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Saturday, 18 March 2017

In the garden

Whilst other parts of the world were knee-deep in unexpected snow thanks to Storm Stella, it was a beautiful day in Winwick last Wednesday so I made the most of it and spent it in the garden. Our poor garden - it's still recovering from the winter and despite the abundance of snowdrops and daffodils, has that scruffy, dishevelled look that gardens have until the new leaves properly start to appear on the plants.

Armed with a brew in my trusty "Famous Slugs of History" anti-bug mug, I headed out to continue the clearing up operation that I've been doing since the autumn.  

Strong winds and relentless rain over the winter has made such a mess; it's great being surrounded by trees until you realise that also means a garden full of leaves and twigs which need sweeping up.  Where do they all come from?  I've been sweeping up leaves and twigs since September!  I really need to do something about our grass this year too; the ground isn't as free-draining as I'd like it to be and being shadowed by the trees isn't the best condition for grass to thrive.  We've got a lot of moss growing in amongst the grass now and I need to put lawn sand down to kill it off and then rake it all up.  I think I'm going to try sowing white clover instead of more grass seed - apparently it's more hardy than grass, always looks green and the bees like the flowers.  Oh, and it doesn't go brown when the dog piddles on it either like grass does which has got to be a huge bonus.  Has anybody tried it?  Did it work for you?

I'm delighted to see the poppies are growing again.  They have such lovely serrated leaves and the contrast in the green of the poppies in the foreground and the Crocosmia behind is just lovely.

It's not proper gardening for me these days unless I've got a bonfire going.  It was such a beautiful day, sunny and without any wind for a change, that the fire was easy to start and I soon got rid of a huge pile of twigs and small branches that I'd collected up which weren't suitable for the green waste bin.  The downside of a bonfire is that I go back into the house smelling like a kipper, but it's always worth it!

Time for another brew!

Finally, a job I'd been putting off for too long.  Our trampoline was looking more than a little bit of a mess, covered in leaves, twigs (no surprises there) and that green whatever-it-is - mould, lichen? - that comes from being underneath trees.  The safety padding over the springs had disintegrated and the safety net had long since been shredded by the dog.  If you ever saw the John Lewis Christmas advert with the trampolining dog ... then our dog was nothing like that.  No perfect bouncing in the middle of the trampoline, no joyful leaping higher and higher with a doggy smile on his face and definitely no synchronised boinging with small daughter or any other furry animals.  Oh no.  Our dog liked to fling himself against the safety netting, catapulting himself from one side to the other like some sort of canine cannonball until the net gave up the ghost and we were seriously worried that he would ping himself over into next door's garden (luckily, he never did).  I don't even remember how he started getting himself up there; watching the girls no doubt and not wanting to be left out.  Perhaps we should have replaced the net, but without it, the dog wasn't interested in the trampoline and small daughter learnt to take more care so that she didn't fall off the edge.  It's nice that she still wants to use it, with high school looming on the horizon, but she does so with the nicer weather on it's way it was time to clean it up.

A good brush, a scrub with some all-purpose cleaner, new safety padding and we're good to go again.  

Oh look.  Time for another break.  Late lunch this time - is there anything nicer than smoked salmon and cream cheese on toast with a bit of knitting in the sunshine?  

Only knowing that your dog is sitting next to you, drooling at the thought of crumbs, and with all paws safely on the ground.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Edinburgh Yarn Festival

I was sitting at Edinburgh Waverley station on Sunday afternoon, knitting my sock and waiting for my platform to be announced, when the lady next to me leaned over and said, "Have you been to the yarn festival?"  It turned out that she had too.  We're a sociable lot, us yarny people, aren't we? The lady happened to be getting my train too, and if our seats had been together then no doubt we would have spent the journey comparing notes and yarns (instead, I sat next to a man who knew a lot about planes and wind turbines) and no doubt the lady would have seen parts of the festival that I had missed, because that's always how it is.  So you're going to read about the parts of the festival that caught my eye, and the parts of Edinburgh that caught my eye too - get ready for lots of photos!  

(You might want to get yourself a brew as this post has turned out to be very long - and an apology in advance - although it seemed bright enough when we were out and about, the photos do seem to be very grey!)

I have to say, I wasn't particularly sociable at all on Friday morning when I got on the train at Warrington to go to Edinburgh.  I was so looking forward to some uninterrupted sock time that I put my headphones on, listened to podcasts - the KnitBritish update on the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Radio 2's Simon Mayo Confessions (which made me laugh out loud, always a strange experience if you're not the person with the headphones on), and Radio 4's In Our Time debate about the Roman emperor Justinian's legal code because I like to mix it up a bit! - and knitted until the train arrived at Edinburgh.  I got on very well with the Stylecraft cinema (and now train) sock.  I managed not to drop any stitches or do anything otherwise daft and was ready for the Kitchener stitch by the time the train pulled into the station.  Thank goodness!

I met my lovely friend Lucy at the station.  We congratulated ourselves on having a weekend away from family duties to please ourselves and after finding our hotel, celebrated with cider and gin. Oh, and chips, which we ate outside as we watched the world go by.  They were good!

We'd planned to spend the Saturday at the yarn festival as it was the afternoon by the time we had got to the hotel, so after our pit stop we thought we'd get a bit of sightseeing in.  If you've never been to Edinburgh before, it's a brilliant city to walk around as everywhere is closer than you might think.  We decided not to get the sightseeing bus but instead see where our feet took us and with the help of the friendly man at the hotel reception who knew all about the best places to walk to and a map, we set off to see what we could see.  One thing that we hadn't realised, though, was quite how hilly it was.  We walked up steps ...

and down steps ...

and up more steps.  We certainly got a workout over the weekend!

It was worth it, though, because the views from the top of the hills were amazing.  I love to look down on rooftops and out across cities.  This view was from just outside the castle, which dominates the landscape in every direction.  

These days, the imposing esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle is the venue for the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (a "tattoo" is a military performance of music or display of armed forces) which is an annual festival featuring musicians and performers from around the world, amongst other events, such as concerts and even weddings, but the history of the castle dates back to the 12th Century.  It's not in use as a royal residence any more but houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Scottish Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone, used when monarchs of both England and Scotland are crowned and the War Museum of Scotland.

I don't think there are many places in the city where you can't see the castle, which seems to have grown right out of the rock.  It towers above the Old Town and the New Town (which was built in the 1700s so isn't actually that new at all), linking the two parts of the city.

The street that you can see running along the bottom of this photo is Princes Street on the New Town side - this is the place to go for the shops and the grand hotels.  You maybe can't see from this photo but the characteristic of the New Town is that it's built on a grid system, in contrast with the Old Town which is much more organic in the way it was developed.

There are so many fascinating tourist attractions in Edinburgh - including the castle - but we chose to keep walking.  It's a good excuse to go back to visit them again!  One that we didn't see but which is top of my list for a future visit is The Real Mary King's Close, a warren of 17th Century houses underneath the modern city; because Edinburgh was built on such steep hills, houses were built to take advantage of all of the slopes so some face one way and others are built on top of them facing in the opposite direction.  A "close" is a narrow street through the buildings (similar narrow thoroughfares are often called alleys, ginnels or snickets depending on where you live in the country) leading off the Royal Mile which is the main road up to the castle.  Mary King's Close was one such street, but in the time of the plague it was partially demolished and abandoned - allegedly with plague victims trapped inside - and forgotten about until it was rediscovered and became a tourist attraction in the 1990s.  I'm not so bothered about the ghost story that goes with it (there's no shortage of ghost tours in Edinburgh!), but I think it would be really interesting to see what was left of those tenement buildings, some of which were apparently seven stories high, packed with families living in dreadful conditions.  It's a different life, one that I can't begin to imagine, and it's no wonder that the plague tore through the community.

On a more cheerful note, this sign made me laugh.  I thought it said "Elf Office" until I looked at it again J.

I loved looking down through the closes to the buildings beyond.  We found ourselves really drawn to them, turning off the main street at every opportunity to walk down the "secret" passageways!

My favourite thing about Scottish architecture is the turrets that are built into the tops of the buildings.  I'd love to live in a house with a turret!  Edinburgh is one of those cities where you miss so much if you don't look up.

We continued our theme of getting up high by climbing Calton Hill at the far end of Princes Street, getting a view of the other side of the city. 

Simply turn your head to the left, though, and you leave the city behind.  The hill to the left is known as Arthur's Seat and the long slope in front is Salisbury Craggs (the white dome, in case you're curious, is Dynamic Earth, a natural history museum).  It's obviously a very popular walk up to Arthur's Seat - Lucy and I sat for a long time on the bench from where I took the picture and we could see figures in the distance walking  (some were even running!) up and down the long slope. It's a good place to sit and put the world to rights, and it wasn't until it started raining that we thought it might be wise to head back to the hotel!

We passed this little chap with his shiny nose on the way back.  He's Greyfriar's Bobby, and the story goes that he sat on his master's grave for 14 years until he died himself and was buried close to his master.  You can read more about the little dog here.  He's got a shiny golden nose because people like to rub it for luck.  Oh, and in case you're wondering what type of dog he is, he's a Skye Terrier (and usually their noses are black J).

After dinner and an early night, we were up and about in good time to set off for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival on the Saturday morning.  Did you think I'd forgotten about it in my excitement of telling you about the city? J

It was a bus ride away from where we were staying in Grassmarket, and we weren't the only yarny people on the bus as it headed out of the city centre to the Corn Exchange.  We'd heard that it had been incredibly busy on the Friday and Lucy and I hadn't bought advance tickets so we expected to have to wait in a long queue to get in, but by the time we arrived we pretty much walked straight in.

We headed for Blacker Yarns and the Podcast Lounge first of all so that I could show off my Blacker Yarns Pod KAL makes and also say hello to Louise of the KnitBritish podcast as I'm going to be sponsoring one of the episodes later this year.  Lucy managed to grab a seat to talk to some friends and I shouldered my way through to talk to Sonja at Blacker Yarns and Louise.  Phew - we thought it was really busy in the cafe/knit n natter area so if the day before had been busier ... it would have been standing room only!

I made my first purchase of the day - some mini-skeins of St Kilda Laceweight (I got a discount as I'd taken part in the KAL, it would have been rude not to use it) - and waved my Arwen socks at anyone who wanted to look at them.  No, they weren't on my feet, I had considered this beforehand and kept my socks safely in my bag!

One of the big draws to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival is their classes, which run for four days - two either side of the main festival weekend - and are very popular.  They sold out really quickly and it's easy to see why when you look at the people running them: Kate Atherley, Clare Devine, Karie Westermann, Felicity Ford (Knitsonik), Bristol Ivy, Justyna Lorkowska (Lete's Knits), Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician), Hazel Tindall, Tom of Holland ... the list goes on and on!  I think it's an interesting idea to run the classes outside of the main festival too, and they were in three different venues so the marketplace was opened up early to give the people attending the classes chance to get in to look around before they went off to their classes and potentially missed buying anything.  

It was pretty busy when we headed out into the market place, although the exhibitors we spoke to said it was nothing compared to the day before ...

and I think that if you had a specific plan of buying certain yarns and hadn't been there on the first day then you might well have been disappointed as many of the stands had bare shelves.  This sign made me laugh (I think it might have been at An Caitin Beag) ...

and I thought that these long plaits of fleece stand for spinning at the Porpoise Fur looked like mermaids' hair.

We saw lots of beautiful Fair Isle - Kate Davies was there, and Marie Wallin (this picture is from her stand) - amongst others ...

and there were lots of yarns from the Scottish islands which were just gorgeous and it was impossible to pass them by without squishing.

Other designers including Jared Flood were there - it was a very designer-orientated festival - although there were more than a few stands that I recognised from Yarndale and Woolfest.  There wasn't much crochet at all, which meant that it felt like much more of a knitter's festival.  Luckily, there was plenty that Lucy was interested in seeing so she wasn't bored.

Knitted bird, anyone?

We headed back into the lounge/cafe area and demolished a piece of cake (good job I took the photo when I did, I don't think that cake lasted more than 5 minutes!) ...

before settling down with a cup of tea and our knitting and crochet for a bit.  I'd moved onto the black sock and did really well with it at the weekend - I'm up to the toes now - and Lucy was working on her new Hydrangea blanket which she's planning to talk more about on her blog pretty soon.

After another quick look around to make sure that we hadn't missed anything (I had, as it turned out - some sock yarn!), we left the Corn Exchange and hopped back on the bus to the city centre. Look, another turret - and the castle!

Our room was right up high on the third floor of the hotel overlooking Grassmarket, once a place where markets were held and hangings were a daily occurrence.  We had such a good view across the rooftops, and luckily there was nothing more disturbing than rugby songs from the pub below us as the Six Nations Rugby Championships were on.

Sunrise on Sunday morning ...

We had a leisurely breakfast with my relatives who were able to come over and meet us, and then headed out for a last walk around the city before heading for our trains home.  This is the Elephant House cafe, the place where J K Rowling wrote much of her early Harry Potter novels.  Edinburgh hasn't gone commercially overboard on the Harry Potter connection; it's there if you look for it in the merchandise in some of the shops, some street signs and Harry Potter-inspired walking tours, but there's plenty on the internet if you want to read up and visit some of the sites that allegedly provided inspiration for the books.  Of course, we were out of season so it could be that in the summer, Edinburgh is Potter-mad!   

I loved the tower of St Giles' Cathedral which looks like a crown.  This is on the Royal Mile and you can see right down to the sea - behind us is the castle so it must have been a very imposing sight in the days when there were less buildings.

We took a last walk over to the New Town.  I love that the view of the castle is everywhere, as if it's protecting the city no matter which side of it you're on.

The buildings in the New Town are not as tall as those in the Old Town, and it's surprisingly quick to walk from one end of Princes Street to the other down these straight streets.

Quite unlike this one - this is Victoria Street leading down to Grassmarket, and apparently the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books.  I like the fact that the shops are all different colours, and that no space has been wasted as there are shops and restaurants up above the main street level shops too.  

I don't really have much to show you in the way of a "haul".  I bought the Wool Tribe book before I went, and it was good to have been able to read it before the festival, not least because I recognised the knitted projects on the various stands.  

All I brought home was my set of rainbow mini-skeins from Blacker Yarns, hand-dyed by The Knitting Goddess, and destined to become a shawl at some point using the spare skein of St Kilda Laceweight that I had from my Hartland Cliffs shawl ...

and some beautiful green sock yarn.  This is from the Shilasdair stand where their yarns are dyed on the isle of Skye with natural dyes.  My green yarn is dyed with Skye meadowsweet and indigo and the way that the yarn has taken the dye in the various shades is just gorgeous.  

There was so much more that I could have bought, but I am trying really hard to keep my stash to what I can reasonably use in one lifetime ... I did bring this sample of the new Blacker Yarns Samite silk blend yarn so that I can tell you more about it.  No, I really don't think it's ever going to be socks no matter how much I might wish it to be, but it is very lovely and I am very pleased to have been offered the sample to look at.  The colours are all inspired by the pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements and have wonderful names like "Bursting Figs" and "Aspen's Shiver". My sample is "Tide of Dreams", and I'll let you know what I think!

Phew - what a long post - but what a great weekend it was!  Lucy and I had such a fun time exploring the city and visiting the festival - bring on our next weekend away!

It's always nice to be home, though J 

Thursday, 9 March 2017


I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow for the Yarn Festival, which is hugely exciting - I mean, 3 1/2 hours of train knitting!  That is not to be sniffed at and my bag of on-the-train projects has been packed for days.  Oh come on, surely I'm not the only one to pack their knitting before their clothes?

In this bag I have a pair of Stylecraft socks (the stripy ones at the top) which have been on the needles for what feels like forever (a situation which was not helped at all by cinema knitting).  The colourway is Everest, if anyone wants to know, and I'm just past the gusset of the second sock so there's a very good chance that those socks will be finished before we reach Scotland as long as I don't try to knit with my eyes shut and we don't go through too many long tunnels.  

The other sock, that black one with the coloured heel (that's WYS Rum Paradise, the most exciting thing about this sock), has been on the needles for even longer.  I love my husband very much but I do wish that he didn't only ever want to wear black socks for work.  This is the first sock of the pair and I could really do with cracking on with it; I'm starting to feel a little guilty that he hasn't had a new pair of work socks since last year.  Some of his original pairs are years old now and although they're still wearing well, I do feel the need to replenish his sock supply with new pairs.  The good thing about knitting with black yarn is that I don't need to knit in the dark to drop stitches, so I'm keeping the cinema knitting technique going J.  

I'm also taking my Hartland Cliffs shawl which I showed you last week, and my Arwen socks which I finished just in time for the end of the Blacker Pod KAL - there's a showing off session on both days of the festival which I'm looking forward to as I've seen so many fabulous projects on social media during this knitalong and it'll be nice to see them in real life, and also for those who wear their finished items, a discount off more Blacker Yarns yarn.  So, I've used up some of my stash and my reward is ... to buy more stash!  Only a knitter could think there is any kind of logic in that!

Arwen socks, The Sock Drawer

I really enjoyed knitting these socks, the Tamar yarn I used is gorgeous and just slips around the needles.  I'm hoping that they wear as well as they knitted up.  These will be the third pair of no-nylon socks I've knitted (the first were the Peru socks, then the Easy Cable Socks) so I'll need to get myself sorted out to create a new page for no-nylon reviews once I've worn them for a bit and can tell you how they stand up to being on feet on a regular basis!

Blacker Yarns are previewing a brand new yarn at the festival called Samite.  I've got a bit of preview information but I haven't had my hands on any of it to squish yet, although Sonja from Blacker Yarns has promised me a sample so I'll be able to tell you a bit more about it when I get home.  It sounds like a very sumptuous yarn combining Ahimsa silk, Blue-faced Leicester, Shetland and Gotland wool, and it's woollen spun to reduce pilling and make it as suitable for colourwork and cables as for lace projects.  Although at a heavy 3ply weight I don't think it's going to be a suitable yarn for socks, it does sound as if it would be wonderful to wrap yourself up in for a shawl.  I'll keep you posted!

Source: Blacker Yarns

I haven't been to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival before and from the emails that I've been getting through the mailing list, and also listening to the build-up on the KnitBritish podcast, it sounds like it's going to be an exciting weekend.  I'm not going to get to the pre-festival meet ups or the ceilidh but I don't think that will spoil the visit - there's certainly enough to see in this very lovely Scottish city!  There are lots of exhibitors that I've not seen (or sometimes heard of) before and it'll be good to see their stands and what's around from Scotland and the islands.  I don't really need more yarn but I know that I won't come back empty-handed so I'll show you my treats next week!

I haven't been to Edinburgh for years and I'm really looking forward to visiting the city again - I'm keeping my fingers crossed the weather holds out so that I can do a bit of sightseeing as well as yarn squishing!  I'm also very excited to be meeting up with relatives whom I have not seen for far too long; it should be a good weekend all round!  Oh, and did I mention that there's going to be 3 1/2 hours of train knitting?  That's each way!

Before I go, and not at all related to packing, have you seen that it's the time of year again to put forward nominations for the British Knitting and Crochet Awards?  After the success of including crochet as a separate category last year, the awards have been renamed to reflect that which I think is a great idea.  I also think it's a brilliant opportunity to shout up for the people that have helped to shape our crafting over the last year, especially smaller and independent designers and companies who might not normally get much of a look-in around the bigger companies.  I loved how many "independents" were nominated last year - including me, so thank you if you nominated me!  If you want to get involved in the nominations, you can find the page here (or you can click the picture) and there's also the chance to win a hamper of yarn and related treats worth £200 or Amazon vouchers worth £100.

Right then.  I suppose I'd better go and find a few clothes to wear over the weekend now that I've got my yarny priorities sorted out.  Have a great time if you're travelling to the festival yourself, and if not then I hope you still have a wonderful weekend!