Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Awakening

Like gardeners everywhere*, I am being inordinately cheered by the arrival of spring in my garden, even if the garden in question is predominantly limited to a few windowsills of seed trays. I got my seeds planted a bit late this year, what with one busy weekend and another, but I finally managed to get the main seed trays done. The beans at least are already making a strong showing

So, what is planned for the patio garden this year? So far I have runner beans, two types of courgette (yellow and green), three types of tomato including the '100s and 1000s) which were much enjoyed last year, plus lots of lettuce and my favourite radishes. There will be a reprisal of the successful 'golden sweet' mange tout from last year as well, except that a surprising last-ditch attempt at growing from some over-wintered chard means that their designated spot is still occupied, so they will have to wait.

I must confess that I am not following last year's policy of heritage veg heritage veg so stringently this year, although my ideals remain unchanged. Last year was simply a bit too disheartening, and while I know this was partly due to the abysmal summer, I can't imagine that some of the varieties helped either. I'm also aware that my veg is at a disadvantage simply because it is grown in containers and not in 'real' soil, so for now I'm trying to knock at least one variable on the head by using more tried-and-tested varieties. When I have a garden of my own, there'll be a bit more room for experimentation. The exception to this is the 'Golden Sweet' peas, which performed so well last year that I'm tempted to continue growing them in containers in the future.

*That is, everywhere in the Northern hemisphere. Living with a South African has made me very well trained on this matter.

Friday, 17 April 2009

My First Handspun

After a bit of trial and error, here is a picture of the first results of my spinning attempts.*

I'm quite pleased with it, overall. It's a bit lumpy-bumpy, but I was definitely getting better at making a yarn of consistent thickness by the end (although the single strand on view here wouldn't suggest so). I'm definitely going to carry on spinning the rest of the fibre I have and see if I can't get something a bit more even by the time I finish it all. If I can, then I'll consider the spinning experiment a success, and I'll probably get in some more fibre supplies. I also want to knit this yarn and see how it comes out - I imagine it'll be pretty bad, but we shall have to see. The current plan to to knit a scarf with all the handspun I produce until I am capable of actually coming up with anything decent. Unless I make some unexpected Great Leaps Forward, I imagine it will look like an 'organic' version of that amazingly long and brightly-coloured scarf that Dr Who used to wear.

A few observations about hand spinning have struck me so far:

- Spinning seems to be one of those things which arevery, very easy to start and do badly, but which take a lifetime to perfect. The simple action of tying some fibre to a spindle and letting it drop practically does itself, but feeding the yarn through in such a way as to produce a consistent thickness is bloody tricky business. Apparently learning English is much the same, albeit without the scraps of fibre that end up covering the carpet.

- Things in spinning happen surprisingly fast, much faster than knitting which tends to take forever even for the fastest knitters. This means that, unless one is careful, a whole wodge of yarn can end up being unintentionally spun and ends up being a thick, lumpy Right Mess.**

- I realised very quickly why spinning wheels are so great, since essentially they allow the spinner two hands to feed the yarn through rather than one. Many disasters occur with a spindle when the spinner is temporarily distracted from the fibre by the need to get the spindle spinning again.

- It's clearly far more trouble than it's worth, but tremendous fun all the same.

*OK, technically not the very first attempt. There was no way I was going to put up a picture of the very first attempt.

** This would be why I'm not putting up a picture of the very first attempt.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

St. Amand, patron saint of booze

Today I discovered a new Saint, St Amand. St Amand was born in what-is-now-France in the sixth century and spent most of his life as a missionary in what-is-now-Belgium. There was a famous monastery dedicated to him at St-Amand-les-Eaux near Tournai in Belgium. This monastery was attacked by vikings in 883, which is how I came to be reading about St. Amand this morning.

The reason I decided to write about him is that St. Amand turns out to be the patron saint of all those involved in the production and trade of wine and beer, which I thought made him an appropriate saint for all those of a self-sufficient bent, much like Saint Perpetua. Rather amusingly, St. Amand is also the patron saint of Boy Scouts, although I confess that I am not entirely sure what the link is here. In case anyone is interested in honouring his feast day with the copious consumption of his favourite beverages, it falls on the 6th February, conveniently just before Lent (I imagine the Boy Scouts are optional).

The other reasons I decided to write about St. Amand is that firstly, I am a bit too busy with vikings today to write a proper blog post, and secondly, it gives me an excuse to post another picture of a medieval manuscript. Not that I need a great deal of excuse.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Cardigan Complete, and a Daffodil Festival

Here's a picture of a mystery parcel that was lying on our Living Room floor for a few days last week.

Can you tell what it is yet?

It's a cardigan!

Congratulations to K for getting this finished, blocked and ready to wear. She beat me hands down when it came to finishing, since not only was the cardigan ready a week before my waistcoat, but she had to make sleeves as well. In case you're interested, the pattern comes from Sirdar's Simple and Easy Knits , which is remarkable for the unfussiness of its designs. K, like me, is rarely impressed with the majority of clothes for 20-somethings available in the shops; unlike me, she prefers things that are classic, simple and elegant to things that look like they have only just come off the sheep.

She was able to wear her creation proudly all weekend, which turned out to be a good couple of days for all things sustainable and craft-related. On Saturday our local Scout Troop ran their annual spring jumble sale over the road, which as ever turned out to be full of bargins. I think the final haul was one Monsoon skirt (possibly for Mother), one cosy Monsoon zip-up cardigan for K, one Hawkshead polo-neck for me, one green Kew cardigan to share, and a long, cosy, natural wool, cabled cardigan for me. The latter is so, precisely, exactly, perfectly me, that my immediate reaction on seeing it was 'great! That will save me making one just like it'. I also got a nice length of tweedy brown fabric, which would make a very nice winter skirt if I get round to spending some quality time with the sewing machine.

On Sunday we went with neighbour Zoe to Thriplow Daffodil Festival. It was pretty good (albeit not cheap), if you like that sort of thing. There were sheepdog trials, which I definitely do like (I still mourn the loss of One Man and His Dog on BBC, even though I was a trendy 16 when it came off air). There was also some fine Morris Dancing from the good men of The Devil's Dyke Morris Men , who usually crop up at this kind of event in the Cambridge area. I have a soft spot for Morris Dancing, even if it is one of the two things in life one is never supposed to try (and the other being incest, that is hardly a recommendation), although thanks to having spent my teenage years spent reading Terry Pratchett, I still have a tendency to regard it as a slightly sinister activity. Apart from Morris Dancers, they also had the obligatory tents of 'local' craft stalls (including the equally obligatory 'African Crafts' stall - K has a small collection of photographs of 'African Crafts' stalls at unlikely locations worldwide. The current winner is from the Christmas market at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo). There were quite a few daffodils, not to mention bouncing lambs in fields, just as it should be at this time of year, and these made me very happy, since at this time of year I greatly miss the fields full of lambs that marked the springs of my childhood. I also bought a woad plant from a herb stall, so perhaps I'll be dying my own cloth Boudicca-Blue later this year (it'll be a loom next).

Perhaps best of all, there was a working smithy, and I would recommend the Thriplow Daffodil Festival just to go and have a peek at this. The smithy itself is the original village smithy, which has presumably stood on the village green in one form or another since the year dot. It ceased to operate regularly in the early 20th century, but has been kept going as a heritage concern and centre for village history, and there are clearly people around who still know how to use it. Indeed, there even seemed to be a Young Apprentice. The smith-in-residence was selling lucky horseshoes for a quid, so needless to say I bought one.

Does anyone else have Views on which way up a horseshoe should be? I was always taught that it had to be 'upwards-pointing', otherwise the luck would drain out, but perhaps that is just a Yorkshire thing.