Yarn Bombing at The Alnwick Garden

Our Knit and Natter Group were one of several groups that were asked to take part in a yarn bombing event at The Alnwick Garden. If you’ve not come across yarn bombing before, it involves decorating somewhere, (such as a public space) with items made of yarn. I’ve seen several of these before, with knitted and crocheted items decorating trees, fences and iron railings, post boxes, statues, even a bicycle and a boat!. This is the first time I’ve taken part in anything like this before – I’ve really been looking forward to the project, especially in such lovely surroundings.

A few weeks back four of us visited the garden and chose this wooded area beyond the Rose Garden as the focus for our decorations. Members of our group have been making items for the project for a while but we were inspired with even more ideas once we knew the space we’d be using. Other parts of the garden are ablaze with colourful flowers at this time of year but the shady trees and the bright green foliage or our adopted patch provided a perfect backdrop for the colourful items we made. Last week we were back to install our work, with the support of one of the staff who has organised the event. Some other parts of the garden had already been decorated as we saw on on our way to our chosen site. The items had been made by other groups and also ndividuals, who have been leaving items for the staff to use for the decorations. We got to work….here are are the fruits of our labours!

The smaller trees were hung with brightly coloured twists and the trunks wrapped with striped crochet “scarves”.

Other items were hung up too.

We draped a garland of hearts on another tree and wrapped more around a large trunk.

Crocheted banners and strings of bunting were wrapped around other trees.

A butterfly was fixed to the bark of one of the trees, along with a flower garland.

More floral chains were added.

Finally, this “Knit and Natter” banner (made by A) was fixed to a large tree near the path.

With our work complete, those of us able to stay found a table in a quiet spot near the cafe and had a well-earned cuppa. Free of the constraints of our usual Zoom meetings, we nattered until the Garden was ready to close. What a lovely way to spend the afternoon!

The yarn bombing installation will remain at The Alnwick Garden for the next few weeks.

Have you ever taken part in a yarn bombing event? I’d love to hear more about it.

Knit and Natter Round Up

Our Knit and Natter Group continues to meet online every Friday. Here’s a selection of what group members have been working on.

Several members of the group have been working on blankets. L made this diagonal striped crochet one in shades of purple and lilac.

A has crocheted these baby blankets.

R has been working on this Aztec design knitted blanket. It’s a really eye catching, colourful pattern. She took it with her on a recent trip and joined our Zoom session from the train!

New member F loves making multicoloured scarves

Y has been knitting more projects from her Knit in a Box subscription.


She recently completed this child’s sweater dress with a bobble design, knitted in a gorgeous sunny yellow yarn.


The group were also asked to take part in a yarn bombing project at the Alnwick Garden,

We had a visit to pick a spot and we chose a patch of woodland near the Rose Garden. We’ve been knitting and crocheting an assortment of items to hang on, drape over and wrap around the trees.

I’ll post soon with photos of our yarn bombing adventure.

Overnight Drive North

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been away for three whole weeks (followed by the usual pile of laundry, taming the garden which has become a jungle in our absence and so on). We spent a week in the Outer Hebrides followed by two weeks in Wester Ross in the far north west of Scotland.

When the children were little we regularly drove overnight to the North of Scotland for holidays. It meant that they slept at the right time (both travelled well and usually dozed for much of the journey). Before we learnt the overnight drive trick it was impossible getting them to sleep the first night of the trip! We were tired for the first day but soon caught up on missed sleep. It became part of the adventure.

These days when it’s just the two of us (not forgetting the dog) we haven’t bothered but this trip involved being at Uig on the Isle of Skye on time for our booked ferry crossing to Lochmaddy on North Uist so we decided to share the overnight drive once again.

It worked a treat. There was absolutely no traffic. There seems to be a massive increase in the number of camper vans, including many hired ones, on the road this year as people look for alternatives to holidays abroad when COVID travel restrictions are still in force. By the time we set off they were all parked up for the night – the further north we got , the more we saw in the lay-byes we passed.

We also got to see things we never would have seen on a daytime drive.

There were red deer everywhere, grazing on the roadsides

We also came across this group of wild goats.

And as the sun rose the morning mist lay in the valley below us. Spectacular!

We made good time and crossed the bridge over to Skye early in the morning.

We stopped briefly in Broadford to refuel and then on to Uig on the north east of Skye. We passed this rocky pinnacle, The Old Man of Storr, on the way.

We arrived in good time for our ferry. This was the first time we’ve taken Buddy the dog on one of the large ferries – there is a specific area of the passenger deck for people with their dogs. He was a very good boy and slept under our seats for most of the crossing. Later that afternoon we arrived in Lochmaddy, North Uist and drove to our accommodation for the week. We were met by the owner, Heather, who showed us around. We were staying in part of her large bungalow which has been split to include a self catering apartment – it was absolutely lovely, with every comfort. Let the holiday begin!

Dyeing to Cast On

Since my first attempt with acid dyes the other week I’ve been immersion dyeing some of my handspun alpaca fibre. The plan is to make a striped jumper for myself in pink and blue shades. had one in these colours years ago and although it was acrylic and mass produced I always loved those colours so I tried to copy them. I’m using a Drops pattern for the sweater but changing the stripe pattern – I worked out the total yardage needed for the pattern and divided it by the number of colours (6 including natural/undyed to get the amount for each batch (plus more of the colour I’m using for welt, cuffs and neckband). I hope I’ve been generous enough with my estimates!

Never one to throw anything away and always trying to find a second life for single use plastics I cut up plastic carrier bags to loosely tie the skeins of undid yarn using a figure of eight – this stops the strands bunching together so the dye reaches them.

Each batch was weighed to calculate the amount of dye needed and soaked for an hour in plain water.

Immersion dyeing seems to give the best solid colour. I I followed the instructions in the dye kit I have from DT Crafts to mix 1% dye solutions with citric acid. The dye baths were prepared with about 4l water plus the dye solution measured out for each batch of yarn dry weight and heated in the hob to just under a simmer for 20 minutes or until the dye cleared.

The pan was then left to cool and then the yarn rinsed, gently squeezed in a towel and hung to dry. I hook the skeins over the back of a clothes peg so it dries easier and without kinks.

The first batch used Hue and Dye blue, in a 1% solution 100mls for every 100g dry weigh yarn and it gave a lovely cornflower blue – exactly what I wanted. The navy dye in the kit had a hint of purple and I wanted it bluer so I mixed my navy and blue 1% stock dyes 50:50 – the colour needed to be darker so I used twice as much (200mls per 100g dry weigh yarn)

For the deep burgundy colour I used 5 parts red to 2 parts blue with a tiny drop (less than 1ml) of 1% black, at 200mls per 100g – the double strength gave a good deep colour.

The blush pink needed to be very pale – I mixed 5 parts red to 1 part blue and diluted the mix to 0.1% (a tenth of the original stock solution this came out rather deeper than expected, almost salmon rather than pale blush

The final dye lot was supposed to be a fuchsia pink with a violet hue – I experimented with different proportions adding a drop onto kitchen paper to compare samples. In the end I mixed 9 parts magenta to 1 part violet. – it looked perfect on the paper but came out more of a cerise pink – it seemed that the red pigment took to the yarn more intensely than the blue pigment.

My only worry was the two pink shades (I’m very fussy about colours). I could have spun more yarn and done another batch with a more dilute dye mix to give a paler version. I could have overdyed the cerise pink with a dilute blue/violet to give the desired result. I actually love both the pinks I dyed, so I decided to keep them and just make sure that the knitted stripes of these shades are not adjacent to each other. After trying various combinations I decided on this sequence, starting with the navy for the ribbing.

And now I’m cast on! With sweaters and other large items I tend to knit them on and off over several months so it will be a while but I will post updates, This will be the first Item I’ve made for myself from the raw alpaca I got last year – I have done several small Items as gifts – it’s also my first hand dyed garment – so quite a landmark project.

Have you made something from animal (in my case friends’ alpaca) to finished garment? I’d love to hear about it.dyeing,acid dyes

Trouble at Mill but Eurovision Saves the Day: Emerging from Lockdown

Social lives have been on hold for many months but things are unlocking at last. I’m pleased to announce that I actually went to a party at the weekend and it was great!. The invite called it a festival – there would be a screening of the Glastonbury Live Stream. Festival wear was encouraged. (Shorts and wellies? Glittery make up? Flowers in hair? It was cold so I settled on lots of layers….and glittery make up! Daughter went with shorts and wellies.

Our lovely hosts live in a spectacular mill conversion in an idyllic riverside location. The original mill workings have been preserved and make a fascinating feature and a reminder of the history of the building.

The guests were congregating at the back of the house, sheltered by walls on three sides with a view across to the river on the fourth. It was lovely to see friends for the first time in such a while. As we arrived a batch of food was brought from the barbecue to a table already groaning under the weight of food and drink. The resident dogs, Doug and Dave, were very well behaved but never strayed far from that table in case anyone dropped a treat in their direction. Dave posed beautifully for a picture. This is so unlike our lab, Buddy who always turns away if he sees a camera.

A large screen was set up under a gazebo ready with a projector for the Glastonbury Live Stream. You can just see it behind daughter on the right.

The music festival was cancelled this year because of the Pandemic, but were to stage a one night event (without a live audience) for streaming. Due to a wide reaching technical problem many people across the country couldn’t get the live feed and we were no exception. But all was not lost as there was another huge music event being broadcast at the same time: The Eurovision Song Contest.

If you live outside the European Broadcasting Union and haven’t come across it before, Eurovision is a phenomenon that started in the 1960s. Membership has now increased to include former soviet countries, the states that make up what was Yugoslavia, also Israel and even Australia!. Each country submits a song and the show is broadcast simultaneously across all the competing nations. The performances are often over-the-top to the point of being bizarre with staging far more memorable than the music, but it’s fun with all those glitzy costumes, weird visual effects and enthusiastic dancers! The scoring takes forever as each nation’s jury assigns their points. There’s a lot of geopolitics going on with that part of it. Eurovision is as camp as Glastonbury is cool, but it certainly added to the party spirit on Saturday,

As the sun went down and the moon rose it got a lot cooler.

More logs were piled on the fire pit and we gathered round to stay warm

This must be the first party I’ve been to in over a year and it felt great. Thanks so much to our lovely generous hosts A and T. Your inaugural Festival at the Mill was brilliant.

Knit and Natter 21st May

Here’s what group members have completed recently, starting with A’s stunning mosaic crochet throw pictured above. Mosaic crochet involves working into the front and the back of each stitch, effectively making it double thickness. It’s chunky yarn too so it’s very heavy (must be lovely and warm though).

L finished her tshirt top. I love the boat neckline. She’s not happy about the length though so we discussed possible ways to lengthen it,

Y showed us her adorable baby blanket adorned with cats, hearts and elephants,

R joined us from the train! That’s real dedication to the group! it looked pretty empty so no one could mind her chatting to us.

The yarn has arrived for her Aztec Banket Knit-a-long so she was about to start the first part. Gorgeous colours!

I’ve cast on the jumper I’ve been prepping spinning and dyeing alpaca fibre for. This has been a long time coming!

I’m always amazed at the volume of beautifully made items the group produce, even when there are only a few of us. Go Knit and Natterers!!

Return of the Ukeladies: Emerging from Lockdown

On Monday it was the next stage of reopening from the Pandemic Lockdown, with hospitality venues open inside, upto six people able to meet indoors at home and up to thirty outside. Hugs are legal again too. All this is happening despite the spread of the more infectious Indian variant of the virus, frequent testing and vaccine take up is being encouraged . Both main vaccines used in the UK have been found to be effective against the variant, especially after both doses.

The Thursday before, at our regular Zoom meeting, my Ukelele group discussed meeting in person again. The Village Club where we used to meet reopened on Monday. Most wanted to meet there but I really wasn’t sure. The Covanxiety I mentioned in my post a few days ago was holding me back and I couldn’t make my mind up.

If I agreed to go I’d have spent the week stressing about it and if I decided not to I’d hate the thought of missing out. So I dealt with the potential stress and FOMO by deferring my decision until the last minute. I worked really hard to get out more and start feeling a bit better about returning to normal activities with a hair appointment, a couple of shopping trips and a visit to a cafe. After that I was feeling a lot more confident about going along to play on Thursday.

Although the Zoom meetings are great and we will continue to host them from the club for those who can’t make it yet, they are not perfect. One person has to lead each tune and the rest mute, listen and play along unheard by the rest. The timelag, however slight, causes total cacophony otherwise.

When I turned up on Thursday it was lovely to see everyone, especially those who haven’t been able to join us online. The Club had its COVID safety protocols in place. The room we use is quite large and we were able to space ourselves out. We opened the windows to maximise the ventilation and some of us wore masks. They are a lovely bunch and all realise that some us are more nervous about meeting again so there was no question about any of this – we all just did it.

When we started to play I think we all felt a bit giddy. We launched into ‘The Deadwood Stage’ with gusto and at breakneck speed, then settled down to play ‘Eight Days A Week’ at more like our usual tempo. There were fits of giggles every time we had to wrestle with a difficult chord. Some of the tunes, like the sea shanty “Wellerman”, are pretty new to us so it was the first time we’d played it together – it was performed with lots of enthusiasm! I think it will become a regular favourite.

It was also the first time we’d seen the beautiful banjolele that Stella got at Christmas.

It was so nice not to have to watch the corner of a screen for the time counting down to the end of 40 minutes (the maximum length of a meeting on the free version of Zoom)!

We were able to get through more tunes with time to chat in between, but after what still seemed quite a short time we’d got through the list. Time really does fly when you are having fun. in normal times we’d retire to the bar for another drink, but we decided to leave that for another time.

I’m so glad I decided to go. The Ukeladies are back!

Are any of your regular activities restarting?

Druridge Bay in May

We often meet Daughter for a walk at Druridge Bay Country Park. The weather was lovely the other day so off we went, accompanied by Buddy the Labrador of course!

Spring flowers are everywhere and I spotted one I haven’t seen in ages. This is doves-foot cranesbill.

The little pink flowers resemble those of Herb Robert, another member of the cranesbill family, but that has fern-like leaves. Doves-foot craneshill has clumps of round, lobed leaves.

On the lake the paddle boarders were out in force and and a lone windsurfer sailed by . We noticed a straw bale floating in the water. Our first thought was that it had been dumped there, but then we spotted another, then another across the other side. . They had been deliberately placed in the water all around the lake.

We suspect this is being done to control the growth of algae. Straw, especially barley straw, produces substances as it breaks down and these inhibit algal growth. This form of control is preferable to less environmentally friendly chemical herbicides. In the past we’ve seen warning notices posted in the park about toxic blue-green algae. During such an algal bloom people are advised to stay away from the water. Algal toxins can be fatal to dogs so pets should also be kept out of the water. These blooms usually occur in hot dry weather.

Although there were quite a lot of people about, they were spaced out in the park. The only exceptions to this were the children’s play area and the car park. Some people were having their picnic right by their vehicle, which seemed rather sad when there are so many other lovely spots across the park.

The beach had more people than I’d seen in a while, but was not exactly crowded!

In the visitor centre there was an exhibition of wildlife paintings by local artist Diane Patterson. She paints on wood and the grain inspires the picture, often forming the background landscape. I particularly liked her portraits of hares.

We stopped for a takeaway hot chocolate and then continued on around the lake.

The cowslips have been flowering for a while but we found a huge patch of them which looked quite spectacular.

Bluebells are in full bloom on the edge of the wooded areas.

I love our walks at Druridge Bay!Drurid

A Hairdo and a Hug: Emerging From Lockdown

The UK is gradually emerging from lockdown and freedoms are returning, but after all this time I’ve been finding it all more difficult than I thought I would. Part of this was that having to make yet another readjustment. I’ve got quite used to staying at home to stay safe. On odd occasions I’ve been out I wear my mask and socially distance like a pro. It’s become so normal that watching an old film or TV show looks quite weird when people are close together! Until recently there was part of me that wondered if it was all worth it if infections rose again to the point that COVID safety measures would have to be reintroduced. As the vaccination programme rolls out at a brisk pace and and community transmission has so far remained low despite some relaxations of the rules, it really is looking better.

Also, I’ve had my first dose of the vaccine, which still confers a good amount of immunity (though of course I will get my second injection when it is due). Here in Northumberland infection rates are very low and though they fluctuate a little, the numbers involved are not significant. With all this good news you’d think I’d be raring to go. I’m a science graduate: I understand how viruses and vaccines work and know how to interpret the statistics, but somehow I seemed to have lost my confidence to interact beyond my family bubble and the various Zoom groups I’m in. I’ve developed COVanxiety! I’m working hard to change though.

When hairdressers reopened last month I gave it a week for the initial rush to recede before I made an appointment They have been incredibly busy but managed to fit me in on Saturday for my first visit in over a year. Last year I remained cautious and put it off….then we locked down again. My hair, which is usually styled in a jaw-length bob, had grown well past my shoulders and was very grey. Some people can really rock long grey hair buti’m not one of them. I just looked like a washed out mess. I pinned it up most of the time. It didn’t help when K commented about my Mary Beard look. If you haven’t come across Professor Beard, she is an eminent historian and broadcaster. I love her documentaries but not her hair!

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the hairdresser. My usual stylist was having a well-earned day off but I was well looked after by lovely Livvy, a friend of my daughter’s that I’ve known since she was little. My hair is now neatly trimmed just to my shoulders (any shorter would have been too much of a shock after achieving such length!) I can see from under my fringe and the grey is gone. It’s not just the pampering. Having a coffee and chatting with people I haven’t seen in ages (and total strangers) was quite a refreshing change. Livvy did a great job!

On Monday, bars and restaurants were allowed to have customers back inside and cautious hugging could resume. I went to see my mum for a legal hug! Although we’ve seen each other every week and are part of the same family support bubble, we’ve maintained a safe distance for months. We are both huggers and it felt good!

Since my haircut I feel ready to start facing the world again so I’ve been working hard to get out more. I went shopping two days running and ended up in a cafe for hot chocolate and cake today. Confidence is returning and it feels good.

How is your post-lockdown readjustment going?

May Wildlife Walk

I haven’t scooted down my regular route in a while so, as the weather was pleasant, we did the local dog walk on Friday. It was cloudy and cool, but not unpleasantly cold.

Acid yellow fields of oilseed rape in full bloom really stand out from the rest of the landscape .

Newly emerged arable crops are still so small that the rows are clearly visible.

There are plenty of lambs about too.

On the verges, dandelions and lime green spikes of crosswort dominate.

The first red campion flowers have opened. They will flower all summer.

A few bluebells can be seen in the shade of the hedgerows.

Patches of primroses, my favourite spring flower, are flowering profusely.

Garlic hedge mustard grows under the hedges too. This is the food plant of the orange tip butterfly. I only saw one. On sunny days there are more.

Under the trees the blue of the forget-me-nots stands out

Hawthorn flower buds are just opening. The saying “Cast ne’er a clout till may is out” refers to hawthorn or may blossom rather than the month. It basically means that you shouldn’t shed any clothes (clouts) until the flowers are fully open. I’m keeping the layers on for now!

I could hear lots of birds but no lapwings or skylarks, which usually nest in the fields here. I must listen out for them. I could hear the yellowhammers though. I love their lilting song.

Emerging bumblebees were particularly enjoying the nectar of the white deadnettles

In the woods, by the stream the red stems of water avens flowers are emerging.

I hadn’t noticed this fallen branch before .It will soon be hidden by foliage, but for now you can see the mesh of honeysuckle stems that have grown around it.

wildlife walks

Most of the trees are covered in ivy. The stems at the foot of the trunks are quite old and gnarled, but honeysuckle is starting to grow through these too.

So many signs of spring, with lots of new growth and emerging spring flowers. This is such a hopeful time of year.

What are the spring highlights in your neighbourhood?