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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Swatching?

When I started knitting, I had no idea what a tension square otherwise known as a swatch was. Much less the importance of doing one. And when I read up on them it seemed like a lot of complicated maths and hassle. But as time has gone on, I have learnt the importance of going through this process, no matter how tedious it is! The difference in fit on a garment is huge. If its fingerless mitts, its unlikely to be an issue unless you have unusual sized hands and arms. A hat... might become an issue if your hat doesn't stretch enough for your noggin, or your hat is too big for example. Anything larger like a sweater or cardigan... it cannot be ignored!

I have started a sweater for my son, so I thought I would share the swatching process I went through to begin the project. It was an essential part of getting ready more so than ever as the 'pattern' is more a cleverly built set of mathematical instructions already worked out on you, based on a few measurements AND... the exact stitches per inch you are getting for the exact combination of yarn and needles you intend to use. Yeah. I needed to swatch!

So, the yarn! The yarn is Wollmeise 'Pure', 100% superwash merino in black and red (Schwartz and Vamp colourways if anyone is interested).



I chose a 3mm needle to get a fabric I wanted. I cast on I think about 50 stitches, did about 6 rows of garter stitch, then carried on with a border of 3 stitches in garter, and the centre section in stockinette till basically, I ran out of patience. And this is the result.



That little ruler doodad at the top is for more than just scale. That is  my KnitPro needle sizer, which has not only a handy 6 inch ruler in built, but a handy 4 inches and 10 cm section marked out within a special clear magnified section, specifically for measuring swatches! Very, very handy.



So how did my swatch measure up? I am sure this is not terribly interesting at this point to you, but it is necessary for comparison purposes later. Based on measuring 4 inches in width and 2 inches in length

Unwashed:
7.12 stitches and 9.5 rows to the inch.

Now for the important bit. Treat the swatch as you will treat the final object! In this case, because I know the yarn, and its being made for a school age child, that means into the washer, then the dryer, as will be done when he wears it. The yarn has been chosen precisely because it holds up against this abuse.

Now its dry, its somewhat different:



As you can see, its somewhat shorter in length. The fabric is firmer, and what I was aiming for in the finished sweater, though when knitting it it seems kind of loose. I must stress, the yarn has NOT felted. But the drier has snapped it up nice and tight, as SOME superwash yarns need. I find Wollmeise needs it to get the shape and fit back of garments and socks.

So what are the new measurements?

Washed:
7.5 stitches and 11.5 rows to the inch.

Here you can see what this yarn and needle combination at my tension has done. There is not much difference in the width, but a significant difference in the length. What this means is that I have to do a little maths to figure out what lengths I want to knit to to achieve the final correct length once the sweater has been washed, otherwise I could have ended up with a sweater and sleeves which could have been too short! Very worth knowing about. Length is fixable of course, but I would have been massively irritated had I gotten that wrong, so knowing ahead, is really great.

So there we are, the process, and why it is so important to swatch where fit is important! Even if it is boring and tedious as hell! Well worth the tedium I assure you! So give it a go and see how those knits fit better for the effort!

Till next time!


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Baileys and Chocolate, Choc Chip Biscuits!

I love baking at this time of year. The festive season seems to be a good excuse to pull out those recipes that are a little bit special. And I think this one counts! I am a lover of Baileys Irish Cream especially at this time of year. And there is enough in this recipe to give a subtle something to these biscuits. So, what do we need?


Makes 25 - 30

300g self raising flour.  -  I have made these with ordinary flour and gluten free. Both are fab biscuits!
115g butter
170g sugar
60g cocoa
110g chocolate chips (any mix that takes your fancy)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract 
generous pinch of salt
5 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream

In one bowl mix together your flour, cocoa and salt till well mixed. You could sift your cocoa but I have never bothered and its never been a problem.

In a second bow; soften your butter. Then cream with the sugar, egg and vanilla till fluffy. 

Add your Baileys 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure its combined really well, scrape down the sides of the bow if you have to. 

Add the dry ingredients, mixing till you have a ball of biscuit dough. 

Work your chocolate chips into the dough. 

Wrap in food wrap and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours to firm up and become more workable. 

Drink some Baileys. You know you want to!

Once the dough has rested you will want to roll out and cut into whatever shapes you want. These biscuits do not spread, they puff upwards a touch, so you can pack them on that non stick baking sheet pretty easily. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees in my fan oven for 8 - 10 minutes.

Remember to let them cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before trying to remove them to firm up. And enjoy.



I love the results. Not too sweet, that undertone of the Baileys, but I am sure it would work just as well with any other Irish Cream. It happens to be what is in my house. That said, I plan to curl up with a couple of these and a big mug of hot chocolate, complete with a shot of Baileys, just to finish it off!

Till next time!


Monday, 2 December 2013

Festive Decorations!

Its that time of year! Time to decorate the house, get the Advent calendars out, wrap presents, make mince pies, Christmas cakes, order the meat for Christmas day and dig out that Christmas album! Something we certainly enjoy in this house and we got the decorating done yesterday. But as I dressed our tree, I did so with decorations I had made myself. It was satisfying to do after all the hours of effort. But why put in all the effort in the first place? A number of reasons.

First, and foremost, my daughter. When Christmas rolled around for my son, he wasn't mobile the first time, and old enough to understand 'no' the second. My daughter was mere weeks old last year, but this year she is a boisterous furniture walking 13 month old who is not yet responding to instruction in any way and chews everything like you might expect a puppy to! Shoes are most definitely not safe. I know she will be at the decorations and even shatter proof baubles can be crunched with little teeth and I have awful visions of her with a mouthful of plastic shards. That's my first reason. Safety.

Second admittedly is cost. I can buy soft fabric decorations now, but for enough for a whole tree, even with finding them as cheap as they come, I could easily spend over £1 a decoration. Yikes! The materials are far, far cheaper.

Thirdly, I wouldn't know exactly what bought ones are made of if Princess Lulu decides to eat them.

And fourth, well, shabby chic is in! Great for me! So off I toddled to get a tonne of materials (at a much smaller cost and got ready to go.


Felt, crochet cotton in white, glitter crochet thread, buttons, and I already had a tonne of polyester fibre filling.

Then I created templates. I am not ashamed to admit some were made by drawing round the children's toys! But some were also free hand. Cut out of card I was ready to draw round and cut them out.


Then its a case of getting my hand sewing going. I have no idea how many hours of sewing in white crochet cotton I did, adding loops of metallic cotton to hang them with. But in the end, I finished with 36 decorations all told!


I was really quite pleased with them, but it wasn't till I had help dressing the tree that I realised just how much the hard work had paid off. I had beautiful decorations that no-one else would have at a price I could afford, and combined with some candy canes and simple beads, the tree looks wonderful. The candy canes might not last, but my decorations will last for years. One very happy Kat!



I hope your Christmas preparations are going as well as mine! Till next time!


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Trying Out Spinning Longwool

Learning to spin was an adventure, there is so much to learn about spinning. Staple length, the right about of twist, different ways to ply, and on a most basic level, getting your spinning something approximating even. You can get very technical, looking at grist, twists per inch, the angle of your twist... not my thing, I like to spin more by feel and spin for the fun of it.

But even so, once you have mastered the basics, there is still so much to learn, so many different fibres to try. Short wools, long wools, animal fibre, vegetable fibre, synthetic fibre! The list goes on, so many different breeds of sheep, goat, rabbit, camelids, ox and even possum! Some people even spin dog hair. So beyond the basics, there are so many different things to try.

Me, I have been primarily a spinner of the short to medium fibres, usually wool breeds like Shetland, Bluefaced Leicester, Merino, throw in some silk, some trilobal nylon or firestar... that's been my spinning home. But I haven't really ventured into long wools much. I had some locks in some batts I spun a while back that were such a restful, easy spin, and I decided I really must give it a try. So far my favourite dyer of longwools has to be Patricia of Yummy Yarns UK.

She dyes a lot of Wensleydale, but also breeds like Masham, Leicester Longwool locks and Teeswater. There is always a vibrancy to her colours which is taken up by the lustre in these fibres, which when spun are hardy, and leave a slight halo which may not agree with all who have issues with wool that is not super smooth. But given she is a favourite, I tried a braid from her first! This one:


This braid is handpainted Wensleydale / Mulberry silk in a 70/30 blend, and she named this colour Ullswater. Its one of several long wool braids I have in my stash, but it was the first to come out to play.

I have to say, the experience spinning was an interesting one. Her braids draft so beautifully, but a long wool even more so because the staple is so long, its so forgiving. However, it doesn't need a huge amount of twist, unlike somthing like merino that needs a lot to lock it down, so its something you have to get used to. But once you do, it makes for a slow and lazy spin that is thoroughly enjoyable.


One thing to note is that long wool is less voluminous than its short wool counterparts. You can lay a braid of say Wensleydale and a braid of merino side by side of the same weight, and the long wool will look skinny by comparison. This does show in the final spin too. You do get less yarn per weight, its the nature of the beast. But you just need to factor that in for a project you have in mind.

Despite this I chose to chain ply mine into a high twist 3 ply, thinking for socks. Long wools do well for socks as they are hard wearing, and feet are less fussy about the halo than say your neck. I also have small feet and I really don't need 400m for a pair of socks! That said, once plied, my 104g of fibre had yeilded a lovely fingering weight yarn and 289m, enough for socks for me!


Definitely very enjoyable and I love the colours, and will give rather pretty socks I feel.

So if you are thinking about long wools, please do go look up Yummy Yarns UK. Every braid is one of a kind, no repeated colours so you need to grab one you like when you see it. And after having had a minor issue with an order, I can honestly say that the customer service is second to none! Absolutely brilliant. So buy with confidence.

Till next time


Friday, 22 November 2013

Seasonal Hitchhiker

I am back. Technical issues are now sorted and I have a shiny new beastie of a computer to blog with. Thank you for the kind communications from some of my readers regarding the sad news in my hiatus post. They were very welcome thank you. But normal service can once more resume.


So my lastest finished object. It started as some lovely batts above. They were a lovely christmas gift from Patricia of Yummy Yarns UK. A surprise gift at that, and full of lovely scrumptious fibres. Merino in yellow and red, brown jacob fleece, and lashings of gold firestar. As a lover of sparkle, I was in love.

It took me a long time to come to spin, as I really wasn't sure how I would treat them. Until I decided to experiment with some commercial silk tops. I will explain. For some reason I have tried to spin silk bricks. And I have struggled and fought and swore at them over and over. 100% silk and I had a love/hate relationship at this point. A long while later, after having a good read round spinning forums on Ravelry, I decided to invest a small amount in commercial silk tops with all the fibres aligned by machine, so that in theory, it should be an easier spin. One of the colours I chose was a wonderful sunshine yellow. So I gave it a go. And finally, I had a way I could spin silk without stress.

So, now I had this lovely yellow silk singles I had spun, but what to do with them? I went through my fibre stash, saw these batts and the answer came to me. So I got spinning, and then plying, and wound up with this beautiful yarn:


Soft, warm, luxurious, it screamed to be made into something for the winter. And with the winter months coming soon, a scarf was on the agenda! I chose the Hitchhiker pattern on Ravelry for its simple style and interest being a shallow triangle, and because I loved the reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I can be a bit of a nerd now and then.  The squooshy garter stitch fabric is also lovely and warm, as well as showing off the colours of the yarn beautifully.


And to my delight, with my gauge I was able to get all 42 teeth done with the yarn I had. I even had a little left over. Maybe I could have done a couple more teeth, but I am happy with it as it is, and its been keeping me warm on the school run.


There we are, my latest finished knit! What are you all making to keep warm in the winter?

Till next time!


Monday, 18 November 2013

Temporary hiatus

Sorry to one and all for going so quiet all of a sudden. Unfortunately, everything has happened at once as it always does. Firstly a death in my husband's family, then our Lulu had an allergic reaction to her jabs, and lastly, on Saturday my laptop screen died a death. So it was all systems go retrieving the data. My old hard drive is now a nifty external storage device!

Obviously this last one leaves me sans a machine, and blogging via my iPad really does not seem to work unless posts are exceedingly short. The good news is that a new machine has been ordered, so blogging will resume as soon as I have it working nicely.

Posts to look forward to:

Handspun Hitchhiker scarf

Hand made Christmas tree decorations

Handspun Wensleydale/ silk blend

Switching for a custom raglan sweater

Till I have my technology working again!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Phat Fibre Entomology

Some of you may know, Phat Fibre is a mystery box of awesome samples for the yarn and fiber enthusiast. But some of the contributors also then go on to make full sized batts/hanks of yarn etc for sale in their shop at the same time, and every month has a theme. August's theme was Entomology, and the ladies at Nunoco opted to go for batts based on the Green Jewel bug






I think its now obvious why the set of two batts are two different gradients. I myself fell for them, and boout two sets. that meant I had two of the greens and two of the oranges. So I spun up the batts and plied like batts together, lining up the colours as best I could into lovely, squishy 2-ply yarn. And here is the finished yarn:


Yep, they are gradient yarns too! Lovely and bright, fingering weight. I have a bit more length in the greens, but that hank is also slightly heavier, though for 4 g I am not sure you should count the weight difference! I have plans for a new dress - start at the pink and finish at the blue - for the little miss, seeing as she is now  growing into the first dresses I knitted for her and she looks fab!Definitely enjoying a bit of spinning. Though I am back to spinning really fine for a different gradient yarn, more news on that at a later date!

And seriously, spinners, go check out Nunoco's etsy shop, based in Wales! Gorgeous gradient batts and smooshy rovings, well worth your time!

Till next time


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Halloween!






Happy Halloween one and all! As you can see, my little monsters are enjoying themselves with Bob. Bob is our pumpkin. Well he's got to have a name!

We had tonnes of fun yesterday. we headed out, and the boy helped pick out Bob to come home with us. Bob was happy to be a blank canvas.





The boy watched and commented at every stage. He though that hollowing bob out was funny and made all sorts of comments about the innards. But after some hand aching work, he was ready.





Now I will state the obvious, the boy was an observer. There are sharp knives involved, so he just got to watch from a distance and comment. He can join in more when he is old enough. But slowly, along to commentary Bob started to transform.





Till he was ready!


The boy pronounced him 'very happy and a little bit spooky'. We then promptly put him in the window to greet daddy when he came home.


Have a wonderful and spooky Halloween everyone!

Till next time!


Monday, 28 October 2013

You can knit armour?


Why yes you can!

Okay, first things first, in some ways, I am a bit of a geek. Yes, I said it. Therefore, so are some of my friends. This means that when I make things for them, I can go a little geeky when I do it and know they will be loved. So when I saw the scalemaile gauntlets pattern by craftymutt, I just knew I had to make them, and who for!

The pattern is super simple, but I didn't feel like swatching and working a lot out for myself out, and the pattern is so cheap and comes with handy charts for if you are planning to create a pattern within your scales its well worth the buy.

Now the scales, they are no easy to come by in the UK and not cheap. The annoying thing is that they are far more freely available in the US and cheaper there too, but with the various rates for buying in from outside the EU what with customs, RM charge etc, and of course the now high mailing rates from the US, I can't utilise those sites. I did find a seller on ebay doing them as cheap as I have seen them anywhere in the UK and it was still quite a bit. But these are my best friend's christmas present so she's totally worth it ;) But finding them in the UK is a pain, be warned. If you are in the US, TheRingLord.com is your friend!

Still, I ran the idea of these to her as her present, and after a resounding 'hell yeah!' I got her to choose her colour of scales and she chose this gold. I then typically went on to alter the pattern a touch. Knitted fabric can stretch, but I didn't want to make these with a tonne of negative ease and be too tight, but I know her hands are bigger than mine. So I cast on the medium size, and ribbed the palm rather than knitted in garter. The reason should be obvious in this picture

 


The ribbing makes for a nice, extra snug fit that adapts with the shape of the hands and wrists, meaning they never get too loose. Important as they have a bit of weight to them. They aren't heavy, but the scales do make the fabric behave differently. And to be honest, the palms are not where you are looking. Not when the backs look like this


Please excuse the stool in the background, I forgot to move it before taking pictures. Ho hum. In any case, these were a very fun project. They only took 36g of aran weight yarn I got from Violet Green and in my opinion look crazy cool! I hope she will enjoy them a lot!

Till next time!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Warding off the cold


So the autumn has arrived. And with it random cold days and the general temperature is slowly getting lower. Its a time of year where I really have to watch myself. I have mild Reynauld's Syndrome, a circulatory condition. During the warmer months I never have a problem, aside from the fact, as my husband will confirm, my feet are blocks of ice 365 days of the year. You know when I have a fever because my feet are actually warm to everyone else. Usually I don't feel the cold in my feet except late at night in winter before I go to bed and get them snug. My hands however, are a whole different kettle of fish.

Warmer months are not a problem, but regardless of the time of year, if my hands get cold enough, I have problems. Aside from going numb and struggling to work, the colder they get, the more likely I am to have a nasty flare. My hands will suddenly become hot, itchy, and swell rapidly, which in turns traps my rings on my fingers and makes things worse. So you can imagine that should a flare up happen, the first thing I do is yank my rings off and try and get my hands warm before it gets too bad. Though really I work at preventing flares. Which can happen indoors. In my house, even with the central heating set at a sensible 18 degrees Celcius. Yes, even in a reasonably warm house my hands can freeze, and typically one is colder than the other. So I need mitts for indoors. And to be able to do anything, they need to be fingerless.

So that was the impetus behind the project. I have been getting by on some plain stockinette ones which... fitted... ish. I made them up as I went, but I really needed an upgrade. The pattern is Fingerless Pomatomus Gloves. And they are based on the sock pattern of the same name by Cookie A. I actually have a pair of those socks. So I have been wanting to knit the mitts for some time.

The yarn is Wollmeise, yet again. I do use it a fair bit when I can afford it. The colourway I had to get. Because it shares a name with my husband. And the sap I am likes the idea of my husband keeping my hands warm. Just like he lets me warm my feet on him ;)


Its called Paul, and the mitts took just 49g of a 150g skein. Leaving me with plenty to attempt to do a matching beanie hat! Wish me luck!

So that's the story behind this project, and I shall leave you with a couple of pictures of me wearing them. Which you better like, because you have no idea how hard it is to take pictures of you own hands by yourself! Only joking, but yes, takes some work!



 Till next time!


Friday, 18 October 2013

Some bright, textured yarn


I have to admit, spinning has taken a back seat lately, usually because of deadline knitting, but I seem to be reasonably ahead of myself at the moment, so have taken to spinning when I have a quiet evening... which is maybe a couple of times a week.

I have been wanting to do something different, so when I saw these batts:


I fell in love. I have a love for black, and neon brights are so in fashion at the moment. But more interesting is what the batts are made of. Firstly let me point out where these batts came from. They were made by the lovely Patricia of Yummy Yarns UK, found both on Etsy and tentatively on Folksy. She may migrate more to Folksy over time as Etsy has gone through some fundamental changes which now favour massed produced products rather than artisan hand made items, which is what Etsy was founded for, not to be a second Ebay. But I digress.

The photo does not do these batts justice. There is black wool, trilobal nylon for sparkle, thicker sparkly threads, and of course that pink! The pink is carded cotton. Cotton on its own is not something I have attempted to spin. I cannot get my head round the preparation needed to get thus incredibly short stapled fibre to spin. But blended like this? Hell yeah I was game to try it. As it happens the cotton is like a sheet sandwiched between the other fibres, and very much has a mind of its own as I expected. It was always going to be a textured yarn.

So I spun the singles as the fibre to seem to have a mind to, and was really very pleased with it.


Then I whipped it into a two ply and out of 150g of fibre, I came out with 300m of 2 ply yarn in stunning colour, DK weight. Now to must what to make with it!


So that's what I have been up to, what are you all making/doing at the moment?

Till next time!


P.S. Currently loving this yarn from Patricia's shop so much I just had to shout about it!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Gluten Free Red Velvet Cupcakes!


First of all I want to take a moment to say hi and thank you to my new followers! I seem to have gained a few peeps. Welcome to my blog and I hope you enjoy my content!

Now to the point. I have mentioned this recipe in progress for a little while. I had been testing and tweaking in preparation for my daughter's first birthday that has just passed. Hopefully things here will calm down a bit now that the event is over, but with the dreaded Christmas on the horizon... maybe not! In any case, I have just one of these scrummy delights left after the rest have all been munched. So, the recipe!

For 12 fairy cakes or 6 cupcakes you will need:


Cases to suit the size of cakes you are making.
120g gluten free self raising flour  - I used Dove Farms White self raising blend
a heaped 1/4 teaspoon of GF baking powder
30g cocoa
115g caster sugar
45g butter
1 medium egg (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup milk
Red, bake stable food colouring of your choice.

The first thing to say is that if you don't want to colour these cakes, they maker perfectly scrummy chocolate fairy cakes or muffins, the colour is far from essential.

First, weigh into a bowl the flour, baking powder, cocoa and sugar. Stir till evenly mixed. It will help later.

Add your butter, egg, vanilla, and cider vinegar. Mix together. This will all come together in a paste, it takes some time and effort, but it will come together, trust me! Keep mixing till it looks like this:


See, a sort of lumpy paste.

Note: You are about to add your milk. At this point take into consideration your food colouring. The food colouring I was using was a gel, Dr Oetker's red gel colouring, and that adds fluid to the mix. And you need a LOT of colouring. If you are adding a good amount of liquid colouring, then take a tablespoon of milk away from the half cup you measured earlier.

Add your milk and beat till smooth:


Its like magic, you have cake batter at last. 

Add the food colouring till you are happy. I used 4 10ml tubes of the colouring mentioned above to get this colour:

 
Spoon into cake cases. Now you will need a steady hand. The mixture will have large air bubbles in it, which will create cavities and hollows in your cakes, because believe me, these will rise.

First gently shake your tray of cases side to side to level the mixture off a little. Now you need to whack the tray against a hard surface. straight up and down to force the bubbles to the surface. Do it a few times, walk away, do something for 30 seconds, and come back and do it again. I can't guarantee this will remove all of them, but it will make your cakes better than if you didn't whack the tray.

Bake at 160 degrees in a fan oven, 180 degrees in a conventional, for 20-25 minutes. Even with the large cakes my oven only takes 20 minutes to bake.

Leave to cool fully before decorating:


Now decorating. Red Velvet cake is typically iced with a cream cheese frosting. So here is what I used for mine:

130g cream cheese
40g butter
90g icing sugar
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat together till smooth and frost onto fully cooled cake.

That made enough to pipe onto the six cupcakes there and should do 12 fairy cakes as well. But you may need to make more or less depending on how thick you want your icing. You can make it ahead, but do store it in the fridge. The cream cheese doesn't like being in a cupboard so do plan on keeping your cakes in the fridge till they are gone. Not that I imagine they will be hanging round for long. My children have been doing a good job of demolishing them.

For an extra touch I found some wafer daisies in Tesco and decorated my cakes with them to celebrate my daughter's first birthday as you can see from the picture at the very beginning of this post. She was very pleased with them and the daisies were the first thing to be munched!


 So there we are, finally the finished recipe. Go forth and enjoy, with no gluten in sight!

Till next time!