Countryside cast-on

Last night I picked out some yarn from the pile that I’d previously earmarked for the big stash busting blues poncho/cape – I found this sock yarn I picked up from Flying Tiger a while back.

This has too much green in it to fit in with stash busting project. I’ve really enjoyed wearing the last pair of socks I made, so need more – especially now I’ve become more confident about sock knitting and recovered from One Sock Syndrome. It seemed obvious to use this sock yarn!

I needed to start a new small portable project, something that I can stick in a small bag to do in the car, waiting for appointments and to take to knit and natter groups. Socks knitted on tiny circular needles are perfect for this (though when I turn the heel it might need a bit more concentration and nattering may cease for a while)

It was blustery this morning, but looked beautiful and such a joy to feel the warmth of the sun on my face when I was out of that cold wind. Sitting in the car in a lay-by while K walked Buddy nearby, I cast on the first sock – if I’d been more prepared I’d have brought straight needles in a larger size (casting on with thumb method, using 2.5mm circular sock needles is fiddly) – I wanted to try this to ensure I kept the cast-on nice and loose. Anyway I just concentrated hard not to pull it too tight and managed to complete the cast on and knit a couple of rounds. The top of the sock is in k2p2 rib so it’s lovely and stretchy – it would defeat the object of that if the cast-on is too tight,

I love the colours of this yarn – they include a deep blue with a very dark green, shading lighter into almost yellow green. At first this made me think of rocks by a deep blue sea, strewn with yellowish brown seaweed below high water mark and crusted with yellow lichens above. Then I looked out the window, spied this puddle and saw similar colours in the sky’s reflection, the grasses and conifer saplings around me.

The woodland is managed here, with fencing and rabbit guards on the young trees.

We couldn’t stay long as household tasks awaited – but it was nice to be out in the sunshine, thinking about the colours in the landscape.

Do you get inspired by your surroundings ?

Tales from Tobermory

In my previous post about finishing a project from a kit purchased in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, I set a little quiz question. Answers coming up!

I asked….. Tobermory has two connections to UK Children’s TV. What are they?

Connection 1

You answered correctly. Balamory: this series outlined life in the town with a diverse cast of fictional residents who lived or worked in the colourful houses, including some away from the main street which were painted specially for the filming. Incidentally, Archie’s castle (painted pink) was filmed elsewhere. We visited Bal…sorry… Tobermory several times, both before and since the series was shown and it had quite obvious effects on the place. It boosted the economy, with lots of tourists visiting the town, especially families with young children, which was great for the local businesses that benefited, though this did have some disadvantages. The traffic was much busier on normally quiet roads (especially the ones running between ferry terminals and Tobermory). I wondered if these visitors were day trippers or actually staying on the island. Some of the roads are single-track and not an easy drive for first time visitors. We did see a lot of damage to the verges. The shop that portrayed “Pocket and Sweet” seemed particularly popular. Balamory maps were on sale to help identify the locations used in the show. It is difficult living in a tourist area, trying to go about your usual business when there are visitors wandering in the middle of the road, blocking the road and gawping, I felt particularly sorry for a local police officer, who was on duty ( probably dealing with the traffic overload). A small child pointed at him and shouted, “Look! There’s PC Plum!” I’m sure he took things a lot more seriously than the comedic Balamory character (who keeps bursting into song and drinks lots of tea)! I had to try hard not to laugh!

Connection 2

There were a couple of other suggestions. Katie Morag was based on life on the island of Col but was filmed in Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, not Tobermory.

The film “When Eight Bells Toll” did indeed use Tobermory, but was not made for children.

We have to go back some years and remember this character

Tobermory was one of The Wombles in Elisabeth Berisford’s books, which came to TV in the 1970s. These animated creatures lived on Wimbledon Common, unseen by humans, collecting and repurposing litter. Some of this was used in Tobermory’s ingenious inventions. I suppose they were ahead of their time: they were upcycling long before the rest of us. All the Wombles had place names which they chose from Great Uncle Bulgaria’s Atlas. The theme tune (Underground Overground , written by Mike Batt) spawned an album (which I confess to owning) , a hit single (Remember your a Womble) and a Christmas record (We Wish You a Wombling Merry Christmas). I didn’t realise I was such a Womble nerd.

So there it is. And nobody got both the links!

Aros park, Tobermory – also worth a visit – lovely walks on easy paths.

I do have another link to Tobermory – this one is connected to knitting (or at least to fibres) and the sea. On our last visit to Tobermory we visited the Mull Aquarium and thought it was brilliant. It is small but that made it more of a personal experience – the staff were really helpful and knowledgeable. There were touch pools aimed at children to familiarise them with rock pool wildlife and they use “catch and release” – a conservation approach so the creatures are only held in the aquarium a short time before being returned to the wild. This rotation helps with research. As they rely on what is caught, this rotation of creatures gives an indication of local species distribution changes in a way that permanent exhibits never could. I was particularly interested in the session led by “Dr Plankton” who identified the microscopic life in seawater samples we examined using the aquarium’s microscopes. Among all the jellyfish lavae, fish eggs and tiny crustaceans were a lot of microfibres – plastics, from fishing gear or even clothing…..all clothing sheds a certain amout of fibre when washed and that drains into the sea eventually. It was after this that David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series raised awareness of marine plastic pollution. We are starting to see some great initiatives to reduce marine plastics, such as collection and repurposing of discarded fishing gear, but we can all do our bit. As far as my knitting is concerned, I’m trying to reduce the amount of artificial fibres I buy. I want to concentrate on using what I already have to avoid waste and buy natural fibres wherever possible. Wool, alpaca, cotton and so on are biodegradable and will not accumulate in the environment. It seems like an appropriate thing to do for Stitches by the Sea!

Serious stuff, so I’ll finish with a lighthearted question.

What are your favourite TV shows from your childhood? Describe each in one sentence in case others have never seen them.

Clearing the Cobweb

I finished what I’m calling the “Cobweb” scarf. It had long deserved promoting from UFO to FO, having done great service as an easy diversion when I needed a break from a more complex project, especially during knit and natter sessions. It defeats the object somewhat if you can’t knit and natter at the same time!

I bought this as a kit in a gift shop in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. I’d already chosen a couple of very pretty locally hand-spun skeins when i noticed some brightly coloured little paper carrier bags. It turned out that someone had assembled the kits to sell and raise funds for the Aros Hall. This is a community-run venue in the centre of Tobermory and we’ve been to a very enjoyable ceilidh there. Each kit contained a simple pattern, needles and a ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, all wrapped in tissue paper inside the bag. There were several different patterns and colours to choose from but I went for this silver grey scarf.

Mull is one of my favourite parts of Scotland and we’ve had many holidays there – this trip was back in the summer of 2018. I’m normally fine with driving on Scottish single-track roads and I do find some parts of Mull quite challenging (there are some very steep blind hairpin bends) but the scenery is breathtaking and very varied. It’s great for wildlife and birdwatching. Both British eagle species (Golden Eagle and White-tailed or Sea Eagle) can be seen on Mull (sometimes at the same time!) and I saw my first otter there. We learnt an easy cheat on an early visit. If you see someone parked up with a seriously big telescope, it’s probably worth stopping (if it is safe to do so) and getting your binoculars out – I’ve always found the birdwatchers are happy to share their knowledge and point out what they are looking at.

The biggest town on the Island is Tobermory, characterised by a row of brightly coloured buildings along the bay. It’s quite a vibrant little place with several good places to eat, some interesting shops, an aquarium, a whisky distillery and more.

Back to the scarf: the kit included circular needles (10mm) , to be used on the straight, but I found it easier for this to use my own straight needles. The yarn is fabulous, so soft and fine – lace weight in 70% kid mohair and 30% silk. Using a fine yarn with big 10mm needles took some getting used to. The body of the scarf is knitted in garter stitch – you are creating a very open structure. I tended to pull it too tight. It was also very easy to catch a stitch and pull out a big loop. The haze of fine soft hairs that stand out from the yarn seems to support the open structure to give it a lovely bouncy feel.

I wanted to use the entire ball (you don’t really want to waste anything this luxurious). The finished scarf could probably benefit from blocking – it is very stretchy and I really struggled to measure it. It ended up about 14 by 55 inches. It is feather-light and drapes beautifully.

I’m looking forward to wearing it – a lovely reminder of a great holiday in beautiful Mull and the ceilidh at Aros Hall in Tobermory.

Now I have a quiz question for you (just for fun). Tobermory has two connections to UK Children’s TV. What are they?

A Ray and a Rainbow

It was blowing a gale again when we were at Boulmer this afternoon.

K had already been checking out the beaches this morning. He was choosing his mark for The Amble Open – an annual fishing competition which is held tomorrow. He found this Cuckoo Ray washed up at Sugar Sands. Buddy was fascinated.

We haven’t seen this species before – the books say it prefers deeper, warmer waters. As the fish was still alive, K returned it to the water. Buddy’s intermittent retrieving instinct did kick in at this point, which it always seems to do at the wrong time, but K was able to distract him long enough for the ray to swim away.

At Boulmer the sea was not as rough as it could have been, but the spray was blowing off the wave crests on the shore and on the rocks out in the bay. Boulmer is sheltered by reefs and out to sea beyond them there were a lot of white topped waves.

With relatively few walkers about there were a lot of wading birds on the beach, pushed in by an incoming high spring tide, including turnstone, redshank, curlew, oystercatcher and lots of these little knots (at least I think that’s what they are – I may need to update this post!). They run rapidly up and down the shore avoiding the incoming waves. I’m always reminded of clockwork toys when I see them.

As the winter sun got lower it lit up the wave crests and every so often I could see rainbow colours in the spray. Then I looked up and there was a proper rainbow

It looked even more dramatic against the dark clouds to the west.

Of course, with all this to photograph, I didn’t get to do any knitting there, so I’ve made myself a mug of hot chocolate and will sit here and get on with trying to finish the cobweb grey scarf.

This is my new favourite mug. It sums me up perfectly. Do you have a favourite one ?

Knit and Natter Friday #7

This afternoon I was at the first Knit and Natter Group of 2020 at Alnwick Medical Group. As you can see, there was a magnificent haul of charity knits from group members who still found time to knit on top everything else they were doing over the Festive Season. Between us we handed in hats and angel tops for premature babies, “fish and chip” baby tops, and a twiddle mitt.

The room we use is now complete following refurbishment. This has included new table and chairs and a large interactive TV. We will be able to use this to share project photos and technique videos.

One of the lovely staff who support our knit and natter sessions was with us for the last time today as she is leaving to take up a post elsewhere. She has looked after us and kept us entertained over many Fridays. During this time she improved her own knitting , beginning with a scarf for her dog! She was the one who made us the amazing gingerbread house for our Christmas meeting. We will miss her very much but wish her every success in her new job.

Are you joining any new groups or activities in 2020?

Scone-Free Thursday: Food for Thought

Usually I post Scone of the Week on Thursdays but today was scone-free. I was meeting a friend and her daughter for drinks at Nelsons in the Park at Swarland and had this yummy hot chocolate. They have a hot chocolate menu with several flavours – I opted for the chocolate orange. it tasted as good as it looks.

We had a good old catch up – my friend’s daughters are visiting from Australia. One of the girls was ill in bed, saving her strength for the trip home which begins tomorrow. I can’t imagine anything worse than a long haul flight when you are feeling under par, so I hope she has a safe journey. It was good to see her sister though.

It was really interesting to get the insider’s view of the devastating fires in Australia. We have all seen horrific TV footage and can only imagine what it must be like for those directly affected, when lives, homes and livelihoods are lost. I sincerely hope that appropriate and timely help is given . There are lots of opportunities to donate to the relevant aid charities.

We are also hearing news of the wild animal casualties. Of course the cutest creatures will always get the most coverage. Koalas are badly affected – slow and sleepy, not best equipped to escape the flames. There will undoubtably be huge reptile and invertebrate losses too but they don’t get the coverage, although their places in ecosystem are just as important as any iconic mammal.

One of my friend’s daughters works in conservation and her sister pointed out a few things that I hadn’t considered. For example very many of the rescued koalas and other animals will have to be humanely destroyed as their injuries are too severe. Also, as so much habitat has been lost, there is nowhere to return the rescued animals to. The only option would therefore be to keep them in captivity until the environment has recovered enough to support them. This will take many years.

Knowing that I’m a knitter, a couple of friends have sent me info about groups here in the UK that are using their craft skills to make nests and pouches as bedding for the rescued animals. There are lots of different designs of suitable items in various sizes and shapes depending on the species they are intended for. It seems to be pretty well organised too, with various collection “hubs” to co-ordinate the effort. I’m still trying to get the full information on materials to use – some documents say the rescue organisations require pure wool items only and pure cotton fabric for sewn liners. I thought I’d make something and that this might be a good way of using up scraps , including donated yarn, but it’s not always obvious which is 100% wool when there is no ball band. I’m actually quite curious why some sources say “wool only”. It’s not always the easiest yarn to wash and dry. It was explained that the bobbles on boucle-type yarns could be nibbled on so this was not to be used and also that there should be no loose threads to entangle in tiny claws etc. and this makes perfect sense.

Hearing from others I know in Australia and even New Zealand, I hear that even far away from the fire zone the clouds of smoke and haze are clearly visible. The environmental and health effects of this disaster will be far-reaching and long term.

We just have to hope for all concerned that things improve soon and that lessons are learnt that can prevent this happening again.

Escape to the Beach

It was blowing a gale last night – I was at a friend’s house for Book Club and as the wind got up we could hear what sounded like neighbours’ bins blowing over. On the way home some our Club members had to move a fallen branch off the road and even the short walk between car and house was difficult.

I was therefore keen to get to the beach this afternoon to see if the waves had been whipped up by the storm. I’d been busy doing jobs at home and I needed a break so decided to head off down to Alnmouth before it started to get dark (Of course I took the knitting)

Although it was still windy, it was blowing offshore so the waves weren’t big, though there was spray coming off the breakers.

It was bright and clear and the dog walkers were still out in force

I drove round to the estuary where we moor our little boat in the summer. It’s a mud mooring: the rope is attached to a special kind of anchor which is screwed deep into the mud. We don’t use the boat in the winter as weather conditions aren’t as good and with more storms, debris like fallen trees from upstream can float down and damage moored craft. There are still a lot of boats at the moorings though.

Thought the estuary itself is sheltered, navigating out to sea can be difficult if the waves are big at the river mouth. Today was not bad though.

The shoreline to the south was quiet enough for gulls and oystercatchers to congregate.

Do you have a favourite place to go when you feel the need to get out of the house for some fresh air?

Fair Isle for a Good Cause

I thought I’d share a project that I knitted last year.

I was on holiday in North West Scotland, near Gairloch with K and the dog. Our trip coincided with a local community event: the Gairloch Gathering. There were lots of stalls from local traders and organisations and various activities including a pet parade (Buddy was not exactly on his best behaviour for that), children’s sports, a fell race, a demonstration of electro-fishing (used for sampling purposes), all ending up with a ceilidh in the evening.

There was a lovely yarn stall and a kit caught my eye: yarns and pattern to make this beautiful beanie – Harriet’s Hat. This was designed by Harriet Middleton to sell as a fundraiser for the Shetland Scanner Appeal. She wanted to do this following her own need for regular trips to the mainland for MRI scans. You can buy the pattern to download here for only £4 and there are similar gloves and other accessory patterns available too. The kit included 6 different shades of Jamiesons Spindrift Shetland yarn, which echo the colours of the scanner appeal logo.

The hardest part of knitting this was that the blue shades are very close to each other, both in the yarn and the colour chart on the pattern, but (as long as I was looking at the pattern in decent light) it worked out ok in the end.

It’s the first pattern I’ve worked on that has a nice design on the ribbing

Another thing I like about it (I think this is a characteristic of true Fair Isle) is that though the overall design is complex and multicoloured, you only have to use 2 colours of yarn at any one time on each row, so no tangles of yarn!

I was glad that I darned the ends in as I went along though – there were lots!

It is knitted in the round on circular needles, starting out with a K2P2 rib band, then in stocking stitch, finishing the decreases on double pointed needles. The decreases on the crown of the hat result in this gorgeous snowflake-like centre.

I really enjoyed making this – it was interesting and kept me engaged . The design and colours work well together. It fits well and is very warm – it covers the ears! It’s always good to know that you are supporting a good cause too!

Have you ever knitted Fair Isle?

Looking Out To Sea With The Couple….For Whales!

Today we were in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. The town is home to the Couple: a pair of sculptures, one on the shore and a larger 12.5m version out in the bay on the breakwater.

We were there to join members of the North East Cetacean Project for an afternoon of sea watching. Cetaceans are whales, dolphins and porpoises. We were at Church Point, by the 13th Century St Bartholomews Church. This promontory makes a great vantage point.

I noticed this bollard on the way from the car park.

The conditions were not great for sea watching , with quite a swell breaking on the rocks.

K took Buddy for a walk along the beach (the labrador was getting far too interested in everyone’s lunches) and found this shell (yes, that’s my knitting needle gauge). He found others but this was the least damaged.

I can usually identify these, but I’m really not sure what species this is. Its certainly not like any of the shells I usually see around here. Interestingly, the beach at Newbiggin is artificial. After years of erosion the sands had all but gone but in 2007 the beach was reconstructed with sand brought from Skegness. Maybe it’s from there!

I did enjoy meeting the other watchers. Some are members of other marine conservation organisations too – I’d never heard of Sea Shepherd until recently but was really interested to find out about their work internationally and locally. Round here, for example, local volunteers do a lot of seashore litter picks. I’ve also seen Sea Shepherd volunteers at Boulmer (they have very distinctive logos on their jackets) collecting broken lobster pots and washed up fishing gear.

We all know how important it is to reduce plastic pollution in our seas – the issue was brought to global recognition by David Attenborough in the Blue Planet series. For me, this issue was brought alive looking at microscopic plankton samples in an aquarium a few years ago. The samples were full of microfibres – nylon and other materials. That’s why I’m trying to repurpose old yarn with charity knits and buy natural fibre (biodegradable) yarn wherever possible.

The wind strengthened and the sea got rougher so it was time to go. We left shortly before two bottle-nosed dolphins put in an appearance, so the more tenacious watchers were rewarded for their vigilance. There have been no further reported sightings of the off-course sperm whales I wrote about recently. They may well have died way out at sea: at least that way they be feeding the scavengers and return to the food chain, away from human interference.

To end on a happier note, it was lovely to spend the afternoon meeting new people with a shared interest.

Sea Watchers at Church Point, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

I’d love to know if any of my fellow knitters are developing their own environmental policies. If you are please share them.

A Coastal Castle (and a Finished Project)

Dunstanburgh Castle

Today we headed up the coast to Craster and beyond, towards Dunstanburgh Castle. Northumberland has many castles, but this is one, which dates from the 14th Century, is one of the most atmospheric, situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, between the villages of Craster and Embleton.

It’s about 1.5 miles from the nearest car park to the castle and I haven’t been since I was a child. (I took these photos at Embleton Steads) It is in an amazing location – the cliffs on the north side of the promontory are home to nesting seabirds, including fulmar and kittiwake. There were cliff nesting house martins too at one time but I’m not sure if they are still there.

I also completed the Twiddle Mitt last night. These are given to Alzheimers patients to distract them from picking at dressings and canulae when in hospital. Also, repeatedly twiddling the buttons and other adornments and stroking the different textures of yarn can have a calming effect.

My Twiddle Mitt

A friend who has arthritic hands and can no longer knit donated a huge bag of wool, needles etc to the knit and natter group. This included some yarns that were perfect for this – mohair, boucle, some glittery ones. I used this pattern and added some beads, including some little jingle bells, buttons and threaded a ribbon through. I also added some to the inside. The knit version is easy – a stocking stitch rectangle sewn into a tube, doubled up and sewn together at the ends. It’s great for using up those odd little bits of yarn and the more you mix the yarns the more interesting it is. You can add texture by varying the knitting stitch too – blackberry stitch or moss stitch would work, or some cable. I think I might try the crochet version next time.