Saturday, December 19, 2009

We start believing now that we can be who we are

K blanket
I haven't really knitted much for K, ever. A footy scarf several years ago and several beanies - some of which even fitted well. Oh, and a couple of felted covers for his camera and ipod. He doesn't tend to wear really warm jumpers and he's not convinced about hand-knitted socks. I know it's possible he might turn out to love them once he tries them. Now that I think about it, I guess I haven't tried to convince him, because I haven't found them that wearable myself, except in quite cold weather. But I think I have weird feet.

A couple of times earlier this year, especially in the chilly time just before we started turning heaters on, I came home to find him draped with this first blanket. And so I had the idea to make him a lap blanket, and to plan ahead over several months to have it ready for his birthday in November.

K blanket 2

In the end I missed his birthday by a week or two. Unfortunately it's completely seasonally inappropriate at the moment, although the way the temperatures have been going up and down at odd times lately, you never know.

I had a hard time figuring out how to photograph it to show the size. In the picture below it looks tiny but it IS on a king size bed.

blanket size

The pattern was improvised. I think it is a type of mitred square, it looks like a big version of the squares in the barn-raising quilt. I knew I wanted to knit the blanket all in one piece, in the round (this seemed likely to be the fastest and simplest way to achieve a blanket) but I wanted it to be square, not round.

Here is the simple method: CO 12 stitches, join to knit in the round, place four markers evenly spaced. Increase either side of each marker (I did yarn overs one stitch away from the marker) on every second round. The other rounds are knit (I knit the yarn overs through the back loop as I didn't want them too holey).

I also did a purl row every fourth row. I did this to try to keep the whole thing from curling. In the end, it needed a knit-on border to flatten it out so the ridge rows might not have been necessary.

I deliberately didn't use an even stripe colour sequence and I also varied the width of the stripes, as I wanted to use up a few different amounts of wool. There is quite a bit of the infamous Lincraft Cosy Wool that wouldn't felt. There is also a small amount of a mystery silver-grey crepe which I would have loved more of; some Woolganic; some Naturally Pride, and a few other bits and bobs. The edging is Cleckheaton Country Naturals.

To start with, the blanket was based around two skeins of handdyed wool from one of the Bus Depot Markets' special days. I don't know if these photos really show it well (the middle one maybe a little) but it makes up all of the large dark greyish stripes except for the outer one, and it has a wonderful mix of colours in the grey, like an oil slick.

I originally planned to work in a bigger range of colours (including a dark red) but as I got going it just seemed right to limit the palette to purples and greens with the grey. I often seem to have to simplify a project from my initial idea. This one springs to mind.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'German' potato salad recipe

The potato salad tasted pretty good last night. I considered also eating it for breakfast this morning. But I managed to wait until lunch. And it really is much better the next day. Well, it doesn't have to be the next day - at Christmas Mum usually makes it in the morning and it's great by lunch time. I think the sour cream and the other parts of the dressing need a little time for the flavours to combine fully.

I had to improvise the potato salad from memory last night - I know I've copied the recipe before but I don't know what happened to it. I dropped round to see my parents this afternoon and copied it again. Mum cut it out from a magazine many many years ago, so I don't think there should be any problem sharing it here.

Sour cream potato salad

The introduction to the recipe claims this is a German style potato salad.


6 medium potatoes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1¾ cups beef stock (I use vegetable stock)
4 tablespoons white vinegar (apple cider or other vinegar of your choice works too, perhaps not balsamic though!)
5 tablespoons salad oil
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
white pepper and salt
½ cup sour cream

Cook unpeeled potatoes in boiling salted water. (We steam them). Do not overcook or they will not keep their shape in the salad. Peel the potatoes while still hot (we don't bother) and cut into slices. Place in a bowl with the onion.

Bring the stock to the boil with the vinegar added, and while boiling pour over the potatoes. Marinate until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 20-30 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid (this might depend on the type of spuds - I had to pour off a lot of liquid) and gently fold in the oil mixed with the mustard.

Taste, and season with white pepper and salt if necessary. Lastly, fold in the sour cream. Serve at room temperature, garnished with parsley or other fresh herbs. (It's perfectly nice refrigerated too, if you are concerned about leaving food in the 'danger zone' temperature-wise.)

Serves 8-10 (Ha! Not necessarily)

Update in response to some comments:

Salad Oil: I always though 'salad oil' meant a simple oil-based dressing like French or Italian. When I looked it up, most sites said it is simply any oil that can be used in salad dressing. Which makes sense for the recipe as you can season it separately and it is also already strongly vinegar-flavoured so you wouldn't want to use a strongly vinegar-y dressing. Though I personally have a huge appetite for vinegar, I know some don't like it too strong.

Raw onions: I never eat raw onions as I hate the way the taste stays with me for so long. I find they are blanched enough by the boiling stock marinade that they are ok in this recipe. However, I have also used shallots (green onions/spring onions) which look nice and taste milder.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I won't ask for much this Christmas. I won't even wish for snow

I've had a busy, excited, planning brain all week with ideas for things I'll make (we have a $10 rule for gifts in my family).

But tonight I'm really getting into the spirit of Christmas. I'm making potato salad.

I am generally a fan of potato salad and will happily eat most versions (though not, of course when they ruin it by adding bacon or ham). But Mum's potato salad is far and away the best possible version. I believe the recipe she has used for years is called German potato salad. It has no mayonnaise. It is tangy and savoury, thanks to the unusual step of marinating the cooked spuds in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and stock.

Each year Mum raises the question of what foods we might like to eat for Christmas lunch. My answer is always the same - all I need is the potato salad. I usually work my way through more of it than anyone else. Well, they do fill up on the meat. And then at the end of the day I'm sometimes persuaded to take the leftovers home as well.

Anyway I decided not to wait until Christmas and make some myself. I'm off to pour off the marinade and mix in the dressing and sour cream right now, and then eat!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Here's one I prepared earlier

Here is the process I follow to make a felted Christmas ornament.

1. Knit
1.knit it
I knit these ornaments using exactly the same concept as my pod pattern. I vary the number of stitches cast on, the needle size, and the number and spacing of increase and decrease rows to suit the wool, and to get what seems like a nice spherical shape - allowing for a little more vertical than horizontal shrinkage.

2. Crochet a circle for the top.
2.crochet top

3. Felt both pieces.
3.felt in bucket

4. While it's wet, stuff with a plastic bag and spend some time rolling it into a nice spherical shape.
4.stuff to dry

5. Once it's dry, pull out the plastic bag and then apply decoration.

The embroidery technique in both of these pictures is couching. I use intermittent stitches in grey sewing thread to hold down the silver thread. You can only see the sewing thread if you look pretty closely. I decided to try couching because I knew from trying to cross stitch with metallic thread years ago that it can be a massive pain with all the fraying and kinking. I can put up with it to directly stitch simple shapes like the stars/asterisks in the picture below, though.
armytage pair

6. Fill with polyester stuffing. As planned earlier, I've also been keeping all my wool ends in a jar and using them as stuffing as well.

7. Poke a large jump ring through the top piece.
7.attach jump ring

Then I stitch the top piece inside the rim of the main piece, and use a few stitches to make sure the jump ring is held securely. Sewing felt pieces together is so satisfying because you can virtually make the stitches disappear into the felt.

8. Thread onto a silver ribbon. Done.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Still November, and more to come!

red pink
I'm still working on Christmas ornaments. Craft ACT has sold a few and asked me for more.

The red and green one above, on the left, is Noro Silk Garden Lite, which didn't felt as well as I'd hoped. I've since knit another one with a strand of something reliable and I'm hoping that will make a firmer, feltier fabric. The one on the right (another angle shown below) is a combination of Happyspider's Sour Raspberry (I have gotten a lot of mileage out of that delightful skein, and there's still some left) and that raspberry-coloured Cleckheaton Merino Spun again.
sour raspberry
Below, on the left, Patons Jet. The one on the right is Araucania Nature Wool (green/blue variegated) and Lincraft Cosy Wool (blue).

orange blue

And these are in the always wonderful Sean Sheep Armytage.
armytage pair

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I just stood there whistling

E felt beads

This is my sister's necklace which I mentioned the other day, made from a combination of the felted beads I made for her for Christmas last year, and some wooden beads she had from another necklace. The two types of beads actually work together really well - I think this photo makes them look more different in colour than they look in real life. And because it is threaded on ribbon - she has done this with a few bead necklaces - she can tie it to whatever length works on the day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

D.I.Y. traveller

Thanks for all the encouraging comments on the Christmas ornaments. I was happy with how they turned out, and the reactions I've been getting, especially as I charged into the project without being terribly confident about my embroidery skills. I'm certainly going to make some more soon.

This week I went to Sydney for a conference. I'm usually a fairly efficient packer but I was still in a bit of a daze from a busy bauble-making weekend. So the night before was a bit scattered. While wandering from room to room trying to figure out which clothes to take, I managed to put together my recycled luggage tag. I used a clear plastic piece cut from a dishwashing liquid bottle, and a patterned plastic piece that came with some hairclips. It didn't take too long - the most time-consuming part was punching holes around the edges with an awl. A hole punch would have been quicker, but mine was not strong enough to go through the plastic.
The really cute luggage tag my sister gave me broke a few trips ago, and in the time that I've been thinking about making this I've seen several that I could have bought at clearance prices. So making this didn't really save more than a dollar or two. But it was satisfying to make something from materials that were destined for landfill or the recycling bin (I'm not sure the hairclip piece was even recyclable). It may not last quite as long as a good quality commercial one, but it won't be hard to make another one. It survived this trip unscathed, anyway, which is a good start.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Apologies to those who don't appreciate this sort of thing in early November

I'm not usually in Christmas mode this early, either. But Craft ACT is launching new hand made products for Christmas this Thursday so I got into gear a few weeks ago.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Do you read what I read?

The rest of the trilogy

Terminator gene, and The life lottery, by Ian Irvine.

I liked both of these much more than the first one. I think I liked the characters more. Jemma's daughter Irith was more likable than the young Jemma in the first book (older Jemma is pretty cool though). Maybe I also got more accustomed to the author's style. All the people are pretty direct and straight-talking. It is unusal for such action-y books to really grab me like that but they sure did - I really enjoyed all the action, danger, and wondering where it was going next. I also found the near-future of severe climate change to be a very compelling scenario to explore. I am so glad I took a risk on continuing the series - I proabably wouldn't have on the basis of the first one, except I had already bought the third one, so I thought I might as well keep going.

Theme reading

Among other things, I seem to be doing a 'school shooting books' theme this year. I've read We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, The hour I first believed by Wally Lamb, and Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Still to come - Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre, and the one that (maybe) started it all - Rage by Stephen King. I think I may well have read that long ago but I'm not sure. And I could also watch the movie Elephant by Gus Van Sant. Any other suggestions?

Shared reading

I still keep a list of each book I read, down in the sidebar on the right hand side of my blog. (I need to make that linkable, don't I?) I don't automatically review everything - since there's so much crafting to be done - but if you're interested in a particular book, especially if you've read it too, please drop me a line.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

You buckle with the weight of the words

necklace worn
My sister's Christmas present last year was a box of pink felted beads and a promise to make them into a necklace for her. It took maybe six months for us to get around to that. It ended up being ridiculously simple - we just threaded them on a matching length of very narrow ribbon and called it done. And any day now I'll get photos to show here.

Meanwhile, last Friday morning I was hit with the urge to make a new necklace, and to make it before work. It was a day when I had to walk the dogs, which usually leads to me being not particularly early for work. Who am I trying to kid, I am hardly EVER particularly early for work. Anyway I was walking the dogs, thinking about this necklace and how crazy it would be to make it to wear that very day, and how I would of course do no such thing. On arriving home I would hurry to feed the dogs and get dressed and get to work quick smart.

Next thing I know, I'm sitting at my messy home desk, all my jewellery findings scattered across it, with a length of chain looped around my neck, attaching things to the ends.

Well it is a very simple design. One end of the chain sports one of my favourite ever earrings. I lost its mate many many years ago and it has been sitting around waiting for a new purpose in life every since.

The other end has one of the leftover raspberry felted beads, with a little cube at its base.

Then I used a jump ring to attached the two hanging parts together. There is no clasp as it fits over my head. Done.
It's exciting for me because I have been wearing all my necklaces around the same length (short but not choker) for-EVER. I've been inspired recently by Erin from Work with what you've got with her long (and combination) necklaces that she often makes herself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

But I'll have a sailor laddie and dye my apron blue

This evening I attended Re-loved 2 at Craft ACT, a fashion parade with all the clothing made from recycled clothing and fabric. There was quite a range of styles, with several different designers involved. Some was more to my taste than others (of course), but the show was definitely worth a look.

A similar thing goes on, at a more personal level, with Wardrobe Refashion where people pledge to avoid buying new clothing for a set period, instead renovating and remaking existing stuff to satisfy the need or desire for different clothes. I've also recently come across Project Remake, a new group in Canberra who are exploring ways to recycle textiles. And I've been thinking about what textiles and other materials I can reuse and repurpose in the things I make.
kimono shrug
Not the best photo but this shrug made from a kimono was gorgeous.

My pears are stuffed before felting so they need a stuffing that doesn't felt, dries quickly and can stand up to rough treatment. I've been using polyester stuffing or wadding (a bit firmer) - both probably quite environmentally unfriendly, though I haven't researched it yet. At times I have also used the stuffing from old worn-out cushions. Now that I think about it, there are probably a couple of misshapen pillows in the cupboards that could be sacrificed this way too. Whatever I use gets such a thorough washing with hot water in the felting process that I don't think there could be any hygiene issues.

This week I'm working on some prototypes for a different stuffed item and this time I'm planning to felt them before stuffing. So I've started keeping little fabric scraps and all the wool ends from various knitting projects, to be used as stuffing.
Of course there is my new button stash, much of which has come from op shops. Some of them are scratched or damaged, which make for an interesting look - but then some of them are better covered up. Some of the covering fabric was from a bag of leftovers and scraps that came to me from a friend leaving town (along with a sewing machine).

Once upon a time I did some knitting with cut-up t-shirts. I thought I might make a shopping or lunch bag with the resulting tough, thick fabric, but I didn't persevere as I didn't enjoy the feel of knitting it, at all. Many people do successfully knit with fabric strips (making floor rugs, for example). Alwen at Lost Arts Studio has instructions for how to spiral-cut a t-shirt. She was using the strips for weaving, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Then we'll be waiting for the moonlight

brooches 2 and 3
Two brooches dispatched today. I covered those buttons myself - though not in the proper 'covered button' way. But a good way to use some of the ugly or damaged shank buttons from the stash. Yes, I have button stash now too, much of it from a bout of op shopping in my last holidays.
brooches scale
Ring included for scale. I got it at a market up Noosa way last year.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Well that was a LOT quicker than knitting one

It didn't require any sewing, either.

The weather has been pretty awful lately, rainy and cold but not as cold as winter. I'd been hankering for some lighter spring scarves. In winter I wear a warm coat and tend to like a small knitted scarf (like this or this) to close the neckline. But with a lighter jacket, usually worn open, it's nice to have a bigger scarf that can block the wind without adding too much warmth.

You might laugh, but I was inspired by this rather grotesque designer scarf. (A little more digging revealed that it does come in other colours).
red slash scarf
I found this red crinkled knit fabric (t-shirt weight) during our Cabramatta shopping spree. I was so keen that I bought a cheap pair of scissors and did all the snipping on my hotel bed last Saturday night! It doesn't need any hemming - knit fabrics don't fray. The holes have become a little more 'distressed' with a wash and some wearing, but they won't go beyond a certain point (at least, that's the theory). It's more of a deconstructed look than I usually go for but I really like wearing it.
I also have some of the same crinkled stuff in a light olive green, and a piece of a different beautiful dark blue-green knit fabric. That one is not crinkled. I cut holes in a small test piece but wasn't thrilled with the effect. So I think I'll try to crinkle it in the microwave. That should be interesting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rollin' with my homies

Photo by Demelza Sherwood.

Last week I was hanging around knitting with a few lovely ladies, as you do. When I mentioned that I was taking Friday off to spend a long weekend in Sydney with my mum, sister and aunt, there were a couple of funny looks and at least one person looked, well, slightly horrified. I'm well aware that spending three days at close quarters with several family members would not work for everyone. I am just so grateful to have a family I so enjoy being with. I feel blessed.

I knew the weekend would be good; but it turned out to be fantastic. Everything was great, except for the wet cold weather, especially on the Friday. Aunty flew down from Brisbane and the weather was a rude shock for her; even the Canberrans found it pretty chilly. It didn't help that our charming hotel suite was a bit drafty - we used a spare towel to block a large gap under the door.

It was a lovely old hotel though (large breakfasts included) and in a great location.
On Friday we wandered through the fancy shops of Paddington and then went to meet little sister's bus and have dinner in Chinatown. On Saturday morning we thoroughly combed the Paddington Markets.
Terrace house on Oxford St - which colour should they pick?

Saturday afternoon we drove out to Cabramatta to shop for fabric. There are several fabric shops on the main street, all packed claustrophobically with every kind of fabric, and some good discounts to be had.
Photo by Demelza Sherwood.

Cabramatta is a suburb of Sydney where large numbers of people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos settled in the late 70s.

The main shopping streets are packed with Asian groceries, fresh food shops, restaurants, clothing shops and the ubiquitous dollar shops full of imported plastic things.

On Sunday, after having an extra-leisurely breakfast and waving aunty off to the airport, the three of us took off to fit in a couple of art galleries before driving home.
This is 'Rapture' by Ken Unsworth, at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Bugatti Type 35 by James Angus, also at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Little sister checking out the coloured bread art by Spanish artist Miralda. Interestingly, the Craftzine blog recently ran an article by Anna Dilemma about other bread artists.
street perform

On the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art (the brown building in the upper background of this picture) we tried to work out what was going on in this performance art at Circular Key. No idea really, but the kids in the audience were clearly willing participants and their parents took lots of photos.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I'd dye for you

happy socks 2
I made some birthday socks for my very wool-sensitive Mum from Wendy Happy bamboo and nylon sock yarn. It doesn't have the memory and give of wool, so I found I needed to go down to 2mm needles (thought that's not unusual for me) to get a nice firm fabric.
happy socks
None of the available colourways were really right for Mum, who loves Autumn colours. I ordered it online and thought it just might be ok, but once it arrived I knew it wasn't great for her. Aside from being too pink'n'purple overall, it also had a bizarre coral stripe that just didn't work.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo before I dyed them. And, I was a bit impatient in my search for the right dye colour. I wanted to use an orange-red to shift all the colours to Autumn. Instead I ended up with a strong red that didn't entirely overcome the pinkness - though it did make them nice and bright. She seems to like them anyway!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

While chopping wood I moved my legs and I started dancing while I gathered eggs

for Fee
This pair of pods was commissioned by my sister as a gift for a family member.

My nephew (the hand model above) came up with "another way to do it".
This is his drumkit, which he has assembled himself. The microphone stand is the newest addition, improvised by his dad.
Playing drums is one of his favourite things. He practices, totally self-taught and self-motivated, every day. His dad is a musician but he hasn't really tried to teach my nephew yet. Of course he is motivated by wanting to be like Dad. Not so much Mum - my sister notes that he has no interest in craft activities at all, even at playgroup. He definitely knows what he likes. He loves to watch live rock music DVDs (his dad's favourite bands). He concentrates hard on these, studying the musicians and he knows all their names and what they play. His focus is impressive (and also a little bit hilarious sometimes).

The fascination with drumming has been building over a period of several months, probably since around or not long after his 3rd birthday. The photo below is from July; the kit has developed a bit since then. You can't see it in the photos but I've seen him using a box at his feet for a foot pedal, too. He's had a couple of goes on real drum kits and a recent outing to the music shop where he got to play on an electronic kit. If he keeps it up he's sure to aquire a real kit sooner or later.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You should hear how she talks about you

tilleys embroider
I just spent a lovely evening with my two sisters at Tilley's, a rather dimly lit, atmospheric cafe/bar. There was stitching,
tilleys basket
basket-weaving (this is soooooo on the shortlist for 'my next craft skill')
tilleys basket hands
and for me, a little knitting, though a black sock toe probably wasn't the best choice (did I mention this place is a bit dimly lit?)
tilleys knitting