Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mad March Hares

I love how nature goes stark staring bonkers right around this time of year. To be fair, I’d go bonkers too at the first sign of spring if I’d spent the winter shivering in the garden, surviving on a dwindling supply of berries, bugs, and birdseed. But right now, you can’t move for nature frisking, flirting, squabbling, and, ahem, doing what comes naturally.

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All of the ladybirds in this bush were in pairs. I had to tell the twinnage they were having ‘special cuddles’.

I’ll save the best for last.

If you think the trade in homes for people is brutal, then you should see the avian property market. A respectable-looking pair of house sparrows has been showing interest in the nest box just outside our sitting room.

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Daddy house sparrow had to physically fight off a great tit before he could view his potential new pad, and then it took him a sustained period of cheeping to persuade the mummy sparrow to come take a look. She did, reluctantly, and then spent ages and ages peering into the box whilst her spouse sat on a branch below and preened himself.

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I hope they stay.

Even the moss is pretty in the sunshine.

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And we’re getting a bloom or two:-

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There are lambs, ambling and gambolling along with their mothers:-

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And the landscape is starting to look a little less barren:-

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But the best, the very best, is my favourite creature of all, doing its special spring thing.

The hare.

I love hares. I’ve loved them particularly since our house-before-last, on the edge of the rolling Cotswolds, where we stood in the kitchen and watched hares in the field behind our little garden. I love their proud, aloof, sleek, dignity. Except in March, when they lose all that and go completely potty. Have you ever seen mad March hares boxing? I’ve only seen it once, and I’ll never forget it. Disclaimer: this will be the only time I describe physical violence as funny. But honestly, you should have seen them. The female hare was minding her own business, hangin’ with her mates. And there was this one male hare – and I’m sorry, but you could see that he was a little sleazy – who kept trying it on. It went like this: he’d sidle up to her, she’d punch him squarely on the nose, he’d retreat. And then he’d try again. And AGAIN. He. Did. Not. Learn. It was magical, and hilarious, and bonkers, all at once. And I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to witness it.

Anyway, when I was out on my run the other day, I saw something move in the field to my right. So I stopped. (ANY excuse to stop, quite frankly.) And it was three hares zig-zagging across the field, completely off their heads with March-time craziness. They didn’t box, well not that I saw, but it was fairly obvious that they’d abandoned their sanity. HUGE respect to people who have captured brilliant photos of March hares, because with the little point-and-shoot that I take when I’m running, it was all I could do to keep up with them at all.

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You see? Not much of a photo. But to be honest, I was mostly just mesmerized by the sight of them.

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As I said. Bonkers.

Enjoy the last hour or so of March, people.

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Let Them Eat Cake. (And Chocolate).

Chocolaty felicitations to those amongst you of an Eastery inclination. And even if Easter isn’t your thing, I hope you have some cocoa solids handy anyway. Because, well, chocolate.

Given the ongoing grey/damp outside, I’ve been creating colour in the indoor flowerbeds. This. Project. Is. Going. To. Be. Finished. Very. Soon. Or. I. Will. Scream.

Begonias Begoni-ing

Begonias Begoni-ing

The plants/foliage are aggressively crocheted, and then I’m embroidering on the flowers.

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But never mind that, it’s Easter. Despite the fact that we’re not very good at seasonal celebrations in this house, something of an arms race has developed this weekend. After the Stoic Spouse’s home-made hot cross buns on Friday, I decided to make a simnel cake (well two, actually, so that we could give one away).

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Not to be outdone, the Stoic Spouse is at this very moment preparing a feast of duck à l’orange for later tonight. Early indications are that it smells good. Hmm, not sure how to better that. A home-made six-foot-high statue of the Easter bunny worked in chocolate? I’d better get carving…

There's a LOT of fruit in simnel cake.

There’s a LOT of fruit in simnel cake. So much that it could possibly count as a health food. Possibly. If you squint a bit.

Anyway, simnel cake is delicious. Recipe for the cake here, and for the marzipan here. Home-made marzipan is much more alcoholic nicer than shop-bought. Inspiration for the whole thing comes from my good friend Selma, who is much better at seasonal celebrations than I am.

I didn't have any brandy, so I made do with Grand Marnier. Life is tough...

I didn’t have any brandy, so I made do with Grand Marnier. Life is tough…

Unlike Selma, I’m not good enough at adulting to plan ahead and soak the dried fruit for two days in alcohol, orange juice, and lemon juice, so I plopped it all in a pan and warmed it on the lowest possible heat, as a way of encouraging the currants and sultanas and candied peel to get thirsty and soak up a little of the delicious juice. I’m not sure how far it worked, but I swear I got drunk on the fumes.

Drunk raisins

Drunk sultanas

There are lots of glacé cherries in a simnel cake. There are even more in two simnel cakes. Ditto eggs:-

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But it smells gorgeous as you add the ground mixed spice and the boozy fruit, and beat the mixture until your arms ache.

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Seriously, though, I recommend making your own marzipan. The only disadvantage other than cost is that it’s not as malleable as the shop-bought sort.

Eleven apostles.

Eleven apostles.

You glaze the top with egg, and then you dice with failure by popping the whole thing under the grill. It’s one of those times when there’s a two-second difference between RAW and IRREVOCABLY CHARRED. You have been warned.

Not taking my eyes off this for one second.

Not taking my eyes off this for one second.

It’s worth it, though. The layer of marzipan through the middle of the cake is just delicious and will be mandatory in all cakes when I become Ruler Of The Whole World.

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So then of course, there’s all that cake to be worked off. The weather has been vile, and so the ****ing, ****ing, ************ING running has been even more of a chore than usual. (I may have graduated to lycra and fitness trackers, but I’m still a gasping, wheezing, exercise-phobe in my heart.) So here is a picture from yesterday’s run. My running partner has disappeared off to the Alps to bask in the snowy sunshine amongst the mountains. I bet she was wishing she was back home. Drowned rat number one:-

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And this was at the end of today’s run. Drowned rat number two.

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I’m going for a hat-trick of sodden-ness tomorrow.

No, this is not fun and it’s not my hobby.

Happy Easter, folks! 🙂

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Easter. Chocolate. Home-Brew.

Typical. You put out a blog post about how cold and grey it is, and barely have the pixels dried on the screen (my understanding of technological hardware may be imperfect) when the sun leaps out from behind a cloud, yelling “TA-DA!” and makes everything springlike. That said, by the time you read this, it’s due to be dull and damp again.

This blog post is brought to you courtesy of the Stoic Spouse’s homebrew (which is actually rather tasty), so don’t be surprised if the final few paragraphs consist mostly of, “I luffs you I do.”

Another gratuitous butterfly shot, left over from last post.

Another gratuitous butterfly shot, left over from last post.

We’re not very good at seasonal celebrations around here, but we seem to be surpassing ourselves this Easter weekend. Between me and the Stoic Spouse, the ritual usually goes something like this:-

Year one: Spouse 1 presents Spouse 2 with Easter egg. Spouse 2 says, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t get you one.”

Year two: Spouse 2 presents Spouse 1 with Easter egg. Spouse 1 says, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t get you one.”

…And repeat.

But this year we’re upping our game, before our children start putting in formal complaints about us. So on Good Friday, the Stoic Spouse sneaked downstairs at preposterous-o’clock in the morning to start baking hot cross buns. Look!

home-made hot cross buns thetwistedyarn.com

They tasted gorgeous but, poor things, their existence was briefer than the lovely smell of cinnamon they left behind.

Not to be outdone, my plan for Saturday is to bake simnel cake. Oh, and just for the record: Stoic Spouse, if you’re reading, I’ve got you an Easter egg this year.

The twinnage get a better deal than the grownups, of course, and will be certifiably comprised of 90% cocoa solids and uncontrollably manic by this time on Sunday. I do think that the Easter bunny should be encouraged in the giving of broccoli instead, with delicious florets wrapped in coloured foil, and joyful Easter broccoli hunts in the garden involving all the family.

But no, we’re tediously conventional and so we laid out a (chocolate) egg hunt for the twinnage.

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Both boys relished the challenge, and never once whined that they’d rather have had broccoli. C’mon kids, couldn’t you have been a little more whingey because none of these treasures contained 30% of your RDA of Vitamin A and pantothenic acid?

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Pah! In my day, all we had to look forward to at Easter was playing hunt-the-cold-gruel in the back yard next to the coal shed, and right grateful we were too… (Shall I step back into my Dickensian novel / episode of Monty Python now?)

Ha! Found the broccoli! Victory is MINE!

Ha! Found the broccoli! Victory is MINE!

Anyway, a very happy Easter to you – if Easter is your thing – and may there be much broccoli chocolate in your weekend.

Oh, and did I mention that I reeeeeally luffs you?! Hic!

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Knitted Butterflies

So it’s been cold and grey and damp in a way that suggests the arrival of spring. This cold-and-grey is definitely different from winter cold-and-grey because this is cold-and-grey-WITH-DAFFODILS.* Here’s what happens when you try and photograph daffodils at dusk in the pouring rain after an exceptionally tricky day at work. (Don’t try this at home, folks: as you can see, it’s liable to end with wobbly edges.)

Yeah, we're a little gloomy and wobbly-of-focus. That's because we're shivering right here in the gloaming.

Yeah, we’re a little gloomy and wobbly-of-focus. That’s because we’re shivering right here in the gloaming, as is our photographer.

So in the absence of spring sunshine, we have to make our own colour. Fortunately, a beloved friend arrived for chatter/wine/dinner/sleeps, and she came bearing tulips. She has taste, does my friend:-

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Tulips rock, so here’s a gratuitous bonus tulip shot:-

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I can’t wait until they do their floppy tulipy thing and drape themselves over the edge of the jug with louche abandon. When they do that, they’re the 1920s flapper-girls of the floral world, leaning laughingly backwards over a rail, champagne coupe in hand, carefree.

There’s been knitting too, of course, but you probably already guessed that. The population of home-grown butterflies has been increasing at a rate that suggests infestation, and after quite a few versions of the pattern, I think I’ve designed a better butterfly.

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They’re fun to make, if fiddly. All those DPNs…

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In the making, I got to indulge my inner ten-year-old for half an hour and play with beads.

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Actually, scrub that: my ten-year-old self was a serious character, more interested in graphing how the temperature at different depths in the pond varied throughout the day, and in damming the scarily-polluted micro-stream at the bottom of the garden (only occasionally flooding the neighbours’ lawn in the process) than in playing with beads. Gosh, that was a long sentence. Clearly I didn’t spend enough of my childhood learning to be succinct.

(Seriously, though: despite the skin-reddening pollution, there were freshwater shrimps, water lice, and whirligig beetles a-plenty, all of which were properly cool.)

Oh look, butterfly shadows!

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But let’s get back to the knitting. I think the final version of the butterfly garland needs… something else, but I’m not sure what. Much pondering is occurring.

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And whilst I ponder, I’m chaotic and distracted about everything else, as per usual. Mostly this tendency is a huge disadvantage. (A protracted n=1 study suggests that it only ends in stress…) But just occasionally there can be small advantages. Like when the new edition of Simply Knitting plops through the letterbox onto the doormat, and you flick through its pages with cheery curiosity… And you notice a column with a name and photo that definitely ring a bell somewhere very far buried in your tangled brain. And it actually takes the vast majority of a second for you to twig that this is your column and that the name and photo are yours. Duh!

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In my defence, I had small children pesking around my knees at the time, and it would’ve been hard to focus on anything else even if the house had been on fire. “Boys, for the love of yarn, will you please stop sticking play-dough up my nose… Hey, why is there so much smoke round here? … No, I will not let you drive Mummy’s car. Whaddya mean, ‘why’? Because you’re FIVE, that’s why… Hang on, aren’t those orange things leaping from the bannisters actually flames? … Oh I give up: just take Daddy’s car keys and drive his car: just don’t tell him that I let you…”

Ah, another day in Twisted-land. I’d add something saccharine along the lines of ‘and we wouldn’t have it any other way’, but that wouldn’t be strictly true, however much I love the blighters.

Adios yarniacs. May stunning creations fly from your needles/hooks.

 

*I know, I mentioned the unseasonal daffs in my falling-in-the-flood post, but there were only a few of those. Now, you can’t move in Oxfordshire for daffodils.

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Family Stuff

So I tidied my study.

Can you tell that this is going to be an edge-of-your-seat blog post, a white knuckle ride of dastardly deeds and derring-do? Well if you’d seen the state of the room beforehand, you might feel that you weren’t too far awry in that opinion.

(There was going to be knitting in this post, too, but quirky study stuff took over, so the knitted pretties are reserved for next time. Please do stick around, my fine fibrous friends.)

Anyway, would you like to take a look around, now that I’ve removed the spiders from the underside of the desk and generally had a clear-out? My study is my dark, secret, little cave, hidden away yet right in the middle of the house. Look, the door is open: come in!

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There aren’t actually huge numbers of books in here because there are bookcases scattered everywhere throughout the rest of the house (we take a firm and unwavering it’s-not-a-home-unless-it’s-filled-with-books line), and most of my psychology books/journals are in my office at work.

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So here’s one corner (shelves and cupboards are by the Stoic Spouse). See that Singer sewing machine? It’s been in my family for 117 years.

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Look at this receipt for its purchase:-

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My great-great-grandmother, Mrs McLean, aka ‘Granny Mac’ bought it in 1899. Here is the only photo that I have of her:-

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She stares sternly across my desk and disapproves of almost everything I do.

Anyway, the sewing machine was originally treadle-operated, but my step-great-grandfather (whom I remember mostly for his deafness and for his love of inhaling snuff of an evening) converted it to electric in the 1950s for my great-grandmother (whom I remember very well). He was a handy chap, my step-great-grandfather, but I guess most people were, back then. In our sitting room is the wooden trunk that he made and took with him on the submarines in World War One: unlike most submariners of the time, he came back alive. His name is mounted on the lid:-

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(OK, it wasn’t painted that blue-purple colour when he had it.)

My great-grandmother, although apprenticed to a tailor on leaving school at 12, didn’t like sewing. She gave up the apprenticeship. The Singer probably wasn’t her favourite possession.

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In World War Two, the family was bombed out of their Coventry home (November 1940), and family folklore has it that the sewing machine sat out on the kerb for three weeks before being rescued, mysteriously unlooted (unlike many of the family’s other possessions).

It came down the maternal line to me about 25 years ago, and I set about making this patchwork quilt.

Patchwork bedspread

These days, I confess that it sits idle (you’ll note the dull, modern, easy-to-use Brother in the photo earlier on), but I really should get it serviced and back in use.

But let’s move on. Here’s another corner:-

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Have you any idea how easy it is to spray-paint a filing cabinet? I thoroughly recommend the practice.

And another corner (they’re getting less impressive as we go round…)

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Oh, and I love the mottled light from above:-

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And the ceramic door and cupboard handles.

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And the coat-hook behind the door, home to a couple of bags I’ve designed.

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But I haven’t got round to hanging pictures yet. There’s the geological map of Britain (I’ve always been passionate about geology, ever since seeing my father’s book of minerals when I was a small child. And when I up sticks and toddle off anywhere, I do like to check this map to see what sort of rock I’ll be sitting on.)

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And the Freedom Of The City Of Coventry awarded to my great-great-grandfather for we’re-not-quite-sure-what impressive deed:-

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour. All the pretty knitting things I’d planned to add to this post will have to wait until next time. I’d best get on with them, then…

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Knit, And The World Knits With You (Sometimes)

Imagine the following scenario, yarn-lovers. You’re out for the evening, and you arrive at the venue a little before the friend whom you’ve arranged to meet. So you order a glass of rioja, and look around for somewhere to sit. The bar area is crowded, and there are no tables free. You recognize a vague acquaintance, but you don’t really know them well enough to table-crash, so you smile/wave to them and move on. Eventually you find a low shelf thingy at the back of the room, so you settle yourself on it to wait for your friend. You pull out your knitting (of course), and then you notice this right beside you:-

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(Yes, that’s my wine. No, you may not have it.)

How very civilised! Should not the entire world offer such facilities (especially doctors’ surgeries and train stations), better still with needles/hooks too, just in case any poor soul has nipped out without their WIP? This, my friends, was a very promising beginning to the evening.

And there was more yarnery to come.

My friend arrived, and we chattered (and chattered) over drinks. It was good to see her. But then we had to move, because our plan was to watch the comedian Jenny Eclair tell us all about middle age. Not that we’ve reached this life-stage quite yet, you understand, but the concept is beginning to loom in a way that suggests it’s not going to give up and go away. Forewarned is forearmed, so we took our seats in the auditorium, ready for the show to begin. We were only very slightly disconcerted to find a piece of semi-naked-Jenny bunting on each of our seats.

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Wobbly photo phone-snapped in darkened auditorium by drunk person. Soz.

In case you don’t know who I’m talking about (I’m conscious that half of you are non-UK), Jenny Eclair is funny. She burst onto stage in the underwear pictured above, and only got round to dressing herself after she’d been making us laugh for a while. She talked about hot flushes. She talked about hormone-driven rage. She talked about exhaustion. She talked about the changing body. She talked a great deal about the menopause.

And can you guess one of the major side-effects of the menopause? Can you? We held our breath whilst we waited for her to educate us. And then she told us what it was:-

CRAFTS.

Oops.

There was much laughter at this point, of a kind that people do after gasping because they’ve been unexpectedly rumbled. Quite a few audience-members pointed at their neighbour open-mouthed, and shrieked. (My friend didn’t point at me, and for that alone, I shall eternally love her.)

So Jenny Eclair knits, as of quite recently. 🙂 She even showed us a cute little cat/dog (it was hard to tell from that far back in the auditorium) that she’d made. When she left the stage at the end of the evening she took it with her, saying that she didn’t trust us not to nick it. (She left behind the rest of her props, including a large yellow ball of yarn.) And if you look at her website any time soon, you’ll see her apologizing for tardy blogging due to tapestry. Gotta love a crafter.

She’s not the only crafter on stage, though. Look at this! An entire play about knitting/knitters! There’s no way I’m trekking off to Birmingham but if this was local, I’d be there like a shot. I love the idea that this play will be “performed in the round”, and that knitting amongst the audience is positively encouraged. Let’s hope this show goes on tour, people.

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Designing For Knitters

I love designing.

Sometimes (rarely) it goes spookily well from the start (like here), but more often, a succession of try-outs staggers back-and-forth like a drunk person with only the haziest sense of direction, heading ever-so slowly in the direction of a decent outcome, but occasionally just belching loudly before falling off a cliff. I love the combination of creativity and problem-solving and maths that’s involved in making some new knitted or crocheted item. I love the transition from yarn to three-dimensional object, a process limited only by my imagination and dislike of doing intarsia.

These colours are going to have some fun.

These colours are going to have some fun.

So one of the many ideas I’m playing with at the moment involves butterflies.

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I think we need some embellishments, too.

The butterfly idea belongs to the twinnage. Y’see, before Christmas I was tinkering with a basic design for some stars, but they were a bit ‘meh’. Look:-

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But then one of the twins looked at the star on the left and said, ‘You’ve made a butterfly!’ and an idea was born. Thank you, twinnage. That’s another thing I like about designing – the unexpected directions that your work can end up taking, especially when you and someone else spark ideas off each other. As an example, my friend and I were texting back and forth about designs for entrelac last night (she’s knitting entrelac at the moment, the crazy lass), and she came up with the completely genius idea of a subtle entrelac patio for the big crochet house project. See? Genius. Thank you, A.

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I’ve got a warts-and-all policy here on the blog, so I’m very happy to show you a few dreadful(ish) out-takes of the butterfly idea in progress. When I say ‘very happy’, I mean ‘not remotely happy, but going to do it anyway’. Here goes.

So whilst my home and family descended into woeful neglect around me, I tinkered and I doodled and I muttered and I knitted. Muttering always helps. And I pondered the shape of butterflies: ooh look, there’s one under my wine glass:-

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Early prototypes were none too promising, but I carried on experimenting.

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Yes, yes, my house is messy. I need a photo-editing app that removes clutter.

I was enjoying the freedom, and was reasonably disciplined about writing up my notes as I worked…

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But there were so many things wrong with that first attempt. So very many.

No. No. And a thousand times no.

No. No. And a thousand times no.

Oh well, back to the drawing board. The next attempt was bigger, better-shaped, had its decreases stitches worked in a far better way, lost that stupid horizontal stripe, and had a different pattern.

 

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…But it was still not right.

Take three. Sorted out the width of the butterfly’s body, changed the pattern on the wings, neatened the black border around each wing, and made the lower parts of the wings rounder. Family neglect getting really serious now, but knitting going OK…

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Yup, definitely going OK. Finished knitting each side and crocheted the two pieces together using some of that sparkly yarn I showed you earlier.

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And you know what, I think we might be beginning to get somewhere, no?

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It’s a wee bit chunky, not it’s stuffed. The stoic spouse said it was more of a lard-fly than a butterfly. Thanks, spouse.

So now I need to make a few more, in that lovely zingy party of colours:-

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And then, I get to play with some beads for the finished design. Look at these beauties! They’re actually tiny – the largest is only 1cm wide:-

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And now, if you’ll be so kind as to excuse me, I need to go and re-introduce myself to my family, just in case they’ve forgotten my name.

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Begonias And Barn Owls.

Sometimes, I think that barn owls must have been designed by a six-year-old.

(There is crochet coming later in this post, but I just need to get the barn owls off my chest, so to speak.)

What You Lookin' At? (A barn owl, actually. Photo credit: Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons.)

What You Lookin’ At? (A barn owl, actually. Photo credit: Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons.)

Don’t get me wrong: they’re beautiful and magnificent birds of prey, but they do have some odd design elements. I’m writing this because I saw one up-close at dusk the other day. It flew alongside my car for a moment, just as I topped the Berkshire Downs ready to descend into Oxfordshire. There I was, zooming along at the wheel of the Stinkwagon, when a huge white-winged apparition appeared beside me.

I haven’t seen a barn owl for years, so I was very happy, but I was also puzzling over why a beast that relies on swooping unseen on its prey in the gloom would be so, well, bright and white and visible. See? Must’ve been designed by a six-year-old. And how un-aerodynamic is that great heart-shaped flat face? If you pitched up at the airport and your plane had a flattened front like that, you wouldn’t seriously expect it to be able to take off, would you? Again, six-year-old. I rest my case.

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Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about crochet. And possibly knitting. And let’s not talk about running, because my dignity has gone AWOL after I landed on my backside in the mud right in front of my friend when we were out running this morning.

As you can see from the photo above, the final stage of the big crochet house-related project is back on, because this thing just needs to be finished. The Flymo pictures on my phone are because I’m considering crocheting a mower lying on the lawn. At the moment, I’m working some begonias around the edge of the grass. I started by aggressively and semi-randomly hooking the greenery:-

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Yes, that’s greenery, even though it looks kinda blue in the photo.

And then I went and had a rummage for some begonioid colours. (Yes that is indeed a word, as of right now. It makes perfect logical sense.)

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And we have begonias! Though there are a fair few more to go…

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(By the way, photos taken in a gloomy, fire-lit room of an evening, which is my excuse for poor quality.) Proof:-

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So I’m on the case, and nothing* is going to be allowed to distract me. Can’t wait to show you the finished object.

Oh, did I say distraction? Well there is the un-small matter of a new knitting design. Its colourwork is… complex:-

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*Except children, work, house, redesigning the garden, sorting the allotment, seeing friends, reading, drinking too much wine, other knitting and crochet projects, and baking.

Oh, talking of baking (see how distractible I am?) I made some beer bread the other day using the Stoic Spouse’s home-brew. Blimmin’ stuff tried to escape from the tin while it was in the oven. LOOK?!

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Which slightly begs the question, WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU PUT IN THAT BEER, STOIC SPOUSE?

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