Sunday, 15 December 2013

In the Nick of Time. . .

The Christmas cardi for my Mum is wrapped and packed into the carry-on and I managed to finish it well under 24 hours before my plane leaves! 

It turned out quite well.  I really like the lace pattern on the top.  The pattern is Peasy by Heidi Kirrmaier and I used nearly ten balls of Debbie Bliss Prima 80% bamboo/ 20%merino.  I have to say that while it has great stitch definition, I probably won't use this yarn again; it had an awful lot of knots in it, including one 50g ball that had three! It was very frustrating to try and hide them all.  This was my first top-down raglan sweater so I'm pleased to have conquered another knitting techinque.  I definitely want to do more.

I can't wait to get home and see family, friends and the city again. This will be my first trip back to Toronto since I moved to the U.K. and I'm expecting it to be a little surreal.  I've also become a bit of a weather wimp and am not looking forward to the minus weather and windchill.  I AM looking forward to going on a yarn crawl though - Toronto has some terrific indie yarn stores and I'll be visiting them all! Now, can I just get my knitting needles through security. . .

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The WIP Basket. . .

I recently bought a basket for my unfinished projects so I can cart it around from room to room and keep it all somewhat organised.  And as usual, I have too many on the go (several more spirited away in project bags too as I'm in denial).  However, some progress has been made. . .

Mum's Christmas Peasy is coming along and I think I should be able to finish it in time. I've now completed the body and just have to do the neck and front trim, the button bands and find some buttons to sew on. Oh, yes and it needs a good blocking.  Now, can I actually take it home on the plane without it being damp?

My never ending project on the go are these mitred squares that are so easy to knit on the bus or during quick breaks at work. I've assembled quite a number of these now (although as you can see I'm lazy about weaving in the ends).  Next year, I'll set about arranging them in some sort of pleasing combination for a blanket or cushion cover (or two).

I really shouldn't started a cardigan for myself until I finished Mum's but I couldn't help myself. I bought 8 balls of Rowan Colourspun at a sale and I'm just in love with the mixture of colours.  The pattern is Tango designed by Sarah Hatton (also called The Textured Cardigan) and while the cables would certainly be more defined in a different yarn and solid colour, I actually don't mind the rather muted look with this yarn.  It will certainly be cozy.

And then I definitely need a project for the plane.  This will take forever and I may end up frogging the pattern and starting over, but I fancy a really lovely, long cowl with a bit of fair isle, knitted in the round so that it's extra warm.  I'm using a skein of the softest Misti Alpaca in beautiful variegated colours of blue/lavender/soft grey/brown/mustard that I've had in my stash for years and the background is Titus in Coal.  At any rate I feel much less stressed about December knitting this year having decided only to do  one gift (last year, I was knitting frantically on Christmas Eve) and thus enjoying it enormously.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Green December . . .

One of the things about living in the U.K. that I never tire of is how green everything stays, even through the winter.  The grass in Toronto will now be either be a very dismal brown or covered in snow whereas this is how our local park looks in December.

My pot of chrysanthemums, bought in September have just recently started to flower again.

And what's this?  Yes, those are my daffodil bulbs, planted in October and already starting to pop up. (I'm actually quite worried about these babies - I keep telling them to go back to sleep until March).

Another great place to indulge in greenery all year round is at Sefton Park's Palm House, a magnificent Victorian greenhouse constructed in cast iron.  The Liverpud and I love to walk the long way into town which takes in both Sefton Park and the promenade along the Mersey. The Palm House is a lovely place to feast on some exotic foliage.

All good green things to appreciate before I head back to sub-zero Toronto for the holidays.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Jolly Yarnbombing. . .

Some industrious group of knitters and crocheters have been adorning the statues of Liverpool with warm and colourful Christmas jumpers.  I'm so glad they didn't forget poor Eleanor Rigby. I particularly like her festive leg warmers.

The Liverpud quickly took a shot of John Lennon with his phone as he was walking past.  Even though it's blurry, I'm glad he took the photo as the jumper had sadly disappeared by the time I made it down to Matthew Street - less than 24 hours later. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Daytripping: Blackpool - Sea, Sky and Knitting. . .

I think Blackpool gets a bad rap. It's no more tacky than Niagara Falls and I've seen far more run-down communities in the U.K. than this town.  I was in Blackpool for three hours last Saturday as we went for fish and chips after the Liverpud and two friends ran a 10k race near Preston (I knitted at the finish line and provided moral support - and Bakewell Tart at the end).

I haven't been to Blackpool since I was a child but I think its biggest attraction is the sea!  You can walk on the beach for a long time and to me, the combination of sea and sky is always exhilarating and its proximity is one of the things I like the most about living in the U.K.

The piers are looking quite deserted at this time of the year but I do want to come back at the height of summer and have a proper seaside day.

It was quite chilly but I wore my new mittens!  The free pattern is Maize from Tin Can Knits and I knit it in Anna,  a wool/cotton blend from Imperial Yarns. I won two skeins in a blog contest from Fringe Association and it was perfect for this project. I added the black cuff with some Cascade 220 sport wool in my stash.  There's something very playful about wearing a pair of mittens (again, something I haven't done since I was a child).  Mittens at the seaside just filled me with a sense of fun. 

Here's the famous Blackpool Tower but unfortunately we didn't have the time to go up.  We also missed the annual Blackpool Illuminations which ended a few weeks ago.  They still light up the tower at dusk though. 

Though who needs the artificial stuff when there's this natural light show?

We did pop into an arcade (where I lost 50p) and a Vintage show in the Winter Gardens exhibition hall where for a pound, I found this knitting pattern book from 1947.

I'm especially tempted by this elegant scroll cardigan.

And I got to wear my new chunky houndstooth sweater that I had finished just the night before.  The pattern is by Erika Knight from the October 2013 issue of Knitting magazine (it doesn't seem to be on ravelry yet).  The yarn used is Rowan's Sweet Harmony by Amy Butler (green)  and Rowan Big Wool (black)This was very much a project that I winged and I think I got lucky. I didn't get gauge, I didn't even have the 12mm needles required for the colourwork, so I just knit the largest size on my 10mm.  I also didn't realize that the stranded knitting would pull the fabric together so tightly.  And the two wools aren't even the same thickness!  So the back became the front and I decided just to knit the back in plain stocking stitch.

My seaming job is definitely not the greatest (it's so hard to pin chunky wool together) and I don't really like the sleeves as there's very little shaping so it was much like seaming two rectangles together and trying to make them curve.  But it is quite cozy, very warm and it knit up quickly. Needs a little blocking though. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Come on Santa Dasher. . .

Well, there's no better way to start the month of December then to head down to Pier Head and cheer on the annual Liverpool Santa Dash.  Every year the city competes against Las Vegas for bragging rights to the world's biggest 5km Santa Dash. (Las Vegas is holding their race next weekend).  Thousands of Santas of all ages crowded the waterfront at the starting line.  It's quite a jolly sight to behold. 

And they're off!

(in case you are wondering why there are blue Santas - Liverpool has two proud football teams, Liverpool FC (the Reds) and Everton (the Blues).  Everton fans can't stand to wear red. 

The circular route goes through the city centre and the streets are just packed with colourful runners.

These jolly drummers were on hand to cheer the participants on at the home stretch.

I'm not a runner at all, but when you are just watching from the sidewalk, you do feel a bit left out.  Maybe next year. . .
At any rate, it certainly gets you in the seasonal mood.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Daytripping: Harrogate and the Knitting and Stitching Show. . .

There is nothing I like more on a Saturday then getting together with some knitter friends and travelling by train to a knitting show.  We got to the station really early, we got lattes and muffins, we grabbed table seats on the train, we got out our knitting out and before you know it, we were in Leeds changing for the short ride to Harrogate (and the journey is beautiful - you follow canals through and past Manchester and then you're travelling through the Yorkshire Dales and the sun on the mist that was hovering ever so slightly over the countryside was just magical).

I wish the day had had twice as many hours in it because even though we arrived in Harrogate just after 10am, we could easily have spent two days there - one at the Knitting and Stitching Show and one just exploring the town which, like Bath, has lots of independent stores and I'm sure some lovely walks not too far out of town. 

But our primary purpose was the show.  Last year I went to Ally Pally in London and while this is a smaller version, there's still tons to see.  We wisely decided to do the marketplace first then grab some fresh air and break for lunch outside the venue, go for a short walk and come back for the exhibits.  I've never been to Harrogate before and I wish I'd taken more photos because it's a beautiful town set on a hill with lovely architecture. There just wasn't enough time to fully appreciate it.  Here's the older facade of the very modern building that was the site of the show. 

Harrogate is also the site of the world famous Bettys Tearoom but there was no chance of getting a cuppa as the line-up was out the door and down the street.  We did manage to get to Baa Ram Ewe though, which is just as lovely a shop as its sister one in Leeds.

This show is very different from Yarndale or Woolfest; there are less indie stalls, no animals, and the focus is spread out among all the textile arts ( a quilter can seriously get into trouble with all the gorgeous fabrics on sale).  And there are also many beautiful and interesting exhibits of craft artistry from clothing to home furnishings to art itself.

We met artist Sally Spinks who takes postcards of famous paintings and using some fairly small needles, knits articles of clothing to cover their bare bits, but not out of prudishness; her exhibit is called Random Acts of Kindness and you can see some of her work here.  And we saw Sophie Digard scarves (which really need to be seen in person - the painstaking detail is incredible) - at the Selvedge booth.

But let's face it - there was always going to be some woolly purchases too.  Being in Yorkshire, I had to get some of my favourite yarn - Baa Ram Ewe's Titus -  and before it sold out, I managed to nab two skeins of their special Christmas one-off colourway Wesley Bob.  It's a lovely deep red and would be perfect for some Xmas stockings.

Being in Harrogate, I also needed a local souvenir (don't we always?) and The Knitting Goddess who I first encountered at Yarndale was thankfully on hand.  This skein of sock yarn is called Love Lies Bleeding and it's gorgeous!

I do like to support the local wool industry and buy British when I can, but we all couldn't resist the Latvian mitten stand.  Aren't these kits great?  And only £10!  We each bought a different pattern and plan to have a get-together in the new year and start them all at the same time.  The pattern also gives some background into the history of Latvian knitting.

The other purchase I'm really excited about was found in a booth showcasing the history of detailed crewel work.  I bought three bags of Appleton tapestry wool.  No, of course I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but having so many colours at my disposal just makes me happy. The fantasist in me says I'm going to learn how to crochet and make myself a scarf a la Sophie. Or learn how to do crewel work.  Or use them in some fabulous fair isle yoked sweater. But I'll probably just sit and look at them for a long while.   

Harrogate was such a fun day out.  We'll definitely be there next year - hopefully for the whole weekend.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Daytripping: Birmingham. . .

I can't say that Birmingham is the most picturesque of English cities; there's a lot of gray concrete on view. But I had a full day to explore the streets and there was one new exciting building that I definitely wanted to visit.  

This is the new ten floor Central Library which opened just a few weeks ago, designed by Francine Houben. I love the boldness and the muted colours - distinctive but not too jarring with the tones of the surrounding buildings.

Here's a peek inside looking up at the escalators.

The stacks of books radiate spoke-like allowing for desks and computers to be placed all around the windows maximizing the natural light and the views.

Up on the seventh floor is "The Secret Garden".  It was a rainy day when I visited but I'm sure it would be a lovely place in the summer to sit and read a book or just enjoy the foliage.

Lots of construction work going on below but some lovely mosaic patterns on the square.

There's also a viewing spot on the ninth floor along with the Shakespeare Memorial Room which architecturally is rather splendid to peek into, but rather useless from a user's perspective.  If I were designing a Shakespeare room, I'd have plenty of editions of his works and books about him to browse through, maybe a listening area to hear great recordings of his plays or a screen with headphones to watch filmed performances. I gather this room is mostly used to host various receptions but there isn't even a table and chairs so it's not very functional for the average patron.

Speaking of Shakespeare, down on the lower level there was a lovely paper sculpture paying tribute to A Midsummer Night's Dream (sorry, I forgot to jot down the artist's name and can't find it on the library website).

Amidst all the concrete are a few notable older buildings.  I spent some time in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which has a nice collection of Pre-Raphaelite art (Edward Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham and has a room dedicated to him) and pieces of the recently discovered Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard on display.

This is the cathedral which is located in a lovely tree-lined square.

And there is some good shopping in the city which is getting ready for its Christmas markets.  This is one of the older streets leading down to New Street, the main pedestrian shopping area. 

Which in turn leads to the Bullring shopping plaza and the juxtaposition of this rather lovely old church . . .

. . . which faces on to the iconic Selfridges building. 

I enjoyed wandering around Birmingham but a day was definitely enough to get a feel for the city even though I'm sure there are lots of interesting neighbourhoods that a local could direct me to. But from a daytripping perspective, I prefer cities with a bit more historical appeal such as Bath, York, Leeds or Manchester.