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Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015

For all the best-laid plans that we can make at the start of a year, none of us really know how our year is going to turn out.

For me, 2015 has without question been The Year of the Sock.  Socks feature quite heavily in every year for me, but this year was definitely an exception!  In January I posted a 6ply boot sock pattern which followed on from the basic 4ply sock pattern that I had posted in 2014 and thought that it might be nice to create some tutorials to help people get started knitting socks.  I called the tutorials a Sockalong, which sounded like less of a mouthful than a sock-knitalong and the first pre-Sockalong tutorials appeared on the blog in April, followed by the main tutorials in May. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that it would have been as popular as it is, or that I would see so many pairs of socks knitted!  I finished the tutorial paperback and Kindle book in July and created a teeny tiny sock which people could be knit and wear to recognise fellow "Sockalongers". Then came another hugely exciting Year of the Sock moment - Yarndale!  The Yarndale Sock Line was born from the idea of having sock bunting to display at Yarndale but it had to be useful bunting, which would warm people's toes instead of collect dust in my garage year after year.  Finally, in December, the socks winged their way to their new homes where they have been happily received. 



It's easy to think that I haven't done much else this year, and it's true to say that socks and the Sockalong have filled a great many of my waking hours (and I've loved it!), but I have also been so fortunate to have been able to get out and about with family, friends and with the dog, into the garden and around the country, visiting places new and familiar.  It's this mix of the old and the new that keeps us grounded but lets us spread our wings, knowing that we always have somewhere safe to come back to.


We forget so quickly, don't we, in the rush of our day to day lives.  As I looked through my photos I thought, 'was that really only this year?'


It's looking back through these photos that reminds me how blessed my life is and how grateful I am to be able to live it, and for the people who are part of it.  


Looking back and looking forward, that's what New Year is about.  Celebrating the good with the bad and knowing that it all adds up to make a year and that's what lives are about.  We're never given any more than the day we have, so we have to make the most of every one and look for the extraordinary in the everyday.

Thank you for being part of this year.  I hope that 2016 is everything that you wish it to be xx



Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas!





It's finally calm.  It's been a busy day of last minute cards, presents and preparations, and what's not done now isn't going to get done.  The world won't end, and Christmas Day will be just fine.  

Every child who wants to gets to add a character to the nativity scene at the Crib Service at church. It makes the stable a little crowded, but nobody gets left out.  I loved the sheep gazing into each other's eyes!

The Polar Express, our favourite Christmas film, wasn't showing at the cinema this year so we watched it on DVD instead, snuggled up together on the sofa with hot chocolate and treats.  I even put my knitting down for a while!

It won't be long before Father Christmas arrives so I'll just wish you a very happy Christmas and hope that you have a wonderful day, whatever you are doing xx

Friday, 18 December 2015

Yarndale Sock Line socks are go!

Actually, they've gone, all of them.  Off to new homes and to provide toasty toes to people who need some extra socky love.

If you're new to the blog (and welcome to you if you are!), then let me start at the beginning and explain with this Yarndale Sock Line thing is all about.  It all began back in July of this year when I had been asked by people joining in with the Winwick Mum Sockalong about whether there would be any sock bunting at Yarndale this year.  I thought this was an excellent idea but wanted the bunting to be useful, not hanging around year after year getting dusty and taking up space in my garage that could be usefully filled by the other mountains of junk that I hide store there.  I wanted to give the pairs of socks away to people who would need them after they had been displayed and admired at Yarndale, and you can read that first post here.

You never know how these ideas are going to be received, but I knew that however many pairs were gifted - two? ten? twenty? - they would be gratefully received.  However, just like with the Sockalong, I had completely underestimated how many people would want to join in!  In August, I was able to show you all the pairs that were in progress and it wasn't long before the socks started flooding in - more pairs than I had ever imagined, from all over the world.  So many generous people giving their time and their so that their socks could be gifted to strangers.  Lucy from Attic24 had very kindly let me use her Post Office address so all the socks were waiting for me in Skipton when I got there in September.  It was like waiting for Christmas all through that summer! I knew the socks were coming in, Lucy gave me regular updates on how many parcels had arrived - but I couldn't open them to see!  Finally the day came when I hurtled up the motorway to Yorkshire and Lucy and I spent a happy morning admiring what came out of the parcels and packets - it really was like Christmas!



More and more socks arrived until the Yarndale weekend at the end of September.  Seventy-five (yes, seventy-five, 75, seven-five!) pairs of socks were hanging on the Sock Line that weekend and each one of them was destined to go to someone who needed to know that someone else in the world had been thinking of them.  Each pair, complete with their own little message of joy and love, would warm the feet of a stranger, and I was humbled to see them all hanging there, a gift of love from so many people.

And now here we are, with just days to go before Christmas, and the socks are all either on their way or already at their new homes.  I had wanted to send them out earlier but personal circumstances meant that my plans were delayed.  Still, better late than never!

I had already catalogued each pair of socks - you can see all the pictures here on Pinterest - and I listed them all on a spreadsheet with the knitter's name and location, the colour and size of the socks and whether they were for men or ladies.  



Next, it was time for the phone calls - what a lovely job that was!  I had already discovered that the big charities either didn't want or have time to deal with pairs of socks so with the help of people on the blog and in the Facebook groups, I got in contact with smaller, local organisations who knew of people that they could give the socks to directly, and were delighted to do so.  Some places only needed a few pairs, others were pleased to have more.  I was just pleased that they were so pleased to have them!

I set the socks out on the table so that it was easier to pick them out.  It might just look like a pile of socks here ...


but there was method in the madness - ladies' socks to the left, children's socks at the bottom, unisex socks at the top right and men's socks at the bottom left, with the baby socks tucked in between.  Don't they look wonderful?  


I ended up with little piles of socks all over the kitchen - on the working top ...


and on the table - even on the chair!  It was a real sock-fest, and I loved it! J



The next job was to parcel them all up and get them off to the Post Office.  You might be wondering where they were all going, and I'm going to tell you - but you'll have to wait just a bit longer!  They have gone to wonderful organisations who are doing great work with so many people.


I have listed all the organisations and where each pair of socks has gone here so that you can see - and if you knitted a pair, you know exactly where your pair are!

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved in the Yarndale Sock Line this year - you exceeded all my expectations and just so that you can see how much they are appreciated, I am sure that Claire House Children's Hospice won't mind me sharing their email with you:

Hi Christine,

Thank you so much for the lovely socks. They turned up yesterday !!! We are thrilled with them!!! They are amazing !!

Hope you have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Love everyone at Claire House xx


You did that.  Feel proud?  Me too xx



Monday, 14 December 2015

Saltaire

Hello Monday!  I didn't expect to see you quite so soon, but here you are, reminding me that it's nearly a week since I went to visit Saltaire, the village built by mill owner Titus Salt and now a World Heritage site - and I still haven't shown you the pictures!

Last Tuesday was another Skipton Day.  Yes, I know it isn't that long since I last went and I've been the one muttering about not having enough time to get ready for Christmas so days out should have been way down the list, but this was the last opportunity for Lucy and I to get together before Christmas so the preparations had to wait!  And on this particular Tuesday, we had a Plan.  

My husband took small daughter to school for me so that I could leave a bit earlier in case the traffic was bad on the motorways caused by the bad weather that we've been having recently. Winwick has got off lightly with the floods but I knew that parts of Yorkshire had been affected, so I wasn't quite sure how the traffic would be.  As it happened, the traffic wasn't too bad, but the weather wasn't promising ... until I got to Skipton and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds. It's the first sunshine I've seen for weeks! 



And then more excitement (for me, at least!) ... Lucy and I hopped on the train at Skipton and took the short journey to Saltaire.  It always seems funny to me to drive somewhere and then get on the train, but I enjoyed the view from the window, past flooded fields and disused mills (which prompted a debate about whether the chimney stacks in Yorkshire are all square whilst the ones in Lancashire on the drive over seem to be round, although no doubt it was just coincidence) until we arrived in Saltaire just 25 minutes later.

We got off the train right outside the mill, an imposing square building (complete with square chimney stack) which houses a fabulous book shop which takes up an entire floor, a diner, a rather grand homeware shop and an art exhibition by David Hockney, along with other exhibitions - you can find out more here

We headed straight for the book shop.  It's a very welcoming book shop with places to sit and read, and notices that encourage you to look at the books with your children - but oh, the joy of being able to look at books without them!  We browsed, flicked through books on crafting (of course), poetry, gardening, mindfulness, humour and practically any other subject you can think of, looked at Christmas decorations and stationery and spent a good long time there, all without being interrupted or having to say "look with your eyes, not with your hands!" whilst picking things up ourselves.


Time for elevenses next ... at the end of the book shop is Salts Diner, a large, airy cafe which serves extremely good fruit toast and jam, amongst other tasty treats. 


I would have shown you, but as usual we were too busy talking and eating and once again, all there is to show is crumbs J.


Suitably fortified by our break, we had a quick look in the homeware shop, marvelled at the designer furniture (and the prices) and then headed outside to look around the village.  It was built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt to house the workers at Salts Mill and as well as better standard housing than many of them were used to, there was also provision for recreation with a park and a gymnasium and a school for the workers' children.  There were a number of model villages, as they were known, built around the same time - you may have heard of Port Sunlight on the Wirral (home of Sunlight Soap) and Bourneville in Birmingham (home of Cadbury's) - where the mill and factory owners wanted to give their workers a better standard of living.  It's an admirable achievement.

This is the United Reformed Church, and one of the landmarks of the village.  Sir Titus and his family are interred in the mausoleum here.


I liked the way that the tidy places mingle happily with the untidy; I always have a feeling that villages like this should also be a model of perfect living, a bit like the ideal of the American Disney town of Celebration, but in reality they are villages where real people live and as such they won't be picture perfect.  Sometimes in life there are just cobwebs!


We crossed the river where the tour boat was resting for the winter and the ducks were sitting a bit higher in the water than usual.


You can see the water cascading down the weir here ...


and here.  Lucy told me that the river is never usually this high and you can see the outline of the weir; today you could only see tumbling water and even the ducks were staying well out of the way.


We strolled around the park, originally Saltaire Park and now known as Roberts Park, which was built to encourage the mill workers to spend time out of doors.  There's an ornate band stand and unusually for a Yorkshire park, statues of alpacas, although we discovered that Salt's fortune was based on his discovery of alpaca fibre bales in a Liverpool warehouse which he was able to spin into fine cloth so that explained it.  We wondered what this chap with his rather cool specs would have thought of it all! 


This is the view of the mill from across the park.  It's very impressive, isn't it?  We were even more impressed that the rain had held off and the sun had come out - we were seeing blue sky for the first time in some considerable time!


There was just time to take a quick look at the streets of terraced housing before we caught the train back to Skipton.  Neat rows of stone houses with small gardens to the front and yards to the back, many of which are now privately owned instead of being owned by the mill.  They are a far cry from the overcrowded streets of Bradford where Salt's original mills stood and where many of his workers will have come from; it must have seemed incredible to be able to live in a place that was so much healthier.


It seemed very fitting that we should find one or two quirks in amongst the regularity!



And the bins, an essential of modern life, would certainly never have been seen in Salt's day.  They may not usually be seen now either, though - it might just have been bin day!  I like the steep streets and the way that the houses are so close - you feel that you could almost lean out of the window to touch the house opposite!



Time to catch the train back to Skipton for the knit n natter at Coopers cafe.  I do love these Skipton Days, these days which are so different to my everyday routine.  It does us good, doesn't it, to step outside the norm from time to time.


Back to the Christmas presents now, though, and to posting out the Yarndale Sock Line socks - I'm delighted that they're all heading off to their new homes now and I'll tell you all about that next time, so come back soon!



Thursday, 10 December 2015

How many sleeps?!

Phew!  I don't know if it's the same for you, but it feels as if December is hurtling past at break-neck speed, and trying to keep a grip on the days is like trying to catch the waves as they race up the sand.  Wrapping presents, writing cards, making lists to see what I've forgotten ... it feels as if it's all gone to pot a bit this year and I'm doing my best to try not to get too stressed about it all.  



Our Christmas tree is up now - just!  We bought it from a local farm as we always do, and brought it home to decorate, delighted with the bushy branches full of glossy needles and the festive scent of pine.  Unfortunately, we seem to have chosen the one with a mind of it's own.  Three tree stands, a couple of episodes of picking the tree up off the floor and redecorating it, careful wedging of the trunk into the stand and several removed branches later, it still leans precariously (although towards the wall now so that it can't fall over) and the girls have decided not to hang chocolates on it this year in case removing them causes another Tree Incident.  If nothing else, this will be known as the The Year of the Mad Tree!



One thing that is keeping me sane is knowing that I have some wonderful friends.  All very different, they each bring something without which my life would be much poorer, and I know that I am very blessed.  

I spent last weekend with one of them - one of my oldest and best friends whom I actually met whilst on my honeymoon.  We live at opposite ends of the country and try to spend a weekend together every year if we can; in previous years we have visited gardening shows as she's also a gardener, but this year we'd left it a bit late so we decided to spend our weekend chatting and relaxing instead, choosing to meet up at a hotel in Kettering which is about half way between our homes.  

We chose to spend Saturday in Stamford, a town with a history that dates back to the Romans and Anglo-Saxons.  It's lovely, a great place to explore, well-stocked with churches and with buildings from various eras rubbing shoulders ...




streets of attractive yellow stoned houses ...


and higgledy piggledy roofs and we had a fabulous time pleasing ourselves about what to see and where to go.  



We didn't make it down to the River Welland which, although I can imagine is a good place to walk in the summer, was very full with the recent rainfall and seemed to have got higher in the few hours we were there as we drove back over the bridge.  Another visit for another day!  

Instead, we went shopping and browsing - something else that we don't get to do very often with children in tow.  Many of the shops are independents and at this time of year have windows filled with Christmas treats.  We could have bought it all!  



We loved this reindeer tethered outside this house and admired his patience in waiting whilst his owner was inside!


It was going dark by the time we finally made it to Stamford's only yarn shop - Ewe Wool Shop - and we were glad to make our way inside where the light was warm and welcoming. 


Rachel, the owner, is also warm and welcoming and after we had admired the shelves of yarn and knitted samples, pointed us in the direction of the sock yarn.  Well, it would have been rude not to have looked!

I hadn't seen this yarn before - Indulgence Silk 6ply - so I think it would also have been rude to have left it in the shop!  (That's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking to it! J)  It's a blend of merino, nylon and silk and feels beautifully soft when it's knitted up - the sample in the shop was a long scarf of all of the colourways which is a great idea.  The ball is 150g too, so there should be plenty for at least one pair of socks and probably two if I make different coloured heels and toes.


Back at the hotel, I managed a bit more of small daughter's socks.  You might have noticed that I'm not using my usual metal Addi needles - I've cast on 56 stitches for these socks and that's not quite enough to stretch comfortably around my 30cm needle so I'm trying this KnitPro 25cm needle out instead of using magic loop as I have done previously for smaller socks.  Actually, it doesn't feel much different, which I think is because the tip sizes are the same at 7cm, whereas the tip sizes of the 20cm and 23cm needles are 6cm which I find just a bit too small to hold comfortably.


Small daughter's socks are turning out to be a bit of a calamity - I finished one sock to her foot measurements only to discover that her feet had grown so now I'm knitting this sock bigger and I'll need to alter my first sock to fit - and hope that she doesn't grow any more for a while!  Clearly this is the reason why I've always knitted socks for adults before now (and the fact that it's only recently that small daughter will even keep socks on her feet)!

At the rate I'm going, they might just about be finished for Christmas - although I've got to get on with my card-writing and present-wrapping, and not keep hoping that the Christmas Fairies will do it all for me if I sit and knit instead.  Perhaps I should make another list ...




Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Monthly Musing - December 2015 - Christmas sparkle

It seems that this year – for adults at least – Christmas has lost some of its sparkle.  We wonder how we can celebrate when there is so much fear and violence in the world.  How can we enjoy ourselves when there are people who are suffering? 

Actually, I believe that the world’s situation isn’t any different because it is Christmas, it’s just that we are more aware of it because of the contrast with our celebrations.  There are always people who have nothing in both our own country and across the world, and there is always something to be afraid of if we choose to be afraid. 

Christmas is about the Bible story of Mary and Joseph travelling far from home to Bethlehem and asking for a room at the inn.  It isn’t a story of fear, of people being turned away at borders or taking someone’s job, it’s a story of hope.   Mary and Joseph are people who have nothing and although at first they are turned away, they are eventually helped by the innkeeper, found by the Wise Men and shepherds who came to see the baby born in the stable, and our Christmas story is one of joy, celebration and light.  Without hope, there can be no celebration.

How are Mary and Joseph different from the people of today who have nothing and need our help?  You only have to look at the television and the newspapers to see how people are giving their help.  Food, clothing and utensils for refugees.  The gift of time to elderly people who would otherwise be without visitors.  Food and supplies for people in our own country who cannot survive without the kindness of others.  Our instinct is to be a kind nation, we are people who want to make life better for others, and I think that is something to be remembered and celebrated.

Martin Luther King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”.  Marianne Williamson writes, "We are all meant to shine ... And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."  Love and light, the sentiments of Christmas, wouldn't you agree?  If we can show them to our families, we can show them to others, and for the most part, many of us do.

I don't think that Christmas is losing its sparkle at all.  It may be a different kind of sparkle to the one that we have come to expect, but that may not be a bad thing.  Christmas isn't always about "what can I have?" but also about "what can I give?".  I think that if we look closely, we can see sparkles all around us, but instead of them being provided from elsewhere, they come from inside us.  That's a special gift indeed.