Monthly Archives: August 2016

Foraging

What’s a girl to do on the hottest day of the year? Well, besides writing up the pattern for a nice warm, fluffy cowl, I celebrated the road-melting heat on Wednesday by putting on the oven to bake courgette cake and beer bread, before going for a 9-mile (that’s 14.5km) run in the blazing midday sunshine.

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Stupid? Possibly. But the really stupid thing was being so obsessed with drinking lots of water in the hours pre-run that I forgot to eat. “Oops,” I thought, forced to stop as I waited to cross the road but swaying slightly in a way that would have looked like drunknenness had I not been wearing lycra and a steely glare.

T'was hot. PHOTOS FROM A WALK ON ANOTHER DAY, BECAUSE I CAN'T RUN PROPERLY AND SHOOT.

T’was hot. PHOTOS FROM A WALK ON ANOTHER DAY, BECAUSE I CAN’T RUN PROPERLY AND SHOOT.

A plan was required. I needed blood sugar. Fortunately it’s August, so nature is busy producing food faster than other nature can eat it. A feast of blackberries, elderberries, and bullaces was surely just around the corner. Time to forage.

Oxfordshire in August. Unless you're actually TRYING to find some fruit.

Oxfordshire in August. Unless you’re actually TRYING to find some fruit.

But I was wrong. Obviously I was running along at such enormous speed (ahem) that I may have missed a few delicacies, but for the next mile or so I didn’t see a single thing to eat. Not even a beech tree. (You can eat beech leaves if you’re desperate, but I can tell you that they taste revolting.) So I carried on, getting slower and wobblyer as I went.

Beech.

Beech.

I passed a few houses (some of them beautiful thatched cottages, but I don’t think you can eat thatch, especially thatch that lawfully belongs on top of someone else’s home). And then, overhanging a high wall, was the branch of an apple tree, laden with fruit. I wanted one of those apples so much. There may as well have been a serpent offering me the snack and a sign saying ‘Eden welcomes careful drivers’.

But. The branch was so very high. And I am so very short. And the wall didn’t look like a climber. And there weren’t any handy sticks available to lob at the apples. Defeated, I moved on.

So tasty. But so high up...

So tasty. But so high up…

I did eventually find some blackberries, but they were right beside the busiest road on my route, and I’d paid far too much attention in childhood to my mother’s warnings about the dangers of polluted roadside fruit. That said, I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I inhaled so much lead on the walk to school each day that it’s amazing that thieves haven’t stolen my head. All that lead would explain why I’m so heavy, anyway…

Those blackberries looked shrivelled, grim, and dusty. I ate a very few, just enough to ensure a bit more energy and a bit less life expectancy. They were… oddly gritty. But they were fuel at least, and they kept me going for the next couple of miles.

Not the finest. :-(

Not the finest. 🙁

It was quite near the end of my run when I came across a small patch of disused ground, covered in the most exuberant brambles you could imagine. The blackberries were huge. I dived in. The blackberries tasted sweet and gorgeous. But three unfortunate things should be pointed out here:-

Thing the first: Spiky overgrown brambles and lycra running gear are not a winning combination. It seems there’s a reason why marathon routes hardly ever pass through bramble patches.

Hedgerow damsons. Conspicuously absent when I needed them.

Hedgerow damsons. Conspicuously absent when I needed them.

Thing the second: Eight hungry miles into a nine mile run and a bit shaky with low blood sugar, my ‘table’ manners may not have been the best, and blackberry juice does tend to stain rather impressively on both skin and clothes. Fortunately I was wearing a purple top so I should at least score one point for that. My skin isn’t naturally purple, however…

Elderberries! Also missing from my run. :-(

Elderberries! Also missing from my run. 🙁

Thing the third: This was a respectable neighbourhood that I was running/foraging in. The sort of neighbourhood where, just as I stumbled out of the blackberry bushes, swearing loudly at the thorns that were tearing at my lycra, my face red (from the run) and purple (from the blackberries), panting from the exertion of the run, and not entirely steady on my feet, just at that exact moment, an extremely serious-looking and smartly-dressed woman of – at a guess – 80 came round the corner, striding fast despite the fact that she also carried a walking stick. She looked at me. I looked at her.

Clouds: also conspicuously absent whilst I ran.

Clouds: also conspicuously absent whilst I ran.

For a coward like me, there was only one possible thing to do.

I made a run for it.

 

 

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Free Colourful Cowl Pattern!

OK, would you like the free pattern for this fairisle cowl that I designed?

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You would? Well there’s a link to the pattern near the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

It’s a fairly generous one size, that would fit an adult or teen.

The version in the pictures was made using all 16 shades of Stylecraft Batik, but of course you could use fewer colours, or indeed a different DK/light-worsted yarn entirely. The cowl is worked in the round, so although you’ll have a fair few ends to weave in, there’s no purling fairisle and no seams. Hurrah!

So what are you waiting for? Apart from yarn, and more time, and the opportunity to finish all your other projects first. Oh, and I’m sorry to have to tell you but I think the cat has just pooped behind the sofa…

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You want to see the reverse/inside of the cowl? Here ya go:-

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Anyway, to the pattern! Drum-roll, please:-

Click here for the pattern!

OK? Shout if you have any problems. I may not necessarily be able to solve them, but I can nod sympathetically…

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Giveaway Winners? Giveaway Winners!

So, to the Stylecraft giveaway. Do we have some winners? WE HAVE SOME WINNERS, OH YES!

Wow, a big fluffy THANK YOU for the 232 entries you submitted here and on the ‘Yarn’s Facebook page, and for the enthusiastic/kind/funny/interesting comments that you left in your entries. And THANK YOU to Stylecraft for providing the prizes.

So that means that the pattern for THIS COWL will be coming next post...

So that means that the pattern for THIS COWL will be coming next post…

So at midday on Sunday, the giant gong sounded, signalling the end of the giveaway. Did you hear it? I guess not, given that it’s made of yarn – a fatal design flaw that I should probably have foreseen – and is thus almost completely silent.

As I did for previous giveaways in these ‘ere parts, I allocated each entry a number, and then used the random number generator at random.org to pick the winners. Would you like to see the results?

Well, of the 232 entries, 136 were for the UK contest, and 96 were for the non-UK contest*. Let’s find out who’s won the UK prizes (£10-worth of Stylecraft vouchers) first…

Wa-hey! Rolling the 136-sided dice, we have…

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So who is the mysterious, shadowy Person 19, and the equally mysterious Person 96?

Step forward into the spotlight, Rainbow Junkie, and Sue Jameson! Congratulations! Would you like to make a speech? No, please don’t cry! I’ll be in touch to request your contact details (unless you get on the keyboard to thetwistedyarn@outlook.com first), and will then pop your prizes in the post. Happy yarn shopping!

Now for the non-UK contest. Two winners each win two Stylecraft bags and Stylecraft keyrings. Where’s that 96-sided dice when you need it? Ah, here it is. OK, ready?

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Look! It’s entrant 5 and entrant 75! So who are the people hiding behind the numbers?

Take a bow, Jan Wilesmith, and Sandy! Again, I’ll be in touch today to request your contact details so that I can post those happy prizes out. Congratulations!

And to everyone else, I’m sorry that you weren’t successful this time, but I have plenty more Stylecraft vouchers sitting here just longing for a good home, so there’ll be more giveaways coming soon.

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Prizes!

∗ The teeny-weeny number of entrants who forgot to say whether they were UK or non-UK were placed in the non-UK category, as the UK prizes aren’t valid in the rest of the world whereas the non-UK prizes are just fine and dandy anywhere.

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Stylecraft Batik Yarn Review

It’s about time I published a review of Batik, Stylecraft’s brand new yarn. (Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for the yarn, so clearly my fickle head has been turned by this freebie and not a single word of the following is to be trusted.)

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I wanted to thoroughly road-test the yarn before I wrote this, so I got the knitting needles out and started designing something that incorporated all sixteen shades:-

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You know what you need in the heat of August? A nice warm, fluffy cowl, that’s what. So I designed one, just in case the sun disappeared behind a cloud and it started to SNOW. Stranger things have happened. The cowl pattern will be available very soon, in case you want one too.

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We were away for ten days, you see, first staying in a cottage in the wilds of the North York Moors, and then – after a seven-hour drive – staying with dear friends in their beautiful old south west Wales cottage. The perfect opportunity to knit without guilt. The perfect opportunity to let my imagination off the lead, so that it could scamper about in the undergrowth and come up with lots of nature-inspired patterns.

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I knitted everywhere.

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And then I re-knitted, over and over again, because I kept changing my mind about the pattern. But that was part of the fun.

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Anyway, let’s talk about the yarn.

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Batik is a DK-weight (i.e. light worsted) blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool. Just to cover the basics, it’s available in 50-gram balls, with a recommended hook/needle size of 4mm (US size 6), gauge 22 sts per 10cm/4 inches. But that’s not what you came here to read, is it?

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There are 16 shades in the range, and they do work rather well together.

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The yarn has a painted effect, each shade mottling with white. I think this makes it ideal for fairisle/stranded colourwork – much better than solid colours – but the mottling effect is not subtle, so I needed to make sure that for each section of the pattern, I picked two shades that really really contrasted, to avoid the pattern looking like a blurry muddle.

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There’s a high degree of twist to this yarn, which was a deliberate decision by the folk at Stylecraft HQ to create a product that’s ideal for crochet as well as for knitting.

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And I have to say that it’s a pleasure to work with, although I do hope they expand the colour range further. If you want a very affordable (£1.99 in the UK) acrylic-based yarn, I absolutely recommend Batik. It looks good, the colours are rich and intense, and Stylecraft are super-hot on the consistency and quality of their products (I saw their testing lab) so you can trust what you’re getting.

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Right, I’d better go and write up that cowl pattern, hadn’t I? Is it snowing yet?

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Quick And Easy Hack For Controlling Bobbins In Colourwork

In this post, an easy hack for how to control all those bobbins when you’re doing complex colourwork, especially intarsia. 🙂

Colourwork is a fantastic thing in knitting and crochet: it’s like painting with yarn – even painting in three dimensions, should you choose to engage in that level of crazy. I love most colourwork – stranded/fairisle especially, but also, slipped stitch work, and stripes. But I do not love intarsia*. Intarsia hurts my sanity. It’s a technique in which even the tiniest increase in the complexity of motif leads with terrifying speed to an exponential rise in the number of bobbins dangling and tangling in a hideous hairy heap in your lap, and needing to be painstakingly separated from each other every row because they just wanna mingle. Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve got the fluent facility with swear words to prove it.

Here's a stranded piece that I'm designing at the moment. See? So civilised that you can knit whilst you walk. Bet you couldn't do intarsia whilst on the move.

Here’s a stranded piece that I’m designing at the moment. See? So civilised that you can knit whilst you walk. Bet you couldn’t do intarsia whilst on the move.

Stranded/fairisle work, on the other hand, is a lot more civilized in my un-humble opinion, because even if your finished object is a wonder of many-hued complexity, you only have to wrestle two shades within any given row. Two! I can cope with two. I even have two hands: look! So I’ll leave the intarsia to octopuses and millipedes, thank you very much. Also to spiders, as long as they keep the hell away from me whilst they’re doing it.

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But despite the sanest of intentions, I still occasionally end up making something that involves a lot of different mini-balls of yarn, all at once. I know you can buy or make those mini-bobbins to control your wool, but they’re not much use for larger quantities of yarn and they’ve never completely saved me from the need to de-tangle. Elastic bands or hair bobbles can work quite well for larger quantities, if you remove the band from whichever ball of yarn is ‘live’ and then replace it when you swap to the next colour.

But the easiest technique that I’ve found to control the mess is to use small butterfly hairclips. AND they can cope with both larger and smaller quantities of yarn.

Some people think these are for hair. They're not: they're for YARN.

Some people think these are for hair. They’re not: they’re for YARN.

See?

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Quick to take off and then put back on as you swap each colour in and out, you can even use them to clip the yarn to the actual knitting so that there’s NO WAY it can sneak off for a group hug with its neighbours. Your knitting will still move happily along the cable/needle when you do this. Result! Problem solved!

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So far, I’ve only discovered two disadvantages to this technique. First, when I’m doing intarsia, I CAN NEVER FIND ANYTHING TO CLIP MY FLIPPIN’ HAIR. And second, if you leave your knitting lying around like this, you risk coming back to find all the clips missing, and several small children running around giggling at the clips on their hair, their ears, their noses, the curtains… I haven’t yet found a good technique for managing tangled children, sorry.

And look, you can pick the whole thing up and NOTHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS!

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I still don’t like intarsia, though.

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  • Just in case you’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ (by which I mean ‘soul-wrenching torment’), intarsia in knitting or crochet involves working a picture or motif by swapping in and out different shades of yarn as needed, without carrying them all the way across the work as you would in stranded work. OK, that’s not the best description: go take a look at THIS.

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Village Knitting

I love our village.

It’s the type of place where you can sit in the pub with knitting and crocheting friends talking about anything, whilst people play cards at the next table and a dog snoozes near the door. There’s a fair-to-middling chance of bumping into someone you know when you haul your rear out of the sofa and get up to fetch more drinks. Occasionally there’s even a rival knitting group around.

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Look! On the table, between the wine glasses! Gorgeous self-striping yarn in my friend’s jumper-in-progress for her son. There she is on the left, beginning the next section.

People here talk to you because they’ve seen you around. They usually want to know exactly which house you live in, which tends to freak out folk who’ve only just moved here from London and who aren’t yet accustomed to revealing such incredibly personal information to anyone who isn’t their legal spouse. Anyway you get talking, and quite soon you can’t remember a time when you didn’t know these people. That said, you probably should have paid more attention five years ago when they introduced themselves, because this many conversations down the line, it’d be kind of awkward to admit that you can’t actually remember their name.

Most people say hello or at least smile when you pass them in the street, although it’s important to remember to switch off that habit when you venture anywhere more urban, to avoid looking like an oddball country bumpkin. (I call it ‘flight mode’, because all non-essential communications are turned OFF.)

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Look at my friend’s cabling! Is that fabulous or what?

I love going running on the various tracks out into the countryside, and witnessing the seasons played out across the Oxfordshire landscape.

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One day recently, I’d just landed back in the village after a run, and as I turned onto the High Street, out of breath, hurty of lung, sore of foot, and malodorous of lycra, I noticed somebody meddling with a signpost in the distance. What outrage was this?! Some n’er-do-well spoiling our neighbourhood? Surely not!

Getting closer, there was a certain familiarity about the miscreant, and also about their bicycle, which was leaning against a nearby fence, its basket adorned with crochet. Hmm, could that be a clue to their motive?

I limped closer. (Have I mentioned the sore foot?)

And then I realized that the brazen daylight misbehaviour I was witnessing was yarn-bombing in progress, and that the perpetrator was my friend and allotment-mate, whom I am forbidden to name here by the terms of the Yarn Bombers’ Charter. Totes soz, but that’s one of her hands on the left in the picture below.

Our village lanes have long been the background to some pretty lovely yarn-bombing, but witnessing the act in progress felt a little like catching Banksy at work. What could I do, but go over and offer to help? (Out of consideration for my friend’s welfare, I did try to stand downwind of her – it had been a tough run.)

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She was sewing beautiful knitted panels around lamp-posts. Each year, her pieces have a theme (buttons, for example), and this year, it’s tassels.

How gorgeous and cheering is her work?! Look at those textures! Look at the colours! She also knits twiddlemuffs for dementia patients at the nearest hospital.

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So we got chatting, whilst she sewed up the knitting, but there was also a tiny problem. It was the day of the Open Gardens in the village, when owners of infinitely grander plots than ours throw open their wrought iron gates for anyone who wishes to come and see. Maybe we should have opened ours, as a sort of deranged, toy-strewn parody. We could call it ‘Future Garden’. Or possibly ‘Past Garden’. It’s still very much a work in progress, but in a year’s time, it’s going to be AMAZING.

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Anyway, as part of this event, there was to be an exhibition of wedding dresses from times past at the church, so the call had gone out for anyone who owned a tailor’s dummy to come and lend it for the day so that the dresses could be displayed. (I’m getting to the point of all this, really I am. Or at least, I’m limping slowly in its general direction – I’ve got this painful foot, you see…)

We happen to own a very basic tailor’s dummy, so I’d already offered it for the exhibition. There was plenty of time to get home from my run, shower, dress in more appropriate clothing, and saunter along to the church, humming a tune, with the dummy under my arm, doing a convincing impression of someone who is calm, dignified, and whose hair isn’t feral.

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Or at least there would have been, had I not spent ages chatting to the village yarnbomber, holding her work in place so that she could sew, and taking photographs. Suddenly it was five minutes before the dummy deadline, and I hadn’t even made it home. Oops. (I knew the Stoic Spouse wouldn’t be worried: when I roll in late, he just says ‘I assumed you got talking to someone’. He’s generally correct.)

There definitely wasn’t going to be time for everything.

All of this is a very lengthy explanation of why, just before 1pm, I sprinted the entire length of the High Street, listing slightly to starboard because of my busted foot, sweating revoltingly, and with a large tailor’s dummy gripped under my arm like I was kidnapping it. Dignity? Meh, dignity’s for wimps.

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And no, there are no photographs. Or at least I don’t think there are. And if there are, could we please meet at the pub to discuss what you would consider to be a reasonable fee for their destruction? Thank you.

The open gardens were splendid by the way, even in the rain.

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And I got to climb the church tower…

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…to see the old church bells…

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…and the view from the top, albeit in the drizzly gloom…

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As I said, I do love this village, yarn-bombing and all. 🙂

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