Tuesday, 29 November 2011

London Calling

As part of my plan to fully enjoy the week off I have between my old job and my new job, I went to London today. I get very, very excited about going to London. I can count the number of times I've been there on both hands, which means I still enjoy doing things like riding the underground trains, and gawping at all the touristy spots. Jamie, and most of my friends, have spent a lot more time in London than I have (cos, you know, they live there, or work there, or have done in the past). So nobody else really shared my enthusiasm for the day I had planned!

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, where the Queen lives.
My side trip to Buckingham Palace wasn't originally part of the plan, but when I discovered its proximity to where I was meeting my friend for lunch, I knew I had to wander over and take a peek. Then I realised how close I was to Westminster, where I needed to be, and decided to abandon my original plan of tubing over to Waterloo in favour of walking through St James Park. I am glad I did, because I had the most amazing experience ever while I was there.

St James Park squirrel
Squirrels are everywhere in the park, and they are not at all afraid of people.
The squirrels were bouncing about the place, digging up food. I was enjoying myself, laughing at their antics and trying to take photos, when I spotted one little fella perched on the railings watching me rather intently. As I approached, he jumped from the fence into a deep pile of autumn leaves, which then flew everywhere as he bounded out of them and came to a stop right at my feet. I bent over to say hello, and he climbed up my leg! I was very sorry not to have any food to give him, because he soon gave up on me and ran off. But there was a squirrel! Climbing up my leg!

Obligatory shot of the Palace of Westminster, complete with the clock tower
One of these days I am going to arrange to go on another tour of the Houses of Parliament. I did it once when I was on a school trip and it was really interesting. We even did the climb up the clock tower, and stood at the top, close enough to touch Big Ben, when it chimed 11am. I'd love to do that again.

London Aquarium
London Aquarium. Target one on my "fun things to do" list for the day
The aquarium was great. The main issue I have with them, is that all the Sea Life centres kind of look the same. Once you've been to one, you've pretty much been to them all. London's main attraction is now apparently the penguins, although I have to say of all the displays that was the most disappointing. Far more exciting was the huge tank full of sharks (which moved too fast to photograph!) and the huge tank full of rays and turtles, complete with underwater walkthrough tunnel. I took a video of that tank (which you can view here), because again, everything was moving too quickly to photograph properly. 

London Eye at night
The London Eye. Target two on the list
I've wanted to go on the London Eye ever since it was first built. Twice, I have stood beneath it and not bee able to go on. The first time was not long after it opened; I'd gone to London with my Mum, and she refused to pay the extortionate ticket price for us to go on (I think she'd been too shocked by the £7 cinema tickets when we went to the Odeon on Leicester Square). The second time was a couple of years ago, when Jamie and I were in London to visit the Imperial War Museum. Then, we simply couldn't afford the exorbitant ticket prices, and didn't really have the time either.

Not so this time, for I was armed with a two-for-one voucher, which made it rather more affordable.

London Skyline at night from the eye
The view across the Thames towards Embankment station

It was a very odd experience. You don't really notice the wheel move, and then all of a sudden you realise you are extremely high up. It had started to rain, so our views of the entire city were clouded by the weather somewhat, but it was still fantastic to see the city all lit up. You can see so many landmarks. Buckingham Palace looked tiny from the top, especially compared to the (much closer) Palace of Westminster. St Pauls Cathedral looked particularly cool. And as we descended, Battersea Power Station rose out of the darkness, but as it's not lit it doesn't show up in any of the photos!

Proof that I was on the Eye, in case you thought I was making it up
Full set of photos on Flickr.

Monday, 28 November 2011

In which I went for a walk

Nothing like going for a tromp around the countryside on a crisp November morning.

Old Mill House
The old Mill House at Pangbourne

Mill Wheels
The mill wheels still in place underneath the house

Lich gate
The lich gate at the church in Whitchurch-on-Thames

Mushrooms growing in the village green

Red Kite
A Red Kite soaring majestically over the downs

Treeline 3
Gorgeous views


Alpaca farm 1

Human Sundial
An awesome human sundial, which was correct
(but set to BST, so the dial said it was 2.30)

Brick quote
Quotations in the bricks outlining the Thyme Maze surrounding said human sundial

The full set of photos can be found in this Flickr set.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Year of Projects update 26th November

I had an exciting parcel pushed through my letter box yesterday morning. I'd ordered some new knitting needles from a seller on eBay; 9mm bamboo DPNs and 16" circular, for the express purpose of knitting the Free Rapunzel! hat from Tiny Owl Knits, which was added to my YoP list earlier in the year.

I've had the yarn in my stash for a while, having bought four balls of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Chunky from a friend who was destashing back in August.

I resisted all morning, but as soon as I found myself sitting down on the sofa to watch the Barbarians rugby game yesterday afternoon, I couldn't resist digging the yarn out and getting started!

Lots of firsts for me in this pattern:

First time knitting cables - I didn't have a cable needle so I used one
of the DPNs instead, which mostly worked ok

First time picking up stitches to knit
First time knitting stockinette in the round

Switching to the DPNs was tricky, as I had to keep moving the stitches about to get the crown decreases in the right place and prevent my stitch markers from falling off the ends. I did the cable band while watching rugby, and accompanied the lovely stockinette portion (have I mentioned how much I loved knitting stockinette in the round?) with two episodes of The Walking Dead season 2. I would have stayed up all night to knit the braids too, but having arranged to go out for a tromp around the countryside this morning, I decided to leave it till later.

I ran out of yarn from my first ball while in the middle of my decreases, so I used the magic knot tutorial that Evelyn linked to the other day to join my second ball. Genius! It worked like a dream.

I'll be back tomorrow with the photos from my countryside tromp - there were herds of alpacas!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cook from a Cookbook: Lemony Lemony Lemon Drizzle Cake

Yesterday I had the perfect excuse to break out my newest cookbook and have a go at a recipe I've never tried before. It was my last day at my current job, where tradition demands an offering of cake.

I did a re-run of the Chocolate Crispy Cakes I made for my birthday, since they had proven so popular with my colleagues, and selected the Lemon Drizzle Loaf from my Good Housekeeping Baking Book.

The recipe is actually incredibly simple. I did get a little covered in lemon from all the zesting and juicing, but getting messy is half the fun of baking, don't you agree?

I was ably assisted in my baking by my friend CJ, and copious quantities of Bombay Sapphire. The cake smelled divine when it was in the oven, and cooked to perfection in 40 minutes with a minimum amount of crust burning.

We had to cut the end off to fit it in the box. Honest.

As you can probably see in the photo, I made one small change to the instructions. I didn't have a grater capable of finely grating the lemon zest, so the two lemon's worth of zest that was meant to be grated into the mixture was actually just pared zest, the same as went into the drizzle. I actually quite liked having proper pieces of zest inside the sponge. Which, by the way, was light and delicious and Oh So Lemony. I had quite big lemons, so there was a lot of drizzle, and it soaked right into the sponge and made it all sticky and moist.

It was a real hit with my now-ex-colleagues and I will definitely be making this again!

Friday, 25 November 2011

FO Friday - Dishcloth madness

A quick round up of all the dishcloths I've knit but not blogged about! After his initial uncertainty over using them in the kitchen, Jamie has come around, and our paper towel usage has dropped dramatically! I love how quick they are to clean too; I pop them in the machine as I'm doing a normal washing load, and they dry really quickly once they come out.

Grandmother's Favourite, stopped increasing at 28 sts

After making the first one (blogged here), I used the left over yarn to make a smaller one (above) which I use as a facecloth in the bathroom. I love it!

Diagonal Knit Dishcloth
I used a different pattern for my purple cotton. This one has a waffle stitch section in the middle, which is really pretty and makes for a very effective scrubbing surface. Great for all the dried on grease that ends up on our work surfaces!

I started out using the rest of the purple to make a mitred square dishcloth, but soon ran out. So I used up the last of the pink/orange ball, and broke into my pink/purple ball to finish it off.

poor colour on this one, I took it with my phone
This was a great, mindless knit, but it sat around for ages before getting finished off, because I didn't have a button. Because I chose to do it in stockinette rather than garter, it looks and feels more like a tea-towel.

better colours in the kitchen, thanks to the fluorescent lighting

I've hung it up on the window above the sink, where it is very handy for wiping utensils and cutlery being used directly from the drying rack.

I still have some of the pink/purple/white ball left, so I may make another basic Grandmother's favourite with it, measuring carefully to use up exactly half before I start decreasing!

To see more FOs, head over to Tami's.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit*

In my quest to find a suitable quotation relating to today's post to use as a title, I found the above quote by Oscar Wilde, which made me laugh.

I have made a deplorable lack of progress over the last week or so. Partly this can be attributed to me having far too many projects on the go, and nowhere near enough time spare in which to work on them. I was away all weekend having fun in a field, you see. Sadly my camera remained packed away - I always seem to be too busy playing the game to take photos.

Slightly blurry photo courtesy of my friend Rich
What you can see from the one photo of me I do have, is that I took my crochet lacy wrap to the event and wore it as a scarf, secured with a cloak pin. I would have frozen to death if I hadn't taken it, so I am very glad I made the last-minute, spur-of-the-moment decision to steam block it on Wednesday evening last week, and chuck it in the bag.

I had intended to bring my leafy fingerless gloves to the event as well, to prevent my hands from getting cold in the chilly November evening mists, but they haven't really progressed all that much! I am still getting to grips with the DPNs - I realised after a little while that my tube of knitting was inside out, and have been struggling to get to grips with the idea of working with the needles in a slightly different orientation. But we'll get there. I have almost finished the second pattern repeat on the first glove, and will soon be working the thumb. As I have four months before the next LRP event, I am sure I will have them finished in time!

Mostly my craft time has been focussed on Rosie's Rosie Rabbit and the Poncho. All of the pieces for the rabbit have been crocheted and stuffed; all that remains is to weave in ends and sew the thing together. I am hoping to get that done next week, as I have a week off work and intend to be very productive during it. I am up to 54 motifs for the poncho, so definitely heading towards the halfway point on that. It makes for very effective roleplay night crocheting, because I no longer have to pay any attention really to what I am doing.

And now you see why I am quoting Oscar Wilde today. My books of choice for the last couple of weeks have been classics. I picked up Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray in a charity shop. Both are books I'd wanted to read for a while, but didn't own. Northanger Abbey was an odd read; it's quite different to the other Jane Austen novels I'd already read, which I am mostly attributing to the fact it was her first novel. I still prefer Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, although I have yet to read Persuasion.

Dorian Gray I wanted to read for slightly different reasons, as it was more a book I felt I ought to have read by now. I have enjoyed reading it, but I doubt it will become a regular feature in my list of books I read repeatedly. I wanted to make sure I'd read it before watching the most recent film adaptation of it though, because I didn't want my appreciation of the book to be skewed by the film. Having finished the book, and read the plot synopsis for the film online, I am glad I did, because it seems like they changed it quite a lot! I will probably still watch it though; mainly because Colin Firth is in it. I loved him in The Importance of Being Earnest. This was my first time actually reading Oscar Wilde, so it took me a little while to get used to his writing style. I also found it very strange reading a book from such a male perspective, if that makes sense!

For purely fiber arts WIP updates, head over to Tami's; to see what folks are reading as well as working on,  you'll want to head over to Small Things.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Winning is the most important*

Today's post brought to you by the excitement of actually winning a giveaway on a friend's blog!

A couple of weeks ago, Natalie over at Misadventures in Craft held a giveaway to celebrate the end of her first year of knitting. She had some great prizes on offer, so I popped my name in the hat and thought no more about it. Imagine my excitement, then, when last Friday she announced the winners of the giveaway and I discovered I had won a prize!

I won the crochet pattern book! It came in the post today, and I already had an inkling it would be waiting for me at home when I saw Sarah (Crafts from the Cwtch) tweeting photos of her prize earlier on in the day.

Like Sarah, I also had an extra bonus surprise gift in my parcel - a really cute mini skein keyring in my favourite colours that Nat had made for me.

A quick flick through the book has already got me thinking about projects to work on once the Year of Projects is over. I've included my initial seven in the photo above. Most of the patterns in the book involve beads or sequins, which will be a new experience for me. I am particularly excited about that purple dress, and the beaded green scarf (not that I need any more scarves, mind you, but it is very pretty...).

Thank you Natalie! I will have to get my thinking cap on to outdo your giveaway prizes when my blogiversary rolls around in December!

*Winning is the most important. Everything is consequence of that. Ayrton Senna

Friday, 18 November 2011

FO Friday - Tree Frog

One of my super seekrit projects, unveiled now it is finally residing in it's proper home.

Pattern: Tree Frog by Brigitte Read (direct link here)
Yarn: Sirdar Simply Recycled DK (natural), Sirdar Calico (Orange), James C Brett Kool Kotton (green)
Hook: 2.5mm

Notes: Very few modifications to the pattern as written. Used a smaller hook to create a tighter, stiffer fabric, which worked really well. I pretty much followed the directions exactly for the head, body and legs, but made some changes for the feet and eyes.

Eyes: I didn't have orange animal eyes, so made do with 10mm black safety eyes. I chained six stitches and joined in a loop, then crocheted 8 sc into the ring. I then increased 2sc in each stitch for the second round (I think) before fastening off, and attaching to the head using the safety eyes through the small hole in the centre.

Feet: The pattern suggests crocheting the feet and the sucker pads separately, then sewing the pads onto the toes before attaching to the legs. I couldn't be bothered with all that extra sewing together, so made the feet by crocheting the chain, doing 5sc into the end chain, and slip stitching back down the chain, three times in total for each foot. The back feet are slightly longer than the front feet.

I also failed to consider leaving a length of pipe cleaner at the end of each foot to insert into the body to secure the legs more effectively, nor did I remember to attach the legs before I sewed the top and bottom half of the body together. It worked out alright, so I'm not really worried!

Overall, I'm really pleased with how it turned out. It was pretty fiddly, but I can't think of a way you could get the same end result without making all the constituent parts separately. And it was well received by my biologist friend, and looks awesome sitting on her bromeliad flower, which was kind of the point!

More FOs over at Tamis!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Advent Calendar

A little while ago the idea came into my head to make an advent calendar for this year. I scoured Pinterest for ideas, but hadn't really settled on anything. Then, I found these adorable numbered pegs for sale in Tiger,

Clearly, then, I had to focus on those ideas that involved hanging things from pegs! I'd been slowly falling in love with all the cute little felt ornaments I'd been finding on Pinterest, and had even gone so far as to buy some felt and buttons to have a go at making some.

I made these as a present to go alongside the crocheted uterus.
They turned out so cute, I decided my advent calendar would have 24 of these adorable felt ornaments, one for each day.

This past weekend, my living room turned into a felt ornament production line! I took over half the room with my table, slowly covering everything in scraps of felt and embroidery thread. The end result, though, is 21 gorgeous little felt ornaments in 7 different designs.

All cut out and ready for sewing and stuffing

Finished ornaments ready to hang

I know, I can see what you're now thinking. There are 24 days on an advent calendar. Why do I only have 21 ornaments? The thing is, I ran out of ideas. I found/made templates for seven different non-religious Christmas-related shapes: the bird and heart I originally tested, a five pointed star, a bell, two different shaped Christmas tree baubles (the round one above, and a tear shaped one) and the little stocking.

I have no idea what to do for my eighth shape! Do you guys have any suggestions?

Monday, 14 November 2011

Cook from a Cookbook: Welsh Cakes

So, I haven't had much chance to cook anything exciting from our cookbooks recently. We made cornbread again on Saturday morning, but added more sugar this time (maybe five times as much as the recipe states? We weren't really counting) so it came out sweeter. Not too sweet, but definitely sweeter. It was lovely.

I was idly flicking through my baking book on Sunday morning (because it was still out) trying to decide what I should bake from it to take into work next week, when I spotted the recipe for Welsh Cakes. Given that I was feeling slightly peckish at that point, it is no surprise my stomach growled make these now!

Luckily, I had all the ingredients to hand.

The recipe wanted me to use lard. Who has lard in the fridge these days?
Also, those are sultanas, not currants. I don't think it matters.
The trouble with welsh cakes is, like scones, they require all that pesky rubbing of butter into flour. I usually have quite cold hands, which makes me a natural at that sort of thing, but I wanted them now so decided to take the easy route.

I love my food processor so very much.

The only real downside to using the processor is it chops all the fruit up into little bits. I don't mind though.

They're so quick, only five or six minutes in the pan and they're done.

Just a light sprinkling of sugar to finish them off.

The recipe reckons it makes ten. I got sixteen out of it, plus a bit of left over dough to eat while I waited for them to cook. It think I might add them to the list of things to take into work.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Another WIP?

Please tell me someone is researching a vaccine for startitis? I don't need any more projects, I really don't. And yet... I find myself starting one. The trouble is, the logic I followed is impeccable.

You guys remember my Granny Rectangle? Well, I absolutely adore that blanket. I use it almost every evening, wrapping myself up in it on the sofa while watching TV. It's brilliant.

I have a similar blanket upstairs, for the bedroom. I originally bought it a few years ago for the cat (I know, I hang my head in shame. But I didn't know how to crochet then, otherwise of course I would have made it myself). It is a lot smaller than the rectangle, and it's a square.

Here it is being used by Mr Fidget
He looks less impressed with it here.

Cats, though, are fickle beasts, and eventually Mr Fidget tired of it. It spent a year or so tossed in the cat bed (also abandoned) in the bottom of my wardrobe next to the bed, until last winter, when it was so cold  and I needed an extra something to keep me warm in bed.

Some mild flailing later, and I had grabbed hold of the blanket and pulled it over me. It was lovely and snuggly, and it spent the rest of the winter on my side of the bed, keeping me warm. Unfortunately, due to its size, it could only really keep my arms and chest warm; the rest of me was still colder than I'd have liked!

As the temperatures have dropped this week, particularly at night, I've found myself crawling into a freezing bed again. I remembered how fabulous the blanket was at keeping me warm, but then also remembered its lack of size.

Then came the dangerous realisation. The stash of acrylics I have downstairs are the perfect colours to match this blanket. I could make it bigger. Much bigger. Big enough to cover our king size bed.

So of course, I did the only sensible thing I could. Rushed downstairs, pulled out all the acrylics from the shelf, chose my colours and started hooking!

Friday, 11 November 2011

We will remember them.

Crocheted Poppy

For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

New Free Pattern - Crocheted Uterus!

Another secret project now out in the open, complete with bonus free pattern!

A friend of mine recently underwent surgery for an ovarian cyst, so I wanted to make her something that would make her smile. I've seen several patterns for fake boobs and wombs, for women who have undergone mastectomies or hysterectomies, so I considered finding/making a pattern for a crocheted ovary. Of course, I didn't really find anything, and when I started researching what an ovary actually looks like, I quickly realised that they don't look particularly aesthetically pleasing!

So I decided I'd make a uterus instead. A quick search on Ravelry uncovered a couple of knitted uterus patterns, including this awesome pattern from Knitty, but there wasn't really a crocheted version that really caught my eye. I moved my search to Google, and found this free pattern. There were no pictures, and as far as I can see the pattern is not linked on Ravelry. But I thought I'd give it a go.

About halfway through I realised the stitch counts were completely off, and set about working out my own variations which would work. And I ended up with this:

I decided to write up the pattern and upload it to Ravelry, just in case anyone else felt the urge to crochet themselves a uterus. The pattern can be found here, and directly downloaded in PDF form by clicking on this link:

I used Sirdar Bonus DK in hot pink, and a 4mm hook, but any yarn and the appropriate hook size would be fine. I forgot to measure it before I posted it, but I reckon it's about 4-5 inches tall. The fallopian tubes are pose-able, as they have pipe cleaners inside. I did briefly toy with the idea of putting a face on it too, but thought that might be a step too far!
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