Picture Perfect Pup!

A while ago Daughter came up with the idea of getting a portrait of Buddy the Labrador done. She asked a very talented friend of ours who does beautiful drawings of dogs and horses. Fortunately she was able to work from a photograph, because there’s no way Buddy would sit still, especially over the last couple of weeks. He gets so excited when there is snow on the ground.

Getting a decent photograph of a black dog is not easy! It usually ends up with no detail at all; just the silhouette, but daughter managed to take this one on a sunny day.

We did wonder about making sure his “good side” was pictured. Buddy is a friendly soul, but doesn’t always get it hat other dogs aren’t the same. We adopted him at 11 months old and he hadn’t really been socialised with other dogs up to then. A few years ago he got too close to a very nervous dog that bit off the end of one of his ears. This image includes his torn ear – it’s part of who he is.

And now the picture is complete – we absolutely love it! The artist has captured Buddy perfectly and I can’t stop looking at it. Those eyes just totally draw you in.

Thank you so much Emer Edwards! You have an amazing talent.

Skirting Day

A while ago I was given a huge bag of raw alpaca fleece. So far I’d only processed a very small amount of it, which I spun and knitted to make baby socks and hat as a gift. Today I did the first stage of processing the rest. This is known as skirting. The fleece (known as a blanket when it comes to alpacas) is spread out on a mesh table and agitated to remove dust. Any stained fibre and pieces of vegetable matter (hay, pieces of grass, seeds etc) are removed as well as very short second cuts, (where the shearer has gone over a second time), which are too short to spin. The fibres are then sorted into the various grades, from the finest longest fibres on the animal’s back through to the shorter pieces on the neck and sides – well that’s what the professionals do. I can’t say I did such a thorough job!

I think the alpacas like to have a good roll about because the fibre is very dusty – everywhere in the conservatory where I do all my crafting was covered just from processing a tiny amount. Lesson learnt, I needed to sort through the rest outside! K has made me this little skirting table. It’s basically a wooden frame with chicken wire stretched over it – he’s added tape and some pipe insulation to stop the edges of the wire catching. This just rests on a couple of garden chairs.

It’s not quite big enough to spread a whole blanket out but it’s perfect for my purposes.

I’d been waiting for a sunny dry day without much wind. Alpaca is light as a feather and if I’d tried doing this in the gales we’ve had recently most of it would have ended up in the next county! As I tipped the fibre out on to the skirting table there were clouds of dust. I kept agitating the blanket to release as much of the dust as possible.

I picked out the larger pieces of vegetation – there wasn’t a great deal of it and some of the tinier fragments will come out of the fleece during the later stages of processing. You can see a couple of small pieces of leaf towards the bottom of the next photo.

I separated out the best long fibres, which are around 5 inches long, from the rest This is mostly around 2-3 inches long so still perfectly good to spin. Now most of the dust is out I can sort this more fully indoors and not need to rely on the weather. You can see the layer of dust left where I ran my finger across the green tape.

I’ve now got all the fibre in labelled plastic bags.

Buddy took great interest in what I was doing.

As you can see there was quite a lot of spillage, mostly the very short second cuts. He did offer to sweep the patio though!

I’ve been promised more fibre from Aero and Wispa, our friends’ alpacas (how lucky am I?). I think I’ll definitely wait until the Spring for my next skirting session. By then the birds visiting our garden during the nesting season could really make use of the bits of fibre that I drop!

Thrunton Woods in November

Daughter, K and I took Buddy Dog for a walk in Thrunton Woods yesterday. Last time we were here it was full of Autumn colour and fungi, but the woods have much more of a feel of winter now, though are still very beautiful.

There are some patches of autumn colour on the occasional broadleaved tree than has retained a few leaves in a sheltered spot.

The mustard-yellow needles of larch add a splash of colour.

The bracken has taken on a pale russet shade.

The only flowering plant we saw was this solitary yellow hawk bit.

As leaves have fallen, the evergreens take centre stage. Thrunton is primarily a coniferous forest, but even among the conifers there are many shades of green as you can see here in this stand of young trees.

Among the evergreen shrubs is this Rhododendron ponticum. It is an absolute beauty in spring with exotic large lilac-purple flowers, but it is a thug of a plant! It is a non-native that was often introduced into parkland as dense cover for game, but it is so dense that it shades out native ground cover plants. It spreads rapidly by runners and native grazers and insects don’t eat it. Many years ago K and I were members of a conservation group that spent many a happy Sunday “Rhody Bashing” : removing these plants from neglected parts of a country park near where we lived at the time.

There is also quite a lot of gorse (locally known as whin) with its vicious spines.

Broom grows on the trail margins too, and some of the bushes have the remains of the seed pods still attached.

There is also an occasional holly bush, like this one hiding behind the gorse.

Closer to the ground is wild bilberry, which loves the acidic peaty soil here. They are delicious and make wonderful pies and crumbles, staining your tongue blue if you eat them. Bilberries were available in the shops when I was a child but I have not seen them available commercially for many years. We did try picking them once. The fruit are so tiny that after a couple of hours we only had a small saucerful so haven’t bothered since!

Also associated with the peat is this moss – there are some wonderful mosses in the woods

Although the bracken has gone, some ferns have retained their green fronds.

Buddy adores running about the woods. We saw several other walkers, dogs and cyclists too. The car parks were overflowing but this woodland is big enough to accommodate all the visitors easily without seeming at all crowded.

From the woodland edge we could see the farmland below and the Cheviot Hills in the distance.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Enjoying the Spring Sunshine

I’ve been struggling with the blog recently. Regular blog subjects, like visiting the beach, eating scones at local cafes and taking part in knit and natter groups have all stopped. I threw myself into some knitting and craft projects, but it didn’t seem the same. I’m not a walker – I use a disability scooter to get about, and have other health issues so I hadn’t been leaving the house. This week I reached the point when it was time to pull myself together and, as the weather was so good, I got the scooter out and joined K on a couple of walks with Buddy, the Labrador. I’m so glad I did.

The little Amelanchier tree in the front garden has finally come in to flower and is looking stunning

As we walked through the village I saw a few rainbows, painted by children and stuck in windows.

There’s also this sign, which has been placed at the entrance to the little garden of remembrance, which is known as Green Hut Corner.

It’s a lovely gesture – the village has applauded loudly for NHS staff and other key workers every Thursday night – there were even fireworks last week!

I enjoyed seeing all the spring flowers. This garden wall was festooned with aubretia.

Here in Shilbottle, the grass verges are full of daffodils in Spring. Until now I hadn’t noticed that some hyacinths had been planted with them in one spot. I wondered if they had originally been indoor ones that someone had planted out after they finished flowering. They had a beautiful fragrance that we could smell as we went past.

There’s a really quiet lane that winds through farmland – we can let Buddy off his lead there. He’s not bad at avoiding other dogs and people if you tell him to “leave” . We met several people out for their daily exercise or walking dogs but all were cheerfully observing distance guidelines. We are lucky to live here where there is the space to get out safely.

One of my favourite spots on this route is a by a gate at the top of a bank- there’s a wonderful view towards the sea from here. It was very hazy on one of my walks this week but yesterday was beautifully clear.

It was good to see the wildflowers in bloom as well as the garden plants. These primroses are one of my favourite signs of spring.

The blackthorn is also in full bloom. We hope that the sloe berries this autumn are as profuse as the flowers – we always make a batch of sloe gin if we can pick sloes. Some years, if there are late frosts that stop the fruit forming, there are none to be found.

Of course the newborn lambs are one of the signs of spring we love to see and there were plenty in the fields.

We doubled back and came back up the hill, stopping for a little while to take in that view again. Buddy seemed to be glad of the break. I had forgotten just how important it is to get our in the fresh air and I felt so much better for it.

Busy with Brioche and Buddy Bedding.

I’ve been keeping busy this week, though I’m missing trips to the beach and visiting local cafes for coffee and scones. I’m still involved with online choir and ukulele sessions, virtual coffee mornings and quizzes.

This week I’ve upcycled an old duvet to make liners for Buddy’s basket – I chopped it into six rectangles and machine-stitched the edges.

Buddy seems to like his new bedding! – at one point he dragged in into another room and cuddled it!

I’ve also finished my first brioche project – a pair of wrist warmers. I have quite short arms – well it certainly seems that way because sleeves on clothes I buy are way too long. I tend to buy three quarter length sleeves, but sometimes these leave a cold gap so I wanted some extra-long wrist/arm warmers. I sort of made these up as I went along.

I can also roll the cuffs back to show the reverse.

They are lovely, warm and squishy. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to do 2-colour brioche. This was one of my New Year Resolutions.

Another resolution was to make a Christmas Jumper. Every year I think about how lovely it would be to have a hand knitted festive sweater, and then I forget about it until the following December when it’s far too late to start. I now have the yarn and the pattern and am looking forward to starting it soon.

What have you been doing to keep busy?