Extra, extra, read all about it!

As part of our honeymoon, Steven and I visited Portland, Maine. We were only there for a few days, we stayed in a beautiful B&B, and we did some of my favourite things; ate incredible cakes, mooched in a very fine stationery shop and spent hours in a wonderful bookstore.

I don’t know about you guys, but I love a proper bricks-and-mortar book shop. Back in MK I used to love Ottakars, and then it became Waterstones. There’s nothing wrong with Waterstones, of course, but it wasn’t really the same (except that it kind of was, in every way, they just changed the name over the door). Here in Bath we have plenty of book shops. Topping and Company is my favourite, with it’s uneven wooden floors, swooshy ceiling fans and booky smell – they even give you free tea and coffee!

But I digress. In Portland I bought three new books, Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons.

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(A fan of books, be still my beating heart! Photo by me.)

Maine was a piece of pure chick lit. The story of one family told by three generations of women, all totally diverse, but all the same on the most important levels (can you hear my faux-psychologist voice?) You know, schmaltzy but immersive and fun. I bought it because so much of the action takes place in towns and locations we visited on our honeymoon. For me it’s the literary version of postcards, and really what could be better than that? I’d give it a 3 out of 5 – light reading, especially good for by the pool on holiday, and wonderful for the memories it evokes for me personally.

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(Don’t you just want to be lying on a beach right now? Photo by me.)

As you may have guessed, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake is a collection of short stories. (Before we continue, yes, the author is called Breece D’J Pancake, no, D’J is not a name – it was a misprint of D.J. (for Dexter John) in a magazine that printed one of his stories and he stuck with it, and yes, his last name really is Pancake – I’m jealous too.) I’ve read half of the stories, pretty much all based in West Virginia during the 1960s and I really enjoyed them. Pancake has been compare to Hemingway many times and I can absolutely see the resemblance. Pancake’s stories have the same brutal honesty and simplicity, the same intensity of feeling and focus on physical manly work, and in they are also very depressing. That’s why I’ve only read half of them I will go back to the rest, but I had to take a break from all the pain. It was putting a real downer on my morning reading! Perhaps one at a time is the way to go. 4 out of 5 – beautiful and thought provoking, but hard going.

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(Little foxy face! Photo by me.)

Ellen Foster is a revelation. I’d never heard of Kaye Gibbons, but I’m going to have to look out for more of her work. This, her first novel, is short, possibly more of a novella, and I read it in just a week. I like it all the more for that. I was so sucked in by the narrative, the voice of an 11-year-old girl who is trying to find a family, that I didn’t want to stop reading.

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(Fancy font for a fantastic book. Photo by me.)

There’s nothing sentimental about this story. It’s blunt in a lot of ways and it doesn’t shy away from racism, narrow-mindedness, suicide, murder and really awful relatives. But it’s all told with a refreshingly simple point of view. Yes, the things she goes through are horrible, but she’s happy as long as she gets her frozen meals and her microscope. The innocence counters the darkness beautifully, and when you reach the end, you see so much more in it all.

There are quite a lot of characters, for such a short book, and you don’t get the kind of depth into most of them that I usually like, but it works with the narrator – a young child isn’t going to give you a deep analytical response to the people around them, they’re just going to tell you what they think, simply and honestly.

I thoroughly recommend Ellen Foster, to everyone. At just 126 pages, it’s not a mammoth undertaking, and it’s worth however long you take to read it. I promise.

What are you guys reading at the moment? Check back soon for more knitting news!

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A bit of silk for summer

Good morning beautiful people! I don’t know about you, but I am so relieved it’s the weekend. Thank god for lie-ins, am I right?

So now that my pink cardi is all done and in the general rotation, and my socks are chugging a long nicely in my lunch breaks (onto sock number two woo!) it’s time to show you new things around here.

Ages ago, and I mean months ago, I found the Purl Bee’s Silken Straw Summer Sweater. It was one of the first things I ever pinned, and I instantly fell in love with it. Bizarrely, I was hit by a very uncharacteristic bout of patience and consideration and have left it in the back of my mind all this time. I wasn’t about to splash out on the Silken Straw yarn ($30+ per skein, and I’d need 5 skeins!) but I did get my hands on some discontinued Debbie Bliss Pure Silk (link to it’s replacement). 8 skeins in complementary colours. How often does that happen? I’ve got about 150 meters more than I need which is perfect, because I had to do a bit of adaptation (eek!)

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(Photo from the Purl Bee. I may have to recreate this with my finished object. Shame my room isn’t pure white…)

The pattern is very simple, and that’s one of the things that drew me to it in the first place. It’s all about the yarn and the clean lines. But it only comes in two sizes and that was a bit of a sticky spot for me. All of the dimensions in the large size were perfect, except for the bust. I needed another 10cm (4in) to fit the girls in. Handily, that’s my tension measurement (thank god I did a swatch!) so I knew exactly how many more stitches I needed, but I wasn’t sure how to get them in. The great knitting guru Faye helped me with some maths and now I’m good to go when I get to that bit. Did you read that? “When I get to that bit.” I actually read ahead and planned ahead in a pattern! This is huge growth for me!

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(Photo by me. Stripy stripy…the pink bit is so curly!)

Anyway, I’ve just started the waist shaping and I’m loving it. It’s knitted in the round from the bottom up, just acres and acres of stocking stitch (perfect to go with my new TV addiction – Modern Family). I had 5 skeins of mint (yes, that’s what that swatch was!) 1 of purple, 1 of blue and 1 of pink. I decided to do a 5cm stripe of each at the bottom, then if I can work out how, I’ll mirror it on the sleeves too. Hopefully it will all tie in and look beautiful. It’s going really well so far, the mint is definitely my favourite – good thing that’s the one I have most of! I think it’s going to be a really valuable addition to my summer wardrobe, and hopefully, the timing will be perfect.

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(Photo by me. It’s growing so fast.)

I’ll keep you posted, as ever, and soon I shall be showing you sock progress too…thrilling, I know.

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I love my mum!

Howdy doody readers! Happy Official Summertime to my British readers. Isn’t it lovely to have a bit of light in the evenings? Although my body has not adjusted to that 1 hour time difference. Can I get up in the mornings? Can I heck as like!

Happy Mother’s Day for last Sunday! I hope all you kids pampered your mums and all you mums got a chance to relax. I myself was a naughty daughter and spent the weekend in Brighton with some friends who I barely get to see (my mum’s wonderful though and she was completely understanding.) My big brother took good care of her all by himself, and I think she had a thoroughly lovely day. Here are some snaps from sunny B-town.

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(Isn’t Brighton beautiful? Top down: The Brighton Pavilion, The West Pier, The Boardwalk. Thanks Imo and Ed for having us!)

This situation meant I needed a present that I could pop in the post safely. Mum’s had quite a few hand-knits from me (remember the shawl?) so I wanted to give her something a bit different, but something still hand-made, that had my love poured into it from the very beginning. I did a bit of Pinterest surfing (as one does for inspiration these days) and found so much hoop art that it was all I could think about.

For those who don’t know, hoop art entails embroidery and other textile art that is framed and displayed in an embroidery hoop. It’s genius in it’s simplicity because frames never quite do textiles justice, in my opinion. Check it out!

Now, I may have mentioned here that my sewing is rudimentary and my patience is non-existent so embroidery was a bit of a gamble. That knowledge steered me towards a very simple design, that I just couldn’t mess up. Wanna see? Of course you do.

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Plain and simple, no muss no fuss, just saying it how it is. The whole thing is just backstitch! Beautiful in it’s clean lines, eh? I copied Rugglestitch, who used to sell these on Etsy. Her shop seems to be closed though, unfortunately. (Photo by me.)

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(Dramatic by the window. Photo by me.)

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(Propped on the typewriter, of course. Photo by me.)

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And because it took me ages to find a tutorial that told you how to finish it off, here is the back. You just have to glue gun the excess fabric to the hoop! That part was really fun. Just make sure you are happy with the positioning before applying hot glue, mine could have been straighter… (Photo by me!)

Mum loved the piece of embroidery and my brother was particularly tickled that it still looks like my handwriting. I think that counts as a success. But next year, I think I’ll give the gift in person, eh mum?

Did you guys make anything wonderful for your mums this weekend?

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Finished Object (In a manner of speaking)

This is it. The post you’ve all been waiting for (in my mind). I have finished the cardigan. I have blocked it, sewn a button on it and worn it. After all the drama and stress, it’s done and I actually really like it. Take a looksee for yourselves…

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(Photo by me. Let’s all ignore the double chin, ok? And the grumpy-concentrate-y face. This is about the cardigan, remember?)

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(Photo by Steven for me. Look how the lace cascades down the back in lovely swooshy movements.)

It’s not perfect, but then, it was never going to be, because I was knitting it. Where I picked up stitches for the armholes there are some lumpy unsightly bits, but my arms covers them up. There are a couple of dodgy stitches here and there, but in the grand scheme of an adult sized garment, they are pretty insignificant. There’s the steek, of course, but I think it will felt in quite nicely. The thing that bugs me, because I can see it all the time, is that the sleeves are different lengths.

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(Photo by me. Folded up in all it’s squashy glory.)

I know, I know – that’s such a simple thing! How can I make a cardigan with different length sleeves? Well you see, by sleeve number 2, I got cocky. Hubris, damn you. I thought I knew the lace pattern so I didn’t check the chart. I was wrong. I was 3 rows short on every repeat. There are 9 repeats. That’s 27 rows. The right sleeve just about reaches my thumb knuckle (I like a long sleeve); the left one hangs out way short of my wrist. But I’m not going to undo the entire sleeve and start again. I don’t care that much. Besides, Jenny assures me that it just looks like one sleeve is rucked up. All the time. Defying gravity.

In all honesty, it’s a tiny detail and one I need to stop pointing out to everyone.

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(Photo by me. Teeny tiny button. It’s that small because there’s no buttonhole in the pattern. Just shove it through your knitting. Classy.)

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(Photo by me. Mr Hamster got jealous of the attention Cardigan was getting. Hello Mr Hamster!)

The pattern is great - I thoroughly recommend the Vine Bolero to everyone. It’s great for getting to grips with top-down contiguous cardigans, and if I’d knitted to their measurements it would have been done in a flash! One day I might just need a cropped version with sleeves the same length. The yarn is yummy too. Artesano produce seriously good yarn, and this alpaca DK (I think in a discontinued colour) does not let them down. It has a lovely halo that softens the lace and makes the whole cardi very cuddly.

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(Photo by me. Lace detail. Swoosh! Yum.)

One last thing. Remember that swatch? So far I’ve only had 1 guesser (Hi Louise!) and she so nearly got it. Here’s a shot of my progress…

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Kaffe Fass-cinating!

Good morning beautiful people. Happy Saturday! I hope the sun is shining, wherever you are, even if it isn’t particularly warm yet.

Earlier this week, I had an awesome opportunity. A lot of my job is sitting at a computer reading, writing and researching. I love all those things, clearly, or I would have chosen a different career, but I still enjoy a bit of a jolly. And on Wednesday I got to go on a press day. (I must add though, that I still feel like I’m pretending at these kinds of things, like I shouldn’t be there and I’m just a kid playing at being a journalist. Not sure that will ever pass.)

Kaffe Fassett, the indomitable textile artist and designer, has a new exhibition at The American Museum in Britain, here in Bath. It is a fascinating display of his work, presented tastefully and in a way that really packs a punch, and it is open to the public as of today. My God, was it an assault on the senses! In a really, really good way, of course.

The totally nerve-wracking and yet simultaneously awesome and exciting part was that I got to interview both Kaffe himself and Brandon Mably, his partner-in-crime. They were both lovely men, really chilled out, obviously just enjoying the opportunity to see all their hard work (50 years of it!) showcased in such a fantastic way. I genuinely enjoyed wandering through the exhibit on my own with Kaffe, asking him about his lustrous career (and some sillier questions too – get your hands on issue 120 of Simply Knitting for the full interview). He has a wonderfully simple, relaxed outlook on life that I found very inspiring. For such an incredibly multi-talented person, he was very humble, and seemed quite happy to just have a chat. He’s a charmer!

I took an official poop load of photos, that are all pretty shoddy, but if you want to see some decent ones, pop on over to the Simply Knitting website for my official blog post, and Faye’s wonderful photography. Oh and make sure you toddle on over to the exhibition! It’s on until Sunday 2 November, and it’s a stunner.

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Paste it daddy!

Oh hey! Somehow it’s been over a month since I last posted. Again! How has that happened? Life has a strange way of getting on top of you doesn’t it? A whole heck of a lot of birthdays, commissioned knitting and other stuff that wasn’t so fun has got the better of me in the last few weeks. But I am here to say no more! I’ve got some pretty knitty things to show you…

Before I get stuck in, I hope it is apparent that my title is a quote from It’s A Wonderful Life, otherwise it sounds a bit odd. And I chose this title because, drumroll please, I have finished my Zuzu’s Petals! In my mind there’s a fanfare going right now. I know, it’s overkill, but it makes me happy.

Since the weather has picked up I’ve even been able to take some half-decent photog. So, the grand reveal, here it is!

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(Photo by me, isn’t she pretty? Look at all the colours!)

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(Photo by me. Ignore the wonky spine – I forgot to yarn over one row…had to fix it…bodged it, of course.)

I’m really pleased with how this has turned out. I think I mentioned that I’d needed to add a few stitches to the cast on, because I was making it with such fine yarn. Well when I got to the lace section, I needed to add another 6 (oops) but you can’t even see that I had a little fumble on that row, and I did it on the bit that’s always at the back, so no harm, no foul!

The lace section threw me a bit, because there are no close-up shots of it in the pattern. The way the shawl hangs it kind of masks it, and you can only see the very edge, which is different! I had faith though, and I’d glad I did because it’s so pretty. Look!

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(Photo by me. I love the way it really does look like fallen petals, so clever, so aptly named.)

I even have a huge chunk of yarn left over – it might actually be half the skein (before you ask, I haven’t weighed It yet, that would be far too sensible). So I could make another one exactly the same…or not. What do you think? My shawl obsession doesn’t seem to be going anywhere…but does a girl need two shawls in the same yarn? Ah the big existential questions that I tackle on this blog.

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(Photo by me. Dodgy selfie, no make-up, cos that’s how I roll.)

The length is perfect in terms of coverage and tucking into coats and things, plus I think the drape at the neck is really pretty.

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(Photo by me. Let’s just ignore the hint of double chin there. And yes, those are typewriters on my dress, be jealous.)

And because it’s the law, here’s a shawl on a wall shot. Some of you may recognise this wall. It has played host to my mum’s shawl too. I do really like this wall. It’s pretty and in a quiet part of Bath where the number of judgemental eyes is kept to a minimum. Apologies for the litter, didn’t see that until I uploaded the photo (such shoddy photography skills!)

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(Photo by me. This shows the shape and construction of the shawl a bit better. Hint – the long side on the left is the front.)

Before I go, I have a little teaser for you. I don’t mess around you see. I’ve got another finished object to show you (yes, you know the one) and I’ve already made a start on the next project. Here is a swatch…anyone who can guess what it is and what it’s going to become gets a prize!

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Until next time lovely peeps!

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I’m not dead – honest!

Howdy strangers!

Just a quick post, because I realised today that it’s almost been two months since I last regaled you with tales of the unexpected. So much has been going on recently - Christmas was a whirlwind of seeing old friends and family, eating too much and general busy-ness that was wonderful, and since then being back to work (and sorting out car trauma) has been pretty full on.

But here’s a very brief update on my knitting…

I’m making myself some more socks (yay handknitted socks, woo!). They are self patterning and glittery and have been dubbed Unicorn socks, Mermaid socks and Magical Dream socks. They are awesome, and here’s a shot of them in progress…

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They are a little longer in the foot now, but only by about 5 rounds. I’ve had work knitting to do so unfortunately the socks were on the back burner for a while.

I’ve also completed sleeve number one of The Cardigan That Was Steeked! Yes, I know it’s taken me forever. I got sick of the lace pattern so I left it for a while. But this weekend just gone I spent a chunk of Sunday on it. Now there’s just a sleeve and a neck band to go! No picture because I’m rubbish.

And last but not least, I cast on another shawl. I was reading the Yarn Harlot’s blog the other day, and her Zuzu’s Petals made me want one of my own. It’s designed like a shawl but constructed like a cowl, so you can pull it on over your head and it won’t slide off your shoulders. Carina Spencer you are a genius! I had a skein of Rowan Fine Art sock yarn in a yummy orangey pink. It’s actually bit fine for the pattern, so I’ve added a couple of lace stitch repeats (advised by my great knitting guru, Faye). I’ve got double the meterage I need, so I’m sure it will work beautifully.

Also no picture yet, because I’m super rubbish, and I’ve only got fifteen minutes before work so the Ravelry link will have to be a little teaser until I can knit some more and show it off a bit.

Anyhow, happy Friday readers! Have a great weekend :-)

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