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!

Kalm an, hè?

Hello again everybody from near or far,

For the first 40 years of my life, I lived in Friesland (except for the few years I was at uni). Then, 18 years ago, we ‘emigrated’ to a place 5 kilometres across the Frisian border. No distance at all, but still a different region, with a different landscape (so many trees!), a different building style…

… a slightly different culture and a different language.

In Friesland, people say Oant sjen (See you) when parting. Or simply Hoi! (meaning both Hi and Bye). Over here, people say Kalm an, hè? (Take it easy, won’t you?). I love the expression. It sounds so friendly, laid-back and caring – just the way many people around here are.

From the start of the lockdown, I’ve been/felt busy, busy, busy. That’s the effect this strange and unsettling time seems to have on me. Being busy is fine. Useful even. But feeling busy all the time? Not so much.

I was going to write an update about my knitting this week (my needles, too, have been busy), but couldn’t find the words. So, high time for some kalm-an-time.

Time to watch the house sparrows bathing…

Time to admire the flowers in the fields…

Time to leaf through some old scrapbooks…

Time to play with some embroidery floss…

Next week, I hope to be back here with that knitting update. If I’m not, I just need a little more time to listen to the grass growing.

I know that some of you are now recovering from Covid-19. The best thing I can think of to say to you and everybody else reading this is, Kalm an, hè?

Heart-Lifting Spring Things

Good morning!

How are things going in your part of the world? I feel torn in two directions. On the one hand, my heart is heavy with all the bad news from around the world and closer to home, but on the other, it is still spring. And what a glorious spring!

I think there’s enough bad news already, so here are a few heart-lifting spring things from my home turf. Let’s start indoors. Every spring from around Easter I grow garden cress on our windowsill.

I love it sprinkled over cottage cheese on Swedish knäckebröd.

This time my knitting is in sync with the seasons. I found six balls of alpaca yarn in a lovely blossom pink shade in my stash, bought in Norway years ago. They are going to be knit into a Lace Sampler Scarf. Here’s my swatch.

In our back garden, the pear tree has shed its blossoms in a snow of white petals. Now it’s the apple tree’s turn to shine.

There’s lovely quick and simple apple blossom embroidery project in the May issue of Country Living (British edition). It has some other nice ideas for things to make as well.

The pink knitting on the right is for a new design I’m working on. This is just a first try – it may take a while for the pattern to materialize.

Leaving the house through the front door, the first spring things to catch the eye are a pot and a basket filled with ‘wild’ strawberries, dug out from an overgrown patch in the garden.

Normally I’d plant them with pelargoniums. Every spring members of our local brassband go from door to door selling them to raise money for new instruments and uniforms, but not this year. It’s one of the many things that are different this spring. The brassband will have to make do with their present kit a little longer.

Turning left and walking almost to the end of the street, we come to an old, old Japanese cherry tree in full bloom.

The sky is incredibly clear and blue now that there are no planes creating a haze. Our solar panels have never produced so much energy in the eight years since we installed them.

Strolling along the street in the other direction, we come to our farmer neighbours’ cows. They are out again after having been are kept indoors all winter.

I would have loved to go a little further afield to visit a flock of sheep, pet the newborn lambs, chat with one of the shepherds and take some photographs, but unfortunately that’s impossible this year.

I did talk (on the phone) with one of the volunteers of the Rhedense schaapskudde, though. It’s a flock of Veluwe Heath Sheep, a rare breed breed much bigger than the Drenthe Heath Sheep I wrote about here and here.

The volunteer told me that their lambs are growing fast and the adult sheep will be shorn soon. (Their wool can be spun, but is too rough to be used for clothing.) Their four bottle-fed lambs have become a close gang and tend to wander off together when the flock is out grazing the heathland.

This is a difficult period for the flock, as they largely depend on the revenue from their annual Lambing Day and the adoption of lambs by visitors, but they are moving with the times and people can now adopt a lamb online. It’s not as nice as choosing and petting one’s ‘own’ lamb in person, but it’s a good alternative. Although this year’s Lambing Day is cancelled, we can still visit virtually through this video from a couple of years back. Enjoy!

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A Stroll through our Village

Hello again! Today, I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you while strolling through our village. It isn’t a particularly picturesque village, but I love it because it’s home.

Although the village is already mentioned in 14th century documents, there is little left that reminds us of the distant past. Most of the houses (some more attractive than others) date from the middle of the 20th century, and there’s also a brand new, recently finished housing estate.

But there are several beautiful old reed-roofed houses left, like the one at the top. And here’s the corner of the roof of another one:

I’d like to translate the lovely scallops into the edging for a knitted shawl someday. My mind is always overflowing with ideas. Right now some of the ideas are crowded out by worries, however.

It’s the end of the third week of our ‘intelligent lockdown’, as our Prime Minister calls it. All events, big and small, have been cancelled until June. Schools, restaurants and cafés, theatres, libraries and other public places will remain closed until at least the end of April. People work from home and stay at home as much as they can. Everything to keep this dratted virus from spreading too fast.

We can still go out for our necessary shopping and also for a walk or a bicycle ride, as long as we keep a safe distance. I’m incredibly grateful for that, as for many other things.

Strolling through the village, I’m grateful for spring, with its birdsong and its flowers. For a garden filled with grape hyacinths…

… for flowering magnolia trees…

… for the sunlight reflecting off the bell of a cheerful children’s bike…

… and for the tiny pavement garden that gives passers-by something different to enjoy every month of the year. This month’s treat is scillas and lesser celandine:

I’m grateful for so much. And I’m worried. Although I have the occasional what-if thought, I’m not so much worried for myself and my family. We’re okay, and we’ll manage.

I am worried for the vulnerable people in our society and in the world at large. For the elderly, for those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, for children in unsafe homes, for people losing their jobs, for people making overtime in hospitals, for people unable to stay at home simply because they have no home.

I know that worrying won’t help, but what can I DO?

Strolling along, I see positive signs of other people wanting to do something. Someone placed this chalkboard along the pavement:

It says, ‘Make room for trust, understanding, wonder, wisdom’.

And I don’t know who it was, but someone somewhere in the world had the idea for a Bear Hunt, meant for small children and their parents, but also very nice for grown-ups. More and more bears are appearing in our village, too. One family crammed their windowsill full of them, and placed two more on their garden table:

Such a simple and sweet gesture. Whoever it was who came up with this idea, I’m grateful to them for thinking of it. It reminds me that small and simple gestures can help. In this spirit, I made a short list of small things I can do:

  • Make phone calls to everybody I can think of who may appreciate some company, even if it is from a distance.
  • Listen to people without trying to push or pull them in any direction.
  • Send someone an uplifting postcard.
  • Donate to organisations supporting people I’m worried about.
  • Chat with neighbours (from a safe distance) and ask if they’re okay.
  • Keep blogging.
  • Keep practising social distancing.
  • Try to stay as nice as I can to the guy I’m staying at home with (not hard at all, because he is a VERY nice guy).
  • Knit something for someone.

Any ideas for things to add to this list are welcome!

Taking action, no matter how small, is what works for me. I realize that not everybody is the same. I hope that you can find things that work for you. If nothing seems to work, please talk about it to someone you trust.

Thank you for strolling along with me and listening to my thoughts and worries. I hope you are still all right. Here’s a big smile for you from our upstairs window.

Shades of Green

A while ago, I decided to mend my ways and finish things immediately after the actual knitting, instead of leaving them lying around half-finished. With my green mohair and silk scarf that was easy. I only needed to darn in two tails (at the beginning and end of the scarf, because I’d knit in the others at the colour changes), give it a soak and allow it to dry.

The pattern told me to roll up the scarf in dry towels, after soaking it, and gently squeeze out the moisture. That’s the advice that’s generally given for delicate yarns, to prevent them from breaking. But I just put my scarf in the spin dryer. (No! Really? Shock! Horror!). Yes, really! I know from experience that this yarn doesn’t come to any harm, as long as it stays in for just a short time. (I have a separate spin dryer, and haven’t tried the spin cycle of the washing machine, though.)  The yarn is thin, but it is stronger than it looks, especially when two strands are knit together.

After spin drying, I just spread it out to dry on the floor at first. But on second thoughts I decided to block it on my foam mats, with blocking wires along the insides of the border. And I must say, that was worth the effort. It dried up nice and straight along the sides, and the fabric became loftier and more even than it would otherwise have been. It ended up really, really soft and fluffy, as you can see:

The pattern I used is the Color Play Mohair Scarf by Churchmouse, a yarn and tea shop on Bainbridge Island on the west coast of the US, near Seattle. I love their simple and stylish patterns. The CPMS is very easy to knit. Basically it is nothing but a stocking stitch rectangle with a seed stitch border. I could have knit it without a pattern, but I bought the pattern anyway. Why?

Because the pattern tells me exactly how much yarn I need (for this scarf as well as for a bigger wrap version), which needles to use, how many stitches to cast on, and when to switch colours. It is nice when somebody else does the thinking for me now and then. Besides, it has gorgeous colour photos and useful tips.

The scarf is knit in four shades of green, with two strands of yarn held together. This gives such a lovely effect:

Several years ago, I knit the same scarf in a red/orange/pink colour combo, and it’s still one of my favourites. If I had a limitless yarn budget, I’d knit ten of these, all in different colours.

The only thing is, I’ll have to wait for a few months before I can wear it, because it’s much too warm now. I often seem to finish things in the wrong season. At least, the wrong season from a temperature point of view. Colourwise it is exactly the right season!

The month of May has been like an explosion of green. Part of our local wood has a green (and white) carpet of Lily of the Valley.

I knelt down to take some photographs from closer up. And to breathe in the heavenly scent of the flowers, of course.

During the past few months, the CPMS was my take-along project. It accompanied me on visits to friends and relatives. And also on an outing to Münster, Germany, where we spent a rainy morning at the Botanical Gardens. Speaking of green…

We didn’t really mind the rain. It made everything smell nice and fresh. And look how beautiful the raindrops gathered on the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle (this is a small alpine variety):

The Botanical Gardens had a big pond, with a weeping willow with bright green young leaves in the centre. It looked more like a lawn than a pond, though, with its surface covered entirely by duckweed.

A Mallard and several ducklings were swimming around in it. The beak of the little duckling in the picture is covered in duckweed, which made me wonder if they actually eat it. I looked it up and – yes, in addition to insect larvae, snails and so on, they also eat duckweed.

(Looking this up, I also found out that scientists are investigating duckweed as a possible food source for us, humans. And why not? I can see duckweed soup, duckweed smoothies and duckweed pesto in my future.)

And then suddenly, in between all that green, a spot of red! A squirrel with a bushy tail, nibbling a nut.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my shades of green. Many of us in the Netherlands have a long weekend ahead of us. I’m going to immerse myself in as much green as I can and I hope you have the opportunity to do so, too. Have a great time!

May Miscellany

In May…

…all birds their eggs do lay, or so an old Dutch saying goes. But that’s not the only nice thing about the month of May. It’s also the month the vendors at our nearest Farmer’s Market put up their stalls again after their winter break. Visiting this market is a real treat.

The singer who is always there with her guitar, welcomes us with Dolly Parton’s ‘Play a song for me, Apple Jack, Apple Jack’, and other old favourites. The music creates a great atmosphere around the twenty or so stalls.

We always buy a punnet of strawberries. These are so much tastier than the ones from the supermarket. And sometimes we buy some delicious handmade goat’s cheese, too.

New to the market this year is a lady with felt objects, like hats and scarves, as well as handspun yarns. I wouldn’t immediately know what to do with her riotously colourful skeins, as I usually choose quieter yarns (maybe combine them with a matching solid colour?), but they’re a joy to look at.

I love chatting with other crafters about the things they make, about what moves and inspires them, the techniques they use, and so on. So I asked the new lady about the ‘fleece’ hanging at the back of her stall. I’ve seen fleeces like this before, felted onto a woollen background, but always made from the wool of just one sheep.

This crafter, however, combined wool from different sheep breeds to create the fleece in the photo below. She mentioned at least six breeds. (But I don’t remember a single one. Sorry, my brain was also having some time off.) It shows beautifully how greatly sheep’s wool can vary.

Apart from the colours, ranging from white through grey and russet to almost black, the structure of the wool varies too. There are some long straight locks, some fluffy, wavy bits of wool, and some very tight curls.

Birds

Now on to those birds laying their eggs in May. Our nest boxes are often used by blue and great tits (picture below), but I’m not sure who is using which nest box this year. We don’t want to disturb the birds, so we don’t open the boxes to look what’s inside. I’ll just have to spend more time in the garden watching flight movements.

In our beech hedge there’s a blackbird’s nest – or perhaps even two. And just above our bedroom window there are two house martin’s nests. These were first occupied by squatters – two families of cheeky sparrows, whose chicks have already fledged. I’ve seen the parents feeding small pieces of peanut from our feeder to their young.

After the sparrow chicks fledged, the house martins returned from the south. They set about cleaning out and repairing their nests straightaway. I can’t look inside to see whether there are any eggs in them, but I’m pretty sure both nests are back in use.

And the winner is…

I started the month of May with a blog post about a gift of yarn from a friend. In it, I asked for your help in choosing between two patterns I had in mind, called ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’. I have now counted the votes, and Stay Soft came out on top. It got an overwhelming majority of the votes: 70% for Stay Soft against 30% for Stripe Study.

Now you may think, ‘Huh, but there was only one person who left a comment, voting for Stay Soft! How did you arrive at these percentages?’ Well, many people seem to be hesitant about leaving a comment on a blog. I quite understand. I often read blogs without commenting, too. That’s absolutely fine. What I got instead were phone calls, emails and face-to-face reactions.

So, Stay Soft it is going to be. I’ve already made a start.

A funny thing that struck me, was that most knitters voted for Stay Soft, while most non-knitters voted for Stripe Study. Why would that be? We talked about this in the knitting group I belong to, and one of the members said: ‘It looks like non-knitters focus more on the end product, and knitters more on the knitting process.’ Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Thank you to all of you who helped me decide.

April Allsorts

It almost hurts the eyes, doesn’t it? That blue, blue sky with those bright white flowers of the June berry. I was taking a spin on my bicycle when I took this photograph. Something was bothering me, and I thought a bit of exercise and fresh air might help clear my mind. The air was certainly fresh, not to say icy. I was glad I was wearing my woollen gloves. But what a glorious afternoon!

There were lots of lambs in the fields:

You’d expect the air to be filled with the sound of bleating, but it wasn’t. The sheep and their lambs were quietly dozing or grazing – or following their grazing mums around – and watching each other.

We all know that ewes and their lambs can recognize each other’s voices. But we don’t know (or at least I don’t) if they have other ways of communicating. One ewe and her lamb, lying with their heads close together, made me wonder about that. Do they communicate with other sounds besides bleating? They don’t seem to have many different facial expressions. But what about eye contact? Or perhaps they communicate in ways that we humans have no idea of.

What a wonderful bicycle ride! It was no more than 45 minutes, but I’d seen so many lovely things. And although I hadn’t consciously been trying to solve the problem bothering me, just cycling along had solved it for me – I knew what I had to do when I got home.

Apart from some cold and bright days like these, April has given us all sorts of weather. We even had an afternoon of snow and hailstorms! I don’t know if you can see it on your screen, but the leaves of these dwarf lilies in our garden are filled with hailstones.

Last Sunday, the day after these wintry showers, was a little more spring-like. Not as warm yet as it is now, but really nice weather for a woodland stroll.

I was wearing my new socks. Maybe you remember them from a previous post – the ones with the wide stripes:

I tried to get the stripes matching on both socks. I’ve tried to do that before, with varying success. In theory, it should work if you find a clear place in the stripe pattern, note down where you are starting on the first sock, and start at the same place in the stripe sequence on the second sock.

The emphasis here lies on ‘in theory’, because sometimes there is a knot in the yarn (*#@!), or the stripe pattern suddenly skips a section for no clear reason (*#@!!!). This time it worked, though:

I give lots of socks away, being fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who want to wear them. But I’m keeping these.

The yarn I used is Regia 4-ply in a colourway called ‘Nissedal’. This stripe pattern was designed by Arne and Carlos, the sympathetic Norwegian guys (or is one of them Swedish?) who gained world fame with their knitted julekuler (Christmas baubles). They’ve designed lots of other knits since then and have a YouTube channel with some 60.000 subscribers. I must admit that I’ve never watched any of their videos myself, but that’s not Arne and Carlos’ fault. It’s just that I’m not much of a video watcher in general.

One of their latest ventures is a collection of cushion patterns for yarn brand Rowan, which is presented in Rowan’s latest Spring/Summer Magazine (number 65):

Some cushions have geometrical designs, others have intarsia flower patterns, and all of them have ‘Scandinavian knitting design’ printed all over, don’t you think?

Word of Warning: Don’t buy this magazine just for the cushions, because the patterns are not included. I don’t regret buying it, as it is filled with lovely spring and summer knits, including four designs for garments and accessories by Arne and Carlos. Everything is beautifully photographed, the patterns for all the other items are included, and I love leafing through it for inspiration. But the cushion patterns need to be bought and downloaded separately from the Rowan website.

I’ve almost come to the end of what I wanted to show and tell you today. There’s just one more thing. I’ve finished knitting Granite, the cardigan for our daughter. I struggled with the right way to measure the stretchy knitted fabric, and was worried that I’d get it wrong. So I didn’t sew the pieces together yet, but just pinned them.

During our visit on Sunday she tried it on and…

… it fits! Yay! Can you see the pins sticking out at the armhole? Now there’s just the ends to weave in, the seams to join and the buttons to sew on.

Well, that’s all for now. I wish you a lovely weekend. And if the weather is as spring-like in your part of the world as it is here, I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

The Shepherds of Balloo

On Sunday morning we decided on a whim to pay the shepherds of Balloo a visit. It was a lovely day for a walk and I hoped we would see some newborn lambs.

When we arrived, the doors of the sheep fold were open. We could see that it was empty and the sheep were out, which was only to be expected in the middle of the day.

In 2011, the old fold was destroyed by a terrible fire. Fortunately, enough money could be raised to rebuild, and there is a new, very light and airy fold now.

Looking inside we could see the fresh, golden straw on the floor and the wooden feeders filled with hay. In cold and wet weather the ‘windows’ can be closed with a kind of roller blinds.

The area where these sheep roam is not very big, so we should be able to find them. The wind was a bit nippy, but otherwise it was a lovely dry and bright day. The start of our walk took us along a cycle track:

Very soon we turned right, onto a sandy path and the heath. Although spring has arrived in our garden, the landscape here still looked bare and wintry.

I haven’t discovered how to share the sounds and smells of our walks with you here other than catching them in words, so that’s what I’ll try to do. Well, I don’t know about the smells, but for a soundtrack to this walk think of the soughing of the wind and the song of skylarks, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Nothing else. No cars, no planes, no traffic noise at all.

We didn’t have to walk very far before we spotted the flock of sheep in the distance:

Walking on, we lost sight of them for a while. Why? Well, in my pictures the landscape looks flat, while it is in fact slightly undulating. But soon enough, climbing a hillock, we suddenly saw them again. And sitting in a sheltered spot, leaning against his rucksack, was one of the two shepherds who own this flock, keeping an eye on his sheep.

And he was not alone. His two sheep dogs were with him. One of them is a border collie, like many other shepherds in this area have. And the other one is an Australian Kelpie. Meet Woods:

Oh, what a lazy dog! Just lying around enjoying the sunshine instead of minding the flock. Or is he? Look at his ears – they are not resting at all, but on the alert all the time. And as soon as they register something he sits up:

The shepherd told us that Woods is a dog with a natural instinct for herding. A really reliable dog. ‘If we get back to the fold at the end of an afternoon and Woods keeps looking back, you can bet your boots that there’s a stray lamb left behind,’ he said.

Talking about lambs – where are they? Well, as it turns out we were a bit early in the year. There were only six lambs as yet. They were hidden among the adult sheep, but I was able to take a snapshot of two of them. Can you see them?

These sheep are again of the Drenthe Heath sheep breed, about which I wrote in A Chat with a Shepherd. And here, too, their main job is nature conservation.

The shepherds of Balloo have the biggest flock in this part of the country, with over 400 sheep before the lambing season. As is usual for Drenthe Heath sheep, their colours range from (almost) white to black, with other colour variations in between.

What interests me, of course, is what happens with the wool. In the Middle Ages wool was an economic factor to be reckoned with, and the wool trade brought great riches to parts of Europe. But we live in different times.

At my knitting group, last week, I was shocked to hear that another shepherd with Drenthe Heath sheep receives literally nothing at all for his fleeces! His fleeces are shipped to China, as some kind of waste product, to be used in the carpeting industry.

At Balloo things are looking better, I’m glad to say. Along one wall of the fold I saw stacks and stacks of plastic bags filled with fleeces.

Fleeces in all of the colours Drenthe Heath sheep come in are offered for sale. Each bag has a label describing the specific properties of that particular fleece. I read things like: ‘Ideal for felting’, ‘Good quality for spinning’, ‘Fleece with especially long locks’, etcetera.

An entire fleece would be  too much for me, at the moment, but fortunately I was able to buy a smaller quantity of wool. I am looking forward to trying out how it feels in my hands and how it spins up. I need to finish spinning and plying some other wool on my bobbins first, but when I have something to show, I’ll definitely let you know.

More information

There are two websites dedicated to the Balloo sheep. I don’t quite understand why. One seems to be the shepherds’ own website, and has information about the flock and the wool studio (more about that some other time). The other website provides similar information about the flock, as well as a description of the landscape.