Alnwick Castle

My sister and I live at almost opposite ends of the country and I don’t get to see her much. When I decided on a trip to Edinburgh to see the Great Scottish Tapestry and my sister had a few days off work, this seemed like a good chance for a visit.

It was a long train journey to Northumberland but it only arrived 4 minutes late, which was quite impressive as I have terrible luck with trains. I’m not looking forward to next year when I will no longer be able to use a young person’s railcard and have to pay full price for tickets, it might be the incentive I need to learn how to drive. At the moment I’m on so much medication and my brain is so fried that I would be quite dangerous behind the wheel but I really hope by next year that might have improved.

My sister is a history geek and specialises in medieval things (with the excuse for any history she doesn’t know that it’s “not my period”) so I got taken to see Alnwick Castle after the necessary cup of tea. I couldn’t complain too much because some of Harry Potter was filmed there and, although I like to yell at the TV when they change things from the book, I’m a big fan.

We didn’t have time to look round the inside so we just wandered round the grounds. Alnwick is very big and mostly intact; even I thought it was impressive. One of the most famous residents of the castle was Henry Hotspur who led various battles against almost everyone from what I can gather (can you tell I’m not the historian) and although my sister took the piss when I suggested Tottenham Hotspur was named after him, it turns out by complete fluke that I was right.

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Statue of Henry Hotspur ©Rachel Gibbs

Unfortunately, we didn’t have any small children we could borrow to take part in the dressing up and broomstick lessons. We finished the day with a browse in Barter Books, a very large second hand bookshop housed in the old station building. Their selection of knitting books was very small but my sister was quite tempted by a first edition The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

I’m currently on the train the Edinburgh and enjoying the WiFi, even if I have to pay for it. My sister will meet me there tomorrow and I will try and interest her in the amazing stitchwork and she will try to interest me in the historical significance of the contents of the tapestry (or embroidery if we’re being pedantic).

Moving In

I moved into my new flat just over three weeks ago. I really didn’t want to move as I liked the old flat a lot, but the landlord wanted to sell so I didn’t have a choice. Most things are now out of the boxes (except I still haven’t found my swift and ballwinder which is annoying) and I’m slowly getting used to the new place although it’s going to take a while before it feels right. There are some advantages to the new place but there’s also a lot of things I’m finding difficult.

Good Things Not So Good Things
Central heating means I don't have to wipe condensation off the windows every day in winterTwo of the window panes are blown and I'm struggling to find suitably sized curtains I like
Space outside to dry washingNo tumble drier, airing cupboard or convenient space in flat to put airer
With a gas cooker I can still cook in a power cutI'm used to cooking on electric and I can't control the temperature so well on gas.
There's a loft I can hide my junk in, especially useful for the tentThe flat is smaller overall and there's no second bedroom for easily accessible junk
I can pick my own furniture so I don't have to put up with a too short, faux leather sofa that makes odd noises every time you sit downI have to wait eight weeks for the sofa to be delivered and fold up wooden chairs are really not comfortable for any length of time
The wifi makes it as far as the bedroom (and a firmware upgrade to the router means the phone and the laptop no longer chuck each other off)Pure Connect's listen again seems to be a week behind iPlayer
There's a better view and a garden I don't have to maintainI'm no longer just over the road from Asda
I introduced my mum to the wonders of sugru to fix the intercom which kept falling apartThere is a lot of work that needs to be done and most of it I can't do
I don't have to get dressed and go outside the flat to get my postThe arrival of the post tends to make me jump out of my skin

Wonderwool Wales

One of my best friends happens to have a cottage really close to Builth Wells where Wonderwool Wales is held. I asked if I could come and visit for the weekend and he even agreed to give me a lift. I have tried to get the train to visit him before but the trains to the middle of nowhere only run every 4 hours (so middle of nowhere that his cottage has no internet, no tv signal and no mobile signal, I can only cope with it for a few days before the urge to check my email gets too strong). On that occasion I missed one of my connections and ended up getting a taxi from Hereford, which is not to be advised. When you go to the customer service desk to ask which the next available train is and they get out an atlas, it’s time to be worried.

It was really nice to catch up on the drive because I don’t get to see him much but I was glad of a leg stretch by the time we arrived. We spent most of the time talking about zombies and scuba diving but also about the influence of certain military figures on knitting terminology as we passed by Raglan. The Raglan sleeve was named after the 1st Baron of Raglan who apparently popularised the style after losing an arm at the battle of Waterloo. Mike is in the army and I’m obsessed with knitting, so it was a good crossover topic.

I spent two lovely afternoons browsing around Wonderwool, teaching Mike about the different kinds of yarn and had to find someone demonstrating needle felting before he would believe that all you have to do is poke bits of fluff with a needle to form lovely sculptures. This explanation may go some way towards my hopeless attempts at needle felting which resulted in a highland cow with incredibly spindly legs that wouldn’t stand up.

Wonderwool haul
Wonderwool Haul ©Rachel Gibbs

Wonderwool was full of lovely yarn from some of my favourite companies. I resisted the urge to buy everything on the Eden Cottage stand and ended up with some Bowland DK and Hayton 4ply. The Hayton is a lovely pale blue-green which I hope will show up cables well. I got some Sweet Georgia Superwash DK from the Purlesence stall in a lovely deep blue, I love the whole range of Sweet Georgia colours and the staff on the Purlescence stall are always really friendly.

I’ve been trying to resist learning to spin but apparently the fibre fumes got to me, and I ended up with a learn to spin kit from Hilltop Cloud. Mike and I both had great fun trying it out, although it worked much better the next morning without the influence of gin.

We were at the Baa Ram Ewe stand on Sunday as they were awarded the second prize for 3*3m stall, and they were practically jumping for joy which was nice to see. I ended up with two skeins of TItus which I have been wanting to try for a while. I think Bantam (deep red/purple) and Eire (pale blue) will work nicely together in some colourwork.

Just before we left I had a nice chat with Kate Heppell on the Knit Now stand and she directed my towards the Triskelion stall, which I must have missed before as I got distracted by all the pretty yarn and failed to travel around the show in a methodical manner. I’m glad she did because it’s not a brand I’ve tried before, but the yarns have a beautiful depth of colour and I’m looking forward to trying them out.

I really enjoyed my weekend of woollying. It had been a long week of moving house for me and I was glad of a break from the cycle of packing/unpacking and trying to work my new cooker. I’m still trying to figure out where to put everything and looking forward to my sofa arriving so I don’t have to chose between hard wooden chairs or the floor to sit on.

Daffodils for Mother’s Day

It’s tradition at the church my mum goes to that all women are given daffodils on Mother’s Day. This year I decided to give her a more permanent form of daffodils. It’s a kit from Anchor and the first major piece of tapestry needlepoint I’ve done.

Daffodils Tapestry Needlepoint
Daffodils Tapestry Needlepoint ©Rachel Gibbs

I had a bit of trouble because I ran out of two of the colours of wool and discovered my LYS only has DMC tapestry wool, not Anchor, so the replacement didn’t match exactly. I framed it myself which was the first time I’d used foam board and although I found a frame that said it was 7×5, the mount was actually less than that so I had to cut it a bit larger. I wish embroidery kits would come in standard sizes so it was easier to find frames. I’m finding it particularly difficult to find square frames in suitable sizes.

My mum’s craft of choice is patchwork but she taught me most forms of needlework when I was younger and it’s all coming back to me now. There was a Young Embroiderer’s group which mum helped out at and me and my sister went to in the school holidays. We made all sorts of things over the years, some reasonably sensible like a sewing kit that I still use and some more obscure like an appliqué version of our house, which doesn’t even look right any more since the front door and garage have changed colour (not that it was a particularly good representation to start with).

I’m spending the weekend with  my parents, partly so I could give my mum her present in person and didn’t have to trust it to Royal Mail. We went to Longshaw yesterday which is a National Trust estate with some nice gentle walks and lots of sheep to see. No lambs in sight though, it must be a bit early. I always like to get out into the Peak District when I go back to Sheffield, it’s one of the things I miss the most down south. It was a bit misty yesterday but I still got to see some good views and got a scone with jam and cream in the cafe which is always a good reason to visit National Trust properties.

One cardigan one sock, keep knitting

I feel like I’ve knitted at least two cardigans with all the ripping out I’ve been doing, but I’ve finally got a version that I think I’m happy with and all I need to do is sew in the many, many ends and attach the buttons, which will probably take as long as knitting it. I forgot that the pattern at the bottom would be wrapped around and join at the front, so the blocks aren’t distributed as evenly as I would like but I can live with that (or rather am not willing to rip it all out again).

Tetris Baby Cardigan
Tetris Baby Cardigan, almost finished ©Rachel Gibbs

I followed up my vanilla hat knitting with vanilla sock(s), only one so far but the stripes are helping to keep me motivated. It’s in Regia 4ply Design Line Ombré Stripe in Moss Garden. I’m not keen on a lot of the multicoloured Regias, especially the ones by Kaffe Fassett, as they often contain rather odd colour combinations, but these I like.

Regia sock
Regia Sock (part 1) ©Rachel Gibbs

I received my Knit Now 32 on Monday, and it’s my favourite kind of issue – the annual Best of British. Not only does it have lots of great patterns (as always) but it uses entirely British yarns, including a new yarn developed by Knit Now, which looks great. I love Jamie the Shetland Puffin, the Kellynch Blanket and pretty much everything in the All At Sea collection.

Productiveness (or the lack thereof)

Productiveness has not been my strong point lately. I keep getting distracted half way through things either by something new and shiny or because I’m just sick of whatever it is I’m doing. So, my Follow Your Arrow is still languishing part way through clue 4, waiting to be fixed, the badger cross stitch has some backstitching but it’s fiddly and quite hard to see.

I made one mitt from my Eden Cottage Millburn (which is lovely and so soft) and the second should be easier now I’ve stopped changing my mind on what I want to do but I seem to have developed Second Mitt Syndrome to go with my Second Sock Syndrome and Second Sleeve Syndrome…

Then I was watching Joeli’s Kitchen podcast earlier today and she was talking about some quick hats she’d been making in Chunky or DK held double. I’m hoping that this might be a project I can actually finish and since I only had one head the last time I checked, I don’t have to make two of them. After a bit of stash diving I decided on some Boo’s Attic Lavishly Plump DK in Damson Autumn which I got at Fibre East. Thanks to a tip from Joeli, I’ve wound this into a ball held double and plan to cast on this evening in front of the Great British Sewing Bee.

Boo's Attic DK
Boo’s Attic DK wound into double thickness ball ©Rachel Gibbs

I like the Great British Sewing Bee and although I’ve not done much garment sewing at all and certainly not in the last ten years I still know what they’re talking about most of the time. It’s really interesting to see the different interpretations of the same design and I’m  impressed by what they manage to achieve in such a short time.

To go with the Sewing Bee, I’ve taken some inspiration from the Bake Off and have been making Hazelnut bars from Cakes: 100 Everyday Recipes by Love Food. It’s not a recipe I’ve tried before but they smell good and now I just have to wait for them to cool. I’m not sure I got the consistency of the batter right, I seem to have ended up with something a bit like sticky crumble topping but I’m sure it will taste fine.

Hazelnut Bars
Hazelnut Bars ©Rachel Gibbs

This Little Guiding Light of Mine

Today is World Thinking Day, the most important day in the Guiding calendar. It’s held on the 22nd February because that was Lord and Lady Baden Powell’s joint birthday and is a day when Guides all around the world think about each other (hence the name). It’s also the Big Brownie Birthday this year (100 years since Brownies began) so it’s extra special.

I’ve been reading tweets all day from people at the Celebrate event in London this weekend. 8000 members of Girlguiding have taken over Alexandra Palace and they’ve been trying all sorts of fun things – climbing walls, indoor zorbing, a silent disco. My young leader from my previous unit was helping to run things and I’m sure she’s had a great time and is now completely knackered.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the event in London, but I have a light shining in my window this evening along with other members of Girlguiding from all over the world. Guiding has been a big part of my life, I started as a Rainbow and never really left. It’s somewhere I know I will always find friends and people who know nearly as many silly songs as I do, although regional variations can mean we start of singing the same thing and diverge half way through, leading to some very confused girls (and leaders!).

Works in Progress

Cross Stitch

I’ve finished all the cross stitches and half cross stitches on my Badger, now to start the decorative touches: the backstitch and the french knots. It’s only 11 x 8cm but it’s on 18 count Aida so that’s still quite a lot of stitches.

Badger Cross Stitch Almost Finished
Cross Stitch WIP ©Rachel Gibbs

I like how the half cross stitches are used to form the background but that’s either a very small badger or really big flowers.

Follow Your Arrow

Continue Reading: Works in Progress

Generations of Geek

My Grandma turns 80 next week. She was the first person from her village to go to grammar school and stayed on to be in the first cohort to do A levels, in an age where most girls left school at 15. She was the only girl who wanted to do further maths and had to go to the nearby boys’ school to do it. 56 years later, I was in the coed sixth form of the local independent boys’ school and still the only girl in the further maths class.

Things have changed a lot since my grandma’s time and I was able to go on to study Electronic Engineering at university without turning too many heads. My grandma never got the chance to go to university, although she got a place her family couldn’t afford it. The closest she came was working at Cambridge University making the punch cards for the Maths department in the early days of computing. That is where my grandparents met, so it’s really no surprise that the whole family tends towards geekiness in their own ways.

I still get odd looks when I tell people what I do for a living and I’m the only girl in a team of 20. I’m proud of my grandma for getting as far as she did, but I’m glad the world has moved on, if only a small amount in certain areas. I can only hope that my grandchildren (should I have any) have even more opportunities and fewer prejudices to face.

Don’t Knit to Destress, Cross Stitch

I love to knit (you may have noticed) but when I’m going through a bad patch knitting just requires too much brainpower. Deciding on a pattern, finding yarn to suit, getting gauge, it’s just too many decisions. I find cross stitch really helps me. I don’t have to decide on the thread to use, it all comes provided in the kit, it has simple instructions and I don’t have to worry about fit. It’s also easy to see the progress that you’re making and can be set down and picked up again months later without worrying that your gauge has changed, or you can’t remember where you were in the pattern.

Badger Cross Stitch
Cross Stitch WIP ©Rachel Gibbs

This is my current project which I’ve been working on since Christmas. It’s a kit by Anchor that I picked up at The Knitting and Stitching Show in the Black Sheep sale, they don’t just sell of packs of wool very cheaply, they also have a good range of needlecraft kits. I’m working on the greenery at the moment, having finished with the 50 (ok 5 really) shades of grey for the badger.