And now for something completely different

What are you supposed to say when your good friend (who clearly thinks you have too much spare time) asks you to make a tree? Are yew joking? How about you bough to the superior wisdom of your elders and betters and just run fir it? I’ll leave now (that’s quite enough of that, they took me twenty minutes to think up and I think I have used up my bad pun quota for the year now).

Against my better judgement we are making a tree (for a stage prop for two musicals), we make a pretty good team for things like that, I sort out most of the colours and the Man in the Shed does most of the structural engineering (although he did let me loose with a saw and some wire cutters while he was at work). The knitting and the real garden are more or less being neglected this week, the kitchen and my head are full of tree (and PVA glue bottles) and I think I am driving everyone potty – in the middle of real, grown up, totally unrelated conversations I keep saying things like, “Should it have one banana or a whole bunch?” and, “How are we going to attach any leaves?” and, “Does it look too much like an umbrella?”. (My mouth is apparently not connected to my brain, it never says what my brain tells it to and often says things without consulting my brain first to see if it is a) a sensible time to say the thing now or b) a sensible thing to say at any time, ever.)

The tree has a split personality and the specification gets more complicated every time I ask a question about it. Officially it is the Tree of Knowledge for a children’s production of ‘Children of Eden’ in June for which it has to be dismantled on stage during a storm and have golden fruit but sneakily it might also be the Magic Tree (I should probably find out how that story goes) in less than two weeks which has lots and lots of different types of fruit on it and which possibly at some point gets cursed and all the leaves turn black. Oh, and it has to fit into the Composer’s car. With his piano.


Here is a tree skeleton, (ooh, that reminds me – I wonder if Funny Bones is still in print?) I think the window cleaner who was working while I was building this must think I am mad. The trunk is made from waste pipe and the branches from 15mm plastic water pipes, there is too much gaffer tape and some wire mesh which I laced around the trunk to make it less pipey. I haven’t got very far with the leaves yet or how to hang any fruit on it but the cogs are whirling.


And here is the tree trunk after putting some (unwanted) newspapers (that we liberated from the train) to far better use than that for which they were intended. For some reason it gives me great delight to tear up some of the stuff printed in there. Although I did spot one snippet which had a photo of loads of tulips and the caption ‘Springtime at Eden’ which is rather fitting.

Now where did I leave that brown paint?

In which there is a spider and a fire engine (you have been warned)

I won’t show you the spider until the bottom so that you don’t have to read that bit  if you don’t want to but here is a fire engine because I don’t know anyone with a phobia of fire engines.

The Man in the Shed wanted me to show you what he has been doing this morning; Small wanted to pinch one of his friend’s toys and then complained that it was broken so the Man in the Shed said they would borrow it and fix it at the same time. The ladder was missing so they have made new one out of teas stirrers and match sticks. I am sure that he must secretly be related to the mice who live in the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ…


Tiny and I have been planting things in the greenhouse and it is definitely looking more green this week. I am fairly amazed that I have managed to keep a tray of sweet peas alive over the winter – my Grandad gave them to me in a heap in an ice cream tub at the beginning of December and being a fair weather gardener (I only go out there in the cold if the compost pot in the kitchen is threatening to explode and coat the entire room with rotting veg peelings) I have more or less ignored and neglected them since and miraculously they look nice and green and bushy now.


The spider is coming, stop reading now if you don’t want to see. The planting of things is what made me want to tell you about Dennis. He lives in the box where I keep the spare flower pots and I know he lives there but I always forget and his sole aim in life appears to be to give me a fright by scuttling around suddenly and looking enormous every time I open the box. I like spiders at a distance so he has agreed not to come and visit me in the house as long as I let him have use of the box. I am scared of spiders when I see them unexpectedly or when they are taller than me (i.e. on the ceiling) but I can cope if I know they are there and, like Howl, I don’t like anyone disturbing the resident cobwebs.


Isn’t he a beauty? I’m not sure why he is called Dennis (normally the house spiders are all called Fred, daddy long legs are Boris and for some reason the garden spiders don’t have a name but there is a colony who live in the greenhouse and are very pretty) but he looks like a Dennis to me.

I have been getting on with jumper number three (which is really a cardigan) so I’ll tell you about that next time maybe but I am also waiting for some 100% cotton yarn to arrive so I can make some boobs. There is a group called Knitted Knockers who make prosthetic breasts for mastectomy patients (they say the silicon ones are really heavy and uncomfortable) and I thought I might as well put some knitting to good use and make a few for them, (my Grandma is going to test drive the first one for me) I’ll let you how I get on…

But in the mean time here is a cat being silly (Sorry Pip!). But at least it means that the jumper must be almost dry because cats don’t like having soggy bottoms:


In which we find a frog

We were tidying up the patio the other day and sweeping up all the slugs who live behind the lettuce box in an attempt to have a vaguely slug free environment before planting this year’s lettuce when we found this beauty snoozing underneath. The picture doesn’t really do him justice, he is beautiful and fat and round and perfectly podgy frog shaped, he also didn’t think much of having his photo taken and kept running back under the box every time I moved it.IMG_0233

He didn’t look best pleased at a) being disturbed this early in the year, b) having all his slugs tidied up that he was saving for later or c) having all his nice damp muddy nest that he had made under our box cleared away, so we sent him round the corner to the log pile with a couple of slugs and told him we would wake him up in May.

We have been reading a lot of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel recently (Harper Collins have published a collection with all the stories in together) I remember reading some of them as a child and am pleased to have an excuse to read them again. Frog is always jolly and sunny whilst Toad is a bit grumpy, miserable (is it possible for a toad to be clinically depressed?) and fairly irrational at times but his friend Frog is always there to look out for him. One of my favourite bits is from ‘Spring’ – ‘Toad went back into the house. He got back into bed and pulled the covers over his head again. “But, Toad,” cried Frog, “you will miss all the fun!” “Listen Frog,” said Toad. “How long have I been asleep?” “You have been asleep since November,” said Frog. “Well then,”said Toad, “a little more sleep will not hurt me. Come back again and wake me up at about half past May. Good night, Frog.” “But, Toad,” said Frog, “I will be lonely until then.”‘

Sometime it worries me how much like Toad I am…

Image source: Harper Collins

Image source: Harper Collins

So although it is really the wrong way round, seeing our rather disgruntled frog did make me smile.

It’s raining today (which is nice for the lettuce and for frogs) so I have finished jumper number two, I’ll see if I can get a mug shot of it being worn, but here it is drying off, it looks a little dark because it is soggy but you get the general idea.

IMG_0249Ooh, that means I am properly allowed to do some of jumper number three (which is really a cardigan) which I wasn’t supposed to have started before…

In which things are growing

In which things are growing

I love this time of year when everything is in bud and starting to grow and you can see all the potential of what will be (slugs and hose pipe bans permitting).


It still amazes me every year that I poke these little, brown, dead looking things into some mud and then more or less neglect them for a few weeks and they turn into plants and flowers and vegetables all by themselves. I have never understood about being green fingered – plants want to grow and they don’t take much encouragement.


Even our magnolia twig which has been in four or five years has decided to produce one single solitary flower this year:IMG_0227

And the knitting is growing too, jumper number two has reached the interesting bit, it’s not so easy to photograph because the are 232 stitches crammed on the needle so I can’t spread it flat very well but you get the idea.


I tried joining the armpits with a three needle cast off this time. I’ve used kitchener stitch before which makes it lovely and smooth underneath but you get a whopping great hole at either end of the seam which has to be sewn up anyway and I never get it very tidy, (I’m not sure why it bugs me because who walks around examining people’s armpits, but it does) so this time I cast off the two lots of stitches together at the point that I joined the sleeve which gave a much smaller gap at the end of the seam and I could just pick up an extra stitch to fill it and then lose it again in the row above, much tidier, I think.

Also I appear to have accidentally cast on another pair of socks, (this is getting to be a habit!) which were much longer but the cumulative irritation of about three things wrong with them was building to the point where I ripped them back to the start of the patterned section and began again from there. They are behaving much better this time round (so far) .IMG_0229

In which there are some useful instructions

In which there are some useful instructions

Right, here is how to do a tubular cast on, I’ve been putting off writing it down because it involves a small amount of thinking but now I’m supposed to be doing some work updating the website so that is perfect motivation…

This cast on looks really nice – the knitting doesn’t really have an edge, it looks like it rolls underneath and goes up the back which is because you end up making a little hollow tube all the way along the bottom of the knitting. I think it looks really professional and since learning it I realised that most of my shop bought knitted clothes use this cast on and I never really noticed before. There are several ways to get the same effect and I reckon most of them look really complicated and fiddly but this method is really easy, it gives you 1×1 rib. (I think it may be possible to do something for a 2×2 rib but I haven’t tried that yet.)

Hopefully this is all ok, I’ve read it through a couple of times but if anybody spots any errors or needs any more clarification let me know.
You need a little piece of spare yarn, something thin and smooth like sock yarn is ideal and preferably in a colour that contrasts with what you are using for the knitting so you can see where it is to remove it afterwards. Also you should use needles that are two sizes smaller than you intend to use for the ribbing.
Casting on 005
In the round (even number of stitches)
With your waste yarn cast on half the number of stitches needed for your pattern plus one (e.g. if you need 90 stitches, cast on 46) using whatever method you like.
Turn. Change to your main yarn.
Round 1: *K1, yo, repeat from* to last st, K1 (e.g.91 sts)
Join in the round –  Make sure your stitches aren’t twisted and slip the first cast on stitch purlwise from the left to the right needle, place marker for beginning of round.
Round 2: * slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front, K1, repeat from * to last 2 sts K2tog (e.g. 90 sts)
Round 3: *P1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in back, repeat from *
Round 4: * slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front, K1, repeat from *
Round 5: As round 3
Continue with larger needles in size for ribbing with P1, K1 rib for required number of rows.

Flat (odd number of stitches)
With your waste yarn cast on half the number of stitches needed for your pattern rounded up to the nearest whole number (e.g. if you need 91 stitches, 91/2 = 45  ½, cast on 46) using whatever method you like.
Turn. Change to your main yarn.
Row 1: *K1, yo, repeat from* to last st, K1 (e.g.91 sts)
Row 2: * K1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front, repeat from * to last st K1
Row 3: With yarn in front slip first stitch purlwise *K1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front, repeat from *
Repeat rows 2 and 3 once
Continue with larger needles in size for ribbing with K1, P1 rib for required number of rows.

Flat (even number of stitches)
With your waste yarn cast on half the number of stitches needed for your pattern plus one (e.g. if you need 90 stitches cast on 46) using whatever method you like.
Turn. Change to your main yarn.
Row 1: K2 *yo, K1 repeat from* to last st, K1 (e.g.90 sts)
Row 2: * K1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front, repeat from *
Repeat row 2 three times
Continue with larger needles in size for ribbing with K1, P1 rib for required number of rows

What you are actually doing is working half the stitches on one row and the other half on the next row so although you have worked four rows at the end of the cast on you will have the equivalent of two rows of knitting with half the stitches on the front and half the stitches on the back
Casting on 006
Now either unpick the provisional cast on or cut it really carefully and remove it in sections, it is magic and the knitting won’t unravel. Scout’s honour.
Now you should have a lovely stretchy edge and no visible cast on. Oh, and it will look tiny until you’ve done a few more rows but it is super stretchy and will loosen up a little as you go along.

And I promise it won’t unravel, not that I was ever a scout but it really won’t. One time I tried to unravel something from the bottom, I can’t even remember why, maybe that end of the wool was easier to find or something but knitting just doesn’t unravel from the bottom up. All my happy childhood memories of cartoons where people got a thread snagged on something and then walked around and carried on oblivious to the fact that their jumper was merrily getting shorter and shorter were shattered. Until I learnt you can knit jumpers from the top down, in the round, like this one:


Hurrah for silly unravelly things! And I still have lots to learn about knitting.

The jumper is Julia Blake’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes with a little added colour and extrapolated into a smaller size for Small (Hmmm, vague memory of GCSE statistics – extrapolation results are a bit hit and miss and not always a good idea – the sleeves are really too tight compared to the rest of the jumper, but never mind, he loves the spider…) Sorry the photos aren’t great, I didn’t know I was going to need a good one without pyjamas when I took it.


In which there are socks

In which there are socks

I was going to explain how to do a tubular cast on (I’ve got the photos ready and everything) but actually writing it down would mean I had to stop and think for ten minutes and the garden is calling so I will do that later in the week when the rain comes back (I am only a fair weather gardener). I turned over an entire bin of compost yesterday which was hard work but sort of satisfying and I’m off to go and plant some stuff in a minute so this is just a quick post to prove I am really getting on with jumper number two.


There you go, it’s coming along, there’s still quite a lot to do but it feels like I have broken the back of it now. There is some shaping for the waist so at least I know where I am in the stocking stitch and don’t have to keep counting all the rows to see if it is long enough and then the yoke is after that which is much more interesting.

And to give my thumb a rest from the continental knitting here is some normal knitting that I have been doing in between:


Sorry about the legs, I’ve cut as much of them off as I could; I’m not really sure how you are supposed to photograph your own feet! I pinched the cables from Earl Grey by the Yarn Harlot (because I am incapable of doing that much plain stocking stitch without going mad) but I did the socks toe-up and two at a time. The toe up bit (I used Judy’s Magic Cast On which is brilliant – really easy and looks nice) was to make them as long as possible because I just kept going until I ran out of wool (I really did, I used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off which is just the right amount of stretchy but it used about twice as much wool as I was expecting, note to self: read instructions first, so I had to unpick a whole row on each sock). The two at a time bit was to deal with SSS (well documented problem: Second Sock Syndrome – make one sock, cast on second sock, forget quite what you did for the first one or how many rows or are just not inspired to make two of the same thing, second sock sits on needles for months and months and you have one cold foot). Oh and they have a FLK (Fish Lips Kiss) heel which I haven’t tried before but I think looks nicer than a normal heel flap.

Right, I’m off to sort out some vegetable seeds. Hmm, I think the greenhouse needs washing before I put anything in it, maybe I’ll just cast on another pair of socks quickly first…