I blame James Runcie

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It’s all James Runcie’s fault (he’s the chap that wrote The Grantchester Mysteries and yes, he is the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury).  He is also the reason that on Monday afternoon I was sitting in traffic on the M62 in a complete fizz because (a) I was going to be late (arrival instructions specifically said leave plenty of time for your journey and I clearly had not) and (b) I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go there anyway but it was too late to back out without telling a whopping fib.  Although since I was on my way to an Arvon writing course I could possibly have dressed the fib up as an example of short fiction and submitted it in absentia.

It all started at the Edinburgh book festival where I heard James Runcie refer to his time on an Arvon writing course.  Like a worm, the idea of doing the same wriggled around for the rest of the day and by the following evening I had signed myself up for “Stuck in the middle”  described as a course for writers with a work in progress that has stalled long before the finishing line.  Job done I got on with the rest of my life.  The habit time has of moving on (unlike my novel) found me, three months later, highly stressed on the M62 wishing I had never heard James Runcie speak.  I had no idea what I was letting myself in for but I was reasonably sure it was going to be something scary.

I wasn’t the very last person to arrive, but I was pretty close, so when I walk into the sitting room, everyone else has found somewhere to sit, has a mug of tea and look extremely authory.  I am flustered, in need of tea (the pot was empty – authory people obviously drink a lot of tea, more on that later) and terrified of taking somebody else’s seat.  Usual small talk of “where have you come from?” revealed that the lady sitting next to me had worked with my brother in law, and not only that, she referred to him as “the lovely Keith”.  I am waiting for a suitable moment with maximum embarrassment potential before revealing that nugget to him.

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Just a light lunch

 

The housekeeping talk covered all the usual topics (no fire practice planned, please turn off the lights etc) but had a bonus topic on meals.  We were cooking dinner.  It is clear in the course information but like many things we often skip over the bits we don’t like.  I love to cook, but I like to do it in my kitchen, preferably on my own, using a recipe I have chosen and for a maximum of about 8 people.  The lovely Arvon people had addressed point one by ensuring that the team cooking dinner did the washing up for lunch and for dinner the night before, in order to familiarise ourselves with the kitchen.  Cheers for that.

Then straight into the ice-breaker  before dinner.  And guess what, it worked.  Ice duly broken and wine bottles cracked open we settled in comfortably to the fabulous bubble that is Lumb Bank.

And the course? Well first it was a course, it was not a retreat.  There is no television and no wifi (the 4G signal at Lumb Bank is surprisingly good, particularly bearing in mind its wonderfully remote situation) and being removed from everyday life is very much part of the experience.  But it is not the whole one and we did learn.  I certainly came away from the four half day workshops with a far better writing toolbox than I had when I arrived.  My major problem with the current WIP was that I was hurtling towards the end before the novel had really got going.  The structure was wrong, the beats were in the wrong places.  I still have to write the next sixty thousand words or so, but at least now I know where they need to go.

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I’ve no idea why my toothbrush is there either

When reading books about writing, I tend to read the exercises, plan to do them later (if at all) and move on to the next chapter.  I discovered I love writing exercises, mainly because I loved what they taught me.  And several of those little paragraphs sparked potential character and plot definition that I found very helpful.  I have some dialogue that is definitely going in the book and discovered that two of my characters fell off the sofa when they first had sex together.

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It is a bubble, but a lovely bubble.  The landscape alone is a novel waiting to be written, particularly at this time of year.  Although the walk up and down to the house from the village is not for the fainthearted.  Perhaps I was lucky with the group I was with but I liked them all and we gelled well.  I imagine that if that were not the case the experience could have been a very different one.  We drank a vast amount of tea and coffee and even more wine (a second run was required by the penultimate night).  Some of us braved the walk up the hill and went to the pub quiz.  We failed to be the first Lumb Bankers to win, but we only lost by one point, which we could have had if we listened correctly to the question ….

And the cooking. Well despite the familiarisation technique and all the helpful labels on the cupboard doors we still failed to find an extra oven shelf which led to some jenga like balancing acts and we definitely over-estimated how much everyone liked peas.  But I get exactly why the cooking is shared.  It’s not just the teamwork in the kitchen (and the singing that goes with it,  you cannot cook and not sing) it’s also part of the whole shared experience.  And it is an experience that is proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Aristotle must have been to Lumb Bank.

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And then we said goodbye.  I don’t like goodbyes, I can get very sentimental if left to my own devices but the need to be on early trains or overcome potential traffic jams meant breakfasts were brisk, taxis took off and I braved the long walk up the hill for the last time.

 

 

fair isle baubles

Harriet’s cowl is coming along nicely but I really did fancy a change.  Strangely enough I have only one other WIP!  I apologise if I have caused any injuries as readers fell to the floor in shock, hitting their heads on sharp objects on the way down.  Arnica for bruises and comfrey for healing, turmeric, ginger and chilli for inflammation and pain control (recipe here).  Back to the knitting.  Apart from Stuart’s socks which I was going to take to Glasgow with me this weekend, but I really do want to finish my cowl, so his feet will remain chilly for a few more days, I have no other UFOs/WIP, call them what you will.

However I do have a very long list of projects waiting for me to start and one of them is this, or to be more grammatically correct, these.

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Christmas baubles for the Shetland MRI appeal.  Perfect, an evening project that is a change from the cowl but will not become a UFO!  Out came the box of shetland yarn and it was on the needles.

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I knit pretty much everything in the round and even now I twist cast ons.   When there are hundreds of stitches I blame the fact that there are too many stitches.  But when there are only 12?  There are too few.  Believe me, when you have more needle than stitches there is a twist waiting to happen.

I used this pattern for my first attempt.   The pattern calls for 4.5 needles.  I tend to knit fairly loose and wasn’t going to bother with a swatch for something that is about the size of a swatch when completed so just went down to 3.5 needles and spindrift yarn from Jamiesons.   Apart from my inability to count to three (as evidenced by the number of times I had to tink back …) it was a dream to knit.

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And within no time at all I had a flat bauble.

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Some stuffing, an icord hanger and it’s bottom sewn up and we have a Christmas bauble. Hopefully the first of many.  I may pop my 3.5s into my bag this weekend in case I need a break from the cowl again!

Love Gillie x

 

 

do cows have cellulite?

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The answer is, I have no idea, but it was a question that came up during the discussion about leather quality and type at the beginning of a fabulous day with Suzanne Treacy at a belt making workshop at Linnels Farm.  I have taken so many workshops with Karen and her team of talented craftsmen and women that I am sure she has wondered if I am about to move in.

The options were to make a dog collar (the leather not liturgical variety) or a belt.  As Poppy already has two rather smart Masai beaded collars and I do not have a decent belt to my name I understandably went for the latter option.  If you are faced with the same decision at any point in the future do note the one key difference – there is a lot more leather in a belt (unless your dog is the size of an elephant and you have a 15″ waist)!

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Tea, coffee, delicious snacks and chit chat (Suzanne knows two people who have recently moved to Shetland … is this a message from the ether?)  and it was down to work.  I do love a good set of tools.

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And that is the leather that we were going to transform.  First step was to choose our dye.

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And then cut (that was immensely satisfying).

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and prepare our leather.

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Look at all those lovely shavings.  I couldn’t possibly let them go to waste, I’m sure they could be incorporated into some kind of embroidery project.

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And then the dye.

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As you can see, belts take a little bit longer.

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Suddenly it was time for lunch.

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Andy from Papaya  once again pushed the boat out way beyond the harbour walls.

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It looked like this and tasted even better.  Sorry you’re missing out.

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Then back to work.  Burnishing.  I could burnish all day.   Smoothing those edges, bringing up a shine.  The satisfaction is huge and the process almost meditative.

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This was called skiving, no I mean it, the thinning of the end was called skiving … I wasn’t actually skiving.

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Buckle in place it was time to make the stitching holes.  Look at the holes left in the cutting mat.  Those tines are SHARP.  It was jolly hard removing the “fork” from the leather but I wasn’t going to argue with anything could leave holes like that in a self-healing cutting mat!

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Belt in place in the stitching pony and away we went.  Saddle stitch, sewing with needles at both ends of the thread is also very satisfying (a much used word today but describes the whole process so precisely).  As a side note I have discovered that saddle stitch is also used in bookbinding.  I have a little bookbinding project on the back burner so I’m looking forward to giving those double needled threads another go.

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And Ta Da!  From this to this in a day!

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From now own my waist is no longer going to be hidden under loose tops and jumpers.  I have a swanky new belt to show off!  And if I have a bit more time maybe I could graduate to one of these!

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Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

cars, trains and pumpkins

Bertie (previously known as Loofah due to the first four digits of his number plate LOO4) finally rolled his wheels for the very last time and left Susie without a car.  A replacement was found, but it (name yet to be discovered) was in Gateshead and Susie was in Leeds.  So she she hopped on the train to Durham for a few hours R&R (and freezer scoping) at home, pumpkin carving, slushy movie watching and a new car!

We’ve never been hugely into Halloween, and  my own personal interests tend towards Samhain (I will be drumming around my fire pit tonight) but it is hard not to be seduced into buying at least one pumpkin.  I read somewhere I think, that cutting the base of the pumpkin rather than the top reduces rot and consequently makes the carved fruit last longer.  I have absolutely no idea if this is true or indeed why it should be true … but I tried it nonetheless.  Susie and spent ages on Pinterest checking out the carvings created by knife wielders far more deft than we and instead plumped for the simple but, we felt, striking.

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Now to work out what to do with the ghost’s innards.  Stuart is no fan of pumpkin and I knew better than to try an tempt him with pumpkin soup of any variety.  But I do know my daughter and she is partial to a sweet pie.  So whilst they went to pick up the  new wheels I made pumpkin pie.  I make no claim to this being my own recipe, it comes from my well thumbed copy of The All American Cookbook by Martha Lomask.

  • 2 medium eggs
  • 225 ml milk
  • 400g cooked pumpkin flesh*
  • 125g sugar (I used a mix of demerara and golden caster)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmet
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp melted butter (I forgot this and it was fine 🙂 )

*since I had scraped the flesh out of the pumpkin I couldn’t roast it so I added about 250ml of water and simmered gently for 20 minutes and then drained and squeezed out as  much water as I could.  From one medium pumpkin I got 700g of cooked flesh.

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  1. Line a 23cm pie tin with sweet shortcrust pastry.  If you can remember the butter (!)  brush it over the base of the pastry case.
  2. Whisk milk and pumpkin flesh together.  Then add the remaining ingredients and continue to whisk.  I shoved the whole lot in my magimix and it came out perfectly well.
  3. Pour into pastry case.

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4. Bake at 200C for 40-45 minutes until a knife in the centre of the pie comes out    clean.

5. Eat.

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The remains of the pie went back to Leeds with Susie in the as yet unnamed car with a second pumpkin for carving tonight.

Finally, the seeds.  Stuart, who as I  mentioned is not greatly enamoured of pumpkin flesh, thinks these are the best bits.  I usually struggle to remove the flesh from the seeds but heard a brilliant tip on the radio this week.  Put them in a salad spinner.  It worked a dream.

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Dry, place on a heavy roasting dish.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning of your choice, I used ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper)  Place in a hot oven for five minutes.  Don’t burn your fingers trying to get them out of the roasting dish …

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Happy Halloween

Love Gillie x

scanner, bears and hats – MRI Appeal Shetland

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Gorgeous isn’t it?  This is currently on my needles and I can’t wait to try it on and show it off.    But I am even more excited about telling people where the pattern came from.  Read on.

F9A2BF8D-061A-473D-B955-E1E27E5BD00EMeet the two Billys.  You may never have heard of them, but they, along with the eponymous Harriet of the cowl above,  are two of the leading lights behind a huge army of knitters who are edging closer to changing the medical face of living on the Shetland Islands.  Here they are at Loch Ness Knit Fest with patterns and products for the Shetland MRI appeal.

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Three million three hundred and forty six thousand MRI scans are performed in the UK each year.  Of these precisely none are performed on the Shetland Islands because the nearest MRI Scanner is over 200 miles away in Aberdeen, an overnight ferry trip or a flight away.  For the 675 people on Shetland who require an MRI scan this is considerably more complicated than even a three or four hour drive to your nearest MRI scanner and can be further complicated by weather that cancels flights and ferries and the time involved (two overnight ferries and possibly a stay in Aberdeen requires three days off work, complicated childcare arrangements and so on) even before the cost of the transport itself and the possible need for somebody to accompany the patient.  An MRI scan is not just a hospital appointment, it can be a complex and expensive logistical operation.

In July 2018 NHS Shetland launched a £2m appeal for an MRI scanner for the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.  The savings made in patient travel will be used to staff the scanner which will be in a stand alone unit at the hospital.  You can read the full details, follow the appeal and donate here.  So where do the two Billys fit in?

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(photo credit:  MRI Maakers Shetland)

Meet Harriet Middleton, Billy the human’s (as opposed to Billy the Bear) mother.  Harriet, like many Shetlanders, is an expert knitter and collected up some of her yarn scraps and designed and produced a beanie hat (or toorie as regular readers will know is the Shetland term) which she began to sell at craft fairs, Sunday teas  and anywhere she could persuade people to let her put up a stall.

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The hat sold like the hot cakes at the Sunday Teas.  Eventually it became clear that even super-fast knitter Harriet couldn’t keep up with demand on her own and so she started a Maakin and Yaakin (doesn’t that sound so much better than Knit and Knitter?!) group where people could come along with their own yarn scraps and knit more hats.

Like the proverbial Topsy the hat grew and grew and became

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Gloves, fingered or fingerless.

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Mittens

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A headband.  And finally, the cowl that is currently sitting on my needles.  It rapidly became clear that the patterns themselves could become fundraisers, Jameieson & Smith and Jameisons both put wool packs together and soon knitters all over the world were proudly wearing their MRI Maakers knitwear. Patterns are available from shops across Shetland and the rest of Scotland (Wool for Ewe) and even in the USA (The Woolly Thistle, Northfield Yarns,  The Spinnning Room) as well as directly from the MRI Scanner appeal website.  Some of the patterns are even available in Norwegian!  If you are a LYS or knitting group you can purchase patterns in bundles of 25.

73413128_2095205527455846_6312859235080208384_oBilly Two was created for the appeal by Burra Bears.  Here he is with Billy Middleton on his way to Loch Ness Knit Fest.     He even has his own Instagram Account where  you can follow his busy life.

So how successful has Harriet’s knitting project been in helping to reach the appeal target?  Are you sitting down?

……  by the end of Loch Ness Knit Fest the MRI Maakers fundraising total stands at £62,000.  Pretty darn good eh?!

Finally, you may have noticed that there is a festive season approaching, can  you knit a bauble?

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Patterns are available for free here or the sheep pattern is on Ravelry here.  Send  your completed baubles to Jamiesons of Shetland where they will be displayed over Christmas and then sold to raise funds for the appeal.  Personally I think we can knit enough baubles to cover all of Commercial Street, not just Jamiesons …..

Lets get knitting.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

carpaccio, halibut, creme brûlée and bears

Inverness has changed a lot since I was a child and one of the greatest improvements is The Rocpool Restaurant.  I don’t think anyone will disagree with the observation that eating out in the Highlands during the sixties and seventies was more of a miss than a hit affair.  Tinned tomato soup was usually the safest option for dinners in draughty castles where the staff were understandably as miserable as the customers.

Stephen has changed all that and The Rocpool is quite my favourite restaurant anywhere, not just Inverness.  We have tried and failed to work out how many meals we have enjoyed there, but suffice to say Eloise was about three the first time she ate there.  This was her on Saturday.

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That rather tasty cocktail’s name now escapes me, it was essentially gin and bramble puree, here is a close up of it in all its deliciousness.

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Neither Bea nor Susie were able to join us, so we very kindly sent them some pictures of our meal.  I’m not sure quite how much they appreciated our generosity, I could feel the breath of the green-eyed monsters sitting on their shoulders!

As usual the choice was difficult.  Eloise was really struggling and opened the bartering process with some subtle hints about what other people might want to order.  Scotch fillet of beef carpaccio with crisp fried artichokes, fresh greens and shaved manchego cheese with gremolata was my opening gambit and I can confirm, was an excellent choice.

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After our recent visit to Shetland and Stuart’s fish bothering exploits it seemed only reasonable to try the Shetland halibut with curry spiced cauliflower, spaghetti of courgettes with roasted pine nuts, golden sultanas and brown shrimp with hot buttered new potatoes.

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It did not disappoint.  For me the choice of pudding was a no-brainer.  It had to be the excellent creme brûlée,  thick vanillary cream with a satisfying spoon bashable top.

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This was the one course where Eloise had no difficulty at all.  She can recite the full Lemon meringue pie entry on the menu from memory (including the bit about the 10 minute wait!).

We had worked up our appetite with the traditional Bear Walk.  Its real name is Raven’s Rock Gorge.  But Bear Walk makes more sense to us.

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We have been walking here since the girls were tiny and have taken a photograph at least once every year.  The bear seems smaller now even to me!

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And last week with Poppy on only her second Bear Walk.

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Sadly the storms of a few winters back have heaved out the pine trees and it is no longer possible to walk the full circular path, instead you have to do one walk to the view point and another to the Bear.

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We did venture quite a long way back from the viewpoint but eventually had to concede defeat.

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It was excellent mushrooming though and we came back with plenty of oyster and hedgehog mushrooms and spotted a few chanterelles.

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Eloise fortunately did not repeat the great dunking of 2009!

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Autumnal glory.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oodles of colour

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Don’t you just want to dive in?  Delicious Batt from Sealy MacWheely  This was just a tiny fraction of the colour explosion that is Loch Ness Knit Fest .

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Not everything comes in skeins or balls.  Sometime you need to buy a socking great cone from Kincraig Fabrics.

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We were practically queuing up to photograph this wonderful top and take down the name of the pattern (Sashiko btw).  Discovering new patterns, yarns and designers is part of the fun.  Everywhere you turn there is another piece of stunning knitwear.

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Time for a break maybe? The Singleton

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A friend from closer to home.  Love Handyed from Stanhope.

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The lovely Claire from Cookston Crafts holding the yarn that will (eventually) the Ranunuculus.  I do love a burst of colour!

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The burst of colour that is Katie from Sealy MacWheeley     She did explain the construction of the jumper but she lost me after the instruction to block the Japanese lacework and pick up the bust stitches!  It is pretty impressive and I will look it up as I rather fancy having a go …. goodness knows when!

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The guilds that provide advice, helping hands, support, tea and sympathy and everything else required to introduce weaving, spinning and dyeing to the uninitiated.

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If you didn’t dive in at the beginning, feel free now!

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And finally.  This is the face of the future of knitting.  And she is a jolly good Roadside Beanie model too.

Maybe I’ll see you at Loch Ness Knit Fest next year.

Love Gillie x