Monday, 24 December 2007

More felted bags

November and December definitely was definitely a felting phase. As well as the flowery bag you’ve already seen, I also made 2 smaller clutch bags. They are based on a free Knitting Daily pattern by Amanda Berka, which she calls the Squatty Sidekick. I followed the modifications that someone else on Ravelry had made, and added in extra rows between each of the shaping rows to make it slightly taller and rounder. I also made more of the handle in I-cord than the pattern said, because I thought it would be stronger and less stretchy than a flat strip.

The pattern calls for a 15st x 60 row rectangle which forms the base of the bag. You then pick up stitches all the way around the 4 sides of the rectangle and knit the rest of the bag in the round, binding off and separating stitches as necessary to form the top edge, the flap and the handles. The transformation items undergo in the washing machine never ceases to amaze me. It’s a scary moment handing over your latest project to the mercy of the wash and an agonizing 2h20min wait for the 60o programme to finish, but it’s always exciting to pull out the results!

I first did a striped bag which actually became much more colourful than I first intended because I got carried away with changing colours all the time, and then a plain red one. They’re really quick and easy and just took a few days each. The green one has a felted button which I made by casting on 15-20st (I’m not sure!) and then casting them off again and rolling the strip into a ball. It was purely a matter of luck that the button and the button hole turned out to be appropriate sizes to make it work ok, phew! For the red bag I added a magnetic closure instead (after felting), then put a couple of extra circles of felt over the top of the stud to cover it.

One was intended as a birthday pressie for Ange, but once number two was completed I decided it was a bit more sophisticated and that she might prefer the red one instead. Ange, if you like the stripey one let me know and we can swap!!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Murphy's Monster

Here’s another project that has been hiding for a while...

It’s based on an old doily pattern ‘hemlock ring’ that was very cleverly adapted and expanded by Jared at BrooklynTweed to make a blanket/throw kind of thing. His is very lovely and earthy and neutral – with beautiful photos as ever - whereas this one turned into a bit of a crazy 70s style beast that was photographed in the dark at the last minute before wrapping!

I still haven’t quite got the hang of making the mental transition between what yarn looks like in a ball and what it will look like when knitted up. I really like the variation of colours in the balls of multicoloured yarns when you see the strands all wound up next to each other, but I’m often not so keen on the way the colours separate out into stripes as you knit back and forth with them. This particular yarn is Gedifra Chandra shade 7607 – a kind of woven chunky cord. I probably should have knit it on needles bigger than 6.5mm but was too impatient to get started as usual :) There are 4 more balls (7613 purples/greens) in the stash which I’m thinking of making a loosely knitted scarf or something with.

I had interesting experiences trying to get the beast into shape once it was finished. Fresh off the needles, it was very bunched up and curly because of all the increases and decreases in stitches. The whole notion of blocking knitting to set it into the required shape is a bit of a mystery to me, and I came up with a sort of cheaty way of doing it by pinning the throw to the carpet with drawing pins and blasting it with shots of steam from the iron. It must have been quite a sight because I got myself into all sorts of positions that wouldn’t have been out of place in a game of twister whilst trying to hold down and stretch out parts of the throw. Couple that with simultaneously trying to control the iron and avoid the drawing pins which were pinging up out of the carpet and flying all over the place, and you’ve got an extreme knitting situation!

Here’s a pic of the shaping in progress. I’ve already been over the whole thing so it’s less curled than it was originally, but you can see the near end is quite flat and nice, whereas the bit further away still needs a lot more pulling and steam blasting. It’s all done for now, but I think it could probably do with a more severe blocking at some point in the future.

Anyway, I’m describing this object as a throw for sitting on the grass in the sunshine with. It’s a Christmas/leaving present for Jane – who is probably going to be making the most of the Australian summer very soon! It is made by starting off with just 8 stitches in the center of the blanket, and knitting round and round increasing a few stitches every now and then. By the end I had well over 300 stitches on the needles and used more or less all of the final ball just to do a round of decorative bind-off!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Biscotti for all

As promised here's the biscotti - a virtual festive nibble for all you blog readers, enjoy! (meanwhile, the support staff at work will be munching on the real thing with their coffee this morning!....) HAPPY CHRISTMAS to everyone.

Recipe is in the post below - I doubled the quantity of dough and added cranberries to half, and figs/sliced almonds to the other half. This made about 55 or 60 biscuits - enough for 10 parcels and a few leftovers and rejects for us to eat at home. Thanks to Michale and the man from the Italian Deli in St Andrews for the bags!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas Poinsettia Wreath

Yesterday we had our monthly trip over to Newburgh for the knitting group at Twist. There were lots of yummy treats because it was the Christmas meeting, and I made some biscotti - one batch with cranberries and lemon zest, one plain, and the other with figs and flaked almonds. Pics to follow once I've made another batch in the next few days but the basic dough was 150g flour (some recipes say plain, some say self raising), with 50g sugar and 2 eggs. It's a bit sticky so I added enough extra flour to handle it easily, then shaped it into a long sausage shape. Bake at 200oC for 15 mins, cool for 10 mins then slice into thin slices and put back into the oven for 5-7 mins each side until golden and crisp.

Here are a few pics of the wreath in various stages of construction, including me having extreme difficulties with a needle and thread!

In other knitting news, I bought way too much yummy sock yarn this week, for knitting wraps/shawls rather than socks though. I didn't knit a stitch while we were in Newburgh, but spent a lot of time winding this Stroud Supersock yarn into balls with the help of Peter's handy skein holding gadget. And then I got over excited in the shop and bought some trekking xxl as well, oh dear!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

More Christmas FOs

I've been very busy knitting Jennifer Thurston's Xtreme Knitting dinosaurs as a Christmas present for William. I managed to get both of them from 1 ball of sirdar snowflake dk, adding in some dark green charity shop dk to knit the horns and spikes so that they were a bit more interesting and also stiffer. I'm really pleased with these guys, especially stegs. They're soft and friendly looking, and they even more or less stand up on their own. It's amazing how hard it is to put limbs in the right place!

PS I've also put the beads on the bag for my mum... another crimbo FO, hurrah!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Christmas decs

The lab is ready for Christmas, and we celebrated the lighting of the fairy lights with a pilot experiment of some VERY alcohol gluhwein from Stephan....

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Cheese and bread

On Saturday, Diane and Laurence came round to sew up the felted poinsettia bits and wire the stems so they are ready to twist into a wreath. I put on a spectacularly bad display of my sewing skills and managed one flower in more time than it took Diane to do 3 but that's another story. I'll do a post about the wreath once we've added the yellow bits to the centre of the flowers, and for now they remain in a vase on my dining table looking very pretty.

Jane made soup so I decided to get my hands sticky and make some bread to go with it. The larger loaf is olive bread made with spelt flour, and the rolls are malted wholegrain - I think they were my favourites, I'm still unconvinced about the shorter texture you get with spelt. Both very easy recipes from the back of the flour packet. The flours were excellent, and it was a textbook demonstration that good flour makes good bread. Check out Doves Farm website, lots of info about flours and grains etc and plenty of recipes.

Unfortunately there wasn't time for a trip to Mellis cheesemonger in St Andrews, but I went a bit mad at the cheese counter in Tesco instead. This is the start of cheeseboard season, and we were nibbling away for the rest of the evening even though we weren't hungry! Diane brought along some yummy home made oatcakes which went beautifully with the cheese, and also some tasty smoked mackerel pate. For me, the top cheese award went to the Strathdon Blue (top R). It's quite soft and squidy but very tangy and blue at the same time, not a million miles away from gorgonzola. The stinky unpasteurised brie de maux was good too, oozing all over the place.

A Christmas FO

Knitting has really moved up into top gear as we hit T minus 3 weeks to Christmas. Some stuff I can't show you yet because their future owners will see, but here is the felted bag that I'm making for my mum. Before felting...

...and after...

It's a beast. I'm calling it a FO because all the knitting/sewing up is done, but to finish it off I have to find some beads to put on threads hanging down from inside the flowers. I'm guessing I'll be doing that on Christmas eve probably!

I have another felted project that I'm very excited about which will go into the washing machine tonight. At the weekend I also made a little hat for Anna's model mouse as part of our lab christmas decorating effort. Dilly liked it too...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

SHF 37: the beta-carotene harvest

I was really excited at the idea of the theme for Sugar High Friday #37 from Leslie at Definitely Not Martha. With Thanksgiving in mind, she chose ‘the beta-carotene harvest’ which encompasses a whole range of nutritious and interesting items. Despite my initial strong urge to avoid ‘boring’ carrot cake and pumpkin pie, time constraints and a more recent interest in going back to basics led me to Delia Smith’s Ultimate Carrot Cake. If it's good enough for Delia then it's certainly good enough for me.

I usually make carrot cake as a traybake for feeding people at meetings/parties etc, but this is a bit more special, and hopefully the syrup, toasted pecans, and yummy mascarpone/fromage frais topping lifts it into a new category. Much more of a dessert rather than a teatime cake. And dessert it shall be! No pics of a nice slice I’m afraid because we’re off to Eris and Ian’s for dinner tonight and this baby will be desert :)

Delia's Ultimate Carrot Cake

200g wholemeal self raising flour
1tbsp mixed spice
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g dark brown soft sugar
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower oil
grated zest of 1 orange
200g coarsely grated carrots
110g sultanas
50g dessicated coconut
50g pecan nuts, plus another 50g to finish

Syrup glaze:
Juice of 1 small orange
1tbsp lemon juice
75g dark brown soft sugar

250g mascarpone
200g fromage frais
1 rounded tbsp golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon

Toast the nuts on a baking sheet at 200C for a few minutes (KEEP AN EYE ON first batch got burnt and went straight in the bin!). Chop half roughly for the cake mixture and the other more finely, for the topping. Turn the oven down to 170C for the cake.

Whisk the sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes, then check that there is no sugar left undissolved..Sift the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl, tipping in the bits of bran left in the sieve, then stir all this in gently followed by the remaining cake ingredients.
Divide the batter evenly between two 8in greased and base lined tins and bake the cakes on the centre shelf of the oven for about 30 minutes until nicely risen, firm and springy to the touch when lightly pressed in the centre, and showing signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
For the topping, whisk all the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Then cover with clingfilm and chill for 1-2 hours, until you are ready to ice the cakes. To make the syrup glaze, whisk together the fruit juices and sugar in another bowl and then, when the cakes come out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer and quickly spoon the syrup evenly over the hot cakes.
Leave them to one side to cool in their tins, during which time the syrup will be absorbed. When the cakes are completely cold, remove them from the tins, spread one-third of the filling over one of the cakes, place the other on top, then cover the top and sides with the remaining icing.. Scatter the remaining toasted pecan nuts over the top.

For knitting nerds

Haven't really shown you much knitting to speak of for a little while, so here's a quick update. I'm slightly reluctantly pausing on the CPH at the moment in order to get the things with deadlines done, but I have digressed from my schedule because I had a nerdy idea. I'd seen a cable pattern for a DNA helix a while ago, originally used on a scarf, and decided I could put it on a jumper or teeshirt. Then I decided I might be able to get it finished in time for our lab christmas outing in a couple of weeks if I knit like mad at the expense of other things. The original tee pattern is the picovoli by Grumpernia, which seems nice, although I'm a bit concerned that the top edge is rolling up. It's Louisa Harding Grace silk/wool btw, and v nice too.

In other knitting news, I bought a lot of 4 vogue knitting magazines on ebay last week. 3 are fine, but one is Winter 85/86 and it's incredible. The pictures are hillarious, so I've taken some photos to share them - I especially liked the technical article on knitting the right shoulder pad for your garment, and also the ad for a singer knitting machine. Look at these, ha ha!!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Crowd pleasers

I had to give a lab meeting talk last Friday, which is never fun, but my usual strategy to help me get a smooth ride is to bake a lot of cake and hope that my audience is too busy choosing what to eat next to think up tricky questions for me or spot mistakes in my figures. No pics this time I’m afraid but here are the recipes for my top two easily-feed-lots-of-people-at-a-gathering.

The first is a traybake. Something miraculous happens when you use a roasting tin instead of the traditional round tins, you are suddenly able to feed an awful lot of people using the same amount of cake mixture one would normally make an 8in sandwich with. It’s the only choice when numbers of mouths are high and time is short, and there are endless variations to the basic sponge recipe. It’s also amazing how changing the shape of the slices you cut from it can give an entirely different feel to the end product. I like to do lemon cakes and marble cakes by slicing the traybake in half lengthways and then into 1/2in thick fingers – of which you can squeeze 24 out of a single traybake. For coffee and walnut or carrot cakes I tend to cut them into squares instead. I don’t know why, that’s just what seems right!

Aside from a plain sponge, lemon cake is just about the quickest traybake of all: I made this one on Thursday morning whilst having my breakfast, and it was out of the oven in time for me to head off to work.

Crunchy top lemon traybake

225g self raising flour
225g margarine
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
2tsp baking powder
4tbsp milk
grated rind of 2 lemons

for the topping:
juice of 1 lemon
100g granulated sugar

Beat all the cake ingredients together and pour into a greased and base lined 30cm (I think!) tray. Bake at 180C for 35-40min.
Whilst the cake is cooking, mix the topping ingredients together. When the cake comes out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer and pour over the topping. Allow to cool in the tray.

My second recipe is another good one for feeding lots of people, but also good if you need the baked goods on a day when you’re too busy to bake because these cookies keep really well. I might even go as far as saying that they are actually better a day or two after being made, because I like them when they’re a bit soft and chewy. Makes 27-30 large cookies…

Double choc monster cookies

200g plain flour
55g cocoa
1tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
200g milk chocolate, 140g dark chocolate
340g light brown sugar
150g unsalted butter
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Milk and/or white choc chips

Melt the chocolate over simmering water and set aside to cool slightly. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Beat in the vanilla and melted chocolate, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Sift in the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder (and some choc chips if you like). Beat until well combined.
Dollop 2 heaped tbsp lumps of the mixture onto baking sheets leaving space for them to spread out, and cook at 180C for around 18mins. Allow to cool for 5-6 mins before transferring to a rack to cool (they’ll be soft when they come out the oven and will harden up as they cool).

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Felted Flowers

A quick post just to update you and let you know that knitting is still going on despite all the post-SKB celebrations! The Central Park Hoodie (CPH henceforth) is still rattling along at good speed, although I've only got a couple of inches left on the body before I get to the scary armhole shaping so things will be slowing up for sure. I'm going to attempt short row shaping, and 3 needle bind offs which will hopefully make the arm and shoulder seams much neater and less bulky. I don't fully understand how it's all going to work but I'm hoping it's one of those things that becomes obvious when you get to it. We'll see.

I've also been working on a few very girly projects to be felted. Here are some flowers and leaves that will become part of the fuscias bag by Nicky Epstein. I'm working on the boring main body of the bag at the moment, and then I'll need to do the handles and 2 more flowers before the fun part of throwing it all in the washing machine with fingers double crossed. Before/after shots to follow so that you can get a sense for how much it shrinks, it's really amazing.

Some of us from the Newburgh knitting group have begun work on a felted poinsettia wreath which will hopefully be done in time to take to the next meeting in December. We're each doing one or two flowers so there will be seven in total, then the stems get wired together after felting. Here's the first one ready to go in the wash...

Monday, 12 November 2007

Simple Knitted Bodice is done!!

I finally finished it, hurrah! The last few ends were woven in just in time to take to Newburgh for knitting group on Saturday, good timing. There are a couple of things I might do differently next time but I'm very pleased with it for a first completed jumper.

Pattern: Stitch Diva Simple Knitted Bodice

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk DK

Needles: 5mm/2.25mm

Mods: fewer increases on the sleeves and lower body, and did the ridges with 4mm needles to tighten them slightly.

I'm now storming ahead with KnitScene's Central Park Hoodie in Rowan Scottish Tweed (wild plum), which is well served by an online knit along, and loads of people are making it on Ravelry. I urge all knitters to go and get on the waiting list for an invite to the beta version of ravelry - mine came through today after a few weeks in the queue and it is BRILLIANT! I've spent some time today adding all my projects and pictures to my notebook, archiving my stash and queueing up other stuff that I've seen and liked. You can take a tour to get an idea of what it's like before signing up, but it's way better than I ever imagined. Do it now, it's a revelation for the web-savvy knitter!!