Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hooky Happiness

Ta dah! My first effort at designing a crochet blanket.
This week's Saturday Snapshot is an update on a blog piece I posted in August last year showing a piccie of a Work in Progress for my Younger Daughter. At that point she and her Boyfriend were just about to move to a flat in London, and they wanted a cuddly crochet blanket  big enough to wrap around them both as they sat on the sofa - even though they didn't actually have a sofa at that time!

They wanted something bright and cheerful, in Superman colours, which is not necessarily my usual style, but I was happy to oblige. I decided on granny squares, because they're quick and easy, and I love making them, but I didn't want my usual random effort with a mish-mash of different colours and yarns in random squares or stripes. No, I wanted something clever, with a properly designed pattern, and I had in mind a central panel, of blue and yellow squares, edged in white, surrounded by lots of red (YD's favourite colour) with yellow and blue stripes all around the edge.
Work in Progress!

I originally planned one shade of red for the main part of the blanket, but it was very red indeed, and I was afraid it might be too dominant, especially as red is not my favourite colour (but YD loves it, and that's the main thing, because it is her blanket, after all). Anyway, I added a second, slightly darker shade (like a nice dark, red wine) to give a bit of interest, and I really liked the effect. It wasn't my usual palette at all, but I loved working with these colours because they were so cheerful and uplifting. 
Woollie wonders... Vibrant colours for a crochet blanket.
The worst bit was trying to fathom out how many different squares I could produce with four colours (two blues and two yellows) for the central panel. However, YD's Boyfriend, who is a real whizz at maths, came to my rescue,  and explained that I would end up with 24 different squares, which really surprised me - I never dreamed that so many variations could be created from just four colours. Apparently it's all to do with something called factorial notation (hope I've got that right), and there's a magical formula for working this kind of thing out. I never knew numbers could be so fascinating - or so useful for arty-crafty stuff!

Thready, steady, go... Stitching in the loose ends.

In the end it turned out that 24 little squares didn't make a big enough panel, so I doubled up and made two of each design. And I was amazingly well organised, and made a chart, listing the colour patterns for each square, and ticked everything off as I went along, so I didn't lose my way and end up with lots of the same block, and none of another! Then, once I'd stitched all the pieces into shape for a rectangular panel, I just kept hooking round and round and round until it was more or less the right size, then made a pretty, loopy, shell-like edging, and ta-dah, it was finished - apart from all the loose ends which had to be stitched in... Hundreds of them... I always promise myself I'll do that as I go along, but I never do, and I always regret it!

Earning my stripes!
It took an awfully long time, and used an awful lot of wool (I wish now I'd kept track of the amount) and there was quite a bit of unpicking and redoing as I went along, and I had no idea how big it should be, so I kept laying it out on the bed - I figured if it covered a double bed it was OK! And, of course, I had other sewing/woolly projects on the go at the same time, so there were periods when I didn't anything on the blanket for quite a while, and sometimes I wondered if it would ever get finished. But eventually I stitched the very last loose end in just a couple of weeks after YD and her Boyfriend bought themselves a bright red sofa, so between us our timing was pretty good.

My blanket (I still think of it as mine) now has pride of place draped over the sofa, and, though I say it myself, it looks absolutely fabulous. And I know self-praise is no recommendation, but I feel very proud of my achievement.

Cosy comfort.... I draped the finished blanket over our sofa, and liked it so much
I was really sorry when I handed it to my Younger Daughter!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Reindeer and Candles

Look what I saw yesterday – reindeer!!! At the local garden centre!!! I was so excited when I spotted them I felt as if Christmas had already arrived. There were two of them, in a pen, outside with all the plants, and they looked beautiful, although it does seem sad that creatures which roam wild and free in a land of ice and snow should be cooped up on a bed of straw in an alien environment for people to look at. But I daresay this duo were bred in the UK, and have never been further north than the Midlands.

I went with a friend I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, so we treated ourselves to a snack in the cafĂ© – coffee and a huge Christmas tree shortbread for her, and tea and a toasted cheese sarnie for me. I almost wished I’d had the shortbread, but I was hungry, and the sandwich was yummy. Then we mooched around, looking at all the wonderful Christmas displays, which featured lots of penguins, and glittery baubles, and twinkly lights. Part of me always thinks stuff like this is very commercial, and it’s not what Christmas is all about, but it looks so magical, and is such fun.

And there were stacks of pretty, useless things, and tables full of festive jams, chutneys, sweets, cakes and wines. And, of course, there were lots of plants, including Christmas cacti and poinsettia. I was determined not to spend money on things I don’t need, but my resolve wavered, and I bought a box of spiced orange tea lights because I love the smell!


Monday, 1 December 2014

My Week!

Oh dear, I was going to be so good, and blog every other day, and it’s been over a week since I last wrote anything here, so I’m going to post some words and pictures about my week. Let’s start with last Sunday, when the Man of the House joined me for a walk along the Coventry Canal. We went up as far as Fazeley Aqueduct, which runs over the River Tame. And you can look down and see water below you, as well as the water beside you, which always amazes me. It was a very grey drizzly sort of day, and there were raindrops hanging everywhere, so I took this picture of raindrops hanging from one of the metal work on one of the beam bars at the lock - not my usual style of photography, but I am trying to get some different and more un usual shots, instead of landscapes and flowers. 
Raindrops on metal... I liked the way the drops of water contrasted with
the rusty marks on the metal handle.
Then we went into town and treated ourselves to Sunday lunch, and had a wander round. Children were singing in the Market Square, as part of the celebrations for the Christmas Lights ‘Switch-On’, and there were craft and food stalls selling all kinds of goodies, including these home-made pies, which the Moth (the Man of the House, remember!)
We were assured that no penguins were hurt making this pir!
We  were a little alarmed at the Penguin Pie, but it turned out to be filled with fish and penguins eat fish, so I guess it’s pie for penguins, not pie of penguins! Penguins seem to be everywhere at the moment, so I dug out an old Jean Greenhowe knitting book with patterns for these…
Right, which penguin shall I try and knit?
Actually, I prefer crochet, but these are kind of cute, and I’ve always meant to have a go at them, and I’ve got black and white wool in the stash, and some knitting needles, so perhaps now is the time to knit a penguin!

I’m trying to walk every day, so on Monday off I went to Warwickshire Moor, one of our local ‘wild spaces’. It’s a small remnant of what was once a large area, and it’s not how I think of a moor at all – we’re definitely not talking Dartmoor here! It lies alongside the River Anker, and there are lots of little pools, and streams and drainage channels, with reed beds, and grassy areas, and a small wood. In summer it’s glorious, with masses of dragonflies and butterflies and all sorts of other insects, and a lot of the water dries up. But in winter every little dip and hollow fills with water, and the land oozes water with every step you take, but there’s still plenty to see and enjoy.
The viewing/dipping platform is usually well above the River Anker,
but there's been a lot of rain, and the water is very high.

Mud, glorious mud.... Wellies might have been better!
 On Tuesday I woke to a different world – there had been a hard frost overnight, and everything was encrusted with thick, white, icy crystals, while all the puddles had frozen solid, and everything was festooned with cobwebs which looked as if they had been spun from twisted cotton threads. They were unbelievably beautiful, so I grabbed the camera, and went out for a walk to snap them – and I got some jolly strange looks and comments from people who obviously thought I was a madwoman!  
A cobweb, covered in frost.
Sadly, by the next day the temperature had risen, all those magical cobwebs had vanished, and the weather was back to a grey, murky, misty, drizzle, so I walked to Lakeside (another of our little ‘wild spots’) looking for some colour to brighten the day. And I found it! Golden leaves glowed through the mistiness, and all kinds of red berries positively shone through the gloom in the most cheery fashion you could imagine. And I met lots of dog walkers, who all stopped for a chat, and one of them recommended other places to walk, and another told me about Thailand, where he used to work, so it turned into a very sociable morning! 
A rosy view of life... There were lots of rosehips, in all shapes and sizes.

Bright and shiny holly berries. 
Thursday was Oxfam day, and I was busy in the Lichfield Books and Music Shop – I only walked as far as the bank and the sandwich shop.
Me and my Oxfam brolly pictured outside our lovely shop earlier
in the year - but I've used it so yuo can see how nice our shop is.
However, on Friday I donned my walking boots again, and the Moth went with me, down through the Castle Grounds, which are beautiful at any time of year, and into town where we browsed around the shops, and ended up enjoying a restorative lunch in Wetherspoons before wending our way home!
Tamworth Castle.
For some reason Saturday was a ‘bleh day’ when I lacked the energy and enthusiasm to do anything, and when nothing seemed to go right, so I sat crocheting a blanket, which is now big enough to go over my knees while I work, and is all snuggly and comforting!
Snug as a bug in a rug... Or a blanket!
And that brings us back to Sunday again, and a walk round Alvecote Wood, which is one of my favourite places. It’s a patch of ancient woodland, full of dappled light, which always makes me think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Pied Beauty’. There’s a wildflower meadow, and pools, and all kinds of plants, fungi, birds, insects and other wildlife, and it’s very beautiful, and very peaceful. Owners Stephen and Sarah, bought the wood after falling in love with it seven years ago, then acquired some adjoining land, and planted new trees. They’ve won environmental awards for the work they do to preserve and improve the area. This was their last Open Day of the year, and the wood will be closed to the public until the new programme of Open Days gets under way in the spring.
If you go down to the woods today...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mushroomy Things!

This was on an old tree stump.
Oh dear, late again... This is supposed to be a Saturday Snapshot, but I'm having a Sunday Snapshot this week instead, because Blogger had a hissy fit about uploading piccies and came to a full stop every time I tried to do it. Fortunately it seems to be working OK this morning, and it's still Sunday in some parts of the world, so let's go for it!
And this was on the same tree, but I'm not sure if it's the same species or not.
I think they look some alien life form which might crawl off across the landscape!
Has anyone else noticed how many fungi seem to be around this year? There are more than I ever remember seeing before, and there seems to be variety than I’ve spotted before. Everywhere I’ve walked this week I’ve seen mushroomy things… In hedgerows and meadows, and on trees and tree stumps, in all sorts of shapes and colours and sizes. They are quite spectacular, and somehow rather alien and a little sinister I think – probably because so many of them are very poisonous.
Same tree again. The tree has been split, and there's a great hole that's got protective wire mesh across
it, for safety reasons perhaps, or to stop people shoving rubbish in in it.
Personally I’ve got no intention of foraging (there’d be no going back if you get it wrong!), and I buy my mushrooms in the supermarket, or from the greengrocer, so I know they’re safe, but I do think it would be nice to know what these strange plants are. I've been using my photos to try and identify them, but I’m none the wiser than I was to start with!
I spotted this in the grass and leaves at the base of a hedge on the canal towpath.
I think, it's a shaggy ink cap.
Actually, I haven’t even got that right, because fungi are not plants, although that’s what I was led to believe when I was at school. In those days we were told that fungi were non-flowering plants but, apparently, modern science shows that the molecular structure of fungi is different to plants or animals, so they are now in a class of their own.
No idea what this is - the top is all folded, and looks a bit like gills - very odd!
As well as mushrooms, fungi include yeasts, mould that grows on rotting fruit and the infection that causes athlete's foot! According to the British Mycological Society fungi are used to make bread, cheese, wine, beer, soy sauce and Marmite. Fungi also help make coffee, flavour chocolate and put the bubbles in lemonade – but, sadly, the website doesn’t explain how these things are done.
These were growing in the cleft of quite a big tree, and there were masses and masses of them.
However, it does have lots of information about fungi – for example the bit which you see above the ground is known as a fruiting body, which produces spores, which are like seeds, but so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. But below the ground there’s a much larger section (bit like an iceberg I guess) consisting of lots of fine threads that group together to form a branching network called a mycelium. And when conditions are right mycelium group together to form the fruiting body (I'm not a scientific sort of person, so I may have misunderstood this bit, but I think I’ve got that right).
And a close-up!
Fungi are good for the environment because they break down decaying plant and animal matter, producing food which is absorbed by the fine hair-like filaments.
I assume this is some kind of bracket fungus, on a dead tree stump.
I’d always been under the impression that fungi are very simple organisms, but from the little I've read this week they strike me as being very complex, especially their adaptability and the ways they reproduce. 
Same stump, but I think this a different kind of fungus - they look different at different stages of
 development, which adds to the problems of trying to identify them!
And I was surprised to discover that so many of them seem to be beneficial – even the ones which are inedible. Apparently, most plants have some kind of fungi living on their roots, and this is usually beneficial to plant and fungus.
And yet more fungi on the same stump - it was very big, but it was absolutely smothered in
fungi, as well as mosses and lichens.
Amazingly, they're used in all kinds of industrial processes, including the production of  pesticides, weedkillers and antibiotics (penicillin is a mould, after all, so I suppose I should have known this). 
These were growing all around the base - for such a small stump it supported an
incredible amount of life!

You'll find more Saturday Snapshots, and details on how to take part,  on Melinda's blog over at West Metro Mummy Reads.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Poppies at the Tower

This Saturday Snapshot is a little late, but it is still Saturday (just), so here goes. Since it was Remembrance Day on November 11, I decided to share a couple of three pictures that I took when my Younger Daughter and I went to see the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, created by Paul Cummins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, with settings by theatre designer Tom Piper.
Ceramic poppies in the moat at the Tower of London.
It was back in September that we visited the art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, when it was about half-way to completion, but even at that stage it was stunning, thought provoking, and very moving.

The whole project was also very symbolic. There are the poppies of course, more than 8 million of them (888246 to be precise), filling the moat and spilling from a tower window, like a river of blood, surrounding the building.  Each bright red ceramic poppy represents one of the 888246 British and Colonial servicemen who lost their lives during WW1. In addition, work on the project got under way on August 6 (the day that British troops were engaged in their first action back in 1914), and finished on November 11, or Armistice Day, when hostilities finally came to an end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Poppies cascading from a window.
According to Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London Cummins took his inspiration words written by a soldier who died at Flanders: “The Blood Swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.” And potters at his studio created the poppies using hand-made techniques common at the time of the Great War.

And another view of the poppies, from the other side of the cascade.
While the poppies were there, the Last Post was played at sunset every evening, but this week volunteers have been dismantling the art work. Some parts of it, including the poppies cascading from a window, will be displayed at a series of temporary exhibitions around the country. But many will be sold to help raise cash for service charities in the UK. I believe they’re £25 each, and 10 per cent goes to the charities, plus all net proceeds.

I must admit that when I went to see the poppies I didn’t quite know what to expect, and feared it be rather mawkish and sentimental, and that it might glorify war. But it wasn’t like that at all. I thought it brought home the pity and horror of war, and somehow this monumental piece of art made me realise just how great the slaughter was, especially when you multiply the numbers across the various nations involved.
An individual poppy on the information board.
To see more Saturday Snapshot photos, or to participate, go to West Metro Mummy Reads.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Poppies and Gargoyles

I was aiming to post something here more or less every other day, and schedule it so it pops up nice and early, but the plan has gone awry, and I’m a little later than I meant to be, but better late than never! I blame the fact that I’ve still got a cold, and I don’t feel well, so my routine (such as it is) has gone to pot. I’ve had this for almost a week now, and it doesn’t seem to be shifting at all, and I feel very sorry for myself, and I don’t want to do anything, so I’ve been curled up in my armchair, crocheting and watching Cadfael DVDs.

But I did manage to nip over to Lichfield on Monday for an hour for some wool and some fresh air, and I took a few photographs while I was there, because they made me smile. 
The first red berries of autumn!
Bright red poppy wreaths in the Memorial Garden - not really a happy topic,
but it was such a wonderful splash of colour.

The three spires of Lichfield Cathedral.
A devilish gargoyle on the north wall (if I got my directions right). I love the way it's
covered in moss or lichen.
Late flowers blooming in the Darwin House garden.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tangled Wool!

Good morning all! Are there any other crochet enthusiasts out there who battle with self-tangling wool? Or perhaps some mischievous elf or gnome has taken up residence in my home, like one of those brownies or hobgoblins you come across in old folktales, you know, the kind who help with the household tasks as long as you keep them happy and well-fed… But break the rules and they can be very tricksy indeed, creating chaos and confusion instead of order and comfort...

Things were worse than this to start with! I was half-way through
sorting it out when I decided to take a photo.
When I stop hooking I carefully wind my yarns, and stash them in one of those brightly coloured plastic baskets you can pick up quite cheaply in supermarkets, garden centres and DIY stores. I’ve got a couple, and they’re pink, so they look pretty, and have handles, so they are practical as well, and can be toted around the house with ease. You wouldn’t think things would get so muddled up inside them, but they do… Scissors and hooks vanish overnight, while yarns fling themselves about, coming to rest with strands entwined round strands, like beans on a stick, but much more tenacious… Then there are the knots that appear by magic… Knots previously unknown to Man, impossible to unravel… Who makes them?

The whole thing is one of Life’s Great Imponderable Mysteries, but whatever the reason, I need a solution – and I think I’ve found it! I had a Lightbulb Moment whilst trying to disentangle the latest Work in Progress (actually it’s one of several, because I like to have a number of projects on the go at the same time). This particular WIP is a ripple blanket (pattern courtesy of Lucy over at Attic 24 – I wonder if she gets this problem?). Anyway, there are an awful lot of threads because there’s an awful lot of wool (oddments and new), to say nothing of all those loose ends I promised to weave in as I went along, but never did.

Old-fashioned brown elastic bands make great wool detanglers -
 much better than the pretty coloured ones which are too thin to
hold the ends of wool in place.
I did consider investing in one those natty gadgets that winds wool into neat little cakes, but they might not stay that So I’m trialling my Brainwave - elastic bands!!! Yes, that’s right, elastic bands…. Not to crochet with (that’s just silly, even though Loom Bands, their posh cousins, are so popular at the moment).

Anyway, I've untangled threads, cut off the knotted sections, and wound my wool into misshapen balls(I defy anyone to produce perfect spheres). Then I slipped an elastic band around each of them, and slung a few into a carrier bag to test my Invention. I jiggled them and joggled them, and shook them all about. I threw the bag up and down and round and round. I prodded it and poked it, and jumped up and down on it!

Balls of wool held neat by a simple elastic band. It's dead simple. You don't
even  have to check that the ends are securely trapped. - you just stick
an elastic band over the ball of wool, and that's that!
Then came the moment of truth, and I crossed my fingers and held my breath as I upended the bag. I could hardly bear to look, but each ball of wool came rolling out in perfect condition, neat, tidy and ravelled (if that’s not a word, it should be – after all, you can have unravelled, so what’s wrong with ravelled as its opposite, especially where yarn is concerned).

Ta-daa! A pink plastic basket  of
untangled wool!
I’m pleased to say my home-made wool detangler appears to work, but only time will tell how effective it really is.  Watch this space for a progress report!