Friday, December 31, 2010

Year's End

I'm really not sure how I manage to kid myself that I have enough time to blog, read or knit much in December, but I fall for it every year. Somehow, between one December and the next I forget that it's not just the extra day of work each week that sucks up my spare time (such as it is) but also the weariness that comes from working extra, extra hard for those few crucial weeks in the shop. Someone remind me next year, will you?

Anyway it's all over now, bar the January sales, and I have a few days off (in a row!) now so I can get back up to date with the blog and the housework and all the other sad neglected stuff.

I'm having a little trouble remembering what I've read since the last update. I went on a bit of a Stuart MacBride kick, reading first Dark Blood (out in paperback in January) and then the proof of Shatter the Bones (thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for that). Both are excellent. They seem to be getting darker though as the series goes on, less of the gallows humour, more of the stuff that makes you wince when you read it. They're not for the faint-hearted these books, but they are well-written and the characters are wonderful. I do think, should you be reading this Stuart, that it may be time you gave Logan McRae a break - how much misery can you heap on one man? Can something nice happen to him? Just once?

I had a proof (courtesy of Little, Brown) of the new Dennis Lehane novel Moonlight Mile (out in hardback in January), which is a long-awaited return to his Kenzie-Gennaro partnership. The story is set some 12 years after the events of Gone Baby, Gone in which the four year old Amanda McCready was kidnapped. Amanda's aunt contacts Patrick because Amanada is missing again. Patrick, who's doing corporate investigative work to pay the bills (and hating it) really doesn't want to open that old can of worms again, to rehash all those old moral dilemmas, especially as he's still not sure he did the right thing back then. Eventually though he gets dragged back into the case, and into a world he thought he'd left behind. This is intelligent crime fiction at it's best. I love Lehane's writing style. He's not afraid to pose difficult moral questions of the reader and of his characters. And it's immensely readable, just sucking you straight into the story and keeping you gripped, right to the end. I really didn't want to put it down. This caused me a problem with my Christmas knitting, but more of that later.

Now I'm reading Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves, which is one of the books being adapted for TV by ITV. The series will be called Vera (after the main detective Vera Stanhope) and stars Brenda Blethyn. My copy is a battered ex-library paperback, but they've been repackaged for the TV series with new covers and are in the shops now.

Also at the moment I am reading Findings by Kathleen Jamie. This was recommended by someone, either a fellow blogger, or on a podcast somewhere, I really can't remember, but it sounded interesting. It's very much a book to dip in and out of meaning that it's been perfect for December when I haven't really been able to concentrate on anything for long. All I knew about this book was that the writer lived in Fife and that it was a sort of travelogue of her journeys around Scotland. Reading the first few chapters however I realised that I recognised some of the landscapes she was describing, and it turns out that she lives in Newburgh, where my parents used to live, and where I lived myself for a few years before I left home. This makes it all the more interesting to me, quite apart from the fascinating detail about wildlife and the landscape and history which pepper the narrative. She's obviously very influenced by George MacKay Brown who is one of my favourite writers, referring to him often thoughout the pages. If it was you who recommended this then I thank you. One of my favourite books this year.

Talking of favourite books - it's that time again. Time to figure out my favourite European crime books of the year for Karen's annual list over at Eurocrime. And next up - drumroll - the traditional Mysterious Yarns Book Awards.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little Christmas Present

By way of an apology for my lack of posting though December, (and apparently November too) I've got a little story for you. It's a little Christmas present for you all. I hope you like it.

The Winter of the Wolves

It started, this endless winter, back in December of 2010. There was an unseasonable cold spell and deep snow covered Northern Europe. Up here in the valley, on the Welsh border, we scoffed at the soft city dwellers as they floundered in the drifts and the airports closed and the trains stopped running. By the end of January however it was no longer a joke as the country ground to a halt and food rationing was introduced.

Scientists argued constantly on every radio and TV program as to the cause of the extreme weather. Climate change, said some. New Ice Age, claimed others. No-one seemed to have an explanation. They just knew that the polar ice cap had expanded and that the ice now reached down over Europe, North America and most of Asia. No one knew when it would end.

March came and brought no let up. There were riots in the cities where local services had stopped entirely and there were shortages of bread, milk and other essentials.

By June, the government had fled to Zimbabwe, from where they issued edicts on how to keep warm. Europe was forced to go cap in hand to Africa and ask for its help. Africa declined. It could barely feed itself. There was nothing to spare for Europe.

There were fewer angry broadcasts now, blaming people with gas-guzzling cars, or frequent fliers. The Pope, broadcasting from his tent in Buenos Aires, blamed godlessness, and told the Frozen North it should repent. The Frozen North ignored him and went on trying to survive.

Here, at home, we carried on the best we could. Lambing was late, causing problems for the ewes, and we lost a few. The lambs didn’t thrive anyway with no spring grass to nourish the mothers. Our winter stores of feed began to dwindle, as did our larder.

It was in August that we first heard the wolves. We never did find out where they came from. Over the frozen seas from Scandinavia maybe, or through the Channel Tunnel from France. The howling seemed to carry on all night. There were reports in the neighbourhood of missing children. People began to venture out less, and only then if armed with guns. We saw less and less of our neighbours until it seemed that we were the only people left in the valley, just Trevor and I.

We slaughtered the last of the sheep, salted the meat and retreated into our ever-narrowing, monochrome world. Staying warm was top priority so we shut up and abandoned most of the cottage, using just the one room with the wood-burning stove. Collecting wood for the stove became almost our sole occupation. When we had used the logs in the woodpile, we burned the fence posts, the doors from the outhouses and most of the furniture. We avoided the woods for fear of the wolves. In the beginning Trevor used to bring back birds he had shot, or the odd skinny rabbit, but they became fewer and fewer until we realised we hadn’t heard any birdsong for weeks. Every night I could still hear the wolves.

Three weeks ago Trevor went out to gather wood and didn’t some back. He left a note that said “I’m sorry.” I used the note to restart the stove. Paper was precious as kindling. We had burned almost all the books we had.

Last week someone came to the door, knocked loudly for a while then left. I was too afraid to open the door. I just sat in the dark and waited for them to leave. Some hours later then I looked out there were footprints in the snow, leading away up the valley. A wolf howled somewhere near so I shut the door again and bolted it tightly.

The world is crisply white as far as the eye can see, and totally silent. There are no birds anymore to sing, no insects to buzz. The water in the stream is frozen solid. Everything is quiet and still. It should be beautiful but instead it is menacing.

There is almost no food left. A few dried beans, a scrap of sinewy, dried mutton. I need to go out and get some wood or the stove will go out. I don’t dare let it go out these days for fear that I won’t be able to get it relit. Without the stove there is no heat and no way to melt snow for water to drink.

I venture out, bundled tightly in many layers of clothing, in search of fuel. There is a strange air today, something different about the sky. I dismiss this fancy and concentrate on finding sticks. It is not easy. I have been over this ground so many times, but there has been a little wind and a few trees have shed some twigs in this direction so I collect enough to last a few hours, enough to get me through the night.

When I go through the door of the cottage something odd happens. A drip of water falls on my face. I stop and look up. Another drop lands in my eye. I put down my bundle of wood and walk back across the yard to look down the valley. I can see nothing different but I feel the breeze, and realise that it is coming from the south. Then far, far off I see a faint glimmer of sunshine break through the clouds briefly. It is meaningless in this wintry world, but still it warms my soul. I turn and go back towards the cottage.

I have left my pile of wood in the doorway, letting in the cold air. I curse and drag the wood inside towards the stove, closing the door tightly behind me. I bend and warm my numb fingers on the faint heat of the metal and fantasize about a cup of hot coffee.

It is then that I feel the hot damp breath on my cheek and hear a faint low growl.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On and Off the Needles

Apart from all that shuffling of TBR piles (more to come on that theme) I have been knitting.

I started and finished a Coquille shawl in Noro Kureyon Sock - all purple, green and grey. I love how it turned out. Not a long or complicated knit at all - perfect TV knitting. It's just right for this colder weather, wrapping round the neck securely and lovely and warm.

I then started a shawl that I spotted in the new issue of Spin Off. The pattern called for handspun but I was too impatient to knit it now so I didn't spin the yarn for this. I used a dark green 3ply alpaca from Forsell that I had in the stash. There's nothing to see - it's just a pile of unblocked lacy nothing at the moment.

I've been spinning laceweight, using the Very Fast Flyer attachment for my spinning wheel. The fibre is some BFL that I dyed in the summer. It's proving to be very easy to spin finely and I've already plied a small amount - the lace bobbins don't hold a great deal. This is just 15g and of course I've already forgotten the yardage I got. I shall wait until I've spun it all - a couple of fridays at spinning group should finish it off - and then see how many yards I've got before deciding what to do with it.

(sorry the pic is a little blurry even with the supermacro setting)

I've been reading too. I had a proof of the new James Lee Burke novel - The Glass Rainbow, due for publication in November. It's a Dave Robicheaux book and I have to say that it is really good though I had reservations about the ending. I'm not going to say any more about the plot than that because I don't want to be spoiling it for anyone. The writing is fine as you would expect from JLB and it has the usual cast of well-known, well-loved characters from Clete Purcell to Alafair Robicheaux as well as a fine cast of secondary characters. I'm just not sure about the end.

I had an audio book of Jeffery Deaver's The Twelfth Card which was my book group read for last month. Now I'm quite a fan of Mr Deaver and I've liked most of the previous Lincoln Rhyme books but I'm not sure they are cut out for audio. The pace seemed to be very slow and the plot unnecessarily complicated. The bit where he lists all the clues Rhyme has written on his whiteboard, which I would normally skim over if I was reading, just drove me nuts when I had to listen to it over and over again. The others in my book group liked it, but they were actually reading not listening, so I think if I have one of his to read again I'll take a pass on the audio option and just get the book.

I very much enjoyed The Small Hand by Susan Hill. I had won a signed copy from dovegreyreader in one of her draws, but I'd have bought one if I hadn't - it is such a lovely little volume. Very creepy story, just what Hill excels at. I can really recommend this one. A book dealer is driving home from a client's house late one night when he gets lost and finds himself at the gate of an abandoned house. He gets out of his car and stands for a bit looking at the house, wondering about it, then he feels a small hand taking his.......

Wonderful idea - I wish I'd had it.

Other books I've read recently include The Moor by Laurie R King (still working my way through these - all out of order). This one hasn't been republished here yet so mine is an old hardback bought in Hay-on-Wye a couple of years ago.

Dark Water by Caro Ramsay - a great police procedural set in Glasgow where the small Partickhill police station is under threat of closure until a big (and nasty) murder case lands right in their laps. I really like this series, very well plotted and with great characters.

Stealing Shadows by Kay Hooper - this was my book group read for this month and it was OK but not great. Very similar to Charlaine Harris' Harper Connolly books - psychic woman solves crimes and communes with the dead - a bit run of the mill.

I also read Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane which is set in Canada. It's not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort. Young men scrapping and trying to survive, but beautifully written and very detailed. Like a cross between Richard Allen and Alice Munro.

Lastly I just finished The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths, (many thanks to Quercus for the proof). This is the third in the Ruth Galloway series. It's difficult to tell you much about it without spoiling the plot, or ruining it for those who may not have read the first two, so I'm just going to say that it is really good and if you haven't read this series yet then you really should, and if you've read the first two then you'll love this third one which is due out in January. I love the character of Ruth - she's a real woman with all the conflicts and problems of a normal woman and crime fiction could do with more like her and a few less of the supermodel crimefighting superwomen who seem to prevail in some books. There is nothing more guaranteed to make me want to put a book down than a stick-thin, super-smart, ultra beautiful heroine, especially if she starts to toss her long red hair. Thankfully there is none of that with Ruth Galloway, who is intelligent, practical and believable.

Now I'm on The Reversal by Michael Connolly, another of the Mickey Haller books, just out last week. It's got quite a lot of Harry Bosch in it too which is a bonus. I never did get back to Nine Dragons for some reason but I'm enjoying this so far.

Back soon(ish) with more book and knitting chatter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Voyage Round my TBR pile - Part Two

So, now we come to the pile on top of the bookcase in the bedroom. This is not a good place to keep books as it's right under the window and they have a tendency to get faded/yellowed by the sun. However needs must so here they sit.

These show off the full extent of my failure to read books that aren't crime - there's are only two that are not crime novels and they are Life Class by Pat Barker, because I like Pat Barker and I've not read any of her more recent work, and Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane, bought because dovegreyreader recommended it (and it's got a dog in the title!).

There's a true crime book - Homicide by David Simon . The Wire is one of those TV series that I keep intending to watch and have never quite got round to. We have the DVDs of the first 2 seasons - they're in the TBW pile. :)

Currently our spare TV watching time is being taken up by watching The Onedin Line - obscure TV channel Yesterday (found somewhere far, far down the Sky planner) is showing all of it (seems there were 92 episodes) right from the beginning. I have a vague recollection of it from the 1970s but don't remember any of the storylines in detail but we are enjoying it. Even Pete who has been known to scoff at my predilection for drama with "bonnets". It seems that bonnets are OK if there are also ships involved. Part of the fun is playing Onedin Line bingo where you get to spot the same ship masquerading as another by a change of sail colour and a handily placed lifebelt with the name on; and the same shots of "Liverpool" docks used over and over again. You get 50 points for the shot where the sailor winds the rope round the cleat (?) which is used in almost every episode.

Anyway back to the books. I had a lucky day in a charity shop in Banbury a few months back and picked up a selection of crime proofs - Daisychain by GJ Moffat, Snow Hill by Mark Sanderson Thee Weeks to Say Goodbye by CJ Box and The Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson. I'm not sure most of these had been published when I bought them and I intended to read them and review then before they came out but they missed their moment and so now they hang around like so much wet washing, slapping me in the face when I pass and taunting me with their neglect.

There's a lot of George Pelecanos in this pile. The Way Home and The Night Gardener are his more recent work and I shall get to them soonish, but Soul Circus is a replacement for a battered paperback. I like hardbacks if they are books I want to keep, though I do prefer a paperback for actual reading. Does that make sense? I can carry a paperback around easily. I'm not usually bothered if it gets creased in my bag or has a yoghurt incident with my lunch. They're easier to read in bed too. A hardback when I drop it as I fall asleep has a tendency to fall to the floor with a loud thump, waking me up and possibly killing the cat. If we had a cat. Which we don't.

Other books in this pile - City of the Sun by David Levien, sent to me to read for a promotional thing at work and it was the last of the books I had to read. I ran out of time but I'd still like to read it sometime. The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd - American, likened to Lee Child, ex-forces guy meets FBI superwoman. Oh and I think there's a serial killer. I'm probably going to hate it, but I like to try all sorts at least once. The Disappeared by MR Hall - I'm still on the fence about the previous one (The Coroner) so this one might be here a while. Lastly Bad Boy by Peter Robinson, bought when he came into the shop a couple of weeks ago to sign copies for us. He's a very nice man. I've tried a couple of the Alan Banks books and not been bowled over by them but I'll give this one a try.

Next post - should have been about the pile on top of the bookcase downstairs - only reachable by standing on the sofa - but we have exciting news - a new bookcase has arrived, been assembled (bless Ikea and their wonderful Billy bookcase) and squeezed into the narrow space between the aforementioned bookcase and the fireplace. I have a new bookcase. It's already full.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Voyage Round my TBR PIle - Part One

I've been reading Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, which got me thinking about the number of unread books that are littering my house. It got me thinking too, very briefly, about whether or not I could go for a whole year without buying any books. As I said, it was a brief thought, very very brief. I'm not sure that I could go for a whole week without buying a book in some form or another. And that is the root of my problem. I have so many unread books in the house that they are beginning to swamp me.

Now I'm not going to pretend to be as well-read as Susan Hill. I don't have many stories about how I met Kingsley Amis or Ian Fleming at a party. But I did meet Peter Robinson a couple of weeks ago and I can confirm that he's a very nice man, and that he is a fan of the Grateful Dead. Moreover, interesting bits of paper and hand-drawn Christmas cards do not tumble gracefully from within the pages of my books, which are more likely to contain bus tickets, bits ripped from the corners of bills and invariably tedious postcards from someone's Aunt Maureen, though I did once buy a David Gemmell paperback where someone had once marked their place with what could only have been a slice of pizza.

I have various ways of justifying my book-buying habit. Firstly, well I'm a bookseller, so I have to keep up to date with what's happening in the book world.

Secondly, I'm trying to expand my reading horizons from pretty much solely crime fiction to more general fiction. I've only been partially successful at that - I read quite a lot of historical fiction now, but I still haven't managed to read very much literary fiction, or, for want of a better term, women's fiction. (I don't mean chick lit - sorry, I know it's what lots of people read, but I have an allergy to pink books). The allure of blokey books such as spy thrillers and the whole Dan Brown type genre escapes me. Still I do feel that I should at least try and dabble in these areas so that when asked for a good read like the Da Vinci Code I can recommend something confidently.

Thirdly, I buy a lot of second-hand books, so it's not like I'm spending a whole lot of money, which is good, especially if you're trying authors (or genres) you've not read before. I don't feel bad if I only manage 50 pages of a book I've only paid 50p for. However if I've paid £7.99 then I feel I want my money's worth. I do buy new books - all that temptation passing in front of me all day every day means that I succumb and buy new books not infrequently but if I bought all my books new then I'd have to live in a gutter (which is not a good place for books).

Fourthly, I've been buying a lot recently because it's the summer (allegedly) and the carboot sale pickings are great just now. Once the winter arrives and there are no decent car boots I'll have a whole winter's worth of reading laid in ready. Convinced yet?

When books first arrive into the house they get stacked on top of the hifi speaker on the mantelpiece. I've very fickle in my reading. I always want to read what I've just acquired. These books stand the best chance of being read immediately because they are new (at least to me), they are in my line of sight from my preferred reading location on the sofa, and they are handy when I want to snatch up a book to take to work or stick in my bag in case I get a free moment during the day. If these books get tidied away to the bookself at the top of the stairs (where other unlucky titles languish unread, forming a second row in front of my lovely first editions), then they are likely to remain unread for a while as they are replaced in my mind's eye by newer shinier books. Currently in prime position are these books -

The Game by Laurie R King is the 7th in the Mary Russell series. I've read this series all out of order, starting with No. 8, backtracking to the first one and then reading them haphazardly as I've managed to pick them up second-hand because they've mostly been out-of-print. This is one of the new reprints from Alison and Busby who, in their infinite wisdom have republished the first, seventh & eighth books along with the ninth and newest. I'm hoping they are planning to do the rest because I think I'm still missing a couple of the earlier ones.

Wolf Hall - I tried to read this when I did my little Bookerthon last year (well, I tried to read three - and I liked two of them, so that's pretty good for me.) I'm going to try again with this. This is because reading last year's winner is much more appealling to me than any of the books on this year's longlist.

Howards End is on the Landing - that shouldn't be in this pile. I've finished it. It needs to be shifted to a whole different (smaller) pile of books either going to the upstairs shelves in case I want to read them again sometime, or to the box destined for my SILs where they will either be passed round and read or donated to charity.

Testament by Alys Hawkins, Dark Water by Caro Ramsay, The Snack Thief by Camilleri and the two Dexter books are just because they are my sort of books and I'll get to them when the time is right. I always have a crime or historical novel on the go somewhere either to read in bed or in my bag to read at work.

2066 by Roberto Bolano - trying to expand my reading horizons with this one - perhaps I should have picked up a smaller volume, but as I recall it was 50p each or 3 books for a pound and this was the makeweight book - I always like to take a chance on that third (free) book and pick something I wouldn't normally read. Am I going to read this anytime soon? Probably not but it's time will come...eventually.

The Time Traveller's Wife - is one of those books that people expect you to have read, and I haven't so I shall give it a whirl, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Join me later for Part Two in which we investigate the pile on the bookcase in the bedroom, books on top of the bookcase downstairs, an odd pile in the office (where they shouldn't be) and probably a few others.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back Again

Ok, so I never did get around to that book update I was taunting you with. What can I say, I'm a rubbish blogger.

Anyway I'm drawing a line under that and starting afresh with the book I just finished, which is The Language of Bees by Laurie R King. If you're a long time reader of the blog you'll know that I love this series, and this one doesn't disappoint. Mary Russell and Holmes get home from their trip to California to be greeted by Holmes' estranged son, whose wife and daughter are missing. What follows is a great romp through bohemian London, dodging the clutches of Inspector Lestrad and culminating in a great set-piece ending. Now I really want to read the next one.

Good news for those of you who haven't tried this series yet is that they are being republished from the start with
The Beekeeper's Apprentice now available in paperback after being out of print for ages. This one sets the scene, tells how the nineteen year old Mary meets the retired detective and gets involved in some investigative work with him. They're well worth the read.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Clean Slate

I'm really rubbish at this blogging thing. I promise I'll try and be a bit more regular. I'm just not sure where all the time has gone. What with work and football and general hecticness I don't seem to have had time to do anything recently.

Still the World Cup is all over now and I think the right team won. So now we should be able to get back to real life, though I'm missing the football already. It's great for getting lots of knitting done, even if England matches do make for dropped stitches and much yelling at the screen.

It is nearly 2 months since my last post and in that time the Evilpixie has turned 20, and she's started a part-time job. She's all grown-up (most of the time) and I'm very proud of her and the way she's turning out. She'll be staying on at college next year to do the next level in her catering course. Now she just needs to practice a bit more at home I think. I'm looking forward to more meals cooked by her (are you getting this hint?!)

Here she is looking a bit on the wet and muddy side on a recent walk in Sutton Park. Oh yes, and here's the cause of the muddiness -

I went to Woolfest and had a great time. I was quite restrained in my buying. I bought a bobbin winder as I was totally fed up winding them by hand, and I bought some fibre to spin and some yarn to dye, but mostly I just wandered round looking at the lovely colours and beautiful displays and filling myself with inspiration. It was very hot and very crowded and we'd had an issue (or two) with our hotel stay the night before so I was feeling a bit tired and grumpy which kind of took the edge off the day.

I haven't really got a lot of knitting news to report. I've been knitting a present for someone and as usual I've forgotten to photograph it before giving it to the recipient so I have nothing to show for all those evenings in front of the football. I did a bit of dyeing yesterday though and had some really good results.

The four hanks of purple across the top are in fact one skein. I was trying to get a graduated effect from a silvery grey through to a deep purple along the full length (all 800m) of a skein of laceweight. I'm not sure it turned out quite right. I might need another go at that. I'm thinking that 4 gradations of shade are not enough, but it's a bit tricky to do even with 4 so more than that might be a tad too tricky. The aim is to be able to knit a top down shawl so that it starts pale and gets darker towards the edges.

More successful was the rainbow skein at the bottom. It's a skein of sock wool that shades through all the colours of the rainbow. Again the aim is to be able to knit a shawl with this that starts red at the top and ends up purple at the edges. Also in the photo are some small amounts of roving which I used to exhaust the dyepots as I was going along. The main purpose of my dye day (apart from the graduated yarn experiment) was to dye lots of small skeins of 4-ply in many different shades of blues, greys and greens for my next knitting project. Which is this -

Now I'd never wear a jumper like that, but I loved the image and thought it would make a great cushion. The pattern is from a book found in a charity shop (in Tewkesbury I think). The book is The Knitting Book, published by Conran Octopus in the 1980s. I think it was originally published in France as it uses a lots of French and other European yarns. Most of the patterns are very 1980s but I couldn't resist the book just for this one chart. So I've been planning carefully and have dyed all the greens and blues and greys needed, just need to do a few browns. There are 13 different colours in this and a whole lot of intarsia. You may remember that intarsia is not my favourite knitting technique, so there may be swearing involved in this project. I've done 3 rows so far and can see that keeping the many bobbins of different coloured yarns untangled could be the major source of the swearing (and I'm only using 4 or 5 colours so far).

We've been out and about a lot recently, with trips to Preston and Lancaster (on the way to Woolfest), to Ashbourne, Buxton and Matlock on Friday this week and Fareham and Winchester yesterday. That's a lot of charity shopping and so I did score a few bargains with some quilting books, a couple of jewellery making books and a few knitting books. The best result was from Worcester (on the same day as Tewkesbury, a couple of weeks ago now) when I got these in Oxfam.

Yes, that's Shirley Paden's Knitwear Design Workshop and Northern Knits by Lucinda Guy. I paid £7.50 for the two. I think I might have done a little happy dance outside the shop.

So that's everything all up to date with the textile stuff. You'll have to wait till next time for the books I've read though. It's been so long I'm not sure I remember what I've read. I promise it won't be as long till the next post, honest!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Big Catch Up - Part Two

OK, election fever is over and I can't say I'm looking forward to the next few years under DC and his new best chum. Still, that's democracy for you - you don't always get what you want.

So, back to the book update and then I'll fill you in on the weaving stuff and some dyeing I'm doing right now (even as I type this).

The next book I read was The Merchant's Mark by Pat McIntosh. I love these medieval mysteries, all set in Glasgow. Scotland had some very odd laws at that time and it makes it all very interesting. Gil Cunningham is a great character and he works with a French stonemason, father to his fiancee, who is also a bit of a character. The series is shaping up nicely, though I'm about 3 or 4 books behind now. I'd recommend these to anyone who likes a bit of historical crime.

After that I had some stuff to read for work and for Eurocrime. I read A Razor Wrapped in Silk, third in an excellent series by R N Morris, which feature Porfiry Petrovich (from Crime and Punishment), as the investigating magistrate in late 19th century St Petersburg. These are very good and very atmospheric. A full review will appear on Eurocrime shortly but I did like it very much and seem to have got over my confusion with the Russion names, finally.

Two debut novels from last year were selected for me to review for an upcoming promotion at work. So I read MR Hall's The Coroner and Winterland by Alan Glynn. I liked both of these very much. The Coroner I had started previously and laid aside for some reason but after I picked it up again I got really into it and could barely put it down. The main character Jenny is not a particularly likeable person, very abrasive, but by the end I had warmed to her and was rooting for her. I don't think there's been a series about a Coroner before (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), and it's not a job I know much about so it was all very interesting, even if Jenny is not doing everything quite by the book.

Winterland is a dark, gritty thriller set in Dublin with a grim character list of ex-terrorists, drug dealers and dodgy politicians. It's really well plotted and I loved the main character, Gina Rafferty. It's difficult to believe that this is a first novel. I shall look forward to reading more of him.

So I managed to read those and get my reviews in for the deadline, which was today and now I'm reading the new John Connolly, The Whisperers, just published yesterday and kindly provided by Karen of Eurocrime again. I'm only 10 or so pages in so it's a bit early to tell but I'll keep you posted and will be sending a full review to Eurocrime in due course.

That doesn't seem like many books and I think I might have missed a couple somewhere, but I can't think what they were. Also my reading had been rather curtailed by my current obsession with weaving. I love weaving but it does take a lot of time. It takes a very long time to set up the loom with the wool, ready to weave. Then the weaving takes quite a bit of time (I expect it gets quicker as you get better, but I'm still a newbie) and the light's not very good in the dining room where my loom is set up so although I can weave there in the evening with the aid of a few well positioned spotlights, I can't really do any of the setting up in the evening as you really need good light to be sure that it's right. Anyway I did my first real project - a scarf/wrap thing in a two colours of green wool. It's not perfect, there are a few errors in the weaving but the finishing means it has a slightly felted finish so that hides a few sins and generally it's big enough for the mistakes not to be noticeable.

Here's the technical bit for anyone who's interested - this is a huck lace pattern from Handwoven magazine (can't remember the issue number and I can't find it right now), woven at 15epi with 20/2 worsted wool from Fibrecrafts.

I loved weaving this and I've already wound the yarn for my next project, but I've not warped the loom yet as I need 3-4 hours uninterrupted time with no distractions to get it all set up right, and I've just been too busy for that to happen. Maybe this weekend, though I have a vast pile of books to read, some of which need to take priority over weaving.

This morning I am doing a spice dyeing workshop using instructions provided by the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. They do a different workshop every month an this month is about dyeing with foodstuffs. So this morning I have been dyeing roving with paprika and turmeric, and then as I had my dyepots and equipment out I've also done a bit of dyeing with coffee and am just boiling some wool with teabags. I have this vague idea that I will knit a Kitchen Garden Shawl in some kind of modular, stocking stitch pattern, using handspun wool that I have dyed with stuff either from the kitchen or the garden. That should keep me busy for a while.

On the needles currently is a secret gift project with a closely looming deadline so I have been speed knitting at every opportunity this week and am just about finished. More on that once the gift is safely despatched.

Right, next up - a cup of coffee and the new John Connolly book. Don't bother me for an hour or so!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Todays the Day

Yes, after 4 weeks of posturing and posing and kissing of babies Election Day is here. I bet you Americans are jealous of us right now - only 4 weeks of electioneering. We've had our first ever live TV debates. We've had laughs and groans (thanks for that, Gordon), we've unexpectedly agreed with people on occasion (even with Nick once or twice) and we've yelled at the TV in frustration when no-one has answered the question.

But it's here so remember to get out and vote today. Exercise your democratic privilege and remember that women died so everyone could do this, and that people all over the world can't for many reasons who should be able to.

Just one thing, before you place that X in the box of your choice, please cast your mind back to the 1980s and remember what the Conservatives did to the NHS, to public services and to schools. Bear in mind that the ME, ME culture pervading the country today is their legacy and above all don't forget that it was them who stole Leonie's milk!

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Big Catch-Up

I've done loads of stuff recently that hasn't reached the blog for one reason or another - been busy, been weaving (see later), been lazy, yada yada.

Just after we came back from Brussels we had a day out in London, primarily for me to go to the Quilts 1700-2010 exhibition at the V&A, but we did some other stuff too.

The quilt exhibition was wonderful, filled with great work and fantastic inspiration. There are of course no photographs of this because photography is not allowed, but there's a lovely book to accompany the exhibition which is well worth a look if your local bookstore or library have it. The workmanship and detail of some of the quilts was breathtaking. I was less than impressed with the V&A itself which seems blithely to assume that you know where you're going and does not feel the need to signpost anything, though it does provide an incomprehensible map. One of the attendants was very rude to Pete, who was carrying my backpack (no bags in the temporary exhibitions - but also no obvious cloakroom where it could be left, unlike in the Brussels Museum of Modern Art.) I was misdirected twice by members of staff. It just took the edge off what should have been a wonderful morning. A lot of the textile exhibits were not on show for various reasons which seemed a shame when there were so many textile lovers in the building. Still the quilts were fantastic and they were the main point of the visit.

After that we got on the tube up to North London and went to the Handweaver's Studio so I could get some weaving yarns. Mission accomplished. What a lovely shop. I'll love to do a workshop there, having seen all the looms and equipment they have as well as all the pretty yarns of every colour imaginable.

Holborn was our next stop where we had a spot of lunch and visited the Cartoon Museum. This is well worth a visit if you happen to be in London. On the ground floor it currently has an exhibition on Ronald Searle and some examples of cartoon art going back to the 18th century. Upstairs they have some comic art from the likes of Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid etc with original artwork from The Beano, Dan Dare, 2000AD etc. It's all great stuff, I just wish there was more of it on display. It was the Easter holidays and there were lots of young people doing workshops in comic art which was great to see. As I said the museum is well worth visiting if you are in London already, but probably not worth a journey in itself. It's a start but we need more of this!

At the end of that week I went to the National Exhibition of the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers which is on at the Mueum in Mansfield. It's full of fantastic work, very inspirational. I did take lots of photos for my own reference but don't feel I can post them on here for copyright reasons. If you're in the area I'd recommend the exhibition if you're at all interested in textiles.

It's been so long since I did a book update that I'm not sure I can remember what I've been reading. With me on the trip to Brussels were Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride and Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid. I started with the Stuart MacBride and really enjoyed it. It's a bit gruesome in places but as usual the characters are interesting and the plot worked well. I didn't get such a strong sense of place from this one as some of the others; while still set in Aberdeen it could easily have been in a number of other cities in the UK. Perhaps it was because it was set during a heatwave - very un-Aberdonian! Still you always get a good read with these and as his next one is out this week I shall probably read that fairly soon. The Val McDermid was my back-up book on this trip - I wasn't impressed with her previous Tony Hill book, Beneath the Bleeding , but this one was much better. Well written and tightly plotted, this book is about a string of abducted teenagers. These later books while still good don't have the impact of Mermaids Singing or Wire in the Blood and are much less gruesome. I wonder if this is so as not to alienate people coming to the books from the TV series, or if it's a deliberate move away from that excruciating detail that made you want to read the early books with your eyes shut. I've read some books where the nastiness seems gratuitous and voyeuristic and it's not a direction I feel crime writing needs necessarily to go in, but McDermid's books, although sometimes grim and uncomfortable reading, never felt voyeuristic to me. I'd still rank The Mermaids Singing as one of my top 10 crime novels.

Back soon with part two of the big catch up!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What I did on my holidays.. and a bit of a rant

I'm back from Brussels and we had a totally fantastic time there.

We did all sorts of touristy things - eating Moules Frites and drinking beer in pavement cafes, and eating frites with mayo in the street. We walked for miles and miles through the streets of Brussels looking at the comic strip murals, checking out fleamarkets and browsing in antique shops, second hand bookshops and comic shops. We went to the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Comic Strips. We ate bouillabaisse and drank lots of coffee. It was pretty much the perfect weekend. We totally loved Brussels.

There were a couple of highlights - the fleamarket at the Place de Jeu de Balle which is on every day from about 7am. We went on Saturday and Sunday (because there's nothing we love better than a good fleamarket)

It takes place in a square and it's just filled with people selling (mostly) tat out of boxes - there is everything here: comics, books, furniture, postcards, buttons, art, photos, spectacles, laboratory equipment (need some pipettes - this is the place), astounding collectables and all manner of unidentifiable stuff. Most of it seems to be straight out of house clearances - everything just shoved into boxes and brought here for sale - we saw biscuit tins with the biscuits still in them, the contents of kitchen drawers, people's whole lives spread out to be pawed through by the dealers and the curious. We loved it. And if you ever wanted to replace a missing bit of a chandelier then this is the place to come - whole stalls of bits of chandelier!

The other big highlight for me was the Museum of Comic Strips. The Belgians love comics. They seriously love their comics. I've never seen so many in one place (there are apparently 49 comic shops in this one city). The Museum has a great display of all the greatest comic artists from Belgium comic history - Herge you would probably have heard of, Willy Vandersteen you might know, but there were many many others I'd never heard of who were just amazing. And the museum doesn't just celebrate the founders of this great industry (and it is still a great industry in Belgium). It has original artwork from comics right up to the present day and they have a huge rolling display of pages of this original art which changes continually, on rotation so that the paper is not exposed to too much light. I have discovered a new found love of E P Jacobs, whose Blake and Mortimer series I knew of, but seeing some of his artwork up close in the museum just blew me away. Hardly any of this stuff gets translated into English which is a shame as I saw some fanstastic stuff, old and new, that would go down a storm here.

Also at the museum was an exhibition about Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. There was beautiful original art here too. You may (if you are old enough) remember that she did a comic strip of the Moomins for the London Evening News from 1954 to 1959. Sadly, none of the art for that particular series survives as it was all destroyed by Associated Newspapers. And this demonstates the difference in importance placed on comics in the UK compared to Belgium.

Much of the artwork for early British comics no longer exists, destroyed as worthless as publishers disappeared and publications were merged. The one British publisher who holds a big archive is D. C. Thomson, publisher of The Beano, The Dandy, The Beezer, Bunty, Mandy, Warlord and Victor. They published all those comics you grew up reading. They also publish The Sunday Post - home of the Broons and Oor Wullie. They've been publishing comics since 1921 and they have a huge archive. But do they make anything of this huge, fantastic resource? No, they do not. Is this wonderous stuff available for the public to see? No, it is not. Is there a museum where you could go and learn about the early days of comic books in the UK? No, there is not. Don't you think we ought to celebrate the people who brought us all so much fun and laughter in our youth. Don't you think we should have a museum blowing the trumpet of the great comicbook artists and writers produced in this country. Would you go to someplace like that? I know I would.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Few Knitting Disasters

Just in case you all thought I was some kind of knitting goddess (hardly) I've been brought down to Earth with a bump recently with my kntting. Several projects have fallen by the wayside.

First there were the Cookie A socks with which I was challenging myself - they were frogged due to gauge issues and have never been restarted.

Then there was a shawlette in some handspun that I have finished but it has no drape at all, it's just as stiff as a board. Seriously you could hang-glide with that sucker.

You may remember that I started a pair of Skew socks and I got past the heel and halfway up the leg before I realised that they weren't even remotely foot-shaped. Gribbit.

I'm now back on a pair of simple top down plain old boring socks. I needed a small portable project that I can knit on the move as we are off to Brussels tomorrow. It's my birthday this weekend so we're looking forward to a trip involving beer, comic strips, flea markets and moules et frites. Not sure if there will be any wool shopping, but you never know.

See you when I get back

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blogger Problems

I've got this really great post lined up for you with lots of photos of getting my loom set up and weaving - but there's a problem with Blogger and it won't load any photos at the moment.

Just as soon as Blogger is fixed I'll get this post up.


First Steps in Weaving

This post is rather picture heavy, so be warned.

As you may have read I bought a loom last year, put it together with the help of the Evilpixie and discovered it wasn't at all what I thought I was buying. It was listed as being probably an Ashford loom but it turned out to be a countermarche loom from Frank Herring. This made it a much more complicated bit of kit than I was prepared for and I'd been putting off using the loom as the thought of it made me nervous.

However, there was no point in having it if all we were going to do was drape coats over it, so I rescued it from it tempoarary starus as coat-rack and got it warped up last week.

First I had to put new Texsolv heddles on the replace the old string ones that were on the loom when I got it.

Then I wound the warp - this was 8/2 worsted wool from Fibrecrafts, half of which I dyed in a nice bright turquoise for contrast. I have been following the instructions in "Learning to Weave" by Deborah Chandler. I'd have to say the book is pretty brilliant and explains everything in easy to understand steps that even I can follow.

This is the cross (that stops the yarn from getting all tangled and helps when you come to put the warp on the loom).

Here it is ready to warp up.

Sleying the reed (threading the yarn through the reed which is at the front of the loom and which you use to keep the woven cloth nice and even and at the correct tension)

Threading the heddles (these move up and down, making the yarn move to create the pattern when you weave)

Tying up the treadles (these foot pedals are tied onto the shafts containing heddles above and move them up and down as you press them)

And finally some actual weaving, actually woven by me.

There are some problems with this sample - the tension was wrong on the right hand set of warp threads, meaning that the selvedge on that side was a bit wobbly, also there turned out to be a knot in one of the warp threads and it snapped so there is a little blip in the middle of the sample where that one warp thread is missing. Yes, I could have replaced it but it was just a sample. Also, despite the fact that I checked every 4 ends as I threaded them (as suggested by the book) I still managed to get one end in the wrong heddle, so it didn't rise and fall in the right place and I had to manually pick it up every other row. Finally it seems that my shafts (that hold the heddles) weren't level so the shed (that's the space between the yarns that you pass the shuttle through) was quite tight at one side. I've fixed that now and the shed is much better.

I continued with the sample from here as the book suggested and did several sets of rows with different tightness, and then wove some twill patterns.

I'm really happy with the sample (despite the odd error) and I've really learned a lot about how the loom works, how important even tension is, and how I need to check the threading more than once (possibly more than twice). Plus now I've tweeked the loom a little and the action is better.

More weaving fun next week when I try to weave something real - ie not a sample, and hopefully with a use at the end of it. I'm planning a scarf to start with. Expect swearing!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Finally a book update...

I'm a bit behind with my book blogging so I'd better do a quick catch-up.

Way back in January I read A Game of Sorrows by Shona MacLean which is the sequel to The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. I have to say I was a little disappointed in this one. The previous book had been very atmospheric and had a great sense of place, which I felt was lacking slightly in this second book. It was still a good read, just not as good as the first in my opinion (such as it is).

Next up was The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths. This is the second in her series about Ruth Galloway a forensic archaeologist working in East Anglia. I loved this. Ruth is a really great character and the book is such an easy read, it simply flew along. Highly recommended!

I started Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly and normally I love Connelly's stuff, and this one is a Harry Bosch too, which I usually prefer to the stand-alones. However I seem to have got stalled with it. I'm stuck with Harry mid-air on his way to Hong Kong and can't seem to summon the enthusiasm to pick it up again. Most odd.

I had better luck with Justice Hall by Laurie R. King. It's one of her Mary Russell books and you probably know how I love those. I'm reading them all out of order as I find them (almost all are out of print in the UK at the moment, though I think I read somewhere that they would be republished to coincide with the publication of the next one later this year. I hope so. These are just too good to remain out of print.

While I was on a Sherlock Holmes theme I read Prayer of the Night Shepherd by Phil Rickman, one of the Merrily Watkins series, this one about whether or not Conan Doyle got the idea for the Hound of the Baskervilles while in Ledwardine rather than in Devon. This is the second of these I've read and I'm quite liking them. Of course, again I have been reading them all out of order, reading so far just the first and this one which I think is the fifth. I did like the first one, and this one has seen me through a short bout of insomnia so it must have been OK. (Certainly not one for hurling into the backseat, Jill!) I shall try again with one of the earlier ones, as I do like the characters, just not too sure about all the religious stuff (heathen that I am).

I only finished the Rickman this morning so I'm currently between books. I know I got a proof from the lovely Karen at Eurocrime last week, so that should be next, but I can't remember what it was, or where I've put it. (Found it - it's the new R. N. Morris, A Razor Wrapped in Silk, another Porfiry Petrovich mystery - all those Russian names!)

Oops, forgot one. I also read Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell, which is pretty much what you expect from Mr Cornwell. It has an interesting character who is a bit player in a major battle or historical event, he has a bit of love interest and some backstory, the plot is fast and the historical detail just hits the spot - just enough fascinating stuff without boring the pants off you. You know what you're getting with almost any Bernard Cornwell book and this did exactly what it said on the tin, which is fine by me. Long-term readers will know that almost all the English history I know has been gleaned from the pages of Mr Cornwell's books. (Scottish schools were none too hot on the teaching of English history when I went to school - this may have all changed now but all I ever learned was about Mary Queen of Scots.)

I think that's it for now. Next post will be (hopefully) on my progress with my loom. Yesterday I started to put the new Texsolv heddles on and today I hope to finish that and start to warp it up. There may be some swearing....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Old Dog in New Tricks Shocker

I am feeling inordinately proud of myself this morning. The above little scrap of knitting has involved the learning of several new things - firstly it requires the magic loop method of kntting, something I've never quite got the hang of until now; secondly I had to learn a new cast-on method, which is the Magic Cast On (I love this and can think of lots of ways it could be used); finally there are, in that tiny example two completely new increase stitches I've never heard of before, never mind tried.

This is of course the Skew sock from Knitty. What a fantastic design. Go marvel at it. Then come back and see how I get on - will I master it or will it make my head explode?

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Dyeing Action

I've been hitting the dyepots again this week, experimenting with various combinations of colours and techniques.

These rovings (from the top left) are a randomly dyed, hand-painted superwash merino roving using a combination of blues, yellows, reds and green, set in the microwave; a kettle-dyed superwash merino roving in oranges and browns; the bottom two are matched hand-painted sockstuff (merino and nylon) roving which graduates from red right through the rainbow to violet. I love the effect you can get from these in socks or in a shawl. There's also a number of ways you can spin them for differing effects. I never seem to get tired of these.

I haven't just done roving though. The top is a kettle-dyed sock yarn in beautifully rich tones of burgundy. This is exactly the sort of semi-solid yarn I was looking for the other week for the socks I started from the Sock Innovation book. (I had a few gauge issues and frogged them, though I'll restart them this week hopefully). The bottom two are vaguely matching skeins of sock yarn (these will be fraternal rather than identical socks) in reds and purples.

Spinning Fleece

The spinning of fleece is not something that I do a whole lot of. I tend to like my fibre all clean and processed and preferably in a pretty colour (or two).

But, my spinning group will be at Middleton Hall on Easter Monday and decided we would spin the wool for and make a peg loom rug to demonstrate spinning and peg weaving. Sadly I shall not be there as I'm working but to get the weavers off to a good start we needed to pre-spin some fleece for them.

So last week at the meeting I was handed a bunch of fleece to spin. Now it had been processed, so it had been washed and carded (this was done by a professional processor) but it was still full of bits of vegetable matter and I did keep having to stop and pick out bits of grass and moss and other unidentified things as I was spinning. The idea was to spin it as thick as possible. I'm not sure I succeeded there. My default yarn (ie what I naturally spin if I'm not thinking about it) is something like a sport weight or lightweight double knitting. Recently I've been trying to spin thinner stuff - not quite laceweight yet, but certainly similar to a commercial 4 ply or fingering weight. It's been a long time since I spun anything chunky.

Add Image Anyway here's my feeble attempt. It's thicker in some places than others and it's still full of little bits of leaf and moss. It's not washed yet though, hopefully it will look better once it's been washed.

Did I learn anything? Yes, I did. I learned that I was right - I do prefer the clean and pretty stuff over fleece anyday ( and this wasn't even raw fleece - this had been partly processed already). But I also learned that I could spin chunky if I wanted to.

Bonus - I now have nice soft hands from all that lanolin.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Little Dyeing

My good friend Maggi came over one day last week and we did some dyeing together which was lots of fun.

(making a mess in the kitchen)

( some sock yarn ready to go in the microwave)

(some of the end results)

(sock yarn all skeined up and ready to go)

(more sock yarn and some loopy mohair)

As you can see we had lots of fun doing this and made some lovely coloured yarns. I've been doing a little bit more today so there will be more yarns tomorrow when they are dry and skeined. There's also some roving which I haven't photographed yet so you'll see that tomorrow too.

In the meantime have a happy World Book Day!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Citron Shawlette and Challenging Myself

I realise that it is now nearly the end of February and I'm still lingering hoplessly on the letter C when I should have progressed through the alphabet much further by now. What can I say, I don't do deadlines.

I have a few C-shaped things to report though before moving on to D.

I finished my Citron shawlette, knitted in Malabrigo laceweight, colourway Red Mahogany.

(Here it is held up to the light so you can see the ripple effect.)

(and here, modelled beautifully by the Evilpixie)

I added an extra round of the ruffle and then ran out of yarn before the end of the edge-frill, however I am pleased with the overall result. Given the choice (or another skein of the yarn) then I'd have made it larger. While it will sit happily on the shoulders, this is not how I would normally wear a shawlette. I liked them looped around my neck, and this is not quite long enough for that. As a knit though I enjoyed it, found it stimulating enough to want to keep knitting, but not challenging so good for watching TV or taking to Knit Night. Several pub quizzes were won during the knitting of this shawl! I grew to like the colour in the end and it sparked in interest in semi-solid yarns that will continue into next weeks post (hopefully).

But it wasn't challenging. Nothing I've knitted recently has been at all taxing, and that's been fine, but now I want to stretch myself and tackle something more complex. I've been taking the easy options and knitting things that look more difficult than they are, letting the yarns do the work and taking the credit. Now I want to knit something that will make my brain work as well as my hands.

So I'm starting a pair of socks from Cookie A's Sock Innovation book. I have a skein of Paca Peds sockweight alpaca that I bought in Florida in 2008 that's been languishing in the stash. Now that I've wound it into a ball it's looking a lot more variegated than it looked on the skein. Twisted, the dominant colour seemed to be purple. Now that dominant colour looks to be the green and I'm thinking it will stripe rather more than I want it to. Here is where I need a nice deep semi-solid colour. I'm going to have a try with this anyway. I read through the book and some of the instructions are already making my head ache. Stand back - there may be swearing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Charity Shopping

I'm all behind with my alphabet challenge. Let's face it I'm just rubbish at this. (Letter C from a building at Cotefield Farm, Bodicote, Banbury.)

And I promised a post about Banbury so here we go rolling it all into one.

A couple of weeks ago Pete and I went to check out an auction near Banbury because Pete wanted to buy some comics they had for sale. (And yes, he did get them, very pleased.) The comics were late on in the auction so we had a bit of time to kill and we went into Banbury for one of our usual shopping trips - coffee, charity shops etc.

I got a phenomenally good haul in the charity shops (known in our houisehold as chazzas). The first shop (PDSA) had a wonderful stack of proofs, some of books not even published yet.

Just around the corner the RSPCA offered up a couple of hardbacks I hadn't read and some quilting patterns for cushions with cats on. I shall use these to make a bright cheerful cushion for the MIL for her room.

Just around the corner the Barnardos shop had some great vintage 1950s fabric - slightly faded in places but lovely just the same.

I also bought a cord skirt I can wear to work and beautiful green velvet hippyish skirt.

On the way back to the car I spotted this pub sign by where we were parked -

Finally, just to top the day off where we were at the auction I spotted a big sign on another of the buildings just round the corner - Hagger's Mill - Alpaca Spinners and Textile Centre. Sadly it was shut but hopefully next time we're in that area it will be open and I can bring you a little peek.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Yarn Shop!!!!!!

I'm all behind with my blogging, having been laid low by a nasty cold which left me gasping for breath and woolly headed.

However, before the hideous cold virus struck I had a great day on Thursday of last week. Firstly I went to visit my good friend Maggi (ravelry link) and we did some knitting and she kept us supplied with lemon cupcakes. What could be better than knitting AND cupcakes with a friend?

And after that I carried on a bit further to Stone (Staffordshire) where there is a lovely new yarn shop just opened.

It's just opened and I went and met the lovely owner, Jeanette, and looked at all the goodies she has. There were some fantastic sample shawls knitted up, very tempting. I was quite restrained and just bought a little ball of some hand-dyed 4ply in autumnal shades and a ball of Opal sock yarn. (Because you can never have too much sock yarn, right, and she had some great shades). Some of the stock was totally gorgeous, including some Artist's Palette laceweight. I've used their fibre but never seen the yarn - it's seriously lovely. I can see that this will be a regular yarn shop outing especially as I know Jeanette has great plans for adding to the stock she already has.

It's so nice to see a new yarn store opening, and if it's not exactly local (Stone's about 20 miles from here) then it's certainly worth a trip on a day out. It could easily be combined with a trip to Stoke to Abakhan Fabrics for example. Anyway I wish Jeanette at Yarn Gathering all the best and hope the shop does well. I shall certainly be visiting it again and I can recommend it. Her website's not up and running fully yet as she's been so busy getting the shop ready but I've given the link anyway so you can bookmark it.

I'll be back in a couple of days with a belated alphabet post featuring a day out to Banbury.

Keep knitting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's next on the TBR pile

So that's where I'm going next on my reading journey, starting in Michigan at the top, then Medieval Glasgow, Victorian London, Spain during and just before the Second World War, 16th Century St Andrews, Hong Kong and finally Montana.

That should keep me busy for a while.

I had a little moment last week when I was neither reading a book nor knitting anything other than the perennial socks which was a tad disconcerting. I felt a little bit lost for a while. But I soon got over that, cast on several new projects and started a new book.

Currently I am reading South of Hell by PJ Parrish, which is the pseudonym of two women, Kristy Montee and Kelly Nicholls. I first read one of these last year, A Thousand Bones and I did enjoy it, then I read a second one, Dark of the Moon, which was just as good and which delved into the backstory of one of the characters. However I realise that I am reading them all out of sequence and that there are apparently 10 in the seies, not all of which seem to have been published in the UK. Anyway I spotted Dead of Winter in a charity shop last week. It is the second in the series so I'm jumping back and forth a bit here.

I just finished the other 2 books I was reading - Rome by Manda Scott or M C Scott as they seem to be calling her now, and Sweetsmoke by David Fuller.

Rome was an excellent read - just what you would expect from Manda - lots of great characters, historical detail aplenty, a cracking storyline and a touch of mysticism. Her books are really such an enjoyable read. I just get caught up in them and swept along. Reading this made me want to go back and re-read the Boudica series, and I'm glad to see that she's planning more in this Roman series.

Sweetsmoke was enjoyable too but in a different way. It's set on a tobacco plantation in Virginia during the American Civil War and is about a carpenter (a slave) trying to find out who killed a local free woman. So it's a crime novel of sorts but really it's just a very involving story about this man, Cassius, and his struggle to come to terms with who he is, and who he is allowed to be. Wonderfully written and beautifully told from Cassius' point of view. Interesting too to read about the war from the perspective of a slave. I love the cover - the hands are so expressive.

Then there is the pile to be worked through - which one first? Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's on the Needles

This is what I have on the needles at the moment..

These are handspun merino socks. I started to spin these at the advent gathering and I finished spinning over Christmas. As you can see there is one finished sock already. They are a quick knit because the wool is roughly DK weight. The yarn is really soft and cosy. I should have had these finished before that cold spell - I really could have used them then.

These are Opal socks with the sock yarn that I bought at Twist Fibre Craft Studio when I was in Scotland. I'm not at all sure about the colours and the way they are knitting up, which is why there is only the cuff and calf of one sock knitted. I keep picking them up and knitting a few rows and putting them back down again

Anyway I got a little sidetracked with this, which is Citron from It's a beautiful semi-circular shawlette. It's handily designed to use just one skein of Malabrigo Baby Merino Lace, which is quite reasonable. The shawlette in the pattern is done in a beautiful lime green which I loved but I couldn't find that colourway so I'm knitting mine in Red Mahogany. The colour is not quite what I envisaged having seen the colour on the internet. In real life the yarn is more brown and less red, more a semi-solid and less a hand-dyed effect than I had expected. I still like it though and I do wear a lot of brown so it will come in handy. The yarn is soooo soft that I may not want to take it off ever.

Next time...what's in the TBR pile and what I'm reading now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

B is for.....

......all manner of things.

Firstly this lovely Bloomsbury Classics edition of The Wide Sargasso Sea.

B is also for Boots and I'm very glad that in the Autumn I invested in a pair of Berghaus Walking Boots. They have been much appreciated through all this snowy weather. Lovely and warm and waterproof and with great grip. It's snowing again today and think I've had enough now. At least today I haven't had to try and get to work. I did try and get to the mile and a half to the dentist this morning and gave up after ten minutes sitting in traffic going nowhere.

Bubba, despite the evidence of this photo, (actually taken last year, not during this latest snowfall), is not enjoying the snow. It keeps balling up in his paws so he has to keep stopping to chew the ice out from between his toes. Poor thing. Plus this prolonged cold spell has brought on a slight limp which is probably arthritis inflammation. He'd much prefer to be fast asleep on the sofa and I have to agree with him. I'm getting rather bored with not being able to get anywhere and all my groups, reading spinning etc have been cancelled.

B is also for Black Country Knitters. I have found a lovely location for my Knit Night in Walsall. Every second Tuesday evening from the 26th January we'll be meeting in the Black Country Arms pub in Walsall High Street (that's at the top end of the market, next to Sofia's Restaurant). It's a great friendly pub with a huge selection of real ales and lots of little corners and nooks to sit and knit in, depending on how many people turn up. Come and join us.