Friday 17 June 2016

Adventures in Knitting: Learning with my daughter!

I decided to take a break from my 300-stitches-in-a-row cardigan (which is coming along steadily, and should be ready in about a decade) to knit a tea cosy.  Something achievable in under a month!

I found a great pattern in a library book called Tea Cozies 3.  It has some lovely patterns in it, but as you may know I have a slight obsession with winter / snow / snowflakes / do I need to go on...

So I decided to have a go at at pattern which has a nordic style snowflake done in fair isle technique. I've never done fair isle before, so this has been a great project to learn a new skill, while still being achievable.  I've also been wanting to learn how to knit from charts for a while.  I think it has been a good starting point to work from a colour chart - each box indicates the colour of the stitch (rather than a code chart - where each box in the graph has a symbol for the type of stitch).

I did get a bit carried away and stopped reading the instructions, which led to predictable results.


But seeing as it's just a Tea Cosy, I was pretty lazy about rectifying them.

Which means that I mostly didn't.

Photos of progress.

As I spent a day knitting along with other family also working at their creations, princess was watching us and investigating particularly how the charts work.  Once she had decided she understood how they worked, she set about designing one for herself.  She decided she'd like to make a little pouch with a heart designed into it.
Princess' design

Now, we were at Gramma's house for the day, and Gramma is a knitting ninja.  She knows so much about how to do things, and has a lovely stash of leftovers.  So Princess got to choose some pretty wool, and was then equipped with knitting needles.  She was ready to go!

Princess knits moderately well for an 8 year old.  Gramma and I have both taught her little bits, and then when I've been too slow to teach her something, she has a fabulous book that was given to teachers years ago by the Australian Wool Corporation, on how to knit for Children.  So Princess has taught herself a lot.

But at this point, she has only done garter stitch, no purling.

We discovered (after some trial and error) that weaving colours really does require a stocking stitch (well, that was the only way we could get it to work without the yarns running across the front of the design - there are probably more experienced knitters who would know better).

So we needed to teach Princess how to purl, at the same time as teaching her how to weave colours in (only about a day after I had taught myself).

Now on the first side of the Tea Cozy, I kind of cheated.  I had some notes somewhere on how to do fair isle, but lost them, and was in too much of a hurry to finish something to look up online how to do it.  So I just guessed, which was ok - it has led to a result like this:

Gramma was able to tell us that most knitters these days do it this way, just passing the yarn along behind the knitting, however, the better way to do it is to weave the yarns in as you go.  So lovely hearing the stories of her own mother's knitting skills, and the garments she created.

As we worked on Princess's design, we had much laughter, a lot of tinking, and eventually success:  in learning how to weave the contrasting yarns in, and also in bringing her design idea to fruition.
Wrapping the Yarn: I've got the white yarn (non-active) wrapped over the top of the pink yarn (active) which will keep it neatly woven in along the back.
It was a team effort.  She knitted all the garter rows, I knitted the purl rows, and we took turns weaving the non-active colours in.  It was just a little fiddly, wrapping the yarn around the yarn being knitted with before each new stitch was cast.

Here's a photo of the pattern made on the back of the knitting by wrapping the yarn each time.  I love the effect of it!
Back of the block, with yarn wrapped along the rows. Cool pattern!

We are very proud of her design.
the front!
She's planning to make a second square and turn it into a little pouch.

This inspired me to use a better technique for the second half of the Tea Cozy.

I blocked the finished products before sewing up - because the garter stitch along the bottom was making it curl up a lot.  I kind of love blocking.  It really is magic.

You can see the difference between the two pieces.
The cheat version looks a lot messier.  It also doesn't have the right 'give' in it, because of the threads stretched across the back.
Cheat version
The proper version looks a lot nicer, and doesn't have loose threads running across it.  Because the threads were woven in along the way it meant they had enough length for the distance traveled.
I think the proper version also has a better shape, because it doesn't have the threads pulling it too tight.

Proper version with wrapped threads
But you know what, although I loved learning a new technique, the teapot is still cosy ;)

All set now for some lovely hot cups of tea, no matter how chilly the weather.

Although it will keep the tea warm, regardless, it was nice to master a better way of doing things.

What do you think?  Have you ever done any colour work in knitting?  Did you know about weaving in the colours?  Is it worth it?

Come on over so I can share a cosy cuppa with you!

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Milo in May

It's not what you think!!
This is my Milo
There is a gorgeous knitting pattern called Milo, by TikkiKnits.

I just had to make one this year, for the most-beautiful-baby-in-the-world, my 6 month old Nephew.

It was another challenge to meet, as it involves knitting-in-the-round, which I'm not very good at.  A few other projects have been attempted and discarded, and there is still a not-yet-pair of socks waiting to be finished.  I need to summon up the courage.  How funny, to require courage to return to a knitting project!

Despite a bit of a bumpy start, I persevered, and have really enjoyed knitting this lovely vest.

The yarn is a Sirdar Toddler Yarn, which is just lovely and so soft.  I dutifully did my tension square with an 8ply wool I was planning on using, but my tension was all wrong, and I didn't like the wool - it was a crepe that kept splitting.  So I was lucky enough to have this yarn, gifted to me by a beautiful friend, left over from a jumper Gramma knitted for the dude.

It's supposed to be an Aran (10 ply), but we think it's not quite that bulky.  So I thought it would do for this project very nicely.

Once again, I knitted my tension square, to check.  Just in case you've never done that, I thought I'd show you how to check the tension instructions in your pattern against the tension you actually knit.

It really matters most for knitting garments because if the tension is wrong, all the sizing & proportions will be out, and you won't be able to join the pieces properly.

For something like a cowl, scarf or shawl, it's not such a big deal unless the stitch you are using has a particular effect.  So I personally wouldn't bother doing a tension square for those.
These are the tension instructions from the pattern.  Every pattern should have this information.
First off, a confession.  I couldn't be bothered knitting an in-the-round tension square (cylinder?) as I was too lazy.  That will come as no surprise...  So I just stuck with my usual square.  And I only did the stocking stitch square.

And, another confession.  In photographing & re-counting the tension for you, I discovered it was actually out a little.  Which would explain why the vest seemed a little wide for the length of it.  Oh well.  Nephew will grow into it.  I must have mis-counted, or disregarded.  At least you can learn from the error of my ways.
This is what you are measuring to work out "stitches per 4 inches".  It's nigh on impossible for you to count with the variegated wool, but it came out at 20 - count the 'v's.  It should have been 22.  In a bigger garment this would have caused problems.
This is how you check the "rounds" (or, more commonly, "rows").  In this pattern it should have been 30 rounds, ie. 30 of the 'v's, but I think this was more like 28 - it was really hard to tell because of the variegation.

\And, a new trick my Sister-In-Law told me.  If you do a couple of stitches of garter stitch at each side of the square, it won't curl up so much!  I never knew that :)

If your tension is too tight (i.e. there are too many stitches/rows to the measurement) then you can increase your needle size a little.

If your tension is too large (ie. not enough stitches / rows to the measurement) then you can either decrease your needle size or use a chunkier wool.  

I haven't got a lot to tell you about this project, except that I love it.  Because it was knit in the round, there were no seams to do at the end.

Also, the hem at the bottom is flaring just the tiniest bit, so next time I would follow the suggestion of going down a needle size for that.  Garter stitch is a lovely stretchy stitch anyway.  Had I knitted the garter stitch tension square as I should have, I would have realised that I needed to use a smaller needle for the garter stitch sections - the pattern did discuss this, but I didn't bother.

I love how the shaping of the shoulder straps was done by increasing the stitches, not by seaming separate pieces.  Doesn't it look awesome.
Those straps are created by increases, the neckline is where the cast-on was.  How cool is that!
And the cast-off was also new to me, a 'decrease cast off' - I love how it looks.  It's also got a bit more give in it than my usual cast off.
What a beautiful cast-off
Oh and it was a chance to have a go at knitting a cable, without it being a complex project.  I have dim memories of attempting cables in my youth, but that is a Very. Long. Time. Ago now, and so I have no idea!!
Isn't that cable sweet!
Don't you just think of teddy bears.  I can't wait to cuddle Nephew wearing it :D.

Dude tried it on.  I think we may have stretched it.  Oops.  Will wash back to size I'm sure.

I think I'll be knitting one for the Dude shortly, as it was fairly quick to knit, and he's keen.  He's also not keen about the whole need for sleeves because it's Winter thing. This vest was designed by TikkiKnits to keep kids warm without their needing lots of bulk.  Brilliant.

and Milo in May?  Well, I didn't finish mine in May (although I finished much sooner than I expected to) but there are all sorts of awesome knitters who take part in a competition on Ravelry.  One amazing person even knitted 8 Milos, in May.  These were no ordinary Milos either.  There were Dragons!  Dragons!  Go check out the creations, here.

My favourite was the Bear & Mountain design.  I'm thinking I'll need to figure that pattern out.  I also have a chart for a Snowy Mountains theme that could also look fabulous.  And wintry.  And I do like Wintry.

This is an awesome pattern, I recommend it to everyone!!
The teddies approve.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Roast Strawberry & Ginger Cheesecake

Thank you again Annabel for another delicious recipe:  Roast Strawberry & Ginger Cheesecake.

Today I got to sit around the table with new friends & old, and someone else did the cooking.

It was divine.

Our awesome Chef had the good sense to choose the dessert first, and then plan the rest of the meal from there!  There's a reason we are friends.

I can heartily recommend that you add this to your Special Delivery cooking wishlist.

The cheesecake was creamy, with a flavour that seemed to improve with every mouthful.  It wasn't too rich or too sweet, and the gingernuts in the base added a sweet, spicy (in the fragrant sense, not hot) depth of flavour.

Advice from the Chef?
Follow Annabel's instructions, and all will be well.  Every instruction.  They are all very helpful!

Those Gingernuts are pretty serious biscuits.

Anyone else have childhood memories of softening them in their cup of milk or tea?

So, in Annabel's words, they do need a good 'seeing-to' with a rolling pin, even if you are going to use a food processor for the base!

Oh, and it also helps to get the cream cheese out of the fridge a little early so it can soften.

Our only disappointment was that the chef hadn't sampled the maple-roasted strawberries before adding them to the cheesecake.  While we may have benefited from the increased ratio of strawberry to cream cheese mixture, she has been given stern instructions to make this again for us, and make sure she tastes them first.  They sound heavenly.

On a side note, last summer I bought vast quantities of strawberries being sold for a song. We did roast some, and tbey were incedible. They were chewy and intense in flavour. Perfect for snacking on or for throwing in a granola. I really want to try it again now our new oven has a dehydrator setting!

Saturday 11 June 2016

Quick Sewing Project: Laundry Basket Liner

Subtitle:  Quick & Dirty Sewing - so stuff gets done!

Once again, I'm sharing how I figured something out - which is probably stating the obvious to most people.  But it might just show you a new technique if you're not a very experienced sewist.  Enjoy!

Our dirty clothes basket came with a liner that serves absolutely no useful function.  It's not big enough to stay put when clothes are placed in there, so we can't use it to bring the laundry down from upstairs.

Simple solution:  make a new one.

Step 1:  raid the fabric stash (self-imposed rule of using what I already have)

Step 2:  remove dog from project

Step 3:  place old laundry bag on fabric to get a rough idea of the size.  No measuring in this project!  I just knew I needed it a bit bigger, and I've allowed a little extra for seams.

Step 4:  cut fabric  I'm using the fabric width for the depth of the bag.

Step 5:  sew the side seam.  Go back & zigzag so it doesn't fray

Step 6:  sew the bottom seam.  No zigzag this time, the selvedge won't fray

Step 7:  create a channel for elastic to be threaded through the top (this will keep the bag from falling into the basket.  No measuring, just guesstimate and iron.  Again the selvedge meant no zigzag or folding under was necessary.

Iron a channel - just eyeball the width you need
Step 8:  create a shape for the laundry bag:  The original bag had a circular base so it fit the basket properly. That was too much work for today's level of motivation & time, so instead I created a box-base effect.  This means the bag will have a flat bottom, which means it will hold more things easily, and stand alone when stuffed full.
It's a little tricky to show, but the seam at the side of the bag is matched to the base seam, creating a triangle.  We're going to sew across the fabric to finish making the triangle.  
At the corners at the bottom of the bag, pinch in the seams so that the bottom seam lines up with the side seam.  This creates a triangle.

Now you can see the triangle.  I sewed down this again with a zigzag so it won't fray
Sew across the triangle, edge with a zigzag stitch & repeat.  I didn't bother measuring, just made the width of the triangle the width of the arm of my sewing machine.

Cut off the spare fabric (just past your zigzag row).  Turn it into a party hat.  Or not.

Here's the new rectangular base of the bag, the triangles will be cut off

Step 9: 
 Roughly estimate length of elastic, thread through the channel.  Tie off.

Step 10:  Place in washing basket & admire.
Now our laundry bag can do it's work properly!  I love it when a simple sewing job fixes something that's not working properly!

Monday 6 June 2016

Thanks Kids!

It's really easy to complain about our kids when they are naughty just being kids, or when they are driving us around the twist.

As a teacher I work really hard to find and comment when students are working well.  If we'd gotten into a bad patch in terms of the mood of the classroom, it always turned things around when I looked for the good!

I work hard at doing this with my kids too, but I'm definitely far from perfect!

But I wanted to take a moment today to tell you how proud I am of them.

We had a long day yesterday.  We drove to the Southern Highlands where we visited my mum.  This can be really difficult for for the kids, depending on what is going on that day.

Yesterday, I needed to feed mum her lunch, which takes a while, as well as respond to my brother who is severely autistic, and help him in his visit and in processing his grief about mum.

iPads are the best!
Then we drove in pelting rain to a tea shop where we had a booking.  I'd had to cancel most of my friends coming because the rain & flooding meant it wasn't a good day for driving, but we'd decided to go anyway, along with another friend who's always up for an adventure.  Dirty Jane's is a Vintage High Tea shop that is sublime.  But not really a suitable place for children:  think small, think vintage china...

That said, they served my kids a beautiful children's high tea, so that was an unexpected surprise.

Are you done yet Mum?  I really want to eat my scones!
Then we drove in worse rain, in the worst flooding I've ever seen around Bowral, and it took ages to find a way out of Bowral.  It took us several attempts to get to Mittagong to discover that all access to Mittagong was flooded.  Then we needed to drive the 'wrong' way towards Moss Vale so that we could get back on to the Freeway via Berrima. Oh my.  There was flooding all along the route to Moss Vale, and then in Moss Vale itself.  It wasn't ideal.  We shouldn't have been there at all, but I really needed to see my mum for her birthday.

The drive home on the freeway was the worst rain I've seen in a long time.  It was heavy, the entire way back.  We were so thankful to get home safely that night.

Well, that's the story of our day, but not the story of the kids.

They were so well behaved all day, they played beautifully with each other at Mum's, and talked to my brother.  They were well-behaved at Dirty Janes, and enjoyed their high tea.  They were well-behaved in the car, and listened to our audio stories (we are rocking Roald Dahl at the moment) so that I could concentrate on navigating and husband could concentrate on safe driving.  They weren't perfect, and they needed a few reminders, but that's a win in my book.

It's good to stop and be thankful for their wins.  I told them how proud I was of them this morning.

Now I'm telling you ;)

Saturday 4 June 2016

Adventures in Baking 3: Blueberry & Orange Cake with Lady Grey Syrup

It's clearly time for some more Adventures in Baking.  And there is also a convenient birthday that requires cake.  So here we are again!

Step 1: Make cup of tea

Step 2:  Send crazy children outside to play in the rain.

Step 3:  Cue daggy music.  Just discovered "Fun" digital radio station #ftw Belinda Carlisle on the radio #win.  Loads of fab 80s music.  Although I had some disconcerting high school flashbacks when Yazz' The Only Way is Up came on.  (Go on, click the link, you know you want to re-live it!)

Step 4:  clear up kitchen enough for photos to be taken without you realising how messy it really is ;)

Step 5:  Realise this recipe requires every piece of kitchen equipment I own.  Try to locate them all.

Step 6:  commence

Step 7: Use crazy methods to soften the butter.

Step 8: Find tasks for the children to 'help' with.

Step 9: Cream butter & sugar (caster sugar had to be milled in the TMX because I couldn't find it!)

Step 10: Add orange zest.  Use slave labour help to obtain said orange zest.

Step 11: Add egg yolks one at a time & beat, then add ricotta & beat til light & fluffy

Step 12: Add almond meal (again, thanks Thermie), flour & baking powder

Step 13: Use slave labour help to beat egg whites

Step 14: Check mixture is not too stiff to fold in the egg whites.  Add dash of milk if necessary - I did do this, but I think that I should have given it another dash.  Took a while to fold in the egg whites.

Step 15: Add half of batter to pre-greased tin. I put a little more than half in, I'd be more careful next time as I think all the blueberries will be a little close to the stop.  I'm also wondering if using some of the orange juice would intensify the flavour further, or whether the milk is required for clever chemistry reasons...

Step 16: Add half of blueberries, dusted with a skerrick of flour (don't they look like sugar plums) - so they don't sink (thanks Annabel).  Following instructions carefully, I didn't put any near the edges so the cake would have a solid wall.

Step 17: Add remainder of batter and scatter remaining blueberries, pushing them in a little.

Step 18: Threaten nagging children that there will be no bowl licking if they continue nagging.

Step 19: Ignore their howls of anguish.

Step 20: Surreptitiously (or not:  it winds the kids up more if they see you) lick the batter.  The flavour is incredibly delicate, which surprised me as the orange flavour was quite strong at first.  The addition of the ricotta & egg whites lightens it.  I cannot wait to try the final product :D

Step 21: Put cake in oven and get onto the Earl Grey Syrup.

My tea-drinking buddy sorting out the tea for the syrup
Step 22: Make another cup of tea.  This time it's legit.

Step 23:  Make syrup:  magic happened when the syrup ingredients were combined.  Oh my.  It reminded me of orange blossom.  The fragrance became more floral as it heated, with the citrus less obvious.

Step 24: Put slave labour on to the clean up job, starting with bowl-licking

Step 25:  Be delighted that it looks like the picture

Step 26:  Make a pot of tea.  This time it's for the visitors, promise.

Step 27:  Serve on best china & eat

Step 28:  (only if alone) lick syrup from plate.  I didn't do this.  I would have.  The syrup is just divine, and went well with fruit, it would also suit ice cream or other lovely things.  It would possibly even go well in a soda water for a refreshing summer drink.

I wonder if this would also be lovely made with frozen cranberries - the flavours should match, and that would look soo pretty :)

Don't you just love the watercolour portraits princess did today of herself & the dude.  Clearly, nothing else would suffice for a birthday table decoration.

gratuitous china photo ;)

Note to self:  I cooked it a little fast.  Will cook at 170 for longer in future.  The cake was a little underdone, although it was golden & crispy on the edges (as per recipe) Still getting used to our new oven & which fan-forced temps to use & which to ignore.