - and the baby has already been born, so last week I thought I'd really better get a move on. It's a lovely pattern which I've blogged about before, from Joelle Hoverson's book, More Last Minute Knitted Gifts. It's knitted in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran on a circular needle, so (if you just crack on with it) it knits up quickly and there are very few seams to join up! The only reservation I have with the pattern is that there are no buttonholes, so I've added one. Now I can finally go and see the new arrival!

This has been a rather productive weekend, all things considered! It's not often I have even one thing to blog about on #HandmadeMonday! I've been meaning to make these mug-hunger samples for a lovely local cafe for ages, as something I might sell with them. So now I have these to show them later today:

And, finally - I made these gorgeous cookies from a recipe in the Guardian magazine a couple of weeks ago. You can find the recipe here: The cookies are luscious, really chocolately, and the pecan praline tastes lovely in them. Having said that, the praline took just *ages* to make - probably because I was very nervous about burning the sugar, so I didn't turn it up high enough to melt it. Because you have to make the praline first, these biscuits take slightly longer than other cookies, but we are just loving them.


Monday, 11 November 2013

In Which I Read a Book, and Finally Finish The Interminable Jumper!

Great cause for celebration! The cardigan I've been knitting for absolutely ages is done!

I'm really pleased with it. I'll put more details about how I adjusted the pattern on the pattern notes in Ravelry, but it's Sirdar 9730 and I think it's turned out really well. It does look, from that photo, rather as if I have excessively long arms, but these are at least an inch shorter than the pattern said! I'm also very glad that I made it an inch longer in the body than they said, as it's only just long enough. It's exactly what I wanted: a 1950s style cardigan which I could wear with jeans. It's made from rather luxurious Sublime yarn, which I bought on sale in Norfolk, so the whole thing cost about £30 - though I do have two balls left over. Hurrah! Most definitely going to be wearing it to Stitch & Bitch today!

Some rather nice treats to ease me into this week: I've finished The marvellous Merivel by Rose Tremain, and, as if by magic, Charlotte Mendelson's Almost English has arrived today! I ordered it from The Book People after reading this guide to ethical booksellers:

Merivel was just fantastic. Tremain's writing is simply never awkward or verbose, despite the novel being in the first person and full of the eponymous Merivel's musings on love, sex, animals and royalty! It is superbly observant and the seventeenth century settings and characters simply spring to life. This is a unique novel - a delight.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Good Books and A Good Cup of Coffee

This week has been a very good week for coffee, books and crochet! First: I've finished the excellent novel, Night Waking, by Sarah Moss.
I've been very lucky with my book choices recently. It wasn't my plan only to review books I like - but that has been what's happened, and this book is no exception. Sarah Moss wittily depicts family life on the remote Scottish island of Colsay through the voice of Anna Bennett, an academic who is supposed to be writing a book. Her husband is also an academic as well as the owner of the island. Anna's struggle with the competing demands of looking after her two boys and writing her book is brilliantly written; Moss creates a believable portrait of twenty-first century family life where Anna's husband automatically assumes his 'work' is outside the home while hers is inside - despite the fact, as she tells him, that her maternity leave ended some time ago. A discovery in the garden of their house, as well as some Victorian letters, give this novel a page-turning mysterious element, too. Every character is well drawn and the sometimes weary, sometimes incredulous commentary by Anna on her life in the rainy, lonely landscape of the island is amusing and completely convincing. This is Moss' second novel - I'm going to search now for her first!
I've also been enjoying Nicki Trench's book, Cute and Easy Crochet. I personally don't like the word, 'cute' so I can reassure you, if you have a similar dislike for it, that many things in this book are lovely, and not too 'girlie'. There are some really good present-projects in here, like mug cosies and baby gifts. There are also bags and scarves - I like the Chunky Seashell Scarf in particular. I'm currently adapting the Floral Purse into a pencil case - the instructions are clear and there is a really good number of pictures to help you make sure your project is on track. Much as I love the granny square, I was pleased to see in here that there are plenty of projects which don't rely on it! So, for quick gifts for babies and adults, I would recommend this book - pictures of the purse/pencil case soon!
And, to close - a picture of my lovely flat white coffee at Baker and Barista in Ipswich on Saturday - Heaven!
This was my treat before going to teach a Beginners' Knitting class at the wonderful Jenny Wren's Yarns. It was a great afternoon: a lively, fun group of people who really enjoyed getting to grips with their needles. Looking forward to Improvers' Knitting in November, now!


Monday, 12 August 2013

Knitting, Coffee, Norwich & A Novel

This novel, Margaret Forster's The Unknown Bridesmaid, has been my holiday reading. I often ended up reading it at 5am, too hot to sleep.

This is a bleak but brilliant book. Forster's writing is nuanced and precise; she has a gift for portraying all the shades and subtleties of the character of Julia, her protagonist, as Forster charts Julia's life from childhood to adulthood. The novel alternates between these stages of Julia's life so that the reader is invited to see the effect that Julia's childhood has on her adult life, and Julia's adult profession as a child psychologist serves to reinforce these links between past and present. Forster's gift is also clear, I think, in her ability to create a protagonist who is ordinary yet interesting; not quite likeable - not admirable, nor warm - but whose actions and character are engaging nonetheless. Julia's character drives this novel, though her mother and aunt Maureen, her cousin Iris and school friend Caroline, are also beautifully drawn. There are some peculiarities to the novel: for example some major events in Julia's life are only alluded to, rather than depicted. Still, I read this avidly, though uneasily, until the final paragraph, which seems to offer a resolution.

In between bouts of reading this, I went to Norwich, a city which I love because of its gorgeous medieval buildings and tiny bars and cafes. I've mentioned its wool shops, too, before: lots of lovely yarn to be seen in Jarrolds and Crafty Ewe. I didn't buy anything, though - which sounds virtuous until I admit that I have the yarn for two adult projects and a baby project in my wardrobe... Anyway! We hunted for a house which has (supposedly) beams in it from the Spanish Armada. You can just see one, I think, on the left by the door at the bottom in this photo:

I loved these great posters. I have also been busy knitting my vintage-style cardigan in a colour called, er, Marmalade - it is rather mustardy and bright, but I am hoping I'll like the finished colour when it's done. It's Sublime yarn, and it's lovely - it doesn't split, and the stitches show up really nicely. I seem to have an awful lot of it, though, as I looked at the yardage (which I don't usually do) of the yarn Sirdar suggested first and made sure I had the equivalent - but there are just balls of it everywhere I look! Cardigans are dicey because the sizing always seems a bit unsatisfactory somehow - but we shall see! Fingers crossed!


Saturday, 27 July 2013

This week so far: a great novel & an exhibition

Yes, this is my week so far. Coffee, cake and culture - perfect! I have done some knitting, but need more photos for a proper post, so that is on its way!

I have blogged about visiting our local art gallery, Smiths Row, before. It's a lovely, clean space and they get interesting, accessible exhibitions there. Oh, and it's free! At the moment, it's hosting two exhibitions: Caroline Wright, On Tides and Fathoms, and Elin Hoyland's The Brothers. Wright's piece is a film piece, looking at three Suffolk locations - a beach hut, a shepherd's hut and a beach lookout - and the landscape around them. On Tides and Fathoms seems to suggest the inevitability of time passing, but also to consider how these small, purposeful buildings are - or aren't - used and their role in the Suffolk landscape.

Hoyland's The Brothers is a fascinating series of black and white photographs of two elderly farming brothers in the Norwegian countryside. Lots of Scandi jumpers here, worn with utilitarian authenticity! The sparseness of the brothers' home against the mountainous countryside is beautifully recorded.

I was very excited to get Tessa Hadley's novel, Clever Girl, from the library. I've read all of her previous books and have always found them beautifully detailed in their depiction of everyday sadnesses, joys and incisions. This is a completely captivating novel. It tells the story of Stella, from her childhood with her mother (who tells her her father is dead), to her adult life as a parent, student, lover and wife in her fifties at the novel's close. The story is entirely in the first person, encouraging the reader to empathise with Stella, but also lending the dilemmas, choices and moments of indecision she experiences a vivid plausibility. If you've read any of Hadley's other works, you will be prepared for the startlingly precise scrutiny to which she subjects the world around her characters and this is part of the novel's charm: she conjures up the world of Stella's 60s childhood and adolescence lightly but convincingly. For example, Stella's observation of her boyfriend, Valentine's, family is succinct but deftly suggests his social class: "his mother had a ruined face and watery huge eyes, she wore pearls and Chinese jade earrings at the dining table in the evenings (unlike us, they actually ate in their dining room)." Hadley is willing to probe, through Stella's character, the joys and limitations experienced by parents; parental absences, whether permanent or temporary, recur. Stella's attitude to her children seems always ambivalent. She disappears in the night, then returns at will, to her son's stoical comment, "Mum's back."

A poem I've always enjoyed is Liz Lochhead's The Choosing. In it, she compares herself, carrying a pile of books from the library, to a married, perhaps pregnant school friend whose life has taken a domestic rather than an academic path. Hadley plays with the same ideas here when Stella proclaims: "Men or books? With relief, I chose books." Is that "clever"? The title, and the dreamy pencil-sketched cover portrait of a schoolgirl staring into the middle distance, make the reader wonder, at the end, what "cleverness" is.

You can hear Liz Lochhead read her poem here:


Monday, 17 June 2013

This weekend: a cracker!

Firstly, lovely local yarnbombing spotted at the pub:

Then, feeling in need of a treat, I bought Mollie Makes, after a quick Twitter poll about which crafty magazine people rated at the moment. By the time I got to sit down and read it, we were on the coast and you can just see the sea in the distance here:

Sunday in Suffolk saw the opening of lots of gorgeous gardens in Bury St Edmunds, in aid of St Nicholas Hospice. This is such a good cause; we've been three years running now, and somehow the sun always shines! So many people take the time and trouble to open their gardens - businesses, churches and private homes of all kinds. There are so many moments where we wandered through little alleyways beside houses, only to emerge gasping at the size and beauty of people's gardens. We had some real #CuriousCounty moments: where else would you hear a recorder group play What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor while you look at an informative display of Victorian lawnmowers, or drink Pimms down a lane lined with plant and cake stalls? People must have found the gardening hard recently with the terrible weather, but all the plots looked great and the atmosphere was fantastic.

And, finally - roses from my mother's garden. Their scent is everywhere - finally, a hint that Summer may be on its way!



Thursday, 13 June 2013

I've read a brilliant book & made some crochet bunting

Yes, these are my two main achievements this week! I'm not completely convinced about the bunting; I've made it from a pattern in a motif book. It looks ok when flat, but it does curl a bit .... so I'm not posting a revised pattern just yet! It's squeaky, acrylic wool, too, so perhaps that's not helping!

Now, to the book: I haven't blogged about books that often, because I sometimes review them for But as I don't think I'll review this one for them, I wanted to just note here how very brilliant this is! Susie Steiner sets Homecoming in Yorkshire and the action begins in 2005. The story covers the fortunes of the Hartles, a farming family and the people whose lives intersect with theirs. It's written entirely in the present tense and this gives the story a bleak immediacy. The observation of the minutiae of life is superb; although some parts of the novel are bleak, as I've said, much of it is gently humorous and the relationships between the various Hartle family members are beautifully drawn. The Yorkshire landscape, too, is carefully and atmospherically drawn, taking the place of an almost-character in the story. This was a library book and I'm very reluctant to give it back - a fantastic, unusual, memorable story.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

In Which Not One But Two Wool Shops Get Bigger and Better!

Wool shops are like buses ... well, nearly! Anyone who thinks that huge resurgence of interest in crochet and knitting is a fad need look no further than sunny Suffolk, where our interest in things woolly goes from strength to strength! This week, Lyndsey Hurrell moved her shop, Wibbling Wools, from Eastgate Street to Churchgate Street. This has more than doubled the size of her shop, as the picture below of the front window shows - it stretches quite a long way...
This is fantastic news for Bury St Edmunds knitters - she can now stock more colours and brands, developing the slightly cheaper end of the market as well as keeping stocks of the more luxurious wools.

There's more room to sit and browse the patterns, and plenty more wool spun in Britain - and some 'grown' in Britain, too.

Once the cafe here gets up and running in July, this will be an even better venue for Bury St Edmunds' knitters! 
Now, not content with Wibbling Wools' expansion, this evening I popped to Ipswich for the Opening Evening of Jenny Wren's Yarns. I've blogged about this shop before, when I went to interview Lois about it. She runs the business with her mother, and has been able to expand into a luxurious two-roomed new building, just over the road from their old site:
She too has much more yarn, as well as lovely jars of buttons. She also has some lovely vintage pieces of furniture - including a desirable red vintage sewing box which I found it hard to leave behind - from Betty Blue Hat 's vintage store, over the road.

Like Wibbling Wools, Jenny Wren's Yarns is stocking what looks like a great British wool brand, Diggle DK from I had a sneaky pinch and it has a lovely, proper 'wool' texture as well as a good range of tweedy and matt colours. Unbelievably, I'd gone to both shops without a project to buy for! How did that happen?!
It's fantastic that two local businesses, run by businesswomen with lots of knowledge and enthusiasm for their field, are doing so well. Long may it last!

Monday, 13 May 2013

#Handmade Monday - easy knitted wrist warmers make it to New York!

These aren't actually for me! I was just having a cheeky wear of them here before I sent them to @copperspiral in New York. She's already got them - so now I can publish this picture of them! They were super easy to make and I was rather sad to let them go. The pattern is from Bronwyn Lowenthal's Love To Knit book. They're made of Louisa Harding 'Thistle' yarn bought from @CafeKnit - and I made both gloves rather surprisingly out of one ball. The yarn is really lovely and soft and they were quick to knit on four 6mm needles. They were, er, even quicker than the pattern suggested because I made them a lot shorter in the arm. The ones modelled in the book came nearly to the model's elbow and were all bunched up - but I did about 23 rows then did the thumbs. For the thumbs, I used the 'live stitches' method rather than the method described in the pattern. It may well have worked fine, but I couldn't figure out how - so I stuck to a method I know works!

These are a really good gift for a friend - though I do have enough wool to make myself some now...

In other news: teaching crochet @cafeknit on Saturday was really good fun. I had really lovely students and everyone got to make at least part of a granny square, and tried chains, double crochet and trebles! It was interesting teaching crochet to knitters - it reminded me how different the skills are in some ways. I think a good time was had by all!


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

#WIP Wednesday and a review of 'Simple Crochet'

How nice to find a new crochet book in our local library!
I spent a very happy hour this afternoon reading Sara Sinaguglia's Simple Crochet. The tag line, 'With more than 35 vintage-vibe projects for your handmade life' was rather off-putting because I find the possessive 'your' as well as the ubiquitous word, vintage, rather irritating, but I'm really glad I persevered. The book has a lovely, informal tone and is peppered with details about the author's life and why she first made some of the projects in the book. As always in crochet books, there's a little too much in the How To section - this sometimes puts me off buying crochet books as it's rather repetitive. There is quite a lot, though, on something i really want to try: crochet edging on linen or cotton, so that part of the How To is quite eye-opening. Anyway, the book is themed around different rooms in the house and I was pleased to see that I'd make at least two things from each section. What I also enjoyed about this was that quite a lot of the projects involve sewing as well as crochet - the iPad cosy, for example, is made of fabric with crochet motifs sewn onto it - and these projects look really good. This book even had me contemplating crochet washcloths - and that is no mean feat! The photography is gorgeous, too. So - definitely worth a read.
And now for the WIP: so far, my preparation for teaching my first crochet course for Cafe Knit has only stretched to deciding what the wear. But then I thought I'd better write my pattern for crochet bracelets, which I hope will be easy for beginners to make in under three hours! Here they are so far:

I hope my crochet classes go well - it's hard to gauge how much a random group of people will be able to make in three hours! Still, at least crochet is east to unravel and quick once you've got the hang of it. Wish me - and my students - luck!

Monday, 22 April 2013

#4KCBWDAY1 ! Choosing a House...

It's got to be the bee - having read the descriptions @eskimimi has out on her blog, I think I just about qualify as industrious ... But I do also flit from project to project... At present, I'm making myself a jumper, but I wish I was making quicker, smaller accessories.

In fact, today has really been spent like this:

Better luck tomorrow - I wonder what tomorrow's theme will be?


Friday, 19 April 2013

#FO Friday! In which crochet trim turns jar into vase...

For once, a Finished Object! Here's Wednesday's WIP crochet trim, now adorning a jam jar. This was very easy and I'll post the pattern up over this weekend. I have great plans, now, to make lots more of these this weekend and to decorate many more jars with them ... #looksformorethingstocoverwithcrochet ... But for now, it's time for a drink and a rest.

Have a good weekend, everyone!


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

#WIP Wednesday - little, easy crochet trim...

I'd been trying to think of a nice, easy crochet item to make which I could use when I start my crochet classes later this month. Although I've rummaged in Pinterest a bit, I've ended up making my own pattern for this, which I'll post up on here once it's done.

I'm trying, trying, trying not to just cover our house in crochet ... but this edging would look lovely round a jam jar which you could then put flowers in. I've used cotton 4 ply but you could easily adjust it to use up DK if you have more of that left over. Possibly I'll only be allowed to make one of these for our house, but they'd look great round jars in a row, in different heights - anyway, this is what I have so far:


More to come, when I've finished ... What's everyone else making today?