Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Counting My Sheep. . .

We spent a rainy weekend in the Lake District completing one long recce for an upcoming walk that the Liverpudlian is leading at the end of the month (I was following, trying to make notes in the rain), and enjoying a couple of nice meals and a lovely B & B.  But by Sunday we'd only just dried out our boots and gear and it was just too wet to contemplate another walk.  We read the paper in a cafe and did a little local shopping in Ambleside.  At Fred Holdsworth's Bookshop I couldn't resist buying Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain by Philip Walling.  It's the perfect bedside book don't you think?  And I loved that the bookseller was knitting a gorgeous purple cabled sock behind the counter.  We had a chat about how Ambleside really needed a good yarn shop.



I counted dozens of pink sheep near Hartsop on our walk  - a whole flock of them dotting the hillsides.  I don't know if their markings had run or if they were dyed for a special purpose but they were certainly a sight to see. 



And they probably unconsciously led to my other lovely purchase - this pink and gray wool felt bag from Urban Country.  I bought it in a new shop called GEAR in Ambleside. Despite its name, it does not sell walking paraphernalia, but is a gift shop full of lovely things. These bags were in their front window and I just couldn't resist.  And it's definitely big enough for all my daily bits and bobs, my lunch, a book and a large knitting project. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

A Motivating Tea Towel. . .

When the amazing Kate Davies posted her latest creation on her blog, I smiled and immediately ordered one.  How fabulous is this tea towel with drawings by Felicity Ford of several of Kate's terrific sweater designs? She's never designed a garment that I haven't wanted to knit and I already have the patterns for several of these - Warriston, Catkin, and Boreal perching at the top of the list. 
 

 
And it's motivated me to get my long-languishing Deco out.  I don't know why I stopped; I was nearing the end of a ball of wool and I was reading comments on ravelry about a tricky bit to come and just lost my confidence. It's been packed away since I moved to England but I love the wool ( Blacker's Corriedale Organic which is now discontinued - fingers crossed I have enough) and my knitting mojo has never been stronger. This will be my major April knitting project and I'm determined to get it done.
 


 
 

I love the idea of the tea towel as a visual checklist and instead of hanging up in the kitchen, it's going to be prominently displayed in my spare bedroom (aka the knitting den).  And once I finish each sweater (she writes confidently), I'm going to use some strands of the project wool and fill in the corresponding sweater diagram with some embroidery. Check back in about 40 years to see the completed tea towel.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Walk Without a Lake (Almost) . . .


It's rare to go on a walk in the Lake District and not come across, well a lake, or at least a tarn. I had to settle for a river last Sunday as we began our hike from Threlkeld, about fifteen minutes away from Keswick in the northern bit of the National Park.   Quite frankly, I'd have settled for anything so long as it was outdoors - the weather was absolutely gorgeous, a bit hazy, but 14-16 degrees and most importantly dry! 
 
This is the intimidating range known as Blencathra or Saddleback, but fortunately our route wasn't straight up. Instead we followed a river path off to the right which skirted the steepest part of the mountain and we spent the majority of the day in and around the middle heights behind it.  
 


Which is not to say we weren't still climbing; we did over 2000 feet in total on this walk. Below, you can see the river we walked beside on the bottom left as we were about half way up Scales Fell.


But diagonal paths are always a bit easier on the legs.


Around the corner and a bit higher up, we came to this flat bit with a great view of  Foule Crag and Sharp Edge, that ridge that dips down from the summit.  You can go up it but it's quite narrow and there's a rocky scramble at the end of it.  Today's weather was probably ideal for the attempt, but we walked through the beautiful valley below it instead.



Getting closer, you can just make out a few dots, i.e. people, doing Sharp Edge.
 
 
Lunchtime and this is our view of the valley we've just travelled through. There is nothing better than eating a sandwich with a thermos of tea beside you, awash in the sunshine and fresh air.  Very Famous Five. 
 



Now we turn and head towards the back of Skiddaw feeling very much like little hobbits in this vast and lonely landscape.



And we turn again for the walk back through a different valley. . .



. . . always remembering to occasionally look backwards to see how far we've come.


And finally at the last stretch, a tiny view of Derwentwater with its surrounding fells looking very much like a smudgy watercolour.  So we got a teeny bit of lake after all.


And a lot more mountain - as far as the eye could see. A super day and a super walk.



Friday, March 21, 2014

Crocheted and Knitted Cushion. . .

It was a really good idea to dedicate this month to finishing up works in progress. I've dug out several projects that have been languishing and it's made me feel so productive.  I may do this for every month with 31 days although with April around the corner, I am itching to cast on something new.  Here's my latest project - a doublesided cushion.  On this side, I used up a skein of WYS Blue-Faced Leicester and the same crochet stitch that I recently used for my cowl (in fact this was the practice piece and when the skein was used up, I had a complete square, perfect for a cushion).  I really like all the natural colours in the wool.

 
 
For the back, I rummaged around my stash and found two skeins of Erika Knight Fun Wool that I'd bought ages ago on a whim. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what to make with it, but I was chuffed to find some novelty yarn that was mostly, (in this case 97%),  made up of wool instead of the acrylic.  The colour was a perfect match and I just roughly estimated the size, used 10mm needles and plain garter stitch and started knitting away. I added a button hole to one piece and found a great use for this gigantic wooden button that I got free with a magazine.  I'm really pleased with the squishy, shaggy result.  Two cushions in one and another WIP off the needles!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Not So Mellow Grellow. . .

When I received my latest Rowan Magazine 55 in the mail, I immediately fell in love with Dia by Martin Storey.  If I'd had the colours in my stash, I would have knit it exactly as it appeared.  I really like warm colours for a summer top.



However, since I'm trying to do some serious stashbusting this year, after going through my cotton, linen and hemp options this was the best colour combo I could come up with:


It is very, very bright.  Maybe too intense for me. I think using the zingy, almost neon yellow made the pattern go from a spicy Spanish/Moorish feel to a pop art geometric one,  and it seemed more appropriate to go with short sleeves, which was fairly easy to adapt.  I just measured where I wanted the sleeves to be, sewed up the sides and picked up stitches, doing six rounds of 2 x 2 rib to match the neck.

It definitely was a satisfying and fun pattern to knit and I do think the colours go well together; I'm just not sure that they really look well on me.   I wore it today when it was cloudy and gray and a bit chilly and I felt very self-conscious that I was somehow too bright.  I may change my mind on a sunny summer afternoon though - it could look nice over a flowing cotton skirt.  Someday I will knit this again in wool with the full sleeves because it would make a lovely fall sweater.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Walk in Wales. . .

Walkers in the U.K. are usually torn between their love for the Lake District and Wales. I've not spent enough time walking in the latter to choose a favourite, so I was pleased that our walking group was heading out to North Wales yesterday.  And the weather was all set to be nice and dry.  It was a lovely drive along a coastal road past Conwy and several castles.  The morning coffee stop was in the tourist village of Betws-y-Coed which provides this interesting signpost in case you're a Canadian who needs to situate herself geographically.
 

But no time to stop and enjoy the sunshine. A fifteen minute drive away and it was gray and slightly misty when the coach dropped us off near the banks of Lake Ogwen.


We headed to the northern side and up.  I'm not sure which mountain we were climbing, but it's part of the Carneddau Range.


This part of Wales felt very bleak and stark to me. The terrain - bits of bog and tufts and stony paths - wasn't too hard underfoot, but it was fairly steep.  This is a view looking back at the lake once we'd begun our ascent.


A little bit of sunshine does wonders for the surrounding views though.



We could have kept going right to the top but it would have involved a rocky scramble and the summit was hidden in cloud anyways, so we decided getting up to this hidden tarn was good enough. It provided a suitable place to have lunch and was very peaceful.  The bleak can still be very beautiful.



We came down the same way we went up and proceeded along a lovely path to Capel Curig.  On the drive up I saw lots of meadows with newly born lambs but the terrain we were walking through was a bit too wild for them.  Fine for these hardy fellows though.



And here was our path to Capel Curig both looking ahead. . .


. . . and behind. 

 
Isn't it lovely? There's something very satisfying at the end of a day's walking, to just follow a winding and well-tread road. No worries about getting lost, just walking, chatting with your companions and enjoying the fresh air and views. It's one of the best ways to spend a Sunday.

Just steps from Capel Curig is this view down another valley. If you headed in that direction, you'd eventually come to Snowden, the highest peak in Wales and definitely on my list to tackle.  But that's for another day.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

First Finished Crochet Project. . .

I've finally dusted off a new year's resolution from 2013 and learned (sort of) how to crochet.  I went to a fun beginner's workshop offered by Purlesque a few weeks ago (complete with tea and cake - the best way to learn) and here is my first completed project!  The pattern is the Butter Soft Cowl by Helen Ardley from Simply Crochet magazine, issue #6. My tension is still wonky; I like a big hook and large holes to hook into so this pattern, which was a simple two row repeat, was perfect and I now have a lovely, chunky, textured cowl.  I used two skeins of the softest aran that I had in my stash - West Yorkshire Spinners Blue-Faced Leicester -  bought a while back from Baa Ram Ewe. Not only is it deliciously soft, but it smells so sheepy (in a good way).
 

 
I am still trying to perfect a granny square, i.e. actually create one that is square-shaped, but just learning a few techniques and stitches has really gotten the creative juices flowing. I can see tons of applications for crochet in knitting projects, for edgings and also as an alternative way to seam.  Yes, I'm officially hooked!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Crocheted Art. . .


Here's a brilliant idea.  Warp and Weft, a Manchester arts and craft group, have collaborated to create crocheted masks of prominent Mancunian women to place over the male busts in the town hall, all in celebration of International Women's Day.  The mask in their poster shown here is of Elizabeth Gaskell. Wish I could make the trip, but more details and photos of their work can be seen on their blog.

Also check out the Woolly Bike Trail, part of the Yorkshire Festival to celebrate the beginning of this year's Tour de France. Artist Cassandra Kilbride is crocheting/yarnbombing ten themed bikes and offering workshops around Yorkshire.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spring Knitting. . .

Very excited about my latest project which is knitting up like a dream.  The pattern is Dia by Martin Storey from Rowan Mag 55 and it really is the perfect project for variation.  You start with a fairly easy lace pattern and before you get tired of it, you go right into the colour work which, after the first ten rows, goes very quickly as you don't have to do any extra stranding.  Using this bright pop of yellow gives it a very different feel from the warm and slightly exotic version in the magazine,(and it's quite a bold choice for me), but while I'd love to knit it in the colours of the original, I am limited to knitting from my stash this year and this resolution is leading to some interesting colour combinations.  The grey yarn is Rowan Pima Cotton DK and the yellow is the discontinued Premiere from Classic Elite which I picked up at a sale last December. This is the back; I've just cast on for the front and am really looking forward to finishing this. It just says spring to me. 
 



Monday, March 3, 2014

I Wandered Lonely As A Tourist. . .

So yesterday our walking group headed up to Grasmere and the planned walk was a circular route I'd not done before, taking in Easedale Tarn.  However, the weather intervened (again) and the leader decided on a lower and safer route going around Grasmere lake, along Loughrigg and back to the village via the so called "Coffin Route".  Now this is a lovely walk and if the weather had been nice, I'd not have hesitated to go along, but it's a route that I know quite well and have done many times before, and I always like to go/do something new on these excursions.  And did I mention, it was absolutely raining cats and dogs.  So I wimped out and decided to go and visit Dove Cottage instead, the home of William Wordsworth, his family, and his sister Dorothy from 1799 to 1808.



It was quite extraordinary to see how small, cramped and dark all the rooms were (the building had previously been a pub so there was lots of dark panelling and low ceilings). When we got to the end of the rooms, I asked the guide where Dorothy slept and the reply was essentially, wherever she could.  Fortunately she got a room of her own in the next house they moved to!

I wasn't allowed to take any photos indoors but despite its tiny size, it's well worth a visit as there are lots of fascinating objects on display and most of the furniture was owned and used by the Wordsworths if not actually at the time they lived in the cottage.  Samuel Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey were regular visitors and the "guest" bedroom is one of the nicest in the house (de Quincey's opium scales are on display too).  My favourite item was a needlepoint cushion in a plaid pattern made by Dorothy. For an item that is over two hundred years old, I was shocked to see how vibrant the colours still were and how little wear there was on the fabric; it looked as if it could have been made yesterday. There were also lovely contemporary rag rugs scattered in every room which makes me want to learn the craft. The guide mentioned how durable they were (you can imagine the number of tourists that trod on them annually); one of them was more than thirty years old.

In the neighbouring Wordsworth museum, another item of Dorothy's caught my eye.  Again, I couldn't take photos but here is a picture of the postcard that I bought.


It's the front of a leather postbag that Dorothy used to carry with her when she walked to Ambleside to get the mail.  There was no indication as to whether or not Dorothy did the needlework herself, but some of those colours were in the plaid cushion so I like to think that the joy of receiving letters inspired her to embellish her bag.

Both Dorothy and her brother were keen gardeners and created a hilltop garden behind the house (not looking its best at this time of year).


Here's the view of the Dove Cottage from the garden.


I then took a short walk around the town.   Here are the daffodils out in the Wordsworth Garden, not far from where William and Dorothy are buried.



There were snowdrops too.


I then went to get dry in a cafe and spent a pleasant hour knitting away on something sort of daffodil-coloured.


And then I felt guilty about having eschewed the walk. After all, I came up here for the views and fresh air, weather be damned.  Knowing that our group was coming back via the Coffin Walk (probably the only route in the Lake District I feel confident walking on without a map), I set out to meet up with them.  This was the route that Dorothy would have taken to get to Ambleside, although it's hard to imagine people carrying coffins along its ragged and stony path.  


But even in the rain, the views and colours are still lovely.




I probably didn't deserve my half-pint of shandy at the pub, having done only about two miles instead of nine but one has to be sociable.  All in all, a very satisfactory, well-rounded day out.