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Monday, 30 November 2015

Cough Remedy

It's that time of year again when the coughs and colds start to rear their ugly heads.  Last week it was my turn and, as we were travelling at the time, I found it particularly difficult to shake off.  I was so glad when we got home to find these in the garden :-

This plant (Verbascum thapsus or Great Mullein) grows wild around us and is particularly useful for getting rid of that persistent residual cough I always seem to be left with - even annoying tickly coughs.  I normally use 2 smallish leaves and make an infusion with thyme, honey (both good for the throat) and mint for extra flavor.

Three or four cups per day over a two day period will generally get rid of the worst of it - much better than taking medication!

In the summer it sends up a tall flower spike, the stem of which is surrounded by tiny yellow flowers.  Apparently these, soaked in olive oil, make a good earache remedy, although I've never tried it myself.

So, if you come across this "weed" in your garden, don't rip it out, let it seed in various places and you'll always have cough medicine at hand.

I even found one growing in the middle of the road outside the house!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Reuben's Blanket

You might be forgiven for thinking that I've been totally idle since my last post in early October, but actually it's been a really hectic time.  We went off on our annual pilgrimage to visit family in early November and were away almost 3 weeks; just got back Tuesday night, pretty tired and full of a cold virus.  Now we need another holiday to get over it!

The run-up to our trip away was pretty busy for me because our first port of call was to be with Eric's youngest son and family.  Baby Reuben was only 6 weeks old when we got there and I'd been making him a baby blanket for what seemed like forever.  By the time we left home it still wasn't finished!  However, I did manage to get it done just in time to hand over the day before we left them!

I chose the Motherhood Blanket by Amanda Bjoerge firstly because I loved the Celtic knot patterns she'd used, and secondly because the knots actually represent motherhood - perfect.  I have plenty of nice fleece I could have used for this but, mindful of the fact that it's for a baby, I wanted it to be easy to wash.  The blanket I made for Reuben's older brother, Brody's Elephant Blanket, was made from handspun merino and his Mum's still very nervous about washing it.  This time I bought some super wash Falkland fleece which means it can withstand a bit more handling without the risk of it felting.

I started spinning for this project back in September which (I thought!) gave me plenty of time to get it finished.  After all, apart from the cables (and I've knitted lots of complicated cables in my lifetime), this was a pretty simple pattern.  Yeah right!  The first obstacle was when I realised it was a charted pattern - I'm not good with charts - and it took a bit of figuring out for me just to get started with the knitting.

The Falkland spun up well but it did have a bit of a funny smell until I'd washed it.  This was the first time I'd used super wash wool so I really didn't know what to expect.

The blanket begins in the centre with quite a complicated cabled Celtic knot, which isn't represented very well in this photo, but you can see it's fairly complex.  I must have pulled this back at least five times before I finally got it right - at one point the wool was getting so grubby and messed about with that I had to cut it off and start again.  No problem, this would be plain sailing from here!

The problems started at the very beginning of the next cabled section and I just couldn't get it to work out.  Whatever I did I was two stitches out.  What with pulling back, re-knitting, checking the pattern for the umpteenth time and throwing it into a corner for a few days until I felt like trying again, it took me two whole weeks to move on from this.  I finally had a "lightbulb moment" one morning at 5 a.m. - at one point whilst knitting the central knot we had to move the stitch markers by 2 stitches in the middle of a 5 stitch increase.  Voila - we had the same increase stitch here!  I checked with Amanda Bjoerge to make sure it was right before I carried on.  Hopefully she'll mention this in the pattern for future buyers.  It might have seemed obvious to the designer, but people like me (duh!) are bound to buy this pattern occasionally!

By now, I was really short of time for finishing this but, thankfully, everything went well from there (apart from one tiny mistake I found in the pattern which I've still to tell her about) and I only had a small amount to do by the time we left.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Sod's law dictates that nothing was going to go my way with this project.  This was my final ball of wool just after the end fell off my bobbin!  That took a bit of sorting out!

Finally, here's the finished blanket, washed and blocked.

Plus one of the spinner/knitter :-

and Baby Reuben seemed pretty happy with it too.

Mum and baby :-

and a final bit of detail :-

Lovely pattern, lovely blanket . . . but would I do it again?  Absolutely!!  I love a challenge!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Wedding Yarn

It seems I've been neglecting my blog again - a month since the last post.  To compensate, I'm posting photos of a recent project that took a lot of planning and that I'm not too sure about now it's finished.

I started with some natural coloured merino, tussah silk, various beads and bits and pieces of silk and lace from my wedding dress.

A few years ago I dismantled my wedding dress after it spending 22 years packed away in a box.  I made another dress from it and wore it to my stepson's wedding.  The bits I've used in this yarn were from a frill on the bottom of the original dress.  I removed the lace and made it into little bows, then cut the silk fabric into strips and knotted them twice (one knot on top of the other to make a bigger knot).  The beads were then threaded onto locks of fleece, ready to spin into the yarn.

I spun all the bits into the merino and then plied it with a strand of handspun tussah silk. The resulting yarn wasn't quite as thick as I'd planned, even though I'd spiral plied it with the silk, so I spun it back on itself making it double the thickness.

I'm really not sure about this yarn - maybe I over-estimated my spinning abilities, or maybe it'll grow on me.  I once heard someone say that if she made something she wasn't too happy with she put it in a bag under her bed for a while and was invariably happier with it when she took it out again.  If only I could remember who it was I'd ask her to put this under her magic bed - maybe it would improve my yarn!

Here are some close-ups of some of the details.  I quite like the way the beads and bows etc. have turned out - it's just the overall effect of the yarn I'm not happy with.

This was going to be made into a necklace, and maybe still will, but for the moment I'll file it away in the hope that I'll like it better when I re-find it in a year's time!

Monday, 31 August 2015

And Then There Were Two

This little chap arrived a few weeks ago, 8 days after Caramac (yes, the first baby was finally given a name).

Here he is, staying pretty close to his Mum, Bella.  Hope, Caramac's Mum, seemed to think she should have this baby too and kept trying to steal him!

Everyone was amazed at his colour - Mum's white and so is Dad, so where on earth did this come from?

Cadbury and Caramac were immediately friends and love to play together.

"Stick with me kiddo . . . I'll teach you everything I know!"  I can see already that this pair are going to get into lots of mischief!

There may be some exciting news in the future.  When the babies are weaned at about six months old they will need to be put in a separate field from their mothers.  Normally they would go in with other males, but at six months they're still too little to go in with the adult males (Rob and Tammy's first baby alpaca was killed at eleven and a half months old by one of the fully grown males - we think he was crushed to death).  If Rob uses a third field (the females are kept separate from the males) it makes a bit of a mess of his field rotation.  So guess where they might be going?  Yes, our garden!!!!  It would only be until they're big enough to go back with the male alpacas, but I'm really quite excited about this.  I've never baby-sat alpacas before!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Baby Love

Look who arrived at Rob and Tammy's on Friday last :-

This is Hope's little boy.  She was a bit bemused at having a little being running around her, but is coping well.  Last year her baby was born dead, so this is her first real offspring.  He's quite small, but perfectly formed!  He looks quite a lot like Bailey (my last alpaca) except for his size - Bailey was a big boy!  Hope's father was Bailey's grandfather, so that probably explains it.  He doesn't have a name yet, but this year's babies all have names beginning with "C".

He's only half a day old here - it always amazes me how quickly they get the use of those long legs!

Hope wearing a necklace in celebration!

Bella still has to produce her baby - fingers crossed it's a girl.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Tour de Fleece 2015 - Week 3

Finally, I'm getting round to posting the results of TdF's week 3 (about time too!)  Just a little warning - this is a picture-heavy post.  It was a fun and busy week though, so maybe that's a good enough excuse.

First I plied the mohair and alpaca for the boucle yarn.  I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to push the loops up the alpaca core because it was a bit fluffy.  It worked perfectly however, so here it's ready for the binding thread to hold all the loops in place.

After plying this, I realised I had much more yardage than I thought I would have.  I estimated that my home grown silk that I spun (the violet) was no-where near long enough to use as the binder for this, so decided to spin some commercial silk and dye it.

This is spun "Z" (clockwise) and is going to be plied "Z" which effectively puts more twist into the yarn, so I tried to put as little twist into the spinning as I could.

I made this into a centre-pull ball and soaked it overnight

then dyed it in the microwave whilst still in the ball, which wasn't as successful as I'd hoped - the dye didn't penetrate right through to the centre.  I hand-painted the undyed bits and stuck it in the microwave again.

This is the finished boucle, plied with the blue and mauve silk :-

As it turned out, I used far less of the silk for this than I'd anticipated, so maybe the home-grown silk would have been enough after all.  I'm happier with the colour of this one though, I think the viole(n)t would have been a bit too much!

Next, I carried on with singles for the multi-ply challenge.  This is Merino dyed with cherry flavoured Kool Aid :-

I threaded the beads onto some of the locks of wool

then spun them into the yarn

Oops - didn't foresee this though - the beads were a bit of a tight fit going through the orifice.  I had to push each one through each time before it would go on the bobbin.

All sorted now :-

Then it was the turn of some merino which I dyed last year.  Again, beads were threaded onto the locks of wool

and spun in.  Smaller beads this time so they fit perfectly.

Then it was time to pl(a)y!  First, I "S" (anti-clockwise) plied :-

2 bobbins of madder-dyed merino
2 bobbins of madder/grape Kool Aid dyed merino
and 1 bobbin of cherry Kool Aid merino with beads

This was made into a centre-pull ball (every time I came to a bead on the ball winder I had to unhitch it, pull the bead through and re-hitch it!) and plied "Z" (clockwise again) from either end.

It was then "S" plied (back to anti-clockwise) with the thick and thin beaded woad-dyed merino,

made into a centre-pull ball again and "Z" plied back on itself from either end :-

It was my intention then to wrap the blue and mauve silk around it.  First attempt failed because the silk was too fine and just got lost in the folds of the main yarn, so I 3-plied it.  Second attempt failed because my wheel had come to its limit for drawing in the yarn and kept getting knotted up.  I know I could have solved this by making adjustments to the tension bands on the wheel, but I didn't want to fiddle with it too much because I'm more than halfway through another project on it and didn't want to mess that up.  Instead, I called this finished :-

and named it "Rapunzel".

The final measurements for my yarns are :- 

Boucle (85g) 45 yds/41m, 
Rapunzel (150g) 16 yes/15m, and 
Mystere (60g) 80 yes/73m

 - which makes it look like I've been sitting around doing nothing for the last 3 weeks!  Good fun though!  Roll on next year!

Edit : I worked out that with all the different plies and doubling back on itself, the Rapunzel yarn ended up having 22 strands!  My fattest yarn ever.