Sunday, 29 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 7

Crafting Balance
Are you a knitter or a crocheter, or are you a bit of both? If you are monogamous in your yarn-based crafting, is it because you do not enjoy the other craft or have you simply never given yourself the push to learn it? Is it because the items that you best enjoy crafting are more suited to the needles or the hook? Do you plan on ever trying to take up and fully learn the other craft? If you are equally comfortable knitting as you are crocheting, how do you balance both crafts? Do you always have projects of each on the go, or do you go through periods of favouring one over the other? How did you come to learn and love your craft(s)?

Wow, a whole week gone already, wibbling away about knitting.  So for my final K&C Blog week post, I offer up a little Sock Monkey for you to giggle at before I start wibbling again  ...................

Well, I would most definitely call myself a Knitter at heart.  This is the craft I find most enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying.  Having said that I've certainly dabbled in crochet and could whip up a Granny Square without too much trouble, after referring to one of my crochet books for stitch tips and reminders of course!

I would be more likely to go on a course for crochet, than knitting to advance my skills.  I first learnt to crochet at a Taster Day, run by Thistle, my local yarn shop.  I spent a rather frustrating 2 hours trying to master a basic flower corsage.  I persevered and finished it, but lets just say it didn't 'ignite' my crocheting fire.  Not one to be deterred I bought a book and bumbled through teaching myself the basics.

So currently I have two newish crafts complementing each other in one project.  I'm in the process of crocheting my Hobo Blanket with my own hand spun yarn.  I'm a newbie spinner too and its a great project to use up your erratic thickness hand spun.

But if you ask me what I'm crafting at this very moment (OK when I finish typing!) it would of course be sock knitting.  Just finishing sock no2 for Niece Ellie's ickle socks :)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 6

Improving Your Skill set
How far down the road to learning your craft do you believe yourself to be? Are you comfortable with what you know or are you always striving to learn new skills and add to your knowledge base? Take a look at a few knitting or crochet books and have a look at some of the skills mentioned in the patterns. Can you start your amigurumi pieces with a magic circle, have you ever tried double knitting, how's your intarsia? If you are feeling brave, make a list of some of the skills which you have not yet tried but would like to have a go at, and perhaps even set yourself a deadline of when you'd like to have tried them by.

Hmmmmm, I guess I would consider myself an average standard knitter, in the sense I am comfortable knitting a wide range of items but know there is an abundance of new techniques out there to lure me in.  I can knit a regular sock pattern pretty much with my eyes closed and over the last year have enjoyed trying out some new patterns which feature lace knitting.  I always forget with yarn overs and purls next to each other in a pattern that you have to do an extra loop, but that's usually remedied and remembered on the next row when I realise I'm one stitch short of a pretty pattern :-)

So I decided it was high time I tried a toe-up sock with a provisional cast-on.  Here you have to make a crochet chain, pick up stitches knitting on the flat

and then by way of a few handy knitting stitches it takes the shape of a toe!  Quite clever and a little fiddly at first but I shall persevere!

These are slowly turning into my Pippie ripples which I'm knitting for the April Knit-a-long on the UK Sock Knitters Ravelry Group.  As well as being new to toe-up socks, there's also short row toes and heels to challenge my little brain. 

But I love learning new stuff, so its all good.  A bit more taxing than my knitting easy socks in the car or on the train round and round.

What I sometimes fail to take into consideration is the effect my knitting has on others.  It seems OH finds it quite relaxing having me knit away at my much loved socks (especially on the rare occasion he is the lucky recipient), but apparently my mood often changes when I am trying something more challenging like a lace shawl.  It seems I can become quite a grump!  Along the way I have discovered I much prefer the triangular shawls which start with just a few stitches and grow as you knit.  Casting on 300 plus stitches and trying to keep to a pattern, so far has just not been my thing.  Perhaps I need to add that to the "to-do-list" when I'm stuck on a desert island with little else to concentrate on!


Friday, 27 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 5 - Wild Card

Craft Your Perfect Day
Plan your fantasy day with your craft, It might just take up one hour of your day or be the entire focus of the day, but tell your readers where you'd love to craft, whether you'd craft alone or with friends, knitting or crocheting something simple or spending a day learning new skills.

Well today I've gone and chosen the 'Wild Card' option!  Hmmmmm craft your perfect day???  Now, I'm a girl who likes to learn new stuff for all my crafts.  I've taken spinning lessons, learnt how to make quilts, had a go at lace knitting lessons, but if you asked me to craft my perfect day, it would have to be all about Socks and location, location, location.

Last year OH and I went on a road trip starting in Northern Spain and then travelling up through France before catching the ferry back home.  On this trip I knit my beloved socks the whole way, including in the bar on the 24 hour ferry journey from Portsmouth to Bilbao (got a few funny looks) the long car journeys across Spain and France (OH was driving honest) and most importantly at the beautiful Posada we stayed at in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain and the many campsites along our route.

So my perfect crafting day would include all these.....................

I would wake up early in our Posada and pop out onto the balcony for a sneaky few rows before breakfast whilst OH was still snoring!

Then we would walk up into the mountains to work off the mahoosive breakfast.......yum yum yum yum, stopping for lunch in a spectacular spot, with a little more knitting of the socks to aid digestion

I'd then teleport myself and belongings  (OK, I really went by broomstick.  Well it was on auto-pilot so I could knit en-route.  One doesn't like to waste an opportunity for Knitty) to the beaches of Northern Spain .......................

Where we would pitch our tent and settle in to an evening of good local food, a glass or two of local wine and a not bad at all view.........

Off course whilst knitting my current socks I would be wearing my Firestarters.......

Right, I don't know about you, but I'm off to book my next visit and pick out which sock yarn to pack......... contented with my perfect crafting day....... I think so!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 4

A Knitter or Crocheter For All Seasons?
As spring is in the air in the northern hemisphere and those in the southern hemisphere start setting their sights for the arrival of winter, a lot of crocheters and knitters find that their crafting changes along with their wardrobe. Have a look through your finished projects and explain the seasonality of your craft to your readers. Do you make warm woollens the whole year through in preparation for the colder months, or do you live somewhere that never feels the chill and so invest your time in beautiful home wares and delicate lace items. How does your local seasonal weather affect your craft?

Well I'm definitely a knitter for all seasons.  My family would think there was something seriously wrong if I didn't have at least one pair of socks on the go at any given time (currently 3 different pairs on the go, but that might have increased by the end of typing the blog if I've forgotten any!).  So I'm certainly an all-year Sock Knitter.

These are my rather lovely Tadpoles, which I actually kept for me.  Soft, squooshy and Spring Green! 

I do find myself knitting at lot for other people, as I find it lovely to give handmade / hand knit presents to selected victims.  Bearing in mind I must have knit 20 - 25 pairs of socks, there is a limit to how many pairs a girl can wear.  But I do find my 'Gift Knitting' increasing around Birthdays and Christmas.  So not weather affected as such, but certainly seasonal.

Winter warmers tend to get finished when I feel guilty if they've sat in the WIP (Work in Progress for those non-knitters amongst us) pile for a while (the odd year or two) such as my gorgeous Cowl Neck Top.  The pictures don't do the colours and softness justice.  If fact I covet it so much I have yet to wear it!  That and the fact I need near Arctic conditions to not overheat when wearing it ........

Over the warmer months I'm more likely to get my various Dye Kits out, as its so much easier to dry stuff when its warm.  My first ever attempt at Dyeing is the main picture for my blog.  Are you surprised .......... the yarn turned into socks!  Still it did produce my prize Blackcurrant Ripple Socks.  A simple pattern, but I think rather effective :)

And as for spinning, that's more when I get time!  Last night saw Tessy the Ashford Traveller Spinning Wheel in action as my adorable friend Lucas, who is 7, sat on my lap as he treadled and I span some fleece.  I reckon we did a pretty good job!

Again, apologies for Non-Ravelry users if you can't see the links for my projects.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 3

Your Knitting Or Crochet Hero
Blog about someone in the fibre crafts who truly inspires you. There are not too many guidelines for this, it's really about introducing your readers to someone who they might not know who is an inspiration to you. It might be a family member or friend, a specific designer or writer, indie dyer or another blogger. If you are writing about a knitting designer and you have knitted some of their designs, don't forget to show them off. Remember to get permission from the owner if you wish to use another person's pictures.

Gosh, how on earth to you whittle this down to one inspiring person?  When I first got into knitting about 4 or 5 years ago I would say the encouragement of the lovely Claire at Thistle, my LYS, to branch out of rectangular scarfs (knit, knit, knit, knit and nothing else) would have been my inspiration.  Here at their then weekly knit and natter night I met the wacky Sue, known as Socky Sue, who taught me one, to knit socks (how the love has lasted!) and two, that adapting patterns was fun and allowed!

But now I have found the delights of Ravelry there is a whole host of inspiring people.  But I shall whittle it down to two.  One a British designer and the other a British dyer.

The incredibly talented PmcBlonde first came to my attention on the UKarma group on Ravelry.  For someone who hasn't been knitting for more than 5 years, I am amazed not only at her knitting talents, but at the designs she has created.  Lace shawls require a huge amount of attention for me to knit, let alone design. 

This is my Whipple No 2 on the needles (already finished and in possession of my Sis!)  Finished Whipple!

You can find her designs on Ravelry, the above linked blog and also in the relatively new magazine Knit Now, which is brilliant for those wanting smaller projects.  (I do believe that's her hat on the cover too!)  Thank goodness also for her new Ravelry Group, Patrica Martin Designs, so if you try the patterns you can show your results!

And for my dyer there is the equally talented DyeSpinKnit.  A huge amount of my stash consists of Kerry's yarns and fibres. 

These Dragonfly Socks were knit is some super soft Merino Sock yarn.

Kerry has an array of colour on offer and the yarns and fibres are always of a high standard.  Custom dyes are available as well as some fun new clubs. 

I'm trying to sit on my hands to avoid purchasing some more until I've reduced the stash a little - wonder how long that will last!

Happy knitting!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 2

Day 2
Photography Challenge Day!
Today challenges you to be creative with your photography, and get yourself in with the chance to win the photography prize. Taking interesting photographs in this instance isn't about flashy cameras or a great deal of technical know-how, it's about setting up a story or scene in a photograph and capturing something imaginative. Your photograph(s) should feature something related to your craft, so that might be either a knitted or crocheted item, yarn, or one of your craft tools.

The Birth of a Baby Sock!

Baby Sock started off life as ball of scrumptious ball of Lorna Laces Shepherd Sock in Jungle Strip!

As she started to take shape, she became very 'well-heeled'!
Sorry sock knitters, couldn't resist!

She didn't quite turn into a butterfly, but she was rather pretty in a Meg & Mog kinda way!

Finally arriving at her destination - My gorgeous Niece Ellie's ickle foot!

Auntie Scube best hurry up and knit the other one!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 1

Day 1
Colour Lovers
Colour is one of our greatest expressions of ourselves when we choose to knit or crochet, so how do you choose what colours you buy and crochet or knit with. Have a look through your stash and see if there is a predominance of one colour. Do the same with your finished projects - do they match? Do you love a rainbow of bright hues, or more subdued tones. How much attention do you pay to the original colour that a garment is knit in when you see a pattern? Tell readers about your love or confusion over colour.

I love colour and working as a Gardener, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by an ever-changing seasonal riot of colour all day, everyday.  Does that affect the yarns or fibres I choose to knit, spin or crochet with?  Well, I guess  maybe in a little way it does.  If you've seen my stash* and project section on Ravelry, you'll know I'm a bit of a sockaholic.  At the moment I'm participating in the Ravelry UK Sock Knitters Knitalong where a British Designer and a British Dyer is chosen each month.  The participants then get to choose either to use the chosen dyer or the chosen designer or combine the two. 

So far I've knit my Monkey's for January with my Mum in mind and she loves purple and green together. 

For February I'm still knitting my Katherine's and chose to dye my own sock yarn red. 

Well it was Valentines Month.  I have finished sock number 1 and cast on number 2, but I just love the seasonal colours in this picture.

March is my Firestarters!  I would never usually this colour combo in a sock yarn, but as it was fluffy fibre it just seemed to grab me.  I plan to wear these round the campfire, keeping my tootsies nice and toasty.

And as for April, well I know I want to knit some Pippie Ripple's.  I mean really, who could resist the name??  As for those, yarn is undecided, but the pattern will dictate the yarn colour.  So I guess I'm a bit if a mix, sometimes its the time of year and what I see around me that tells me what to put on the needles, most often its what the pattern whispers to me and sometimes its the person I have in mind to receive a squishy handmade pair of socks.

I must say though I do find myself looking around and wishing I was a more accomplished dyer so I could be more inspired by nature around me.  A recent walk through the woods saw a riot of bluebells under a canopy of Silver Birch trees, with their foliage just glimmering through.  How I would love to create a sock yarn in those shades.  Writing this it has dawned on me - there's that purple, green and a hint of silver theme again!

Still, if I got too good at myself, I wouldn't be supporting as many of our talented British Dyers would I?

Happy creating :)

* Confession - that's not even a fraction of my stash, especially sock yarn.  Ooopps!

Apologies to those Non-Ravellers - some of my links only work if you're on Ravelry.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Scubamonkey's Banana, Cinnamon & Wheatgerm Muffins

In general, I don't choose to bake with bananas, but when you're faced with 5 super-ripe bananas in your fruit bowl, whats a girl to do!  I've taken a pretty normal recipe, but substituted the 375ml of buttermilk (which I've never ever used in a muffin recipe) for 250ml of single cream and the rest full fat milk.  I also substituted 50g of plain flour for wheatgerm and used duck eggs instead of chickens.  I am hoping that this will make them totally healthy and part of my 5-a-day.  Who am I kidding?
Sprinkled with a little vanilla sugar to give them a little crunch.................

They took a bit longer to cook than usual, no doubt due to the moistness and richness of the cream and ducks eggs, but the results were a lovely moist chewy muffin. Who says you can't play around with baking?   I'll keep tweaking them, but they went down OK!

I'm rather pleased with my own first hand spun and hand knit pair of socks that I've called Firestarter.  I plan to wear them on a cool evening when camping, perhaps by a little campfire.......

Sadly, due to a reduced workload and running miles (sore neck, but that's on the mend, so all's good) my baking of sweet things will have to be temporarily reduced until I can burn off more calories and at least break even in the calorie count  :-(  My trousers are just getting toooooooo tight.  Still I did manage another short shuffle tonight in the rain, so perhaps the baking cull won't last long.

In the mean time I will continue to bake lots of scrummy bread and bore you next week with a daily blog for ...............................


So watch out if you're not interested in knitting, its gonna be a crafty week :-)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

RainFlower's Hot Cross Buns Recipe

Whilst on a knitty forum the other day, one of the lovely ladies posted some pictures of her homemade Hot Cross Buns.  I've never been overly excited by Hot Cross Buns, but as these were a personal recipe and made with wholemeal flour I just couldn't help myself but ask for the recipe.  It is Easter after all!  RainFlower very kindly typed it out for me and you'll find it at the bottom of the blog.

I knew these used to be traditionally only eaten on Good Friday. Still as my family will confirm I'm a bit of a "but why" kinda girl.  So I had to look into the Origins of the hot cross bun a bit more.  It seems they have quite a varied past.  I particularly like the idea of ensuring friendship for the coming year, by the sharing together of a Hot Cross Bun.

I found this to be quite a sticky mixture and would suggest kneading it in a Kenwood or similar with a dough-hook as I got nice and sticky with it. All part of the fun though.  Plus I used cold milk which made the initial rise time about 2 hours.  What a dumbo, I really should know better than to add cold liquid to a yeast mixture. The stickiness may have been down to using 2 duck eggs, so larger than average, so I kept adding a little flour as I kneaded to un-stick myself.

After kneading the dough for a few minutes, I covered and left it for 2 hours to double in size.  This would be much less if I had warmed the milk.  I then popped it out on the side, squished out the air and divided it into 8 buns.  These were covered with a tea-towel and left to rise again.

Adding the paste was interesting.  Just how do you add a thick glue mix of water and flour and make it into a cross??  In the end I decided to use a little implement normally used for inkling out seafood like crab claws ....... did the job though!

Popped them in the oven for 18 - 20 minutes, turning part way through, added the nice sticky glaze and voila!  Lovely rustic Hot Cross Buns.

They are super filling, due to the wholemeal and next time I will certainly make them smaller, but not bad for a first attempt.  Perhaps I might also try the recipe with 1/2 white bread flour and 1/2 wholemeal.  Might just have to go and try another one with some Lemon Marmalade!

Happy Easter!

RainFlower's Hot X Buns Recipe
500gr wholemeal flour ( or I sometimes use 400gr wholemeal + 100gr brown ( malted) flour )
300gr milk (I suggest warming the milk to speed up the initial rise)
2 eggs (I used 2 duck eggs)
30ml oil (I used vegetable oil)
1tsp salt
2 Tbsp honey ( or sugar)
1tsp cinnamon
0.5 tsp nutmeg
1tsp allspice
1 tsp of dried yeast ( or 2tsp look what is recommended by your yeast manufacturer per 500gr of flour, I have 2 different brands) (I used 1.5 tsp's of yeast)
125gr of mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas as that's what I had)
Mix, knead, let rise, knock down, shape buns. Let rise, cross with paste ( 4Tbsp flour+ 2Tbsp water) Bake till golden brown. Take out and brush with glaze 4Tbsp milk + 2 Tbsp sugar dissolved.
(200c in a static oven - reduce for a fan oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown)
ETA Gobble up with tea and coffee… yummm….
(Consume topped with butter and maybe jam)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

River Cottage Shortbread flowers

Inspired by my stay at Rezare Farmhouse last month, I thought it was about time I gave shortbread a go. A tip from Nanette was to include rice flour in the dough to give it a more crisp texture.  Now I did make some for my Mum for Mothers Day, but we ate all those before I got the chance to get the camera out :)

So I make for you some more!  I found a recipe in the River Cottage Cakes Book that sounded just right.  Handily enough its also available online.

Reading up on the do's and don'ts of making shortbread, the main trick appears to be NOT to over-work the dough.  A lightness of touch is required to keep the dough nice and light and 'melt-in the mouth' when baked. 

Over working the dough toughens it up as it works the gluten too much.  The same can be said for pastry in quiches / pies etc.  You want a nice short crumbly pastry, not a tough one.  With shortbread its all done by hand-mixing, with pastry you can cheat (as I do!) and use a food processor.  This avoids over-working, though I find some pastry is lighter than others, even when using the same recipe.  Perhaps its due to the flour / egg size ratio and the need to add extra water to bind it.  That requires longer in the processor to mix together, so perhaps a slightly tougher pastry.  That's what I like about baking - its all practice, practice, practice.  The recipe says to bind the dough together to form a crack free ball.  Well not wishing to overwork it, mine had cracks, but they all come out in the rolling, so who needs worry about a few cracks!

This time around I made a mixture of shapes, including some splats to use up the remaining dough.  My collection of cookie cutters seems to be on the increase, including the  flower set I found in Divertimenti on a trip to London with Mum and the circular set purchased at my local cook shop Classy Cooks.

A slight variation on chocolate shortbread but they taste good!

I think I may have over-baked these ones as they should be just coloured.  Its amazing how quickly they go from totally pale to overdone.  The recipe calls for baking in a 170c static oven for about 20 minutes, which I duly did for 15 minutes.

Mental note: start checking after 10-12 minutes as the cooking time all depends on the thickness of your biscuit....... so to speak!