Friday, October 30, 2020

What strange times we are living in...

 ... it looks like we are going into Tier 2 again, so no more meeting with anyone indoors. I can't say that at this point it makes much difference since with the Rule of 6 it was virtually impossible for us to meet anyone anyway - we are, after all, already 5 in the house, so meeting up with another family was impossible.

We are coping, but it's been a sad kind of a year, really. I feel for the kids too. The teenager in particular is struggling since all this has come just at the time when he was starting to spread his wings a bit. After 4 years of CFS he's finally back at school and making friends, and you can see there is so much he'd like to do, when right now so little is possible. 

But enough moaning, I do realise we are lucky, really. We have each other, we are healthy, and we even have a big enough place that we don't feel too crowded and, most importantly, an outside space. I really felt for people living in flats when we were in proper lockdown, that must have been so difficult. I've lived in plenty of flats over the years, and being able to get out is so important. 

I've been crafting. Nothing too sustained, since live has only become more busy since Covid, and even though I'm supposed to be part-time I've found myself almost working full-time in recent months, but as ever the crafting has kept me sane and happy. I've not had a chance to photograph a lot of the things I've done in recent months, but in no particular order here are a few:

A circular needle holder - I was getting sick of having to dig through a big bag of tangled up needles. Just have to label them so I know what's in each.

The obligatory face masks. These are made with vintage Amy butler fabric, mainly. I was glad to find a use for all those little bits of fabric.




The Throwback Cardigan. I'm so in love with this. I opted for cheaper yarn, as I really can't justify spending something like £150 on yarn for a single garment (no matter how gorgeous the proposed yarn might be). I opted for slightly cheaper yarns, but still quality, and the main colour is a Rowan yarn so this is such a pleasure to wear. I just have to figure out some sort of button arrangement so I can close the cardi. The original pattern seems to just leave it open but I'd like the option to button it up.

Audrey in Unst. Again, this is been a real success. It came out too large so I've been ruthless and have sewn and cut it on both sides. Initially it came out a bit wonky but I've fixed it and it's now neat and absolutely lovely. I'm getting a lot of wear out of this one. 

I'm currently working on Engi. The last couple of years seem to have been mainly about colourwork and Icelandic-inspired knitting for me. I love colourwork, it's such a joy to see a pattern emerge while you are slowly working on it. 




Friday, June 19, 2020

Look what I finished!!

I still can't believe I've actually done it,  but I've finished the braided rag rug! 

Seriously, this was such a massive effort, my finger tips ache, my back aches, I'm so glad this is done. I started this rug ages ago, I can't even quite remember when, then got bored after I had done around 15" of sewing and the project was banned into the attic. I found it recently, together with a huge stack of fabric for braiding, when I was looking for something totally unrelated. I brought it down with the vague idea that I was going to work on it a bit to see where it was going.


Well, something happened then and I  got the bit between my teeth. I just kept going, and going, and when I had used up the huge stack of fabric I went through my stash and found some more... seriously the amout of fabric that has gone into this rug is insane.



I developed a routine - braiding in the evening while watching TV, sewing in in short sessions throughout the day whenever I had a few minutes to spare. That seemed to work quite well and the rug grew and grew. It outgrew the tatty old rug that we had in the living room and after several discussions with the kids it was decided that it should be a bit bigger still.


Once it finally reached a size that we were all happy with it became apparent that the very middle of the rug, the bit that I'd done ages ago, wasn't very good - it had a different tension and it was kind of baggy. I'd got better at adjusting my tension as I went along so the rug would lie flat. Even knowing that I would sew on a rubber backing I was not convinced that I could get that middle to behave, so I made the decision to undo it. I got away without having to re-do the whole lot, but I did unravel perhaps 10 rows or so and added another few hours tightening the centre of the rug. I'm glad I did, it's so much better now!


I used some rubber matting that D had in the shed left-over from another project (I think it was mats for the boot of the car) that I loosely stitched on because without some kind of backing the rug was sliding around rather dangerously - between the kids sliding around on it and the dog digging on it it was never lying flat for more than 5 minutes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

I have been crafting, I promise...

... I've just  not been blogging. As usual.

We are OK. The days are busy and full with three boys at home, and having to school them, and the new puppy, and all the other normal things as well, like my actual paying work for example!

Crafting fits around the family. It always has done, but now perhaps more than ever. I knit in the evening on the sofa while we are watching a film. also brought my long-neglected braided rug project out again. I work in small bursts, also to protect my back - braiding in the evening on the sofa, then sewing in 10 minute sessions throughout the day whenever I find time. Initially I couldn't see the progress but by now it's grown and I think in a few weeks I'll have the size that I'm after. Really loving how it looks. 



I've been knitting Audrey in Unst, which is such a cute little cardi, but I've stalled on it recently because it turns out that short-row sleaves are really not my friend. I did one, hated the look of it, tried it on to find it unshapely and baggy, and ripped the whole thing out again. I will try again, possibly with German Short Rows, which are supposed to have a neater finish, but I'm a bit fed up right now. I do want to wear the cardi this summer, though, so I think I'll give myself a few days off then cast on for that sleave again.



Today I snuck off to the attic for an hour and made a little bag for my dog walks. I'd bought one, but with all the paraphenalia that I tend to bring, such as poop bags, treats, the whistle and clicker, the weird rabbit skin tug-toy that Stanley loves, and my phone I found it a bit small. 

I didn't use a pattern, just made it up as I went along, and I'm so pleased with it. I used denim for the outside and lined it with some ancient Amy Butler fabric I still had lying around. I think it's turned out really cute! 







Saturday, February 01, 2020

Well, we did a thing...

Meet Stanley the Whippet.

He arrived just before Christmas after many weeks of anxious waiting by all of us.

He's pretty much turned this house upside down but we love him to bits. 

He's also a willing new knitting model so it's all good.


Hoping I'll manage a more regular blogging schedule this year, starting with some FOs (the list is sooo long, not blogging does not mean I've not been knitting!!). But then, I've had hopes of that sort before so I'm not holding my breath...

Fingers crossed I'll manage to actually succeed this time!



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day!

Hello, how are you all? 

It's been a long time again so I thought I'd report back with some updates on kitting, crocheting and other crafts.

I've got a few FOs to report!!

First of all, I've finally, FINALLY finished Black Acer. Seriously, there were moments when I thought it would never happen. A few weeks ago after I finished another project and was itching to start something new but didn't have the right yarn I thought to myself - I really want to finish this, I want to be able to wear it this summer! It coincided with the boys wanting to do a Marvel movie marathon so I needed some knitting while that was happening. I don't mind Marvel, but it doesn't keep my interest massively well, and it was just perfect to watch and knit at the same time. 


Seriously, after procrastinating with this cardi for literally YEARS I finished it in a couple of weeks or so. I even sewed the buttons on!



I've not washed it and the weather has been so bad that I've not managed to get a few good shots of me wearing it yet, so I've got to remember to get that done. 



I'm really pleased with it and I'm so excited that I finally get to wear it!!


Second FO - my Mohair Cowl. This hasn't been on the needles for quite as long, but it's been long enough that I'm happy to be done with it. Again, no pictures of me wearing it yet, as I haven't got round to it, but it fits and I've actually already given it an outing or two. 


One thing to note about this pattern - the sleeves are way too long! I knitted it just as the pattern asked me to and I could have omitted at least 3-4 inches from the upper sleeves. I was thinking about unravelling, but then I'd lose some of the ribbing, which is supposed to go up to the elbow, and I'm certainly not going to unravel and knit both sleeves again. It's a bit annoying to have to pull them up all the time (which I think is intentional, it's what you are supposed to do), but it's fine, it'll have to do.

Third FO - in an attempt to finally get rid of the scatchy never-ending olive no-name yarn that I bought years ago on ebay I decided to crochet a basket. I made it extra large (so did more increases than demanded) but I managed to completely use up the yarn and even a little bit of leftover burgundy yarn. I'm using it to store the multitude of gaming paraphenalia the boys have  (cables, xbox controllers, headphones...). 


And guess what, yesterday was my birthday and this is what I got from D:


It's a full kit for the Yellow Queen Sweater!

I'm so excited to finally knit something that isn't from stash. I wound all that Cascade 220 into yarn cakes yesterday and I can't wait to cast on! 

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Glaze testing...

I've been testing pottery glazes these past few months. 
Initially I mixed up small amounts, tested them, then narrowed it down to the examples that seemed to show the best results. I mixed a large tub of a white that looked promising, but now I'm not so sure... It's a rather fickle glaze I think. 


Lovely smooth finish on this - no pit holes, even, and good coverage:

By contrast, a pretty rubbish finish on this house with the same glaze - small pit holes and overall uneven coverage. Why??


Better, but still pretty average. The coating is more even, but there are still signs of pin holes and some unattractive breaking over the edges. 


The white glaze continues to misbehave. I was so excited to see how it looked on the uneven little pot, it was as close to my perfect while as I've ever come! But then it came out so average on everything else:  too thin on the large pot, but it might be that I should have just dipped it twice, but also slightly rough, with tiny pin holes. Same on the 'onion' pot, and perhaps worse on the little house, which felt quite rough to the touch. More testing needed I think...

I also tested a couple of transparents and a dark blue. Really liked how the blue came out:


I'm also really happy with the G3 transparent, though, which has come out very even, smooth, and without pin holes. Less so with the G0001 on the small vessel.


Monday, February 04, 2019

It's an ant infestation!!

Soooo....

we've been pretty into ants these past few weeks. 

It was boy #2 who started it. He found this youtube channel, called AntsCanada, which is run by some completely ant-mad guy who is presumably Canadian but lives in the Philippines. Let me tell you, he's got some serious ant-geeking going on! It's kind of mesmerising to watch. He has huge colonies of different types of ants, in different set-ups, some natural, with plants and even running water, and some more 'artificial' if you like, with a formicarium where you can lift a lid to watch the colony in their nest. He's really rather entertaining to watch because he's good at spinning a yarn - he makes you care for these ants the way he clearly does. He has made me care for a colony of probably well over a million fire ants. Me! Fire ants! (I swell up like a balloon animal when an ordinary red ant bites me). 


And look at this gorgeous set-up!


The kids and I have been watching this channel so much these past few weeks, it's bordering on obsessive. And obviously it was only a matter of time before the boys decided that they clearly needed to keep ants too. 

It's not the first time they've done this. A couple of years ago we had one of those flimsy plastic ant farms that they sell for kids, so we caught a few ants in the garden and they dutifully made some tunnels and lived in there. It seemed kind of wrong, though, because we didn't have a queen, and they seemed sort of ... lacking in purpose. It didn't seem far-fetched to think of them as forlorn and sad, because for an ant the primary purpose is the colony and the queen - remove those two things and there really isn't a lot left for them. We eventually released them back into the garden near their old nest and judging from the way the guy at AntsCanada explains it the chances are pretty good that they made their way home and, due to the pheromones that ants communicate with, were accepted back into the nest.

This time, inspired by the AntsCanada guy, we are doing things differently. First it was boy #2 who decided that with the money he had left over from his birthday he would invest in a proper expandable ant formicarium. Boy #3, always eager not to be left behind, quickly followed suit. So we researched it and ant formicariums were ordered from AntKit UK. Look at them, don't they look great? There are extra exits that can be connected to extensions of the habitat. 



We also ordered two mated Lasius Niger (that's the common black garden ant) queens in their own test tubes. They are basically sandwiched between two cotton wool wads with a water reservoir at the end that will allow them to drink and also to keep their eggs moist.


I was initially a bit iffy about the test tubes - wouldn't that be cruel? But it turns out that actually they like it because it's very close to how a mated queen would sequester herself to start a colony. They make a closed-off dark chamber and they basically stay there until they have enough workers with them to get going on actually making a nest. 
Our two ant queens currently live on my bedside table in a cozy dark cardboard box and I've told the boys they are not allowed to check on them more often than every other day because they don't like to be disturbed too often.

Once they have around 15 workers they can move into their new homes.

Obviously now that the formicariums and ants are here, boy #1 has decided that he wants ants too. Unfortunately he has hardly any birthday money left because he's spent it all on his scooter, so D went into the shed and they  found a clear plastic box that they drilled a few holes into for future expansion. I found an online tutorial of how to make an ant hill out of clay and plaster of Paris so he can observe them in a nest through the clear plastic. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Sourdough bread making...

I'm not much of a baker, usually.



It's not that I don't like cake - after all, who doesn't like cake?! I'm just not that much of a domestic goddess and while I enjoy eating (a lot), I don't really enjoy the process of cooking and baking all that much. I can do the occasional thing, sure, but the routine task of putting food on the table is not something I particularly relish and I don't usually strive to spend any more time in the kitchen than I absolutely have to.

That said, there are certain things I just miss, and one thing that I have missed ever since I left Germany and settled in the UK nearly 20 years ago now is a good loaf of sourdough bread. Whenever family or friends come to visit from Germany I ask them to bring some, and they usually oblige, but it's not quite the same, because they obviously have to buy the bread in advance, and by the time it gets here it's already not that fresh anymore. Still good, sure, and one of the fabulous things about sourdough bread is that it keeps much better than a normal yeast loaf, but I miss that taste of crusty fresh bread with butter on, baked that day, and dug into as soon as I get it home. 

I'm a bit of a bread snob I think.

A while ago a friend of mine gave me a bit of her sourdough starter and I proceeded to occasionally bake with it. All was well, but the recipe I had was quite time-consuming - sourdough, it turns out, needs a fair bit of hand-holding. It's not at all like the bread maker loaves that are so easy to just put in the machine. Instead you are talking about kneading, rising, more kneading, in a seemingly endless cycle. I did a few loaves, then gave up. And because I forgot to feed the starter regularly it eventually died. 

At Christmas I wished for another starter. I'd seen one on Amazon of all places, and thought I'd give it another go. D got the starter for me and I have been feeding it, more or less once a week. This seems little (a lot of recipes insist on you feeding your starter once a day at roughly the same time), but it turns out that a well-established starter can live in the fridge and, if kept cold like that, only needs feeding once a week. I take the starter out and feed it, then leave it on the worktop for a good 12 hours so it can warm up and get going. Then back in the fridge it goes.

Up until yesterday that's all I did with it. Christmas is busy, and to be honest, I felt a bit daunted by attempting another sourdough loaf. 

Then I found a recipe on Pinterest that I thought I should try. It is simple in terms of ingredients (but then, all basic bread recipes are - you are just talking about starter, bread flour, water, and salt after all), but it asked you to mix up a fairly liquid dough at first, then cover it and let it do its magic in a warm place in the kitchen overnight, for 12-17 hours. That's easy, I thought.



After that point you end up with a sort of sour-smelling bubbly thin dough. You then start mixing and kneading, adding as much flour as it takes to produce a stiff dough that isn't sticky on the outside anymore. The whole thing goes in a floured proving basket for another 1 - 1 1/2 hours and then it goes straight in the oven at around 230 degrees C. for around 50 minutes. The recipe suggests baking in a Dutch oven, but I don't have any such thing, and it turns out a normal baking tray works just as well!



I can tell you, the result is awesome! I'm so pleased with my loaf! It's crispy outside and fluffy and soft and aromatic, with a sour tang on the inside. It's delicious.



I can see a lot of sourdough loaves in our future!

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

yet another blanket...

Another (very old) FO - I made another blanket!

This was some time ago, but somehow I never managed to take pictures and blog about it. 


I made this one in thin strips, with alternating colours, then edged each strip with dark blue and finally sewed all the strips together. 


It was a stash-buster project because I'm still sort of drowning in acrylic and I don't use it for anything other than blankets (they do work best with acrylic yarn  because they need to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear and also get washed frequently). 

It's not a favourite and I don't consider it a particularly good-looking blanket. The strips were awkward, there was far too much sewing in of yarn ends, and the sewing together creates ridges that never look quite as good as you hope they will. 


It's OK, though, because it's soft and warm, and it's on rotation with all the other crochet blankets in the living room so it gets used all the time. All is well. 


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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Studio time...


We've had a busy past few months, and our fair share of ups and downs, but just this past couple of weeks or so, since Christmas and the school holidays, things seem to tentatively be looking up. It's still too early, too fragile, to think much of this in the long term, because we've been here before, and this is bug season, and the school term has only just begun, but we are feeling hopeful and just a little lighter, so we are trying to just enjoy this for now.

In the spirit of this uplift I've clocked some much-needed pottery studio time. I've been dreadfully slow with this, because I knew my next task was glaze testing, and there always seemed to be some reason or other to delay - it was too cold (but my new heater is in now, so this is not an excuse anymore), I didn't have enough time to get started (mixing glazes is time-consuming), I am still waiting for some glaze component or other to arrive in the mail (it's amazing how much stuff you need if you are testing, because there are so many different ways of putting together a working glaze), my studio is too chaotic (this was a bit of an issue for a while, because stuff had migrated in there on a temporary basis, but it's mostly sorted now)... So many excuses!


There are still fairly important things to sort out to make my little studio space work - I don't have a source of running water, so that is an issue,  because I don't like the idea of bringing potentially toxic pottery materials into the house via brushes or buckets. We are now considering installing a washing-up sink outside with a trap to catch heavy particles that I don't want going down the drain. Hopefully this summer...  I also need to repaint the concrete floor in my pottery space, because it's crumbling and therefore generating dust. This also does not allow me to mop the floor, meaning that any spillages will also dry and generate dust, which is a potential health hazard, particularly long-term. I also want to paint the brick-work on the walls because I get so much dirt falling down and contaminating my work space.

That said, it's a good little studio by now. My lighting is sorted out, and I have my awesome little heater, which means I feel less like an extra from La Boheme when I'm working in there at any time other than high summer.

I've even managed to get some of the dreaded test glazes mixed up the other day and I managed to pour only half a bucket of glaze over myself. I call that a win!

Now hopefully one of these testers will generate the glaze that I'm after, because I'm still struggling with that. I want a pure white glossy glaze that covers well and doesn't break over the edges of the little houses that I make. Once I've achieved that I want to make a big badge of glaze and create enough houses to put on Etsy or Folksy to sell so my pottery endeavours become a bit more cost-neutral at least.



I even managed to motivate boy #2 to help me paint the planters that he got for his birthday so they can be moved out of my studio onto the patio. Boy#2 is our green-fingered child, and he loves planting things, so we are hoping to grow some vegetables in his new boxes.