Friday, 31 December 2010

And A Happy New Year

So this should be a post looking back on 2010, and looking forward to 2011. But I've never been the kind of fox who makes new year resolutions or picks over the past. 2010 was full of joy and misery, good days with the sun on my back and a spade in my hand, and bad days when it felt like my heart would just stop beating. 2011 will probably be similar, only I'll have cleared more rubble from the garden.

The snow has finally melted, and the ground is very, very squelchy. Still, I managed to get a bit of time in outside to check over the soggy mess that is my garden. The snow was sudden and unexpected, so a lot of things have been killed (and despite storing my geraniums and alstromerias in the polytunnel, the -18C temperatures were too much). But I'm optimistic, and won't chuck everything in the compost yet. We'll see what happens in spring.

But when the skies are filled with tentacles and we're battling giant radioactive scorpions, there will still be parsnips. And turnips. And even my beloved beetroot. After a month of freezing nights, dense fog and snow, I expected all my root veg to have turned to mush. But no, they're all fine.
And they. Are. Huge!

Currently in the oven, with mustard and maple syrup. Yum!

I may seriously consider using the Lincolnshire parsnip as a unit of measurement.

Once these guys have been eaten (with a tamale bake, om nom nom), MikeyFox & myself will wrap ourselves up nice and cosy, and venture across the fields to our local pub (an hours walk away, but it's a lovely one) and will get slightly squiffy.

Happy New Year, folks. May the new year treat you kindly.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

In the morning MikeyFox & myself will be venturing out to the far reaches of Nottinghamshire to spend time with the in-laws.
MikeyFox have had our midwinter celebration, exchanged gifts (I will no doubt enthuse at a later date about my lovely gifts. Sorry) and eaten lots of Stilton. It was fab.
So to those of you celebrating, have a fabulous day. To those of you not celebrating, wrap up warm & try not to be driven mad by the crap on TV.

I'll leave you with the most festive thing I can think of - El Vez!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


The Winter Solstice is the moment when the Earth is furthest from the sun. The shortest day & the longest night of the year. For the first time in almost 400 years, the solstice has coincided with a Lunar eclipse, which is why I was out in the -9 temperatures wearing every woollen item I owned at stupid o'clock in the morning and watching the horizon turn from inky black to wine red (either one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen, or a harbinger of the apocalypse*).

When the sun came up, the fruit trees in the garden were blessed with cider (which they were kind enough to share) and honey biscuits (which the birds are currently devouring). When I'm done writing here, I'll go light the fire, and there will be a light burning until dawn tomorrow, when the days will start to grow longer, and spring will start to seem less like an old folk tale and more of a possibility.

The house is decorated with evergreen leaves & red ribbons, and there's an evening of eating, drinking & gift giving ahead. Tomorrow will be the start of a new year.

So to all you people out there, friends & strangers, whatever winter festivals you celebrate, may the coming year bring good health, more laughter than tears & love in all its forms.


*At least when Azathoth & His Pennywhistle Of Chaos comes to play us to our suitably gruesome end, there will be pretty lights.

Friday, 10 December 2010

There's So Much You Can Learn When You're On A Pachyderm

Though Pachyderm is an obsolete term for Elephant, the genus Elephantidae being the taxonomic classification preferred these days. Those crazy biologists.

I found the scrap of paper with the a-bit-complicated-but-nonetheless-awesome crochet pattern on it, so today we have a crocheted


Adorable, no?
This was made with 1 big ball of basic grey DK yarn using a 4mm crochet hook (go fancier if you want to). You need some stuffing (I used kapok, but cotton wool or scraps of rags will do). You'll need a small amount of felt or fabric in pink (for the mouth), grey (for the feet) and white (for the tusks), and button eyes at the end too. You could faff about with tension squares & whatnot, but to be honest, if you want to make a bigger one, use a chunkier yarn & a larger crochet hook. If you want an ickle one, use a finer yarn & a smaller crochet hook. Enough incomprehensible drivel, onto the pattern!

Okay, this pattern starts off with the trunk, increasing to make the face, neck & then the main body of the elephant. It will look wrong. And weird. But trust me, it is an elephant, they just look kind of freaky without ears. The legs & ears are made separately, then it's all sewn together at the end.

Chain 10 & slip stitch into the first chain to make a ring.
R(ound)1 Chain 1, then dc into each chain (working in back loop only), then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 10 stitches there.
R2 Chain 1, dc into first stitch, then 2dc together 4 times. 1 dc in last stitch, then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 6 stitches there.
R3-7 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch, then slip stitch into the first dc & turn.
You've just made the trunk!
R8 Chain 1, then 2dc in the first stitch. Then 1 dc in all the stitches but the last one, which needs 2dc in it. slip stitch into 1st stitch & turn. You should have 8 stitches now.
R9-11 Repeat R8. You should have 14 stitches by the end.
r12 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Don't join this time (as the mouth is being created here), but remember to turn.
R1 Chain 1, then 2dc in each stitch. Turn.(28 stitches here)
R2 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
R3 (a complicated bit with lots of increasing & shaping!) Chain 1, then 1dc in the first 9 stitches, then 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, 1dc in the next 6 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches 9so you started with 28, and should end with 32 stitches)
R4 Chain 1, then 1dc in the next 9 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 4 stitches, 1dc in each of the next 6dc, 2dc in each of the next 4dc, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches. Phew! You did brilliantly, and deserve a cup of tea. You should have started with 32, and ended up with 40 stitches there.
R5-6 Nothing scary here, just 2 rows of good old dc, remembering to chain 1 at the start & turn at the end.
Chain 1, then 1dc in next stitch. 2dc together 3 times, then 1dc in each of the next 26 stitches, then 2dc together 3 times, then 1dc in the last stitch (a crochet palindrome!)
Join the last 3 stitches & the first 3 stitches of your last row with 1dc. Chain 1, then dc in each stitch, and slip stitch into the first dc to form a round, then turn. You've just made a little elephant mouth!
To celebrate, work 4 rounds of dc, remembering to chain 1 at the start & turn at the end.
Neck (another tricky bit. Sorry)
R1 Chain 1, then 2dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 1dc in each of the next 5 stitches, 2dc together twice, then 1dc in each of the next 4 stitches, 2dc together twice, 1dc in the next 5 stitches, 2dc in the final 3 dc, and finally slip stitch into the first dc & turn.
R2 Chain 1, then 2dc in each of the first 3 stitches, then 1dc in each stitch until you get to the last 3 stitches, which need 2dc in each stitch. Slip stitch into the first dc & turn (you should have 36 stitches here.
R3 Chain 1, 1 dc in each of the next 2dc, then 2dc in next stitch. Repeat that bit twice (without the chain 1 obviously). 1dc in each stitch until the last 9 stitches, then 2dc in the next stitch & 1dc in the next 2 stitches. Repeat that last bit 2 more times, and then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 42 stitches now.
Work 11 rounds in good old dc, slipping into the first stitch & turning each time.
(Another tricksy bit) Chain 1, 1dc in first stitch, then 2dc in each of the next 3 stitches. 1dc in each stitch to the last 4 stitches, then 2dc in each of the next 3 stitches, and finally 1dc in the last stitch. Slip stitch & turn.
Work 6 rounds of dc. Sweet, no counting required dc.
This is a good time to fill the head & main body of the elephant with whatever stuffing you have (the, um, aperture at the end is kind of small)
R1 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 15 stitches. 2dc together, 1dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and repeat 4 more times. 1dc in each of the last 13 stitches, then slip stitch & turn.
R2 Work in dc, slip stitch & turn.
R3 Chain 1, then dc in each of the next 3 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in each of the next 3 stitches. Repeat that (without the chain 1 & 3 dc, durr!) 7 times, slip stitch & turn (and pray that it's 35 stitches there).
R4 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and repeat 7 times. Slip stitch & turn (27 stitches now)
R5 Chain 1, 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together, 1 dc in each of the next 2 stitches & repeat 5 more times. Slip stitch & turn.
R6 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together 10 times, slip stitch & turn.
Finish any stuffing here, as we're about to close her up!
R7 Chain 1, then 1dc in the first stitch, then 2dc together 5 times.Slip stitch into first dc, but don't turn.
Chain 1, then 2dc together 3 times. Slip stitch, but don't turn, and dc 6 stitches in a spiral. Chain 3 & fasten off. Snip the yarn with an excess of an inch or so, and tease out the threads of the yarn to make a little tassely tail.

Front Legs
Chain 18, and slip stitch to form a ring (making sure it's not twisted). Work 3 rounds of dc, slip stitching & turning each time.
Chain 1, then dc in each of the first 5 stitches. 2dc together, then 1 dc in the next stitch 3 times. 1 dc in each of the last 4 stitches, slip stitch & turn.
Work 13 rounds in dc, slip stitch & turning each time. Fasten off & sew in ends.
Stitch the felty footpad in place, or crochet up a circle of suitable size.
Make another one.
Back Legs
Chain 18, and slip stitch to form a ring again. Work 3 rounds of dc, slip stitching & turning as usual.
Chain 1, then dc in each of the first 5 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in the next stitch 3 times. 1dc in each of the last 4 stitches, slip stitch & turn.
Work 11 rounds in dc, slip stitching & turning each time. bind off, and add footpads.
Make another one.

Chain 15. 1 dc in 2nd chain from hook, then 1dc in each chain (14 stitches).
Chain 1, then 2dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
Chain 1, then then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 9 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, 1dc in each of the next 6 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches.
Work a last round of dc & bind off.
Make another one.

Stuff the legs & stitch onto place on the body (making sure it all stands up!). Sew on the ears (the elephant will suddenly look like an elephant!). The elephants mouth needs a triangle of pink felt. Cut into shape & stitch into position, pulling the mouth into a shape you like. Roll white felt into two little cone shapes & stitch into place for the tusks. sew on eyes. (if making this for a small child, eyes & tusks can be embroidered on)

Woo, you have an elephant!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Crocheted Cat Toys!

It's still minus temperatures here in North Lincolnshire (-18 at about 6pm. Brr! But this morning it's a positivly toasty -4). Still, it's been a fortnight since we last had any refuse collections or post. Or even gritters (the only reason the roads are clear is a local farmer bodging together a makeshift plough out of a tractor & trundling around the village). It's enough to make a fox wonder what her council tax is being used on.

Okay, enough grumbling about the weather. I promised kitty toys!
These are really simple, and surprisingly quick to make. You can knit them in any colour you like, though cats respond to purple, blue, green & yellow (other colours they see as shades of grey). You can use pretty much any scraps of DK wool you have lying around. Aside from wool, and a 4mm crochet hook, all you need is a pair of scissors & maybe a wool needle.

Spider: Chain 4 & join to make a loop. Make 16 htr (hdc in the US) into the centre of the loop. It's a snug fit, but it will work! slip stitch into the first htr to form a circle. Chain 1, then dc (sc) into each of the 16 stitches. Slip stitch into the first stitch to make 16, then repeat (as in chain 1, then dc (sc) into each stitch etc). Chain 10 from that point where you did your last slip stitch, then dc (sc) your way back down the chain (you'll need to insert your crochet hook into the 3rd chain from the hook). Slip stitch into the next stitch on the left. Woo-hoo, you've made a leg! Only 7 more to go! Slip stitch into the next stitch on your left, and repeat the process of chaining & dc (sc) -ing your way back. See, the 16 stitches in the original circle get made into 8 legs. Nifty!
The legs are the slowest part, because it's all crocheting into a chain (the most annoying part of crochet. sorry!).
Once that's done, you have two options. You can stuff your little spider with a mixture of kapok & catnip, or you can leave it open. If you stuff it, close up the base with a htr (hdc) between each leg & pull tight (or using any method you prefer). Snip your yarn & weave in any loose bits. Finally, make a chain of suitable length (if your cat likes to get scratchy, make a long one!), and tie it to the top of your spider.

Octopus: The octopus is almost identical to the spider. The only difference is the body length (with the spider, it's two rows of dc (sc) to make the body, with the Octopus, it's 7 rows) and the leg length (with the spider it's a chain of 10, with the octopus a chain of 15). A bit of felt & sewing and you can have yourself a little bat-winged Cthulhu too!

Warning. No guarantee of cat participation.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

I know I promised you slightly-complicated-crochet pattern, but since I can't find the bit of paper it's written down on, it'll have to wait. Tomorrow there will be crocheted kitty toys instead.
It's still colder than a well-diggers arse here in North Lincolnshire. Yesterday it was -13 at 7am. Today -10. So that must mean that things are getting warmer, right? Also, the boiler leak has been located - hurrah! At some point this week the lovely Malcolm will come & fix it. Hurrah!

I have to confess, I have a terrible addiction to cooking shows. I blame my student days, when my housemates & I would slump on the floor of the room with the biggest TV in our student hovel and watch Fern Britton mumsy her way around wall-eyed 'celebrity' chefs (this is back when Ready Steady Cook was actually about teaching cooking techniques & recipes, rather than a backdrop for Ainsley Harriot to do... whatever the hell he's doing*). These days I'm more of a River Cottage & cuddly, soft-focus BBC half-hour long programmes kind of fox.

So I was slumped on the sofa with a cup of tea watching Nigella Lawson wafting around her soft-focus pseudo-kitchen making Chicken With 40 Cloves Of Garlic, and really wanted to try it.** This doesn't mean that I instantly abandoned my vegetarian principles & really wanted to tuck into some bird carcass (ugh! I haven't eaten meat in over 20 years, and I wasn't a fan of it to start with), or that I missed the flavour & texture of meat. But that it had been so long since I had eaten a hearty, warming casserole, something that required a knife and fork, and maybe some mashed potatoes on the side. Most of my cooking is stuff that can be eaten with just a fork or a spoon.
I remembered my pumpkin turkey roast success from November, and thought it can't be that hard to make something similar, but in smaller pieces. Anyway, I can't resist a pun, so:

Chickain't Pieces

Doesn't that appetising does it? Trust me, it's delicious! What? You don't believe me? Okay, what about this then?

Chickain't casserole with courgette, mushrooms & peas. It was delicious.

So how do you make it? It's pretty much the same as the Pumpkin Turkey recipe, only you divide the dough into 8 pieces. Wrap each piece in foil, squishing into whatever shape you fancy, then steam for 30 minutes. Then place in a baking tray & add a little hot water, just enough to cover the tray (so nothing burns) and bake 20-30 minutes. Leave to cool wrapped in the foil, and then unwrap. They freeze well, and you can bake them, fry them, roast them, slice them & stir fry them - anything you can think of really!

Om nom nom!

*Like a horrible mash-up of Baron Samedi from Live & let Die & The Swedish Chef from the Muppets.

**My actualy thought process was 'Hubb-hubba, ding-ding-ding, baby you got everything. Shame on me.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow & Scarves

The snow continues to fall in North Lincolnshire. And the council still haven't sent out any gritters or snow ploughs, instead leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Cheers, guys.
Still, it's funny how quickly you adapt to change. Every morning starts the same way: crawl unwillingly out of bed. Pile on clothes until you resemble the Michelin Man. Dig path from door to car. Dig path from car to road. Worry as Mikeyfox drives to work*, and dig a path for the cats to poop in the garden. Check the drains & pipes haven't frozen up & brush snow off the polytunnel. Then tramp back indoors & consume as much coffee & porridge until something resembling humanity is restored.
Still, snow is being admired, rolled around in & shovelled out of the way in equal measures.

So my last post was a bit of a vague non-pattern, and the next one will be a not-hard-but-not-easy crochet pattern, so I'll give you a break with something that's really easy to make - so easy that the most novicey of novices can knock up in no time - and looks much harder to make than it actually is. Woohoo!

At the risk of sounding like a shill, I'm basically raving about Katia, a Spanish yarn company that set itself up around 50 years ago with the aim of freshening up the wool industry, mainly by coming up with fun, funky & fashionable wools & yarns. The highlight of their Autumn/Winter range has been the glorious trinity of Ondas, Triana & Rizos - 3 novelty yarns that are actually lengths of netting or webbing (you knit into one edge of the netting, rather than with the whole strip, which is what gives you the big ruffly effect) rather than traditional yarn - that come in a range of colours, single toned or variegated, and knit up into lovely, frilly, ruffly, waterfall - style scarves (and really, they're just designed for making scarves).

My current favourite is the Ondas yarn (though Triana is a close second). It takes a little getting used to, as you have to stretch out the netting before you start to knit. But the results are lovely.
Oh, and this is the kicker - you don't have to know how to cast on to use them. How crazy is that?!
So whats the downside? Well, they're not cheap. a ball of Ondas (which will make one scarf) will cost around £6, Triana around £7 & Rizos around £8 (depending on where you shop)

Your local knitting shop should have them in stock if you fancy giving it a whirl. Or you can order online from various places (I will, however, take this opportunity to plug my local woolshop Tricot in Scunthorpe, lovely people full of helpful advice who'll bend over backwards to feed your knitty addiction) & they're also cropping up on eBay.

And no, I'm not getting paid for this!

Almost completed scarf. Eee!

Okay, enough getting giddy over wool. Hope you're all keeping warm & well where you are!

*15 miles away on ungritted country roads. While his co-workers who live less than 3 miles from the brewery stay home because its 'too snowy'.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Don't Shoot The Messenger (Bag)

North Lincolnshire is currently buried underneath snow. It's the lovely, light, fluffy kind of snow that doesn't form snowballs, much to the distress of MikeyFox & the relief of yours truly.

I'm not letting myself worry about the cost of heating up the Shack In The (Frozen) Marshlands, or whether or not I'll get to Sheffield to restock the shop I supply (after spending the last two days making up all the stock), frozen water pipes or digging out the car every morning. I am, instead, wrapping myself up warm & burrowing my way through the drifts and walking through the fields every day & enjoying the rare pleasures of snow. The great expanse of white that was a field of rapeseed, that makes little white sparkles dance in front of my eyes if I stare too long. The tree-lined path to the church dusted with snow, prettier than any Christmas card. The snow-topped cottages of the village looking like icing topped gingerbread houses. The Cavalo Nero in the garden, the deepest green you could imagine against the crisp whiteness. Little pleasures that make it worth getting up in the morning.

Okay, enough reverie, I promised knitting patterns!
Last year I was all about bags. All sizes, all shapes. But my favourite was the messenger bag. I loved the simplicity of it, the way it knitted up quickly in a few days & it's a really good way of showing off whatever fancy or unusual textured wool you have, or any new stitches you've become partial to.
Alas, this isn't really a pattern, more of a guideline that you can adapt to your needs.

Your average bag will need about 3 balls of yarn. If you're making a little purse-style bag, you should be able to get away with one or two balls. The basic process is to knit a long strip of - um - knittery, and fold it like an envelope. Your one strip will become the front, bottom, back & flap of the bag. Then to knit a thin strip of - uh - knittery which will become the handle and sides of the bag, which you stitch in place at the end.

Your first step is to figure out what size you want your bag to be. Do you want it to be a laptop bag? Something to carry folders in? Or the mountain of detritus that seems to build up around you wherever you go. Or a little bag for the essentials.
Next, choose your yarn. It's worth adding here that the thicker the yarn, the quicker it knits up. Stuff suitable for 8mm or 10mm needles will take no time at all to make. Variegated yarn can bring out really nice random patterns in the finished bag, and textured yarn will give an interesting finish.
Knit yourself a little tension square. Yes, it's not nearly as fun as actually making something, but if you want to make something a certain length, you'll need it to figure out how many stitches you need to cast on.
Okay, so now you have the arcane wisdom necessary (or have just cast on until it feels like enough), get knitting. You can use any stitch you like, rib, stockinette, garter, moss, whatever takes your fancy. I'd stick to garter stitch if you're using a fancy, fluffy or bobbly wool.
Knit until it's 3 times the intended size (height, I mean) of your bag (so, if you want a bag that's 25cm/10" tall, you'd knit it 75cm/30" long). This isn't set in stone, though. If you want a short flap, reduce the length accordingly.
Next, you'll need to knit your strap. This can be as thick or as thin as you like. You can make it really skinny or really thick. Or somewhere in the middle. As for how long it is, well how long do you want it? Once you know the answer to that question (if it's a shoulder bag, use a tape measure to see how long you need it to be. Don't forget to include the extra you need to make the side panels of the bag). Remember that knitting stretches, so err on the side of caution.

Once you've knitted your strap, you need to sew it in place. Place the knitting wrong side up on a flat surface & lay one end of your strap alongside the edge that you're about to sew. Make sure you're measured up right & stitch away. Sewing onto the strap will turn your big lump of knittery into a 3 dimensional bag shape. Woo! Position the other end of the strap on the other side (making sure it's not twisted) and repeat the process. Turn inside out (well, it's actually rightside round now!) and huzzah! You have a bag!

The bag on the left is Wendy Origin yarn in the less-appealing-than-it-actually-looks colour petroleum knitted with 5mm needles. The bag on the right is Wendy Viva yarn in Delph with 10mm needles.

Of course, if that sounds a bit too complicated, you can sew up the edges of the bag without these side panels, and knit up a strap to attach for a flatter bag.

Next pattern will be an actual patterny-pattern. promise!