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Addicted to flowers

Back in the summer (I use the term loosely), I attended a class at the lovely Grace and Jacob, taught by the very talented Bryony to learn how to make fabric flowers, having seen a sample in the shop and been fascinated by them.

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It wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d thought it might be, and within an hour we’d all made our first flower.

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Which was soon joined by a second, with pointy petals this time.

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And then a third, with pointy folded petals. We sewed pins on the backs, and they’ve been happily adorning my denim jacket ever since – and are only a little the worse for wear!

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But what I really wanted to do was to make a bunch of flowers to put in a vase. I’d chosen these fabrics because they’re from the same range I used to make baby quilts last year, and I had leftovers. Which I attacked as soon as I got home, and before I knew it I had lots of flowers – it’s strangely addictive, especially when you realise that you can combine different shapes and sizes of petals, and mix fabrics, the possibilities are endless.

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A few close ups of different combinations and sizes of petals –

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I covered the stems of these with florists tape, but it was horrible sticky stuff (or at least the roll I got was!) and since then I’ve only used it for holding bunches together.

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Like this one. A tiny bunch (the whole thing including the vase is only about seven inches tall) using silk leftovers from the cushion I made last year. These flowers are great for fabric scraps, I’ll never throw any away again! And as the scraps get smaller, so do the flowers…

One thing I did find with the silk though was that it frayed like mad, so when I decided to make a bigger bunch for my mum’s birthday, I used bondaweb on the back of the silk before cutting it to hold it together, which worked much better, and stiffened the silk slightly too.

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I also had leftovers of some Kaffe Fassett paperweight fabric in red, so I bought a couple more fat quarters in lime green and blue to go with it, and made this bunch. It was going to be for my desk at work, but we’ve recently adopted a clear desk policy (which is a complete nightmare to untidy me) in preparation to our move to a new headquarters building where we’ll all be hotdesking. I am so not looking forward to that! But anyway, back to the flowers.

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My next project is to make a Christmas wreath, using a polystyrene circle. I’ve made five flowers for it so far, I should be able to make enough in the next two months to finish it!

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They’ve all got a u-shaped piece of wire on the back, going through the shank of the central button, so they’ll just push into the polystyrene. Well, that’s the theory, anyway!

Catching up

Oh dear, this has been a very neglected blog of late. I’ve not been feeling brilliant, and I find that whenever I feel a bit down, my words are the first thing to go – I try and write, but it all just comes out very stilted and I give up. I’m still not quite right, but I’m feeling a bit better, and I managed to take some photos today which don’t make me look dreadful (as most of the last lot did), so I’ll start trying to catch up on what I’ve been knitting.

Starting with the most recent and working back (because that’s the most logical way to work, obviously), here’s a little shawl in the beautiful Kidsilk Stripe from Rowan.

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I’ve been lusting after this colourway (twilight) for ages, and I finally cracked and treated myself to a ball a couple of months ago. This very simple pattern – mostly stocking stitch with an easy lace edging – seemed perfect for showing off the amazing colours in the yarn (the colours haven’t come out brilliantly in the photos, the stripe above the lime green is actually a beautiful purple, and the stipe which looks purple is more muted. But you get the idea).

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The Kidsilk Stripe seems expensive at £18 per ball, but it’s a 50g ball (compared to 25g for regular Kidsilk Haze), and this shawl only took one ball. So pricy but not extortionate. Unfortunately I have a yearning to make a cardigan or jumper out of this colourway, which is going to take at least three balls. Hmm, better start saving up!

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Next up is a huuuuugggge shawl, in a merino/possum mix yarn, and Noro Silk Garden. I bought the possum a few years ago, from the Knittery in Australia when they were closing down, and I’ve been waiting for the perfect project for it ever since. Similarly three balls of Silk Garden in a long discontinued colourway have been sitting in my stash, and this was the perfect opportunity to put them together.

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The pattern is Sonia’s Shawl, and it calls for equal amounts of yarn. I had 640m (in four skeins) of one, and 300m of the other, so I used the first skein of the possum at the top of the shawl, then striped the silk garden with the next two skeins, and used the last skein and a bit to do a garter stitch border.

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To say I’m happy with this would be something of an understatement – it’s one of my favourite things of everything I’ve knitted. It’s going to live on my sofa in the winter, and keep either my shoulders or my legs warm, and if it gets really cold it’ll go over my coat as a lovely snuggly furry layer :)

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And it’s why I love Noro so much – you can do an incredibly simple pattern and the wonderful colours make it look absolutely stunning.

(Pause for a slight interruption – this is another reason it’s sometimes hard to blog –

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Someone thinks that the space between the laptop and my face is her space. Thankfully she never stays very long!)

And back to the knitting. Continuing the shawl theme, when I saw the Leftie pattern I couldn’t resist starting one pretty much straight away.

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The pattern’s written to use up leftovers, using a different yarn for each leaf (hence the name Leftie), but the thought of all those ends to sew in had me running away screaming, so I had to come up with a plan b. Which was to use handspun yarn, and it worked perfectly! This was a skein I’d spun a couple of years ago, and then gone off as all the colours seemed to merge together in the skein. Thankfully when I started knitting they sorted themselves out again – and because the leaves are done with short rows all at once, you’re only using a short length of the yarn and the colours came out fairly clear. If that makes sense!

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This is the whole thing once it was done – you start at the small end and the rows get longer, then you stop once you lose the will to live. Which was after 30 leaves in my case. The pattern’s written for fingering weight, but I used DK, largely because I bought a huge amount of cheap wool/alpaca mix from Kemps a while ago, and wanted to use it up. Well, make a start, anyway.

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And this is the shawl in action – it’s very cosy!

Last up on today’s photo session was a shawl I finished a while ago, but failed to photograph in any sort of flattering fashion. I had better luck today, thankfully!

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The knitting world went mad last year when Kate Middleton was photographed just after her wedding wearing a shawl with a frilled edge.

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There are now lots of patterns for similar shawls on Ravelry, but none of them seemed quite what I wanted until I saw Atlantic Storm. It’s a very plain shawl – Kate’s was patterned in the body, but I thought that would be too much with this DK weight yarn, so I wanted to stick to stocking stitch.

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It’s a shallow triangle, increasing at the ends of three rows out of every four, then stitches are picked up along the top and then a couple of rows of increases worked until there were – wait for it – over 1800 stitches for the edging. Which is all in 1×1 rib. Thankfully I was watching tennis at the time, so I needed mindless knitting. I just slogged away at it until I’d done 19 rows, then thought about casting off. I knew I didn’t want to do a standard cast off, which always looks odd on rib to me, and the only other one I could find in most places was a sewn tubular one. Which is fine for the edges of garments where you have under 100 stitches, but the thought of doing 1800 stitches filled me with dread, not to mention how many ends I’d have to sew in.

So I did some more searching on Ravelry forums, and came up with a link to Techknitter’s fake tubular bind off. Which is a bit more fiddly than a regular one, but gives a lovely edge.

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It’s not a stretchy cast off, so I’m not sure how useful it’d be for garments, but it was perfect for this. The section in the middle of the photo above is actually the right side, but I decided that I liked the reverse better, so I cast off the other way round the circle. And about five hours (!) later I was finally done.

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The yarn’s Rowan Cashcotton DK, which is lovely and soft. The 18% angora content does mean that it will spend the next five years shedding over everything it comes in contact with, but hey, soft!

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Why do cats always stand on knitting the minute you put it on the floor?

And I think that’s enough for tonight! There is more to come, but I think that’s plenty for one post. I’ll try not to leave the next one so long, honest…

Kusha-esque

I’m always fascinated by the Habu Textiles stand when I see it at knitting shows, and their yarn with a very thin stainless steel core had intrigued me for ages before I bought a cone of it at the Ally Pally show, back in 2010. There was a pattern with it, for a scarf, but I only did a few rows before I decided that it was just too thin to enjoy working with it on its own, plus I didn’t like the fabric it was producing.

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I looked on Ravelry, and found that there was another pattern for a similar scarf, but worked with another strand, of merino. So I pulled it out, and at the Harrogate show later that year, I bought the required merino, and another cone of the wool and stainless steel. Then put it all in a cupboard and forgot all about it. Which isn’t like me at all, obviously.

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But then a couple of months ago there was a thread on one of the Ravelry forums about the stainless steel yarn, and it prompted me to pull it out and have another go with it. The pattern most people use is Kusha Kusha, which starts with a decrease section with both yarns held together, then carries on with both yarns for a while before switching to just the stainless steel one and decreasing needle size. All of which sounded a bit unnecessary to me, so I used both yarns all the way, and increased at the end to match the beginning.

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The fabric was still a bit coarse (someone at Knit Night said it looked like chain mail, which almost put me off the whole thing!) but the pattern said to felt it slightly when you were done. I really should have done a swatch and felted that, if only to reassure myself, but whilst I’m a firm believer in swatches for garments, I pretty much always just wing it with everything else, so I didn’t.

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When I started this I envisaged it as a reasonably long term simple project, that I could take along to Knit Night or do in front of the tv, but once I’d started I somehow couldn’t stop, and it was finished in no time. Not knowing how much it would shrink when felted, I guessed at a bit taller than me (very scientific!) and this is what it looked like when I cast off.

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And this is it after felting! I did it by hand, with a bowl of water as hot as I could get it from the tap, and a bowl of cold. I’d dip it in the hot (with rubber gloves), then into the cold where I’d rub it about a bit, then repeated that a few times till the edges started to felt. To dry it I laid it out flat, then pulled the edges into soft points all the way along.

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And this is the finished product! It’s rather different from anything else I’ve made, but I do like it. The stainless steel in the yarn is fun, in that you can shape it a bit – if you crease it it stays creased, and it has a bit of body to it.

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The felting process has softened up the fabric considerably too – it looks much less like chain mail now!

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One problem I did have was with knitting from cones – I mostly knit on the sofa, with my ball of yarn to my right, between me and the back of the sofa (and my legs up on the sofa in front of me), but that didn’t work with cones, they just kept rolling around and I was afraid of snapping the yarn if I pulled. So I used an old pair of straight needles and a basket to rig up a sort of lazy kate for cones (they were about half an inch too big for the kate I use for plying when spinning!)

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Sparkly woven scarf

A few weeks ago, my shower, which had been playing up for a while, and dripping all the time, finally gave up the ghost (it refused to turn off, which was a little disconcerting just before I had to leave for work, not to mention being all wet etc – I eventually remembered that there was an isolating valve under the bath, so I got dressed, found it, and ran out the door). The upshot was that I had to order a new one, and my parents came over at very short notice so that Dad could fit it for me (it’s very useful having a handy father!)

This of course meant that I was running round desperately tiding up, and in the process I stumbled across a bag which turned out to contain my spoils from Wonderwool, still not unpacked. Oops. But amongst them were these – apologies for the dreadful photo, it’s cropped from the one I took of everything I bought.

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A twist of mixed sparkly pink fibres, and a skein of laceweight silk, both from Oliver Twists. Finding them inspired me to get my loom out again, as the plan for them was to make a scarf, with the pinks running lengthways. I undid the pink twist with some trepidation, and found that it was in fact 8m in length, with about 30 different yarns/threads. I cut it into four 2m-ish lengths, and started warping the loom. Which wasn’t easy – I had to choose pairs of yarns, then knot them twice, once at each side of the back beam, to keep them from slipping round. I had four groups of yarns, and did each set separately, but it was completely random within that. Some of the finer threads, especially the sparkly ones, I warped alongside a length of the silk I was using for the weft.

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It took over three hours in total, not least because once I’d tied all the warp threads on, I had to deal with this tangle on the floor in front of the loom, but eventually it was all sorted and tied on.

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There were a variety of yarns, some with slubs, some ribbon yarns, some silk-like (but I think they’re rayon or similar), and lots with sparkle. It’s very hard to photograph sparkle, this was my best attempt at it!

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The start of the weaving. I didn’t use waste thread at the beginning, the silk was slippy enough to tidy it up once I took it off the loom.

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And all done! It’s not a very long scarf, I lost at bit at the beginning when for some reason one warp thread was shorter than all the others, and I had to trim a few inches off, but it’s a nice length for a summer scarf to wear with my denim jacket. And it drapes beautifully.

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It’s a bit more weft-faced than I’d hoped for (ie the cream silk weft dominates the coloured warp) but it’s quite subtle. And you can see the colours in the fringe.

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Coincidently, just after I’d finished this, I went down to Wingham WoolWork with my friend Nadine, for a demonstration day by Ashford. There was weaving, spinning and drum-carding on offer, but I concentrated on weaving and I picked up loads of really useful tips – I just hope I still remember them by the time I get my loom out again. I’m busy watching tennis at the moment, and that’s not really a thing you can do whilst weaving.

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Of course, I now want a funky eight-shaft loom like the one at the front of this photo, so I can make pretty things like this –

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But they’re over £500, which I just don’t have to spend at the moment, and I’ve nowhere to put it anyway. I’ll just have to concentrate on getting the most out of my rigid heddle. I did learn how to use a pick up stick, and how to warp for doubleweave, so that’s a start…

Still here

Hello! Waves! I’m still here, just a little quiet – I’m not sure why, I had a lovely week in Wales a few weeks ago, but it seems to have eaten my blogging mojo. Let’s see if I can get it back…

So, what have I been up to? Let’s start with the week in Wales. My parents have a caravan in Trearddur Bay, on Anglesey, not far from Holyhead, and it’s one of my very favourite places – I’ve been there every year since I was about two, and it feels like going home. I usually have a bad effect on the weather when I go away (cf my recent soggy week in Hay-on-Wye!) and I’d almost decided not to go, but I gave it a go, and even as I drove across the Pennines the sun came out, and it was glorious all week.

I stopped at Rhos-on-Sea on my way, and came across this tiny church – the sign said it’s believed to be the smallest in the British Isles (I think!) The bench gives an idea of scale.

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Inside there’s seating for six.

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I drove onto Llandudno and had a bit of a wander, still marvelling at the sunshine.

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Then drove onto Trearddur. I went down to the sea after tea (it’s only a five minute stroll from the caravan) and sat in my favourite spot, a rock which takes a bit of scrambling to get to, past a rock pool we used to catch tiny shrimps and crabs in when we were small, and sat and watched the sea. It was so peaceful.

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And a few more random photos.

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The woods at Penrhos, once the gardens of a big house, now sadly demolished.

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One of the small bays at Trearddur, with Holyhead Mountain in the distance.

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The house I’ll buy when I win the lottery – it looks over the bay in the previous photo. Imagine sitting in that glassed in veranda with your knitting or spinning wheel, and going to bed in a turret.

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Flowers by the sea.

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And the big bay at Trearddur – the sea is always so clear there.

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Paddling in the sea. I really wished I’d taking a swimsuit, but it hardly occurred to me to take warm weather clothes, never mind bathing gear! And looking back now I can hardly believe how warm it was for that one week, it seems like a dream.

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I managed a bit of knitting – I finished this sock whilst I was there. Only one to go.

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And because a holiday isn’t a holiday without visiting at least one yarn and/or fabric shop, I popped into the lovely Copperfield, at Four Mile Bridge, which is a small village straggling the bridge between Anglesey and Holy Island, just up the road from Valley, and four miles from Holyhead.

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This is one of those tardis-like shops which looks tiny on the outside, but grows when you get inside. In the front room is an assortment of ribbons and trimmings.

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And a selection of Rowan yarns.

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Then there’s a small lobby-like room in the middle,

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before you get to the main fabric room at the back. There’s a massive selection of Moda fabrics, as well as some from other designers. The trouble is that I want it to be on my doorstep, so I can just pop in to match a fabric I need – I get very overwhelmed when I visit somewhere like that on holiday! I did buy a few bits, but I can’t just lay my hands on them now to photograph them, I’m feeling very disorganised at the moment!

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Back to my wanderings. These allotments in Holyhead always catch my eye, with the Irish ferries in the background.

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And up to the slopes of Holyhead Mountain, where a group of Iron Age hut circles have been excavated.

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A hut circle with a view. This was a Saturday afternoon, and the car park and cliffs along towards South Stack just opposite were very busy, but I had this part pretty much to myself, it was another magical moment.

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One of them was full of bluebells. It must have been a good year for them, they were everywhere.

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Some of them are thought to have been workshops or animal enclosures.

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I did have a quick walk down to look at South Stack (that’s the lighthouse) in the distance, but I didn’t go any nearer – I’ve been before, and there’s a lot of steps down the cliff!

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The sea was an amazing blue-green colour.

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This rock caught my eye the next day, when I was wandering round with my knitting and a book, enjoying the views.

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Such as this one. This is the seaside to me – lots and lots of tiny rocky bays, some with sand and some with rocks, not long expanses of golden sand, that’s not exciting at all!

And that’s it for travelogues for the time being – and if this dreadful weather doesn’t cheer up it could be it for the year! I’m so sick of thinking it’s been a nice day if it was just grey sky but no rain. But I have been making things, and I’ll do some updates on that very soon…

So, my last stop on my trip back from Hay-on-Wye. I was heading for my parents’ house, north of Manchester, and decided that it would be much out of my way to go via Llandrindod Wells and Welshpool instead of going straight up the A49.

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It’s a very pleasant drive up the A483, with frequent views like this one. I stopped briefly in Welshpool for lunchtime, but my real destination was at the other end of the Welshpool and and Llanfair Railway – the Colinette shop!

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I’ve been once before, so I was prepared, but even so the riot of colour inside was amazing! They’re only open on occasional Saturdays, but luckily this was one of them, and I had the place to myself apart from the very pleasant chap working there. Who endeared himself to me by offering me a cup of tea the minute I walked in – that was very welcome!

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I wandered round for ages – I could have bought lots, but I didn’t have any real projects in mind. I love their yarns, but I’m wary of using them for garments these days, having had several bad experiences with colours changing between skeins and pooling, even when striping two skeins as recommended.

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I was very tempted to buy the yarn for another Ab Fab throw (the wavy one on the left) but I couldn’t decide which colourway to go for, so I’m going to have a look at finished ones on Ravelry before I make a final decision.

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The trouble with somewhere like this is that you really need to be able to just pop in when you’ve got a project in mind – the website is okay, but no real substitute, and even Bobbins in Whitby doesn’t have nearly the full range of colours. I’m very jealous of Katie, of HilltopCloud, who lives just up the road. And very kindly invited me to drop in for a cuppa when I tweeted that I was on my way to Colinette, but sadly I didn’t have time as I had to be at my parents’ in time for tea (it was my Dad’s birthday). Next time I’m down that way I’ll take you up on the offer if it still stands, Katie!

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So, what did I buy?

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I’ve had my eye on one of these squiggly scarves for a while, but the kits they sell online are mohair and cotton, and I wanted to splash out on mohair and silk. I’m glad I waited, as it’s much easier to choose colours if they’re all in front of you. I ummed and ahhed for ages, before deciding on these colours.

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But the pattern as written needs two skeins of mohair and three of silk, and whilst there were three silk skeins out, there was only one mohair. The helpful chap spent ages going and getting more and trying to match it, but all the others in that colourway had bits of green in them (and were all different from each other!) So in the end I decided to just buy the one mohair skein and two silk ones, and make a narrower scarf. That made it cheaper too!

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The only other thing I bought was a skein of Jitterbug in an experimental colourway, from the bargain room for £4. Unfortunately my camera’s no good at photographing teal greeny-blues or purples, so both of the yarn photos are a bit off colour.

The door to the room where they dye the yarn was ajar, so I stuck my head round and had a quick peak. I’d love to see it all working!

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And a last burst of colour.

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Right, that’s me about caught up I think, stand by for posts either from or about Anglesey (depending on internet connections there).

I’ve been in a bit of a lull, craft-wise, for the last few weeks – I became strangely addicted to making crochet throws and couldn’t summon up the energy to do anything more challenging than go round and round the outside of a square.

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But my second one is now finished, and I’m not starting any more for a while!

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This one’s in RYC Luxury Cotton dk (long discontinued, unfortunately). I had two balls of blue left over from a cardigan, and the other ten balls came from Kemps in their great Rowan bargain bags a couple of years ago. Whoever put them together chose the colours well, and they’ve made a lovely throw. There were five balls of the pink, and two of each of the others apart from the dark blue, and I thought I’d worked out a stripe sequence to use them evenly, but I failed miserably and had two and a half balls of pink left at the end. So I used them to do a border – four rows of triples with one chain between, then a row of doubles round the edge to finish it off. I’m pleased with it, and it’s used some yarn up. It’s a bit of a drop in the ocean, but I suppose it’s a start!

My next project is a very old WIP – I started this Coraline cardigan nearly two years ago, I know I knitted the body up to the armholes during Wimbledon that year. Then it was abandoned until last April, when I did the sleeves, and the yoke up to the start of the smocking, when it languished again. This time I’m going to finish it!

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But the smocking was nearly the project’s downfall – the pattern says to slip the first knit stitch onto a cable needle and hold at the front, slip the next four purl stitches onto the right needle, slip the next knit stitch onto the cable needle, slip the purl stitches back to the left needle, wrap the two knit stitches on the cable needle with the working yarn, knit the first one, purl the four purl stitches, then knit the other knit stitch from the cable needle. Which makes sense if it is rather long winded, but I hate cable needles at the best of times, and having one dangling at the front of my work with one stitch on it was just horrible. I did about six wraps, then turned to Ravelry for an alternative. Thankfully it didn’t let me down, and I found Interknitty’s very helpful notes, which basically say to wrap the first knit stitch before working it, purl the next four, pick up the wrap, knit the next stitch, then slip the wrap over it. Which is tricky in the multi-stranded Bamboo Soft yarn I’m using, but much easier than messing about with a cable needle!

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The wraps round the smocked stitches are stretching out a bit more than some others I’ve seen, but I think it’s because the bamboo yarn is very slippy and isn’t gripping the stitches. It’ll do! I just want it finished now, and I’m not too far off. I’m doing another repeat (six rows) of the smocking pattern as my row gauge is off, but I’m nearly there, thank goodness.

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And now for something completely different! I bought two cones of Habu merino/stainless steel yarn (in lilac) and one of the merino (in grey) at the Knitting and Stitching Show a year or two ago, and seeing a reference to stainless steel yarns on Ravelry prompted me to get it out and have a go at using it. I’m sort of following the Kusha Kusha scarf pattern, but I’m not going to change to a single yarn for the second half, I’ll just keep going in the two held together and see how long it turns out.

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It’s looking quite wiry and open at the moment, but you hand felt the finished scarf, and apparently it makes it more fabric-like. I really should have done a swatch first to see how it works, but I’m living dangerously on this one!

So those are the projects I’m taking to Anglesey with me this week, with maybe a sock as well (there’s a couple of half-finished ones lurking in my WIP box). I’ll let you know how I got on when I get home!