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Searching at Sunrise

I’m not exactly a morning person, but there were rather special circumstances yesterday morning which led me to see the sun come up. Of course being late December it wasn’t that early.

I was there for a rather sad reason. We always keep an eye out for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) when we are at the beach or in our boat. We always report any sightings to add to the body of knowledge about their distribution. Over the last few days there had been a number of sightings of a pod of four sperm whales, quite close inshore. This was not good news. The sperm whale is a deep water species, feeding on squid, which again is only found in deep water. These were not where they should be. Our coastal waters are far too shallow and they would not be able to feed. They would be starving, probably dehydrated and sick. Local experts predicted that the whales would probably strand on the overnight tide and asked for volunteers to help locate them.

When whales strand, it is very very unlikely that they will be refloated and swim away. It seems that they come ashore to die. It was important to find them before the general public. After another stranding further south recently, someone turned up with tools to hack out a tooth as a souvenir. I feel they should be able to die with some dignity with bystanders kept at a distance. It is vital that as much data can be collected from the carcasses as possible to help us find out why whale strandings occur.

So that’s why we needed to be checking the beach at first light. I went to Alnmouth, but thankfully there was no sign of the whales. The sunrise was glorious though.

Volunteers searched the coastline and maintained a vigil all day, but the whales had disappeared without trace. It’s a longshot, but we all hope they’ve managed to get far enough north and east to be able to feed and survive.

Today was beautiful: sunny, calm and clear. so we headed for Sugar Sands for the dog walk. The beach is accessed via a gated farm track and there is an honesty box by the farm gate to pay your 50p car park fee (proceeds go to the local church). This allows you to park overlooking the bay.

Thankfully no sperm whales (I’ll post updates if hear anything more) but lots of birds, including cormorants, eider ducks and gulls on the water and a large flock of curlew and oystercatcher in the next field. I was checking out the eider ducks with the binoculars and saw a harbour porpoise. It surfaced three times, quite a long way into the bay before I lost track of it. Wonderful!

I did remember to bring my knitting, but didn’t do much – it’s a twiddle mitt, almost ready to cast off and embellish with buttons and beads. I’m wearing one of my Christmas presents: fingerless gloves from Turtle Doves. They are made from recycled cashmere sweaters: lovely and warm and perfect for alfresco knitting on a cold day.

Have you spotted any interesting wildlife near where you live?

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Knitting In Miniature

Sometimes you see someone else’s project and can’t help but be impressed. When a friend of mine posted this photo on social media I was intrigued. She’s a skilled maker and creates the most magnificent quilts (among other things), but these tiny knits are on a different scale entirely.

She knit them on hatpins! She reckons they are the equivalent of old UK size 24 needles, about the same thickness as sewing needles and very bendy. The cream jumper was made with fine crochet cotton (the sort you make lacy doilies with). The striped jacket is from a very fine old mercerised cotton that was given to her by an old lady (my grandmother used to use this to make tatted lace). The pink crochet is single strand embroidery thread.

Impressive work! I remember knitting dolls’ clothes when I was little and they always looked ridiculously chunky for the size of the garments (being made with average sized needs and DK yarn). These would have been perfect.

Have you been inspired or amazed by someone else’s work?

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Crafty Christmas Presents

I got some great Christmas presents, and there was a definite crafty feel to some of them. They included…..

  • A kit to make a needle felted badger. Love these little needle felted animals.
  • A kit to make a needle felt picture – something I haven’t used this technique for
  • a set of knitting looms . These have been very popular with one of my knit and natter groups andI mentioned it in a blog post.
  • A book about needle felting to make dogs. Maybe I can make a replica of our Buddy!
  • A mug which says “Talk to the hand. I’m Knitting” How true. But people will insist on trying to talk to you when you are counting stitches. How rude!
  • Blogging for Dummies. Hmm. I thought K liked my blog. I’ll just have to read the book and see if I can do better!

I am lucky! Can’t wait to start using these.

Did you get any interesting Christmas gifts?

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The Table Gifts – Last Project Before Christmas!

We have a family tradition of putting small wrapped gifts at each place setting for Christmas Dinner. This year I made these tree decorations. I couldn’t post these before Christmas Day and spoil the surprise for our diners.

To get the basic design shapes I found Google images for each of the figures and zoomed to get each image to the right size for a tree decoration. I was going to print these out, but ended up just tracing the the shape on copier paper held up to the screen. This gave me the templates for cutting out the shapes from felt, two for each.

These were the simplest two to make. It was easier to add the features to the front piece before sewing the two sections together. For the penguin I appliquéd a white oval with a notch out of the top end, then added black sequins for eyes and a yellow diamond shape for the beak. I sewed the front and back sections together, using tiny running stitches close to the edge and sandwiched the yellow felt feet and a ribbon hanging loop between the two pieces, stitching them in to the seam. – I left a gap, stuffed with polyester fibre (not too much – just enough for the item to hold it’s shape) then sewed it closed.

The star simply had silver sequins stitched on to one pattern piece and a ribbon loop added as before prior to stitching the two sides together and stuffing.

For the tree I sewed on sequins, including a star-shaped one at the top. After sewing and stuffing I wound a glittery pipe cleaner round for tinsel. and added a few more stitches to secure it. The bell had a row of sequins sewn close to the bottom edge and beads added for the ringer.

The robin had a red oval and a white crescent shape appliquéd onto the front. The beak was a yellow felt diamond shape. I crocheted the legs and stitched them into the seam at the bottom. The snowman’s nose was made by rolling up an orange triangle of felt and sewing in place. I added black sequin eyes and embroidered a smile and twiggy arms. I crocheted a hat and scarf to finish.

I loved the way these characters and the penguin took on a bit of a life of their own as I created their faces. Now most of them have gone to their new homes, I’m tempted to make some more to add to my own tree!

Our Christmas was lovely. K made a delicious meal: He cooked a goose to perfection. Daughter made a trifle as an alternative dessert for those of us who don’t like Christmas pudding. Hope you all enjoyed your festivities too. Merry Christmas!

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Too Many Birthdays, Too Close To Christmas

I always try (and fail) to get everything ready for Christmas before 23rd because husband has his birthday then and it means we can keep the day free to celebrate. Then, son has his birthday on Christmas Eve (bad planning that – but he did arrive a week early).

It does add to the Christmas shopping, with extra gifts to buy for three family members (my brother has his birthday in early January) I always find men hard to buy for too.

K always felt that he got a raw deal, having a Christmas birthday and was determined that son would not feel as badly done to as he did as a child. We always tried to insist on a few basic rules

  • No joint Christmas/Birthday presents allowed (some people always seemed to use this as a money saving scheme.
  • No Christmas gift wrapping to be used on Birthday presents. My mother once fell foul of this and K sent son’s present back to be re-wrapped in something non-Christmassy.)
  • No missing out on birthday parties – we always used to give son the option of a party or similar – taking a group of his friends to a movie and pizza was always popular. Christmas Eve worked ok as there were always new films out for the holidays and parents of the other kids were generally pleased to get offspring out of the house for a few hours, though there were always some who were too busy with family commitments.

This seemed to work quite well, though I drew the line at not putting the Christmas Tree up until after the birthdays.

I think all this is why K doesn’t really enjoy Christmas that much. He does have a point that people seem to go shopping mad all for the sake of one day. The supermarkets turn into hell as shoppers go into some sort of survival panic mode. The shops are shut for 24 hours, which is hardly an apocalypse.

Even going out to celebrate a birthday is difficult. Everywhere is over-booked, over-decorated, with loud Christmas music playing and too much Christmas fare on the menu. It’s a bit more low-key, just the way we like it at one of our favourite pubs, The Red Lion in Alnmouth. We went there yesterday (K’s birthday) and met up with friends who are renting a cottage in the area over Christmas. It was lovely to see them (and their dog) – we took Buddy too – the bar is ver dog friendly – we ended up staying for lunch. No turkey in sight. Later on Buddy took the family for a walk on the beach.

Daughter got very creative with a fantastic birthday cake for her dad – lemon and poppy seed, complete with replica of his dog. Buddy wasn’t impressed because we wouldn’t let him eat any!

She also made this for her brother’s birthday today

We went out for a late pub lunch to celebrate – quite a low key birthday really. Everywhere was full of frantic shoppers but we managed to find a quiet pub that was serving food .

Do you have any Christmas birthdays in your family? Do you have any Christmas avoidance mechanisms to deal with this?

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Christmas Biscuits

I’ve said before that I keep getting sidetracked into doing something crafty when I should have just got on with it. So, I made some mince pies and gingerbread biscuits and should have just stopped there really. I can’t help myself! I just had to play with the icing.

The recipe is quite simple and straightforward… you’ll need

  • 150g unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 70g soft dark brown sugar
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 360g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon

To make…..

  • Preheat oven to 180 C (160C fan)
  • Line 3 or four baking sheets with greaseproof/baking paper
  • Melt butter, sugars and syrup together in a pan, stirring to combine.
  • Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl
  • Pour butter/sugar mix into flour mix and bring together
  • Knead well – if too dry, add a drop of water. Roll into ball and flatten. Leave to cool.
  • Roll out on floured board to 5mm thick. Cut out shapes (I used round, star and gingerbread man cutters) and place on baking sheets, well spaced. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
  • Cool on wire racks.

To ice the Rudolph biscuits I used ginger bread men upside down! I mixed up some glace icing and piped on antlers and eyes. I coloured small pieces of ready-roll icing black and red, and used tiny balls of black icing for the pupils and larger balls of red icing for the noses.

A while ago I bought these spring-loaded snowflake cutters

I used these to embellish the round and star-shaped biscuits. I rolled out white ready to roll icing to about 3mm thick. With such a delicate shape, the easiest way to apply the icing is to cut the design and while the icing shape is still in the cutter, wet the surface a little to make it stick to the biscuit using a a finger dipped in water. Position the cutter over the biscuit exactly where you want the icing to land then press the plunger to release it. Press very lightly to help it stick. I used the larger cutters for the round biscuits and the smallest ones for the stars. I finished off by dusting the icing with edible glitter

Aren’t they pretty? Perfect to have with coffee after Christmas lunch.

Have you been baking for Christmas?

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Getting The Party Started….With a Little Bit of Christmas Crafting

The Ukeladies

I’ve had a couple of days off from blogging, because of all those getting-ready-for- Christmas jobs that were mounting up…. and the party season of course!

Our friends, K and A organised a Christmas party at the village club on Friday night. Everyone brought something for a shared buffet and the ukulele group I’m part of (The Ukeladies) played a few Christmas songs to get everyone in a festive mood. Our founder was ill and couldn’t make it but the rest of us were in good form and everyone seemed to enjoy it. We only played five short songs so nobody really had a chance to get bored!

One of the reasons Christmas prep takes me so long is that I keep getting distracted by crafting opportunities. Take gift wrapping for example. I do actually enjoy doing this and could have had it all done and under the tree days ago, but oh no….. had to fiddle about with some handmade gift labels didn’t I?

I was rather pleased with them though. Here’s how I did it.

A while ago I picked some alder twigs, with tiny cones on and lightly sprayed them white to give a frosted effect.

I also used the following, all of which I had already

  • craft wire
  • red beads (I had quite a mixture from old necklaces etc,)
  • narrow ribbon
  • tiny jingle bells
  • fresh foliage (I used some Leylandii sprigs)
  • plain brown luggage labels
  • hot glue gun

I began by cutting a 7inch length of wire and threading on three beads, moving them to the centre and twisting the wire.

I then added a bell on to the wire an arranged a small twig of alder cones and a sprig of foliage, twisting one of the wire ends round the stems to secure.

Then I cut a length of ribbon about 8 inches long and adding a small dot of hot glue to the centre to secure it to the wire-wrapped spray, tied it round in a bow. I added a tiny blob of the hot glue to secure the bow.

I threaded the remaining wire tail through the hole in a label and twisted it back on itself to the underside of the spray, making sure that the end was tucked underneath and not sticking out. Applying hot glue to the back of the spray, I then held it in position on the label for a few seconds until the glue had hardened and the spray was securely in place. Then it was just a case of adding a message to the label.

I’m pleased with the results. I’d been reading loads about how bad for the environment a lot of gift wrap is, not just the plastic foil type. Many papers have a plastic coating or glitter (which is usually plastic fragments). I found some printed brown paper wrapping in Flying Tiger that appears to have the right credentials and looks great with these labels. I have now wrapped all the presents, so that’s another job ticked off the list!

Have you been creative with your gift wrapping this year?

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Knit and Natter Friday #6

Today was the monthly Knit an Natter Group at The Amble Pincushion – and a bit of a Christmas party, with crackers, gifts and mince pies. In the picture you can see today’s work in progress – Clockwise from top right: moss stitch baby jumper (aren’t the colours beautiful); shawl in shades of blue: picot edged baby jacket (for a new baby granddaughter), stripy socks, a Christmas elf and the start of a twiddle mitt.

Here’s a close up of the elf – Anne knitted this and was wearing him as a brooch.

This was today’s raffle prize: a kit to make a group of Christmas decorations.

One of the group had brought sweets for everyone and group leader Anne gave us each some needles and a pincushion she’d made.

That’s the last Knit and Natter of the year. We’ll be back at The Amble Pincushion 10am-12, on the third Friday in January, for more knitting, nattering, expert advice as needed, tea/coffee and biscuits, a raffle and 10% off in the shop. All this for £4.50! Such a lovely group!

Have you received any knitting/craft related Christmas gifts yet?

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Scone of the Week #4

Scone of the Week is back! Today Mum and I needed to do a spot of Christmas Shopping at Dobbies near Morpeth, so we had our Thursday cheese scones in the coffee shop there. It’s a Costa.

The scones were OK, though a bit heavy and had a decent cheesy crust. The butter, in foil-wrapped pats was at room temperature and easy to spread. I had a Black Forest hot chocolate (made with a shot of black cherry syrup) with whipped cream and it was yummy.

As next Thursday is Boxing Day there won’t be a Scone of the Week post – we’ll be eating leftover Christmas goose. K is a brilliant cook and he’s making Christmas Dinner – he’s not a fan of turkey so he’s cooking a goose. Not long now!

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Christmas Jumpers and More.

Every year, around this time, I think how great it would be to knit my own Christmas jumper. Of course, by mid-December it’s far too late! I thought about this a lot tonight. We’ve been to a Christmas party and the dress code suggested Christmas Jumpers. I do own one, but it’s cheaply mass-produced and not great so I decided against wearing it tonight. There were some real crackers though (and I’m not talking about noisy cardboard receptacles for paper hats, bad jokes and plastic toys, though there were some of those too). I decided to photograph some of them to share with you.

Now of course some people don’t really like Christmas, but there are even jumpers suitable for them.

Others enjoy the festivities, the parties, the alcohol…..and the sequins!

This year I’ve noticed quite a few that come with their own lights. The one on the left was so dazzling that you couldn’t make out the picture (a penguin in a Santa suit) – the other just has a single light – Santa’s nose.

Some people opted for other Christmas themed clothing. This is a gents jacket, photo taken from the back (it actually looked ok from the front).

Then there was this Hawaiian -style shirt, printed with surfing Santas. Hilarious.

This is a dress

This was one of the cutest, with all those little penguins.

This is probably my favourite (but then I love that film and all the music)

I don’t think there were any hand knitted jumpers there tonight, but there were some that really made me smile. Maybe I should start knitting one in January before I forget until next December!

Have you ever knitted a Christmas jumper? What was it like?