Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good-bye 2009 (and good riddance!)

I am, by nature, a glass half full person with a sunny nature who always looks on the bright side, but this year even I have had to work extra hard at staying positive! Suffice to say that 2009 has not been one of my favourite years and I will be glad to see the back of it.

There is so much catching up to do that this will be a long post!

First of all I have said good-bye to the rest of my team at work and each had to have their own knitted gift:

Slipper sox for Christian who has moved on to pastures as yet unknown.

The heart fingerless mitts (in an earlier post) for Annelyn, who hails from Holland, seen here on the right next to Carmen our long-term volunteer from Germany.

The sparkly, girly mitts for Carmen as they suit her perfectly.

The black and red mitts for Linda who wears those colours frequently.

We had some 'tasting days' where we offered samples of food and drink that are available to purchase in the shop. Carmen, Linda and Seb sneak in a tasting of mulled cider when they think I'm out of the way. Little tinkers - just as well it was nearly Christmas!

Angela's scarf:

I wanted to make a gift for Angela at work who has been very supportive this year and I decided to crochet a twirly scarf. I experimented with a basic shape.

Which turned into this when twirled. It's just double crochet and trebles, increasing the number of trebles on each row to form the twirls. No pattern needed.

Then it was just a case of choosing the colours. I had a lovely fuzzy novelty yarn, a sparkly black viscose, a nobbly white cotton and a grey mohair blend and they all worked together a treat to create this scarf.

Then there's my beloved Mike:

Mike's back has been painful, an on-going issue with a slipped disc, but after 6 weeks it had seemed to be getting better. Wrong! Suffice to say that it suddenly developed into sciatic pain so severe that no amount of painkillers would dull the pain and he was in absolute agony. It got worse and worse over the course of a few days and he eventually had to be hospitalised in an attempt to alleviate the pain. X-rays and MRI scans were done and finally the pain was brought under control and on Christmas Eve he was discharged so at least we had Christmas together. Although still in pain, we are now embarking upon a plan to get him walking again and hopefully strengthen his back so that surgery will not be necessary in the future.


Whilst he was away we had snow. Both of us love snow and so I took some photos so that he wouldn't miss out.

Snow ponies taken from the bedroom window.

I love seeing this beech tree bedecked with snow.

In the winter we can see right across the land to the furthest field. Everywhere looks so beautiful.

Sale bargains:

In the midst of the traumas of the last couple weeks there was a moment of great personal pleasure - a yarn & fabric sale! Am I a bad wife that I had such a moment of sheer delight whilst my husband was in pain? If so then mea culpa! I managed to grab several bargains in the space of 15 minutes and will have plenty of new projects for 2010 as a result.

As we weren't sure if Mike would be out of hospital I decided to knit up some bed socks for him to make him feel special even though he was away from home. I snapped up some lovely soft Rowan kid merino and some soft and snuggly pure wool. It's just a basic pattern and it knitted up really quickly - he put them on as soon as I"d finished them and they are already firm favourites.

The variegated purple and green yarns are a mohair/alpaca/acrylic mix and I've got enough for a crochet project.

The Rowan Summer tweed was 25% off and I shall enjoy making this summer top which is knitted with a crochet trim.

This gorgeous fabric remnant will make a super evening dress for me as the colour is great with my hair. I think a simple shift dress, close fitting and just above the knee.

My scarf:

Then there's my scarf. A simple stripey affair using up bits and bobs from other projects but using my favourite colour - purple!

Last year I made loads of flowers using my loom in anticipation of this scarf but I simply couldn't get the effect I wanted by crocheting them together. I tried joining them side by side but they just looked like granny squares. I tried all sorts of different ways of joining them together but none of them gave me the effect I was looking for.

So, here's what I've been doing with it. I piled them all over the surface until I settled on a more subtle arrangement. Then I played around with the fringe. First of all I plaited the existing yarn ends and bound them using purple on one end and maroon on the other.

At the moment I am experimenting with adding extra fibres to add bulk and weight to it. Then I shall be experimenting with an edging as I had always intended to add a crochet edge to make it wider but so far I haven't found anything that I like. No more photos until I'm happy with the result!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rush Matters at West Dean

I've been back to West Dean College for another course. I spent a week weaving willow a couple of years ago and have also attended courses on mosaic. This time it was rush weaving with Felicity Irons whose career I've been watching for many years now.

I first read about Felicity in the mid 1990s when she was featured in a magazine (I think it was Country Living). The reason she interested me was that she was reviving a dying craft; the art of rush weaving using our native Bulrush, Scirpus Lacustris, not to be confused with Reed Mace, Typha Latifolia which is often called bulrush in error. Since then I have read articles about her in newspapers and magazines including Gardens Illustrated so when I saw she was running a course at West Dean I couldn't wait to sign up!

She has her own company named Rush Matters where she and her team produce the most beautiful things woven from rush.

These beautiful slippers take her 10 hours each to make and so command a high price. As with anything handmade, it's the craftsmanship and time taken to make them that makes them so special.

She also does work for the National Trust and recently made a fabulous carpet for the dining room at Chartwell. Scroll through the photo gallery - it's the fourth one I think. She also makes beautiful fitted carpets and weaves lavender and other herbs into the rush to make it smell glorious.

Now before I start talking about the course I must show my bed complete with home-made 'monkey' socks to make me feel at home.

I didn't actually wear the socks, as it was so warm in my room, but I thought I'd do an arty-farty photo shot showing the fabric on the bedhead just for the sake of it!

This beautifully carved fireplace dominated the room. I had a marvellous view across the front of the grounds towards the forest. I'd taken my trail shoes with me as I remembered how wonderful it was to run up there first thing in the morning. I should mention that the weather had been vile all week, including for most of my journey where I could hardly see sometimes as the rain was coming down so hard.

So here we are in the studio with Felicity in the middle, Jetta (who was from Denmark) behind her and Andrea (who is studying at the college full-time) to her right. We also had one more student, Ellie, on our course but she's just out of shot. Ordinarily there would have been more students but this was excellent for us as we got much more attention!

Here is the rush, tied into what is known as a 'bolt' (just like fabric). It is the most wonderful colour in varying shades of green but dries eventually to shades of golden brown. It also has the most amazing smell.

In order to work the rush it needs to be moist which makes it supple but it doesn't require the soaking that willow needs, just a good spraying with water (rainwater is best). As the studio was very warm we found we had to keep spraying the rush to stop it drying out and becoming brittle.

Felicity had brought lots of samples to give us ideas of what to make but first of all we made a simple circular mat after our evening meal on the first night. It was really exciting to get stuck in straight away!

I had come to the course with a firm idea of what I wanted to make - a chunky oblong log basket using a 5 weave plait. Andrea also liked the idea of plaiting and so Felicity showed us both how to gather the rush together and do it.

Andrea tried it first and said she'd like to try a 9 strand plait. Thankfully, I was not as confident and just continued with my 5 strand. It wasn't long before a wail came from Andrea as she announced that perhaps a 9 strand was a tad ambitious!!! Felicity reminded us of this many times afterwards whenever we had ideas beyond our beginners' capabilities!

This is my plait soon after I'd started. After a couple of hours of plaiting I'd produced about 8 metres and my hands were really aching. It was at that moment that it dawned upon me that I might have quite a bit more plaiting to do in order to produce my log basket!

Later that day Andrea and I decided we'd had enough plaiting and would like to try something else and what interested us both was a bag made in what's known as a 'windmill' pattern. This too was never going to be a quick project and I think we were both quite relieved when it was time for afternoon tea so we could take a break.

The first thing Felicity showed us was how to make the basic pattern which is like a small parcel.

We trimmed our first attempts to make them look like Angel fish.

There was a lot of hard work to get this finished on time but I did manage it (with a bit of help from Felicity).

I made a simple handle of twisted Rush and Felicity showed me a clever way of whipping it together. I'm rather pleased with the result so far.

It just needs lining and perhaps a magnetic clasp to hold it together but I'll wait until I find just the right material before I line it.

I like the idea of a bright turquoise or purple silk to contrast against the dried Rush.

Jetta and Ellie had both done Rush weaving before and so had a clear idea of what they wanted to make.

Here's Jetta starting out on her hat. She's using a hat block and weaving around it. The Rush she is using has been chosen carefully to make sure it's a good colour and similar thickness and she was very neat in her work.

You can see how successful she was from this photo - it looks amazing!

She then went on to weave a bag around a block of wood, incorporating different coloured linen threads into the weave. It was very effective.

During our first day I discovered that Felicity is also a runner and we arranged to meet for a run each morning. I was somewhat nervous as she is much taller and more athletic looking than me but she was kind and slowed down to my plodding pace. It was nice to have company for a change as I usually run alone and only run with others during races.

As always we were spoiled with the wonderful meals at West Dean. Although I tried to show a modicum of self-control I failed miserably and came away feeling pounds heavier!

By the end of the course I'd sewn together 2 layers of plaits on the base of my basket. Even that took some concentration as I had to use a sail-makers needle and my first attempts looked dreadful!

On the last morning I made this sampler which I'd like to copy as a cushion cover and perhaps incorporate some yarn into the weave. It would also make an interesting table runner.

Needless to say, I purchased a bolt of rush and some tools as I was eager to continue exploring the medium. I have already plaited and sewn on 2 more levels of the log basket and think I will probably have to plait about 3 more rounds.

I love trying new crafts as it has really sparked my imagination for new projects. Felicity is an excellent and very patient teacher and I wouldn't hesitate to sign-up for one of her courses again if I get the opportunity.

Ninfield Gala

Mike and I had a lovely evening yesterday as guests at the Ninfield Gala, an event to raise money for the village and for charities. The village holds a Carnival each summer and this year had decided to split the proceeds between 2 Alzheimer's charities - the Alzheimer's Research Trust who I support and the Alzheimer's Society.

They had contacted the Alzheimer's Research Trust and asked if anyone could come along to receive the cheque on their behalf and as I live quite nearby I was happy to attend. The 2 ladies from the Alzheimer's Society were actual employees of the charity as opposed to just being an active fund-raiser as I am.

The hospitality of the villagers was wonderful and we were treated to a lovely evening including a tremendous performance from the Brighton Revue Company who wowed us with their witty sketches and singing.

This photo was taken at the start of the evening and I hope it makes it into the local paper to get some publicity for the Alzheimer's Research Trust. When the real presentation was made I was completely overwhelmed by everyone's generosity and had to fight back the tears. You'd think that after 4 years of fund-raising I'd have more control but I often find that acts of kindness intensify the pain I feel about how mum suffered.

After the presentation of the cheques (where there was some confusion over the names of the charities - the Alzheimer's Society is the massive charity with loads of employees and branches all over the place whereas the Alzheimer's Research Trust is much smaller and completely focussed on research) there was a raffle.

Afterwards, 2 people very generously offered back their prizes to be auctioned for charity and when the winning bids had been secured the auctioneer asked which charity the money should go to. They said "Alzheimer's" and he said "Right, the money will go to the Alzheimer's Society then". I don't think he realised that there were actually 2 charities and I'm sure he didn't mean to exclude the Alzheimer's Research Trust but I felt a bit crest-fallen. The lady from the Alzheimer's Society must have spotted my disappointment and said "don't worry, we'll split it", which was kind.

I've often found that it's the so-called 'research' charities that have to try extra hard to raise funds because searching for a cure doesn't seem to get as much publicity as palliative care. I hope that I can help to change that with my fund-raising as I firmly believe that finding a way to prevent or control the disease is the way forward.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Slightly better

OK so there may not be much of it, but at least it's better than my last attempt!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In a spin

Today was the day I chose to try out the drop spindle. I read the instructions thoroughly and it looked straightforward enough (remember that old adage "pride comes before a fall"?) so off I went. After several minutes of bad language and broken bits of fibre it occurred to me that I must be missing a piece of the jigsaw.

Thank goodness for Google which lead me to this clip. Megan made it look so easy! "Don't worry if your yarn breaks, it's easy to fix it", she said. "No it isn't!" I replied as I broke yet another chunk off the strand.

So back I went to the drop spindle and the actual spinning. The first 12" looked really good (Mike said it looked like real yarn!) but then it broke again and it all went downhill from there. It actually looks like one of those 'thick and thin' novelty yarns!

Back to the drawing board methinks!!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Back with a vengeance

Over the past few months I've acquired several cones of very fine wool - some cobweb, some 2 ply from various charity shops.

I've had it in the back of my mind that I would learn spinning one day and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to make a start with a drop spindle.

So here it is, a beginner's kit from Sara at itsavintagething on eBay. I emailed her beforehand to ask advice and she was very helpful. She has a little group I can join if I get stuck. I must say that the roving feels gorgeous and I shall have a little play later on to see if I can get to grips with it.

I whipped up these fingerless mitts as a gift and I know it's safe to show them as the recipient doesn't know about my blog (yet!).

Last but not least we have the poor neglected Oregon cardigan. I just picked her up the other day and knitted 2" on the sleeve so there's just about 2 more inches to go and the first sleeve is complete. Hallelujah! What finally persuaded me to pick her up and finish her was the thought of all that work going to waste. She's far to beautiful to end up as a ufo so I've made myself get on with it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Morrigan's on!

I finished Morrigan a while ago but didn't get round to sewing on the buttons until this week.

That didn't stop Mike wearing it though and it's already turned into a favourite. It's so warm that I'm really rather jealous!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Good-bye and good luck

Last week we said good-bye to our lovely Anna who's gone to start a new job leading her very own Team.

We've worked together for 9 months now and have had great fun as well as producing good work and I was very sorry to see her go.

I've never worked anywhere before where staff are employed on 'Seasonal' contracts and it's very strange to be saying good-bye to lots of people all at the same time. I have 2 more staff to say good-bye to over the next 7 weeks so I'd better get knitting!

I felt the only way to wrap the scarf was as a triangle and it seemed to work out OK. Here she is modelling it on the hip as in the photo in the book.

She's a very stylish young lady and I know she will wear it in her own unique way.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hello Graham!

A couple of weeks ago a letter arrived in our box and there was hardly any address information on it, except that along the bottom was written "Marathon Runner, Scarf Knitter".

When I turned the envelope over I saw it was from my dear friend Graham in France who I hadn't heard from for a couple of years (we usually exchange Christmas cards and news). I was very relieved as I had wondered if perhaps the worst had happened and I just hadn't been told.

I chuckled at the way he had found me as he'd googled my name and seen the knitting stunts then found my blog. Then, knowing that I live in a small village he hoped that the postie knew how to find me - thankfully he did! Apparently he'd moved house without passing on his new address (men!) and then lost our details (men again!).

So Graham, if you see this, I have received your letter and will write asap but we have a postal strike at the moment so there is no point even trying. It was lovely to hear from you and I look forward to catching up soon.

An inbetweenie

I finished Morrigan, bar the sewing together, last week but before I could do that I realised I had something else to make - yet another leaving prezzie for someone at work! I'd decided on a lacy scarf or a shawl so had been swatching patterns from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby.

Nothing was right for the young lady in question so I flicked through the book again and spotted this simple fichu and realised that was just the thing for Anna as she is young and very petite. I love the suggestion of wearing on the hip and it will be just perfect for her.

The trouble was that by the time I'd finally decided on the pattern, the week was nearly over and it was the Abingdon marathon this weekend. So on Monday evening I was looking at my progress and wondering if on earth I'd get it done in time. Panic over and it's blocking now ready for gifting to her tomorrow. Phew!

A full report on the marathon will follow asap - as usual, there's loads to tell.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No. 17 done and dusted

Last Sunday was the Abingdon marathon. The one for which I've trained really hard all year. I was so excited about it and had tapered sensibly (reduced my mileage ahead of the race) but there was a fly in the ointment - I felt grotty for the whole week prior to the event. It felt as if I was about to come down with a cold so I dosed myself up and fought like mad!

The alarm clock rang at 4am and I got up feeling OK. I hadn't slept much the night before but that is not unusual. I had a long drive of roughly 2 hours 45 minutes ahead of me so I left at 5am and drove off into the darkness.

I'd only gone about 20 miles when I encountered my first twit of a driver. I was going up a hill towards a blind bend when 2 cars came round the bend, one overtaking and the other obviously trying to prevent the car overtaking by speeding up. Instinct kicked in - I knew there was a car behind me but that it was far enough back not to worry so I flashed my lights like mad and slammed the breaks on hoping that the airbag wouldn't come out. The fool who was overtaking managed to get past the other car and sped off whilst the other driver laughed and waved at me. What a pair of &6%4£@s!!!!

That did shake me a bit but I pulled myself together and drove on, arriving in good time so I had a cup of coffee and phoned home before heading off to the registration point. There I met lots of runners I've met before - Hippo, Blisters, One Blue Leg (who was doing her 100th marathon dressed as an old lady in a dress and wearing a grey wig!), Johnny Blaze, Jim the Plum, Mick'n'Phil plus I met lots of new people from the Fetch and RW sites which was nice.

It was jolly cold at the start and I was glad I'd worn a long-sleeved top underneath my running vest plus I wore my fingerless gloves which are great because they're small and easy to stash away if I get too hot.

At 9am we were off. The race started and finished with a circuit of a sports stadium so I felt like a real athlete! As usual, I started near the back and quickly settled into my pace of 10 minute miling. It felt good and I was in a very positive frame of mind. Ar around the 2 miles mark I hooked up with Beders and Mitten from the RW forum and we struck up a conversatiion that lasted until mile 17 which really helped to pass the miles - but I'm jumping ahead of myself. Just remember mile 17 for later.

The course was a loop around Abingdon which is an attractive small town with prehistoric connections. I didn't have time for sight-seeing but the houses I saw looked very interesting. Then it went out along a couple of quieter country lanes although the scenery wasn't particularly nice. At one point we ran past a turkey farm where they were roaming free and they made such a noise as the runners streamed past; it was as if they were cheering us on.

I deliberately didn't take my camera with me as I was concentrating on beating my pb time of 4:50 set at the London marathon in 2006. The reason I had chosen this particular marathon was that it has a reputation for being fast and flat and therefore a good pb course. What I hadn't realised is that being a semi-urban marathon it involved lots of hopping up and down pavements and running with traffic (which I hate and is the reason I will never run the Thanet marathon again!). Plus, lots of the roads had potholes and the pavements were very uneven.

Anyway, the company was nice and we held a good pace, reaching the 17 mile mark in 2:50 which is spot on 10 minute miling. Now this is why you had to remember '17' because this is when my right ITB band started to twinge and my hamstring began to cramp. I tried desperately to ignore it as I couldn't believe it was happening again. This is an old problem that I thought I'd overcome as it hadn't surfaced since my very first marathon at Loch Ness in October 2004. Suffice to say that during that marathon I had to literally drag my leg for 13.5 miles in order to finish. So it was with great sadness that I told Beders and Mittens to go on ahead whilst I slowed my pace right down.

I could quite happily have curled up at the side of the road and sobbed it was so painful. Giving up was not an option as people have made donations to the Alzheimer's Research Trust and I couldn't let them down so I had to get my head together and struggle on.

So struggle on I did, watching all hopes of a pb disappear with every painful step. There was little crowd support en-route but the people who did come out were vociferous and generous with their encouragement. This photo was taken by the lovely RichK at FetchPoint where the fantastic Fetchies cheered and clapped everyone who passed through, Thank you to all of you as you really helped when the going got tough. A massive thank you also to RichK who I have chatted to on-line, since I started running 7 years ago, and who has taken photos of me at various events but who I had never actually met before. Thanks for the hug and kiss and good luck (you know what I mean).

Finally I neared the stadium and my watch told me that I was very close to my pb time but I simply could not speed up. As I worked my way around the track I heard several shouts of 'Redhead' from the stadium and I saw a group of forumites waving and cheering. My smile got bigger and bigger as I neared them and I gave a massive wave as I headed towards the finish. As if that wasn't enough, the lovely Ant Bliss from Sussex Sport Photography was there snapping away and he gave me the biggest hug ever after I crossed the line. There are loads of photos of me on his site if your enter my number - 48. I should mention that I first saw Ant when I was doing my 7 marathons in my 50th birthday challenge and he took photos at several of them so he's seen me looking much worse than this!

So there it is, marathon number 17 done and dusted. A minute and a half outside my pb - how annoying is that! Never mind, there's always next year.........................................................................