Monday, 23 April 2018

Kew Gardens in April: Spring Delights

During my year's membership of Kew Gardens I didn't manage to visit as often as I'd planned - deadlines got in the way and, of course, there was lots of other fun stuff in London to tempt me on my days off.

I was particularly annoyed with myself for missing the famous bluebells and the cherry blossom walk in full bloom in late spring, but it's hard to be sad looking back as my early April visit was so full of spring delights.

As well as the magnificent magnolias which I blogged about earlier (because, honestly, they really deserved their own post), on my April walk around the gardens I spotted...

... seas of daffodils...


... beautiful blossom...

... yellow flames of forsythia...

... and early budding lilac.

It was such a perfect sunny spring day! The weather at this time of year can be so changeable, you have to grab sunny days when you get them and squeeze as much into them as you possibly can.

It was wonderful to be able to spend ages walking round the gardens, seeing familiar vistas full of the light and colour and vibrancy of the season and discovering new-to-me corners.

The gardens at Kew are so large that it feels like there are always new things to discover - at least it did during my year of visits! One of the new places I explored during my April visit was the bonsai house which, just like its contents, is small but perfectly formed.

I also popped into the Marianne North Gallery, which might not look that exciting from the outside but is an incredibly unique space - click to see!

Marianne North was a Victorian botanical artist, who travelled the world painting fabulously vivid pictures of tropical and exotic plants. The gallery at Kew was purpose-built to house her life's work, and it's wonderful but also slightly overwhelming seeing it all at once. You can browse the complete collection of Marianne's paintings online here, and read more about her life here.

For more Kew Gardens goodness, click here to read all my posts about my visits.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Knitting a Patchwork Blanket of Mini Squares with Leftover Yarn

I finished my mini patchwork squares blanket this week! Yay!

This project has been a work-in-progress for such a long time, I thought it might be nice to take a look back at how it's developed over the years. 


I started knitting mini squares in September 2011 (the arrival of autumn always makes me want to knit stuff - how about you?).

Each square was ten stitches across, knitted with moss stitch on size 10 (3.25 mm) needles.

I didn't have a plan for what I was going to use them for, I just wanted to make something out of the yarn (in a general spirit of "waste not want not") and thought knitting little squares was a good first step towards turning my leftover yarn into something useful. Every time I had a small ball of yarn left over from a knitting project I'd knit some more little squares, then pop them in a bag with all the others. By July 2012 I'd knitted about 150 squares and the bag continued to fill up.

In the summer of 2014 I decided to use the squares to make a blanket. It was originally going to be a small picnic blanket (inspired by having been to a picnic where everyone but me had lovely picnic blankets) but I soon decided it was going to be a curling-up-on-the-sofa blanket instead.

I decided to build up my blanket gradually, sewing the squares into blocks then sewing the blocks together to make up the blanket. Here are the first few blocks I stitched together:

It was quite exciting finally having a plan for the squares and making a start on sewing them all together.


As the months went on I continued to knit mini squares whenever I had any leftover yarn...


... sewing the squares into blocks...

 ... then adding them to the growing blanket.

It was really fun seeing the blanket develop organically as I just went with the flow and used whatever colours I had, adding to the blanket little by little.

By January 2015 I had 270 squares stitched together and the biggest section of the blanket looked like this:

Unsurprisingly, everyone always says this blanket reminds them of the video game Tetris!

I love these blocks of colour. They give the blanket a kind of controlled randomness, showcasing the colours and making the whole design look consistent instead of being just a jumble of individual squares (which I think would have driven me bananas). Really importantly for me, using the blocks meant I felt happy starting sewing the squares together way before I had enough squares for a whole blanket. 

There were, of course, a lot of ends to weave in and trim along the way!


I originally joined the blocks together in a few different sections, so I could spread the colours out more evenly across the blanket. I finally joined them into one big piece in December 2015, when I laid all the pieces out on the floor, worked out the final size I wanted the blanket to be (30 x 30 squares) and decided how the already-knitted pieces would best fit together within it.

Because I am a nerd who enjoys making charts, I decided to use a bit of squared paper and some felt tip pens to make a little chart to track my blanket's progress and get a better idea of how the "design" was developing.

I'm really glad I did this because it ended up inspiring the final design of my blanket!

Instead of spending many years slooooowly knitting another 400+ squares from leftover yarn, I decided to stick with a central sweep of colour and keep the rest of the blanket plain white. I loved how the colour popped against the white but I also loved the idea of actually getting this blanket finished before my 40s.

Of course, this meant I needed to knit a LOT of little white blanket squares. I started knitting them in the spring of 2016, but not yet joining them to the coloured squares in case I wanted to add extra squares to the central sweep.

Knitting the white squares was pretty repetitive (and not particularly photogenic) but it was a great relaxing task to do in front of the TV in the evenings.

By March 2017 I had a big bag of white squares and the main section of the blanket looked like this:

I abandoned the blanket for months at a time, working on the project in fits and starts. Sometimes the idea of it totally bored me and other times I worked on it obsessively. This is the kind of labour-intensive, repetitive project which could easily become infuriating if you worked on it when you weren't in the mood to. I'd added 514 squares to the blanket by the spring of 2017 and that's a lot of hours of knitting and sewing!

I began joining the white squares to the blanket later that year, sewing together the stash of squares I'd knitted so far then gradually adding new squares as I knitted them.

I had to do a bit of unpicking in November 2017, as this dark red block was really bugging me and I decided I could stand it no longer. It didn't fit nicely with the sweep of colour across the blanket and the squares didn't look remotely square, so I cut it out and replaced it with white. Unpicking all that red yarn took forever but it was totally worth it!

I slowly knitted more white squares over the winter, adding them to the blanket as I went along. Then with the end in sight (always an exciting time) I did a big push in March to get to the finish line. It started really looking and feeling like a proper blanket instead of just a big unwieldy yarn shape, and I couldn't wait to get it finished!

Here it is with 52 squares to go in late March.

After a flurry of knitting, I finished the blanket this weekend. The final job was, of course, to weave in a whole bunch of white yarn ends.

I knitted the first few squares in September 2011, and wove in the final yarn ends in April 2018... so it's taken me about six and a half years from start to finish. Is that a long time to be working on a blanket? I don't know. It feels wonderful to finally have it finished, anyway.

Six and a half years. 900 mini squares knitted and sewn together. 1,800 yarn ends woven in. I have no clue how many hours I've spent on this project, but it's a lot!

I'm going to lazily bask in that glorious "finished project" feeling for a bit, then take some nice photos of the finished blanket to share with you guys asap. If you fancy making your own mini squares blanket and have any questions about how I've made mine, do let me know in the comments. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Exploring Oxford: Exeter College

Time to explore another bit of beautiful Oxford...

I've already shown you two of the University's Colleges (Magdalen and Oriel), but if you've ever been to the city you'll know there's plenty still to go!

Today I'm sharing some photos of Exeter, whose former students include J. R. R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and William Morris. Apparently William Morris hated the college and his course but he fell in love with the architecture and history of Oxford's many medieval buildings, and Exeter was also where he met his great friend and creative collaborator Edward Burne-Jones.

Exeter is Oxford's fourth-oldest college. It was founded in 1314 by a Bishop who wanted to educate clergy for his diocese (no prizes for guessing what city he was Bishop of!). Little of the medieval college remains, however, as the small college expanded in the 16- and 1700s, and a new chapel was built in the 1850s.

I loved this stained glass (which I think was in the dining hall?)...


... and the chapel's little spire.


There are beautiful details everywhere you look in the chapel, from the ornate entrance...

... to the carving on the walls...

... to the colourful stained glass.

Isn't it a gorgeous space?

Outside I was enchanted by all the greenery climbing its way up the buildings of the college.

This window was particularly delightful - though I guess you might not think so if this was your room!

The year I visited Exeter they'd opened up the Fellows' Garden for Oxford Open Doors, an annual festival which gives you free access to lots of the historic buildings in Oxford and a peek at lots of places that aren't normally open to the public.

It's always a treat to get to explore a space you wouldn't normally have access to, but especially when it's one as lovely as this. 

The main attraction in the Fellows' Garden isn't the garden itself, though, it's the view! From the far corner of the garden you get a truly fabulous view of Oxford's famous Radcliffe Square and the Radcliffe Camera.

Whenever I return to Oxford now and walk through Radcliffe Square, I can't help looking up at the wall of Exeter's Fellows' Garden and remembering my visit.

Exeter College is free to visit on most afternoons - click here for a full list of the Colleges and their visitor info.

Want to explore more of Oxford? Click here to read all my posts!