Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lots of Lovely Fibrous Goodies

So, yesterday I said I would tell you about my trip to Wingham Wool Work. I'd not been before but I'd heard tales of the wonders to be found in their "sheds".

Still, I'm not sure I was quite prepared for what awaited me. I got there just after they opened on Sunday and was given a little tour of the aforementioned sheds and their workshops which were just brimming with stacks of fleece and other fibres waiting to be processed. There was the shed with the huge carding machine which they use to make enormous batts. And there was the blebing machine which they use to combine lots of different colours and types of fibre into beautiful rovings.

Then there was the Merino shed - full of big coils of the 125 different colours of merino they hold in stock. I selected a few colours that I thought I could use but really I wanted all of them. Anyway I picked out some deep red, and a rusty colour and a bright turquoise and a pale green and an olive green plus a mid-green.

And then there was the British Wools shed, full of all the different types of wool from British breeds and a few others all undyed in their natural colours. I bought some Light Grey Cheviot which is for a particular project I have in mind, and some Grey Norwegian, just because I couldn't resist the colour. Also in this photo is a bag of Tussah Silk and some scoured kid mohair, which came from the main part of the shop.

But the very best bit for me was what they call the "rainbow shed" which is just stuffed to the rafters with bags full of beautiful, rainbow coloured blended merino and silk. What happens is that they will custom blend merino for you (and add silk if you want it) and they do it on a one-off basis, just for you. And as they almost always process more than the customer has ordered of a particular blend it goes into the rainbow shed and is sold to customers who go there in person (you can't buy this online). For someone like me who loves seeing the colours blended together it was just heaven. I was a bit spoiled for choice, and also it started off a chain of thought about which colours would be my ultimate combination. You can use up to 6 colours I think (any of the 125 they have in stock), and they will blend them for you.

I did buy a couple of bits (are you surprised).

There's 200g of this, 100% Merino with black, dark blue, turquoise and magenta. It's a little darker than the photo in real life. I think this will be the edging and cuffs for the Williamsro cardigan I was blogging about last week.

I did buy some stuff with other people in mind. As soon as I saw this I thought it would make a great pair of socks for Pete -

It's also 100% Merino and it's a mix of at least 2 possibly 3 different blues with grey and green.

There there is this which I knew I had to have as soon as I saw it -

It's a Merino / Tencel mix which gives it a beautiful sheen in places. I have tried to identify all the colours in this and there are just so many - reds, blues, purples, mustardy yellow, oranges, greens. Here's a close up so you can see for yourself -

So, I now have at least 4 or 5 different spinning projects lined up. That should keep me quiet for a while, don't you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Birmingham Knitters are Revolting

I went to Stitch 'n' Bitch on Saturday and there was uproar. We've been meeting in the cafe at the Central Library for a number of years now but when we arrived on Saturday we got a real telling off from the woman who runs the cafe. It seems that our moving the tables so we can sit together as a group is "damaging" the tables (?), and apart from that we apparently never put the tables back (we always do!). We were made to feel most unwelcome. However we knitters are a resourceful bunch, plus we don't like being made unwelcome all of a sudden, so we are moving. From the beginning of March we'll be meeting in the Art Gallery Cafe (also known as the Edwardian Tearooms) instead. I shall not be sorry for the move. The coffee is better at the art gallery, and they were most welcoming and helpful when we asked them if they could accommodate us. I'm looking forward to the change.

I've been progressing with the Lapland Mittens -

This is the second one so I'm hoping I will have a pair by the end of the week when the weather is predicted to turn rather nasty.

Because the mittens are not very portable, or very good to knit while nattering, I cast of a new pair of socks.

Aren't they colourful? They are Admiral R Druck in colourway 1744. Sorry Debbie, I know that's not very helpful. I bought the wool at the NEC but I don't remember who from, and a quick googling doesn't reveal any UK stockists. They are knitting up very nicely anyway.

I am still plodding on with A Vengeful Longing by R N Morris. It's plodding, not because I'm not enjoying it (I am), but it's quite a slow read. I'm having to pay attention in case I miss something and I'll admit to struggling a bit with the Russian nomenclature. The narrator almost always uses the surname of a character, but in conversation the other characters use the given name and patronymic. This means I occasionally (ok, more often than that), have to stop and think who is being referred to. It doesn't help that some of the names are similar, or have one part the same. I know this is being done for authenticity, but it's beginning to make my head hurt!

On Sunday, as Pete was away doing assault courses and crossing rope bridges with knives between his teeth, or whatever he was doing, I treated myself to a little day trip. I'd been looking for an excuse (however flimsy) to go to Wingham Wool Work near Rotherham for quite a while and this seemed like the ideal time. I had a lovely afternoon among all their fibrey wonders. I'll tell you more about it tomorrow and show you what I bought.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Fibre Fest

A little bit of yarn pron as it's Friday......

This is a sample of space-dyed tussah silk from Wingham, corespun and then plied with an unidentified commercial spun brown yarn from the stash. There's not a lot of it, only about 60 yds, but then it was only a sample bag to start with. I can't remember the colourway, but it may have been Orange Grove.

I did a bit of dyeing yesterday and this is some Merino / Silk mix, again not a lot of this - about 65g but it was an experiment which I shall try and spin up later today so see how it looks. I'm planning to make this (the adult one) -

and as it would take me forever to spin all the yarn for it I thought I'd knit the main body of the cardigan in commercial yarn and handspin the edging yarn. It's one of Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton's designs from the Noro 2 book. I'm planning for the body to be dark blue (probably with a tweedy effect) and the edging to be a mix of pinks and blues and purples. Looking at the experimental roving I think the colours may be a little too light but it may look different when spun.

Also dyed yesterday were these -

Matching (ish) 50g skeins of Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4ply. I can't believe they've discontinued this. It's one of my favourite commercial yarns for dyeing. I have a little bit left in the stash though. These are destined to be socks one day, though probably not in the near future.

In other news .... I am officially an idiot. Somehow I have managed to lose 800g of Merino fibre. I went to get it yesterday when I'd mixed up all my colours for dyeing, only to discover that it wasn't where I thought it was. It isn't in any of the obvious places where I thought it might have got moved to either. Very odd. It's not as though it's a small bag of fibre - it's a large bag - not easy to overlook. It has to be in the house somewhere, probably hidden behind something, laughing at me getting cross because I can't find it. I think it may have run away with my Color in Spinning book which I also can't find. I swear this summer I am finally going to reclaim the house from the European Book Mountain which has amassed in virtually every room. Does anyone want 10,000 previously owned paperbacks?????

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

13 days since my last post!

I'm not sure how that happened. I'm not sure where the days have gone. I could have sworn I blogged last week sometime.

Anyway, enough about memory failure.

I've been knitting - look here's a finished Lapland Mitten

Well, it would be a photo of a mitten if I could get the picture to upload. We've been having terrible connection problems with our broadband recently. We've had days with no broadband at all, then days when a page takes about 10 minutes to load. Yesterday we had no email all day. Today apparently it won't load photos to Blogger. (Hurrah, it's working. Better finish this post and get it published before the connection goes down again.)

The second mitten is barely started as I have have suffering from second mitten syndrome, also it has been temporarily shelved to knit a woolly hat for Pete who is going on a team-building course this weekend. It's in Devon and it involves being outside - a warm woolly hat was definitely called for.

I finished Ruso and the Demented Doctor by R S Downie which is a historical crime novel set in Roman Britain and features a doctor (not the demented one of the title) in the service of the legions and his British housekeeper/lover. I was a bit concerned before I started it that it would be a pale imitation of Lindsey Davis, who I like very much, but I needn't have worried. Ruso was a quite different kettle of fish from Falco and the British setting was great. It's not published until March but I do recommend it. My only quibble (and it's a small one) was that there was no map to tell me where the different locations were in Britain, or even a note to tell me that Coria (where most of the action takes place) is now known as Corbridge. However it was a proof that I was reading so maybe this will be included in the actual book. I shall now have to go back and try the first volume in the series, Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls.

Now I'm reading A Vengeful Longing by R N Morris, due to be published by Faber in February. It's set in 19th century St Petersburg and features investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich (from Crime and Punishment) and his new assistant. This is the second book in the series, but I've not read the first. Anyway I'm about halfway through and enjoying it immensely so far. It's a pretty convincing portrayal of the city (as far as I know anyway - it convinces me!) and I'm really getting to like Porfiry Petrovich, who I guess I've met before as I have read C&P but it was a long time ago and I don't remember much about it or him. More about this one as the plot unfolds, but so far so good.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Best of 2007

So, I promised my favourite books of 2007 and a little look ahead.

This has been trickier than I thought it would be. When I had to pick my top five European Crime novels of the year for Eurocrime I managed without any difficulty to select the following five -

John Connolly - The Unquiet
Stuart McBride - Dying Light
Pat McIntosh - The Harper's Quine
Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves
Ian Rankin - Exit Music

However when I add non-crime and non-European to the mix it becomes a lot more complicated. I've been trying to read more non-crime this year and have been helped in this aim by a certain ennuie with the genre. But as I've substituted the crime almost exclusively with historical fiction I'm not sure I've broadened my horizons very far, and while I've read some very good historical novels this year none have made it into my top five. After much deliberation I've narrowed it down to these -

Vera Brittain - Letters of a Lost Generation
Pat McIntosh - The Harper's Quine
Joe R Lansdale - A Fine Dark Line
Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves
James Lee Burke - The Tin Roof Blowdown

That's my favourite books READ in 2007, not necessarily published in that year. I may have cheated as I have put The Crystal Skull on this year's list as it was only published in January, otherwise something else would have had to make way for it. Honorable mentions also go to Coronado by Dennis Lehane (which contains one of my alltime favourite short stories), and to the Emperor series by Conn Iggulden, all of which I managed to squeeze in this year.

So now we come to the thorny subject of my least favourite books of the year. I've read (or at least tried to read) some truly awful books this year.

The Fiat Punto Award for Book Hurled into the Backseat with most Venom goes to.... The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld.

The Friends of the Earth Please Save More Trees by Not Publishing Any More award goes to ..... Shadowman by Cody McFadyen.

The "Christ, I Can't Believe I Actually Paid Good Money for This" award goes to..... Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid.

The Sheila Quigley Award for Most Irritating Regional Accent in a Book goes to.... Sheila Quigley.

So, what am I looking forward to this year? Well, I'm hoping to read some better crime fiction than some of the stuff that passed over my desk this year. Perhaps I need to get over my aversion to Scandinavian translated crime and give it another go. There are new novels from John Connolly and Michael Connelly to look forward to. The second part of Ann Cleeve's quartet set in Shetland should be out in April. PJ Tracy and Karin Slaughter both have new novels due this year too.

I'm hoping that I will find a new author to savour in amongst the proofs and review copies. And I'm hoping not to have to read anything involving Edinburgh or lawyers and particularly Edinburgh lawyers for as long as I can possibly hold off. 100 points deducted from the first publishing house to send me such a book for review!!

Bonus points this week go to Faber & Faber who have sent me a couple of proofs set in St Petersburg, one a modern thriller and the other a historical crime novel featuring Petrovich from Crime & Punishment. So that puts them first in the pile for reviews this year. I don't think I've read any crime set in St Petersburg before - has to be better than Edinburgh. More details on the books when I get to them.

My good friend Helen asked me if I had any writing resolutions for this year and I have to admit that I don't. It seems to be tempting fate too much to set myself any writing goals this year, given my abysmal showing during NaNoWriMo. I shall just try and get some writing done as and when time allows and will keep blogging as regularly as I can.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Christmas Goodies

So, yesterday I promised you a look at all the lovely knitterly presents that came my way at Christmas.

There were lots of books -

There's Knitting Yarns and Spinning Tales which is full of great stories from and about knitters; Yarn Stash Wonders - 101 great patterns for all those odd balls from the stash (more about this later); Folk Style by Mags Kandis which has lots of great stylish patterns; The Best of Interweave Knits which has some great stuff in it including the Icarus shawl which I am intending to knit this year; Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan - beautiful organic designs and clever knits from one of favourite designers and Knit Knit - Profiles and Projects from Knitting's New Wave - cool patterns and inspirational interviews. That's a whole lot of really fantastic books to help keep me inspired and knitting.

Also in my stocking were these - Beautiful Lantern Moon rosewood needles - just lovely to knit with and currently sporting the Twisted Spiral Neckscarf from One Skein Wonders, using an odd ball of Noro Kureyon that was in my stash.

Best of all there was this -

An Ashford Knitters Loom. This was a total surprise and I was really chuffed. Pete had done some research and sourced it himself and got it delivered, all without me suspecting a thing. It's lovely and just what I wanted. It folds up so it takes up hardly any space (this is important in our house where I am already taking over with boxes of wool and the spinning wheel and dyeing materials and fleeces and allsorts of other bits and bobs.) It comes with its own carrybag and is very portable. Draped artfully across it is the scarf I wove on it on Boxing Day using some unidentified brown wool and some beige boucle that was in the stash. I've since bought some silk and some mohair from Texere and will be starting something a little more ambitious this week.

I've been knitting too. Here is the beginning of some Lapland Mittens from Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski.

This is the second attempt at them as I wasn't getting the right gauge on the first attempt. I'm using some slightly thicker yarn now and slightly bigger needles. The yarn I'm using is some cream Guernsey, some reddish Jaeger DK Merino which I hand-dyed last year, and some green hand-spun hand-dyed unspecified British Wool.

It's the time of year for reviewing what I've done in the last year and setting some goals for the next. I think my favourite knitting project of the last year was the Luna Moth Shawl. I wear it all the time and it's had many compliments.

So my knitting ambitions for this year are to knit an Icarus Shawl (I have some laceweight in the stash for this purpose but be prepared for some swearing), to knit more of my handspun and to try and become a better, more accomplished knitter this year. I might even try and finish some of the socks that are on the needles too.

Tomorrow - my favourite and least-favourite books of last year, what I'm looking forward to this year bookwise and my reading resolutions.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Just one of those weeks

I was full of good intentions to get back to regular blogging and to get you all up to speed with what I'd been reading and knitting over Christmas....

......and everything conspired to stop me doing just that. I went to photograph the knitting and the Christmas goodies but the batteries in the camera were dead and the spare set was nowhere to be found.

Then we had a problem with our broadband connection, which is hopefully now rectified.

And it's been dark when I've gone to work and dark when I've got home so the taking of photographs with the now fully recharged camera has been just impossible.

Is that enough excuses yet?

I am off for 2 days now so there should be a period of daylight tomorrow during which I can take photos for you.

In the meantime here's a round up of what I've been reading.

I finished the proof of The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott - it was absolutely great. A cracking story, with believable characters, convincing historical details and a bit of mysticism thrown in. You know I was banging on about how poor some of the fiction I had read recently was - well this was the antidote to all that. A great plot, well written and throughly absorbing. It even had me, shameless old cynic that I am, believing in all the prophetic stuff, at least for the duration of the novel. Highly recommended.

While huddled under the duvet feeling cr*p last week I read The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower. This was also very good. A great historical novel with a riveting plot and very informative about the Bayeaux Tapestry and the whole 1066 period and its aftermath, about which I knew absolutely nothing. Strangely, Scottish schools don't labour much on The Battle of Hastings in history.

Then I picked up an absulote gem - Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. I don't usually read translated fiction (it was originally written in German) as I always think it loses something along the way. But this was a treasure. A murder mystery in which the crime is solved by a flock of sheep, told from the point of view of those sheep. I wasn't sure how it would read but it was totally wonderful.

Not sure what I will read now. I picked up a proof of The Reincarnationist by M J Rose and stuck it in my bag to read at lunchtime. 50 pages was quite enough to decide that this one was not for me. Not particularly well written and with a very irritating habit of jumping from one time period to another in the space of a sentence. The narrative voice was grating too. Not a good start. So, back to the groaning shelves to choose something else then......hmmmmm.

I promise I will try and get some photos up tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Out with the Old!!!!!!!

OK, so I've been really bad at posting for the last month or so. I'm sorry. I will try to do better in this New Year.

I have been afflicted all over the festive season by a hideous virus which started out as general aches and pains and lethargy, bloomed into nasty back pain and stiff knees and today has finally burst out into a full-blown snot-ridden cold.

As soon as I have written this post I am going to bed with a hot drink and The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bowers. This was recommended most highly by that esteemed blogger dovegreyreader so I am looking forward to it.

I finally got around to typing up my review of The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott but I've not emailed it over to Eurocrime yet as Pete had a look and suggested that I might want to check the spelling, and the grammar and the fact that some of it was complete gibberish, before I emailed it. Seems that this virus also affects the ability to think straight. Anyway I shall sort it out later before I (hopefully) go off reading group for the first time in ages. The problem is that Crime Reading Group clashes with my evening class in knitting, spinning and weaving so I've not been able to go for months. I've really missed it, so I'm hoping that by spending the afternoon in bed I will feel up to being sociable later.

I've done very little knitting as I've been feeling so crap, but there are one or two FOs that got done during the mega-movie feast that was Christmas Eve. Details and photos of these tomorrow or as soon as I can get my act together.

I've also read Broken Skin by Stuart McBride. I believe that this may not have been quite as good as the previous two in the series, but that may just have been the fact that my brain was mush. Anyway it was still better than the average (and sooo not set in Edinburgh).

Coming review of 2007 for both books and knitting, and a round up of the lovely knitterly goodies that came my way at Christmas.

If you need me I'll be under the duvet.