More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Normal service not quite resumed!

First of all apologies for the prolonged silence over the past six months. The reason is that since the beginning of February my life has been turned upside down. I was diagnosed with myeloma, a rare form of bone marrow cancer and since then I've been in hospital for three months, rehab for six weeks, then finally the happy day arrived when I came home. What started as something I thought was sciatica ended up being a much more serious issue and after radio and chemo therapy I'm now trying to learn to walk again. Cancer is no fun I can tell you.

The tests were unremitting and daunting, especially the nerve reaction tests which I found to be complete torture and hard to bear. This is the first time I've been able to face writing anything on my blog, but I'm hoping that in the coming weeks I'll be able to write more.
The garden is a haven and it's great to be outside again
Since I've been home it's been good to be outside in the garden getting some fresh air, for the first time since it all kicked off.  The chemo stopped about two months ago but I still feel like utter shit, food tastes different, tingling and burning feet, frequent diarrhoea, and I'm easy meat for any passing infection, so have to be careful who I see and make sure they're not suffering from colds or something worse. All annoying as it would be so nice to see more people - I can't tell you how much it lifts my spirits.
This is the scarf that took months to finish made out of two
different types of merino sent to me by friends in US and Canada

Still my life seems to be gradually kickstarting itself. In hospital, I found I couldn't knit very well and had to resort to good old garter and even then the resulting fabric looked much more uneven than I'd have liked it to. I couldn't knit for more than a few rows at a time, so the scarf that I was making using the lovely yarn that some kind knitters sent to me, seemed to take forever to complete - four months in fact. My brain is still not functioning as well as it might and I can't seem to decide on a follow-up project, mainly because I don't like the result of my much less than perfect craft skills at the moment.

However, there's better news in the music department. When I woke up initially from the seizure, I couldn't contemplate playing guitar or even singing and although I had my guitar standing by in the corner of my room in rehab, the sheer weight of it meant I could barely hold it, let alone play it. Since I've got home though, I seem to be getting stronger and I'm once again able to play. Not at all like I used to, but still it's doing me a world of good in the confidence department - my sense of self is slowly returning. I quickly realised I couldn't remember anything I'd learnt in the past year, but things I'd been playing for years were still there, if slightly rusty. It was still difficult for me to lift the guitar from my wheelchair and I couldn't play for long, but at least I was making some music again. 
Learning to play the ukulele has been a lifesaver

After I'd been home for a few weeks my friend Susie, whose husband is a luthier, brought round a lovely little ukulele that he had just finished. She told me that when she was suffering from a rotator cuff injury in her shoulder, it was the only instrument she could contemplate playing. She said Dave would like me to have this one on loan and play it in.

Well. I'd never played a ukulele before and didn't even know how it was tuned, but that was soon sorted with an app on my phone. Susie taught me a few chords, then we played a few tunes together and I found I rather enjoyed it. As she left she told me to make sure I play it and those words rang in my ears a lot in the coming weeks. The more I played it the more I enjoyed it, plus it was so much lighter and manouvrable than my guitar that I didn't have to wrestle with it in the wheelchair or feel weak from the weight of it. It got to the point where I looked forward to my uke practice every morning after breakfast and the more I played it, the better I got and the better it sounded. I'm still no virtuoso, but I can pick out a tune and my repertoire is expanding by the day.

My songwriting is still in the latent phase, but last week I wrote a poem for a local online mag. York Mix had invited readers to send in poems relating to summer and although my entry missed the deadline for publication, the editor, York's own poet, Carole Bromley, said she liked the poem and would have published it.  Yay, there's life in the young dog yet! :)  Have a read and let me know what you think:

Seeds to sow and water, on a sunny window sill
Woods filled with starry ransoms and nodding bluebells
Hearing the first cuckoo, collecting elderflowers for wine
Coffee in the garden tastes much better than inside
... in early summer

Grit under wheels on mud-cracked track
Hollow in flower bed where cat hit the sack
House martins chatter on telephone wire
Finger food shared aound the campfire
... in high summer

Trees look so hot fully clothed in their leaves
Soon to be denuded by a cool September breeze
Distant drone of mowers before they're put to bed
Produce for the winter stashed away in the shed
... in late summer

I'm still having physio to get my legs going again and yesterday another milestone was reached - I was able to climb three stairs! On Friday we're going to attempt a full flight of twelve. There have been many other milestones along the way - standing up, taking the first two tentative steps, walking the length of a room with a frame, starting to walk with crutches - but nothing happens overnight. Little by little though, I feel things are moving and this is so important,  psychology plays a big part in the battle. Also I'm very lucky to have Eleanor, my lovely physio, who manages to be encouraging but never bullying.

I've looked at my blog several times over the past six months and seen the most recent page, written before I became ill, staring sadly back at me. Several times I've tried to write a post, but always felt after a couple of paragraphs that everything I had to say was rather depressing and as I had nothing really positive to write, I felt I should wait.

So in a way, rekindling my blog is a big step on my road to rekindling my health and I'm looking forward to many more posts to come.
Django waiting for his dinner!
PS The cats, Django and Arlo, are a great source of amusement for me, there's never a dull moment when they're around.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Arm & Finger Knitting - book review

It seems to be that time of year, grey days and cold weather, perfect for snuggling up with a knitting book and picking out exciting new projects to knit in the coming months. Well, if you're looking for a new knitting experience with easy-to-follow patterns and fabulous illustrations, look no further than Arm & Finger Knitting by Laura Strutt - 35 no-needle knits for the home and to wear

Also this book is well served with tech info, with clearly-illustrated chapters on Arm & Finger Knitting TechniquesTools & Materials, Finishing Touches, Yarn Suppliers and even Making Your Own T-shirt Yarn.
How to knit with your arms!
The projects are fun and fresh, spanning both Home and To Wear. In the Home chapters you'll find cushions, throws, a stool cover, a tea cozy, a lampshade cover, a tote bag, as well as several other small scale items...
Twisted stitch lap blanket
Woven pillow
Nautical sailor knot pillow
Pom Pom Garland
...Whilst in the To Wear chapters there are scarves, shawls, headgear, a gilet, a bolero, necklaces, bangles, a clutch bag and a handwarmer/muff.

Big bow headband
Layered loop necklace 

The versatile Multi-wear button scarf 
  Buttoning down the back for a totally different look,
OR front to make a cool cowl

There's something for every knitter in this book. For process knitters there's the added satisfaction of learning a new skill that takes only a small amount of time to finish; and for the product knitters... well, what are you waiting for, these knits are more or less instant and guaranteed to take the stress out of last-minute gifts. 
Back cover
Paperback  112 pages
Publisher    CICO Books (17 Dec 2014)
Price           GB £12.99; US$19.95; CAN $22.95
ISBN-10      1782492089
ISBN-13      978-1782492085

Monday, 19 January 2015

So Warm - Twined knitting by Carla Meijsen

From the very moment I saw its cover, I couldn't wait to have this book in my hands! What's not to like about the elegant yoga pose, the stylish eccentricity and, best of all, the knitting overload of twelve hands covered in various forms of gorgeous twined knits. Such a great image.
My first thoughts were that if the rest of the book lived up to the cover then it's a must buy for any knitter who's into learning new techniques with small projects.
Inside cover
I've known Carla and the Dutch Knitters for several years since she invited me to teach some workshops at the first Stitch 'n' Bitch Day in Rotterdam in 2007. Carla is renowned for her well-researched work on knitting techniques, as in her previous book, co-written with Hilly van der Sluis - Warmer Handen, focusing on the beautiful traditional mittens of Estonia. 
Example of twined knitting
This time it's Twined Knitting, a little-known technique originating in Falun, Dalarna in Sweden. It involves working with two threads simultaneously and the book includes an illustrated section on basic stitches, deep stitches, increases and decreases, colourwork, swedish braid and blocking.
Benen legwarmers
Beautiful knits abound, ranging from wrist warmers, boot toppers, legwarmers, socks and hats, to a phone sleeve and a bag - but my faves are the mittens.
Geheime Genoegens - berry-themed mitts
Heel handig
Mooie Meid
Mooie Meid - colourway 2
Dansende Dames
So if you're looking to extend your skills with a technique which is both enthralling, beautiful and well taught, you won't go far wrong if you get yourself a copy of So Warm.

The book costs  Euros €34.50, excluding shipping (no shipping costs inside the Netherlands) and one or more copies can be ordered by sending an email to
Carla's blog is

Monday, 5 January 2015

Shades of winter

It was a dreary wet day in York when we set off for Wales, so we were hoping for better weather in the west. We arrived in the dark and surprisingly it wasn't actually raining, but it obviously had been as there were big puddles on the single track road as we travelled up the valley. It was a beautiful moonlit evening, the full moon guiding us home, sometimes directly in front, sometimes obscured by the filigree tracery of the leafless trees.
The temperature was exactly 0C, but it didn't really feel like freezing as we went into the usual routine, emptying the car and making the house warm and cosy. All fine for a while, heating on and P getting more wood in while I throw some food together. This didn't take long as we'd brought some leftovers from the day before and soon we were enjoying our makeshift meal with a celebratory glass or two of prosecco.

Half an hour later though we noticed there was a very definite chill in the air and sure enough the boiler had gone off. P steeled himself for the worst and set off outside to reset it and bingo, after a few tries it seemed to get going again. However, this was short lived and after another twenty minutes we were again without any heat except for the wood stove and the Rayburn. This is an old stone house which takes time to warm up anyway, so we were a tad upset that we'd be off to bed in sub zero temperatures upstairs, but hey ho there was nothing we could do about it so we hunkered down till the morning. On waking up the whole landscape had been transformed into a winter wonderland - glittering and sparkling beneath a thick layer of frost.
Brrrrr... it felt cold so first thing to do was phone our heating engineer who'd recently serviced the boiler. Our hearts sank when there was a recorded message saying there was sickness in the family, he was away and didn't know when he'd be back. So Plan B was implemented and P rang around the valley to find a different engineer who could come and fix the boiler. Eventually one was found who said he'd ring the following morning to say when he would come. So another day of no heat loomed, with much stoking up of the wood stoves and Rayburn to try to get some real heat going that might even penetrate upstairs.

Grasses in the barn garden
It was a clear, crisp, if cold sunny morning, so at this point I decided to wrap up and go for a walk around the garden, on the assumption that it would definitely be warmer than sitting inside. And I'm so glad I did. I usually find it hard to enthuse about the January garden, but yesterday the colours were just perfect and the garden was resplendent in her winter hues.
Had to be extra careful walking up the back steps by the herbs as there's much slate paving and it's treacherous when wet. 
Love to see the rosemary and sage still going strong in January
The corsican hellebore below is just about the only plant that's blooming in the whole garden.
I'm a great fan of Jerusalem sage too, their large furry frosted leaves looked magical, though the photo below doesn't do them justice.
...and I love the little sedums atop the tumbledown drystone walls of the area that was once a  piggery.
Grasses add movement and elegance to a garden and many will stay upright all the way through till spring.

And it was good to see the holly trees were still fairly full of berries, though the rowan trees had lost all theirs - I hope it means that there's still plenty of food for the birds in the hedgerows this winter. As I walk through the garden, there's a playful little robin following me around, maybe trying to remind me to fill up the nuts and seeds! Birds are conspicuous by their absence today - only seen the robin and a couple of tits.
When I got down to the bottom gate I couldn't help but notice the landscape was looking fantastic. The colours were popping out of the frosted fields, many trees were deep burgundy, the sedges and reeds were rich copper, against the evergreen backdrop of the forestry. The hues were so vivid they seemed unreal. I suppose it's something you don't expect in January so when your eyes register a splash of colour it's such a shock that it makes a greater impression than it might at other times of the year.

I walked down the lane and said hello to the stream, still running quite fast despite the freezing cold.
On the way back to the house I noticed what a proliferation of moss there is this year. Moss on slate always looks colourful, though it can make things a tad slippery underfoot.

Another favourite is hydrangeas, which manage to look gorgeous no matter which time of year it is. Their papery flowers add a delicious delicacy to the garden and I can never have enough of them.
Hydrangeas and beech hedge
Nearly back now past the old cartwheels in the wheel garden. Box hedges are a useful ploy which many garden designers use to punctuate the garden, to create rhythm and give year round form and colour. Our place in Wales has big skies and large craggy hills with outcrops of slate jutting out above the horizon. It's easy to forget you're in a garden and just focus on the big picture. But I love plants, so I've developed ways of bringing the eye back to the detail too, and a splash of the formal now and again never fails to snatch the attention back.
Two cartwheels found onsite -
a reminder of the history of the place
Back in the house, it's time for coffee in front of the fire, after taking off my wet boots which you can see drying on the rail in the inglenook. I knew I should have worn my wellies but true to form, I rarely take the sensible path and went for short-term comfort and warmth over long-term dry feet!
Django always knows the warmest spot
The good news is that the original heating engineer rang back this morning and he says he's coming today, so fingers crossed, maybe we'll be basking in hot baths and effortless heat before the day is out. Thanks for dropping by x

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Ralph Waldo Emerson
from Anita Klein's Italian Angels
The man, who has seen the rising moon break out of the clouds at midnight, has been present like an archangel at the creation of light and of the world.

Have a creative, fruitful and sparkling 2015!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Last few days of autumn 2014 - photo essay

We're having a glorious week here in Mid Wales. Day after day of sunshine, it may be short lived at this time of year, the sun setting before 4pm, but the clear blue skies send my spirits soaring.
This old fatsia is there to welcome us in the front garden,
I love how it flowers in November
The first thing I always do when we get here is to walk around the garden, say hello to all my old friends and see how they're doing.
The grass was covered with a brilliant crop of crab apples
I always love how Cotinus 'Grace' lights up the garden
in her autumn mantle
Another favourite, the everlasting wallflower
brightens the barn garden
I'm a sucker for slate steps, even though they're a tad slippy in wet weather!

The ferns were looking gorgeous  and upstanding
just before they start to wither for the winter
And I love to see the grasses around the garden waving in the wind
Miscanthus against a massive ash
Can't remember the name of this grass,
but I call it the knitting needles
Miscanthus again
Looking out to the west down the valley
Dry stone wall covered in moss
 and lacecap hydrangeas
We have to keep all gates closed all of the time to keep out the very insistent sheep!
Little fuchsia in amongst the hydrangeas
Tis the season for holly and the trees are covered this year
Rose hips aren't so good though so maybe it balances out the holly.
Confuses the old saying that  lots of berries heralds a cold winter though
Couldn't resist snapping these on the road nearby, the whole tree was bare of branch
 but covered in lichen and  pinecones -  and a very pretty sight it was too
The sunbeams sent multiple rainbows shooting round the kitchen in the morning
On a shopping trip to Machynlleth, I stopped to
snap the  colours of the  Dovey estuary  

We collected sloes from the lane, then it was time to make sloe gin,
should be ready to warm us up in the dark days of February
Arlo snoozes in front of the stove while Django
is out terrorising anything that dares move
Over the weekend we paid a visit to our friends Toej and Wyck, who were until very recently, our neighbours in the valley. It was our first visit to their new home, which is an 80 minute drive south from here, so we were excited to see them and hoping they'd be settled in, as they moved about six weeks ago. Their new home is a lovely Edwardian cottage with beautifully proportioned rooms with large windows letting the light flood into each room. The garden is on a south-facing slope and has many mature trees and perennials and Wyck has his eye on a spot for a kitchen garden where they can grow lots of delicious vegetables. Wearing my garden designer's hat, I felt the locus genii was fabulous, a place that will bring our friends much happiness.

We got there the day before the extensive programme of renovations began and the builders were eagerly awaited. I found myself feeling very anxious for them, thinking if the work goes anything like it did in our living room then they'd be better moving out till it's finished. However they were confident and calm that all would be well, so I hope  that their positive attitude will prevail and that they'll soon be enjoying their newly restored home.
We'll miss you so much!
I love it so much here in Wales, especially in the autumn, although I know I say that about spring as well. Back to York soon  though - the peace and stillness of our Welsh garden will be replaced by the dark Dickensian nights and twinkly lights - the hustle and bustle of Xmas in the city.
Happy advent!
Come back soon x