Thursday, 24 February 2011

52 Photos - week 8

This week's photos have a distinct theme to them. Cats. I generally find it quite tricky to take decent pictures of animals, mostly because they tend to move around and refuse to sit still and pose. Sometimes I manage it, like the awesome shots I got when we went to Twycross Zoo last year. But my track record with photographing cats is bad.

I have had a few successes in the past. This shot of a friend's Maine Coon being one of them:

Handsome Dante

But that picture is old, taken in 2006. So not really eligible for this year's photo challenge!

My usual target for cat-related photography is of course my own pet, Fidget. He is incredibly difficult to take a good picture of, on account of his dark fur.

Sleeping Cat

Without the flash and in bad light, you can't see details. But with the flash, photos are often over-exposed, or are ruined by the reflective nature of his eyes. I don't want evil cat photos!

I did manage to get one decent shot of Fidget this week, but I think I like it more because it's funny, than because it's a good photo.


I think you get drawn too much to J's hand, than to Fidget's tongue. The flash kind of focused on flesh.

Luckily, I had other opportunities to take kitty snaps, as we had a chance at the weekend to meet some new neighbours. Where we live, there are a lot of cats, and because our back gardens all join together with no gaps (we live in an area of old Victorian terraces), we get a lot of cat traffic. Our cat is surprisingly territorial (for such a cute, cuddly, pathetically soppy creature, he is remarkably violent towards his own kind), so while we see a lot of the neighbours' cats as they trek past on the fence, they very rarely come in to say hello.

We only ever really had one exception to that, an elderly half-stray Russian Blue-a-like who tried his very best to live in our house and garden for almost 5 years, as he got older and thinner and eventually passed away last year. We think he was about 20 or 21 years old by then. 

After a few scraps when Fidget first moved in with us, they signed a peace treaty, and the other cat was allowed to enter the garden and sleep where he liked.

Not so for the rest of them! Fidget is less forgiving of new cats who try to muscle in on the territory. It doesn't help that Fidget is big for a moggy, and out-muscles them all easily. Next door's cat is probably the only one who matches him for size, but Potato isn't anywhere near as strong as Fidget, so loses all the fights. They have an arrangement now, where Potato owns our front garden, but Fidget has the claim over their back garden. It was his before Potato arrived, you see, and he didn't want to give it up.

Whenever new cats arrive, it is always interesting to see how long it is before they learn to stay out of our garden. Some of them get away with more than others, for example the pretty tortie girl (Kira) who moved in behind us is allowed to sleep on the shed roof, and Fidget only chases her, he doesn't hit her. The newest arrivals are still settling in, and working out where they fit in the local cat hierarchy. We believe they live together, as they are very comfortable with each other and are often seen together. I don't know their names, so we have imaginatively nicknamed them "Spotty" and "Fluffy" until we know better.

They were in the yard on Sunday, so we went out to say hello. Tempting them in with cat toys, to see if they wanted to play. Spotty was the most interested, he came in almost immediately.


This isn't a great shot, he was a bit jittery about being so close to us, and wouldn't stay still when he was out in the open like that. I did get some better shots when he was half hidden by the holly bush, though.

Still wild?

A bit overexposed though, the sunlight was very odd, so I think there's too much light on his face and paws, compared to the shadows on the right. I guess I could fix that with Photoshop, if I had the skills.

His fellow, Fluffy, remained quite aloof, sitting on next door's shed and refusing to get involved.


I'm quite impressed with my camera on this one, this was at full zoom, pretty much.

Neither came close enough to be stroked. I think it will be a while yet before they trust us - on Monday afternoon Fidget had Spotty trapped up against the wall of the house and was kicking the crap out of him, lumps of fur flying everywhere.  I'm hoping that when Spotty is neutered (we spotted some very obvious balls on Sunday) he will calm down, and there will be less fighting.

Photo of the week though, that honour goes to Spotty, and this lovely shot.


After I uploaded the pics to Flickr, while I decided which one to choose, this is the shot that got the most views, so I guess that means it's the best of the bunch!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

WIP Wednesday

I'm actually really excited about this post today. You can tell, because I'm posting it in the morning, having made sure all the photos I wanted were already online last night. No waiting around till this evening for me!

Plus, it's roleplay night tonight again this week, so I won't have time to do it later.

The super secret project is still technically a WIP, but it's finished to the point of just needing to be blocked. Nothing new to share here, though, as any photos showing progress would give away too much on the project. As ever, though, you can check out the project page on Ravelry; I will upload the new pics tonight for this one.

I'm a little nervous about blocking it, though, if I'm honest. I've never done it before! I'm so scared I will somehow ruin it. With lace projects, is it advisable to block first, then weave in ends? Only I've seen on the absolutely incredible "Blocking - before and after" thread in the Ravelry forums how much lace projects grow when blocked, and I figure if you've already weaved in ends, that's going to restrict the growth somewhat? That said, I'm more nervous about blocking the Avalon top when it's finished, as that's 50% wool, 50% acrylic. I guess I have to steam block that.

More exciting, however, is the progress on the Avalon top. Last week I was working on motif 5 (out of 7), so didn't really feel like I'd got very far. Work on it had been slow, as I'd been focusing more on the secret project, as I have a deadline to meet on that one. But I took it along to roleplay night last week, and made some good progress. I finished off the motifs (joining the final motif and closing the yoke was... interesting, to say the least).

Here is the yoke at that stage, seven motifs joined and the three round top yoke edge completed. At this stage, the pattern said "weave in all ends now" and I put off working on it for another couple of days, returning to the granny rectangle until I built up the courage to continue. I hate weaving in ends.

But last night I was determined, I had the house to myself most of the evening as J was driving back from his parents' house. If I'd thought about it, I could have gone along to the local knitting group and finally met everyone, but it didn't occur to me that it was Tuesday until it was too late to think about going. I put on some mindless TV (the Channel 4 program about cosmetic surgery obsessed people being confronted by people with facial disfigurement, part interesting, part freak show telly. Compelling viewing, actually) and got out my tapestry needle.

Weaving in the ends wasn't as irritating as I thought it would be, actually. Very quickly I was done, and able to move onto the lower yoke section.

I had some issues with the fsc underarm bits, but managed to get my head around it and get it done. I only had to rip back the once, when I got to the second arm hole and realised I'd only skipped 9 ch5 spaces instead of 10 on the first one!

I finished last night halfway through the final round before the main body pattern repeat starts. So one armhole is not complete:

While the other is:

Once this row is complete, that's all the complicated bits done, I think. Now it's just a case of repeating the body pattern row until the top is long enough, and doing the border at the bottom (a repeat of the arm of the motifs), and then doing it again (albeit with far less stitches) for the arms. Having my dressmakers dummy is making it a lot easier for me, as I can check to see how it looks without putting it on and having J take pictures, plus it gives me somewhere to store the WIP where it's not going to get lost/damaged/dirty/be in the way.

And I think it's quite an interesting decoration for my living room!

One more WIP today, I've started on my first ever pair of socks. I had a lot of sock yarn left over from the super secret project, more than enough for a pair of socks. I'm using the Ultimate Crochet Sock pattern, which I discovered while searching other finished projects using the King Cole Zig Zag. The specific Ravelry project that caught my eye was Takara's First Sock Attempt, which uses a similar colourway to mine. I haven't started a project page for them yet because I'm still unsure about them, but here's some pics to give you an idea of how it's going.

They look quite an odd shape, but I've tried them on over my toes already and they don't look so weird once they're on. I'm doing the largest size, which I think may be slightly too big for me, so these may end up being socks for J. I need to measure his feet and find out.

So that's my rather exciting WIP update done for the week, head on over to Tami's blog and see what else everyone's been up to.

Friday, 18 February 2011

52 Photos in 52 Weeks - an update

The last few weeks I haven't really had a lot of spare time for my camera. Weekends have either been frantically busy, or deliberately empty, so there hasn't been much opportunity for daylight and outdoor photography. As I much prefer taking pictures of natural things, this has severely restricted my options for the weekly photo challenge submissions!

Both of my last two photographs have been crochet-related cop-outs, with the Tiramisu Baby Blanket close up and the Crochet-a-Rainbow squares taking star turns on my Flickr account.

I think I have also shot myself in the foot somewhat by structuring the weeks so that they start with a weekend. That means, if I don't get a chance to go out and take some decent shots on a Saturday or Sunday, I am stuck with trying to find a photo on a work day. As work days currently consist of longish commutes in the dark or early morning gloom, and being stuck on a boring business park all day, there isn't generally much opportunity to take great photos!

This week, I have been more successful. It started on Sunday afternoon, when I realised I hadn't even attempted to consider photography over the weekend. I was about to jump into a nice hot bath. I picked up my camera, and had a play while I was waiting for the bath to fill.

I love the shapes the bubble bath creates. However, I wasn't entirely convinced with how the shots came out. I did have a play in Photoshop, but I am lacking in skill in that area (I really don't have much experience with it at all), but I didn't like how they turned out there, either.

When I have more time, I will play more with the program and see what else I can do. But for now, it left me with no real options for a photo of the week.

On Wednesday, I made a serendipitous discovery. I was walking back to the office from town at lunchtime, and along the route was a patch of grass which had been planted with spring bulbs. Bright yellow and purple crocuses were everywhere. A wonderful, colourful signal that spring is on it's way. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me!

So yesterday I made sure to bring it, and went for a walk at lunchtime through the park behind the office.


They are planted all across the park too. The building in the background is the office block next to mine, we're just to the left of this shot. You can see the main road too, that runs between the business park and the park itself. It's kind of awesome having this lovely area of nature to wander around in so close to the office.

The bulbs seemed to be planted rather randomly. Yellow ones in clumps, but the purple and white ones were just spread out in places. It did lead to some lovely juxtaposition of colour.


It wasn't all that sunny, but this particular patch of crocuses was on a bank facing the sunlight that there was, so I had the perfect opportunity for some macro shots of the more interesting flowers.


I took an awful lot of pictures. A selection of the best are on my Flickr photostream. I was certain I would find a photo of the week inamongst them all.

I was so cheered up by the flowers. The arrival of spring after a long, cold winter never fails to put a smile on my face. So imagine how cheered up I was to discover, on leaving the office, that for the first time this year it was still vaguely daylight when I left work! So much so, I was able to get this awesome shot while I waited for my train.

Tunnel vision

Look at that lovely pink sky! I thought maybe I had another contender for picture of the week on my hands!

When I got home, and uploaded the shots to my laptop, I had a proper look through. As much as I love the above train station shot, I had to go with one of my cheerful spring flower shots for my 52 week challenge. I hope it put a smile on everyone elses faces too, when they saw it in the group pool.

Here it is:


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The WIP Wednesday that almost wasn't

This morning I didn't think I'd be able to do a WIP Wednesday post today. Wednesday is usually a day of rest and relaxation, as I don't have to rush off anywhere after work. No classes at the gym, no swimming, no social engagements. However, this week, the Thursday night roleplaying session got bumped up a day, to make way for a trip to the theatre (a friend is treading the boards in a local performance of Of Mice and Men, so we are of course going to support him), so I was meant to be heading straight back out after a quick dinner tonight to roleplay (we're currently playing a rather intriguing steampunk style roleplaying game called Etherscope).

But, unfortunately for us, we've had to cancel as others were unable to attend. Fortunately for you, my dear readers, that means I get to blog about my two exciting WIPs!

First up, my Avalon Top. I've not rushed this, as I want to enjoy the process of making it. It is, after all, my first foray into complicated, fitted clothes making. First stage in the top is to make the seven motifs that form the yoke. I have completed four motifs. You join them together as you go, but have to stop the yoke from twisting, hence the red yarn holding it in place.

Here is the fifth motif. I've worked all bar the seventh and final arm, which is the joining arm. I was working on this last night, but it got late before I had a chance to do the complicated joining bit, so I'll have to pick that up next time I work on it. 

Why yes, I am using kirby grips as stitch markers. And whyever not? They work perfectly well and I have plenty of them lying around! I will have to be more creative when a pattern calls for multiple different markers meaning different things, but I have seen some very lovely sets on etsy that I might treat myself to.

Onwards and upwards then, to my other WIP. As this one is a gift and there is a slim chance that the intended recipient might read my blog, I can't go into excessive detail or show too many pics here. For those of you on Ravelry (and if you are a knitter/crocheter I can't see why you wouldn't be), you can see the project page here, where you will find more photos and of course a link to the pattern I'm using. I can safely give you that link, as my gift's recipient is not a knitter, and isn't on the site.

So, on to the WIP update. I love this project. So. Much. I love how simple the pattern repeat is. I love how quickly it crochets up. I love how easy it is to see where you got to when you last put it down, without having to count stitches or rows or anything.

I love how the colours are pooling and striping! I was worried it would be too bright, but I think it will be alright. The yarn feels nice to work with, and isn't slipping and sliding all over my hook like the Wendy Happy did. Best of all, the material is light and floaty like I want it to be.

Here you can see how the stripes are developing

And here is a close-up of the pattern repeats
So there you go. An exciting week as far as my projects are concerned! Although I've barely had time for anything else. Head on over to Tami's blog to link up with the rest of WIP Wednesday.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Squares on a Sunday

Not likely to be a regular feature for me, as I don't currently have plans for a square-intensive project. Not being a sock-knitter, I don't have sock yarn scraps hanging around!

However, I have recently been crocheting squares for two very different charitable efforts.

First up is the International Women's Day 100 Million Stitches project. I found this project almost a month ago and have been making squares in amongst my other projects. I have made a total of six squares, mostly taken from Jan Eaton's 200 Crochet Blocks book.

The second orange block is the newest, which I started yesterday afternoon and finished off this morning. I am going to send these six squares off to Glasgow tomorrow.

Just last week, I came across a second square-related project: Sarah London's Crochet a Rainbow. I'll be honest, and say that making squares to be turned into colourful blankets for the flood victims tugged on a lot more heartstrings than the 100 million stitches "missing women" feminist angle. So I've done a fair few more squares for this one. Fifteen, so far.

A variety of plain and multi-coloured, along the rainbow theme. I have stopped on these for now, because they were getting dull (and I hate weaving in all those ends!), but as the project is ongoing with no real deadline, I may well come back to it at some point in a few weeks when other projects are over.

So there's my squares for Sunday. Head on over to Halfpint's blog to (hopefully) link up with other square enthusiasts!

Friday, 11 February 2011

FO Friday is here!

If I was more organised, I'd sort out my FO Friday posts on Thursday evenings, so they could go up at a sensible time of day. As it was, I've had to wait until I got home from work and swimming, as I still hadn't taken any photos of the Purple Valentine!

So, I have three FOs to share today. Let's dive right in.

Project: Purple Valentine
Pattern: Pop Heart (free Ravelry download)
Yarn: Hayfield Bonus Aran in purple heather colourway
Hook: 4mm

Just a quick amigurumi to pass the time! I have a fair amount of this yarn left over from my sofa decorating, so I'm always on the look out for cute little projects I can use it up in. The heart is about 6 1/2" wide.

Project: Elephant Pillow
Pattern: Amigurumi Elephant Pillow by Lion Brand (free on the Lion Brand website)
Yarn: James C Brett Top Value DK in yellow
Hook: 5mm

This one is another baby present, this time for my colleague Nic who is due in May (a good chance the baby will be born on my birthday!). She is having a boy, but told me recently the nursery will be white, with an Elmer the Elephant theme.

For those unfamiliar with him, Elmer is a patchwork elephant who features in a series of British picture books for children. He looks like this:

Patchwork was perhaps beyond my limited expertise and yarn supplies, so I just went with a plain elephant. I used two strands together to get an appropriate thickness/weight of yarn, as the pattern calls for chunky yarn and all I had was DK. It worked really well, as I got strong, tight stitches which form a sturdy, but still soft, surface for the cushion. I had toyed with the idea of buying a small pre-made pillow to put inside, but didn't get around to it and just used normal polyester toy filling. The pillow is wonderfully comfy; I am sure it will be well used and loved.

Project: Purple Pachyderm
Pattern: Amigurumi Elephant by Lion Brand (free on the Lion Brand website)
Yarn: Hayfield Bonus Aran in purple heather colourway
Hook: 4mm

Another elephant ami, this time a small toy. He's only 4 inches long, not including his enormous trunk! He is going to be gifted alongside the elephant pillow, to live in Nic's nursery.

I had a lot of fun setting up the photo for this elephant. Following the success of photgraphing my Clown Fish against an underwater scene, we thought we'd try for African Savannah with this one. I think it's come out quite well!

I know it's FO friday, but I can't resist giving you a sneak peek at my new project, hooked last night using my new King Cole Zig Zag yarn.

It's not as bright as I was worried it would be, and it's striping quite nicely at the moment. Definately a better choice for my project than the Wendy Happy would have been, it's a lot easier to work with.

There are some lovely FOs on display this week elsewhere in the blogosphere; head on over to Tami's blog and find them all there.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

WIP Wednesday

Not much to share today, although according to my Ravelry profile I've got five WIPs on the go. That isn't strictly accurate, as Purple Valentine is actually finished, I just haven't got any photos of it yet, nor any pics of it in progress, as it was such a quick and fun project. Amigurumi often are! I'll show you it on Friday, if you like.

Granny Rectangle is plodding along slowly, but I keep stealing the yarn for other, quick projects, such as the Crochet a Rainbow charity drive I blogged about earlier on in the week. So it grows at a very slow pace, one round a week if I am lucky!

Pom Pom scarf is just a silly side project I've got on my knitting needles for when I want a change of scene, a thinner rendition of my black and white pom pom scarf using this cheap novelty yarn I bought from ebay:

But of course the WIP I am most excited about is the Avalon top. I started it on Sunday, and successfully completed one motif while watching Lark Rise to Candleford. I've picked it back up again today, and am motoring through my second motif.

Almost time to join them, and thread the second motif onto my holding yarn.

I had hoped to have started another project by now, but I've been delayed in my yarn choices. It's a gift for someone, although I doubt she will see this blog I'm not going to go into specifics. But I had initially intended to use Wendy Happy, as I love the yarn and it made for three very lovely FOs when I used it before:

Unfortunately, I tested out the pattern for my gift on the yarn I had left over from the scarf above, and it's too slippery and fine to work in the pattern I've chosen. This is a shame, because I'd already kind of settled on the Libra colourway:

So I've had to have a rethink, and now I think I have settled on King Cole Zig-Zag 4 ply for socks, in the Lilac colourway:

Mostly because King Cole is the only yarn I can get hold of in the town I work in, as there is only one shop in the town centre that sells any yarn at all, and it's all King Cole. Otherwise I have to detour to Hobbycraft or John Lewis on my cycle home from the station, which is always awkward. But then my choices would mostly be Regia sock yarn, which is all too dark or too brightly coloured for my needs! Do people not want muted tones in their stripey socks?

So hopefully I can start that this weekend, and show you some progress on it next week.

There are some lovely WIPs in progresss elsewhere, head on over to Tami's blog and link up with everyone.

A tribute to Brian Jacques

I found out yesterday that one of my favourite authors, Brian Jacques, died suddenly a few days ago. The news shocked and saddened me, as he was only 71 and was still working (his most recent book is due for publication later on this year).
He is most famous, of course, for his Redwall series, although he has written other, unrelated novels. I have been reading the Redwall books since I was about eight or nine years old; I am only missing the most recent two out of the twenty-one published so far, as I don’t like reading hard back books so have to wait the extra year for the paperbacks to come out.
I wanted to pay tribute to Brian because his books have meant, and still mean, a great deal to me. If you ask most fantasy enthusiasts which author it was that first inspired them and opened their eyes to the genre, I suspect the most likely answer will be “David Gemmell” or “Tolkien, of course!”. For me, it is Brian Jacques.
The first Redwall book I read was Salamandastron. Published in 1992, I suspect my mother initially bought it intending for my older brother to read, dealing as it does with sieges, battles and so forth. Perhaps she thought it was more of a ‘boys’ book, I don’t know. What I do recall, is my brother read it and wasn’t all that fussed, whereas I read it and was captivated.
It is Brian’s writing style that draws you in at first. Everything is vividly described; even a child with little or no imagination would have no difficulty in visualising every scene. I came to understand, as I grew older, that the books are written in this way because they were originally written for the children of the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind, so he could not rely on good illustrations to aid his storytelling.
The setting itself is incredibly appealing as well. The fictional world in which the books take place is dominated by the large and fertile Mossflower Wood, a deciduous woodland not unlike the natural habitat found in Britain. To the east lies the sea, to the south a separate ‘kingdom’ known as Southsward. To the north an inhospitable mountainous region; westward there are plains, swamps and then the coast. Some of the stories take place on tropical islands out in the Western sea. The full extent of the landmass is never explored, and the map develops organically along with the series. I used to try and draw my own version of it, incorporating elements from all of the books. An official map was published in 1998, but has now become outdated as further stories have expanded on the geography. The world is at once familiar (at least to British readers, as the general layout does resemble somewhat the geography of Britain) but also different and unique.
The characters are brought to life by the same descriptive style. The world is populated by anthropomorphic animals, mostly those indigenous to Britain. Brian established early on in the series that certain creatures are inherently “good” and others “evil”; this concept is so embedded into the series that you can tell as soon as character arrives which side of the line they should fall on. Broadly speaking, those woodland creatures who are generally portrayed as being cute and cuddly and worthy of being made into toys fall into the “good” bracket, e.g. mice, voles, shrews, hares, otters, squirrels and badgers. Carnivorous animals, such as rats, foxes, weasels and stoats, are branded as “evil”. The characters are further stereotyped by their names; “good” characters have nice, sensible names like ‘Martin’ or ‘Cornflower’, the “evil” characters appear to have mostly been named by a random evil name generator, piecing together names like “Darkclaw” and “Fangburn” and “Ragear”.
Equally, each individual species behaves according to stereotype. The mice are quiet and unassuming, mostly monk-like Abbeydwellers, with the occasional firebrand hero taking after the main hero, Martin the Warrior. They represent the children who read Brian’s books. Hares, on the other hand, are militaristic, posh types, all “Jolly good” and “Tally-ho”; very upper class English. They are based on the RAF. The shrews are based on the Merchant Navy who worked in Liverpool’s docks, and are therefore experts in all manners of boat building and sailing. Hedgehogs brew ale, moles are very rustic and speak with a thick West country accent. Birds of prey are haughty and noble. Badgers are fierce warriors, who suffer from a battle-rage known as the bloodlust (anyone who has experienced a real-life badger attack will understand why this is the case!), and almost represent the monarchy, as they are the Lords of Mossflower, ruling from the extinct volcano called Salamandastron. The “evil” species are split into two main groups, land-dwelling vermin and the sea-faring corsairs. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
While some have criticised this simplistic approach, and accused Brian of demonstrating racist tendancies and encouraging class divides, I myself never had an issue with it, and always enjoyed the rarity of a character who doesn’t live up to his stereotyping (e.g. the character of Blaggut, in The Bellmaker, who is a rat who is actually “good”).
The stories are, for the most part, broadly similar as well. An Evil Villain and his horde descend on Mossflower Wood, threatening the Abbey and its inhabitants. The spirit of Martin the Warrior (the series’s only nod to religion/magic) appears and uses riddles/dreams to guide a group of bold young heroes to go on a quest. While they are off questing, the gentle woodland creatures must band together and defend their home from the Evil Horde. Lots of stuff happens, involving random encounters in the wilderness with such evil creatures as toads, newts and snakes, at some point the Abbeydwellers hold a massive feast, and eventually there is some sort of battle, all the Evil Horde are destroyed, the questers return victorious, the new Abbey Champion slays the Evil Villain and all is well. At least two or three (but generally no more than that) of the good guys will die during the tale.
Laid out like that, they don’t sound like much, do they? Brian has been criticised for repetition in his work, particularly in the later books, but I don’t think he is any more guilty of it than other authors. All of David Gemmell’s books are the same, but you don’t hear people complaining about that, do you? 
No words of mine will do them justice, however. They are incredible works. They rouse so much emotion. I will quite happily confess to blubbing like a baby every time he kills of one of my favourite characters, even on the 10th or 11th re-read. In fact, there is one character death that got to me so much, I don’t even have to read the book, if I so much as think about it for more than a couple of seconds, I start welling up.
The adventures are on an epic scale. The battles are remarkably well described; gory enough to excite the reader without giving nightmares afterwards (important, when your readers are only ten years old). Food receives special attention; Brian goes to great length to describe in minute detail the food his characters eat, especially at the famed Redwall feasts. This, I understand, is down in part to Brian’s experiences of rationing after the Second World War. His “good” characters are all vegetarians with a side order of fish on special occasions. He recreates all manner of foods, using only the natural ingredients that his characters could reasonably be expected to obtain; fruit, nuts, grasses, tubers. The main focus has to be on the desserts though, towering cakes and trifles feature heavily.
Another feature of the books, which is something I have always loved, is the reliance by Brian on poetry and song to move a story along. Songs are often used to develop characters, or to provide a wider insight into the world in which his characters move. There are songs for feast-times, full of laughter and delight; songs for mourning, when funerals are held for the “good” characters that die along the way. And then there are the riddles, used as a device for showing the heroes what to do. A great example of this is in The Pearls of Lutra, where our Abbeydwelling heroes have to solve a series of riddles to find the pearls. Each riddle is beautifully written, and designed in such a way that the readers themselves are able to solve it before the characters do, should they wish to.
It surprises me that so many of my peers somehow missed out on these books as children, or did not fall in love with them as much as I did. At the very least, I can hope than my fellow twenty-somethings will rediscover these books when their own children reach an appropriate age to enjoy them. I know I am looking forward to reading Redwall with my children, when the time comes.
It is hard for me to choose a favourite of the series, although I must confess to a fondness for the stories which focus on the otters and the hares, my favourite characters in the whole series. Because of this, The Pearls of Lutra (heroine is an otter) and The Long Patrol (heroes are all hares) are definitely at the top of my list, although The Bellmaker has a soft spot in my heart because Finnbarr Galedeep, the sea otter, is also one of my favourite characters overall. Martin the Warrior and Outcast of Redwall tie for “death that makes me cry the most”.
I guess there isn’t much else I can say really, other than “if you haven’t already read and loved these books, get yourself down to the library right now and read them”. My words are wholly insufficient to express how I feel at Brian’s untimely death, so I will use his own words instead. This is from The Pearls of Lutra.

Fare you well upon your journey
To the bright lands far away
Where beside the peaceful rivers
You may linger any day

In the forests warm at noontide
See the flow’rs bloom in the glades
Meet the friends who’ve gone before you
To the calm of quiet shades

There you’ll wait, oh my beloved
Never knowing want or care
And when I have seen my seasons
We shall walk together, there.

Brian Jacques (1939 – 2011)

Monday, 7 February 2011

More charity crocheting

Just the other day, I read a post on the Crocheting the Day Away blog, about a charity project based in Australia. The project is called Crochet a Rainbow, and is being organised by Sarah London. The idea behind the project is to make blankets/throws in bright, rainbow shades to donate to those affected by the recent flooding in Queensland.

I immediately decided I should take part, and have diverted yarn from the ongoing granny rectangle to make bright grannies for sending to Oz.

As it happened, the colours of acrylic I have form a perfect rainbow! Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple. So far I've done 11 (although I am yet to weave in my ends, so they're not completely finished with), but will try to do more before sending them across.

It doesn't take much time to whip up a few five-round grannies, so I heartily recommend everyone picks up a hook and gets crocheting for such a good cause.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A much delayed FO

I've had an FO to share since Tuesday, but couldn't post it on Friday for politeness's sake: it was a gift, and was only given this afternoon.

I finally finished the crochet on the Tiramisu at the start of the week. I did have something of an adventure over the ribbon, as my poor tired brain on Monday evening confused inches with centimetres. My lunchtime trip to Fabric Land was wasted, as despite sensibly buying two different colours of ribbon (as I couldn't choose between them without seeing them against the yarn), I only bought two metres of each, instead of four. So on the way home, I had to take a side trip to Hobbycraft to pick up four metres of ribbon. Fortunately, in Hobbycraft I could grab a ball of yarn in a similar colour to my blanket, and match the ribbon to it perfectly without having to rely on my memory of the colour.

The upside of that, though, is that I have two metres each of purple and pink ribbon, which I can use on a different project.

It took me over an hour to thread the ribbon through the border! But it looked amazing once I was done. Here's the proof:

I am sorry that I don't have a photo of the blanket in use from this afternoon, but little Georgie B looked absolutely adorable, snuggled up underneath it in her bouncy chair.


The last week was so busy, I barely had time to lift my camera to take photographs. So I didn't have much to choose from for my photo of the week. In the end, I've had to go with a tidied up version of the last photo above, because that blanket really was the focus of the week for me!

Hopefully this coming week I will have more chance to take photos, although I'm two days in already and all I've shot are project pics for Ravelry!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

WIP Wednesday

Pretty boring update today, as I don't have much on the hooks right now.

The granny rectangle has remained put to one side to make way for the more urgent Tiramisu, as it's intended recipient was born a whole 12 days early! So that is now finished, and will be unveiled in all its glory once I've delivered it.

I did make another square for 100 million stitches:

This is using the Hayfield Bonus Aran I used on my sofa throw and cushions. I have about half of the ball left, so I've started using it up on other projects. Because the yarn is a heavier weight, my square came out bigger, and not square, so I had to add a decorative border on two sides to even it out.

I do have one more project started, but no photos of it yet because it's not got interesting enough. It's the Lion Brand Elephant pillow and it's for yet another baby. I'm doing it with two strands of the yellow DK (the yarn used for Tiramisu) as the pattern calls for a heavier yarn than I have available. I've decided to veer away from blankets for this next baby, and try something a little more interesting!

I haven't started on the Avalon top yet, I think I might save that for the weekend ahead. Being more awake to tackle a new and scary pattern seems like a good idea to me.

For slightly more interesting WIP Wednesday updates, head on over to Tami's Amis and see what else is on offer.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

It's here already!

My yarn for the Avalon sweater has arrived! I'm astounded. I only ordered it yesterday.

This is fairly true to colour, although I'm sure I could get a better shot with natural light. It's lovely and soft and squishy, and I'm really looking forward to working with it. 

I cannot recommend Cucumber Patch enough! If only their bricks-and-mortar shop was closer than a three hour drive away.
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