Old Year, New Year

It’s the time of year to reflect and to plan. I know I am a bit late with this, as it’s the start of February but I have lost my blogging mojo a bit. I made a serious error at the end of last year and deleted all the photos from my blog. I’m slowly trying to add them again but it takes time and it’s thrown me a bit. If you go to older posts, all of the photos are gone. I almost decided to give up on this project but I have lots of happy memories stored here. It’ll take time but I’ll get everything sorted out eventually.

So, onto reflecting and planning. This is a relatively new experience for me. Last year was the first time I consciously made any ‘resolutions’ for the year ahead. On the whole I’m pleased about how things turned out. Some of the things I wanted to do were run, knit, sew and grow…

1. Run 

IMG_0250I started training last January and progressed really well. I wouldn’t say that I am a committed and converted runner but it was satisfying to see how quickly I could build up my distance. Ultimately I completed my goal – the 10km ‘Total Warrior’ course that my husband had done the year before. I am back in training because I want to do it again. I also want to do the Great North Run, if I can get a place.

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2. Knit

After stocking up at the inaugural Yarndale in September 2013, I had a fabulous stash of yarn. Some of it really, really needed to be worked with needles, not a hook. I started my knitting adventures this year by casting on my first pair of socks. It did NOT go well to start with. This picture is actually the second sock, which I managed without my Mum, unlike the first one.IMG_9362Once I got the hang of holding the needles I began to LOVE sock knitting. Just going round and round doing plain old knit stitch is quite mesmerising. I found that working in variegated yarn was very helpful as a beginner. It’s much easier to identify and put mistakes right when each row is a different colour. My first socks were done in a non-traditional way with an ‘afterthought’ heel which was also knitted ’round and round’ and a toe done in a similar way. I had no idea how to pick up the stitches for the heel but I found a YouTube tutorial and away I went. When it comes to learning new knitting skills, Google and YouTube are your friends. IMG_9539I was ridiculously pleased with my first pair of socks and cast on pair two, this time in rainbow colours for my daughter.

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This time I wanted to learn how to turn a heel in the traditional way. I took my socks on holiday with me and put up with much joking about how much it would cost to pay me to make socks. If I was charging by the hour, they’d be very expensive socks.

IMG_9820IMG_0007Not only did I ‘turn’ the heel, I also managed to complete the toe with grafting or ‘Kitchener stitch’, thanks to this tutorial by Sarah, over at Continuum Mama.

Sarah also helped me learn another skill this year. She kindly gave me a live tutorial via Skype in which I learned the basics of intarsia. In other words, I learned to change the colour of my yarn and knit a coloured pattern. She choose a simple heart pattern centred into a wash cloth. It was a great first project and made a cute little birthday present for my great aunt.

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Spurred on by the success of these projects my current WIP combines sock knitting and intarsia. I’m not going to share it yet though as it is going to be another gift.

One of my more expensive purchases at Yarndale was some fluffy, fine kid mohair from Northumbrian producers, Whistlebare. I really only bought the yarn because I loved the free scarf pattern that came with it. I wasn’t at all sure that I would ever be able to knit it as  another new skill was required (using a circular needle) and the pattern clearly stated that it was not for beginners. I eventually plucked up the courage to cast on the required 216 stitches, carefully marking every 20 stitches. I did NOT want to start creating the pattern and find I had cast on the wrong number.

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Creating the ‘daisy’ pattern was a challenge. I couldn’t make any sense of the pattern and neither could my local knitting friends. Of course the great thing about the internet and dealing with small producers is that a couple of emails later, all my questions were answered by the pattern designer herself.

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Job done!

3. Sew

My Mum has always sewed, on and off, and it’s something I’ve always felt I should be able to do. I got put off as a child because my Mum’s sewing machine was very temperamental. I usually ended up jamming it up in great twists of thread that had to be hacked at and fought from the teeth of the machine. Now she has a much easier to use, modern machine that helpfully beeps at you when you do something stupid, like try to sew with the presser foot up.

I’ve also realised that I am a person who likes to do things by the book. I like instructions and I like to know that I am doing things the right way. Mum, it turns out, is much more instinctive and learned a lot just by watching her Mum. I do not work that way and am probably a nightmare to teach.

Earlier in the year, inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I decided I would make some pyjamas for Son Number One. I trawled the internet looking for a pattern that was simple enough but still looked like a traditional pair of button up pyjamas. This is what I settled for

Next I hunted in all the local charity shops for the fabric. Call me cheap but I had this idea that an old duvet could be ideal material for pyjama making. I wanted something soft, simply patterned and mostly cotton. I’m pleased to say that I managed to buy the fabric and make the PJ’s in time for the local show in September. I entered them into the ‘up cycled garment’ class and won first prize! It only took about five months from start to finish!IMG_1955 IMG_1956Later in the year I decided to make another garment, also using recycled fabric. The day my Mum and I went to Yarndale, we had a trip around the charity shops of Skipton. Mum was very taken with the print on this curtain and promptly bought it.

IMG_2282We then spotted this tunic in Joules and thought we could make something similar.

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So here is the pattern I chose

IMG_2273It turned out well but I must admit I haven’t worn it much yet. I need something to put under it for winter and I haven’t found a top the right colour yet.

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I’m pretty pleased with how my sewing skills have come on this year. I  think the most important thing I learned was that if you don’t measure yourself carefully you will probably make the wrong size. I generally wear a UK size 12 when I buy from the shops but I think I ended up making the size 16 on this pattern.

4. Gardening

My final aim for 2014 was to get into the allotment more and grow more of out own food. I don’t think I did a spectacular job of that. My biggest failing is letting pests get out of control. I’m not keen on slug pellets so I need to find another way to get rid of these beasties.

The things that did the best were the usual suspects: onions, courgettes, pumpkins, strawberries and gooseberries. My cabbages and broccoli survived but mainly by good luck. The sweetcorn also grew well and produced cobs of corn but I couldn’t seem to harvest them at the right moment – they were either under or over ripe. I’m hoping that some of them might still be useable for popcorn.

onions hanging in shed full grown sweetcorn purple sprouting broccoli psb cabbages and grass mulch growing cabbageIMG_4991IMG_1038chardcolourful harvest leeks chard beetrootopen pea pod

This year I’m going to try and produce more flowers.

sunflowers in vase I really enjoyed having a few homegrown blooms at home last season so I have planted a few rows of alium, tulip and iris bulbs though at the moment it looks more like I am growing canes with bottles on top.

spring bulb collage

It seems unbelievable that it will soon be time to start sowing and growing again. The months and years tick around so quickly. One month of 2015 has gone already.

So, what will 2015 hold? More of the same I hope. My training runs are well under way, I’ve got a special intarsia project on my knitting needles, I’m sure more pyjamas will be required soon and I’ll have to check my seed stocks before long.

I hope your 2015 is going well so far and your New Year Resolutions have lasted into February.

 

 

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52 Weeks of Happy 42/52

IMG_8447Sunset, or ‘God’s Glitter Ball’ as it was once described to me. The only downside is that it is arriving so much earlier.

IMG_8471Beautiful flowers in autumn colours.

IMG_3728The joy of jam making. The smell and colour is so rich.

IMG_8496The first crop of allotment carrots. Appropriately, they are a variety called ‘Autumn King’. They were crispier than shop bought carrots but much more time consuming to prepare. I am very happy that they grew though and I’m looking forward to pulling up some more.

(Semi) Silent Sunday: Showtime

It was our town carnival and garden show last weekend. Very tacky in places, very expensive when you have three children who want to ride the rides, very exciting when you win a prize in the craft show (I got a first for my pink crochet bag, my rhubarb chutney, a black and white portrait of The Middle Miss and a second for my hanging heart decoration) and generally very good, old fashioned fun. Are these shows a British (and ex-colonial) eccentricity or do other cultures do them too I wonder?

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IMG_8242Three cupcakes (children’s class – 3rd prize)

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IMG_3452Winner: Best fancy dress, dog and handler (not best behaved dog though)

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52 Weeks of Happy : 28/52 and 29/52

The last three weeks have been full of the most summery of summer weather. I have been determined not to complain about being too hot, even though I have occasionally felt like wilting. I think this photo sums it up: sun suits and bathing costumes hanging out to dry after seeing a splashing good time in the paddling pool.

IMG_7568All these blue skies and warm temperatures have made the verges and hedgerows bloom. This is the view that greets you as you walk up the path to RSPB Saltholme, here on Teesside. Ok, they are ‘weeds’ but they are beautiful when grown like this. Not so beautiful in my allotment. I’ve been trying really hard to get there every day to water the greenhouse tomatoes and the newly planted pumpkins. The harvest is really starting to take off now. It’s hard to keep up, but hopefully more of that later.

IMG_7675Last Monday I was lucky enough to be out at the right time of night to see this fabulously colourful sunset. The omen ‘Red sky at night, shepherds delight’ was indeed true. The next day was another belting-hot, blue-sky day.

IMG_7692There has been a LOT of barbecue cooking during the last few weeks. Both at home and at my Mum’s house where the next picture was taken. This picture has a lot of happy things rolled into it.

Number 1: It’s barbecue weather – need I say more?

Number 2: The Husband is doing the cooking – again, need I say more?

Number 3: Can you spot the glass of gin and tonic? I had one of those too. Happy happy.

Number 4: The family heirloom arum lilies are flowering. This patch of lilies was taken from my Great Aunt’s home in Dorset quite a few years ago now. I can’t remember if it was before she died or at the time, when the house was sold. Either way, it’s almost 20 years ago. My Dad’s siblings all took a chunk of the plant and every year the Dorset branch of the family takes great pleasure in telling us theirs are in bloom weeks before ours are, here in the frozen north. They are such a dramatic flower, one that I often associate with funerals actually, but when I see them in my Mum’s garden, I think of happy childhood holidays with family in Poole and my funny, broad Dorset-speaking Great Aunt. Oooooh-Aaarrrgh (as she might say).

IMG_7742Finally, call me a softie (I don’t care) I’ve really enjoyed the lovely news of the birth of the royal baby. It certainly takes you back to your own births. I found myself washing up yesterday morning and silently sending a few positive thoughts to The Duchess. It doesn’t matter who you are, giving birth and becoming a parent is an amazing experience. As much as I’ve been glued to the TV coverage, I sincerely hope they get some privacy now to get to grips with their new role.