Monday, 31 March 2014

Hooking Just For Fun

I would have liked to go out somewhere today, but I had to stay in for the gas engineer to do a 'Landlord's Safety Inspection'. At the moment, whenever I'm home I'm hooking up the Mumbles... but I fancied a change from the ripple for a little weeny bit, and I’d had an idea floating around in my head. I normally only crochet for a purpose, but I decided that I would make a quick little something just for fun.

I took one of these:

This was simply labelled 'coloured rings', and is £1.10 for 2 from Boyes.

I took these from my cotton stash:

I've lost the labels, but I'm pretty sure these are all Patons.

These from my bead stash:

Dyed howlite skull beads - bought some time ago from Etsy.

And some bits of equipment:

I love my thatched cottage pin box and my scissors with their lovely case. All from the Cath Kidston sale a while ago.

First I did this:

No pattern, I just made it up as I went along.

Then I did this:

To help thread the tight-fitting bead, I dipped the end of the cotton in some melted candle-wax and smoothed it down. Then I simply snipped the waxy bit off afterwards.

I made some of these:

This circle is based on the first 3 rounds of the Japanese Flower Scarf.

I had a go a making a double one too, and stuffing it:

This circle is the first two rounds of the pattern used for the Glastonbury Blanket, with a third row of chain stitches double crocheted into the gaps. Stuffing inbetween, and then whip stitched together.

Next I had a go at these:

Small amigurumi ball, various patterns form a Pinterest search and then I made it up based on several similar ones.

Then I decided to have a go at my own design, not bad from this side:

I made this one up based on the small ball, but with extra rows and increases, and a colour change.

From here you can see it needs a bit of work:

Not a very neat colour change!

Then I put it all together:

It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, it's not perfect by any means but I think it turned out ok - for a first attempt, just making it up as I went along. 

If I did it again I would be more careful covering the ring, as my colour sections aren't even (because I lost count and was too lazy to go back over it and check...) I would also make sure that the crochet onto the ring (the pink pointy bits) fitted properly - I have an extra gap in this one.

Speaking of doing it again, there are so many possibilities with this!! You could make one with amigurumi eggs for Easter, or daffodils and pastel colours for Spring in general. Bright flowers and butterflies would be nice for Summer. Leaves and acorns in the Autumn? Snowflakes in the winter with mini bells instead of beads? A simple one in white with glass beads to catch the light could be nice at any time of year… Ok, I’m getting carried away now. It’s a good job that I have more cotton stash, and the hoops are only £1.10 for two :)

Sunday, 30 March 2014

New Arrivals!

We received a phone call this morning with exciting news: there are two new additions to the family!!

One of my mother-in-law's sheep gave birth to twins this morning. It was a bit hairy - one was very large and was in the breach position (legs first) which made it a very difficult birth and the vet had to be called to assist.

But all's well that ends well, and mother and lambs are doing fine.

Here they are, two little ewe-lambs called Danni and Daisy :)

The Danni is the bigger lamb, on the right; she is the one who stuck in the breach position. Poor little lamb!

I can't wait to head up there and see them :)

You can see last year's lambs here

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Dizzy's House in the Country

Today I joined the National Trust. Bodiam Castle and Brownsea Island on my ‘UK Bucket List’ are National Trust properties, and a quick look on their website shows that there are so many more places that would also be great to visit – and we’ll only need to visit 3 or 4 places to have saved money by becoming members!

With a few things to do today, there wasn’t time to stray too far from home, but luckily there are over 30 National Trust sites within 25 miles of where we currently live.

I’d love to be doing more active things, and I do have a BIG trip to get fit for, but with my current whiplash injury (I know – there’s always something!) I’m forced to stick to more gentle pursuits at the moment.

A quick look through the list of possibilities nearby, and we decided upon Hughenden Manor, the former home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, and a bit of a country retreat for him away from London. The house dates from the 18th century, but was remodelled by the Disraelis in 1862. The house is fully open to the public, and you can also visit the formal garden and grounds and walk in the surrounding countryside.

It was beautifully sunny, so we began outside – just in case the weather turned. Everywhere was covered with spring flowers: celandines, primroses, lots of daffodils; a real yellow theme going on! 



Wonderful daffodils

I do love daffodils - the Welsh in me again :)

Even the butterflies were yellow!

Brimstone butterfly (bottom centre of the photo)

The planting of the formal garden changes, and on this occasion the beds were full of varieties of lavender, with a few yellow pansies poking through.

The views were lovely, red kites swooped through the sky, the trees dappled the glorious sunshine with shade, and all of the yellow flowers looked so vibrant and beautiful.


After enjoying the outside, we moved on to the house itself. We just happened to arrive in time for a brief talk about Benjamin Disraeli's life, so we decided to stop for that. I’m really glad we did, as it was actually really interesting. I had known that Disraeli was a Victorian Prime Minister, but had not realised he was her favourite (apparently he “made politics interesting”). 

Statue of Disraeli

I also hadn’t realised that he had done so much for ordinary people: championing votes for common people (you previously had to have a certain wealth to be able to vote), and bringing in various laws about safety conditions for workers, for health, for food standards for ordinary people, for ensuring that new housing had sewerage provisions…

As well as pioneering so much change in Britain, he made his mark in international politics too with his involvement in Egypt and the Suez Canal. For protecting British interests against the then Russian Empire at the Congress of Berlin he was acclaimed as one of Europe's leading statesmen, and he was offered a Dukedom; however he turned this down and instead accepted the Garter.

He wasn’t always a politician though. He was also a novelist with 17 published titles, plus a writer of non-fiction. In his youth he was a ‘dandy’, and there are accounts of him being fantastically dressed – even one account of him going about dressed as a pirate with a dagger in his sock, quite a big deal in stuffy Victorian England! He was also famous for having lots of mistresses, and when he married it was widely known to be a marriage of convenience to a woman 12 years his senior. His wife came with an income that he dearly needed, but they did fall genuinely in love with each other – Disraeli even turned down the offer of a State Funeral so that he could honour his promise to his wife and be buried next to her.

Dizzy married me for money, but if he had the chance again he would marry me for love ~ Mary Anne Disraeli

Disraeli's grave, next to his wife. Also next to a benefactor who promised him a great deal of money if she could be buried next to him!

The church down the hill from the house, where Disraeli is buried.

Well that’s some of the history, and now on to the house:
The house is now owned by the National Trust. They have arranged it as closely as possible to the way it was when Disraeli himself was there, and there is lots of information available about the history and significance of the different rooms, and the items within.

Queen Victoria had become friends with Disraeli, and her influence around the place was highly visible as she had given a lot of gifts. It is actually thanks to Queen Victoria that the interior of the house could be so faithfully reconstructed: she visited the house after Disraeli's death, and took with her a photographer who captured each room, the photos forming part of the Royal Collection and being used as reference later by the National Trust:

A statuette of Queen Victoria with a spinning wheel. I never knew she was yarny!

Portraits of Victoria and Albert

The various pictures gifted by Victoria all had a cute little crown at the top of the frame.

This fantastic edition of 'Faust' was also a gift from Victoria

The rooms were all presented beautifully, with lots of information about the history. For example, Queen Victoria had visited Hughenden for dinner with the Disraelis. In the dining room is of course a table and chairs. Queen Victoria's actual chair can be distinguished: Victoria was very short, but liked to sit with her feet comfortably on the floor. Therefore, for her visit, the bottoms of the chair-legs were sawn off to make her comfortable!

The dining room

Can you spot her chair? :)

How fantastic is this library? Disraeli's library contains non-fiction works, mainly about politics, history and theology. He said that if he wanted to read a novel he would write one!

Disraeli's study is the room that they have been able to recreate most authentically, this is the room where he did most of his writing:

Personally I love the drawing room, with its views over the garden and the wonderful sunlight flooding in - this had previously been the library, but the two rooms were swapped over by Disraeli's nephew to protect the books from sun damage, and this is how they remain.

Do you see the sewing box on the table?

Here it is in more detail

I also love the carved detail on this chair-back:

Great weather, beautiful surroundings, and a classic bit of our British history. A lovely way to spend a day!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Introducing... The Mumbles Ripple!!

I keep referring to the Mumbles Ripple in various posts, and it’s currently the project that occupies the majority of my time as I race against the clock to get it finished in time for my brother’s wedding. I therefore thought it was about time it got its own post – so here it is!

When my brother got engaged to his lovely girlfriend of about 10 years, I knew I wanted to do something special for their wedding present. I could buy them something special, but I also loved the idea of making them something special – if they wanted me to. I suggested it to them as an option, and left them to think about it.

I was very happy when they said they would love a crocheted bed blanket, and discussions and joint Pinterest boards ensued! We decided on natural fibres (as far as possible – sadly I’m not rich enough to do that 100%...) and they asked for a ripple. They had seen my first ripple blanket and loved it, and wanted one of their own. This is a lovely blanket to make, quite simple and very effective, and the pattern is available for free from Attic 24, it is her neat ripple pattern.

My brother and his girlfriend live by the sea (my brother and I also grew up by the sea) and the sea and the coast plays a huge part in their lives. Therefore it was a no-brainer that they would want a blanket in ocean colours.

With a pattern and colour scheme decided on, I started to scour the internet for suitable yarn. This was really difficult for me – I was nervous about choosing colours online, and while I kept seeing yarns I thought looked fantastic, they tended to be too expensive for me to get in the quantities I would need. After some time struggling with this, my mother-in-law came to the rescue when I was making a visit there one time. She spent a day driving me around all of the yarn shops she knew of near where she lives, and after a massive failure to find any suitable yarn, she took me Boyes department shop as a last resort. She knew that they stocked yarn, but hadn’t been too hopeful that they would have what I was after. However, in dramatic style, the final last ditch attempt came up trumps!

So much Stylecraft loveliness at Boyes!

Boyes is quite a big stockist of Stylecraft yarn, and also had a smaller selection of various others that were absolutely what I was after!

Looking through the yarn, I discovered Stylecraft’s Life range (which I’m currently totally in love with). This yarn doesn’t come in the same range of colours as the Special DK acrylic range, but it does have a nice range of over 40 both bright and soft colours, and contains 25% wool.

I went a bit nuts gathering up all of the blues I could find, along with a couple of colours to represent sand and pebbles, and a couple of greeny colours to mix it up a bit – I thought that just blue would look a bit flat.

The colours I picked from the Life range are:

From left to right they are: Navy, Mint, Mixtures Denim, Stone Nepp, Cascade, Regent, Oatmeal, Cobalt, Aqua, Denim Nepp
(I also got Mixtures Blue Haze, which is not pictured as I took it out of my basket to use on my Granny Shrug and forgot to get it back for this photo.)

As well as the Life range, I saw Stylecraft had a range called Luxury Wool Rich DK, with 51% wool. This doesn’t come in so many different shades, but I got the 2 that were suitable for my project: Petrol and French Navy.  I later on got the Stylecraft Alpaca DK (20% alpaca) in Mistral too, which is also in this pic:

See that red sticker? I love it when the stuff I want is reduced!

As well as the Stylecraft goodies, I picked up some other brands too. Pictured are: Wendy Mode Double Knitting 50% Merino in shades 227 & 237; James C Brett Pure Merino (so soft and lovely!!) in PM5 and PM12; and King Cole Merino Blend DK 100% wool in shade 926:

In addition to these yarns, I went on to buy individual balls for special reasons. (I started work on this blanket without thinking about blogging it, and as these yarns are used up now I just have pictures of them as stripes): 

I got a beautiful 100% merino yarn from the lovely Jane’s yarn shop and café in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. Unfortunately this yarn had no label, so I can’t name it (or buy any more! Boo!!) This was special as Pembrokeshire is my – and my brother’s – home county, and I was with my mum when I got the yarn:

The stripe in the middle: It's not quite so blue as it looks here, it really is a gorgeous colour.

On my birthday – which also happens to be my brother’s birthday! – last year, I went to London for a day out with my husband, and we popped into Liberty’s while we were there. I picked up a Rowan Tweed yarn, 100% wool, in shade 590 Wensley. There were several absolutely gorgeous colours of this yarn to choose from, but in the end I picked the Wensley as (in context of an ocean blanket) it reminded me of seaweed colours, which I didn’t already have. So this yarn was special because it was bought on his birthday:

The middle stripe again

I also brought back a ball of 100% pure alpaca from Peru. I massively regret not buying more yarn when I was there – our bags were so full and I was so sick of shopping when we got to the end of our trip, but now I know it would have been worth the effort of just one more shopping trip!! This yarn was obviously special just because it had come from Peru, and it inspired my further purchase of the Stylecraft Alpaca later on :)

Middle stripe - you can see it's next to the Rowan. I should have separated out the 'special' yarns, but I was too excited and used them straightaway...!

I left for home after the first shopping trip to Boyes with a basket full of ocean coloured yarns, and got started right away on the foundation chain for this blanket.

(poor quality phone picture - sorry!)

The chain is made in multiples of 14, and I kept chaining away until the chain was too big for my bed. I did this for two reasons: firstly, I couldn’t remember if they had a king size bed or not, and wanted it to be big enough. Secondly, when I made my first ripple I had made the chain big enough for my bed, but when I stitched into it the width shrank and so now I have to use my ripple as a sofa blanket… but it turns out the first ripple only shrank up as it was my first project so my chain wasn’t the right tension. A bit of experience later, and my foundation chain was actually really good, so the Mumbles blanket has stayed huge… I foolishly didn’t unravel and shorten the foundation chain though, so now each row take aaaages to complete!

I started back in late summer / autumn 2013, but in between I did a few other projects – the Parker Granny Square Baby Blanket, Safi Baby Blanket, Granny Shrug, and I have also been working a bit on the Glastonbury Blanket. Then there was the small matter of a 3 month trip to South America getting in the way too!

I was sure that I had more progress photos of this blanket slowly growing, but I can’t find them anywhere! So this one is a bit of a leap forward from the previous one:

I’m putting the sand colours in every now and then, not too regularly or irregularly, and doing the same with the greeny colours of Aqua and Mint. The blues are mostly random – although I now quality check the randomness after ending up with a patch of stripes that I’m not happy with: I feel like there should be a darker stripe in between the Oatmeal and the Aqua in this section.

As I write this, the Mumbles is 60 stripes long, and I reckon it needs another 20-something stripes to get to the right length to finish. They had asked for it to not have a border as they prefer things plain and simple – I warned them that this might not be possible as my previous ripple had needed a border to even out the edges. I’ve obviously improved a LOT though as this one is looking like it will live up to their request and be good enough without a border – yay!! I therefore plan to just add a final stripe at the top that will straighten up the top edge. I think I’ll leave the rippley bottom row alone though as that looks great as it is, while the top edge tends to curl over at the corners because they finish halfway through an up-ripple (if that makes sense!).

So here it is now, sideways on my sofa bed (which is king size) so you can see the whole thing so far:

You can see I got slack at sewing in the ends as I went!

And here it is the right way around, so you can see that it fits the king size bed pretty well, with a bit of a drape down each side. If they only have a double bed then I hope it's still ok!


I really like this last picture, there have been stages with this blanket when I have thought that it was a mistake to have offered this as a wedding present - because it wasn't good enough, wasn't the right colours, wasn't progressing fast enough... But when I spread it out on this bed (the first time I've done so) I could see how near to the end I was, and I thought it looked really good. I'm glad I wrote this post now, I'm feeling very happy about this blanket right now!

So there we have it: the Mumbles Ripple! Slight colour blip aside, I’m very happy with my progress. I’m extremely happy with how well I’m crocheting it – from my perfectly even foundation chain to my neat straight sides, and all the gorgeous rippley bit inbetween! I’m also extremely happy that I counted the stripes for writing this post, and I’m actually ahead of schedule for finishing it. Another yay!!