More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Monday, 17 December 2012

Festival of Angels

While rushing around York this weekend trying to nail the last bit of Christmas shopping, I was stopped in my tracks in The Quarter.  Hordes of people surrounded a glittering pair of angel's wings, all vying for a position to take a picture. It quickly dawned on me that it must be the annual Festival of Angels, when local businesses each sponsor an ice sculpture to thank their customers. As a rule I don't go into town on the weekend, there's always too many people and shopping's always simpler mid-week, so although I'd often been told about this event, I'd never actually seen it.  Hadn't realised what a fabulous feast I was missing!
P couldn't resist the perfect photo opportunity of me standing in front of the wings - the closest I'll ever get to being an angel I fear! We got completely side-tracked from the shopping, taking pics of the rest of the other sculptures around the Quarter. As you can imagine from the name, there were many angels...

...but also bats
 ... and dogs ice bar, to warm up with a shot of vodka, straight from the ice optic.
One of the streets in the Quarter is called Swinegate, so of course there was a pig...
When we eventually got round to doing some of the shopping we'd come into town to do, we stumbled upon one of the sculptors at work, creating a bear in Kings Square.
Also along the way we saw a snowflake...
...beautiful stars
...Xmas trees

 ... a Viking king sitting on his ice throne outside Betty's
...and of course, many more angels

I'd been dreading jostling through the crowds, but what a great afternoon we had, with York in full festive spirit. We even managed to achieve everything we came in to do, which is a minor miracle in itself.
There was time on our way back for a steaming glass of mulled wine in a favourite pub under the bar walls. Before you start wondering what I'm on about, think I'd better explain the terminology here.  In York bar means gate, and gate means street, all very confusing for the visitor, but it dates back to the days when the entrances to York were barred by toll collectors. So... when I say under the bar walls, I don't mean we had a drink in a subterranean dungeon, but in a pub nestling beneath one of the gates of York's medieval wall.

We got back home just in time for a TV supper in front of the fire, watching the semi-finals of Strictly Come Dancing, which has become somewhat of a winter ritual with us. Love the OTT costumes, hair and make-up, sets, judges and of course the dance. Have to say I'm not really bothered who wins this year, but if pressed Kimberley Walsh is the one to watch. 

A cool Yule to you all!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Vole invasion!


We knew it would be cold, so the first thing we did when we got here was to turn on the heating and get the wood stoves lit.
First priority
However, we didn't quite reckon on the dubious welcome waiting for us. Unsuspecting, P emptied the car while I put the kettle on and then started to stash away the food that P was bringing in. Insert loud scream here...  On focusing on the kitchen proper I noticed that every counter was covered in mouse droppings, the sink and drainer included, they'd even been in the toaster! We'd made a huge effort over the summer to stop any potential routes of entry and had thought the house was now as mouse-proof as it could possibly be.  Then what happens - the worst mouse (or vole as it happens here) invasion ever! 

An hour-long cleaning session followed and I thought that was that, but when I went into the bedroom to put my clothes away, I noticed they'd even got upstairs and had eaten the feet, hands and nose off a teddy bear, the fringes off a rug, they'd been making free in the bath and when I raised the loo seat, horror of horrors, there was even one floating in the pan!!! Insert yet another loud scream here. Hoover in hand, another bout of cleaning ensued - only consolation was that at least it helped warmed us up.
Arlo thinks he can smell a mouse!
Django's keeping watch!
When P went to put on some music, he was exceedingly annoyed (understatement!) that they'd even nibbled his best headphones. However, three cheers for the cats, as soon as they were let out of their baskets they were immediately on the case and quickly caught three.  I'll spare you the pictures, but is this not the get-in from hell? 

Luckily we'd brought our supper with us - veggie cottage pie with a mixed root mustard mash topping.  We'd stopped at a farm shop on the way to stock up on vegetables, so all I had to do was braise a savoy cabbage with tomatoes, soy sauce and balsamic and it wasn't long before we were eating our, by then, well-deserved supper. Couple of glasses of wine went down very well too.

We woke up to a glistening frosty morning with the low-lying sun throwing rainbows all round the kitchen.  Wow, almost wishing we hadn't bothered to come the night before, but I wouldn't have missed this for the world. 

Full spectrum, couldn't have painted it better
We threw lots of layers on and went for a wander in the garden - who needs flowers when Jack Frost's paid a visit. Glittering fractals abound, there are textures to die for, each plant vying for centre stage, decked out in its crisp winter clothes.
Box circle
House leeks and thyme
When we were buying the house, the seller delighted in telling us we were buying into God's own land. We took it with a pinch of salt at the time, there are many beautiful places, but it's true to say  that whatever season, the landscape's never failed to be a feast for the eyes over the fifteen years we've lived here.

Not long though before coffee called us back inside, where we found a beautiful tortoiseshell butterfly. Confused by the sudden heat in the house, it had hatched that morning thinking it was spring. Felt so sorry for the poor thing, but at least it can have a cosy life while we're here.
Will finish on a high note.  Had a merry evening round at a friend's home recently. I was invited to join her in making a Christmas wreath, but I hadn't realised that Cathryn is no normal wreathmaker, she's a MASTER WREATHMAKER! We were incredibly industrious, oiled by the odd glass of the not-so-hard-stuff during the several hours of cutting and wiring lavender, bay, holly, ivy and cypress greenery from Cathryn's garden. But how proud was I when we'd finished our two wreathes. 
Our front door has never before been bedecked with such fabulous opulence! 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hand Felting and Stash Storage

I haven't revisited my Ask Jean archive for more than a year... where does the time go? So here are a couple of useful frequently-asked questions, first one about hand felting and the second about keeping your stash safe from the dreaded clothes moth.

I'm not a big fan of felted objects as I have a thing about the billiard board handle, but I often use felt as a detail for hats, in fact my fave hat which I wear all the time sports a felted flower.
Felted flower with leaves on the right finishes off my fave hat
Having said that on our recent knitters' tour to Ireland, I fell in love with a fabulous felted shawl. I was teaching a workshop at Powerscourt in Dublin. This is no ordinary shopping mall, but a real centre of excellence for fashion, arts, crafts and interiors and also home to This is Knit, a top-class wool shop. As I was leaving after my workshop I noticed a gaggle of my students in the nearby craft collective. They were all excitedly raving about a rail of felted shawls, each one crying out to be bought with its vibrant yet subtle hues. Much trying on ensued and all I can say is that by the time we left, the designer - whose name unfortunately I can't remember - must have been very pleased!
No scratchy feel here  as this is hand-felted wool
onto a silk background

Here's the original question about felting:
I have a couple of items that are ready to be felted.  Recently, I purchased a new front-loading washing machine that does not allow me to open the door during the cycle.  I am at a loss how to felt. Is it possible to felt without the agitation of the washer?  Please help! 
Relax, Paula, you can certainly felt small pieces just as well by hand.  However, once felted, the process is irreversible, so for the sake of your sanity and your treasured FOs, I’d strongly advise swatching first. However, providing you do swatch first, I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t continue to felt in your new machine.  When you say it doesn’t allow you to open the door during the cycle, I assume that’s because you want to monitor the felting to get the desired effect.  If you swatch and experiment with the cycles, you can still do this, and be fairly certain of the outcome, always remembering felting is not a precise science and surprises can happen! 
Felting (or fulling) depends collectively on how hot your water is, how hard your water is, how much it is agitated, the amount and kind of soap you use, what color the yarn is (I’m not joking!) and more. If you felt it a little, you’ll still have stitch definition, if you felt it more, you won’t.  If you’re still determined to try hand felting, the kitchen sink will be fine for small projects, but you’ll need larger buckets or maybe even the bath for larger pieces.  Here’s how:
1    wear rubber gloves, especially the ones with textured palms as this will help the fabric along
2      fill receptacle with hot soapy water (washing-up liquid is good, as are soap-based washing powders, but no biological detergents).  Add baking soda or washing soda to the water if you wish to speed up the process
3      submerge the article and rub vigorously – if you can get hold of an old washboard, all the better!  You may have to apply drops of soap to coax areas which seem resistant to felting
4      when you’ve achieved the desired level of felting, rinse thoroughly in cool water - this locks the fibres in place
5      roll in large towel and squeeze to extract excess moisture
6      lay the FO down on towel and reshape, pinning to size if necessary
7      air dry
Find out more in Complete Feltmaking: Easy Techniques and 25 Great Projects, Gillian Harris, St
Martin’s Griffin 2007 (paperback)     

PS Just had a message from Judy Baun re front-loading machines which could be helpful:
I am not sure why she can't felt in a front loading machine. Is it because the tumbling action of the machine won't felt the wool or the door is locked when the washer is running and she is unable to open the door to check her progress?
I have had my washing machine for a few years and just stumbled upon something.
If I push the start button while the washer is running it will pause and the door unlocks.  Push it again and the door locks and the program resumes where it left off.  I don't know if all front loading machines will do this but my LG does.   
Judy Baun

Seeing moth casts in one's stash has to be every knitter's nightmare. Having had the experience of opening a sealed plastic bag and finding its contents shredded, I'm now totally neurotic about storage. It's extremely difficult to totally mothproof your stash, but you can take a few small precautions to save you from this distressing experience. As it happened it was actually more upsetting for P, as it was one of his fleeces which had been languishing in the loft since he spun his last yarn several years ago! Thankfully, except for a few balls, my precious yarn was spared.

My local yarn shop had a closing down sale and I am now the proud owner of a rather large yarn stash.  Being realistic, it's going to take a long time before I've used it all up, so what is the best way to store it?  I lost a cashmere jumper to the dreaded moths recently and don't want my stash going the same way.  Should I keep it in the plastic bags it came in, or open it up and put anti-moth paper in between the balls?
Tineola bisselliella, aka the dreaded clothes moth is the bane of all stashers!  I assume you don’t want to go down the road of the chemical overkill - traditional mothballs are toxic, causing all kinds of health problems to humans, especially children. Here’s some natural tips on saving your newfound stash:
  • store in scrupulously clean environment - moths are attracted to food stains and grease, so frequent vacuuming is goodstore
  • store in see-through, large plastic bins
  • place moth trap (cheap and widely available) in each bin
  • strong fragrances repel moths, especially cedar, camphor, eucalyptus, lavender, cloves, rosemary, thyme, mint, dried orange peel, cinnamon sticks
  • raid the larder and/or garden and make up your own moth repellent sachets from either a mixture or just one ingredient from any of the above. Store one sachet in each bin
  • consider vacuum storage bags which protect against moths and other bugs, dust, mildew and odours -  dual function too,  as the space you save means you can have a bigger stash!
I'm off now to think some more about making my Christmas cake and mince pies. I have to admit even by my tardy standards I've left it till the eleventh hour this year, certainly if it's expecting its usual doses of brandy!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Battle of the Sexes: How Women and Men See Things Differently

Women are even more keen to look at the female body than men, scientists discover - UK -
Images like this one from the film Love Actually were used in the research
'via Blog this'

I'm wearing my proud mum hat this morning! Felix was just interviewed by John Humphreys on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Also there are several other online articles today in the Daily Telegraph, the National Geographic, The Scotsman and MailOnline relating to his recent paper published in Plos One.

If you're interested in reading the original article, Eye Movements to Natural Images as a Function of Sex & Personality here's the link.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The medieval magic of Bruges - Part 3

Whilst walking to our hotel on our first day I spotted the most gorgeous pair of red boots. It was all I could do to drag myself away, but I didn't stop then as I thought it would be easy to find the shop again later on in our stay. Best laid plans, my quest for the red boots had us walking the same route three times before finally stumbling on it somewhere completely different from where I'd remembered it. Aarrgh!! Anyway by this time, exhausted and cold, I was relieved to find they had just the right size and they fit like a glove. Kismet!
These boots were made for walking...
Wrapped up well against the damp weather, we did a lot of walking along the pretty canals. Bruges is utterly charming, especially with its autumn glow - there's lots to see and no shortage of coffee shops to dive into when you're flagging.

Regal lion presides over this bridge

Pretty lace at many windows
It was just a delight to explore the backstreets and criss-cross the canals over the ancient bridges, in fact everywhere we looked was a perfect photo opportunity. The locals are obviously into interiors and we saw some interesting little touches along the way.
One very cold but pretty bear :(
Love this garland
Preparing for Hanukkah
You've probably been wondering by now if we found any yarn shops. And yes, we did find three but don't hold your breath. One was closed, one had a very limited selection and the other one, big and inviting just off one of the main squares, did have a larger selection mostly of novelty yarns. Unfortunately though, it had such a bad smell of fetid water from the canal that I felt sick and couldn't bear to be in there. So all in all, not a great yarn experience, but then again Bruges more than compensates for that with all the other treasures that you can find there.
This shop sells wool but mainly for needlepoint
This shop was closed
One of the great pleasures of the trip was visiting the Groeninge Museum, which is heaving with Flemish Primitives paintings from the 15th century. I don't have the slightest idea why they're called 'primitive' as to my mind they're anything but, their detail and colour is just dazzling. Apparently the school became famous in the artists' own lifetimes, largely because they were the first to use pigments mixed with linseed oil instead of egg yolk, making the colour much more vibrant and revolutionising art in the Middle Ages. Their depiction of textiles, rugs and hair is so realistic and intricate, that you feel you can almost touch them.
We also visited a couple of smaller museums on our travels and found some interesting sculptures in the streets along the way.
The Arendshuis Museum
Horse sculpture in front of small gallery
Not technically a sculpture but rather grand object
Groeninge Museum
Our last night in Bruges was magical. We had a scrumptious meal in a little cafe off one of the squares serving freshly cooked local food, then off to see our friend Lieven Tavernier, who was playing with An PierlĂ© & White Velvet at the Stadsschouwburg Theatre.  It was a fabulous evening, ending in the artists' bar where we were able to catch up with Lieven and the band over several Belgian beers.
Stadsshouwburg Theatre
Lieven and the band on stage
View of the theatre seen from the stage
The final bonus was to be able to view the theatre in its full glory from the stage - yet another work of art - and such a wonderful ending to our stay in Bruges.