Lavender and Moths

‘Oh, no!’ I thought while I was whizzing around the living room with the vacuum cleaner sometime this spring. (Or I may have thought something a little less polite.) I had just lifted the basket with spinning fibres beside my wheel…

… and discovered  a kind of grit under it. I knew what that meant – moths!

I had stuffed the fibres into a plastic bag, put them in the freezer, removed the grit, and shaken out the basket before I thought, ‘this could be interesting for my blog.’ The only things left to photograph were 3 cocoons.

Moth problems are unavoidable in a house containing so much that is high on the moth’s Munchability Index. (Isn’t that a brilliant term? It was coined by Adrian Doyle, conservator at the Museum of London.  There is a link to the article in which I found it at the bottom of this post.) Fortunately, I haven’t had moth problems very often, but often enough to recognize the signs.

I’ve taken a few photos of moths lately. It isn’t that I’m a moth geek or anything. It is just that with my camera in hand I’m becoming more and more aware of my surroundings. And when I see creatures I don’t know, I try to find out what they are.

This is the large yellow underwing on our kitchen floor. It is called grote huismoeder (literally: large stay-at-home-mum) in Dutch. Whoever thought of that name?

And this is a box tree moth.

Isn’t it beautiful, with its almost transparent veined wings in a dark frame? We don’t have any box in our garden, and its family has already destroyed our neighbours’ box hedge, so I can admire it without getting nervous.

Several moth caterpillars crossed my path while I was out cycling this summer. This hairy little monster is the caterpillar of the majestic white ermine (NL: witte tijger).

And this big fat beauty will later transform into a small emperor moth (NL: nachtpauwoog).

It isn’t any of these that munch on spinning fibres, knitting yarn and sweaters, though. It’s the clothes moth that does that. I have, (un)fortunately, not been able to photograph it and am borrowing someone else’s picture. Here it is – every knitter’s and spinner’s nightmare:

Photo: © Olaf Leillinger, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Doesn’t it look glorious in this picture, all shimmering gold? In real life it is only about 7 mm (0.25”) long – an unsightly beige-ish little fluttery thing.

So, what to do about them?

Moth balls and moth paper are one option, but they smell horrible and are carcinogenic. Another is cedar wood. There was a block of that in my spinning basket. Maybe it loses its moth-repellent quality over time? Something else moths hate is lavender.

This bush along our driveway established itself there years ago. It is a pale shade of, well, lavender.

This isn’t a moth, by the way, but a butterfly called painted lady (NL: distelvlinder).

Last year we planted some more lavender in our front garden.

It is smaller and a darker shade of purple.

Moths may hate lavender, but I love it. Its scent, the purple of its flowers, and the silvery grey of its leaves. When all the lavender in our garden had finished flowering, friends coming to spend a sunny afternoon chatting in our garden brought us a big pot of a different variety.

It has beautiful tufted flowers. I have placed it just so that we can see it every time we look out the kitchen window.

I don’t know what it is that makes moths hate lavender so much, but it is a well-known fact that lavender is an excellent repellent.

Over the summer, I’ve been knitting some lavender sachets from small remnants of sock and other fingering-weight yarn. Not the old-fashioned frilly kind, but more modern? simple? plain? ones. I don’t know exactly how to describe them, but if all goes according to plan, you’ll see what I mean next week.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to some interesting reading about moths, the problems they pose for textile-lovers and what to do about them.

Woad Adventures

Hello!

Remember the woad seeds I sowed in June? I received them as part of a project aimed at using more local wool and dyeing it with local dye stuffs too. That seemed like an interesting idea and woad can give a beautiful blue colour, so I thought I’d give it a try on a small scale.

Now, 3 months after the start of my woad adventure, it’s high time for an update. It’s not all good news I’m afraid. At first everything went well. Most of the seeds germinated and I had a number of really healthy looking plants (photo above). I planted them out around mid-July. Half of them in a sunny spot next to our garden shed, and the other half behind a big rose bush.

Below you can see the plants several days after planting them out. Already, things were not looking good at all.

Some of the plants were still sort of okay, some had almost disappeared. Uh-oh! Rainy weather = slug weather!

Several years back, we emigrated large numbers of slugs from our garden. We (read: my husband) collected them with BBQ tongs, put them in a bucket with a layer of water and emptied the bucket on a piece of land where the slugs wouldn’t bother anyone and would be much happier (or so we told ourselves.)

We soon learnt that the bucket shouldn’t be left standing for too long or the slugs would crawl out. Ieuw!

Maybe we should have mounted another slug removal campaign this year, but we didn’t. And the result is that now, 2 months after I planted them out, one woad plant looks reasonably okay.

One has disappeared completely. And the rest looks… well, see for yourself:

I recently learnt that only fresh woad leaves from the first year’s growth can be used. Dried and older leaves do not give off any colour. I also found out that at least 250 g/½ lb of fresh leaves are needed for a 9 litre/2 gallon dye vat. Even if my plants had thrived, I wouldn’t have come close to that, but that was never the plan.

The plan was that small woad growers like me would bring their 10 or 20 grams of fresh leaves to a stall at a wool event, where together they would make a great dye vat. Unfortunately the wool event was cancelled because of Covid-restrictions. Oh well, that’s life at the moment. At least it’s been an interesting experiment. The dyers have found enough leaves for their vat elsewhere and I now know a lot more about woad.

Meanwhile I have started spinning the lovely blue-and-green merinowool-and-silk gifted to me by a friend. She gave me two batches of spinning fibre of 100 grams each.

When I took them out of their bags, I noticed that although they were the same colourway, they were very different, like two balls of yarn from different dye lots. Can you see it?

To solve the problem, I spin small portions from the two batches alternately. The result is a beautiful blend of blue, green, white and turquoise with the various colours still distinguishable.

Spinning it is like having a piece of mermaid’s tail in my hands. Not just because of the shimmery blues and greens, but also because it’s slippery. That is why I am spinning the fibre ‘from the fold’ as it is called. Some people hold a ‘fold’ of slippery fibres like these folded between their fingers, but I prefer wrapping it around my thumb.

Spinning it like this, gives me more control over the fibre.

Spun up and plied, the 200 grams would be enough for a good size shawl, but I’ve decided to spin it out to enough for a sweater by combining it with something else – 600 grams of wool in a colourway called… (drum roll)… WOAD!

This, too, consists of various shades: black, cobalt and turquoise. A sea of blues to go with the mermaid’s tail.

But unlike the mermaid’s tail fibres, the different shades can no longer be distinguished when this wool is spun. Everything blends together into a beautiful deep but not very dark blue. I’ve tried a little bit out.

This wool (a blend of Zwartbles and organically farmed Merino) is not dyed with woad, but the colour is similar to what can be achieved with woad (if the slugs leave some).

This woad adventure (the whole process of spinning, plying and knitting up this mountain of fibre) is going to take a long time, I expect. Especially because I also have many other projects on the go. I’ll show you my progress when there is something worth showing. But first more about some of my other projects over the coming weeks. Bye for now! xxx

PS More info about the local wool & woad project can be found in this blog post.

Behind the Pelargoniums

Hello!

In Dutch, we have the expression achter de geraniums zitten (sitting behind the pelargoniums). It’s hard to explain exactly what it means, but on the whole it’s considered a Bad Thing. Not quite as bad as pushing up the daisies…

… but it comes very close. Sitting behind the pelargoniums, you’re a dull old stick-in-the-mud.

I never particularly liked pelargoniums. But since we came to live here, almost 20 years ago, we’ve bought them from our local brass band every year to sponsor their uniforms and instruments.

Ironically, last year – when we spent more time behind the pelargoniums than ever before, figuratively speaking – we had to go without them. Fortunately this year, the brass band players were able to go round the doors selling them again.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love pelargoniums, but I’ve come to like them over the years. They provide some nice splashes of colour around the house.

And how about sitting behind those pelargoniums?

According to our government, it is no longer necessary to do so. I don’t know what it’s like in your part of the world, but here almost all of the covid-measures have suddenly been dropped. As of last Saturday, we don’t have to wear face masks anymore, and almost everything is allowed (with 1.5 metres distance). It’s a BIG step, and I wonder where it is going to take us.

It is not going to take us (my husband and me) anywhere much in the foreseeable future. We don’t have big plans. I mean, it would be a shame if we weren’t here to enjoy our wonderfully fragrant miniature strawberries, wouldn’t it?

And who among our neighbours would be crazy enough to pamper my little woad seedlings the way I do? Yes, the seeds have germinated! Well, most of them anyway.

We will just continue living our lives, and doing the things we normally do this summer. But we are planning to take a day off now and then to venture away from behind our pelargoniums. I hope you’ll virtually join us on some of our outings.

One thing we have planned, is a visit to our niece. She left home last September to go to uni and I am really looking forward to finally see where she has been studying so diligently on her own this past year. Before that trip, I am crocheting her a pair of old-fashioned pot holders from blue and cream cotton.

On the knitting front, I don’t have any big plans either. I’ll focus on small projects from those yarn remnants I talked about last week. There is one big project I want to finish, though – the soft, light and relaxed cardi I started earlier this year. Only, I found out that I’ve made a mistake in one of the front bands. Oops.

I think I know how to fix it, but I need to pluck up the courage for that.

Some crochet is also on my list of things to do this summer. Not a big blanket or anything – I’ll keep it small, too.

For the rest, I’ll keep enjoying the small miracles surrounding us and sharing them with you.

The other day, when I was starting to lower our awning, I heard a dry, crackling sound. Like something dropping down from it. And this is what I found:

An emperor dragonfly. I couldn’t see it breathing, and after observing it for a while concluded that it was dead. A rare opportunity to study it more closely. Such a beautiful creature.

Another thing I found just outside our backdoor this past week is this:

I’ve zoomed in on it; in reality it is only about 3 cm long. At first I thought it was a bit of moss fallen from off the roof, but when I looked more closely, I saw ‘things’ in it and realized it was a pellet. Probably regurgitated by this sparrowhawk.

I may seem like a dull old stick-in-the-mud to others, spending so much time behind the pelargoniums. But life never feels dull to me. To close off, here is one of the young woodpeckers who visit our garden every day.

Wherever you are in the world, and whether you are staying behind the pelargoniums or not, I wish you a safe and enjoyable summer and hope you’ll pay me a visit here from time to time.

PS If you’d like to see a dragonfly breathing (they breathe through the lower part of their body), here is a lovely video I found on YouTube.

Sowing Woad

‘Urgent: Woad Growers Wanted’, a newsletter that landed in my inbox said. At first I thought, ‘Go away, I’m too busy.’ But after a while I thought, ‘Oh, why not? It sounds really interesting, and it won’t take any time at all!’ So I answered that I’d like to be involved and received a packet of woad seed.

It came with a lovely postcard of a blanket knit from local and hand spun wool. It is one of the blankets that was made last year, as part of a community project aimed at rescuing local wool from being labelled as waste and shipped off to China.

The call for woad growers came from the same people who organized the blanket project. They are now working on more ideas for things to do with local wool, and one of them is dyeing it with locally grown woad.

I won’t pretend to know everything there is to know about woad. In fact, I knew very little about it before I became involved in this project.

From the newsletter, I learnt that for centuries, wool was dyed blue with woad in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. In the 18th century, Frisian wool comber Eise Eisinga won international awards for his beautiful blue wool. In his spare time, Eise built a planetarium that is now a museum (I knew that, I’ve been to it and it’s great!). The museum still owns his original dye recipes, including one for dyeing with woad.

The seeds themselves vary in colour from pale yellow and green to a deep purplish blue.

They measure about 2 cm/¾”.

When I thought ‘it won’t take any time at all’ I was kidding myself. When I get involved in a project like this, I can’t just plant a few seeds. I take it seriously, want to do it well, and want to know more than the newsletter tells me. Here are a few things I found out:

  • In Latin woad is called Isatis tinctoria. In het Nederlands heet de plant wede, auf Deutsch Färberweid, en Français pastel des teinturier, och på Svenska vejde.
  • Tinctoria in a plant name means that the plant can be used for dyeing, as in: Indigofera tinctoria (indigo), Genista tinctoria (dyer’s broom), Cota tinctoria (yellow camomile) etcetera.
  • Woad belongs to the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, mustard, cabbages and oilseed rape.

I was going to sow the seeds directly in the garden. But the instructions say that they should be kept moist at all times, so because of the hot and dry weather, I decided to sow them in pots first.

I didn’t use special potting soil, but just dug some soil from the garden, sowed the seeds, covered them with a thin layer of soil, and carefully moistened the soil with a plant sprayer afterwards. Although I placed the pots in the shade, the hot wind had already dried out the soil several hours later. So I spray-misted them again and covered them with plastic.

Now, several days later, I’m really glad I planted the seeds in pots. If I hadn’t, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. Some other plants in the garden are already wilting in the heat.

I was sent 1.25 grams of seed and selected some of the plumpest, most promising looking ones.

Using only 3 seeds per pot, I have quite a few left. I thought of giving them to a friend, but I’m keeping them for the time being, in case the seeds don’t germinate and I need to try again. I’m hovering over them like an anxious mother hen. Am I using the right kind of soil? Are the seeds still moist? Aren’t they too wet? Are they getting enough sunlight?

I’ll keep you updated about their progress. In the meantime, here are a few links for those of you who’d like to know more.

Links:

  • A picture of Eise Eisinga’s woad-dyed wool samples with his handwritten notes can be found here.
  • An interesting short video about the wool comber/dyer and astronomer (with English subtitles) can be viewed here. It was filmed in Eise’s beautiful blue living room with his working model of the solar system on the ceiling. (Scroll down to second video. Be patient – it continues after the quote.)
  • If you’ve missed the blog post about my humble attempts at rescuing some local wool and about the Wool Rescue Handbook, you can read it here.

Incubation

On weekdays, when I come downstairs my husband is already at the table having breakfast and reading the morning paper. But one morning a few days ago, he wasn’t there. I found him on the veranda with his camera and binoculars. ‘Shhh,’ he said, ‘the blue tits are fledging.’

I grabbed my small camera, too, and together we sat watching the blue tits leave the nest box just outside our living room window (some of the pictures in this post are his). First one stuck its head out. And when it got a little bolder, its feet came out as well, grabbing the edge of the opening.

Then it decided ‘no, I’m not ready yet’ and popped back inside. They took their time fledging. While the young were plucking up courage, the parents kept plucking caterpillars from trees and bushes.

They kept feeding their young all the time.

And then, one by one, the young birds decided that the time was right. With a wriggle and a wrench they flew out.

When we had counted 7, we thought that the nest box was empty. But after a while, another little blue tit came out. The others all immediately flew up into a tree or onto the fence, but this one seemed weaker. It flew down to the rubber mat in front of the French windows.

And while it was sitting there, looking around at the big wide world, a great tit flew onto the threshold. It took one look around and then disappeared into our living room. I wonder what it thought when it came flying out a few minutes later. ‘Goodness, so much space! And what do they want with all that stuff inside their nests? Aren’t humans weird creatures?!’

After a while, the last little blue tit scurried away to find cover.

That evening we cleaned out the nest box. Unlike us, the blue tits didn’t have much stuff inside their nest – just a thick layer of moss and some feathers.

We heard that it’s a difficult year for blue tits. Because of the cold and wet spring there were not enough caterpillars when they needed them. With 8 healthy chicks, ours were lucky. Maybe the peanuts from our feeder also helped a little.

The parents will keep feeding their young until they can fend for themselves.

Now we’re waiting for the great tits. They have nests in two other nest boxes in our garden. And also for the second nest of the blackbirds in the beech hedge.

Meanwhile I am incubating a clutch of knitting ideas. It’s not a straightforward as with the blue tits’ eggs. I don’t know how long the incubation will take and exactly what I need to feed them when they hatch. What kind of TLC do they need if I want them to fledge? I can only go by what my intuition tells me.

One thing my intuition told me was, ‘Buy yarn’. I wondered at the wisdom of this advice at this early stage, but I let myself be led by it anyway and bought some yarn in blue tit blue.

And some more yarn, also in beautiful hues of blue.

Time will tell whether this was a wise thing to do. At least browsing around Wolverhalen was a very enjoyable thing to do. (You may have read about it in a previous post.)  Leafing through some pattern books and magazines…

… immersing myself in colour…

… and swooning over skeins lovingly hand dyed by Catharina.

I don’t know yet what shape my ideas will take. I’ll do what I can to make them fledge successfully and hope to show you more if and when they’re ready to fly out into the big wide world.

Until then, I’ll try to keep feeding you/myself/us all kinds of other tasty morsels. Bye for now and take care!

Feels like Spring

Hello!

Today I’m writing to you from and entirely different world compared to two weeks ago. The snow melted away in no time, and suddenly it feels like spring. The spring bulbs in our garden are bursting into flower.

It’s not just crocuses and snowdrops, but also winter aconites,

and dwarf irises, yellow and blue.

It’s so lovely to feel the warmth of the sun, hear the birds sing their hearts out, and enjoy the flowers and the buzzing of the first bees.

And yet… there is this gnawing feeling.

It shouldn’t be like this in February – it’s unseasonally warm. The highest temperatures ever measured in this month for 5 days in a row. I don’t want to be a spreader of doom and gloom, but I can’t just ignore such signs of a changing climate. I’ve heard that it affects different parts of the world differently. Here in the Netherlands the climate has changed noticeably even in my lifetime (less than sixty years!).

Seems to me that if we want to leave our children, grandchildren and their children with a liveable planet so that they, too, can enjoy the beautiful signs of spring…

… we urgently need to learn how to be good ancestors.

Speaking of ancestors, on Sunday we visited a lovely place our ancestors left us. It’s a country estate that for centuries belonged to a wealthy family and is now owned by a nature conservation organization.

The 17th century house with stepped gable, surrounded by a moat with a bridge leading to the front door, is no longer there. The only buildings left are five tenant farms. These are the stables of one of them, now converted to living space.

The estate is part woodland,

part pasture (the cows are still inside at this time of year.)

Like many other farms in our region, the farms on the estate all have their own little baking house. Can you see the small white rectangle on the wall of this baking house?

Let’s zoom in – it’s a face! A person with a high forehead, no nose to speak of, and an elegant hairdo. Is it just a decoration, a household deity, or the likeness of somebody who used to do their baking here?

Going for a walk here, is like traveling a century or so back in time.

Apart from going for short walks, enjoying the garden, worrying about the climate and the pandemic, and generally doing what I need to do, I’ve also done some knitting. My blue Panel Debate cardigan is nearly finished and I’m knitting swatches and prototypes for a pair of fingerless mitts.

The yarn I originally had in mind for them didn’t behave as I thought it would. Looking for an alternative, I found several skeins in my stash that were meant for something else, but will be just perfect for my mitts.

I want to make a single colour and a 2-colour version. It is hard to capture the colours exactly. There is an off-white undyed cream, a dusty blue and a warm cherry red. What shall I do? Cream and blue for the 2-colour version, and red for the single-colour one?

Or cream and red for the 2-colour version, and blue for the single-colour one?

What do you think?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the flowers and the walk, and would be grateful for some help with the colours. I’m in doubt. Is the blue-and-cream combo nice and subtle or too bland? Is the red-and-cream combo nice and cheerful or too Christmassy?

Thanks and take care! xxx

Saturday Knitting

Hello! This week I’m writing from a white and frosty village. We’re not entirely snowed in, but last Sunday we were treated to a beautiful thick blanket of snow, blown up into dunes here and there by strong gusts of icy wind. And because it’s stayed (far) below freezing even during the daytime, the snow is still here. A rarity nowadays and utterly lovely!

Before anything else, I need to show you this. The snow-shovel guy reversed and drove up several times specially so that I would be able to take a good picture for my blog.

Thank you Mister Snow Shoveler! Enjoy your moment of fame 😊!

It’s tempting to natter on about the snow, but I have made quite a bit of progress on the knitting front, and I’d like to talk about that, too. So let’s do that first, and have a few more snow pictures afterwards.

Recently, I wrote a very long post about my possible need for a little more focus. I don’t know if you’ve been able to plough through it all, but one of the insights I gained from a book I read on the topic was: ‘Different (knitting) tasks use different parts of the brain’. I realized that for certain aspects of my knitting projects, I needed to find moments during the week when the active thinking part of my brain would be fresh.

Saturday seemed like a good time, especially Saturday mornings. So I thought about what I would like to accomplish and noted it in my planner. The first thing I wanted to focus on was the sleeve cap of my Panel Debate cardigan. A puzzle because I’d enlarged the armhole and could no longer follow the pattern – how could I make a sleeve cap that would fit into the armhole and around my shoulder?

Spending several hours tinkering with it with a well-rested brain really worked.

I finished the sleeve cap. And using the parts of my brain that do the more automatic tasks, I was able to almost finish the rest of the sleeve in the evenings. Yes, progress!

The next task I wanted to tackle was finishing one of my UFOs (UnFinished knitting Objects that have been lying around for a long time). I chose a scarf and wrote that down in my planner for the next Saturday.

All I needed to do was weave in the ends and give it a Spa Treatment. Here it is, doing a stretching exercise after its bubble bath.

As always, the transformation was magical – the lacey holes opened up nicely, and the rest of the knitted fabric did too.

Before blocking
After blocking

This is what the scarf looks like when ‘worn’.

It is the Polka Dot Scarf by the Churchmouse design team. The pattern describes two sizes and I made the larger one. The yarn I used is Debbie Bliss ‘Rialto lace’, a very soft merino.

For a long time I disliked polka dots. I think it was because of that horrible sixties song about the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Do you know it? But these subtle ‘dots’ made me overcome that.

Looking around for matching things for pictures of the scarf, I discovered that I actually have several other items with polka and other dots.

All in all this has become a generous airy shawl that will make a lovely gift for someone. Happy with it.

I’m also happy with my new Saturday knitting plan. Being able to make considerable progress with such a small adjustment to my life, has really given me a positive boost. In addition to these two projects, I have even made some progress on a new design of my own.

Until now, this winter I have felt sort of lost on Saturdays, with nowhere to go and no one to visit. This focused Saturday knitting has also solved that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up once we get back to a more ‘normal’ life and the gardening season starts again. But I won’t look too far ahead.

For the time being the garden doesn’t need anything doing to it. All I need to do at the moment is admire the hyacinths I planted in pots in November…

… enjoy looking at snow-covered shapes, like the dead flower heads of the Marjoram…

… and feed and talk to the birds.

I hope you’re all snug and safe, wherever you are. Bye for now, and ‘see’ you again soon!

A Cup of Tea in the Garden

Hello!

First of all, thank you for all your kind comments about my new pattern, here and on Ravelry. Thús has already been downloaded many, many times. It’s been rather overwhelming, but very nice too. Maybe you’ve already noticed – there is a new button in the black bar ↑↑↑at the top↑↑↑ saying ‘Patterns’. If you click on that, you are taken to a page where you can always find ‘all’ of my patterns. There are not all that many yet, but I hope to add a few more over time.

But let’s not keep standing here in the driveway. Please come through into the garden! There’s a chair waiting for you in the shade of the old pear tree. Placed at a safe distance from mine, of course. I have a day off today, so there’s all the time in the world to catch up.

Please make yourself some tea. There’s hot water in the thermos and a selection of tea bags in the bowl with the blue decorations. The Dutch Blend is really good. Or you can pick some fresh Moroccan mint, if you like.

Looking up, you can see that there are already lots of small pears on the tree. It wouldn’t be safe to sit here later in the year. You’d need a helmet with pears falling from the tree left and right. But right now it’s the best spot.

And look, there is one of ‘our’ young great spotted woodpeckers. Several of them and their parents are in and out of the garden all of the time. Only the youngsters have red caps. Their nest was probably in a tall tree in the nearby wood.

This particular youngster is slightly clumsy. It has difficulty climbing up the stem of the apple tree, and last week it dropped down – thud – right in front of me into the long grass, squawking, squawking for its parents.

It will have to learn how to climb up, because it’s what woodpeckers do, and also because that’s where the food is. Here’s another youngster with dad. First they sit looking at the feeder filled with peanuts together…

… then dad gets a piece of peanut with his son or daughter looking on…

… and feeds it to his offspring (we know it’s dad, because unlike mum he has a red spot at the back of his neck).

I often sit here watching them. And knitting.

I’ve just finished a pair of socks, knit from the toe up to the cuff. There’s enough yarn left for another pair with the colours reversed. I’m knitting those from the cuff down to the toe. I’ll tell you more about them when the other pair is finished.

If the socks look slightly on the big side, that is because they are. I made them for someone with bigger feet than mine.

I’ve also been thinking about the pink striped cardi I wrote about two weeks ago. My friend Marieke suggested hanging it up with some weights on it to see whether it would sag. That was a great idea and I used clothes pegs as weights. Not only did it show that it didn’t sag, it also gave me the opportunity to look at it from a distance.

It’s fine. There is nothing wrong with it at all. It’s just that I’m not crazy about the stripes and can’t see myself wearing it. So, rrrrrrrip! There it goes! I’ll put the yarn away for a while and think of something else to make with it.

But here I am, wittering on about my knitting. How about you? How are you doing? I hope you and yours are well. Does your government still tell you to stay home? Or can you go out and about a bit more now? Do you have some nice knitting on your needles? Or do you prefer crochet, or embroidery? Or a good book?

Oh, how time flies. It’s been lovely to have your company here. Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you again soon!

A New Visitor to our Garden

It was on a Saturday morning while I was vacuuming the living room that I saw him, the main character of this story – a sparrowhawk. He (we think it’s a young male) was sitting on the fence close to the house. I’d seen him several times before recently, but always in a flash.

This morning, he gave me all the time in the world to get my camera and take pictures. Many pictures. Before I show you some of them, here’s the ‘scene of the crime’:

Looking through our living room window you can see an evergreen shrub, behind the hyacinths. It plays an important part in this story. To the left of it there’s a rain meter, to the left of that a tepee filled with sunflower seeds, and further to the left (not on the photo) there’s a bird table.

That’s where it all happened.

And here are some of the other characters in the story – a large and noisy family of house sparrows:

The sparrows love the sunflower seeds in the tepee, the seeds and grains we put out on the bird table and the peanuts in another feeder. They have lived in our garden for years, but it is only now that the sparrowhawk seems to have discovered them.

A sparrowhawk isn’t called sparrowhawk for nothing. It doesn’t care for sunflower seeds or grains. And peanuts? Blech! Their favourite food is… sparrow!

As soon as the sparrowhawk flies over the garden, the sparrows and other garden birds are gone. They hide in the beech hedge or in the evergreen shrub in front of the living room window. The garden seems deserted.

For the sparrowhawk, it takes a while to sink in. Where are they? Normally there are lots of sparrows on this bird feeder:

He looks down. No, no sparrow in sight.

Then he seems to hear something in the evergreen shrub. Aha, there they are. He looks at it from the rain meter. No, he can’t get at them from there.

Then he tries a different approach. Sitting on the grass he looks up. Hmmmm…

He walks around the shrub and looks and looks. But there’s no way he can get at the sparrows.

Finally he perches on top of the shrub, waiting patiently for the sparrows to come out of their hiding place.

Beautiful bird, isn’t he?

The sparrows wisely stay where they are. But suddenly, whoosh, the sparrow hawk grabs another hapless little bird from the honeysuckle against the fence. It went so fast that I could hardly see it, let alone photograph it.

Wow, what an amazing bird.

Apart from the birds, there isn’t much to see in the garden at this time of the year. The only other thing that catches the eye is the witch hazel we planted last autumn.

I’m very grateful for its cheerful yellow flowers.

Everything else is brown and grey, with a little bit of green here and there. If I want more colour, I have to look for it elsewhere. Fortunately there’s always yarn! (More about what I did with it soon.) 

I can only show you static photos of the sparrowhawk here, but there’s an amazing 3-minute BBC video of a sparrowhawk if you’d like to see it in flight.

Soup and Socks

Over the years, our front garden has become a bit of a mess. Some conifers and shrubs that started out as cute little things, have become unwieldy monsters. We could live with that. In a busy life, the garden doesn’t always get top priority, and it’s impossible to have everything perfect all the time. But now that several trees and some plants have died after two very hot and dry summers, it’s high time to take action.

So we’ve taken this week off for a big overhaul. Fortunately we have some help with the planning and the heavy lifting.

(This may make it look as if we have a huge estate. We don’t, but this is the only way to dig out the tree stumps.)

Because the garden work comes first this week, I’m keeping everything else as simple as possible, including our meals. Soup is ideal for weeks like these. One of my all-time favourites is mushroom soup, and I’ll share my recipe with you here.

I could have used these shaggy inkcaps, but left them in place.

Although I know these are edible, I don’t feel very comfortable eating wild mushrooms. So I bought a mixture of mushrooms from the supermarket instead. If you can’t get a variety, any old mushrooms will do. White button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, flat caps, whatever is available is fine.

Simple Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 250 g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 750 ml water
  • 250 ml cream

Method

  • Sauté the onion in the oil or butter over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the curry powder and sauté for about 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance.
  • Pour in the water, add the stock cubes and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and leave to simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Add the cream and heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with some bread and a salad for a complete main course.

Enjoy!

Taking these pictures has taught me that food photography is not as easy as it looks. When I take pictures of things I’ve knit and am not happy with the result, I can always do them again. But with food, well, if you’re not happy with the photos, you don’t get another try because the food is gone.

With the photo above, I wanted to show that the soup is steaming hot, but it just looks hazy. And the mushrooms have all sunk to the bottom of the pan. I can only hope that it still looks tasty enough anyway.

One of my husband’s hobbies is baking bread, and he baked these beauties. We ate some straightaway and put the rest in the freezer.

What with all the physical work and fresh air, I’m rather drowsy in the evenings. All I have energy for is writing a blog post, bit by bit, and some simple knitting. For me, socks are the ultimate simple knits.

I’ve just started some from a yarn that will make an identical pair. This kind of yarn is sold under names like ‘pairfect’, ‘perfect pair’, or something with ‘twin’ in the name. Some of these yarns work with a starter thread.

In this case, the neon green thread in the photo below is the starter thread. This is pulled from the centre of the ball until you get to the first bit of yarn in a ‘normal’ colour. Cast on the required number of stitches, then knit, knit, knit stripes until you come to a solid bit. Then start the heel (heel and foot are knit in solid blue in this case), and when you get to the toe, stripes appear from the inside of the ball again like magic.

For the second sock, pull the yarn from the inside of the ball again until you come to the end of the next starter thread and start knitting again. It’s really clever how this yarn has been dyed.

I’ve knit many, many pairs of socks over the years. I always have a sock on the needles. Sometimes a pair is finished in a week, sometimes it takes a lot longer. It depends on how much time I have, and what other knitting projects I’m working on, but there’s no hurry.

I like wearing them myself, but also give many away. They make welcome gifts. Sometimes I choose yarn specifically for a certain person. But often, I just choose yarns and colours that I like, and when the socks are finished, I look at them and ask them, ‘Now who would like to wear you, do you think?’