Wednesday, 14 August 2013

An Unexpected Mini-Jaunt

A non-knitting post today (more or less).

A few weekends ago (the last weekend before the girls broke up for the summer holidays), I got home from my Sunday shift at work and hubby asked me if I definitely had the following weekend off.  I said that I did and he then said that I'd got plans for that weekend.  "Oh, are we going somewhere?" I asked.  He then told me that no, we weren't, but DD1 and I were.  He'd decided that we might like a night away in London.  We could either stay overnight on the Saturday or the Sunday.  As he's been away for work so much in the last nine months, he'd amassed a fair amount of Hilton loyalty points and so we looked at hotel availability and it came down to a choice between the Hilton at Marble Arch on the Saturday night, or the Hilton Tower Bridge, which is the one he usually stays at as it's close to his office.  We decided on Sunday night at the Tower Bridge hotel (hubby stays there so often, the staff know him and give him good service).  So, the hotel was booked and hubby even pre-booked first class train tickets for us (which worked out the same price or possibly even cheaper than buying standard class tickets on the day).

What did I immediately do (other than give him a thank you kiss of course!)?  Went online and checked Loop London's opening hours!

Sunday morning, DD1 and I left the house at 9.30 with our little wheelie case and off we went.  Once at Liverpool Street, we left the station and walked to Moorgate tube (much quicker than getting the Circle/Hammersmith & City line one stop and then switching trains) to pick up the Northern Line northbound to Angel.  Why did I want to go to Loop?  Because it's the only yarn shop in the UK that stocks Brooklyn Tweed yarns.  We were there more or less as the shop opened and I had a good squish (while DD1 looked a bit bored).  This yarn looks very nice online and I can confirm that it looks and feels even better in Real Life.  So nice, in fact, that I bought a bit more than I'd planned (but only two extra skeins):

Six skeins of the purple Thistle shade and one skein each of the yellowy Sap and blue Almanac (the pink is the bag Loop put my purchase into).  I would have bought six of the Almanac instead of the Thistle, but they didn't have that many.  I'm going to give the Sap to my sister for her birthday and make a hat with the Almanac.  The purple Thistle is going to be a sweater/cardigan for me (bet you didn't guess that!) but I haven't decided which one yet.

After Loop, we took the Tube to London Bridge station, walked along Tooley Street, went through Hays Galleria and had a little wander along the river and then went to see if we could check in to the hotel (which we could - it was a Sunday; the hotel wasn't very busy).  Hubby had stayed at the hotel the previous Thursday night and had confirmed that we'd be upgraded to an Executive room, which meant access to the Executive Lounge, which was very nice as well.

We took advantage of our upgrade to have tea and snacks in the Lounge before walking along the river again, seeing how much it's been developed in the 14 years since I worked in London full-time.  We had pre-dinner drinks and nibbles in the Lounge and then dinner in the hotel restaurant and then I made DD1 come with me for a long-ish walk along and over Tower Bridge, along the north bank to London Bridge and then back down the south bank to the hotel.  A nice break away from home - a mini-jaunt with yarn purchase as a bonus.

I took quite a few photos while I was there (some of which I've used in my 50 words photo challenge, which I'm doing again this year).  Here are some of them:

Tower Bridge

The White Tower at the Tower of London

New developments on the north side of the Thames

The Mayor's office, with The Shard behind

View down-river to Canary Wharf
(I lived for a while in a warehouse conversion flat not far from that building with the blue bits on it!)

The Tower of London from the North bank
St Pauls from the Executive Lounge 

The Thames at night
(HMS Belfast on the right; our hotel is a short walk from it)

Tower Bridge all lit up (taken from London Bridge)

On Monday morning, we got up, had breakfast in the Exec Lounge and then went and got our bags, dropped off the check-out slip and walked to London Bridge tube from where we got the Jubilee Line to Stratford and spent the morning at Westfield shopping centre (which I found almost too big).  We spent a bit more money (including buying a pair of ceramic hair straighteners to try and tame DD1's hair - but not for everyday use, she's been warned), had some lunch and then went back to Stratford station to pick up our train home (I'd phoned hubby the night before and he'd confirmed that the train we were booked on stopped at Stratford, so we didn't have to go back to Liverpool St first).  And then, after a short walk from the station, we were home again and back to reality!

All in all, a very pleasant day-and-a-bit, thanks to hubby.  I think I'll keep him!

I've also worked out that 'popping' to Loop on a day when the girls are at school is very do-able (I could spend at least and hour and a half in there and make it back home on time).  Might start saving my £1 and £2 coins in a jar for a future visit.

Some Hurricane Alpaca yarn and a WIP

I did it!  I made yarn from sheared fleece.

I was really, really worried that this had felted when I washed it, but apart from it sticking together a little bit where I'd tied the skein, it was ok.  It's perhaps slightly fuzzier than I'd have liked, but it's oh-so-soft (sorry for being a bit trumpet-blowy there) and I'm so pleased with it.  By look and feel, I reckon it's about a DK-weight yarn and pre-washing, there was more or less 150m, which should be enough for an Awesome Hat (bought the pattern today - Mimi's patterns are always well-written).  I might have to make the turney-uppey brim a bit shorter by a couple of cms, but I reckon I've got enough (famous last words - if I try to knit fast, will the yarn last longer? :D ).

So, that's the yarn.  What else have I been knitting?  Well, there's a pair of socks.  Well, not really a pair.  One sock.  Which I've been knitting since the end of May.  I turned the heel last week (I'm toe-upping, as per usual) and have done a couple of rows of the leg on the first one, but that's it.  Rather lame really, so I won't show you a photo until I've done a bit more.

The other thing I've been - here and there (more 'there' at knitting group on a Monday) - knitting is my Reine cardigan.  I think I started this around the same time as I started the socks.  I have no idea why this is taking so long, other than the end of term/summer weather stuff I talked about in my last post.  I think it must be summer knitting ennui.  Anyway, the lack of progress is nothing to do with the pattern, which is as well-written as any other Brooklyn Tweed pattern I've knitted.  Comprehensive, detailed, a good schematic, isn't crammed into as few pages as possible, etc.  I'm about 12 rows away from dividing at the under-arm.

Photos?  OK then!

The top one's a bit clearer, the bottom one shows a more accurate yarn colour on my laptop screen.  Can you see why I like this cardigan?  No ribbing at the bottom, but some garter stitch ridges instead, which makes the bottom lie flatter.  A ribbed button band?  No, thank you - let's have some cabling instead, working up the fronts and along the edges (I'm decreasing up the fronts at the moment - a simple matter of an ssk at the right front and a k2tog on the left, but inside the cabley bits).  What's so thoughtful about this pattern is that all the shaping decreases and increases occur on the same row as the cables are done.  So are the buttonholes (every third cable cross row).  Inspired design thinking in my book.  None of that cable on row x and then remember how many rows since you last did a buttonhole and hope you've got it right malarkey.

The yarn is my handspun (grey North Ronaldsay - bought and spun to make this cardigan).  I've absolutely no idea why I'm not just getting on with it as I'm really looking forward to finishing it, choosing buttons and wearing it.  I've even left it like this since early evening:

See?  Started a row, got distracted/my attention or help was required, and there it's sat all night.

It's the summer though.  Children hindering me (DD2 is sleeping particularly poorly at the moment).  Even Jess is being more hindrance than help.  She likes the alpaca (raw fleece and yarn).  Jess is the reason for the poorer-than-usual photos today.  Look:

See in the background?  A black paw.

Zoom pulled back a bit:

And this is when she had a hopeful 'can I pick it up yet, Mum?' look about her (the answer was a firm 'no'):

We've had a funny couple of weeks with Jess.  She's been in season.  She's now 3-and-a-half.  Prime breeding age.  She's been unsettled, wanting to go out in the garden umpteen times every day and have a widdle.  Hubby was worried she was unwell.  I gave him one of those "for someone clever, you can be really stupid at times" looks.  "She's not ill - she's feeling frisky" I told him.  Not that we're going to breed her; I don't think I could cope with puppies + DD2.

Usually, Jess is more likely to be found in this position:

Or this one:

Most glamorous!

I have other non-knitting-related things to post about.  Hopefully tomorrow or Thursday, depending on the laundry pile.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How long has it been?

At least a couple of months.

Truth be told, with the activities at the end of the school year and the running around getting things ready for the six-week summer holidays from school, I haven't really been getting on with knitting, crocheting or spinning.  I have got a couple of projects on the needles that I'll show you in a day or two, but I wanted to show you something different today :)

A few weeks ago, my sister phoned me.  "I've got a bag of alpaca fleece in the boot of my car for you" she said.  "Remind me to give it to you the next time I see you".  In the event, the next time I saw her, she didn't have the bag of alpaca in her boot as she'd had to take it out to make room for something else and it hadn't got put back in.  I've got it now though - my parents dropped it off the week before last.

When she said 'a bag', I assumed she meant a supermarket carrier bag full.  No.  It's a potato sack full of the fleece from an alpaca named Hurricane.  I reckon there's a few kilos of fleece in there.  Hurricane's owner is a chap who's a client of my sister's gym (sis re-trained as a sports injury masseuse and has added other strings to her bow and now does other therapies as well as personal training) and when she found out he had alpacas, sis told him that I've got a spinning wheel and, well, things led on from there.  The 'deal' is that if I make Hurricane's owner something (I said a hat to start with because I didn't know how successful I'd be and how much of the fleece I'd end up ruining/wasting).

Here's a bag of the fleece:

That's as it came from Hurricane, complete with dirt, grit and bits of vegetable matter.

I read up on the internet and most people advise spinning the fibre and then washing the resulting yarn, although some people prefer to wash the fleece first.  I went with the first option and used my drum carder to make a batt of around 45g:

Then I pulled it off and started spinning.  This is where I'm at:

I'm hoping that it'll wash up ok.  I'm going to make a 3-ply yarn which should be sport or DK weight.  Truth be told, as alpaca's warmer than sheep-wool, I don't want to go much thicker than DK otherwise the hat will run the risk of being too hot.  I've got in mind Mimi Hill's latest hat pattern but if the yarn comes out more 4ply than DK then I'll have a re-think.  I'm not that worried as this is a bit of a steep learning curve for me.  I've used my drum carder to blend fibres, but not to prepare from 'raw' and as the only alpaca I've spun was a silk blend, I don't know how (or if) the yarn will bloom once washed.

I also put some of the fibre into a mesh bag and put it on a wool wash in my machine.  It's currently hanging on the garden gate, drying so I'll see in a couple of hours if it's felted and if it's ok, I might hand-card that (there's only about 20g) and see how it spins up compared to the 'dirty' fibre.  In the meantime, I've got a pair of tweezers to hand and stop spinning to pick out any bits that didn't drop out when I shook the fibre and then carded it.

I'm going to leave this yarn as its natural colour.  Partly because I've only dyed with food colouring (which tends to fade) and partly because I think for this first effort it's the right thing to do.  My in-laws recently moved house and I've been given two saucepans they no longer wanted (stainless steel ones) so as I don't need both of them, I might keep one and buy some acid dyes (I bet that'll go down a storm with hubby :D ).

I have to say that I'm having a fair amount of fun with this :)  I'm just not going to look at the state of the house today, especially as DD2 has been left to her own devices for most of the morning......