Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Spontaneous Crafty Trip

Today, in something of a spontaneous moment, I decided to visit my in-laws for a few days. I really enjoy visiting my in-laws. They live in a beautiful barn conversion in Nottinghamshire, along with Jasper the parakeet, Kitty the cat, Charlie and Rosie the rescue donkeys, and a small flock of sheep complete with four newly-arrived lambs. Next door is the old farmhouse, and the family there has horses, dogs and chickens. So it is a very beautiful, rural idyll.

My mother-in-law, Mrs Wool and Yarns, is a very talented lady, and in their garden she has a huge workshop, which she calls “the cabin”, for all of her crafty goings on. She uses the fleeces from her sheep, which are mainly Jacobs, for some of her crafts. She spins and dyes wool, and she is also an expert felter and knitter. In the past she has done many different crafty type things, from candle making to jewellery making, and she recently made all the costumes for the local pantomime, but right now her focus is on all things woolly – including the lambing!

My husband is working abroad at the moment, and it is actually quite nice to make a visit without him. I can indulge my animal loving side by cuddling the cat (my husband is allergic, so normally I have to steer clear!), helping bottle-feed Macaroon the poor little orphaned lamb, giving the donkeys lots of attention and carrots. And of course I can get lots of crafting done, maybe even spend some time learning something new: I want to learn knitting this year, but I also fancy learning about felting. At some point I’d love to learn about dying too… So many possibilities!

So packing for this trip was much more fun than normal (I hate packing – not good for someone who enjoys travelling so much!) No need to worry about any fancy outfits: I need scruffy clothes I don't mind getting muddy, wellies for outside and slippers for inside, and some entertainment:

The Kathy Reichs book is what I’m currently reading. I’ve had an unread Kathy Reichs book, Death du Jour, on my shelves since I was at university. I finally decided to read it the other day and found it to be a real page-turner, very compelling reading! I got most of the way through it in just a few days, then finished the final third in one several-hour stint as I just couldn’t put it down. The end of every chapter left me desperate to know what would happen next. The very next day I just had to head out to the local charity shops to look for another. I love book shopping in charity shops – they are so much cheaper and the money goes to a good cause, so I feel as if I can try something new without wasting money. I also love the thrill of the chase when hunting for a particular title, or the excitement of stumbling over a really good new book that I hadn’t heard of before.

The rest are my selection to choose from for my next book, I wasn’t sure what I would fancy reading next so I just grabbed a random pile: a bit of a memoir from the days of the Raj; a character-driven novel set in the mysterious orient during the opium wars, my third book by author Amitav Ghosh; a novel passed on to me by my mum by new-to-me author Victoria Hislop; and a comedic novel by Sandi Toksvig about a middle aged woman whose boring life is suddenly turned upside-down. I really like Sandi Toksvig on panel shows and things, so I’m hoping that her writing will be just as enjoyable.

And of course I couldn’t come to such a crafty, creative environment without bringing a few of my own WiPs! 
On this trip I’ve brought my (still very basic) jewellery making kit – I plan to make some wirework earrings as a gift for my mother-in-law, and also just get some practice in with a few things for myself maybe (can you ever have too much jewellery??)

I’ve also brought my lovely big basket of crochet. I have several things on the go in there, the sheep is modelling a selection of them: a Japanese flower scarf for my mum (the colours are much more vibrant in real life), my first granny square blanket, and a granny stripe cushion cover to go with a cushion cover and sofa blanket that I’ve already completed. Deeper in the basket somewhere are other barely-started items that I’m sure I will get to eventually too…

Lovely people, lovely animals, lovely crafty things: what a lovely weekend this will be!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Geographical Journeys at the RGS

Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure of attending an event at the Royal Geographical Society in London. I was very excited to be able to attend an event there, as the Society is obviously steeped in history and enshrines such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton and Hillary. Greats indeed in the history of endeavour and adventure.

The event I went to was about expeditions on a slightly more modest scale, but adventures none-the-less. And to make it all the more exciting, the reason that I was there was that one of the speakers was a friend of mine and she had invited me.

Geographical Journeys: Microlectures’ featured seven speakers who had all undertaken travel, either for exploration, science, work, or simply for the journey. Each speaker had only 10 minutes in which to deliver their adventure, and so we heard about how Emma Baker went to Sierra Leone on a volunteer program and had the experience of a lifetime, how Faraz Shibli and his girlfriend travelled to Laos with their new bicycles to travel the country. The cycle journey ended when his girlfriend injured herself in a fall and they had to turn to hitch hiking instead, but it was not all disaster as they got engaged on the trip! And Levison Wood told anecdotes of his journey to South Sudan, the World’s newest country, to lead a Channel 4 crew who were making a film about fishing in a war zone.

My favourite tales were those of: 
Keith MacIntosh, who did not cancel his trip to Ladakh, a mountain desert area high in the Himalayas where it never rains, when in the middle of the night a rare cloudburst event flooded the area causing massive damage to this rural, undeveloped region. Many inches of rain fell in minutes during this poorly-understood phenomenon, and the mountainous terrain funnelled the water into the valleys – exactly where the population all made their homes. The flooding and mud slides caused huge damage to homes, the minimal agriculture in the region, and uncountable loss of life. Keith still travelled to the area, but replaced trekking with conducting any unskilled labour he could to help the stricken area: repairing irrigation systems, helping bring in the harvest, clearing wreckage and recovering people’s belongings from the mud slides. He was also there when HH the Dalai Lama visited to unite the people and give them strength. Quite an experience!

Conservation biologist James Borrell, who told of his experiences conducting fieldwork in the remote and beautiful Dhofar Mountains in the Arabian Peninsula. This region is an oasis of jungle on the coast of Oman, near to the border with Yemen, where the limestone mountains drive moist air upwards creating jungle in the desert. Here the team collected valuable data on the surprisingly diverse wildlife, and with camera traps they captured images of rare striped hyenas, honey badgers, and even captured the elusive and enigmatic Arabian leopard, an extremely rare subspecies thought to number less than 250 individuals scattered across Arabia – even fewer than its more famous rare cousin, the snow leopard.

Malgosia Skowronska, a mountaineer from ‘Afghanistan’s Secret Peaks’ project who described her journey through mountain regions of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor – the narrow strip of land at Afghanistan’s north eastern side, pointing out towards China to climb previously unclimbed mountain peaks. With modern-day Pakistan to the south and modern-day Tajikistan to north, this corridor was created when the British and Russian Empires created a buffer zone during ‘the Great Game’, and it is extremely remote. Malgosia showed wonderful photos of Wakhi and Kirgiz people, the women of these people unlike the common image of Afghan women hidden under burkhas, and instead resplendent in beautifully patterned and ornate bright red clothes and fancy jewellery. Afghanistan holds a special place in my imagination as I have been there with work and have spent a lot of time learning about culture there and also studying one of the Afghan languages, Pashto. I would love to visit the Wakhan area of the country, which has not been affected by the regime of the Taliban in the same way as other areas of the country.

The speaker I had been invited by was my friend Helen Spencer. Helen is fascinating. She loves travel and has been fortunate enough to do a lot of interesting trips – she has already been reindeer herding with the Sami people in Norway this year, and will be heading off on an Afghan adventure in the summer. Her work as a vet has also taken her to fantastic places and has had her working on incredibly interesting projects with different people around the world (Jealous? Moi??)

This talk was about the time Helen, as part of a group organised by specialist travel company Secret Compass, took part in the first recorded coast to coast crossing of Madagascar by foot, including summiting the highest mountain on the island (and the second highest by mistake too due to a slight misjudgement in calculations!)

Sambava on the east coast - journey's start (photo by Helen Spencer)

The expedition began on the east coast and moved west, initially on well-trodden tracks past local villages, camping in school fields or other open patches of land. The group were the first foreigners ever seen by most of the people they encountered, and they regularly drew large crowds of curious onlookers to watch them put up their tents, deal with their blisters, go for a wee in the woods…

A tea break with an audience of hundreds! (photo by Helen Spencer)

Eventually the paths petered out and the team moved into jungle that required them to hack their way through. Sometimes the undergrowth was so thick that they could only cover as little as 6km in a full day’s work. Navigation was seriously hampered as the close-up jungle obliterates landmarks and the dense canopy interferes with GPS systems, so the team used rivers where possible to aid their route finding. As they encountered more hilly terrain they broke in and out of jungle, getting treated to spectacular views that human eyes may never have seen before. Sorely needed compensation for the heavy packs, back breaking work, leeches, blisters and flesh eating parasites! 

Breath taking views (photo by Helen Spencer)

Making their way through the jungle (photo by Helen Spencer)
The Tsaratanana Massif region at the north end of the island contains, at 2,880 metres (9,449 ft), the highest point on the island. Not quite in the league of the Alps in Europe, though higher than our highest British peak of Ben Nevis. The team made their preparations for the summit, which included bringing a white chicken which they had carried in from the start of their journey. At the top the high fives were halted when the GPS revealed they had headed up the wrong peak, so down they had to traipse, across the boggy patch at the bottom, and back up the right peak.

The summit team at the highest point of Madagascar (photo by Helen Spencer)

More incredible views, possibly never seen before (photo by Helen Spencer)
Eventually, despite the inaccuracies of their 1962 French Foreign Legion maps, the whole team made it out of the jungle and down towards the western coast. No serious injuries were sustained during the trek, which was excellent luck as with no helicopters on the island, a casualty would have meant the team would have to carry them back through all of the difficult terrain they had already passed! (Now there’s an incentive to look out for your team mates!) That said, a few members did end up in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases with leishmaniasis – the previously mentioned flesh eating parasite, which is passed on by bites from sand flies. Yuk!

Journey's end on the west coast, and a well-earned rest for some tired feet (photo by Helen Spencer)

Becoming something’s dinner aside, imagine being the first to do something? The first to see that view, tread that path, make that achievement? Simply a-MA-zing.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Hemp Doily

For some time I have been thinking that I fancied crocheting a doily. I feel like I’ve aged about 20 years just by saying that, which is what has put me off doing it so far.  But there are so many patterns that look so intricate, and I love the idea of tackling something a little more complicated than I’ve done so far. So occasionally I search for crochet doilies, using various adjectives such as ‘modern’, ‘colourful’ etc. in the hope of finding something I think I could make without feeling like I was a 1950s housewife.

Then: Success!!  I stumbled across this lovely bright doily at The Green Dragonfly. I really liked the design, but I was lacking essential supplies – like crochet cotton to actually make it with!  Not to be put off so easily, I decided to see how it would work out with something a bit different: crafter’s hemp.  I had most of a spool of 1mm crafter’s hemp leftover from making macramé bracelets. It was in variegated natural colours, which I thought would give a nice effect, so I had a play around with it… 

I experimented with a couple of different sized hooks, and found that for this a 4mm hook worked best.

I had a little difficulty concentrating on the pattern, but I found that referring back and forth between the written pattern and the actual photo really helped, as I could use the picture to get myself straight if I was confused. (I also found that talking myself through the order and number of stitches helped – good job I was alone!) I should also mention here that the pattern is written with US terminology, so the US double crochet is equivalent to UK treble etc. If you are unsure, terminology conversion can be found here.

The hemp wasn’t the easiest to work with. It’s very stiff, so if you want to have a go it’s best to work it a little first to unstiffen the wax finish it has – though not too much, as you don’t want to fray the cord. I also found that the stiffness varied with the colour variation, making an even tension difficult to achieve, but working the cord first did help with this.

The doily was really great to make, and as the rounds increased with my tea growing colder and the sun going down, I got more and more excited to see how it would look finished. Unfortunately disaster struck early in the last round when I ran out of cord, but here the problematic stiffness of the cord actually helped out as it meant the work could retain its shape despite not having a nice decorative finishing round.

Once I’d finished crocheting it was very crumpled and sorry looking, and I had no idea if blocking would work or not, but I was delighted to find that it did. After pinning it out I sprayed it until it was quite damp – damper than I would have done for wool, but not so that it was soggy. Then I just left it overnight to dry out and checked it the next day.

Before blocking (please excuse the photo - the light had gone by this point but I was too impatient to delay blocking!)
After blocking

The finished product with the hemp cord is a little stiff, but I don’t think this matters as I will only be using it for flat surfaces anyway, and I think that it will work out great for future projects like little crocheted bowls…

And of course now I have the perfect excuse to shop for more supplies, as I will need to make an actual finished doily. And maybe some more for presents. And now that I think of it I also have some lovely lampwork beads in the shape of strawberries – threaded onto the 5 chains of the final round and the doily becomes a pretty jug cover ready for Pimms in the summer... Ooh, the possibilities!  

N.B. that's not dust - it's just 'noise' from taking the pic in low light!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Hello, Good Evening and Welcome!

Hello and Welcome to my new blog!

I’m a thirty-something (it still hurts to say that! My soul is forever 25…) woman living in England, although I’m originally from the beautiful county of Pembrokeshire in West Wales.

Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire

I like so many different things – different activities, styles, places, but for various reasons I don't always find it easy to motivate myself. I want this to change - I want to do more things that mean something to me, that develop me as a person or just improve my experience of life. I basically want to spend my time in pursuit of the worthwhile.

And this blog is for these things: the latest craft I have turned my hand to, adventures I set off on, jetting off across the globe to see new and fantastic places, or simply a good book :)

Thank you for reading! <3