Saturday, 29 September 2007

Conkers and Moths

One of the high points of Autumn for any child is collecting conkers. My boys loved them when they were younger although they never played conkers as much as I did when I was at school.

They don't go out looking for them anymore but I still do.

I will keep these in the bowl for a few days just to enjoy them and then when I am sure they are quite dry they will be put amongst woollen jumpers to repel moths. I've been doing this for years but haven't been able to find any scientific reason why it should work. Maybe it doesn't work and I've just been lucky to avoid moths.

In a few days I will be replacing last years conkers with the new ones and cleaning out the chests of drawers. Apparently moth infestation is happening more frequently these days mainly because a greater proportion of our clothing is made from natural fibres than a few years ago.

I've always used conkers but lavender and Cedar oil are also thought to help. I have some dried lavender so perhaps I'll add that as well to be sure.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Autumn, start of the cold season.

Two meanings for cold here, the temperature is definitely dropping and I have packed away my summer clothes and replaced them with wool jumpers. The change seems to have happened really quickly after the warm sunshine last week.

Perhaps the abrupt change of weather is responsible for the second type of cold, horrible, sniffly, sore throat like sandpaper, shaky, shivery, achy cold. My oldest son succumbed first and then in the way families share things he passed it on to me. I very rarely get colds but this one has totally wiped me out, I've slept for the best part of three days just managing to pull myself together for the school run and to get something resembling a meal on the table.

I'm feeling a bit less sleepy today so perhaps I can fit in a bit of gentle knitting between my naps.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Woolly Stuff

With the arrival of the darker cooler evenings I will doing more spinning and knitting. Its not that I stop in the summer its just that there always seems to be something I should be doing in the garden instead.

In a comment on my last post Tash at Vintage Pretty asked where I get my wool from, so I thought I would get together a short list of some of my favourite woolly places.

I have bought fleece from Garthenor Organic based in Wales. I have only bought bags of washed fleece but they have an impressive range of organic yarns. The website is also has a list of rare breed sheep with great photos. The third jumper down in the photo was made from a yarn blended from three colours of shetland fleece.

Another favourite, for other organic goodies as well, is Greenfibres. I been buying here for years. Its not always the cheapest organic option but the quality is good and I've bought bedlinen, T-shirts, underwear and thick winter tights, towelling bathrobes as well as wool. The wool I bought from here was chunky weight "Castlemilk Moorit". This breed of sheep is very rare and almost disappeared altogether some years ago which is a pity as it has a rich chocolate coloured fleece. Its the bottom cardigan in my picture but the colour is actually a lot richer than that.

I always like to support local sustainable business and came across John Arbon Textiles, "The Alpaca shop" when we spent a weekend at a Youth Hostel in Lynton, Exmoor. Here I bought some double knitting Alpaca. Its the second jumper down in the photo, naturally coloured alpaca. Alpaca knits up very softly though I have found it matts slightly after a while, even with very careful hand washing.

Most of my knitting is with natural uncoloured wool but when I do want some colour my first stop is one of the two Shetland wool firms Jamiesons of Shetland or Smith and Jamieson. I have received excellent mail order service from both companies. Shetland is one of my all time favourite places. We have spent three brilliant holidays exploring the islands from Fair Isle in the south to Unst in the North and I am sure this has influenced my liking for this wool. The wool from Jamiesons is actually spun on the island and I looked around the factory at Sandness on one of our holidays.

I think that covers most of the sources of my wool and fleece over the last few years. It has taken me ages to write this post because I keep getting sidetracked and start remembering the places we went on holiday and also looking at all the yarns and fibres available.

I must keep repeating ....

I will not buy any wool until I've used up some of my stash.... I will not buy any wool..... I will not buy.....

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


At last, just in time for the cooler autumn evenings, I've finally finished my shawl. It is knitted from handspun shetland. I have already knitted a cardigan from this fleece and wanted a project that would make use of some finer spun yarn. This weekend I finally got round to sewing in all the ends and blocking it.

The pattern (Birch from Rowan Magazine 34) used Kidsilk Haze and 5mm needles. I used smaller needles and spun the yarn thicker than Kidsilk so that I ended up with a less lacy shawl.

I am really pleased with the result. Handspun pure shetland yarn is always very soft and light. The flock that the fleece came from was not registered organic but the sheep were kept under organic conditions, I washed the fleece in Ecover washing liquid and obviously spun and knitted it by hand so I think that its environmental impact was pretty small. Added to that, as it took just under a quarter of the original fleece which including postage I paid £12 for, then the shawl has cost me just under £3 - a bargain!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007


The morning started very quietly today, there was very little wind and everything seemed still.

This is the first full week of the autumn term and so we are all settling back into our school-time routines. The quietness of the morning seemed to emphasise the return to a more structured time-table.

I took a detour on the way home from dropping off at school to pick a few blackberries. Just half a mile outside the village there was little sound, apart from the cawing of some birds pecking for grain amongst the stubble of the harvested fields and in the distance, across the fields, the sound of the children at the primary school that my children used to go to, playing outside before the start of school.

It was misty and slightly damp, it seemed as if I could almost feel the countryside beginning to slow down in preparation for winter.

I like quiet. When I am driving or when I am in the house by myself, I rarely listen to music or to the radio preferring to lose myself in my thoughts in silence.

As we have become more aware of our energy use and have not replaced appliances as they have worn out, I find that there are more moments when there is complete quiet in the house. No longer any whirring of a dishwasher or breadmaker, often the only thing switched on in the house is the fridge.

Until recently this must have been the level of noise in most homes. A couple of generations ago there may not have been a fridge.

Electricity came to our village in 1936. According to a local history booklet,

"The Wessex Electricity Company installed three lights and one 15 amp 3 pin plug free for each new customer."

-not much scope for a lot of electrical appliances then.

I wonder if the continual background noise we are subjected to, aircraft, traffic, etc, apart from the noise we generate ourselves, contributes to the general level of busy-ness and stress that many complain of today.

Perhaps in the future as we are forced to cut back on our energy use, amongst the many disadvantages will be the benefit of a quieter,calmer environment.

The photographs were taken during my blackberry picking walk this morning.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Tomatoes and Eggs

This is a rather sad photograph of the best of my tomatoes. They were planted rather late and the cool, damp summer hasn't suited them a all.

On Friday night turning on the television, I just caught the end of Gardeners World and learned that even tomatoes being filmed by the BBC were complete failures! Blight has been a big problem for outdoor grown tomatoes this year.

We only have a small area to grow food and using part of the garden and the allotment, our aim is to have some fresh organic produce available for as much of the year as we can. It will only ever be a small part of out total food supply.

This summer has been a poor growing season for vegetables for me and it has made me think about the quantity of food that my family of four eats. Failed tomatoes, failed courgettes and potatoes that produced very little this year don't really impact on my family's food supply because there is readily available food from the supermarket. If in the future we don't have the fuel to move food over large distances and the majority of our food comes from the nearby, then localised crop failures will have a much greater impact.

If changes in the way we get our food don't result in overall shortages, it seems likely that we will have to be much more flexible in our eating habits. During war-time, meals were planned around what was available on the day. With rationing the maximum amounts for some foods were fixed and these had to be stretched with other foods from the garden or ones that weren't on ration to make a satisfying meal. Today many people plan their menus in a completely different way to this. We are used to all foods being available all the time and so planning a weeks menus and then doing a weekly supermarket shop has become the way of life for a lot of us. I do this most weeks, looking at the activities taking place and then planning a quick meal if I have to pick up late from an after school activity, a meal that needs a bit more advance preparation on a day that I am not working or something cooked in the slow cooker if the whole family is out for the day at the weekend and we want to eat as soon as we get in. We are also in the habit of having our favourites regularly, I make pizza almost every week.

So, what would we do if the tomato harvest failed? I use about a bottle of passata each week in pizza, pasta bake, bolognese sauce etc, it has become so much of a habit to just open a bottle when I need it that I rarely stop to think about it. Of course we would soon adapt, as everyone did during the war,(pizza made with pesto instead of tomato sauce is great for a change) but in times of change, it is comforting to be able to eat foods we are used to. Perhaps this is the time to get used to eating meals which use a greater variety of ingredients (preferably grown nearby as these will be most likely available) so that we will be more flexible in our eating habits when we need to make changes.

The other food I have been thinking about since we got our own chickens is eggs. At some level I did know that hens did not naturally produce a lot of eggs in the winter unless they were kept with artificial light, it was just something that I did not think about. I bought a dozen eggs every week and sometimes another half-dozen if we ran out. As we are trying to eat more seasonally I am thinking about eating eggs less in winter which until recently must have been what everybody did. Now that both our hens are laying we are getting 12-14 eggs a week which is our current level of use and I am wondering if we can reduce our egg intake during the winter as we get less eggs. Of course, as we have only had the hens for two months I have no idea how many eggs we will actually get in the winter.

Looking back at the war-time situation, in June 1941, ration book holders were allowed one egg as often as supplies permitted which in winter was one egg per person per month and in spring up to two eggs per person per week. By 1944 the ration was 30 eggs per person per year. Poultry keepers could exchange their egg ration for poultry meal.

So another food that I will try and eat seasonally will be eggs. As long as we get some eggs during the winter, I don't think it will be too bad. Instead of baking a Victoria sponge for Sunday tea in winter, it could be scones or jam tarts, and I shall have to think up another quick meal to replace omelets which is my standby for an almost instant meal.

The book that I've been reading about war-time food is The Wartime Kitchen and Garden by Jennifer Davies. Its a BBC book which was brought out sometime ago to supplement the TV series a few years ago.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Knitting update

I haven't posted anything about knitting for a while, but that doesn't mean I've stopped knitting. Since I was small I have always been knitting something and often several things at once, although now I try to limit myself to not more than three projects at the same time.

I finished this jumper a few weeks ago.

The pattern is from Alterknits by Leigh Radford and John Rizzo. This book has some knitting patterns in it but it is more a book of ideas rather than a pattern book to follow exactly.

The yarn is Rowan Scottish Tweed. I used the 4ply in Apple which gives a nice flecked appearance. I'm very pleased with the colour and the neckline but not sure about the raglan shaping around the shoulders, but maybe its just how a raglan is supposed to be, I've always knitted set in sleeves before. I don't know how to change it so I'll leave it as it is and wait for the cooler weather so I can wear it.

At the moment I am spinning the corriedale pencil roving I bought from Crown Mountain Farms. I am spinning it fairly fine and although that means that the individual colours are lost, I am pleased with the yarn. The colours have blended nicely, my favourite autumn colours.

The colours show up better on this photo of the knitting taken outside.

I have chosen a pattern that I've used before so at least with this one I shall know that I like the fit.

Last but not least is the sock knitting.

This is my "knit in the car while I'm waiting" knitting. I haven't really touched it during the six weeks summer holiday but now term has started and I will be waiting outside school, waiting at the station etc etc. Very simple sock knitting that I can do without thinking and without looking either for those few weeks when its dark by the time I meet my son from the train.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

End of Summer Trip

Wanting to prolong the summer holidays as long as possible, we managed to squeeze in another short Youth Hostel break before the new school term next week.

We stayed this hostel on the banks of the River Wye at Welsh Bicknor.

It is a victorian house and was originally a rectory. Next to it was this very pretty but now disused little church.

It was in an isolated setting but judging by the size of the rectory there must have been a lot more people living in the area in Victorian times. Most of the gravestones were old, mid to late nineteenth century but nothing much after that apart from a couple of new ones 1975 and 2000. It seemed a sad little place as if it had been locked up and forgotten with the churchyard all overgrown.

The River Wye was very pretty and calm but in places the damage caused by the floods last month could still be seen. We spotted debris in the over-hanging trees about 10-12 feet above the current water level, very difficult to imagine on a pleasant summer evening.

We spent the two days walking in and around the Forest of Dean, a quiet end to the summer holidays.