Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas treats

Yesterday I made a snow-topped spice cake in accordance with family tradition:


And I made some mince pies, which are eaten traditionally in the UK at christmas:



I also wrapped up rather a lot of presents, eight of which were hand-made. :-D

I decanted the blackberry vodka into bottles - one to give away (full) and one for us (not quite full). Nigella suggests whipping some cream and folding the leftover vodka-soaked blackberries into a simple fool dessert. That will be strictly for the over-18s, though!


Yesterday evening, dh and I thought we should sample it, and both of us agreed it was excellent.


Sending holiday greetings to all my readers. See you after the festivities!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Healthy eating

Yesterday we had an organic box delivery suitable for the season:


In this house, three out of four people like brussels sprouts. And there's plenty of Vitamin C in there to keep winter colds at bay.

I love our veggie boxes and it's like a present every time to discover what seasonal treats are inside.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I can sew a rainbow

... or the blog post in which I describe a sewing Plan, and hope it's not the kiss of death for the project!

I admired this rainbow quilt in Sew Hip magazine. For a while I've been considering making a modern quilt to give to dd, so she can take it with her when she goes off to college in a year or two, and this looks like a good candidate. Ideally I'd like to give it to her on her next birthday, which is in April.


The quilt pattern is being run as a series over several issues. As each of the colour blocks uses a different patchwork technique, and they are presented in order of difficulty, it looks like a great project for a person of limited quilting experience, like me.

As it's in parts, I can also stagger the cost of any materials needed. Although I do intend to use stash fabric whenever possible -  I already have enough fabrics to sew the blue, green and red pieces, and probably enough for the indigo too. But I did have to start by buying some orange fabric, as it's a colour I don't work with that often. I got this lot from Fabric Rehab, and some of it was in the sale!



Dd was in London visiting her elder sister this weekend, so I had a chance to make a start. The instructions start with the orange and blue panels (issue 35). I did the blue one first, which uses applique circles:


 Then I sewed the orange rail fence section:


Here's the evidence of completed sections from this weekend's sewing:


The small sections you can see at the front will form part of the border.

Issue 36 has the indigo and red sections in it, so when dd is next out of the house, I hope to tackle some of that.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Clementine cake

I used to make Nigella's clementine cake as a regular seasonal treat, until How to Eat was superseded by How to Be a Domestic Goddess, when it was usurped by snow-topped spice cake. But this year, I think I will make both. After all, everyone likes cake, and as the clementine cake contains fresh clementines, it must count as reasonably healthy - or is this just wishful thinking?

My clementines were rather large, so I only had to simmer three. This is what they looked like after two hours:


To make the cake, you whizz the cooked clementines in the blender, and then mix the pulp with the other ingredients and bake for an hour. The finished cake looks quite plain:


But when cut in slices, it is deliciously damp and orange-flavoured:


Mmm. I think maybe it won't last the week...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Stock Taking

Recently I had a clearing-out frenzy at home, in the course of which, I cataloged my yarn stash (why yes, I am a Ravenclaw student. Why do you ask?!?)


Since I took this photo, I added another four skeins each of Knit Picks Telemark sport and Stroll sock yarn. As a baseline right now, my stash comprises 50 whole balls, 68 partial balls and 27 scraps (each less than half a skein).

I keep my yarn in these two baskets:


As you can see, my yarn no longer fits comfortably inside the baskets. And this photo was taken after I'd donated a large bag of yarn to a knitting group at church, and before the arrival of the last eight balls.

I realise my stash is small compared to some other knitters', but I'm still not happy with its size. I want to reduce it in 2012, as part of a general drive towards having less stuff.

How will I do this?

  1. I will always look for stash options first when I want to knit something.
  2. I will finish one project from stash before I may purchase new yarn for another project. If I can stick to this, it should stop my stash from growing any more.
  3. I will only buy new yarn when I have a specific project for it in mind. No more buying yarn because I like the look of it, or it is on sale. 

Here's to the baskets closing by next Christmas!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Preparations

This weekend, we....



And I also ....


Sometimes pictures speak louder than words.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A lesson in sewing jersey

I've had my sewing machine since 1982, and last Sunday was the first time I ever used stitch pattern setting no. 2: triple stretch stitch.


This was because I made my first foray into sewing with jersey. I've never tried to do this before, as too intimidated by the stories of how hard it is to sew with stretch fabrics. But actually, it wasn't too bad, even though I didn't have a blunt-tipped needle. (I will get one for next time!)

Here's my super-stylish Superdry cushion made out of one of dd's discarded Tshirts. I cut out a square with the logo for the front, and used the back and bottom front to make the back envelope pieces. The logo isn't centred owing to its position on the tee.


I stitched the label into one of the side seams, for fun.

If you decide to try and make something out of jersey and using the special stitch on your machine, do take care to pin correctly. It is really difficult to unpick the resulting seam. (Go on, ask me how I know!)

It looks blue on my monitor, but in fact, this Tshirt is a blue-green colour. I still have the Tshirt sleeves left, and I'm quite tempted by this little piece of whimsy:


It's a craft project in a back issue of Mollie Makes. I might look for some more old green Tshirts and maybe make it some time.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Little green apples

Regular visitors here may remember the apple dapple cushion I made back in August. I just made a green version, as a certain family member keeps admiring my red one.


But don't say anything: it's a christmas surprise!

The applique is a free pattern downloadable from bustleandsew. I added the gingham borders, just because I like borders, I had to buy some more osnaburg for the base fabric, as mine was running low, but everything else came out of stash.

Next up: how I turn a discarded logo T-shirt into an accent cushion, I hope!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent

Feeling festive?


#1. Four crocheted snowmen, to go on the christmas tree (once I add some hanging loops).


#2. Two crocheted snowflakes, ditto.

How are your preparations coming along?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sleepy squirrel is back...

... only this time, in a cushion incarnation.


I used the same applique templates as for the hot water bottle cosy, applique'd and embroidered the squirrel onto a square of osnaburg fabric, and used that as the centre piece of a patchwork cushion. I worked out all the sizes of the patchwork bits myself. I've clearly improved at patchwork over the last year, as now my seams line up!

All the fabrics in this cushion, the felt for the squirrel, and all the thread came out of my stash. I used a cushion filler I had already. It is good to use stuff up, and what a good result! I'm really pleased with this, my second completed Christmas present.

My next two planned presents are also cushions. Hope I don't get bored...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Camper Van

I finished the camper van:


The crochet parts were easy enough, but the making up took a while. Felt windows, licence plates and the logo circle to sew on, embroidery for doors, doorhandles and VW logo,  plus 8 buttons.

For the doorstop weighting, rather than putting loose lentils in the camper van, which might escape through the crocheted fabric, I made a cotton bag out of an old pillowcase, filled it with out-of-date lentils and quinoa (yay for reuse and recycle! I just cleared out our kitchen cupboards last week, and it was very timely!) and stitched it closed. Then I put the bag and some toy stuffing inside the camper van, and sewed the final seam closed.

Completing the doorstop means I have now finished one Christmas present - that's great. I also cut out the pieces for the next, which involves patchwork, so hopefully I'm on a roll!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The advance party

My crafting has taken a festive turn, even though it's only November.

I blogged before about the candy cane baby hat, but I just knitted some matching little bootees to go with it, as I like to make a set of things for a present.


I sent them off to the mama of a baby due in December.

I made this vaguely festive pinwheel purse, to keep my seasonal jewellery in.


It was easy, although rather fiddly at the sewing up stage. If you want to try it, you need scraps of 4-ply/sock yarn, small needles - mine were 2.25mm - and patience! The pattern is free on Ravelry.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Children in Need

Children in Need is an annual UK charity fundraiser, run by national broadcaster BBC. Primary school-aged children in particular get very excited about it.

On Thursday evening, ds and I had a little cooking session and made chocolate fairy cakes, and choc-chip cookies. Ds did most of it - I just dealt with the hot things. Here he is looking very proud of his achievements:


He was very pleased to go to school this morning with tins full of goodies, to be sold for 20p each at his school. Very good value!

If you want to contribute to this good cause, online donations are accepted here.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sleepy squirrel

Today I sewed this hot-water bottle cosy:


The pattern was in Sew Hip issue 25, with templates for the applique squirrel. It was very easy.  I made a couple of changes - I used white fleece instead of felt for the main pieces, and I left off the rick-rack trim - which I think may have been a mistake. It looks a little too plain without it. I think I also misplaced the applique slightly, so this will most likely be a practice version that stays in our house.

It has to be said that dd has already identified this as "cute", so possibly the squirrel will end up sleeping in her room!

Earlier this week, I got almost to the end of my camper van - and ran out of yarn. More has arrived, and I hope to finish this soon, but it also depends on finding some large buttons for the wheels. There were only two in the right colour in John Lewis.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Festive plans

Now it's November, my thoughts have inevitably turned to preparations for the festive season. Last time I blogged about my plans (with timeframes!) it turned out to be the kiss of plans-going-awry, so I hope I have better luck this time! Anyway, it is my intention to give some more hand-made presents this year.

I've already started by preparing the blackberry vodka. It's turned a lovely deep red colour, and I found some presentation bottles in Lakeland, so I'm hoping it will make at least one present. I've probably made enough to fill two 500 ml bottles, but I rather think we shall want to keep one for the festivities at home!

My plans for November crafting to give away in December include this:


The pattern is in the latest Inside Crochet magazine. Since I took that photo, I've finished the whole of one side piece and worked half-way through the second.

I also have sewing plans:


Just waiting for some felt in various shades to arrive. I'm charmed to have found this felt which is, apparently, machine-washable. Awesome!

If I get through that little lot by the end of November, that will be four presents done, and then I might make some more!

How about you, dear reader? Do you make things to give away for christmas presents? Do share the details in the comments box!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Baby gifts

I sent off some knitted baby stuff to two newly-arrived or soon-expected babies:


I made a little pair of bootees to match the baby hat I showed you previously, and sent these to a little baby girl. This was a riff off various bootee patterns, and used the same Debbie Bliss cashmerino dk yarn as the hat.

I also made a tiny owls hat, in which the owls are made from knitted cables:


One owl has sewn-on button eyes and a beak made of felt, but the rest (all the way round the hat) are sleeping! The pattern is available on Ravelry but is not free. I used Debbie Bliss cashmerino aran yarn.

I love owls, especially because of their Harry Potter associations. Thinking snowy (Hedwig!) rather than tawny (Errol?) owls, I think this hat would also look seriously good in winter white.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Experiments in chocolate

After a few hectic weekends - wedding, ds's ninth birthday celebrations, Yorkshire to stay with my parents during half term - I was pleased to get back to routines at the end of this week.

Ds wanted to do some cooking, so we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the kitchen yesterday. We made a chocolate fudge cake, using one of the American cake mixes I bought from the Stateside Candy Co. and a packet of ready-made icing from Lakeland.


The result is not quite up to proper home-made standard, but is still pretty nice, and ds loves the fact that he did all the mixing and icing himself. My job was to grease tins and deal with the hot oven.

We also made some home-made chocolates:


This was very easy - melted chocolate, in spoonfuls onto a  baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and then decorated with what we could find in the cupboard - silver balls, sugar strands, dried cherries and pieces of crystallized ginger. Then just leave to set before peeling off the paper.


Ds says we could make more of these for christmas presents. Glad to see he is already thinking handmade!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Leafy mittens

I finished making some very pretty green mittens with a textured leaves design. I feel it's the yarn that really makes this project, which is Lang Jawoll magic degrade sock yarn, in a shade sold as "parakeet".


It was worked on quite small needles and rather fiddly as a pattern, but I like the results. The texture is achieved with knit, purl, and slipped stitches. Very leafy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Vodka in the jar

I made some blackberry vodka today, following a recipe in Nigella's Kitchen.

It's very easy to prepare it. All you do is tip sugar and blackberries into the vodka, in a sterilised jar, seal it and keep shaking it till the sugar dissolves.


Apparently I'm supposed to shake it every day for two weeks, then every week for 6 weeks. I already put a sticky label on top warning family members not to unseal it. Some are too young to drink alcohol, but dh and visiting step-daughter might be tempted.

The result is described as a liqueur, and I should think the addition of sugar and blackberries will do that to the vodka, after the requisite steeping time. The timetable means it should be ready for Christmas, and I'm hoping to have enough to give a small bottle away. That's if it's good enough, of course. I shall have to sample it first!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pumpkin Pie

A while ago I expressed a wish in an international Internet forum to make a pumpkin pie. Americans present kindly informed me I would first need a tin of pumpkin - something I've never seen for sale in a British supermarket.

I went online to look for a UK supplier, and found The Stateside Candy Co.  Into my cart went tinned pumpkin, and also, because I could not resist the temptation, two packets of American cake-mix (including one for red velvet cupcakes. Wow!), American frosting, mellowcremes, saltwater taffy and Reese's peanut butter cups. Most of these I had never tried before and all of them are Awesome!

About the pumpkin pie, should you wish to make one, a can of tinned pumpkin and an 8-in deep pie dish are the base requirements. The recipe is on the Libby's can label.

Here are the pie ingredients:


And here is a slice of the finished item, which I was also instructed to serve with whipped cream. Great idea!


I did have a bit of a pastry fail (mine shrunk during the blind baking step, so the pastry does not come up to the top) but the pie itself was delicious - like a variation on an egg-custard, with added spiciness and pumpkin, of course.


I would like to make it clear the Stateside Candy Co has not paid me to write this blog entry, or even asked me to!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Baby hatted-ness

I do seem to produce an insane amount of baby hats; I just like knitting them. Here are some I recently finished:

#1 The candy cane elf-style hat, ideal for Christmas baby:


This is from Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Hats book, which I recommend for any other fan of knitting baby hats. Contains lots of lovely ideas; so far I have knitted four hats out of there and I have plans for another two.

#2 The baby berry hat, which has a lovely leaf and stalk effect:


Knitted from free pattern available online at randomstitches. I used Debbie Bliss cashmerino dk and 4.5mm needles.

These two I made with actual due babies in mind. I'm knitting another baby hat now though, and it has no destination at all. Unless I send a baby two hats. Can I do that?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Interim report

Three quarters of the year gone. It seems like a good time to consider how I'm getting along in meeting my objectives for the year. Here's a quick summary.
  • Staying employed - still working, on a permanent contract, but still much uncertainty in the UK public sector.
  • Learning to crochet - starting from a base of crochet chains, I have made various bags, purses, scarves, amigurumi, scrubbies and potholders. I can now make clusters, granny squares and filet mesh, and work from written and charted crochet patterns. Much better than I hoped!
  • Getting my languishing list down - exceeded expectations by finishing two out of the three items languishing as of 1 January 2011. (The embroidery project still on my languishing list is a very long term WIP and I can't see its status changing any time soon.)
  • Reading more books - I have done more reading this year than I did last, although not as much as I would like.
I didn't write this in my list of planned objectives, but I have also successfully supported dd through her GCSE examinations, and taken ds on some cultural outings.

Things I haven't done: been on a proper holiday, or achieved a better knitting / sewing balance. To achieve that last one now I'd have to sew 16 things before 31 December, and not knit anything else at all, and that seems rather unlikely! Maybe these two will have to feature again on my resolutions list for 2012.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Trevor the Toad

I want to introduce you to a friend of mine:


Trevor the toad was originally the familiar of Neville Longbottom (did I mention before, my Potter fan-dom?!?) This one belongs to a seventeen year old English boy who is also a HP afficionado.

I got my Pottermore advance access email today. V. excited indeed....

(Due to massive demand, you might find the Pottermore website inaccessible at the current time)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Lavender harvest

Remember my giant pot, that was planted with lavender and geraniums earlier this year? Now the lavender is pretty much spent, I harvested the flowers off it:


The scent is still wonderful, so I put the flower heads in this basket, adorned with the knitted lace basket edging that had been on my "Languishing" list since 2009.


(With apologies for the photo. The flash is not the best to demonstrate knitted stitches, but without the flash, the picture is too blurry to be post-able.)

The basket of lavender has brought the outside in to our sitting room.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Delicious

The apple inspiration continues.


I used a 5mm hook and Peaches & Creme dishcloth cotton to make this selection of crocheted potholders and coasters, using a free crochet pattern at Freepatterns.com. (Note: registration required to access the Delicious Dining pattern). The pattern also includes another variation on the coaster (cut apple version) and a placemat, so you can have a wonderfully apple-themed dining experience if that is your wish.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Pocket pie

I find there is a rhythm to my blogging, now I'm on my third iteration, as here I am again writing about our autumn crop of apples. Once again, they are abundant, and we only have two trees. How on earth do people cope with a whole orchard?!

Last Sunday, I made mini-apple pies, using a new apple-pie mould I bought from the kitchen treasury that is Lakeland. Here they are just out of the oven:


I cheated and used a packet of ready-made, pre-rolled puff pastry. I filled the pies with a mixture of sliced apples tossed with cinnamon and brown sugar, and sprinkled the tops with demerara sugar before baking. The result were like apple-shaped apple turnovers. Delicious. Although, more practice is needed with the pie mould. My pies are not nearly as neat as the ones pictured on the box!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Cabled mittens

In a fit of awesome productivity, I have finished the cabled arm-warmers I alluded to in my last post.


I made them out of Rowan silky tweed in the shade inky. This yarn is now discontinued, and I am sorely tempted to buy up every available skein on ebay currently, as it's gorgeous. I sometimes find lambswool yarn irritating, but the silk content in this one gives it a really comfortable handle.

The pattern is from the previously mentioned The Knitting Book. I did however make a slight modification, in that instead of carrying the ribbing all the way up the inside of the mitten, I knitted in stocking stitch at the palms and then finished off with 10 rows of ribbing. I like a smooth surface on the hands of my mitts, fingerless or not.