Sunday, 30 October 2016

FO: Iara Scarf from Pom Pom Magazine Autumn 2016

This weekend was astonishingly beautiful in the wilds of north east Scotland.

I spent most of Saturday shovelling leaves from the back door (5 wheelbarrows'-worth!) and pottering in my herb garden, putting things to rights before winter and planting bulbs.

I also took the time to sit down and finish off my Iara Scarf / Stole / long woolly wrappy thing.

 It is really really long.
And woolly.
And wrappy.

And I love it.

The pattern is by Renée Callahan, East London Knit, and was published in Pom Pom Quarterly in the Autumn 2016 issue.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Renée at the Curious Handmade Country House Retreat last weekend.
She designed this scarf to be knit using two shades of indigo-dyed yarn from Kettle Yarn Co.
And I was tempted...

But I had just freed-up this amazing mauvey magenta organic merino from Queen of Purls in Glasgow, originally intended to be part of a sweater.  It is a heavy sportweight two-ply which knits up as a very flat, matt fabric.

In contrast, the fluffy grey wool is pure Gotland from Guthrie the sheep :)
I feel like I know Guthrie personally, as I follow Hooligan Yarns on Instagram.

Say hello to Guthrie, children!
Hello Guthrie!
 Although similar in tone, the texture of this two-ply is very different:  it has a lovely halo.
It is significantly thinner than the purple yarn, but the fluffiness seems to fill in the gaps when knit up.
I bought a single skein specifically to knit this scarf.

And yesterday I scooped up  another armful of skeins from the 2016 shearing to knit a sweater.
Because who can resist a sheep with eyes like that?!

Before someone asks... the dip-dyed shirt-dress and cropped trousers are from Zara.
But the coat is me-made, using the Maya pattern by Marilla Walker.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Curious Handmade Country House Retreat

Last Thursday, I headed south to Cumbria for a much-anticipated Country House Retreat, organised by Helen Stewart of the Curious Handmade podcast, and designer behind The Shawl Society.

It was a glorious weekend of autumnal sunshine, knitting before breakfast, workshops, talks, yarn-fondling and delicious meals in the company of a really friendly group of fellow-crafters.

We were staying in a stately home.
Yes, really.
 I was lucky enough to get the last single room.  Each bedroom was decorated in a different style.  Mine was the Chinese Room.

Photo credit:  Helen Stewart, Curious Handmade
Our workshops were held at a long kitchen table with views of the cobbled courtyard and walled gardens beyond, including a wonderful little orchard.

Espaliered pear tree in the walled garden

I took part in a natural dye-ing workshop with Mette, who organised the retreat with Helen.
Mette demonstrated dye-ing with onion skins, avocado kernels and chlorophyll and a few of us dyed silk scarves using the pre-prepared vats.

Naturally dyed scarves - mine is on the far right
There was also the opportunity to learn brioche basics with Renee Callahan, East London Knit.
Although I know my way around brioche, I was keen to join in.
I highly recommend Renee's teaching style, if you ever get a chance to take a class with her.

Brioche class in action.  Helen is thinking...
Renee is wearing her Enso sweater in this picture.
That pattern went straight to the top of my queue when I saw the garment in real life.

And that is the thing about being in the company of knitters:  everyone had something interesting on the needles, or round their shoulders.
So many beautiful shawls!
Project bags galore!
And so much to talk about!

There was a mini-market, where Daphne from the Fibre Company was showing her wares, alongside Julie of Suffolk Socks.

I didn't buy any yarn (!) but was more than satisfied with the amazing Arranmore in our goodie bags.
Mine is in the colour Slieve Sunset, a rich and glowing magenta with neps of blue and yellow.

Helen included her patterns for the Bracile hat and cowl and several people got going on their projects straight away.

I was working on my Honey Badger socks using a sock blank from Stranded Dyeworks.
This was the first time I had used a sock blank and I was surprised to find I really enjoyed it  -  the "ripped out wool" feeling was a good one when knitting at sock-tension.
The great thing about a sock blank is it stays put as you knit - no stray balls rolling off down the aisle of the train - perfect!
I love how this colourway (Street Art) knitted up.

I also made good headway with my Iara stole.
I should have that finished this week.

All too soon it was time to leave.
My train was an hour late, so I am hopeful of a "delay repay" to fund some of the woolly inspirations I brought home :)

Helen is planning another retreat in March (before the Edinburgh Yarn Festival), and again in October next year.
Listen out on the podcast for news of how to reserve a place.
I might see you there!

Photo credit:  Helen Stewart, Curious Handmade

Monday, 10 October 2016

Story Time

First thing to say - thank you everyone who questioned the wisdom of me reducing my intake of eggs or sugar or indeed anything else, on the grounds that I might waste away!
Honestly?  I agree!  I find it unbelievable that someone who wears the smallest available size of Zara trousers can be consuming too many calories.
So I have abandoned the food diary.
Instead I am trying to increase my intake of protein... from sources other than Kitkats!

It has been a while since I wrote about my reading.
I am making the most of an Audible subscription, which gives me a single audiobook of my choice for £7.99 a month, when the list price is often in the region of £15 to £20.  Typically, that is 10 to 20 hours of having someone read to me while I knit or spin or walk in the fields - an absolutely priceless treat when you live alone.  Sometimes I lack the willpower to eke my listening out across the month and succumb to a "3 for £18" top-up deal.  This is a great way to broaden my horizons and try something that wasn't on my wish list.

After "The Strays" by Emily Bitto, I listened to "The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry.
Once again I inadvertently chose a book about a woman whose husband died.  Sigh.
I have a homing instinct, clearly.
Cora is a strong woman and I enjoyed her preference for men's boots and descriptions of her "blazing with happiness" upon finding herself freed from the responsibilities of someone else's illness.
I can relate to that.
Less so her penchant for wallowing in bogs with the local vicar, after saying she didn't need men anymore - ha!
The plot is peppered with self-conscious exhibitions of Victoriana.  I thought I should have a copy of the "Field Guide to Victorian Literature" to hand (if such a thing existed!) to tick off the cultural references - oh look that's very Thomas Hardy!  Oh, hello -  there's a spot of Emily Bronte!  Mr Ruskin, I presume?
But perhaps that is because the author is writing for literature graduates who will feel all smug and clever when they "get it".  It worked for me.
Perhaps the narrator got a bit carried away at times, but this is the risk you take with a talking book.
On balance I would recommend it.

Right now I am listening to "Orphans of the Carnival" by Carol Birch.
The reader of this one deserves an award for her precisely defined "voices".
The subject matter is uncomfortable, but the author is unflinching in her exploration of "difference".
I just read the Guardian review and I am surprised that the reviewer found the story dragged - perhaps I have not reached that bit yet.  Or perhaps I am reaping the benefits of having a good narrator, who really knows how to build the atmosphere.

In actual words-in-front-of-my-eyes reading, I downloaded the Kindle app to my phone for the sole purpose of reading Larissa Brown's new novel So Wild a Dream.  That's commitment for you!  I am surprised to find that I enjoy reading e-books in bed, because I can make the print big enough to see without my glasses and just snuggle down to sleep when I get tired.

Note on pictures:
This weekend three tree-feller fellas came to play in my garden.
Two 30-foot-high dead trees were dropping branches rather too near to my house and car every time the wind blew.
There was also a leylandii situation down by the old caravans...
So the gamekeeper and the farmer and his son came along with a couple of chainsaws, a digger and some rope.

The rope broke three times before they gave in and borrowed something stronger from the neighbour up the hill.  Unfortunately, the tree was by this point balanced on a one-inch deep wedge of decayed wood...
Words fail me.
Nobody was injured, but a healthy tree lost a substantial branch when the dead one went down sideways.

Friday, 7 October 2016

My Sweet Life: the Bitter Facts

I am trying to live a healthier life.
As well as my new Jazzercise regime (woo hoo!) I have made changes to my diet, increasing my fruit and veg intake and decreasing the meat and dairy.  I am neither vegan nor vegetarian, but I am heading in that direction.

I started tracking what I eat at Livestrong, because I have never understood the report I received when I took part in a workplace eating survey, which suggested I was eating 3 times as much as I ought.
If that was true, I thought, I would be obese by now!
It should be much easier to control my diet now, as I am not catering for anyone else.  I can make my own choices.
Looking back, I realise that FL and I got through rather a lot of pies and puddings and wine...!

However, even on what I thought of as a healthy day, Day One of Livestrong tracking saw me overshoot my recommended calories by 30% and my levels of sugar and cholesterol were too high, while my protein level was too low.

This was really disappointing.

The Livestrong tracker lets you drill down into each item of food, to see where the trouble lies.
Eggs (my main source of protein that day) sent my cholesterol count soaring.
Fruit clocked up the sugar.

I decided to look at the mythical Kitkat.
If I choose to eat my previously-daily treat it adds 232 calories, which is less than a Mars Bar and therefore didn't really bother me... until I realised that 99 of those calories come from fat and that it contains 23g of sugar.
My recommended daily allowance of sugar according to Livestrong (based on my current weight and height) is 29g.

The Maths:
There is 7g of sugar in a single clementine.  I eat three of those a day, plus a pear (14g) and sometimes an apple too (15g)... oh and during the week I grab a Tesco fruit salad (13g)
21 + 14 + 15 +13 = 63g

Bang!  That's me at more than double the limit already!

Add a Kitkat at 23g and I am clocking in at 86g of sugar on a typical day, when I didn't drink any alcohol or add in any desserts.
The 2.6g of protein in that Kitkat should really not be viewed as a positive, but hey, I will grab my brownie points where I can!

I'll give you another example.
This morning I ate a small bowl of unsweetened muesli (16g) with half an apple in it (7g), and at 10am I ate a clementine (7g).  That's me at 30g already.
And oh look - there goes my Friday Kitkat (23g)!


The Kitkat wrapper says:
Per 100g
Per serving**
Reference Intake*


of which: saturates
of which: sugars
*Reference Intake of an average adult (8400kJ/2000kcal).
**Per bar.

Portions should be adjusted for children of different ages.

What I find really interesting is that the wrapper on my Kitkat tells me that the "Reference Intake" of sugar is 90g.
That's three times higher than Livestrong recommends.

I thought (hoped) they might be over-stating the case, so checked the NHS website:

Added sugars shouldn't make up more than 5% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. This is about 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over.

I clearly have some work to do on my sugar-filled diet.

The good news is that my increased level of activity counterbalances the occasional calorific indulgence: 45 minutes of Jazzercise equals one Kitkat - boom!

But I definitely need to address my protein deficiency:  I only manage to consume about a third of my recommended intake a day.
This is why people eat meat!

I am horribly aware of my tendency to obsess about these things.
I must beware orthorexia.
But I am genuinely shocked that I have been getting it so wrong.

Monday, 3 October 2016

FO: Thesally Cardigan from Pom Pom Magazine

I have already documented my issues concerning yardage for this cardigan.

If you want to knit it full-sized, and have 200m skeins of yarn, you will need  an extra skein (for size 2).  Do the maths if you are making a larger size.

I did not have an extra skein.

So I have shorter sleeves and a cropped body.
And it is a bit narrower than I had hoped too.

I had perhaps 3 metres of yarn left out of 600m.

Which is fine for a spring / summer cardigan.

And it is undeniably pretty.


Pattern:  Thesally Cardigan by Hanna Maciejewska from Pom Pom Magazine, Autumn 2016
Errata here.

Yarn:  Merino DK from Gregoria Fibers, 200 metres per 100g skein.
This is an 8-ply, hard twist yarn, rather like Wollmeise Pure.
It is speckle-dyed using plant materials and looks beautiful.

It is not to be confused with the yarn used by the designer, which is a single-ply soft yarn, with 250 metres to the 100g skein, from the same dyer.


It is a lovely garment.
I am just a bit deflated because it is not the big, swingy, snuggly garment I was expecting.
I thought I was knitting an autumn / winter cardigan.