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Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Knitting

If you remember, I only started this project in October - it should have taken me a week at the most to make, but I finally finished it on Christmas Eve, just in time to wear on the 25th.

Leftie, by Martina Behm.  It only took me so long because I had to keep spinning more of the white yarn.  I enjoyed knitting this, and enjoy wearing it too - I can see another one in different colours in my future.

The other thing I finished was this scarf :-

This is the One Skein Tapestry Scarf, and it really did only take one skein.  It also only took one night to knit, thankfully, as this was needed for Christmas Day too.  We'd been invited to our friends' house for the day, along with 18(!) other people.  Everyone had to take a small gift which was put into a "lucky dip" basket.  Each person then picked out a package from the basket.  This scarf was my contribution.

A little bit of detail
There was one more knitted project I made but, as I haven't taken photos yet (it was only finished yesterday and is still drying), I'll show you that next time.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!!




With extra-special thanks to Caroline, who characterised my cat perfectly on her Christmas card to us.  I like the hunting trophies wrapped up at his feet!

Sunday, 16 December 2012


For the past five or six days, Jak has had an intruder in his garden.  An intruder that's making him very unhappy and insecure - another cat.  We think it's one of the farm cats from about half a kilometre away.  It's attacked him twice, mostly causing very minor injuries, but it did manage to pull a large mouthful of fur out of the side of Jak's face (must have been really painful at the time) and he has a large bald patch which is now scabbing over.

Enough's enough!  This cat has got to go!  We spoke to Tammy and Rob, our neighbours, and it turns out that one of their cats has been attacked by it too.  They will not miss the cat and, apparently, neither will the owners of the farm buildings where the cat lives.  We decided we needed to catch it and take it on a little journey, somewhere far away, where we can release it.

So, yesterday we went to visit Joseph and Beatrice, our other neighbours.  Joseph has a trap for catching small animals, so we asked if we could borrow it.  Last night we set it up outside the house with a bowl of cat food inside.  Then we locked Jak's cat flap so he couldn't get out, and gave him a litter tray (he usually likes to go outside but does know how to use one).

Cat Trap!
This morning I checked the trap and yes, lo and behold, there was a cat inside!!  Err, wait a minute, that cat's the wrong colour!  Yes, it was Jak!!  He'd managed to push up the lock on his cat flap and escaped during the night.  Exit one very sad and soggy (it rained during the night) moggie!

He'd actually dried off quite a lot by the time I took this photo!

Oh well, we'll try again tonight, but this time we'll make sure our little escape artiste has no chance of getting out!  At least we know the trap works.

Christmas Preparations

Just so you don't think I'm sitting here idle, here's a little glimpse of what I've been doing recently (but there are things I can't show you until after Santa has delivered them).

First I made the Christmas cards :-

Well, they weren't "made" as in "made from scratch", they were more recycled from cards we'd received in previous years.

Then I made the Christmas tipple.  This is Limoncello, an Italian digestif, (recipe stolen from The Italian Dish - you can find the recipe if you click on her blog at the right hand side) made from vodka and lemon zest left to soak for 7 days, and it then has a sugar syrup added.  Looking forward to trying this.

Then there were the decorations to make

and spinning, there's always spinning!  This

and this

and some of this

but I can't possibly show you any more.  That would be giving too much away!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Modelling Job!

A few weeks ago a friend of ours, Colette, asked me to take my spinning wheel to her art gallery and model for her art class.  Eric thought I might catch a chill spinning naked, but thankfully Colette insisted I keep my clothes on (thanks Colette!!!).  Anyway, today was the day.

Sunday I spent all afternoon carding up batts on my drum carder to take with me to spin.

I haven't a clue what most of this fibre is as it was part of my "floor sweepings" that I bought from World of Wool in the UK.  I mixed all the very dark colours together, then topped with blue and a mix of different blues/white, and a bit of sparkle (Angelina fibres).

The class was a mix of French- and English-speaking students, one of which was 98 YEARS OLD!!!!!  She really didn't look it, and there was obviously nothing wrong with her eyesight either.

No, this isn't the 98 year old!!
They started off with three 10-minute sketches, one of the wheel, one of my face, and one of my hands.

After that we had a little break, and then they had a final hour drawing the whole thing, or just what they wanted.

The morning sped by incredibly quickly, and ended with a "critique" by teacher Colette.

The 98-year-old is second from the left!

I know I shouldn't have had favourites, but this one I thought was just gorgeous :-

She's made me look like Dusty Springfield!  Wish I had her voice.

I liked this one so much that she gave it to me at the end of the class.  Apparently she doesn't keep anything she does in the classes.  That amazed me because, if I could do anything as good as this, you wouldn't be able to see my walls!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

New Addition

Monday was a very exciting day - we went to an alpaca farm up in the Dordogne with our next-door (well, half a kilometre away!) neighbours Rob and Tammy who wanted to buy some alpaca for breeding and fibre production.  I think I've just cost Rob a lot of money. If I hadn't taught Tammy to spin they probably wouldn't have bothered with alpaca.

Some of the females with crias
They'd phoned up a few days before and asked if I would like to buy an alpaca or two to keep on their land alongside their animals.  Would I?!!!!  What a silly question.  Just try and keep me away!

Another field of females
Anyway, off we trotted; it was a three-hour journey each way and the farm owners had very kindly offered to give us lunch.

Quite a range of colours 
Rob and Tammy bought three pregnant females, a white, a fawn and a black, and had a 5-month old male thrown in (a rose-grey - beautiful).  I decided to buy a male (he's about 18 months old) so won't be ready to use for breeding until next year at the earliest. There's only one of their females that he can't mate with because they have the same sire.

This one really wanted to see what I was up to 
I was really impressed with the fleece quality of all of the animals on the farm.  They are a really low micron count and don't seem to become too coarse with age.  The micron count is a measure of how fine the fibres are - a micron is a thousandth of a millimetre - so the lower the count, the better the fleece.  My boy has only had one shearing so far, but his fleece was measured at 15.4 microns, which is amazingly fine.

Really, really wanted to see what I was doing 
The males were all in a field together, away from the females.  Here's my boy (well he will be in about a month) :-

Beauvautrait Impala 
His name is Impala.  The rose-grey standing behind him is called Indigo and was born the same year.  They use a system at the farm where each year the offsprings' names begin with the same letter of the alphabet.  This year was J.

Can't wait for him to arrive - but Rob has to fix the fencing first, so it won't be for another month.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sock Logic!

A few days ago I was pegging out the washing on the washing line in the garden when I finally got really fed up of turning Eric's socks the right side out.  He just happened to walk down the path, so I asked him why his socks were always inside out.  The reply?  "They're not all inside out, only about half of them are".  The reason is very simple (apparently).  When he takes his socks off at night, he peels them off from the top so they end up inside out.  Then if he wears them for a second day, he wears them inside out, so when he takes them off that night they then become right side out again.  And if he wears them for a third day (God forbid!), they're inside out.  You get the drift?

OK Mr Clever Clogs, answer me this then : how do you explain it when one sock is right side out and the other inside out?  What happens to your male logic then, hey?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

(Almost) Free Food

About three weeks ago I bought a bunch of watercress for making soup.  I cut off the stems (some of which had roots growing) and pushed them into some compost in a tub in the greenhouse.  Yesterday I was able to harvest enough for another batch of soup.

The nice thing is, the plants should produce at least another batch as they're still growing quite strongly.  The soup was delicious and had far more flavour than the original watercress I'd bought, probably because there was only about 15 minutes from plant to pan.

Anyway, thought you might like the recipe; it's very easy and doesn't take long to make.

Watercress Soup

This amount serves four generous helpings.  I only did half of this as I didn't have enough watercress to do the complete recipe.

9 oz watercress, chopped
4 oz butter
Approx 14 oz leeks, chopped
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 pts hot stock
4 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a large pan, then add chopped leeks, potatoes and watercress and stir so they are well coated in butter.  Sprinkle in some salt, then cover and sweat over a very gentle heat for about 20 minutes, giving mixture a good stir halfway through.

Add stock, bringing everything to a simmering point, and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from heat, cool slightly and blend in a food processor until smooth.  Return to pan and add 3 tablespoons of creme fraiche, season to taste with salt and pepper, then reheat gently without letting it boil.

Serve with an extra swirl of creme fraiche or cool and serve chilled in the same way.

I topped ours with a parasol mushroom (flash fried in butter until slightly crispy on the outside, but tender in the middle) that we found, and an extra sprig of watercress. Delicious!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

In the Greenhouse

Lots of green stuff to feed us over the winter :-

Lettuce, watercress, rocket, salad leaves, pak choi, oregano,

More lettuce, round carrots, baby leeks,

Yet more lettuce and pak choi,

and look who's taking care of things for me while I'm not there :-

Hope he manages to find plenty of bugs!

Happy Day!


WE GOT . . .


We got it dirty too!

The salesman obviously needed to sell a car - he called at the house five times (we were out the first time) trying to sell us this.  He finally caved in on the last visit and agreed to all our ridiculous terms, i.e. extras we wanted with it, and the price we wanted to pay! Nice one Yeti!!  Now we need a name - hhhmmmm . . .

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sad Day

Today was the end of an era, today was a sad day for us.  Our good old "pink bus" has left us.  We'd had our Seat Alhambra for over 11 years and it gradually faded from a deep red colour to a sort of pink, hence the "pink bus".  This car held lots of memories for us, and we had to think long and hard before selling it.  The fact that we'd only driven 500 miles in it since February (it had really become just a work vehicle for collecting building materials and ferrying tools around the garden to the current worksite) finally decided us.

This afternoon, as the new owner proudly drove it away from the house, we both felt like running after her saying "Stop!  We didn't mean it, we've changed our minds".  But we didn't.

Goodbye old friend!  A new era now begins for both of us.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Leftie Continues

Got to about 85% through this project about a week ago and had to stop.  Ran out of white yarn.  Luckily, Tammy had brought me her share of the white just in case I didn't have enough.  So I spun up some more.  I only needed to spin one of the plies because I had some of the other left on a bobbin.  No problem then . . . except I mixed up the bobbins with the leftover ply and plied with the wrong one.  I didn't realise until after I'd washed and dried the new wool, but it's turned out too white.  Think I must have used some Falkland instead of floor sweepings.

Oh well, back to the spinning wheel.  Actually, today's a perfect day for spinning as it's just started raining, and it's Toussaint (All Saints Day) so we have a holiday here in France and we can't work on a religious holiday, can we?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Merino Dyeing

This is the last of my lovely merino fleece which I bought last summer at Le Lot et La Laine wool festival up near Cahors.  It's been a beautiful fleece (from Maco Merinos), so soft and easy to spin.  Hopefully I'll get up to the festival again next year (they only run it every two years) to buy some more.

The first photo is the result of ALL the weld I had growing in the garden.  I harvested it a while ago but was not ready to dye with it, so I hung it in the greenhouse to dry.  I wonder if it would have given more colour if the plant had been fresh.

It's the first time I've dyed with weld (Reseda luteola), but probably not the last.  It's supposed to be one of the most light-fast of the yellow dyes, which can be rather fugitive (i.e. they fade in sunlight).

This next one turned out brighter than I'd thought it would.  The dye was made in the spring from some fresh, young, green bracken and then stored in a plastic bottle until I found time to dye with it.  It didn't seem to suffer at all, i.e. no traces of mould, so I put some more merino in a pan with the dye and heated it for about an hour.

At the same time as I made the green bracken dye, I also tried some of last year's old, brown bracken.  Think this one is a candidate for over-dyeing!  I won't bother with that again.

Not very impressive, eh?

Here it is next to the young bracken dyed merino just for comparison :-

Rather dull and dismal next to the other one.

I have some walnut hulls soaking in water at the moment, so may use that to overdye it, or maybe I could use the pomegranates a friend brought for me the other day.  Some of them are a bit damaged, and not really edible, so I could use those.

The last photo is an accumulation of dyeing projects this year, all using merino.  I really need to find the elusive green, or overdye some yellow with woad.  That's really the only colour missing.

Top row, from left : red dock seeds, lichen, young green bracken;
Middle row, from left : black beans, madder, apricot bark;
Bottom row, from left : weld, woad, blood peaches.

Now I just need to find a project to use all of these colours!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Tammy's New Sweater

Remember this?

This was Tammy's very first ball of wool, spun on my spare Ashford spinning wheel.  She was (quite rightly) very pleased with herself.  She's kept on spinning over the summer months, and even bought her own spinning wheel last month.

She's even more pleased with herself now, as she's turned the wool into this :-

her very first hand-spun sweater!

You'd better start on your floor sweepings next Tammy!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Peachy October

September is usually our month for peaches.  We only have one tree, but last year it was absolutely laden with peaches.  The peaches are "peche de vigne", or blood peaches, and ripen later than the usual white or yellow fleshed peaches.  Last year I bottled so many of them we still have a "bottled glut", so this year I thought I'd do something different with them.

They were a bit later this year, and there weren't quite as many, but still lots.  So far I've made peach jam (Queen of Jams) which stated in the recipe "crack open the peach stones with a hammer, remove the kernel, skin it, and put this in the jam". Have you ever tried to shell a peach kernel?  Well neither had I, and after hitting them as hard as I could at least 5 or 6 times, the first two or three exploded in a shower of shell and kernel, all over the garden.  After that I started to use my brain and realised there was "just the right place" to hammer it in order to get it to split cleanly.  Then I had to skin them!  The whole procedure took as long as it did to make the jam.  Anyway, I never intended to go on quite so long about a pot of jam!

The other thing I've been making is peach fruit leather.  This is very easy to make - basically, chop the peaches (removing the stones) and blitz them in the food processor with a tablespoon of honey, spread it in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put it in the oven on it's lowest temperature for 6-8 hours.  Yeah right!  After 6-8 hours mine was maybe half way through.  The idea is not to cook the peaches, but dry them.  If you have a dehydrator you can use that instead.  Anyway, it is delicious when finished, and a very healthy snack too.  The fruit leather will keep for quite a while in an airtight container.

As I still have about three large bowls of peaches in the fridge, I'm planning to make more fruit leather, more jam and maybe some peach chutney.

However, this was not the point of today's post.  The point is, the other day I was clearing underneath the tree as there were quite a lot of windfalls which were damaged by ants or just starting to rot.  I filled a bucket, walked across to the compost heap and stopped . . . what was I doing?  There's lots of colour in these peaches.  I must be able to extract some dye from them surely?  Having searched Ravelry and the internet to see if anyone else had dyed with peaches, I came up with absolutely nothing!  Apart from using the peach stones for dyeing.  The only option was to try it and see for myself.

That very day the whole lot was dumped into the dyepot and covered with water.  I heated it to boiling pot and then reduced to a simmer for about an hour.  After straining, I had what looked like a very nice pan of peach juice.  I didn't fancy using it for anything else though because there had been so many ants in there!

To cut a very long story short, I mordanted some merino fleece with alum and cream of tartar, and threw it in the dyepot.  This is what came out :-

It's a really rich colour.  But what colour?  What would you call this?  Eric says it's tan.
Tan is boring, it can't possibly be just tan.  It's got to be something more exotic - light chestnut, or auburn - I used to know someone who had hair this colour.  What do you think?

Now, I wonder what colour I'd get from figs . . .

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Blogoversary the Second

Two years today since I started this blog.  At the time it was quite a little adventure, but I really didn't think about how long I'd be able to keep it up.

For those who've been reading along with me, thank you for putting up with all the prattle and useless information.  Hopefully you've liked some of the photos though - I like my blog to be colourful at least.

Here's a cake and some meringues Tammy made for our weekly Knit and Natter (previously known as Stitch and Bitch) - help yourselves to a slice!

And here's to the next 12 months - hope you're all still with me then.