Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dots-or-stripes' Review of the Year

This is the blog entry where I look back at the past year, and consider whether I met my aims as expressed in my New Year's Resolutions.

Overall, I would say 2010 has not been a bed of roses. Although I've written almost nothing about it on this blog, I've had a lot of teenager-related trouble. The temporary acting-up job I took on in April turned out to be much more stressful than I had anticipated. I had other job-related anxiety due to my substantive post being threatened with redundancy. I'm learning to live with this, just like many other public sector workers in the UK. This means although I achieved my resolution to stay employed in 2010 - I'll need to renew it for 2011.

The other three resolutions were craft related, as follows:

  • to increase my knitting output. In a complete reversal from 2009, I've finished over 20 knitted items and only a handful of sewn items. Next year, a more balanced approach between the two would be better. Having written that, I'm planning my second OWL, which means a lot of knitting until end March.
  • to complete at least one item off my list of four languishing items. Achieved in March, when I finished the Regatta stole. Nothing else has been added to the list, so it's now down to three items. I intend to get another long term WIP off there next year.
  • to learn a new skill, such as crochet. Erm... I learned how to do crochet chains. I have used these to edge a couple of washcloths, and to make wrist ties for a pair of mittens. So I can't really claim success on this one.
I also said I would spend less time on the computer, but I totally ignored that one :-)

Look out for my 2011 craft resolutions in early January.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Holidays!

The rest of the christmas baking is done:


Just for clarity, those are cranberries on top of the little cakes - not holly berries, as ds enquired! I don't put poisonous berries on top of my cakes :-)

All presents are wrapped, and advance preparations for christmas dinner are done, including the cranberry sauce:


Merry Christmas to all my readers! See you soon!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Winter wonderland

No respite from the Arctic chill here. Here's a view of my road in the snow:


I made a cake, and it also looked snow-topped. Ds was still at school today, so I could do my preferred understated icing!


This is yet another Nigella recipe - the snow-topped spice cake from How to be a domestic goddess. I make this every year, instead of a traditional christmas cake. My dad makes me one of those, so this is a good contrast.

In between making and icing the cake, I also made mince pies.


I've not finished with the christmas cookery yet, as there are three packets of cranberries in my fridge, and not all of them are needed for the sauce.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Reindeer biscuits

... and snowmen, angels, christmas trees and holly leaves, as seen below:


Baking christmas biscuits is becoming an annual ritual for ds and me. This year, we used the recipe for christmas decoration biscuits from Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess  - and I'm pleased to report the taste test compared favourably with last year's version.  ETA: the recipe I used is available free on the Net, I have discovered. So if you want to make these, you can find the recipe here.

We have a set of christmas cookie cutters that come out annually for this purpose:


Every year, I want to be restrained and use plain white icing with a sparse scattering of silver pearls, a la Nigella, but ds insists on colouring some icing bright green (for the holly leaves) and also sprinkling handfuls of sugar strands. Of course he wins! Not least because the decoration is primarily his affair. My job is to make and roll the biscuit dough, cut out the shapes, and finish off if he gets bored.

Really liking the finished article, though. Regard these merry deer running through the greenwood:


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Instructions for married life

I came back from the shops this morning with yellow roses. And found dh waiting for me, with a bunch of freesias. Both these flowers were at our wedding.

It's eighteen years ago this weekend since we got married, long before the days of digital photography, but I do have one scanned photo, of us signing the register:


How young I look! And I no longer have curly hair [cough. Those curls were not natural!]

Since then, we've known good times and we've known hard times. Our children have brought us both joy and substantial challenge. In spite of the ups and downs, not only are we still together, both of us are still buying flowers for the other, to mark our anniversary, and that can't be bad.

Monday, 6 December 2010

O christmas tree


I'm really enjoying the pre-christmas rituals this year, not least because ds is entering into the swing of things so whole-heartedly. Spot him as an elf, assisting with tree decorating above!

Dd hung a few things on the tree but retired defeated owing to feeling rather poorly. Here she is snuggled up with a lemsip.


Note double layer of hoodies in an effort to beat the winter chill. The central heating is on, but the UK is being blasted by air currents direct from Siberia at present and it is pretty cold.  I've been trudging along icy pavements in my wellies to get to work.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Gift list

Here are some of this year's hand-made christmas presents:


1. Very easy knitted lavender bag. I simply cast on enough stitches for 4 sets of horseshoe lace repeats, worked 3 vertical repeats and a picot cast-off, sewed side and bottom seam, sewed a little voile bag to go inside for lining, filled with lavender, threaded ribbon through a set of eyelets near top and tied in a bow.


2. Knitted washcloth. This is just the standard ball-band dishcloth pattern from the inside of the Peaches & Creme cotton yarn wrapper, made with Faded Demin ombre and solid eggshell colourways. When presented with a bar of soap, it will make a nice small gift.

This brings my current hand-knitted gifts tally to 6. About to cast on for pair of socks next - hope I can finish them in time.

Continued snow and freezing temperatures has put paid to dh's (work) trip to Paris; my mother's christmas-shopping visit has had to be postponed; dd's weekend trip to stay with her sister in London now looks doubtful. I'm hoping I will actually be able to get to the shops fairly soon, as I really need to do some actual shopping, or Santa's sleighload will be extremely meagre this year - above knitting notwithstanding.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Snowfall stocking

I actually knitted this some weeks ago, but it didn't seem right to blog about it till now. Suddenly it seems the festive season is almost upon us, and we actually had snow here this weekend.


I made this knitted stocking using Jennifer Hoel's beautiful Falling Snowflake Stocking pattern and Wendy mode chunky yarn.

I made it for ds, to replace his previous craft-fair purchased felt stocking which was on its last legs, so to speak. I'd already glued the snowman back on, but the edges had started to separate, and a stocking is no good if things fall out!

Ds's eyes were as big as saucers when he saw the replacement, as it is quite a large stocking - no doubt he was thinking about all the presents that would fit inside! I'll have to have a word with Santa, as possibly we will need it bulking out with oranges for economy purposes.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I has an OWLs


I finished the skier's hat I grumbled about previously, aka the Cross-Country Chullo by Anne Featonby. Although it took me a long time, and much cursing was involved, I rather like the finished item. But it's not actually for me - and I'm not sure I'd really wear such an eye-catching hat. I'll leave it to the teenagers in the family to do that.

Should you wish to tackle this (by no means easy) pattern, it's available for free on Knitty.

Completing this hat also means I am the proud recipient of this award:


If you hang out on Ravelry and like Harry Potter, maybe you'll know what this means. To me, it represents acknowledgement of achievements in charted knitting. I had to make more than just this hat to get it!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Winter table napkins

I made half a dozen red gingham napkins yesterday:


Red gingham has mildly festive connotations in our house because we have a red gingham christmas table runner. I've been meaning to make matching napkins for a while but couldn't find any red gingham of a suitable weight for table linen - I finally found some this year in IKEA. I also used three rolls of East of India craft ribbon which dd gave me last christmas. 

Gingham is a good choice for this ribbon-embellished style, as the lines on the gingham help you keep the ribbons straight.

I've written down the method and here it is, in case anyone else wants to make these vaguely festive napkins.

Materials:
1 m of fabric, 1.5m wide.
6 m of patterned ribbon. I used 3 x 2m rolls in assorted designs.
(This amount is sufficient to make 6 napkins)

Finished dimension of napkins: approx. 40 cms square

Cutting list:
6 pieces each 42 cm square from the main fabric
12 lengths of ribbon each 43 cms approx.

Method:
  1. Line up a length of ribbon on one of the napkin pieces to your satisfaction - mine were placed approx 10 cms from the cut napkin edge. Pin ribbon in place. Using a sewing machine, stitch along one edge of the ribbon in coordinating thread. Pivot and turn at the end, sew along the short edge, then pivot again and sew along the other long edge.
  2. Line up another piece of ribbon to cross the first one at 90-degrees, as shown in the photo below. Pin in place. Repeat the sewing along the edges of the ribbon as previously.
  3. Cut off loose threads and trim the ribbon to lie at the napkin edge, if necessary. Turn over a narrow double hem at one edge; press into place and then pin. Repeat for the other three sides, so there is a pinned double hem round all four sides. Take care to pin securely at the corners.
  4. Use a straight sewing machine stitch to sew along all four hem edges, close to the hem edge, pivoting at each corner and backstitching at start and finish to secure. Press the completed napkin.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Easiest Mittens In the World Ever

Recently I made a tea cosy, reminiscent of a juicy purple berry, and sang the praises of the yarn used -
Twilley's of Stamford Freedom Spirit.

I liked it so much, I knitted a pair of fingerless mittens in the same yarn. (Yes, yet another pair!! again, modelled by me, but this pair definitely for one of my younger relations.)


This must be the Easiest Fingerless Mitts Pattern Ever. They are just garter stitch rectangles, stitched together at the sides leaving a gap for the thumb, with a crocheted chain added to gather the wrist slightly. I see Ysolda does a slightly more advanced version, including thumb openings, and I might try that when the fingerless mitts bug hits me again.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Le francais

Idly following a few links recently, I was charmed to find you can get blogs (or any other internet content) translated courtesy of Google. Want to see my site in French? Look here

I'm really tickled that my screen label KL (which is actually my first name initials) has also kindly been translated... into "kilolitre". Er, no.

Although my French is terribly rusty, I can spot a few other errors as well. For example, I would translate "really" as "vraiment" rather than "reellement", which I haven't heard in common use. (sorry, there are no accents on my English keyboard; I know there should be one in "reellement" - my French isn't as terrible as all that!)

Maybe translation isn't dead as a career for humans quite yet - further programming definitely required.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Artistry

I went to the Lustre crafts event this weekend. Hosted annually by the University of Nottingham, it's a marketplace for artists of all kinds, with a focus on quality and uniqueness.

There was plenty to admire with over 50 artists exhibiting. As usual, the knitted items only made me consider whether I could achieve similar myself. The fabulous jewellery was also fabulously expensive, so I didn't buy any, but I did discuss the use of old coins in jewellery with Rachel Eardley, who also produces lovely pen and ink drawings and embroidered pieces. I also loved the work of Katie Heeks (only I didn't have enough money to spare on this occasion).

There were also copious amounts of beautiful ceramics. And here, I did actually buy something! I bought this lovely frog and tadpoles bowl for a christmas present.


It's for a biologist, so it seemed particularly apt. It was made by artist Mary Johnson, who had lots of ceramics in similar style, featuring honeybees, mushrooms and ladybirds.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Autumn finish?

The temperature dropped here last week. British Gas also seasonally announced price increases - just in time for greater heating requirements? Anyway, the chill seems to indicate winter is a-coming in, so I thought I'd just write a quick post summarising recent Autumnal activity.

I made this tea cosy, which is reminiscent of blackberries:


This is another pattern from the frequently cited Tea Cozies 2. I've made four cosies from there now. Although I have to say, two of the patterns had errors in, including this one (butterfly stitch pattern instructions missing from the book) but errata are available by contacting the publisher. I used Twilley's Freedom Spirit yarn, which is 100% wool, at a reasonable price and in gorgeous colours. This shade was no. 518 - desire. The finished item is a work-a-day cosy which is very thick and warm. It's due to be posted to Ireland as a christmas present.


I also made a ginger cake, which I feel is seasonal for this time of year; I don't know why, except that when I was a child, there were always gingerbread options at the local bonfire party.

In those days, I lived in a tiny Yorkshire village and the bonfire was a community event, with food brought and shared by all participants. Nowadays I live in a town where local bonfire parties are not available in the same way. Instead you have to pay an entrance fee to go to an organised event, stand well back from the flames (usually the "safe" area is defined by tape or similar, and is so far away from the actual fire you can't feel any warmth), and be fleeced by assorted fairground rides, burger stands and sweet stalls. The fireworks are more spectacular, though.

If you're from another country and are wondering why I'm writing about bonfires in November in the UK, take a look here.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

More mushrooms

This suddenly appeared in my garden last week:


It is a traditional toadstool with red spots as featured in fairyland scenes, Enid Blyton's books about the magic faraway tree and similar. I must have a magical garden. Now keeping a look-out for parties of elves, small talking woodland creatures or similar, complete with jugs of acornade!!

Actually, its common name is fly agaric, latin name amanita muscaria. I am credibly informed that is it hallucingenic and highly poisonous. So I've instructed the kids to admire from a distance, and not to touch it.

As you can see in the photo, something's clearly been eating it, I hope the toxic effects are not universal, or maybe they were having some sort of party?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Found!

These books are very popular with my just-eight-year-old:


Perhaps you recognise them, although I believe Wally's name changes, according to which country you are in. In the USA he is known as Waldo, and in french-speaking countries I understand his name is Charlie.

Ds wants to be able to hide like Wally, so I knitted him this hat.


The pattern is available for free from Wiseneedle. I adjusted it slightly to fit a child. I used Debbie Bliss cashmerino dk yarn.

Hallowe'en in the UK is not the major festival it is in the States, but there is still a little fun to be had, so as you can see in the photo above, we made a pumpkin lantern this morning. Ds will be going out with his dad, once darkness falls, in a quest for sweet treats!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Too cute


The stork recently paid a visit next door, so I made this little hat for the newly arrived baby girl. With its flower petals and little stalk, it's reminiscent of the Anne Geddes baby photographs.

The pattern is by Susan B. Anderson and is available free (warning: registration and log-in required). It's also published in Itty-Bitty Hats. I knitted it using a skein of pink Rowan handknit cotton, scraps of green and cream for the stalk, and white All Seasons Cotton for the petals, where a heavier weight yarn was called for to give the desired textured effect.

I knitted the 0-6 months size, which seemed very small. I wondered if it would be too little for baby, but there is in fact plenty of growing room. You forget how tiny newborns really are, when it's eight years since you had one in your own house.

ETA: Shared at Tea Rose Home Link Party No. 29

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Eight

Ds has now reached the face-pulling-for-photos stage, and nothing can stop it:


Happy birthday, eight-year-old!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cream Tea


In England, you'll find a cream tea on the afternoon tea menu in many tea-shops and cafes. This consists of scones, whipped cream, and strawberry jam - or sometimes, in season, fresh strawberries. All served alongside a pot of tea, naturally.

This tea cosy design was in Tea Cozies 2. There are mistakes in the pattern as printed but errata are available by using the contact link on the publisher's website. Once you have the corrected version, it's a pretty easy knit, and good for bobbles practice. The little strawberries are knitted and then seamed and stuffed.

This is another planned christmas gift. Lucky, lucky person, because it is very pretty, and totally reminiscent of summer days. I might have to make another to keep, although actually, we already have two knitted tea-cosies in the house, and there are others on my to-make list.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mushroom magic

Does anyone know what kind of fungus this is?


It appeared as if by magic in the middle of our lawn about two weeks ago, and has since grown to an enormous size.

Here's another photo taken from above, with a UK pound coin to give some idea of scale.


You can see from the damage to the top, something is nibbling away at it, but I'm not sure if it is safe for humans to eat.  Consequently I'm just looking and admiring.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Setbacks


I'm not doing too well on the knitting front. To be frank, I am coming to LOATHE the yarn I'm working with for my skier's chullo hat. If there weren't about 100 points for Ravenclaw house riding on it, I'd frog it now! As it is, I'm stuck with it with a deadline of end November.

I'm using a very traditional 100% Shetland wool yarn, much admired by others, but clearly it's not for me. I bought more yarn than I needed for this project, but luckily I've found someone to trade the excess with on Ravelry, as somehow I don't think I'll be using it again.

On an unrelated subject, but contributing to my general fairly downcast mood, as regular readers will already have realised, I work in the UK public sector. Today I received my second Section 188 notice in a month (one for my acting-up role and one for my substantive post). For the uninitiated, a Section 188 means my employer has notified this post as being at risk of redundancy. This is the third time in four years that I've been in this situation.

Hey ho. I should write something uplifting about persistence in the face of adversity, but I don't have the heart for it today :-(

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

More ways with apples

Baked apples. Which must be the simplest cooked apple dessert ever:


Apple & Blackberry crumble. It didn't even last long enough for me to photograph it, before my family had eaten three-quarters of it:


More ideas urgently needed. Please post any in comments. Thanks!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A knit of mittens

I mentioned before my recent mittens knitting obsession. I've knitted three pairs in the last month. There were the baby mittens I blogged about previously, plus two pairs of adult fingerless mitts.

#1: Nimble fingerless mitts from pattern in Yarn Forward magazine issue 30:


In the magazine, the specified yarn was Supreme possum/merino/silk mix, but I used recommended alternative Rowan cashsoft 4-ply instead. However, in this yarn the mittens came up very small. They are a snug fit on me, and my hands are tiny. My original plan was to make these for one of my teenage nieces, but I think they will not fit her. Instead I've been wearing them at work, as it was very cold in my office last week and these mitts leave my fingers free for typing.

#2 Castle mitts from pattern in Yarn Forward magazine issue 22 (Not the best pic, so will try and replace with a better one when I can get dd to hold the camera!)


I've made these mittens before and they have been much admired, so this pair is to be given away, although I'm modelling there. The yarn is Artesano inca cloud alpaca dk.

By the way, regarding the baby mittens pattern I published on Ravelry, I'm charmed to report someone else has actually knitted my pattern! And did not find any mistakes in it :-)

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Tyranny of GCSEs

Owing to impending coursework deadlines, I have been unable to use our dining-table for its dining purpose for the last few days, due to GCSE textiles being spread all over it. I've also had my patience tried, having been on continuous coursework support - i.e. re-threading the sewing machine, dealing with stuck needles and trapped threads, re-filling the bobbin, making cups of tea, cajoling and offering general encouragement.

Honestly, my 15 y.o could use some lessons in scheduling and advance planning. Unfortunately either they don't teach that at her school - or she paid absolutely no attention in those sessions!

I find it helps me keep my temper, if I knit. And I'm not the only one who finds knitting therapeutic in this way. "Aunt Grace knitted hard. She knitted all her annoyance into the sock, and felt very much better afterwards." (Enid Blyton, House at the Corner, 1947). I know just how she feels...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Little Jam-Pots

In an annual ritual, I made some jam today.


My jam-making urge seems to stem from Chapter 2 of More of Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, in which Milly-Molly-Mandy has a surprise. The surprise involves a little store-room where Milly-Molly-Mandy's mother keeps her home-made jams. Ever since I read that story, I have loved the idea of shelves stacked with ranks of glossy jars.

Sadly, my own jam-making is inhibited by lack of time, plus not having access to a huge garden full of soft fruit- unlike Milly-Molly-Mandy's mother. At present we have two apple trees and one gooseberry bush in our garden, plus access to a public footpath along which brambles grow.

As a result, I tend to make one batch of blackberry and apple jam every year, and today was the day.

Here's my granny's jam-pan, just arrived at the rolling boil stage. Twenty-five minutes later, I had 1.5 litres of blackberry & apple jam to put in jars.


If you're not familiar with the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, which are pastoral tales of English village life  set in the 1920s, you can find out more at this blog.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Collective knitting nouns

This post is about knitting, but rather tangential!

Wikipedia defines a collective noun as follows: "In linguistics, a collective noun is a word used to define a group of objects, where objects can be people, animals, emotions, inanimate things, concepts, or other things. For example, in the phrase 'a pride of lions,' pride is a collective noun."

While I was stacking up the mittens I'd knitted lately, I started to wonder if there was a collective noun for a group of mittens - if you have more than a pair, obviously. I searched lots of lists, but the only vaguely knitting-related collective noun I found was a flock of sheep - and I already knew that one.

Trying to think of my own, I came up with "a knit of mittens"? Of course this could apply to many other knitted items, but as you can have "a flock of seagulls" and also "a flock of sheep", I suppose you could equally have both "a knit of mittens" and "a knit of socks".

I also rather like the idea of "a yarn of knitters", and may propose it to this list of Some that Might Be.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Bishop's Hat Tea Cosy

Here's my September sewing - see, I hadn't forgotten my pledge to sew something, even if only small, every month.


The Bishop's Hat Tea Cosy pattern was in Sew Hip issue 20:


If you would like to see more of the work of this particular designer, take a look here.

The pattern appealed to me because not only was it small (so there was a chance I would actually finish it inside a month!), it used machine embroidery, which I was keen to try. Also, I already had plenty of suitable fabrics in my stash.

It was my first attempt at machine embroidery. I think it's not too bad, although I'm not convinced it's quite up to holiday gift standard.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Seasonal

The nasturtiums in our garden are making a fabulous last stand as autumn approaches. We have yellow ones cascading from a terracotta pot:


and orange ones growing along the fence on the other side of the garden:


As well as flowers, we have crops:



These are a tumbling variety of tomato that grow from a hanging pot. They look very pretty, as well as being good to eat.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Apple pie

The apple season has begun in our garden. We have two apple trees, both of which are allegedly eating apples, but we find they are better in cooking, unless you eat them on the same day as they are picked.


Today I picked some apples, sliced them up and mixed in some brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon:


Then rolled out pastry (shamingly, I buy the ready-made kind) and made a pie:


We ate it for dessert today, and it was delicious.


My traditional-style enamel pie plate came from Lakeland. I did have such a pie plate once before, which originally belonged to my granny, but somewhere along the line I lost it, so I was rather pleased to find a modern version.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Rosy baby mittens


This is the very first pattern I made up all by myself. I wrote it all down and posted it on Ravelry as a free Ravelry download (Ravelry log-in required).

The mittens are worked in the round with grafting at the end to minimise seaming. They include a little ribbing at the wrists to help them stay on. You can't see this, though, as it's hidden beneath the garter-stitch cuff. The mitten tops are grafted with Kitchener stitch. If you need full instructions on how to do this, I would suggest looking at Stitchdiva's excellent tutorial.

The mittens' actual size is 6.5 cms wide at the widest point x 14 cms high (with the cuff folded back as shown above). This size will fit a baby age approx 9 - 18 months. I used Easyknits bamboo merino mix in shade choc-choc cherry, about a quarter of a skein, so I estimate you need about 100m of yarn. You also need a set of 3.25mm dpns, or size required to achieve correct gauge (tension) - which is 15 sts and 19 rows per 5 cms in stocking stitch.

I'm quite proud of having published a design, even if it is extremely simple!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Top ranked?

Just look at that Wikio button in the right hand column there - it currently says 22!!  (It was only 35 last month.)

The button indicates a ranking within European knitting blogs. I'm not entirely sure how Wikio arrive at their rankings (traffic? length of time of visit? no. of times I write the word "knitting" per blog post?) but I am rather impressed to find myself 22nd on a list which includes such knitting luminaries as the wonderful Ysolda Teague (#8), Cornish designer Anniken Allis (#17) - previously I made her Regatta stole - and Katya Frankel (#10).

These designers publish regularly in Yarn Forward magazine, or all can be found on Ravelry. Although I also hang out on Ravelry, my own designing currently amounts to one pair of simple baby mittens!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Holiday End

We hadn't booked a family holiday this year, mainly owing to ongoing uncertainties about my employment situation. Dh and ds spent a week in early August staying with dh's brothers in Ireland, and dd managed to get quite a few trips in, but I stayed at home.  We did however manage a couple of weekends away, staying with my parents.

Last weekend, in an effort to create a small family holiday experience (even though dd was in Jersey at the time) we made a day trip to Whitby on the North East coast. Here's the West Cliff - that's the North Sea you can see there:


Ds was very excited by the whale's jawbone at the entrance to the harbour steps:


It's been there as long as I can remember (I've been making trips to Whitby ever since I was a little girl).

We had lunch in a seafood restaurant, and it was perfectly splendid:


Note cup of tea accompanying meal. This was Yorkshire, after all :-).