The Icing On The Cake

A year ago today I moved into this blog, opened the blinds, looked around at its bare walls and set about putting up some pictures. Then I unpacked a couple of boxes and began to write my first post.

Fast forward to today. Well, the place is a little more cluttered, and some of the original boxes I moved in with still haven’t been unpacked. Oops. But TheTwistedYarn has become a colourful, happy, lived-in place where I get to talk about knitting, and crochet, and colour, and nature, and occasionally history-in-the-landscape all the time, and nobody says ‘Oh for goodness sake, Twisted, will you shut up about the knitting already?’ (Or maybe you’re all just too polite.) And the best thing is that I get to chat to like-minded souls, and read your blogs too. Because I had no idea when I started blogging, what a wonderfully communal experience it would be. I am mightily grateful to every person who reads this blog, especially the subscribers, but most of all I love chatting to people on the comments threads and I love reading your thoughts, and then wandering over and reading your blogs too.

Now, I have some numbers to discuss, and I have some cake. Which would you like first? Hmm, that’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it. (So much so that I’m not even going to dignify that last sentence with a question mark.) OK, to the cake. Well, I’ve just had a rather enormous surprise. See, I’d told the Stoic Spouse that the ‘Yarn’s blogiversary was coming up, and that I was thinking of baking a cake. And I was just rambling tediously speaking eloquently about how I needed to get on with the baking, when he asked me to close my eyes. When I opened them again, I saw this:-

cake b1

I was speechless. Honestly. I actually just stood there staring at it for ages, smiling inanely and shaking my head at its wonderfulness. I haven’t even eaten any, it’s that beautiful. (It’s also a lot larger than it looks in this picture, and underneath the icing it’s apparently chocolate.)

Is this the most wonderful cake ever?

The Stoic Spouse commissioned it from the same people who made our wedding cake, and who also made the cake via which he proposed. (How could I have refused to marry a man who communicated through the medium of cake?)

Stoic Spouse, you may be unable to tell the difference between knitting and crochet (nor care about this fact), but the cake almost makes up for it. Almost. ;-) Thank you.

TheTwistedYarn.com 's blogiversary cake.

TheTwistedYarn.com ‘s blogiversary cake.

Oh yes, the numbers. Well I just wanted to do a happy little dance of gratitude to the 1063 people who have subscribed to this blog, over the course of its 98 posts. (No, you don’t get to see the dance. I am not a talented dancer.) I know, I know, now that I’ve written that, you’re all going to unsubscribe and I’ll be left looking like a deluded fantasist with two followers, one of whom is my mum. (Mum, please don’t unsubscribe.) And I’m grateful to the 31 000 views originating in 106 countries that the ‘Yarn has had so far. And the Deramores Award was a rather amazing moment, too: look out for a post I’ll be writing on the Deramores blog within the next couple of months.

But never mind all that, because right now there’s cake. :-)

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To Oxford, For Extravagant Yarn And A Haircut

Though I live in rural Oxfordshire, I rarely go into the city of Oxford these days, except for my twice-yearly haircut. But a chunk of my shrivelled old heart is forever in that city where I lived, partied, loved, worked, and studied for my first degree and doctorate. I bought my first home there too, in which I spent seven happy years living alone but socialising manically, before I met the Stoic Spouse and morphed into a Semi-Sensible Grown-Up. Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, today was Haircut Day – I hate haircuts with a passion – so I tethered the Toddler Twinnage firmly to the Stoic Spouse, gritted my merlot-stained teeth, and headed off. What has this got to do with knitting or crochet, you ask? Well it’s tenuous, but I’m getting there, OK?

Anyway, I drove into north Oxford, past my old flat, and stopped in North Parade, a little row of shops and eateries very near my old college, also the location of our nearest pub and of a reliably grumpy delicatessen who sold the most delectable bean pasties even to hardened meat-eaters like me. This is North Parade:-

North Parade, Oxford.

North Parade, Oxford.

It’s changed a little in recent years, and one of its latest changes is the arrival of this loveliness:-

image

I had a little free time before my haircut, so what do you think I did? My bank balance is clearly far too heavy, so naturally I had to lighten it in this wonderful shop. Adriafil do a delectable cashmere, don’tcha know? Pictured is the immensely helpful woman who assisted with lightening my bank balance.

Oxford Yarn Store

Oxford Yarn Store

Then I headed into the centre. This city affects me. Every street, every shop, every pub, throws out a memory, good or bad. I think it hit me more today because it’s October, and I first arrived here in October 1991, head full of Morse, expecting intrigue, glamour, and the odd murder or two amongst the autumn leaves and dreaming spires.

In case you’ve never been to Oxford, here are some photos.

Oxford in the autumn

Oxford in the autumn

And another one:-

The Sheldonian

The Sheldonian

And finally:-

Anyway, ’til next time. The Secret New Knitting Project is preceding apace. All will be revealed.

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Inspiration: Dan Bennett

It’d be tricky to be creative in a vacuum, don’t you think? Inspiration is essential. T’would be an awfully large leap from the blank page to a work of beauty if you’d not laid your eyes on beauty elsewhere. So I’m always happy to discuss inspiration with friends such as your marvellously good selves. Where – if you don’t mind me asking – do you find your inspiration?

For me, nature is an unsurpassable source of ideas for colour, form, and texture. And artists/crafters who capture the creativity of the natural world come a close second. Artists such as Dan Bennett. Gather round, my friends, help yourself to a glass of this rather lovely rioja, and feast your eyes on this:-

Meconopsis 5 - Dan Bennett - reproduced with permission

Meconopsis 5 – Dan Bennett – reproduced with permission

This is the design on the cover of my 2014 appointments diary, an acrylic by Dan Bennett called Meconopsis 5. I love it. The detail, the geometry, the colour, the botanical inspiration – it speaks to me. Dan Bennett’s images (many of which are here) make me think about what might be possible with needles/hooks and yarn. When I was designing my knitted picture of a mandala, I thought about mandala-like designs of his, such as this:-

Mandala inspiration. Reproduced with permission from Dan Bennett.

Mandala inspiration. Reproduced with permission from Dan Bennett.

Bennett is a British artist, inspired by the world visible through the microscope as much as by the world visible to the naked eye. I’m reproducing some of his acrylics here as their repetitive details are perhaps most relevant to fibre artists, but he also works in oil and through the medium of body art. Want to see some more? Here is another of his acrylics:-

Dahlia 4, Dan Bennett. Reproduced with permission.

Dahlia 4, Dan Bennett. Reproduced with permission.

And a painting that makes me ponder texture:-

Fuligo - Dan Bennett. Acrylic on canvas. Reproduced with permission.

Fuligo – Dan Bennett. Acrylic on canvas. Reproduced with permission.

All rather beautiful, no? Anyway, whilst I continue to knit my secret new design, I just had to share this with you. Whose work inspires you? Or do you rely solely on raw nature? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Channelling Autumn

Autumn has definitely sneaked into our quiet little corner of Oxfordshire. And in its sneaky sneaking, it’s brought a very familiar damp chill to our old house, as well as rich new colours to our surroundings, and some birthdays to be celebrated (not mine – I’m plenty old enough already and don’t feel the slightest need to advance any further).

Birthdays bring visiting relatives and peaceful times around the log fire. This time it brought a happy new novelty, too: companionably knitting with my Mum, who came with Dad to stay here for the weekend. (Dad is strangely uninterested in knitting.)

Knitting With Mother.

Knitting With Mother.

Here she is doing a few rows of the Arne and Carlos blanket and yes, her gauge may be different from mine, but I Don’t Care because I just like the thought that she’s putting some stitches and maybe some love into what’ll probably become our go-to family-sheltering-from-the-cold and Toddler-Twinnage-making-dens blanket. Anyway, she’s my Mum. She taught me to knit (though she despairs at my knife-grip of the right-hand needle, being herself a lifelong pencil-gripper). Y’never know, maybe there’s a genetic component to gauge that enables mother and daughter to knit pretty similarly. Certainly, what she’s done looks just fine. Thank you Mum. (But we’ll just have to agree to disagree about how to hold the needles.)

And in the photo above, I’m working on another prototype for My First Proper Grown-Up Pattern. Yes, knitting 1×1 rib is so slow that my fingers will grow old and drop off before I’m done, but the reward is a lovely thick, stretchy fabric where the stripes transition perfectly on both sides!

Work-In-Progress. Seriously, though, look: stripes are just fine on both sides due to 1x1 rib. Now do you hate ribbing fractionally less?

Work-In-Progress. Seriously, though, look: stripes are just fine on both sides due to 1×1 rib. Now do you hate ribbing fractionally less?

Anyway, before all this birthday malarkey hit us, we went out to take a little look at autumn. We wore our stripy wellies, the toddler twinnage and I:-

steve 1a

And we ran along an old cobbled path in a nearby village:-

steve 3a

And we had a pretty decent amount of fun in the chilly sunshine. I hope we get a proper cold winter this year, despite the ice-on-the-inside-of-the-windows and the need to dry out clothes from the wardrobe over the radiator before putting them on that this oddball house brings. Much as last winter’s floods were photogenic, we need some decent snow and ice round here soon. Any weather gods reading this? Would you mind ever so much?

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Today We’re Mostly Pink And Orange

First, thank you all for your kind words about my risky felting, but to misquote a phrase, reports of the death of my washing machine are greatly exaggerated. After some enthusiastic but inexpert effort, I managed to unblock the beastly machine, and whilst it’s still spitting out occasional gobs of pink felted fluff, it is at least functioning sufficiently to deal with the laundry generated by two potty-training toddlers. (We’re talking a lot of laundry, here. Like, really, a lot.) Here’s the finished bag, a shadow of its former enormity dimension-wise, though eight times the thickness and possibly nuclear-bomb-proof:-

The Felted Bag. To Which We're Not Currently Speaking.

The Felted Bag. To Which We’re Not Currently Speaking.

But enough about that, before I start growling quietly…

Y’know, there’s been some weird light around here, lately. Within a day, we’ve gone from this early morning misty strangeness:-

spooky light

spooky light

…to this:-

weird light sunset a

…as the autumn weather fails to make its mind up. But the second picture at least justifies pink and orange together…. Taking me back to that pesky bag.

Anyway, now that the bag is done, I’m working on the second prototype of a forthcoming pattern. Here’s the ribbed cast-on in a delicious blend of wool and alpaca.

image

Yes, that is a wiggly train track in the background. *sigh*

 

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The Near-Disaster Of Felting The Knitted Bag

This blog post is jinxed, jinxed, I tell you. In the course of its making, I’ve broken the washing machine, over-shrunk a knitting project, mislaid an important piece of technology without which I couldn’t finish illustrating the post, and almost flooded part of the house. I drafted the first, pre-disaster, part of the post earlier. It went like this:-

Well, the Toddler Twinnage are abed, the Stoic Spouse is quietly playing ‘Live Forever’ on his guitar in the dark in another room, and I am sitting at the kitchen table nursing a goblet of wine and feeling nervous. It’s not the Stoic Spouse’s music that’s making me nervous, it’s the washing machine. Because for the first time ever, I’m having a go at felting my knitting, and now that the machine has started, I’m worried that the programme is too hot, too long, and that having started with a huge, floppy knitted bag, I’ll end up with a tiny woollen thimble that’s useful mostly for storing toenail clippings, should I ever become weird enough to do so. Yeah yeah, first world problems, I know.

Ah, to return to those semi-innocent times of mere hours ago, although as you can see, I wasn’t entirely confident that all would be well. But the washing machine was doing its stuff, and I was hopeful.

What could possibly go wrong with this?

What could possibly go wrong with this?

I’d knitted a bag, you see, from a lovely kit that was given to me by my departing psychotherapy trainee. I know this a swerve from the usual business of this blog, but I just wanted to mention it. The knitting was rapid and went well. The pattern is Circus Bag by The Mercerie, and the yarn supplied in the box is their own Yorkshire-produced aran-weight wool.

image

The result was an enormous, floppy sack, but it was designed to be felted so I didn’t worry too much. The yarn allowance in the kit was a smidgeon on the generous side, so I added a couple of extra stripes.

image

So far, so good, no?

Well, no, actually, because our normally cheery washing machine started beeping in distress, and I had to put down my wine and deal with this:-

:-(

:-(

Yup, my felting project had blocked the machine with fluffy gunk. So instead of cooing smugly over a lovely finished bag and showing off the little crocheted flower I’ve made to adorn it, I get to try and find the blimmin’ blockage. Thus far I’ve failed. So armed with advice from the internet, I’ve got to try and conduct some more serious minor surgery on the machine tomorrow. Because we’re potty-training the Toddler Twinnage at the moment and so one thing I really REALLY need in my life is a functioning washing machine.

Anyway, I’ve retrieved the soggy bag, and I’m not entirely on speaking terms with it. It’s……. quite small. Too big for the storage of toenail clippings, I’m happy to say, but maybe half the size it started out. Want a photo? Well when I’ve found my missing bit of technology then I’ll try and take one for my next blog post. Grrr…… (Actually, it is quite pretty, but I want to take a decent photo to do it justice.)

Can you tell that felting just isn’t going to be my ‘thing’, knitting-wise? Reckon I’ll go back to fairisle. :-)

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Review: Rico glow-in-the-dark yarn

Glow-in-the-dark yarn sounds like a rather wonderful concept, no? When I heard this thing existed, I had a, ‘Gah, WHY didn’t I think of that?’ moment. This happens a lot – the universe is clearly some way ahead of me. Anyway, I know TheTwistedYarn is primarily a stuff-for-the-home blog, but when I heard about this brand new yarn, I had to take a minor swerve into garment-knitting, because what toddler-about-town doesn’t need a glow-in-the-dark knitted hat?

Pedantically, I should point out that the yarn in question is not glow-in-the-dark, but rather it contains a highly reflective fibre. Perfect, I thought, for toddlers with questionable road sense out and about (albeit accompanied by semi-responsible adults) in winter. Time for some hats! Want the details?

Hey! You with zero interest in either toddlers or glowing yarn! Don’t worry, I’ll be done with this stuff soon and will reward you with lovely scenes of autumnal sunset. Promise. Bear with me.

The yarn in question (thank you so much for asking, darling) is Rico Design Glühwürmchen Luciole. (Translation: glow-worm. But you probably figured that out already. See? Everybody’s ahead of me.) I was quite excited when it arrived. It’s a chunky yarn, supplied in eight colour options in 100-g balls. Unfortunately, it plopped through the letter-box in broad daylight so its nocturnal reflective qualities were of no use whatsoever. I waited. I drummed my fingers. I scratched the skin above my ear. I fetched some green tea. I knitted. Eventually it got dark. A-ha! Now we’re talking. Look!

Rico Gluhwurmchen

Rico Gluhwurmchen

Can you see those little reflective fibres amongst the orange? They really are very reflective. They’re glass fibre and they comprise 16% of the yarn. The rest is acrylic (54%) and wool (30%). This yarn has only just hit the market in the UK, and I’m not sure whether it’s even directly available in North America yet. So I knitted some hats for the toddler twinnage, because I thought this would be fabulous from a safety point of view, and because I wanted to test the yarn out in order to review it. I used a very simple pattern. I knitted and I knitted:-

in progress

in progress

And at last they were done. The yarn is wonderfully soft, but be warned: it’s like a soft conglomeration of fibrous fluffiness rather than a coherent plied yarn. So if you tug on it more than the tiniest amount, it gently pulls apart, like this:-

Oops. Again.

Oops. Again.

This takes a little getting used to, when you’re accustomed to being able to inflict a certain amount of abuse on a yarn. But no matter.

So the hats were knitted and gratuitously pom-pommed. And I decided to quite literally road-test them, to see whether they’d make the slightest difference in the terrifying case of a toddler caught in the headlights of an approaching car. Here they are, illuminated by my beat-up old hatchback on full-beam. And the result, as you can see, is distinctly hmmmmm….

Toddler Hats On Full Beam

Toddler Hats On Full Beam

(No, those aren’t really the Toddler Twinnage. You’re uncommonly observant, if I may be as bold as to say so?) Yes, there are tiny flecks of reflective loveliness in the hats, but that’s the problem: they’re just tiny flecks. They do what they’re supposed to, but really, this yarn isn’t going to make the difference between safe and unsafe for an unreliable pedestrian. I know it’s not billed as a toddler-saver, but I can’t be the only person who thought that this might be the perfect use for it? So, disappointed, I go back to the toddler-safety drawing board, and wait for a yarn that’s maybe got a little more reflective fibre in it. Ah well, it was a nice idea.

But let’s get back to some sunsets. It’s been quite pretty round here lately of an evening, as the clouds turn lazily pink:-

Early evening colour

Early evening colour

And a tractor works across the field, purely for the delight of the Toddler Twinnage, obviously:-

Evening field

Evening field

And then the sun slides low in the sky and everything is beautiful, even the things that are usually a bit ‘meh':-

Sunset

Sunset

And even though all can most certainly not be said to be well in the world, there is still some beauty, and peace, and colour, around us. So life is good.

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*hums* Never Smile At A Crocodile…

cos you can’t get friendly with a crocodile… *here endeth the hum*

Sorry, bad habit, humming. Sometimes, since having children, I’ve caught myself walking down the ward at work humming ‘Row, row, row your boat’. Not very professional, is it?

Anyway, back to the crocodiles. TheTwistedYarn, the Toddler Twinnage, the Stoic Spouse, and the in-progress Arne and Carlos blanket have been on (a very short) tour. Look! Here we are, pottering through the Oxfordshire countryside in the cool autumn sunshine.

Arne and Carlos blanket on tour

Arne and Carlos blanket on tour

We were on a mission, hitherto promised to the Toddler Twinnage, to go see some crocodiles. So, as yer do, we pottered over to Oxfordshire’s crocodile sanctuary. Hmmm… crocodiles and Oxfordshire…. two rather incongruous concepts, given that our nearest native crocs must be several thousand miles away in more humid climes? Of all the things Oxford/Oxfordshire is famous for, crocodiles ain’t exactly high enough up the list to be vying for the trophy, are they? To be honest, we don’t really do scary beasties at all round here, although I’ll concede that autumn wasp stings can feel awfully sore for a while.

But back to The Crocs Of Ox. We found them! Here’s a ‘snap':-

Nile Crocodiles. No smiling allowed.

Nile Crocodiles. No smiling allowed.

We also found a perfectly sensible solution to the problem of mischievous visitors:-

Simple Solution

Simple Solution

I met a sage old croc called Daisy, and showed her the Arne and Carlos blanket. Actually, I tried to extol to her the benefits of knitting, given her sedentary lifestyle. But Daisy remained impassive, staring at me with mean marble eyes and I suspect fantasising about human-shaped lunch served with a lightly piquant sauce. I don’t think we’ll be seeing her on Ravelry any time soon.

Crocodile, meet knitting.

Crocodile, meet knitting.

And coming home, I worried about the lack of knitting/crochet angle of the blog post that I was composing in my mind, so I went online and found… the crocodile (crochet) stitch! Look at this beauty! I think even Daisy would be impressed. I found a tutorial here. It’s actually easy to do, and the perfection of the numbers and arrangement behind it are so so satisfying to a logical mind. Here’s a quick swatch that I crocheted. It’s a lot easier than it looks:-

Crocodile Stitch (crochet)

Crocodile Stitch (crochet)

I’m thinking a scarf, no? Or maybe a crazy scaly hat?

Anyway, that’s all for now. TheTwistedYarn has a vile stinking cold, and is retreating to the medicine cabinet. Again.

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Autumn. Knitting. That sort of stuff.

Evenin’ all.

*Nods at absolutely everyone. Then tries to stop head wobbling after protracted period of nodding.*

It’s been a mostly good day, here. There were early morning views of our local-ish 4th century BC hill fort. (Previous blog post here, from my very early days of blogging.) Hmm, can you just about see its stepped sides in this picture? It’s rather magnificent, and a pretty fine spot from which to defend the locality.

Iron Age hill fort in cautious early autumn sunshine

Iron Age hill fort in cautious early autumn sunshine

And there’s the new knitting project. My first proper grown-up pattern, to be published soon. For now, much secret-squirrel prototype-related activity is on the needles, especially at times when any sane and sensible person would be catching up on sleep. But it’s a secret, so you really must read this post in a whisper, OK? *Taps side of nose enigmatically* The finished product will look rather different, but look at these delicious colours!

Secret!

Secret!

More soon. But don’t tell anyone, OK?

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The Near-Perfect Crochet Book

Oh goodness, I think I’ve just fallen in love. (Apologies Stoic Spouse, for this small lapse in fidelity.)

But it’s love. You know, the sort of love that gets mightily on your friends’ nerves, and which results in a structurally-unsound pile of unwashed laundry because who needs to worry about the mundanities of regular life when you’re in lurrrrve? Like many such love affairs, its start wasn’t so very auspicious. I discovered that there was a book all about how to join crochet shapes together. Sounds a little… dull, no? Worthy and relevant, yes, but deeply dull.

Just how wrong can a lass be?

Pretty freakin’ wrong, it seems. I have this book (and I paid for it – nobody’s twisted the arm of The Twisted Yarn to say nice stuff).

Connect The Shapes

Connect The Shapes

And, once you look past the unprepossessing title, it’s rather fabulously awesome as a general crochet manual for anyone who’s beyond the getting-the-hang-of-granny-squares stage. (People! If you’re not already there, please hurry up and get past that stage, so that you can enjoy the wonders of this book!) Yes, it does have some measured, sensible advice about attaching separate motifs, and about join-as-you-go, and about motifs where joining is inherent in the design, like a network of lily-pads across a pond. (I know, lily-pads aren’t really joined, but it’s hard to come up with decent analogies whilst being climbed by the Toddler Twinnage.) But that’s not the stuff that had me drooling just a little on its previously pristine pages. Look at these beauties!

crochet collage

What I like, other than its sheer yarn-porn potential, is the fact that for every single design there are written instructions, and a chart, and a photograph of the result, between which you’re pretty much guaranteed to produce something decent. Here’s one I made:-

I love this swirling 3-d design. :-)

I love this swirling 3-d design. :-)

I found this book when I was looking for something that would help me with overlay crochet, or anything where layers of different colours are built up vertically, and I was sold as soon as I saw this:-

Pretty, no?

Pretty, no?

And there are some patterns, too. Ones that you might actually might want to make. My work wardrobe seriously needs this skirt:-

Definitely A Psychologist's Sort Of Skirt

Definitely A Psychologist’s Sort Of Skirt

Mind you, I’m not sure what’s so camp about this rug:-

Camp Rug.

Camp Rug.

Overall, Connect The Shapes is a feast of colour and design yumptiousness. It would suit a wide variety of skill levels, but as I said, maybe leave it for later if you’re busy embroiled in your very first granny square. I have to say, I’m still a little intimidated by the BPtr7tog, whatever that is:-

Scary Beast

Scary Beast

The Stoic Spouse thinks it looks a little like a formula for nuclear fission and assumes that I’m crocheting a nuclear bomb. But maybe he senses my infidelity and is feeling twitchy.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: No husbands were harmed in the making of this blog post. The Stoic Spouse has read and fully approved its content, and still seems to be on speaking terms with me. :-)

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