Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bread-Making made easy!

I've had two bread-makers over the course of the last ten years.  The first was a Breville, which I used a lot and always gave me good results.  When that went to kitchen appliance heaven, I replaced it with a Cookworks model (Argos own-brand).  That was ok, but wasn't as good as the Breville (but was much cheaper, it has to be said in its defence).  With both models, the bread they made was nice, but there was something about it that didn't make me think 'home-made' - I think the fact that the bread dough was mixed a lot meant it had a very close texture, more like a supermarket or bakery tinned loaf.

Yesterday, while I was looking about on Facebook, I spotted a post by Lucy at Attic24 where she'd linked to a no-knead bread recipe.  Ooh, thought I; that looks simple enough to do and I've got all the ingredients (although I had to take out most of the contents of my dry-goods cupboard to get the yeast, which was at the back; of course).

I measured the ingredients (all four of them) and mixed them in my glass bowl and left it to rise for 8-18 hours as the recipe said.  It rose.  In fact, it rose quite considerably and I thought that I'd make the bread last night.  That was slightly optimistic as once dinner's been cooked and the kitchen cleaned up, the last thing I generally want to do is more cooking or baking.  So, I put the bowl of dough into the fridge overnight and hoped for the best (even though I know that bread dough can be put into the fridge and will still rise, albeit more slowly than at room temperature).  This morning, it looked like this:

I put (too much as it turned out) flour on the worktop and flopped the dough onto it, then shaped it into a ball.  It wouldn't stay in a ball, so it ended up being a flattish disc.

The recipe said to cook the loaf in a Dutch oven, which is, I think, the US version of a casserole dish and is usually made of cast iron (like a Le Creuset casserole).  I don't have either of those, so used my large glass Pyrex dish.  The cooking pot is pre-heated in a hot oven for 30 mins while the dough rests.

An extra thing I did (because I was using a glass pot) was to very lightly oil the pan and I also used a strip of baking parchment long enough to go down, across and up the dish, with a bit of overhang.  I put the dough ball on this strip of paper and it made it a lot easier to put the dough into the hot dish and remove it after cooking.

After 30 mins of cooking with the lid on and 15 mins with it off (I reduced the temperature by 10C for the uncovered cooking as the loaf was already starting to brown after 30 mins) I'd got this:

You can see the paper under the loaf (with hindsight, because I used the baking parchment, I didn't need to oil the pot and the paper could have been a thinner strip).

It was very difficult leaving it to cool down enough to try it, but when I did it was very good bread.  A nice crispy crust and soft inside.  I had one piece with just butter and a second slice with some marmalade spread on it.

Next time, I think I'll make the job even easier by doing the mixing in my Magimix with the dough blade fitted (it all goes in the dishwasher!).

So, thanks to Lucy for posting the link on Facebook and if you want an easy, tasty loaf that has very few ingredients, give this a go; it's very good.  As it doesn't have the preservatives and additives that shop-bought loaves have (especially supermarket ones), don't expect it to last more than a day or so, but it should be fine for toast on the second day and could be sliced and frozen for future toastings.

I'd planned on fitting in one more crafting post before the year's end, but that's not going to happen because there's really very little to show.  I have got something new to show you, but that's upstairs and to be honest, I've been up and down the stairs so many times today that I'm staired-out for now so I'll talk about that soon!  My first New Year's Resolution for 2014 is to finish off the projects that just need a bit of work before they become completed.  Sewing in ends, sewing on buttons, blocking, that sort of thing.  I'm hoping to finish DD2's pink sweater in the next few days, so hopefully my first 2014 blog entry will be of the 'ta-da' showing off variety.

Happy New Year and may 2014 bring health and happiness to you and yours.


Friday, 20 December 2013

Last minute Christmas presents.....

You've got to love a teenager, haven't you.

Last Saturday, a voice wafted across the landing from DD1's bedroom to mine.

DD1: "Mummy?"

Me: "Yes?"

DD1: "We've decided that we will exchange presents this year after all".

Me:  "Who's 'we'?"

It turned out that 'we' is five of DD1's friends.  Oh, and she needed a present for her class Secret Santa.

Monday I was busy, so Tuesday, I went first thing to the hair appointment I'd got booked and then drove the 12 miles up to Colchester.

First stop was to Williams & Griffin, the department store in the town.  There, I quickly purchased six bars of some very nice Italian soap by a company called Nesti Dante.  These are heavily perfumed soaps and I've been using them myself for a year or so now and I keep them in my clothing drawers before they get put into use, where they keep everything smelling nice.

Second stop was to Franklins haberdashery store to buy some cotton yarn.

Can you see where this is heading?

I spent the next two days crocheting as fast as I could.  Yesterday, the Secret Santa present was taken in to school so they could do the unwrapping today (the last day or term).  I've been told that the recipient was very happy with her gift.

This is what I came up with:

A bar of soap and a wash-cloth in a colour to match the packaging.

Very simple cloths which I've done many times before.  Just rows of trebles, going between the stitches rather than through the V-chain along the top, or half-trebles, or a mixture of the two.  It makes a more open fabric and aids drying the cloths.  The light pink one is King Cole Cotton Soft DK.  The blue one and the lemon yellow ones are Sirdar Calico (a 60/40 cotton/acrylic blend).  The dark pink is some cotton that I bought in Lidl and the orange/cream one is Sirdar Baby Speckle, which is, again, a 60/40 cotton/acrylic blend.  After a quick wash, dry and iron yesterday, they were wrapped up and tied with some gauzy ribbon.

Except I should have bought more ribbon as I ran out, so I had a rummage through my sewing box and found some wide-ish white satin ribbon, so cut a narrow strip from that and tied it around the pink cloth.

The soaps cost £4.50 each and the cloths were probably no more than £1 - £1.50 each to make (I can get three cloths from a 100g ball of the Cotton Soft).

I hope the young ladies who've been given them like them.  We tried to match up each fragrance to the intended recipient as two of the girls are more sporty than girlie!

That's it - I'm not making anything else this year.  I'm going to be concentrating on DD2's pink Bulle sweater now.  I'm nearing the cuff on the first sleeve (I've had to order more yarn but could only get a different dye lot so I'm hoping that if I alternate balls the difference won't be too noticeable).

Before I go, I must show you the card that DD2 made for me at school.  It's to Mummy -- no mention of Daddy and she refused to add his name to it - oops!

Isn't it cute?  The reindeer heads are finger- or thumb-prints and then the antlers are drawn on and googly eyes and noses are added (the noses are little foam circles which have been coloured in).  I know that some of you have young children in your lives, so this might be an idea for next year :)

I'm hoping to get one more blog post in before Christmas, but in case things don't work to plan (do they ever at this time of year?), I hope you all have a wonderful festive time.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Photography Challenge 2

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd taken part in two photography challenges this year amongst a group of friends.  The first, that I blogged about yesterday, was to take a photograph to represent each word on a list of 50.  The second challenge was to choose a view and take a photo each month so we could see how it changed throughout the year.  Some people chose a view from a window in their home, one chap who lives just outside Reykjavik chose a stunning rural view of a mountain a shortish walk from his house.

I chose a view of our local church, taken across the fields from the common area on our housing development where I walk Jess.  I'm sure I've mentioned during snowy weather posts that we live halfway up a hill.  The hill is really the southern side of the valley of the River Stour (which forms a border between Essex and Suffolk counties), so the countryside is sloping (and I always forget how high up we are until I'm walking up the path from the train station which is on a level with the river).  I'm not sure if I've mentioned before but the little town we live in is an hour by train from London and few miles from the village of Dedham where the artist John Constable lived and went to school and the area where he painted several of his famous landscapes.  My photographed view will never in a million years be comparable to the works of Constable, but I'm quite pleased with the results.

January is top left, December is bottom right.

Here's a link to the photo set on Flickr.

I think we're going to do this challenge again this year.  I might do two views.  The field behind our house has had planning permission passed for new houses to be built so it will be interesting to see what happens on there over the coming 12 months and, if the building's delayed, then it's a field that usually has a crop of wheat or beans grown on it, so it would be representative of a farming year.  I might drive to a spot a couple of miles away and take photos of a view across Dedham vale to Dedham church.  Otherwise, I can go up onto the bank by the local supermarket and take a view down-river towards Harwich and Felixstowe ports and take a shot of that.  Choices, choices!

I did also do a reading challenge, but that's been a bit of a failure as I've found it very difficult to get into a book in recent months, but I think I've managed to read 18 or so books this year (there were several others that got started, but then were abandoned).

Today is going to be a day of sewing in ends and then washing and ironing some gift items.  I'll take photographs and show you tomorrow (or possibly a couple of days after that - DD2 is unwell at the moment, so won't be going to school for the last couple of days of the term).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

50 Words Photo Challenge - Completed

Last year on a web forum I've belonged to for, ooh, ten years now, we decided to have a few challenges - just for fun.  You might remember that one of those was a '50 words' photo challenge.  I blogged about in this post.

The list of words this year was:

It was a fun challenge and I think my photography has improved by doing it.  Like I did with the 2012 challenge, I made two 25-photo mosaics of my shots.

Here's 1-15:

And here are photos 26-50:

As with last year's photo's, the categories are listed in the mosaics to 'read' top to left to right, top to bottom (so photo 1 is top left, photo 25 is bottom right, etc).

Some of the photos you'll have seen before following my post about the mini-jaunt DD1 and I made to London (I don't think I told you about the second mini-jaunt to London, did I - I must tell you about that one as well!).

There was another photography challenge as well, but I'll tell you about that one tomorrow (it's also been completed).

Until then....

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Bulle Sweater - Progress

I haven't been knitting as much as I should have been in recent days due to everyday life getting in the way, but I have made some progress on DD2's bright pink sweater.

I got near the end of the fifth 50g ball of yarn from the nine I bought, so decided to put the stitches on waste yarn (dental floss, actually as that was what I had to hand), then picked up the stitches of one sleeve that I'd put on waste yarn, picked up stitches at the armpit area and have now started knitting down.  As the pattern's written with short, sleeves (I think they're a bit puffed now I come to think about it), I'm winging it a bit, although I've made several top-down seamless sweaters in the past, so it's not a big deal).  I'm decreasing two stitches every eighth round at what would be the seam if I was knitting flat to taper it down a bit and am using one of DD2's school cardigans to gauge the length I'll need.  I'm planning on putting a garter stitch cuff of 1.5 - 2 inches at the bottom so it matches the hem and neck of the sweater.

By doing the sleeves now, I'll know how much yarn I've got for the rest of the body.  Hopefully it'll be enough (the sweater's already nearly as long as one of her school cardigans, but I'd prefer it to be several inches longer than that to make it more tunic-like) as when I checked on the Wool Warehouse website the other day, they'd sold out of the yarn. Fingers crossed.

Getting my camera out to take the photo above prompted me to show you a little something I bought at the weekend.  I popped to our local supermarket and saw there were a few tables outside selling things on behalf of the local troop of Brownies.  With the help of parents and Brown Owl, they'd been making things to sell.  There was one table of cakes and another had home-made crafty bits, including some sewn things such as peg bags and what they were selling as glasses cases.  To be honest, some of the glasses cases looked a bit on the short side, but I though that one of them would probably make a nice camera case/bag, which it does (it's got padding inside for protection).  So, for the princely sum of £3, here you are:

As they were trying to raise money to subsidise their summer camp next year, I didn't begrudge them a single penny and would have happily donated the money without taking anything home with me, but that's not the point of making things to sell, is it.

As it's getting closer to Christmas, I'm getting to that stage where I'm having to stay in waiting for things to be delivered.  I've already had the postman deliver a box from Amazon this morning and I'm also waiting for a carpet cleaner (bought at a huge reduction in price because it has defective packaging, apparently) to arrive via UPS.  Yesterday, our new internet hub was delivered from BT (our internet speed improved as soon as it was up and running) and I also received by courier a case of 12 bottles of wine from Naked wines.  I'd received a voucher for £40 off a spend of £80, so with Christmas coming up, it would have been silly to not use it!!!

I'm also expecting a 'little something' I've bought for myself (I might call it a Christmas present to myself), but I'll share that with you after it's arrived.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spinning Hurricane

I had a bit of a busy crafting day last week.

Remember the alpaca yarn I made from raw fleece in the summer?  Well, I gave that yarn to my sister a couple of weeks ago so she could show it to the owner of Hurricane (the alpaca the fibre came from).  That spurred me on to getting the sack of raw fleece and carding some more.

I spent the morning off and on, in between other jobs around the house, carding.

I was sensible and lay down a piece of sheeting on the smaller table and then a couple of sheets of the Daily Mail (it seems quite fitting to use that particular sensationalist newspaper to brush grit, dirt and muck onto!) and started pulling pieces of fleece out of the sack, flicking them open to de-tangle and get as much dirt out as I could and then put the pieces through my drum carder.

I carried on like this for most of the morning and by the time it was lunchtime, I had a batt of around 50g which I carefully peeled off the drum and rolled up.

I told you alpacas are mucky creatures didn't I.  I've read that they do enjoy a mud/dust bath!

See the brush in the top left o the photo?  I don't have a proper brush that fits on my drum carder, but I'd read of people using a wallpaper brush to smooth the carded fibres down, enabling a bigger batt to be made.  You can see how grubby the brush was getting.  On the right are my hand carders.  The bits of fleece that I haven't put through the drum carder I've been hand carding into rolags for future use.

At 3.30pm, DD2 came home from school and after a snack, started to 'help' me.  At first, she turned the handle of the drum carder (once I'd explained that she needed to do it slowly), but after I'd popped into the kitchen for whatever reason, I came back into the lounge and she'd got my flick carder and was trying to brush bits of fleece, so I showed her what to do and she seemed to enjoy that for a while.

When it was time to pack everything away, tidy up and prepare dinner, we'd done a pretty good job between us and DD2 had even made a batt of yarn.

The two on the left are mine (a total of around 100g).  The lumpier one on the right I'll probably pull apart and hand card as I don't think it's spinnable in its current state!

I've started spinning some of it, but as you know, all my crafting efforts are expected to be put into DD2's pink sweater at the moment so progress is a bit slow.  I might do some spinning in a little while, so don't tell her!

Here's what I've spun so far:

Forgive the plastic bag hanging off the end of my wheel.  I have to put fleece and fibre in bags and keep them close to my wheel otherwise they tend to disappear and I find Jess with bits of fluff hanging from her mouth, or DD2 sitting at the dining table playing with it.

The photo of the spun yarn looks cleaner than it is.  I have to stop spinning every now and then to wash my fingers as they get very grubby.  The yarn's currently a beige colour but I know that once it's spun and plyed and has been washed, it will come out a beautiful off-white colour.

All this activity means I'm very disorganised crafting-wise at the moment.  I've finished knitting my grey Reine cardigan, but need to sew in ends and sew on buttons.  I've finished a pair of socks but haven't sewn in the ends of those and I started a scarf a few weeks ago that I was going to show you, but haven't got round to photographing yet.  On top of that, I need to clear out the corner where I keep my current crafting projects.  We have a hollow, bottomless footstool that it all goes in, but that's in the corner where we'll be putting up our Christmas tree at the weekend.  I'm also going to have to find somewhere to re-locate my wheel to as it will be too close to the tree.

The run-up to Christmas seems to be so busy, doesn't it!  Oh well, I'd better get on and 'do' - the washing machine's just finished its first cycle of the day.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Everything else is on hold

Last Wednesday, DD2 came up to me and said "Mummy to make pink jumper.  Little round neck, one button at the back".  She rarely asks me to make anything for her, so I was a bit surprised.

I did a pattern search on Ravelry and had a think about any patterns I might have in books that would do, but couldn't come up with anything.  So, I did what any sensible Raveller would and asked in the Patterns forum.  There were several suggestions (including one cardigan that I quite like for myself), but the one that best fit the bill was Bulle.  I bought the pattern and downloaded it and then had a think about yarn I might have in stash.  As is often the case, I didn't have anything suitable, so I went back to the pattern page on Ravelry and had a look at yarns people had used to make this cute sweater.  I noticed that a few people had used Drops Lima, so I opened a new tab on my laptop and went to the Wool Warehouse website.  Once DD2 was home from school, I showed her the yarn and asked her what colour she liked.  Unsurprisingly, she went for the deep cerise pink, so nine balls (because I need to make the sleeves long) were bought ---- and very promptly arrived on Friday (they're good, those people at Wool Warehouse - this was the second time I'd bought yarn from them).

I case on and started knitting straight away and, as I keep being told to "do knitting" every time I sit down (DD2 really wants this sweater!), I started the fourth ball yesterday evening and am three or so inches down the body, having divided for the sleeves when I got home from knitting group yesterday lunchtime.

Progress photo?  Oh, all right then.

The front.  It starts with a garter stitch section worked back and forth, with a bit of short-row shaping to make the back slightly higher than the front and one row of increases an inch or so in and then it's a regular raglan increase until the part where the sleeve stitches are put on waste yarn until it comes time to knit them.

I've pulled the back opening apart for the next photo so you can see it better.  After I'd made the buttonhole and finished the garter stitch section, DD2 then went into my button tin and decided she wanted three buttons instead of one, so I'll have to sew up the buttonhole (maybe do sew some duplicate stitches to cover the join) and will do some crochet loops for the three smaller buttons (the buttonhole's too big for the buttons she's chosen).

As DD2 is now 11 and 'developing', I did an extra three increase rows and adjusted the stitch count accordingly when I divided for body and sleeves.

Can you see the flared bit at the centre front and centre back?  That's a 'gather' made by knitting in to the front, back and front again of the centre 10 stitches, increasing that area to 30 stitches.

I'm rather pleased with progress to date.  I'm not going to make the pockets (too much temptation for DD2 to put all manner of things in there - bits of food, hair clips, etc) and I might knit straight down rather than doing the decreases the pattern calls for before the bottom garter stitch band.

For the sleeves, I'll pick up the stitches and knit straight down, decreasing two stitches every six or so rows for a bit of shaping, ending with a garter stitch cuff.

I'm hoping I've bought enough yarn.  It depends on how long DD2 wants the sweater to be.  I'm going to knit another couple of balls on the body, then I'll put end stoppers on the cable and do the sleeves before continuing with the body.  One good thing about Wool Warehouse is that there's an option to choose the yarn dye lot you want, so I can keep an eye on their stock levels and if it looks like there are only a couple of balls left, I'll buy them to be on the safe side (I can always make a hat if I don't need them).

Right - I'd better get knitting.  I don't want to get in trouble if there's no progress made by the time she gets home from school this afternoon!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Back to Blogging - but with a moan

I know it's been ages since I last made a blog post, but truth be told, not much has been happening on the knitting/crochet/spinning front.

Progress has been slow over the summer months.

The weather here is grey, damp and dismal and so I'm hoping for a brighter day tomorrow so I can take photos of progress on my grey cardigan (no, I still haven't finished it) and my finished purple/green socks (once I've sewn in the yarn ends).

Now for the moan.

Last Monday I cast on for a new pair of socks.  When I popped into Franklins a few weeks ago to say hello to Lucy, I came out (inevitably) with some yarn and some needle tips.  The yarn I bought was a 100g ball of Regia Mix-it! Color sock yarn.

It knits up very nicely and has bands of different patterns and stripes.  Very jolly and I finished the first sock yesterday morning.

Yesterday evening, I cast on the second sock, knit the toe and started on the foot.  14 rounds later, I came across a knot.

Can you see the knot?

I'm not sure if it's obvious from the photo, but after the knot is a yellow/white patterned stretch of yarn.  The same patterned stretch that I'd just finished knitting before the round of plain green.

Fortunately, I won't have to pull the sock off the needles and start again as I've pulled out a few metres and have found where the yarn should be next so I can join it on, carry on without interrupting the stripe/pattern sequence and  neatly darn the ends in when I've finished.  But that's not the point.  A knot in a ball of yarn isn't the end of the world if the yarn's plain-dyed, or is of a heathery hue, but in self-patterning yarn?

As you can see, it's only a very small amount of yarn that I've had to waste.


What if I was a sock-knitter who likes her patterned hand-knitted socks to be identical and the amount of yarn needed to be wasted was nearly a whole sequence repeat?  What if the yarn after the knot had been wound in the other direction?  I'm not happy with having to waste any of the yarn so I would have been infuriated if I'd had to put in more effort to work out which was the next 'right' bit of yarn to use.

I'm now considering if an e.mail to Regia/Coats would be worth sending.  I'll think about it a bit more I think.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

An Unexpected Mini-Jaunt

A non-knitting post today (more or less).

A few weekends ago (the last weekend before the girls broke up for the summer holidays), I got home from my Sunday shift at work and hubby asked me if I definitely had the following weekend off.  I said that I did and he then said that I'd got plans for that weekend.  "Oh, are we going somewhere?" I asked.  He then told me that no, we weren't, but DD1 and I were.  He'd decided that we might like a night away in London.  We could either stay overnight on the Saturday or the Sunday.  As he's been away for work so much in the last nine months, he'd amassed a fair amount of Hilton loyalty points and so we looked at hotel availability and it came down to a choice between the Hilton at Marble Arch on the Saturday night, or the Hilton Tower Bridge, which is the one he usually stays at as it's close to his office.  We decided on Sunday night at the Tower Bridge hotel (hubby stays there so often, the staff know him and give him good service).  So, the hotel was booked and hubby even pre-booked first class train tickets for us (which worked out the same price or possibly even cheaper than buying standard class tickets on the day).

What did I immediately do (other than give him a thank you kiss of course!)?  Went online and checked Loop London's opening hours!

Sunday morning, DD1 and I left the house at 9.30 with our little wheelie case and off we went.  Once at Liverpool Street, we left the station and walked to Moorgate tube (much quicker than getting the Circle/Hammersmith & City line one stop and then switching trains) to pick up the Northern Line northbound to Angel.  Why did I want to go to Loop?  Because it's the only yarn shop in the UK that stocks Brooklyn Tweed yarns.  We were there more or less as the shop opened and I had a good squish (while DD1 looked a bit bored).  This yarn looks very nice online and I can confirm that it looks and feels even better in Real Life.  So nice, in fact, that I bought a bit more than I'd planned (but only two extra skeins):

Six skeins of the purple Thistle shade and one skein each of the yellowy Sap and blue Almanac (the pink is the bag Loop put my purchase into).  I would have bought six of the Almanac instead of the Thistle, but they didn't have that many.  I'm going to give the Sap to my sister for her birthday and make a hat with the Almanac.  The purple Thistle is going to be a sweater/cardigan for me (bet you didn't guess that!) but I haven't decided which one yet.

After Loop, we took the Tube to London Bridge station, walked along Tooley Street, went through Hays Galleria and had a little wander along the river and then went to see if we could check in to the hotel (which we could - it was a Sunday; the hotel wasn't very busy).  Hubby had stayed at the hotel the previous Thursday night and had confirmed that we'd be upgraded to an Executive room, which meant access to the Executive Lounge, which was very nice as well.

We took advantage of our upgrade to have tea and snacks in the Lounge before walking along the river again, seeing how much it's been developed in the 14 years since I worked in London full-time.  We had pre-dinner drinks and nibbles in the Lounge and then dinner in the hotel restaurant and then I made DD1 come with me for a long-ish walk along and over Tower Bridge, along the north bank to London Bridge and then back down the south bank to the hotel.  A nice break away from home - a mini-jaunt with yarn purchase as a bonus.

I took quite a few photos while I was there (some of which I've used in my 50 words photo challenge, which I'm doing again this year).  Here are some of them:

Tower Bridge

The White Tower at the Tower of London

New developments on the north side of the Thames

The Mayor's office, with The Shard behind

View down-river to Canary Wharf
(I lived for a while in a warehouse conversion flat not far from that building with the blue bits on it!)

The Tower of London from the North bank
St Pauls from the Executive Lounge 

The Thames at night
(HMS Belfast on the right; our hotel is a short walk from it)

Tower Bridge all lit up (taken from London Bridge)

On Monday morning, we got up, had breakfast in the Exec Lounge and then went and got our bags, dropped off the check-out slip and walked to London Bridge tube from where we got the Jubilee Line to Stratford and spent the morning at Westfield shopping centre (which I found almost too big).  We spent a bit more money (including buying a pair of ceramic hair straighteners to try and tame DD1's hair - but not for everyday use, she's been warned), had some lunch and then went back to Stratford station to pick up our train home (I'd phoned hubby the night before and he'd confirmed that the train we were booked on stopped at Stratford, so we didn't have to go back to Liverpool St first).  And then, after a short walk from the station, we were home again and back to reality!

All in all, a very pleasant day-and-a-bit, thanks to hubby.  I think I'll keep him!

I've also worked out that 'popping' to Loop on a day when the girls are at school is very do-able (I could spend at least and hour and a half in there and make it back home on time).  Might start saving my £1 and £2 coins in a jar for a future visit.

Some Hurricane Alpaca yarn and a WIP

I did it!  I made yarn from sheared fleece.

I was really, really worried that this had felted when I washed it, but apart from it sticking together a little bit where I'd tied the skein, it was ok.  It's perhaps slightly fuzzier than I'd have liked, but it's oh-so-soft (sorry for being a bit trumpet-blowy there) and I'm so pleased with it.  By look and feel, I reckon it's about a DK-weight yarn and pre-washing, there was more or less 150m, which should be enough for an Awesome Hat (bought the pattern today - Mimi's patterns are always well-written).  I might have to make the turney-uppey brim a bit shorter by a couple of cms, but I reckon I've got enough (famous last words - if I try to knit fast, will the yarn last longer? :D ).

So, that's the yarn.  What else have I been knitting?  Well, there's a pair of socks.  Well, not really a pair.  One sock.  Which I've been knitting since the end of May.  I turned the heel last week (I'm toe-upping, as per usual) and have done a couple of rows of the leg on the first one, but that's it.  Rather lame really, so I won't show you a photo until I've done a bit more.

The other thing I've been - here and there (more 'there' at knitting group on a Monday) - knitting is my Reine cardigan.  I think I started this around the same time as I started the socks.  I have no idea why this is taking so long, other than the end of term/summer weather stuff I talked about in my last post.  I think it must be summer knitting ennui.  Anyway, the lack of progress is nothing to do with the pattern, which is as well-written as any other Brooklyn Tweed pattern I've knitted.  Comprehensive, detailed, a good schematic, isn't crammed into as few pages as possible, etc.  I'm about 12 rows away from dividing at the under-arm.

Photos?  OK then!

The top one's a bit clearer, the bottom one shows a more accurate yarn colour on my laptop screen.  Can you see why I like this cardigan?  No ribbing at the bottom, but some garter stitch ridges instead, which makes the bottom lie flatter.  A ribbed button band?  No, thank you - let's have some cabling instead, working up the fronts and along the edges (I'm decreasing up the fronts at the moment - a simple matter of an ssk at the right front and a k2tog on the left, but inside the cabley bits).  What's so thoughtful about this pattern is that all the shaping decreases and increases occur on the same row as the cables are done.  So are the buttonholes (every third cable cross row).  Inspired design thinking in my book.  None of that cable on row x and then remember how many rows since you last did a buttonhole and hope you've got it right malarkey.

The yarn is my handspun (grey North Ronaldsay - bought and spun to make this cardigan).  I've absolutely no idea why I'm not just getting on with it as I'm really looking forward to finishing it, choosing buttons and wearing it.  I've even left it like this since early evening:

See?  Started a row, got distracted/my attention or help was required, and there it's sat all night.

It's the summer though.  Children hindering me (DD2 is sleeping particularly poorly at the moment).  Even Jess is being more hindrance than help.  She likes the alpaca (raw fleece and yarn).  Jess is the reason for the poorer-than-usual photos today.  Look:

See in the background?  A black paw.

Zoom pulled back a bit:

And this is when she had a hopeful 'can I pick it up yet, Mum?' look about her (the answer was a firm 'no'):

We've had a funny couple of weeks with Jess.  She's been in season.  She's now 3-and-a-half.  Prime breeding age.  She's been unsettled, wanting to go out in the garden umpteen times every day and have a widdle.  Hubby was worried she was unwell.  I gave him one of those "for someone clever, you can be really stupid at times" looks.  "She's not ill - she's feeling frisky" I told him.  Not that we're going to breed her; I don't think I could cope with puppies + DD2.

Usually, Jess is more likely to be found in this position:

Or this one:

Most glamorous!

I have other non-knitting-related things to post about.  Hopefully tomorrow or Thursday, depending on the laundry pile.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How long has it been?

At least a couple of months.

Truth be told, with the activities at the end of the school year and the running around getting things ready for the six-week summer holidays from school, I haven't really been getting on with knitting, crocheting or spinning.  I have got a couple of projects on the needles that I'll show you in a day or two, but I wanted to show you something different today :)

A few weeks ago, my sister phoned me.  "I've got a bag of alpaca fleece in the boot of my car for you" she said.  "Remind me to give it to you the next time I see you".  In the event, the next time I saw her, she didn't have the bag of alpaca in her boot as she'd had to take it out to make room for something else and it hadn't got put back in.  I've got it now though - my parents dropped it off the week before last.

When she said 'a bag', I assumed she meant a supermarket carrier bag full.  No.  It's a potato sack full of the fleece from an alpaca named Hurricane.  I reckon there's a few kilos of fleece in there.  Hurricane's owner is a chap who's a client of my sister's gym (sis re-trained as a sports injury masseuse and has added other strings to her bow and now does other therapies as well as personal training) and when she found out he had alpacas, sis told him that I've got a spinning wheel and, well, things led on from there.  The 'deal' is that if I make Hurricane's owner something (I said a hat to start with because I didn't know how successful I'd be and how much of the fleece I'd end up ruining/wasting).

Here's a bag of the fleece:

That's as it came from Hurricane, complete with dirt, grit and bits of vegetable matter.

I read up on the internet and most people advise spinning the fibre and then washing the resulting yarn, although some people prefer to wash the fleece first.  I went with the first option and used my drum carder to make a batt of around 45g:

Then I pulled it off and started spinning.  This is where I'm at:

I'm hoping that it'll wash up ok.  I'm going to make a 3-ply yarn which should be sport or DK weight.  Truth be told, as alpaca's warmer than sheep-wool, I don't want to go much thicker than DK otherwise the hat will run the risk of being too hot.  I've got in mind Mimi Hill's latest hat pattern but if the yarn comes out more 4ply than DK then I'll have a re-think.  I'm not that worried as this is a bit of a steep learning curve for me.  I've used my drum carder to blend fibres, but not to prepare from 'raw' and as the only alpaca I've spun was a silk blend, I don't know how (or if) the yarn will bloom once washed.

I also put some of the fibre into a mesh bag and put it on a wool wash in my machine.  It's currently hanging on the garden gate, drying so I'll see in a couple of hours if it's felted and if it's ok, I might hand-card that (there's only about 20g) and see how it spins up compared to the 'dirty' fibre.  In the meantime, I've got a pair of tweezers to hand and stop spinning to pick out any bits that didn't drop out when I shook the fibre and then carded it.

I'm going to leave this yarn as its natural colour.  Partly because I've only dyed with food colouring (which tends to fade) and partly because I think for this first effort it's the right thing to do.  My in-laws recently moved house and I've been given two saucepans they no longer wanted (stainless steel ones) so as I don't need both of them, I might keep one and buy some acid dyes (I bet that'll go down a storm with hubby :D ).

I have to say that I'm having a fair amount of fun with this :)  I'm just not going to look at the state of the house today, especially as DD2 has been left to her own devices for most of the morning......

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A bit meurgh!

It's been nearly a month since my last post.

That's because there hasn't been much to say and the last four weeks haven't been the easiest.

DD2 had to have some dental treatment.  Autism and sitting in a dentist's chair aren't a match made in heaven.  At her check-up in January, it was discovered that she needed two fillings - back teeth, one on each side.  We went back and forth to the dentist in the hope that DD2 would be obliging and have the treatment done there, but it became evident that that wasn't going to happen, so she had to have them done under general anaesthetic, at the hospital.  The treatment went well, but we've had a few weeks of fall-out with challenging behaviour, temper tantrums and such-like, which hasn't been fun.  The treatment was done in the morning and almost as soon as we got home, I developed a pain down the left side of my neck and into my shoulder.  I'm sure it was a lifting of the stress regarding the treatment.  That lasted a few days and then I came down with a horribly chesty cold and cough which is only just going.

As a result of all that, I've found it difficult to drum up the enthusiasm for anything.  I haven't felt enthused by my knitting projects and felt as though I was plodding my way through them.

So, last week I decided to try and kick-start things, delved into my yarn-stash and pulled out some balls of cotton and crocheted some dishcloths:

Quick and easy to make and the satisfaction of getting something started and finished pretty quickly.  The pink and blue/green ones are made from Anchor Magicline.  The orange/yellow one is some cotton I bought in Lidl and the 'greige' is a leftover ball of RYC Cotton Jeans (I've finished my v-neck jumper, but I've been wearing it and it needs a wash before I take photos and show it off).  I used a very simple stitch pattern, working trebles (UK), DCs (US) along each row, but working between the stitch rather than just through the  top two strands of the preceding row.  I got the idea from the Vintage Vertical Stripe blanket.  It makes a nice firm fabric, but the open-weave nature means the cloths dry more quickly than ones made doing regular trebles.

I also finished the pair of socks I had on the needles:

The yarn's Regia bamboo that I bought a few years ago.  These are very similar to the pink garter rib socks I finished at the beginning April, but with a couple of changes.  First off, I did two plain knit rounds and then k4, p4 on the third round.  I also did the gusset a bit differently.  Usually, I increase every other round for the gussets (I knit my socks toe-up), but I have a high instep and particularly with ribbed socks, I notice that the fabric is a bit more stretched from about two-thirds of the way up my foot, so with these I started the gusset increases 10 rounds early and increased every third round.  I think I'll be doing the same thing with future socks as the fit's much better for me.

I've now got two new things on the needles - a cardigan and a pair of socks.  I'll give you a progress report in a few days.

One more school day to go and then it's the half-term break for a week before the final six or so weeks of this school year.  I think the girls and I are all ready for a week of not having to get up early, although DD1 has end-of-year exams the week immediately after the break, so will be doing revising.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Two Sides of the Coin

More spinning stuff from me today.

Here's a skein of yarn I've made that I'm pleased with:

I started off with this top (which I think Lucy - who dyed it - and I decided was probably Falkland):

I divided it into three and spun each third into a single:

And then I plyed it into just over 150m of a worsted/aran-weight yarn.

It will probably become a hat, a scarf or a pair of mittens.

This one I'm not pleased with (I haven't even taken it off the niddy noddy to wash):

I started off with this merino/silk blend from World of Wool (it's called Gemini).

I originally spun the whole 100g bump into a single:

With the intention of spinning another single from this bump of red-toned merino:

and then plying them together, but as the blue/red/rust one began to spin up, it became obvious that the colours wouldn't work together once spun.

So, I wound the blueish single into a centre pull ball on my ball winder and then made a 2ply yarn.

If I've counted the turns on the niddy noddy correctly, it's 264 metres and a heavy fingering weight yarn.  Probably enough for a pair of socks.

The red?  Well, I've spun the 100g bump I had into this single:

I'm now planning on buying another 500g and spinning it up into enough yarn to make a cardigan.  Red is always a difficult colour to photograph which is why there's a banana in the photo above, which gives quite a good indication of the colour.  It's a very rich, ruby red.

I'm now going to concentrate on my knitting WIPs for the next few days as I've got a sweater and two pairs of socks on the go and could do with getting them finished.

Have a good weekend, even if the weather in the UK has got a bit pants again.