Thursday, April 26, 2012

Looking towards summer [3KCBWDAY4]

Today on for knitting and crochet blog week, we're supposed to be talking about the seasonality of our craft. I thought I'd skip this topic and go for the wild card, until 10 minutes ago when I remembered I'd moved... 

I don't live in London any more, I live in Philadelphia and the intensity of summer will be very different. Sure, back in the UK you'd get the odd few days when it was really hot - but swapping knitting for flopping about in the garden was not exactly a hardship. Good weather is still a rare enough event in the UK that every moment is savoured. Philly? That's gonna be a whole different ball game. I havn't experienced Philly in the summer, I've only been warned about the heat and humidity. I no longer have a garden to flop in and hug the shade. I suspect only time will tell if I can knit with hot sweaty hands through a long period of heat.... Anybody have any top tips for dealing with the heat?

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY3 to find more participants.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kate Davies - Knitting Heroine [3KCBWDAY3]

One of the best things about amazing online world of knitting, crochet and craft in general is that there is no shortage of amazing inspirational women. I have my own long list of crafters whose careers I follow with interest, but today I wanted to write about one of my all time favourites. She's pretty much a knitting superstar so it's unlikely that anybody hitting here as part of 3KCBW will have not heard of her, but for the few readers I have who don't knit, this is my official heads up - because Kate Davies is well worth the read even if you're not a knitter.

I've been reading Kate's blog from almost the very start of her blogging career, which is about five years now. Having inhabited the online world for well over ten years, I now know that it takes something very special for one blogger to hold your interest for that long (something I clearly don't have!). I look forward to every post, even the difficult ones. One of the key reason's I keep coming back is because she writes brilliantly, thanks no doubt to her academic background and the obvious passion for her subjects. Her posts are well composed and thought out, arguments reasoned. And there are arguments to be had - she never shy's away from the politics of women's enterprises, both historical and contemporary. In a craft blog world that is often apolitical, that just wants everything to be 'pretty', that is dam heroic in my opinion. The second key reason is that I learn a great deal from her more extended essays. I love learning about the historical significance of particular textiles - I don't have time to study these things at length on my own, but I do have time to sit and read about Kate's latest research with a cup of tea. And then?? Joy UPON joy, there is often also a beautiful pattern inspired by that research. And if that's not enough, there's the incredible scenery in her walks around Scotland to admire, or Bruce the dogs latest adventure to amuse yourself with. Which brings me to the third reason why her blog has such an ardent following. The variety in her posts means you never know what you'll get when you click over, which means you always want to. Combine all this with the honesty and integrity with which she addresses her readers and Kate Davies is not just a knitting hero to me, she's a personal hero too.

After all this admiration, you'd think I'd have an unending stream of Kate's design's to wear, but in fact I've made just one - an owlet jumper for my nephew. I didn't quite realise that until I'd written this, so I think this year I will resolve to cast on another.

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY3 to find more participants.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Taco dreams of yarn [3KCBWDAY2]

These pictures, the title of this movie and these imaginary animals inspired me to make this:

We have had our overgrown kitten for around a month now and she's developed into quite a character (read: become a total nuisance) in that time. Amongst her favourite things to do, along with chewing power cables, is attacking my knitting. It started out as cute, then annoying and finally ended in chewing on a work in progress in the middle of the night*... She likes the sticks, she likes the string, she likes them in motion and she likes them when there not in use. This is what I think her dreams must look like these days. And yes, she really does look as undignified as that cartoon Taco chewing on the wool, this kitty is not big on dignity.

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY2 to find more participants.

*It's okay I fixed the damage, ugh!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confession - I am a colour addict [3kcbwday1]

I love colour, particularly deep saturated hues - I don't really do pastels, it's just not enough pigment for me. I don't wear black because the effect on my mood is too pronounced. In fact the last time I wore black (apart form the occasional band t-shirt, the only exceptions) was back when I had to wear it for my school uniform and that was... well a long time ago now. My wardrobe has some whites and creams, but as I'm prone spilling things down my front on a regular basis, it's not a huge swathe. The last thing I wanted on our wedding day was a white dress.

C is for Colour

When I was a kid, the walls of my bedroom were painted white and I hated them with a passion. I found the walls of white oppressive - really, I can't stress that enough. When I was a teenager  I was finally allowed to decorate my room and I went nuts - three shades of dark blue, one light blue and one purple. It was a sight to behold... In my defence this was the hight of "Changing Rooms" fever across the UK. The problem is, when the usual restraints of budget are taken away I still have this tendency. Grown women are supposed to behave with a little more thoughtfulness and restraint. This brings me to the problem at hand:

I was gifted a token for Loop, Philadelphia that appeared not long after our arrival here. I trundled down to the shop with Dan in tow and promptly fell in love with Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter yarn and bought seven skeins in seven colours. I didn't have a clue what I was going to make with them. The heady aroma of yarn clearly went to my head and I indulged my inner teenager. Must have colour!!

Taco Belle gazes at her hearts desire...
Problem is, three months on, I still have no idea what I'm going to make with this lovely stuff. I toyed with the idea of making a tea cosy for our new teapot (which badly needs one - cold tea is not nice), but the abuse Dan and I put our tea cosies through is probably a bit of a poor end for the Shelter yarn. When we moved here I was thinking a lot about blankets and cushion covers, but now it's heading into summer making either doesn't appeal much. I don't really want to sit under a blanket all summer while I work on it. It's probably just about enough to make a straight forward stripy something or other, but a plain stripy jumper/cardigan/tank doesn't appeal either.

I do like very much Brooklyn Tweed's Inversion Cardigan, and stripes might be okay in that situation. I would probably need to buy an extra skein or two to make the border one solid colour, which would tie it together better. Then I had an idea that I could use this lovely star stitch pattern for the body, rather than just plain stripes. Trouble is I can't decide whether the overall effect would be like a was wearing a giant cushion cover... not very chique. Any ideas out there? Or other patterns to suggest? I just can't make a decision...

So I actually put some effort into composing this shot, the intention being to create a 'rainbow' of colour.  Taco Belle had other ideas, invading the frame as soon as the shot was composed. I didn't get a single capture without her in it. She is obsessed with yarn...

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here.
Special blog week code thinger-mejigger: 3KCBWDAY1

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A weekend in Lancaster County

This weekend Dan and I left Philadelphia. Since arriving at our new abode on the 10th of December, our existence has been almost entirely lived within the constraints of Vine Street to the North, Wharton Street to the South, Front Street to the East and 40th to the West. Even that's being generous. We've had minor excursions I can list: one party in South Philly and one in the suburbs, a bar on Spring Garden, an abortive trip to Northern Liberties, the inevitable Ikea mission, a cycle ride as far as East Falls. Our patch covers approximately three square miles, which is kind of painfully small and at times claustrophobic.

Our patch in blue
The actual size of Philadelphia

But this weekend we spread our wings a little. We signed up to zip car, booked it for the weekend and headed off to a B&B on the edge of Lancaster County. Neither of us had driven a left hand drive car before, or driven on the right hand side of the road. Dan was brave enough to have first go and drive us west out of the city on Friday night and into the sunset.

I was over excited and took a lot of crap pictures whilst we were in the car
One of the more unexpected consequences of this new driving experience (apart from having to think very hard at every junction) was the constant fighting with your own brain about what was going on. The worst time being at night on the virtually empty roads of deepest Lancaster County - you'd been driving alone on the road for a while, you were relaxed, then a car would start coming towards you from the distance. The moment my eyes could see it was on the left hand side of the road, my head was screaming that it was on MY side of the road, even though I could clearly see for myself I was on the right hand side of the road. This came complete with adrenaline and increased heart rate and near panic, until the car approaching was almost passed and no one had crashed. On the other hand, the fact we did achieve this backwards driving made me happy for my neurones as I thought about them successfully undergoing plasticity - it got easier in other words.


In the rush to get away I forgot my book, my knitting pattern (although it turns out that was just hidden in a bag pocket) and a US/UK adaptor for the camera charger. Fortunately the landscape of Lancaster County wasn't so awe inspiring that the lack of an SLR upset us very much. We spent Saturday morning poking around Amish country. Ten minutes in Intercourse (yes, it's really a place) was enough to give us the House of Bruar heebee jeebies. We're just not that kind of people - or that kind of tourist. But we know now to trust our instincts and run in the other direction. After a nap we trundled round Middle Creek Reservoir before dinner - it was nice enough, but the trails definitely weren't put together by the National Trust!


On Sunday we trundled slowly back towards Philly via the Antiques markets in Adamstown - which were huge! It was fun looking at old American junk though and I still have the antiques market bug from the endless trawls I used to do with my Mum. Convincing Dan to go was the only battle, but I think even he enjoyed it in the end. After that we trundled a bit further home, stopping off at French Creek State Park. Whilst we were sitting next to the lake, enjoying the breeze and identifying birds with the help of the lovely book Dan bought me as an emigrating present, it dawned on me how obsessed American's really are with hunting. All around us we could hear shots being fired the whole time and it seemed like almost every inviting green patch I could find on the map had "State Game Lands" emblazoned across it. I am not enamoured with the American way of 'enjoying' the country side.

This shot was taken with my iPhone through our binoculars - no geese we're harmed (by us at least).
Although it has to be said that perhaps the most exciting part of the weekend was the drive back into Philly - approaching the sky scrapers from a distance brought back the sense of excitement we got when we approached the city in a taxi from the airport for the first time. I always used to like driving into London along the flyover for that sense of swooping down into the melee - but Philly's towers are much more impressive.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Day Job

I'm still here, quietly plugging away at life. The dark cloud of homesickness and petty misery has left us I think, at least for now. Beer, bikes, cats, a little furniture and some time, sent the dreaded dirge on its way. I'm knitting away on one of the few projects I brought with me - one that's been hibernating since the pre-wedding knitting mania. In the mean time I'm still being inspired intermittently by the day job. Fuelled largely by Instagram, I've been taking pictures of my work life as I find the moments that make me smile. I've also been reading a lot more about science-life in the blogosphere and I think some time soon I might have to find the time to jot a few of those thoughts down.

Scientific still life

Setting up a flow chamber

"Preliminary data" (quote marks intentional)

A collection of scientists in a darkened room

My desk - not for sitting at...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Long distance gardening

Our tenants have been getting acquainted with our garden, but they're novices so they sent us this picture to help them identify some of the greenery that's shooting up in Spring. The garden seems to grow about a foot a day at this time of year.

I got a bit over enthusiastic in my response (I miss our garden!), and sent the following back. Bit much?
The thing you took a picture of is a hollyhock. I attached a picture for you so you can see it's future. They get quite big and throw up big spurs of flowers which last most of summer in whole range of colours. The bees adore them. They self seed a lot, so if they come up in a really stupid place feel free to pull them out. Also - if you look at the backs of the leaves, you may notice some yellow spots on them. This is a common hollyhock ailment - it doesn't spread to other plants as far as I can tell and it doesn't stop them flowering, but it can make them look very bedraggled towards the end of their season. If you cut off any leaves that have the spots on at the base of the plant now, the hollyhocks will be healthier for it later on - but it won't matter if you don't. FYI the pale green sort of fronds in the bottom left of your picture are yellow poppies (very pretty) and the hairy frondy thing further up on the left is an oriental poppy. Very pleased to see the cowslip flowering away :) Actually - if I just send you this link: That's a flickR stream of the garden over the years, it might give you an idea of what to expect!

Monday, April 2, 2012

An indoor garden

There are mischievous plans being made... Dan and I have been plotting and scheming about creating an indoor garden in our eighth floor apartment. We have very tall (14ft) ceilings and potentially the ideal solution is a hanging garden, preferably one that can be raised and lowered for watering. As always the hard landscaping is Dan's department, and it may be a little while before we have all the hardware together for such a contraption. This hasn't stopped the mad scheming of a gardener in Spring though. Credit where it's due, I was aided in this by the transatlantic Amazon vouchers I received for my birthday.

Day 9
The plot thickens...
What makes this endeavour a garden over a collection of houseplants? Hopefully it will be a collection of plants that hang together (pun intended). Not only that, but to be a garden in my eyes it must also produce things you can eat. We cook a lot and we're missing the ability to add fresh herbs to our food willy-nilly for a start. But we have so much light in this space I feel it almost rude to not attempt something grander. Indoor tomatoes for a start - very doable as long as we remember to hand pollinate. I'm also intrigued by the possibility of growing them upside down. Upside down tomato plants could be quite exciting in a hanging garden...

But then the mind wonders and gets carried away. If we have the cash, what's to stop us heading down the green wall route? I've scoured the internet and these wall pockets seem to be the best designed on the market. At first glance they seem expensive - $40 each. However, when you take a closer look, they're pretty big at two feet wide. You wouldn't need a huge number of them to look effective. In fact even just one to start would be great. And I have to remind myself that $40 is only £25, which is easily what an attractive planter can set you back at the garden centre (I've never bought a planter, but that's another story). Plus, plus, plus (trying to convince my most loyal reader and husband here) - they will fit easily in a suitcase to take back to the UK when it's time to move home again.

Garden designers are constantly telling us to think of our gardens as a series of outdoor rooms (I'm still to be sold on that one). I think in my minds eye I'm planning this garden as a series of mini-gardens within our one big room. I want our garden to include terrariums as well. There tragically fashionable I know - certainly if the air of Portlandia around the books I found on Amazon is anything to go by - but they can each be a world on their own. In essence, they allow the creation of discrete habitats to suit particular plants. Instead of finding the plant to suit the position and soil conditions, I can create the conditions for the plant I want. And, if we're going down the route of terrariums, these Japanese moss balls have got to be worth a go, surely?

I am getting carried away now, and I must start a little more modestly. I bought some packets of seed at the weekend and I shall be keeping my eyes pealed for suitable temporary containers to get them sprouting. Basil, coriander and chives to start. Rosemary, thyme and sage will be better bought as plants from the Italian market, I think. Plus a lettuce mix, because if it's grown in the right way it should do well as an indoor crop.

Seed packets

You know, I've just come to the end of writing this post and realised the best thing about this whole scheme - no slugs and snails!! There will be no midnight slug hunts in America... (there are also, alas, no toads and frogs in this scheme, but I have reliable reports from out tenants that the population we introduced back home is thriving).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

365 progress: March 2012

My conclusion thus far is that a 365 project is a hell of a lot more difficult than I realised. Starting out, I think my photography actually got worse, not better. Lots of terrible photos taken at the end of the day - of anything - just so I had a photo. Obviously it takes practice to get into the mind set! Then I started trying to log the photos as I went along on Instagram, which meant I posted my photo for day 8 very early in the day only to take at least three better ones later on... it's all very confusing! So, as April progresses I'm giving myself less rules while I try and get the hang of this. I won't pick the photo till the end of the day (or even the day after) and I'll just try to keep taking pictures, hopefully with some sort of composition - because right now my Instagram feed is absolutely terrible.

March 2012
My summary calendar - when I saw this I was shocked by how dark all my pictures are...
Day 1
Day 1: Birthday dinner - Dan took the brunt of my forgetfulness
Day 2
Day 2: Taco
Day 3
Day 3: Our apartment
Day 4
Day 4: View from the bedroom window with a long exposure
Day 5
Day 5: My very glamorous staircase at work
Day 6
Day 6: The indoor washing line - Valentines still on the wall
Day 7
Day 7: Waiting for the trolley home (Dan had a puncture)
Day 8
Day 8: Lying in bed, watching Taco and the flag flying
Day 9
Day 9: Plotting...