Monday, 14 February 2011

Snoo'dun it

I’m just home from a lovely weekend in the Lake District, walking up Skiddaw which I was told was my first Munro, although obviously slightly too far south for that really.  There was some dissent about what constitutes a mountain and Google failed to bring us to consensus.  It is 900 metres to the summit though so while there was no base camp or nights spent huddling for warmth on a rocky outcrop in a caterpillar shaped sleeping bag, I did have a rucksack, or “day pack” as those in the know about walking lingo would have it, two unnecessary walking poles, and a Yorkie.  All of which, to me at least, constitute my first “mountain climb”. 

We were walking in extremely low cloud with limited visibility, and so thick with moisture it felt as if we were walking through very fine cobwebs which hung off our eyelashes.  Despite that, the climb was lovely and the landscape once we popped out of the cloud on the way down was stunning.  There is also a wholesome friendliness with walkers, and everyone we passed (including three very hale and hearty fell runners) had a word to spare which is always heartening especially when my “halloos” on the London streets are often greeted with total silence (or in one case an elderly gentleman falling into a hedge when he apparently thought I was going to steal his wallet – oh dear).

Anyway, it was a weekend spent indulging in breathtaking views and rather too hearty food and wine. Coming home the weather was filthy, reflecting my mood every time I head back to the Big Smoke.  His view is “we shouldn’t leave London as traffic means it’s a nightmare coming back”, while my view is “once we leave we should stay out” – but then I’ve lived here for all of my years so the novelty has worn thin, which is a shame as it is a great city really.   I think it might be one of the few parts of the country that manages to look incredible no matter the weather mind you.  On the way home through the Lake District my eye was caught by the sheep who looked pretty dismayed by the incessant rain.  Every one of the beautiful Cumbrian stone walls was peppered with the critters pressed up against them for shelter.  

While in Keswick I popped into two craft shops.  One seemed an homage to Debbie Bliss and her lovely Cashmerino bunny – there were pictures of it everywhere and many many versions in every imaginable colour dotted around the shop.  I resisted temptation to buy the kit on this occasion – not sure who I could give a bunny and at my age I’m possibly too old to justify a stuffed bunny on the bed.  It is just about the softest yarn I’ve come across so far, but then its early days so I don’t want to commit too soon, despite it being Valentines.

About three doors down, there is a slightly more traditional yarn shop, the sort we probably all grew up with on the high street.  It was a cornucopia of all things woolly from rainbow shades of yarn to first knitting kits and patterns for baby jumpers, plus everything you could possibly need for embroidery and crochet.  After I’d eyeballed a crochet hook or two the owner very kindly gave me an impromptu lesson.  After assuring me she was “cack handed” she promptly rattled off a two inch square of the most beautifully executed trebles before handing me a ball of yarn and a hook, telling me it was as “simple as that” and sending me off to practice.  She clearly spun magic with that hook, and despite her excellent tuition my two rows of chains and slip stitch still looks like an aubergine string bean.  Onward with the practice!

The one thing her shop didn’t have was a ball winder, which I’ve struggled to find anywhere.  Having spent several hours last weekend with skeins of sock yarn wrapped around my feet to wind them into balls, and on the recommendation of a learned knitting instructor, I’ve decided this is an essential purchase.  I will persevere in my hunting and if I find somewhere that stocks them I will add them to the blog as they will be my newest craft hero.

In terms of current projects, I am about half way through my first ever sock following a lesson last weekend to teach me the fine art of turning a heel.  This is even trickier than it sounds and I don’t think it’s going too far to say it requires patience, cunning and focus.  I deferred heel turning last night on the grounds of tiredness – no point bodging it having spent several hours getting the sock to this stage.  Having finally got to grips with the double pointed needles (they have two ends for goodness sake) I’m really enjoying knitting in the round.  The sock yarn and fine needles mean you get up close and personal with your stitches and it’s slightly embarrassing how much I’m marvelling at the sock as it emerges - it’s down to the materials I know, but I keep beaming with pride and have been heard asking the OH “look how this bit looks like the top of a real sock” more times than would generally be considered normal. 

But it is fiddly, and sometimes you just want to yomp through a project so at the same time I started the sock, I cast some chunky stitches onto the fattest circular needles I could find and am working a snood in a 1K 1P rib in khaki.  This is essentially a copy of a snood I saw a friend wearing.  I’m not ashamed to say that I counted the rows and stitch pattern while she wasn’t looking.  Much as with the socks, this is not a cost effective way to dress.  However, hers was bought from a well known high street retailer for pennies and is 100% acrylic.  She doesn’t know its provenance, how it was made, by whom and how far it travelled to get to the shop.  Mine will be lovingly handmade, including something that I still can’t fathom – there wasn’t a yarn change or a dropped stitch but still a hole does seem to have appeared – could I have slipped a stitch by mistake?   It is also 100% pure wool, and although it will come in at around £35 for the finished article I know where it comes from.  Far less worthily, it is also a very quick project and great fun seeing something so usable for a chilly being coming to fruition quickly.  Another evening in front of the telly and I think it will be done, keeping my neck warm for weeks to come.

On the sewing front, week four of dress-making is tomorrow.  I am slowly getting to grips with the machines and have completed the darts and pleat detailing for the front of the dress (I’m trying Simplicity New Look 6000, pattern C).  I am, however, pinned at the top and down the sides and ready to let loose with the Janome.  Tuesday will be the day I get that bad boy going with the sewing.  What’s heartening is that I’m starting to understand the funny marks on the tissues so I am definitely learning something.  The teacher is very patient, and talks through each stage before we have a go while she gives us ongoing individual instruction relevant to the pattern we’re using.  She’s warned us that the first dress we make will be fairly amateurish but I see this as a jumping off point and am determined to make a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding in July.  This gives me plenty of time to bond with Bobby, my sewing machine*.

My next door neighbour, Patti, who used to sew a lot of her own clothes, has also suggested we take on a joint project to make a summer skirt and I’ve leapt at the chance.  She is an eminently stylish woman who manages to look impeccable despite juggling full time work and a toddler.  I’ve sent her a potential pattern, Amy Butler’s Barcelona skirt, and have already scouted my fabric.  Sure I’m behind the times discovering this, but I have to mention Owl and Sewing Cat (see the "Sites I love" section).  They have two stores, one in Bexhill-on-Sea and one at Eastbourne, and a fantastic website.  Stocking a disarmingly large range of beautiful fabrics ranging from the traditional to the chintzy (in a good way) to the quirky and retro, it took a while but I ordered MODA’s Fandango Floral for the skirt in the end – I had a few questions and the customer service was impeccable and friendly so a strong recommendation for any habby needs.

Rightyho, I’d best get on – that snood won’t knit itself so the sooner I post this, do a day’s work and get myself home the sooner I can get back where I belong (or so it feels), behind those knitting needles.

* Bobby (s)Ewing, don’t judge me

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