Wednesday 18 December 2013


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

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?

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!