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Oxford Botanic Garden

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Lyra & Will

Long-time readers who are aware of my obsession with the His Dark Materials series will not be surprised to find out that visiting this bench in the Oxford Botanic Garden was the highlight of my summer.


The garden is absolutely beautiful; small but impeccably tended. If I lived anywhere in the vicinity I’m sure I would frequently visit it for an edifying stroll, and maybe to sit and write. As well as the literary bench, the garden is home to what we were told was Tolkien’s favourite tree, a giant pine.


The garden has several beds of “scientific” plants, like this one. You may know salicylic acid as the active ingredient in many skincare products, but what I love most about this plant is its genus name. Filipendula (or in its less uncommon English usage, filipendulous) means “hanging by a thread”, which is a word I have long been trying to get into a conversation/story/novel. :)


A rambler (Rosa Wichuraiana) which smelt delicious.


Euphorbia Stygiana, a relative of the poinsettia, my Aunt tells me.


Nymphaea Escarboucle, a nymph carbuncle waterlily.

And a couple of Oxford photo opportunities: the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs.

radcliffe camera
bridge of sighs

I didn’t see the amazing Victoria Regia, and I don’t know whether the jade vine was in bloom when I visited, but here is an interesting video, with a sneaky dig at Cambridge at the end.

And finally, if you’re seeking some accompaniment to your knitting this week, may I recommend Zuleika Dobson or An Oxford Love Story by Max Beerbohm, available on Librivox? I haven’t read it since I was an undergraduate myself, but I remember it had me hooting with laughter. Let me know if you listen & enjoy it.

15th July, 2012  // Travel // tags: , , .

British Blues

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Dear Lovely Knitters & Lovers of Lilacs,
I’m terribly sorry for having been away (still being away, alas). I’ve been without regular internet access for weeks & I’m therefore far behind on correspondence. Many apologies! I’ve been knitting & writing & travelling though, and I have lots to share with you, once my connection is re-established. I’ve also been experimenting with vlogs and book reviews, so look out for those!

Yesterday I went on a beautiful boat ride down the River Severn in Shrewsbury. We had tea and watched all the familiar buildings drift by (from a new angle), and waved back at all the landlopers. Seeing the riverside houses with their little personal jetties made me wish I lived by the river & could boat & not have to get entangled in all the road traffic. Didn’t Pepys use to commute by boat?

English Bridge - Shrewsbury
Severn River - Shrewsbury

blue ice cream

On Wednesday I rode my favourite train route to Aberystwyth & had ice cream & did the crossword on the prom. I love trains because they’re the only mode of transport (that I’ve so far discovered) that doesn’t make me motion-sick and on which I can read and knit as I please. Commuter trains aren’t very nice, but the old diesels that coast up and down the countryside are the best, for their views and their less-hurried passengers. The blue ice cream (bubblegum flavour) was quite disgusting, by the way, but the colour was very satisfying. The light in the UK makes colours look so much better than in Turkey. Even the contents of Grandma’s wheelbarrow look photogenic…


As do the blueberries I picked today…

blueberry picking
handful of blueberries
blueberry picking

Blue mosaic, blue gingham, blue skies, a blue bridge, blue ice cream, a blue-black barrow and blueberries. Bye for now! x

4th September, 2011  // Photographs, Travel // tags: , , , .

Knit Abacus Pouch / Pencil Case

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Knit Abacus Pouch

Here’s a nifty project for the travelling knitter: a counting aid, a cunning computational device & a receptacle all in one! Put your knitting notions in the pouch, grab your knitting & head to the beach. Or knit one in time for going back to school.

I’ve always been interested in how knitters count, whether with M&Ms, chocolate bar pieces (my favourite, though a bit problematic if you have to rip), stitch markers, row counters, pen & paper, or a fancy iPhone app. A while ago Francesca of Fluffbuff shared a great low-tech trick for labelling swatches & I mentioned how much I love lo-fi solutions. The great thing about them is that there’s no right way to use them; you can get as creative with their use as you do with your knitting. For example, you could use your abacus to…

  • count the rows you knit, in increments of 1, 5, 25, and 125 for each row of beads (up to 760, if I’m not mistaken).
  • keep track of simultaneous increases & decreases.
  • do soroban-style calculations; here’s a lady with a slightly crazy voice explaining how.
  • “pre-code” your knitting pattern so that you don’t have to bring it along.

My Mum even suggested that you could use it visually, to remember surface shapes and patterns.

Abacus Pencilcase

Knit Abacus

Knit Beads

Zipper Pull

This is an easy-peasy project which any beginner could make. The whole thing is just stocking stich, after all. The trickiest part was the sewing, but all that took was a bit of patience. Don’t be scared by the zipper. This was the first time I’ve sewed in a zipper, and seriously, there’s nothing to it; if you’ve ever set in a sleeve, I can assure you that this is much easier!
I think it’s inevitable that the bead “swags” will sag a little. I actually like them that way because they look like a beaded fringe, and it doesn’t interfere with their use. But if it bothers you, you could always place a piece of cardboard or plastic canvas between the knitting and lining, to keep the knitting stretched out.


You will need:

Less than 50m / 55yds of aran-weight yarn
4.5mm / US7 needles, or size to get gauge
21cm / 8in zipper
10 beads in a light colour
10 beads in a darker colour
1 large bead for zipper pull (optional)
Approx. 22 cm x 22cm / 8.5in x 8.5in fabric for lining (optional)
A tapestry needle
A sewing needle & thread

Gauge: 13 sts / 20 rows to 10cm / 4in.
Finished size: 18cm x 11cm / 7in x 4¼in.

A Word on Yarn & Bead Choice

I recommend an acrylic or acrylic-blend yarn, so that your pouch is less likely to sag or felt with use, or pill when you slide the beads around. Use needles smaller than the yarn calls for, to get a sturdy fabric. The beads need to be the right size to stay put when strung on the yarn, but should slide along easily when pushed. Large beads that stand out too far from the fabric make it difficult to gauge the length of the “swags”, so I recommend medium or smallish beads. Mine were 1cm wide.

Knitting the Pouch

String your beads onto your yarn in this order: 5 of the lighter shade, 5 of the darker shade, 5 of the lighter shade, 5 of the darker shade. The beads you will knit first are therefore strung on last. A small crochet hook will help, if you can’t get your tapestry needle through your beads. You’ll need to keep pushing your beads along as you knit.

CO 26sts.
Work 4 rows in st st.
ROW 5: K8, sl 10 sts pwise wyif, push 5 beads up to the last knit stich, so they lay in front of the slipped sts, leaving enough slack for the beads to slide k next 2 sts tightly, k6.
ROW 6: Purl across.
ROW 7: Knit across.
ROW 8: Purl across.
Rep. rows 5 – 8, 3 times more. Work in st st until piece measures 11cm / 4¼in, ending with RS facing.
Next ROW: P across. (This forms the fold).
Next ROW: P across.
Next ROW: K across.
Next ROW: P across.
Continue in st st until back measures 11cm / 4¼in from fold. Cast off.

If you choose to line your pouch, hem your fabric all the way around, then sew it 1cm / 0.5in in from each side of your pouch. You may want to stretch your pouch as you go.

Open the zipper, pin and sew it onto your pouch. I recommend working by hand, unless you’re a sewing machine whiz. Try to sew just under the cast on & cast off chains, as they will border the zipper nicely.

Mattress stitch the sides of your pouch.

Thread the cast off tail onto your tapestry needle, and pull your needle away 25cm / 10in from the pouch. Twist this length of yarn, keeping the rest of the yarn untwisted (you’ll be using it to secure the tab, but trim it a little, if that makes it easier). When you have enough twist that the yarn kinks up on itself, fold it in half, and even out the twist. Then insert the tapestry needle near where the tab emerges. Fold the tab into a loop, and sew the loop down. Secure the threads with a knot. You’ll need to cut the needle loose, but it should be ok, as long as you’ve knotted it well.

Zipper Pull
Cut a length of yarn approx. 25cm / 10in long, and pull a loop through the eye of your zipper. Then pull the ends of your yarn through the loop to form a lark’s head knot. Thread a large bead through both strands of yarn, secure with a knot. Trim off any excess.

Weave in your ends & you’re done!

Note: If you need them, here are: Knitting Abbreviations & a Mattress Stitch Tutorial

More abacus craft from around the web:

Giant wall abacus
Popsicle Stick Abacus
Spool Abacus
Abacus-inspired Family Comman Center
Oversized Wooden Abacus
Binary Marble Adding MachineSo. Cool.

Tip Junkie handmade projects

14th June, 2011  // Balay, Home, Travel // tags: , , , , , .
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