Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The importance of being Ernest

Would you like to have the little fellow below to stay at your house? Well, if you would, then do read on, and I will explain how you can have a jolly little rooster winging your way very soon.

This very intrepid and adventurous little rooster named Ernest, who hails from The Hen House, is spending his gap year travelling around Blogland, and he is at present a visitor at Pomona's cottage, being very well looked after by Princess Bunchy.

Having made the long journey east from the home of Charlotte Cottontails and the exceedingly furry Humphrey, Ernest landed on our doorstep last week. Unfortunately his arrival coincided with that of Mr Lurgy, who had obviously thought it fun to make the trip across the ocean from Dottie Angel's mossy shed, so his first few days were spent quietly in the chamber of Princess Bunchy, getting to know a multitude of cuddly friends and dust devils.

But now the sun is shining, we have woken to find that Mr Lurgy has disappeared into the night (I hope that he is not headed your way), and Ernest has had a chance to have some fun.

He has had a lovely ride in a bike basket with Mabel and Shadow Sockbunny (you might be acquainted with their cousin, Widget, who has many adventures of his own), and a little knitted cat who strayed into our house from Zoe Mellor's Double Knits very many years ago. Ernest was feeling the cold rather, so we had to wrap him up warm in Sindy's hat, coat and scarf. Yes, you read rightly, they belong to Sindy, a very superannuated Sindy, a relic from those long-past days of my childhood, whose peroxide locks are still as wiry as the day that I anointed them with Amami setting lotion.

But Ernest warmed up later and went out into the orchard to meet the girls, who have been agog at the thought that once again they would have a chap in their midst. They were naturally a little cautious at first because the last rooster they encountered had rather an unfortunate aggressive streak.

The Ploughboy appeared home with this dreadful example of machismo after an agricultural show, and the fact that he was a free gift, and we were his third owners should have stood as a warning. Despite repeated solitary confinement and intensive psychological training, he showed an alarming predisposition to attack the girls and attempt to beat them into submission at every opportunity. I will pass quickly over his fate, for which I was not at all responsible, but let's just say that one day I came home to find him gone forever.

However, dear Ernest is a thoroughly amiable sort, not at all violent, and really very cuddly. You will see that he has made a special friend. I think she must have been taken by the natty beret.

He will be staying with us for just a week, and will then be moving on to his next port of call. If any of you dear bloggers would like to provide him with hospitality for a week, and record his adventures in your blog, before sending him onto another bloggy haven, then just leave a comment on the bottom of this post, and I will ask Ernest to choose one of you at the end of the week.

I can promise you that he is the most perfect guest, not at all fussy about his food, very quiet, and doesn't make a mess at all. He is willing to join in without complaint in whatever activities you decide to organize, and he gets on exceedingly well with children and hens.

If only all guests were so easy!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Yearning for completion

I have frequently asked myself why crafty creative projects so often remain unfinished and, as I stand in yarn shops in a queue of enthusiastic, hopeful knitters, I find myself speculating how many of these skeins and balls will lose their little paper tags, and how many will be knitted up into fabric.

I wonder if any of the marketing departments of yarn companies have done research into the destiny of all these fibres, so very full of potential. Or perhaps they don't really care - as long as they keep selling these little twists and bundles of possibility, does it really matter to them if these purchases have any long-term consequence?

Is it significant that casting on is so much more fun than sewing up? Or even that reading through knitting patterns, and pondering over books full of tantalizing pictures of this world of eternal and infinite perhaps, can be even more absorbent of time than actually producing finished items?

Why do I postpone picking up stitches until the light is good, and the table free, and the atmosphere just right, when the darkest, coldest evening will find me ferreting in the gloom of my secret yarn store (just like Narnia some of the most magical excess is hidden behind a welter of coats), and comparing colour and ply and tone in the half-light?

 And why is it that the present of a gigantic ball of candy-pink yarn, which may well never come to anything, is capable of dismissing winter gloom, with its impossible ice cream colour, and crazy perfection as an object in itself?

To some of life's most profound questions it seems that there is no answer, but like the improving effects of regular piano practice (Princess Bunchy, are you listening?), a discipline of twenty minutes a day has given me world enough and time to work my way to completion on a number of constructive fronts - all accompanied by a strict austerity programme whereby I have promised myself that all projects undertaken must use up materials from my not inconsiderable stash, and be from patterns which do not involve cash outlay.

Which, to be honest, is a spur to creativity. The thought that I must not buy any yarn until I use up what I have is enough to impel me to knit day and night for however long it takes - even down to candy-pink welly socks.

And thanks to Marmalade Rose's initiative, and my steely and determined fixity of resolve, not to mention austerity plan, I have finally completed a fetching little tank top for Princess Bunchy. And such is the success of this little bit of motherly love that Princess Bunchy has pronounced it 'much better than she expected it would be'.

Which considering that she gave prior approval to the pattern, and personally chose the yarn (Sirdar Snuggly DK, which I think is probably for babies, but that would enhance its attraction in the eyes of Princess B), is perhaps a little less than an adoring, industrious mother would hope for. But she then modified her comment by adding that she was only referring to the sizing, as she thought she would probably have grown out of it, because it had taken such a long time to finish (it had come to temporary halt at aforesaid picking up and sewing up stage, unfortunately, whilst I had been sidetracked by playing with yarn, aprons, etc, and, of course, the obligatory casting-on of several new projects).

But I must admit that I am feeling quite pleased with myself, especially as the pattern (Sirdar 8752) was obtained for only 20p in the sale, being an ex-display copy. Now there's a thrifty mother for you!

And here for your delectation is one I made earlier: my very first shawl, completing which I feel is quite a momentous rite of passage. I am now revving up for Gabriel's Wings, Ishbel, Multnomah and Forest Canopy, which I feel are all significant steps in the life of a knitter, perhaps not quite up to the skill level of the Clapotis scarf, but hey, at twenty minutes a day, I am sure that I might be able to make Princess B a Clapotis for her graduation ceremony.

Now please don't look too closely at the stitching, as I am sure you can find mistakes in the yarnovers if you allow your optics to linger long in that direction (I have always wanted to use the word optic, just like Charlotte Brontë). And also the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed the bits of fluff, which is because I have been wearing the shawl almost daily since I finished it. After the trauma of the odd-armed jumper, which was rather too disturbing (I blame the Big Wool), I have only knitted myself socks, so to make such a success of a shawl was really quite encouraging.

My lovely sister has commented on the Little House on the Prairie effect inherent in the wearing of such a garment, one which is only enhanced when accompanied by my second-best wellies and bargain skirt with the petticoat hanging down (even more of a bargain), and slightly reinforced by turning up to a meeting with the accountant with my pinny still on (I was in a bit of a rush), but the books are very entertaining so I feel quite taken with the idea of adopting the persona of a character from a book recounting life in the last century but one. Personally, in my head I feel a bit more like a character in Adam Bede, but unfortunately am far too old to be Dinah, and what is even sadder I have a good few years on my heroine, Mrs Poyser. I think I am more Old Feyther Taft, now, more's the pity - read the novel and tell me what you think.

But I digress, to borrow a phrase from my dear papa, the Commander-in-Chief, and in case you, too, wish to adopt my style of dress, I will give you the technical details for the shawl, which is a good one with which to start your shawl career, being a very simple pattern by Laura Chau, called quite appositely Simple But Effective Shawl. I used just under one skein of Skein Queen Enchant, in the dreamily-named shade Lazy Swells, but any sort of sock yarn or 4-ply will do.

I am sure that, when I started writing, there was a point where I intended to end up, but somehow in the process I have lost my thread, but finding it would involve rummaging in the yarn cupboard again, and I really must get on to the macaroni cheese.

But I did want to make a public information announcement first - I don't know how many of you have noticed, but Blogger have been up to their old tricks of mystifying us all, and if you look at the comments for posts between mid-December and mid-January a great many of them have disappeared from the Dashboard and the total at the bottom of the post, although if you click on that disappointing little '0 comments' they are still there in the ether. You can register your complaint here, and perhaps if enough people do, then the darling little elves who operate the system might get on and fix it.

And with that I depart for the macaroni cheese, and hope that in the hurly burly of life you can hang onto your own threads, and perhaps even work your way to the end of a skein.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Making content

It seems like the pinny got the vote in my last post, so I just wanted to tell you that you can have one just like that, too.

There is a wonderful tutorial by Jona G, called 'Apron in an Hour', which you can find here. This shows you how to make an apron just like this one, using a fat quarter for the front, and half a yard of fabric for the ties, and the instructions are so clear - step by step with photographs of every stage, so that you just can't go wrong. Even a complete beginner could make one of these pinnies as it is all straight stitching, no curves or gathers, and no pattern pieces to fiddle about with.

The latest one above was made for a special friend whose kitchen is a dream, all red and spotty (in the nicest possible way, of course). She cuts Princess Bunchy's hair for me, as the Princess will not let her mother near her hair with a pair of scissors, ever since the fateful day when said mother decided to give her Princess ringlets and in the process got the styling brush irretrievably stuck in the Princess's hair, just below her left ear. In most households it is small children who give themselves lopsided haircuts when their mothers aren't looking - unfortunately it seems that in Pomona's cottage the parent was the guilty party, and the daughter was the one who had the grace to accept an impromptu haircut, or perhaps surgical operation would be a more appropriate term, in order to remove a hairbrush. She accepted the situation with a brave and stoic mien, but ever since has exhibited a certain wariness on glimpsing a pair of scissors in my hands.

I normally cut my own hair (I can tell, I hear you say, sniggering) but on professional inspection yesterday it seems that I had actually managed to get the front snipping quite symmetrical. I will pass over the fact that the Head Chef's attempts with the scissors on the back were perhaps not quite so level, which accounts for the fact that I am always left with one section shorter than the rest when I plait it. But it could be the fact that we use wrapping paper scissors for hair - dressmaking ones being far too precious. But now you will be pleased to know any little amateurish inconsistencies have been evened out by a more expert pair of hands.

But enough of such vanities, and on to the important things like fabric and yarn, and crafting for twenty minutes a day. I have much to thank Marmalade Rose for - I have only missed out on my crafting on two rather wobbly days, and it is the making and creating that has kept me on the smiley side of sanity this winter.

Meet Me at Mike's has had a granny square initiative, and I did spend a whole evening trying to teach myself to crochet - I did think I had mastered the hook at eleven at night, but by the next morning I seemed to have forgotten it all again. So I think I will have to revisit the art of crochet at a later, lighter, and calmer date.

But back to the nitty gritty of fabric - for the red spotty apron I used some Tanya Whelan fabric - Rosie Dot and Ticking in red, from Gone to Earth. The first pinny I made (the one at the top) was in Heather Bailey's Pop Garden Rose Bouquet in yellow from Saints and Pinners, together with her Bijoux Tiled Primrose in turquoise, also from Gone to Earth.

But you don't have to buy fabric specially - I made one of these aprons for the Seaside Landlady (I think all seaside landladies must be in possession of a pinny, and possibly a headscarf and curlers to match), with a fat quarter from my stash - Kaffe Fassett, I think - and I used an old pillowcase from a charity shop for the ties and trim. Just open out all the seams and you will have plenty of fabric for nice long ties, but remember to avoid any worn parts in your quest for serviceability.

But it hasn't all been aprons round here - I have also finished what my dear mamma termed 'odd socks', although she did afterwards tell me that she was referring to the randomness of colour, rather than any inherent peculiarity of the knitting. These were knitted using one skein of Colinette Jitterbug in Popsicle, and in order to demonstrate to you the stress I was under whilst completing the second of the pair, here is all the yarn I had left.

It was touch and go, I can tell you, much anxious weighing of the ball and much pessimism on my part as to whether I would get to the toe without having recourse to a makeweight in another shade and brand of yarn entirely. The Head Chef was most amused.

But all's well that ends well, and they really aren't odd socks, and I do have enough left for darning. I used 2.5mm DPNS and the 8 stitches per inch pattern from Ann Budd's sock book in the adult small size which comfortably fits my size 5/38 feet. So if you want to knit anything bigger, I suggest buying more than one skein of Jitterbug - it will be much gentler on your blood pressure. This yarn does make lovely soft and cosy socks, so I would really recommend it.

However, do be warned, once you start wearing hand-knitted socks, it completely ruins you for anything else;  it is a sort of cashmere cardigan effect - once experienced, nothing else quite lives up to it.

Now just one last word to say thank you for all of those kind comments after my last sad little post, I do appreciate them. It was a bit of a wobbly time, but we are steadying ourselves day by day.

And although I do miss my little Black Dog, I have also had quite a few blessings to count this week. My computer is back from the hospital, and absence has indeed made my heart grow fonder, and did you know that you can get portable hard drives in CK red?

Mr Dyson was able to repair the vacuum cleaner, in spite of the fact that it seemed to me that more bits were broken than working. It is obviously all a matter of perception.

And it is raining so hard here that the Head Chef has been impelled to tidy the shed, not to mention his current love affair with Danish oil means that our worktops are positively beaming.

Also, even better, dearest Nina of Tabiboo has sent me the loveliest little dog from Scotland - it is the present that I would have chosen for myself, and has brightened up my week so much. Perhaps it might assuage my desire for a square-faced puppy. 

In the face of such a wonderful present, I also feel quite fortified in advance of my birthday, well able to cope with whatever the Head Chef and Princess Bunchy have decided that I need in my life, and the fact that the Ploughboy will probably still forget, in spite of electronic reminders from his fearsomely-organized brother. I found two hot water bottles in my Amazon basket last week - and I am not sure if they are a red herring, or the consequence of constantly complaining about the cold.

I have also been reading Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, on the recommendation of Karen at Sew and Sow Life, a book which is also most wonderfully fortifying, and should be part of the National Curriculum. But thereby hangs a world more tales, and I think that better be it for today - I am being beckoned by some pyjamas which need darning and the biggest ball of candy-pink yarn that I have ever seen. The rain it raineth, but I am for the fireside. Have a good day!

Friday, 12 February 2010

A winter's tale

The whirligig of time has marched on so fast and furious that I suddenly realized it is three weeks since I last wrote a blog post. It has been a time of change for us all, of arrivals and departures, comings and goings, and one of the partings has been more sorrowful than sweet.

It seems to have been a long, cold winter and certainly not over and gone yet: unlike Nina at Tabiboo with her wonderful pictures of a snowy wonderland, I did not welcome the icy flurries of the past few days.

But moving swiftly on to the positive things in life, I have been the recipient of some jolly little awards and tags from the wonderful community of bloggers. I have received the Sunshine Blog Award from Simply H which is very kind, but as I look out of my window seems curiously inapt! But thank you for the compliment, anyway, and I will try to cast off an Eeyorish turn of mind and live up to the accolade.

And the Duchess of Tea has dubbed me and a quantity of others 'The Most Regal Blog'. I always fancied a tiara, but I fear that the moment has passed, and feel that a headscarf knotted under the chin is as regal as I will get. In fact, on considering this point, and in view of the layers of knitwear and shawls I sport in such chilly weather, the effect would be more babushka than aristocratic if I adopted such headwear, so perhaps not.

Suzie at Itch2Stitch has asked me to list ten things that I enjoy which are free, as has Tia at Whoatemycrayons. Well, once upon a time, long ago and far away, I purported to be studying economics, and as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

I found much of economic theory sadly mystifying at the time, and in spite of studying at a most august institution I resorted to a little mustard yellow book called Teach Yourself Economics. It was part of the most enormous series which promised to teach you absolutely anything, and in my early teens I rather ambitiously embarked on Spanish. Unsurprisingly I did not get very far into the book, or even to Spain to practise, but economics was a greater success, and I even passed my exams with the help of that little book. I think the title 'Teach Yourself' was a sign of a more positive and aspirant age - a relic from nineteenth-century ideals of self-help and self improvement - you can teach yourself anything, if only you try hard enough and get to the end of the book.

Whereas now, sadly now the books are for dummies, so why bother, really, the message seems to be that you are the sort who are pretty useless, anyway - a message which is rather dispiriting even before you start.  I looked at Crochet for Dummies recently, and came away feeling that crochet was definitely all too much for a dummy like me. But back to economics ... unfortunately human beings have a tendency to regard all things as free that do not involve the handover of cash at the point of consumption, which habit has led us to regard the earth's resources as 'free' goods, and consume and destroy them without thought for the future.

So in my pernickety little way I struggled to think of things that are free (and if that is not a warning not to study economics, I don't know what is) because if I sit joyfully making things from my yarn and fabric stash, there is a historic cost. They cost me money once, which I should still have if I hadn't fallen for the siren calls of the haberdashery fairy. And if I sit and stitch there is an opportunity cost - I could perhaps be using my time to earn money instead, or make an alternative use of my materials to do the same. If I keep hens, there might be a social cost if the neighbours object to the dawn chorus, or feel that I am lowering the tone of the neighbourhood. And then there are the externalities ... I feel quite ruined at the thought.

So I shall just tell you about some of the nice things that I have been doing, and skate over the less nice, and abandon the economic analysis. For a start, if you need cheering up, have some ploughboys to stay, as we did last weekend.

Four merry men all in green, taking such pleasure in nature red in tooth and claw, so at home in mud, and who minds that driving your mother's car off road leads to punctures when there is a brave new world of tractor specs to explore?

Spend some time with pigs - they love nothing better than rootling up the green and growing, and their squeals of delight at a trough full of brown nuggets of nutrition surpass the ecstasy of the most sophisticated gourmet. A pig is always pleased to see you if you bring a bucket.

Chickens like people with buckets, too, and a bit of fresh grass, and will reward you most handsomely for the smallest of efforts on their behalf. They don't complain that they don't like the supper you offer so humbly, and will eat the same things every day of the week with relish. How unlike our own dear home life!

And when the fever and fret of existence threaten to overcome you, sit down with your needle and make a stitch or two. Preserve something of yourself in the material world when mutability seems set to overwhelm, and create something that will last longer than the day. One of my little pleasures which doesn't seem too costly (she coughed quietly and asked forgiveness from above) is my daily stitching for twenty minutes or so. And revel in the opportunities for congratulation and exclamations of wonderment from your nearest and dearest.

So thank you one and all for your kind messages querying my absence - it is so nice to be missed. And I am not sure how soon before the Muse will grab me by the throat again - I suspect today that it is not so much the impelling presence of the Muse, more the impending deadline and the prospect of rewriting  something which is sadly far less interesting than blog posts. No pictures, either.

And having hoovered the house with a vacuum cleaner which has mysteriously lost its inhalant power, inadvertently knocked over the compost bin enabling it to regurgitate its sopping and miscellaneous contents over the kitchen floor (well, in the nineteenth century they spread old tea leaves all over the floor as part of the cleaning process), and accidentally hurled my quite new backup drive onto the floor as well (no, they do not survive being launched onto the floor, unfortunately, neither do the documents contained therein), there was nothing for it but to terminate my increasingly tortured relationship with said floor, and sit on a chair in front of the computer.

I will now leave you to enjoy your fast approaching weekend, and endeavour to find my own joy in the vicissitudes of the mundane. I thought that the Year of the Tiger would be a good one for me, but I am not so sure - we seem to have got off to a bit of sticky start (literally and metaphorically) in terms of my interactions with inanimate objects. Like greasy Joan, I am now off to keel the pots - safer than getting down on my knees to scrub the floor, and the list of displacement activities is rapidly diminishing in proportion to the time left before my deadline. Have fun!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Be thankful

Sometimes things just turn up when you don't expect them, just when you need that little fillip to get you through the week.

And just as I was in danger of sliding down the slippery slope of January gloom, my guardian robin popped by to nod hello, there was a knock at the door and the postman greeted me at the side gate with an armful of parcels.

Needless to say, two were for The General who is generally the recipient of a stream of widgets and gadgets and thingummy jigs for one of his tippy-tappy electronic boxes. And who am I to grumble, for he is the IT department for my little cottage, and I am most exceedingly grateful to him for his competence and expertise.

But joy of joys, one brown paper parcel was for me, and it brought a smile to my face, and a spring in my step, as I had quite forsworn the guilty pleasures of parcels in the post, and little yarny, stitchy presents to myself in the light of our reformed circumstances.

Would you not have been excited to rip off the brown paper and find these most fulsomely Cathish contents? And I have dearest Bekimarie to thank for such a parcel of fun! Beki has started the New Year with a swing, and has challenged herself to do all sorts of amazing and wonderful things in order that 2010 can be a year of achievement for her - and nineteen days into the new year she is crossing things off the list in quick succession. Do go and congratulate her (just click on her name above) on her industry and initiative, for I am sure that she puts the rest of us to shame - me in particular with my basket of nearly-finished items which grows by the day in an incomprehensibly Topsy-like fashion. (Not to mention the cupboard of things yet to be started.)

My Cath Kidston Home Ideas Journal is going to be a very stylish, and I think kind, way of constructing a decorating and maintenance to-do list for the Head Chef when he shortly has time on his hands whilst I am busy putting the world to rights. I have had a bit of a thing about ring binders and stationery ever since I was an even smaller person than I am now, and this has so much space for lists (and more stickers!) and little Cathish coloured wallets to put things in, and squared paper and lined paper, and room audits - I feel quite overcome with the potential of it all. The Head Chef is going to be so busy putting all those ideas of mine into practice.

And I have some red spotty Cath tissues to match my red spotty executive briefcase (which I forgot to bring home from work today), and I can take my fairy cakes to work in red spotty cake cases, and be the envy of the workforce. Cheery redness, indeed!

I have hung my very stylish heart up in my B&B sitting room (won't you come and stay, and admire it?), and I might even let them have a sniff of my Be Thankful candle, but I think perhaps it would be a good thing for me to leave it in the packaging and put it by my computer, in case I ever forget to be thankful for all the blessings I have.

And last but not least Beki sent me one of her lovely pincushions (if you would like one, you can find them in her shop here), and it was all enclosed in a little bag of birdy fabric - the special things in my life are always heralded by robins. So, Beki, I am so thankful for your generosity, and love the beautiful things you have sent me to brighten a grey and drear and bone-chilling day - a cornucopia of Cathness and redness to warm me to the core.

Blessings seem to be flowing my way at the moment - several kind people have given me awards and tags and all things nice, which I will get on to very shortly.

And one last little blessing - I was sitting looking out of my window at the robin sitting on the wheelbarrow, a little robin who is sure to visit whenever I need cheering up. Robins are, of course, messengers from heaven, as are angels. A very good and wise friend of mine, who knows about these things, told me once that if you are in need of help, don't turn away that stranger at your door, because he will be the stranger answering your prayers.

So I smiled at the robin, and surveyed the garden and the orchard, and wondered how we were ever going to be able to manage it all, and knock it into some sort of shape, or even make a living out of our precious land. And then the phone rang, and an angel spoke. Now you may jest (especially if you are a General), but the caller was a stranger wanting to learn about permaculture from us, in return for his labour on our smallholding. I think perhaps my prayers have been answered.

So thank you Beki, thank you angels and robins; and I hope you, dear readers, have something in your life to be thankful for, too.


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