Sunday, 30 January 2011

A slice of lime

I quite liked this month's Sew Hip magazine. Not only was there an article about Heidi's Sew Hip challenge, as featured at Sewing Daisies, there were interesting pieces on indian textiles and Liberty's of London, plus several patterns that appealed.

I especially liked the look of the tutti frutti purse and already had lime green and white felt in my fabrics box. I cut out the pattern templates, laid them next to a 15 cm zip - and realised the printed templates are completely the WRONG size. Much too small - a tiny coin purse would result, not the 18 cm little bag stated in the pattern.

I am experienced enough now at sewing to be able to tackle making my own pattern pieces, but this magazine is supposed to be suitable for beginners. To tell the truth, I've been rather disappointed with it for the past several months as there's been very few patterns that appealed to me.

Anyway, back to my sewing project. Here's my finished result:

I had a lot of trouble cutting the right size of "peel" piece, and I'm still not entirely happy. Also, this is still a bit smaller than I would like - only about 15 cms long. But it's big enough to hold my stitch markers, row counters and possibly, cable needles, which is what I plan to use it for, as I'm fed up of having to search through my stash basket for these.

If you like the look of this purse, and you don't fancy scaling up the pattern yourself, take a look at the designer's Folksy page, where you can buy citrus and other fruit purses ready-made.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A trip to the Middle Ages

This is the blog entry in which I begin to share some of my historical interests. Yes, I do have other interests apart from crafting, as shown by these books I read during January:

I'm clearly in a medieval period, set off by being given a copy of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer (Note: I don't buy new books myself, for environmental reasons, but am happy for them to feature inside gift-wrap).

The Guide is written like a travel book, so if I ever get whisked through time and end up in the 1300s, I'll know how to greet people ("Sire/Dame, God be here!"), where to stay, what kind of food I might have to endure, and what not to wear (sumptuary laws apply forbidding commoners from wearing costly garments.)

Having had my interest re-kindled, I went to the library. I was looking for Katherine by Anya Seton, which I first read aged about 15. It's a fictionalised account of the life of Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's mistress, later wife and Duchess of Lancaster. I also checked out Alison Weir's factual biography of the same.

Alison Weir draws lots of evidence from John of Gaunt's accounts and I was struck by how much of his expenditure seemed to focus on religion: private altars, chalices for communion, obits and masses. Ian Mortimer wrote that even moderately religious people then would be considered extremely fervent today. I suppose this might be a reaction to these facts of medieval life: death is all around  - e.g. the Great Plague wiped out one third of the European population; life expectancy is short -  average only 30. More than half of all children died before reaching adulthood. Women had a 1:10 chance of dying in childbirth, and since contraception was not available, also had many children exposing themselves to repeated risk.

Do take care when looking on the internet for details about Katherine Swynford's life, as some allegedly factual sites base their information on Anya Seton's novel, which is a work of fiction. For example, there is no evidence to show Katherine was educated in a convent, she probably did not object to her marriage to Hugh Swynford, or give him poison (however unknowingly!) this is artistic license!  Just to add though, the novel is still a really good read.

I also discovered that Katherine Swynford's tomb is in Lincoln Cathedral, which is not so far from me, so am planning an historical outing soon. Ds will think this is cool; he is enraptured by the Horrible Histories, books and TV programmes so I shan't have any problem persuading him to come along.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Baking days

It was my birthday again, so I made myself a chocolate cake:

I decorated it by sprinkling chopped hazlenuts over the chocolate icing (not in the instructions! they said to use hand-made chocolate leaves). As you'll probably have guessed by now, the visual side of cake-making is not my strong point. I really ought to take a sugarcraft class or similar.

This cake recipe was in the chocolate lovers' treats section in the Feb 2011 issue of Country Kitchen magazine, which I've bought sporadically over the last few months.

The magazine also has a section entitled "nutrition" which contains wholesome recipes. Last week, I made this very "healthy" cake out of the October issue, with wholemeal flour and chopped prunes:

This cake contains no sugar or butter at all.  I found it best spread with butter, though, which negated some of the healthiness!

The fat in the cake was coconut oil - a solid oil sold in jars, which I found rather difficult to source - they don't sell it in mainstream UK supermarkets. When I asked in a health food shop, they tried to sell me a version used to keep skin supple. Er, no. You need edible grade coconut oil. It looks like this:

After extensive research, I can now reveal this is best sought in ethnic food shops. Mine came from the caribbean food stall on the Vicky Centre market in Nottingham. It says made in Sri Lanka on the label, and I am credibly informed that Asian and Thai food specialists may also stock it.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Woodland knitting

This weekend, I've been trying my hand at knitting design.

I wanted to knit something with those red and white toadstools on, which are so evocative of fairyland. So I used the fairisle fly agaric pattern from the free mushroom pulse warmers available at Hello Yarn and worked that into my own fingerless mitts. I've knitted so many different fingerless mittens now, I felt I could construct my own pattern to fit me. Which I have done, if the first mitten is a guide. I'm knitting the second one now, following my own instructions.

I don't think I will write this pattern up - too derivative. But possibly I will use the measurements and base pattern for something more original in the future.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Heidi (Sewing Daisies) has nominated me for a stylish blogger award! How kind! I'm thrilled to be nominated, and really glad you like visiting here, Heidi!

Receiving the award requires me to share seven facts about myself. So here we go:
  1. I am actually from Yorkshire, although I've been transplanted to the Trent Valley.
  2. I like liquorice - all kinds of it, from commonplace liquorice allsorts right through to bassetti and black and white mints
  3. I speak three languages. (Although to be perfectly honest, two of them are rather rusty now. I need to make another trip abroad very soon to keep them in currency)
  4. I'm fascinated by English history, currently the medieval period. Maybe I'll blog about this some time.
  5. I occasionally waste time playing the Sims. Gosh, what an admission. It was my teenage daughter who got me into this.
  6. I've had 15 smear tests in the last ten years, following loop diathermy treatment for grade 2 CIN in 1999. When did you last go for one?
  7. I couldn't think of anything else!
I'm supposed to pass the award on to someone else. I'll nominate Crafting With Mel, whose blog is described as "crafting for the impatient and imperfect". Although her finished items always look really nice to me, especially the jewellery!

I'll be back with more knitting progress soon.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Jan Finished Object shock

Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted a FO (Finished Object) has already appeared in my 2011 list! I know, I'm rather stunned as well. But after a whole month off knitting, I was very keen to click the needles again. So I made this wash set, which will be a gift for a colleague:

I used Peaches & Creme dishcloth cotton in black cherry colourway. The hearts washcloth pattern is available online, but the matching soap sack is of my own design.

I'm now about to enter another crazy knitting frenzy, as evidenced by these three swatches:

The swatches are prep for one cabled scarf, one pair of socks, and one lace shawl by end March. We'll see...

They are for a planned History of Magic OWL - see Ravelry, HPKCHC group for further info (Note: Rav log-in required to access link). It may sound geeky, but playing this Harry Potter themed game really motivates my knitting, provides inspiration and the necessary incentive to stick at it. I've even overcome my resistance to crafting deadlines.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Twelfth Night

Having read Ruth's so-interesting post yesterday about Polish traditions for the Feast of the Three Kings, I decided to make a cake - although I didn't have 8 eggs, so I had to make something less celebratory than the one Ruth wrote about.

Actually, here in the UK we also used to have a tradition of Twelfth Night Cake, which tradition has now sadly fallen into disuse. I first learned about it when I read The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton, in which the final scenes are set on January 6th and "there was a great deal of left-over twelfth night cake dressed up as trifle". (By the way, that book is an excellent introduction to old English christmas customs altogether.)

English Twelfth Night cake is a dense, spiced fruit cake - you can find a recipe for it here. The inclusion of spices recalled the three kings, who came from the East. Traditionally, a bean was included in the cake, and the finder of the bean became lord of misrule for the evening. This is the recurring bean allusion in Terry Pratchett's Hogfather (gosh, this is turning into quite a literary post!)

As I've already eaten quite a lot of christmas cake, I didn't fancy any more like that, so instead I made Nigella's winter plum cake, which is basically an almond cake, with added chopped tinned plums. I've made it before, but never iced it. This time, I added a glace icing using unrefined icing sugar, as a sop to the Twelfth Night / Feast of the Three Kings occasion.

In the photo below, you can see my cake next to our crib, with the three kings added to it to mark epiphany.

I have to go back to work tomorrow, so this really is the end of the holidays.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

2011 objectives

Here's my promised new-year's-resolutions post.

I will try to stay employed. This one seems to get a bit more difficult every year, so my fingers are crossed for the year ahead.

On the crafting front, I will try to:
  • achieve a better balance between knitting and sewing (baseline: 7 sewn items and 26 knitted items completed in 2010. Although admittedly one of the sewing items was a double patchwork quilt, which is probably worth at least four smaller projects).
  • finish at least one of the three items currently languishing as long term WIPs
  • take further steps in crochet i.e I hope to be able to produce a flower, snowflake or other small item by the end of the year.
That's all. I won't make blithe statements about spending less time on the computer, as I'll never manage it. I would like to read a few books this year, though, and maybe even go on a proper holiday.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A new year

New Year's Eve 2010: the champagne (well, it was sparkling anyway!)

And the candles - we lit the angel chimes, in an annual NYE tradition:

Note dh hiding behind the paper there. He was reading the Review of the Year. After that we tried to do a quiz, but unfortunately hadn't paid enough attention during the past year to be able to answer many questions.

I'm really glad to see 2011 arrive. Hope it turns out well - for us and for you, dear reader.