Sunday, 30 March 2008

Wonderful Wales

In my defence I have been away on holiday, though not for quite the whole time since my last post!! We rented a wonderful remote farmhouse in Wales where we basked in the peace and quiet (in between blasts of cbeebies from the satellite TV!), walked (yes- even in the biting cold that was the weather this Easter!), read and knitted (well - I knitted, Dave made paper models with the boys).

The farmhouse was idyllic - it was derelict until the very recent renovation (we are the second tenants the owners have had!) which was commissioned by the estate owner who deals in oak. So there were lots of replacement oak beams, oak internal walls and floors (apart from the slate slabs in the kitchen), and even oak toilet cisterns! The estate has a water turbine so we had an electric aga for heating and cooking, as well as the stove in the lounge which we kept feeding with bits of the old beams!

Sadly I have no photos of my own to share - our camera has become so temperamental it will only take a couple of pictures in between battery changes. Dave is looking for a new one for us. I can however post some pinched photos and links. This is the valley (the 'Tanat' valley) where we stayed - the farmhouse was right at the head, not far from the waterfall you can just see in this picture:

First off we visited a sculpture park and nature reserve at Lake Vyrnwy, where Dave bought me some binoculars to be my birthday present (a few days away now). We spotted siskins and coaltits among the many bluetits and chaffinches feeding near the hide we visited.

Next we visited the Centre for Alternative Technology which has changed a fair bit in the 8 years since last time we were there. Lots more displays, especially about recycling, and even more stuff about alternative ways to create electricity. They've installed a biomass boiler. Dave was disappointed not to see stuff about 'digesters', and I was disappointed by the poor state of the planting areas. Our last visit to CAT was a major inspiration in our own gardening, recycling, and energy-saving efforts. Nevertheless the boys loved the interactive displays. And after our experience at the farmhouse I've got even more enthusiastic about finding a property for our future rural eco-home (our dream) where we could operate a water turbine.

In the lounge of our farmhouse there was a big metal plaque behind the stove with a hare, some oak leaves, and the name 'Melangell' cast into it. We found out when we visited the little church in the valley that Melangell was a 7th century saint in the valley who saved a hare from being killed by the local prince's hounds (it hid under her robes while she was praying). The prince was so impressed by her holiness that he gave her the valley for her own and she founded a religious community there (now gone, all but the church which still has an ancient Romanesque shrine to her - the only remaining Romanesque Christian shrine in the UK apparently). Here's a picture of the shrine and an icon of St. Melangell for you:

The major treats of the holiday for the boys were our visits to King Arthur's Labyrinth (truly wonderful experience) and our ride on the Bala lakeside steam railway. I think my personal favourite was our walk to the waterfall near the farmhouse. The weather was sunny that day, the boys were so much fun to be with on the walk, and the location was like the best lake district fells without any other walkers at all (which never happens in the Lake District, and especially not during the Easter break!).

Monday, 10 March 2008

My swap package

Oh dear - I have rather neglected this bog the last couple of weeks haven't I? Let's hope a load of pictures will make up for it!

My sock kit swap partner has now recieved her packages (two in the event, to avoid £10 extra if it was all in one box!) Sadly the rhubarb and ginger jam and pumpkin pickle I made for her didn't make it in one piece - the jars broke on the journey. I may send her replacements. She was very pleased with the rest of the stuff, and as she has now got it I can, at last, post pictures here of the things I've been busy with since Christmas for the swap.

The rules were quite prescriptive regarding the main contents of the kit: sock yarn and a handmade bag in the partner's house colours, stitchmarkers, sock needles, and a sock pattern. Other extras were, of course, permitted.

Putting it all together has been quite a journey of creativity for me. It started with the bag, for which I had chosen a pattern (free from a link in Ravelry) even before I knew what house my partner belonged to. I also ordered fabric for lining the bag before partners were announced, as I thought it would work for all houses. After the e-mail arrived with my partner's details (a Slytherin) I hotffooted over to Texere and bought green cotton yarn, and some silver, glittery yarn for the bag. Using my newly acquired i-cord skills, a witches hat button from an e-bay purchase, and my new harmony circulars (:D), I created this:

I had to adapt the pattern somewhat for a different yarn weight to that specified + I used a full cable technique at the corners instead of the narrower crossed-stitch element in the original pattern. The metal eyelets were also my idea - I thought they would balance the silver elements in my version of the bag.

In the same trip to Texere that procured the bag yarns, I also purchased some undyed silk yarn, because the e-mail with my partner's details communicated the then devastating news that she is allergic to wool. Devastating because I had already bookmarked wool sock yarns in all the house colours at my favourite online supply shops. The best-laid plans of mice and men... and all that! So I had me a little adventure in dying yarn. The green I got with little trouble, handpainting the skein with a mixture of greens I created using the acid dye kit I bought at the Harrogate show last autumn. I named it 'Salazar' as that is the first name of the fictional founder of the house of Slytherin at Hogwarts. 'Silver' proved much more difficult though - none of my greys seemed to work with the green I'd created. I remembered reading about angelina in Spin-off and did a little research about it before buying some and carding it with silk to spin some yarn which I then dyed a greeny black and named 'Darke Sylver'. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you'll see the sparkle:

The stitchmarkers were lots of fun - an enquiry on Ravelry gleaned several links to tutorials for making them, which I did using beads from texere and other bits and pieces from ebay. I presented them on a card decorated with the Slytherin crest, and packaged them in a little green organza bag. For the pattern I printed a copy of Durmstrang socks and presented it in a folder I embossed with my partner's name and decorated with the Slytherin crest. Needles I got from Get knitted - Knitpicks Harmony of course (I am in love with them after all!!), and made a case to present them in, again embossed with my partner's name and decorated with the Slytherin crest. I also included a book of sock patterns I got at a reasonable price from Amazon. It has some cute patterns for childrens' socks I think will prove useful as my partner has a 3-year-old little boy.

And that just leaves goodies. What does someone in the UK, a desert when it comes to proprietary Potter sweets, do for goodies in a Potter-themed swap? Make it up! I exploited the fact that the books were written in the UK by a British writer and include lots of references to British goodies to create my own brands! Spotted Dick appears in the books, so I relabelled a Heinz tin of itand added some custard to serve it with. They purportedly come from the 'Hogwarts Kitchens'! I very cheaply bought sherbet lemons, mint humbugs and treacle toffee (all mentioned in the books) from local supermarkets, and repackaged them also as 'Muggle Sweets'!!