Friday, 7 December 2012

Winter woolies

paper dolls yoke detail

So I finished the paper dolls jumper for my daughter. Whilst I sat busily weaving in the ends one evening, my husband sat next to me companionably, marking this


... which is utter gobbledygook to me, but then again, he doesn't even know the difference between knit and purl, so I think we're even.

I have loved this knit from start to finish, even the endless rounds of stocking stitch (to the point where I'm prepared to countenance knitting an adult version, with even more endless rounds). The artesano alpaca yarn I used was so soft and fuzzy, it was a pleasure to knit with, and the pattern is a winner - those paper dolls are such a clear childhood reference without being at all twee.

paper dolls sweater
The only part where I strayed from the pattern was in doing fewer rounds of corrugated rib at the neckline than suggested, as I didn't want a stand-up collar. Oh, and I did have to rip back (actually I had to cut back as the artesano did not like being frogged) the neckline first time round as it was so tight it was like watching a birthing video seeing my daughter try and pull it over her head.

paper dolls sweater

Having rectified the neck and soaked and blocked the jumper, my daughter finally got to wear it, and what's more she's totally thrilled with it, which is always a nice thing. The full details are over on my ravelry page.

Bunty mitts in progress

Next up on the needles are the fabulous Bunty mitts from BomBella. This pattern first appeared in The Knitter, but is now available over on ravelry and as a kit from Ella's etsy shop. More stylised motifs, in the shape, this time, of blooms atop leafy stems. My 9-year old daughter marched straight up to me and said, authoritatively 'that looks a bit like Orla Kiely', which was my thought exactly, such a lovely design inspired by vintage wallpapers. I'm knitting this in various Skein Queen sockweight yarns, gorgeous colours as always. This is another project I can't wait to finish. It's just a shame I'm not quite close enough any more to pop over for a knit night with Ella and the other Outcasts in Reading.




Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent

Advent calendar

Well it's advent Sunday today, and there are a few little bits of Christmas sneaking their way in around the house. Eldest is playing 'Good King Wenceslas on her violin, middle has joined her on his tenor horn, and their duet is nothing if not festive, loudly festive. Then there's the littlest of the tribe, who has been learning some new songs at playgroup - if you ask her what she's been singing, she'll get a serious look on her face and say : 'Christmas ... got stuck ... can't get out ... in chimbly'.

There is an advent candle burning merrily on the mantlepiece. We're still in the heady days of advent candle ownership, remembering to light the candle each day (day 2), but I know it won't be long before I'm guiltily trying to burn down three days' worth after forgetting to light it. We also have three traditional advent calendars on the mantel, gifted to my children each year by their grandfather, a vicar, as an advent tradition. None of this chocolate nonsense, they not only have a picture inside but also a biblical verse. Eldest has a lovely nativity scene in 3D, with glitter and everything. I'm playing along with Rachel of my life in knitwear's advent calendar reveal over on twitter. If you'd like to join in, just use the hashtag #traditionaladventcalendar.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, you know. 

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Shiny apples

tarte tatin recipe 1


Tarte tatin, without question the simplest, yet most impressive, dessert I have every made. Even easier than an apple crumble, but with a bit of added showmanship in the form of plate-flipping. How glad I was that I hadn't thrown away the packaging for my lovely glossy red Emile Henry tarte tatin dish, gifted to me by my brother and sister-in-law, when we had the whole family over for lunch a few weeks ago. For printed on the back was a recipe for said dessert courtesy of Monsieur Raymond Blanc himself. The most complex techniques required were melting butter and peeling apples. It was that easy. So I'm sharing, partly because it's nice to share, but also partly because I envisage making this dessert many more times, and if I write down the recipe here then it won't matter if I lose the packaging at a later date (very likely).

Ingredients (to fill a 30cm dish):
About 9 apples - (the recipe suggests Braeburn) peeled, cored and quartered
150g Caster sugar
80g Unsalted butter (cubed)
40g Unsalted butter (melted)
400g puff pastry (I used all-butter puff pastry, Raymond didn't say I needed to make my own, thank goodness!) rolled out into a disc large enough to lay over your dish and tuck in slightly around the sides.

Method:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Melt the cubed butter and caster sugar in an oven proof dish on the hob to make a caramel.*
Arrange the apple quarters with the outside edge down in the caramel, packing them in quite tightly, then once you've filled the whole of the dish, continue to fill in the middle part.
Press down the apples and brush with melted butter.
Bake in the oven for 30 mins.
Remove  the dish from the oven, place the pastry disc on top and tuck it in around the edge of the apples.
Prick a few holes into the pastry so that the steam can escape.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 mins until the pastry is risen, golden and crisp.
Allow to cool for around an hour before calling all your family into the kitchen and doing the show-stopping flip of the dish onto a plate to serve your glossy apple tarte tatin.

tarte tatin recipe 2

It was genuinely quite exciting doing the reveal - to the point where my brother (iphoneographer) and sister (appointed food stylist and owner of the pair of hands holding the dish in this photo) were debating quite heatedly at one point where to place the tarte for best photographic effect. And the whole thing was speedily demolished by adults and children alike. Even my littlest who normally loathes apple tarts and crumbles due to the tartness of the cooked apples. An inch-thick smothering layer of caramel would doubtless persuade her to eat almost anything.

I'm a sucker for any apple-based dessert, and this knocks sports off my usual endeavours. I'm also a fan of recipes which require minimum effort and technical skill. Have you got any favourites to share?


*this is the only place where you let me down, Monsieur Blanc, as you didn't tell me whether to stir or not and I had vague memories of not stirring sugar when making a caramel lest it crystallise from Masterchef or Great British Bake Off or some such programme. I did, however, stir, as I am an impatient cook. and it seemed to work.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Knit night with a difference

This Thursday saw me wending my way to London by train for a special knit night with fellow bloggers and knitters, Save the Children fundraisers and volunteers, Trisha Malcolm of Vogue Knitting, and none other than queen-of-the-yarn-world Debbie Bliss herself. We had been invited up for a knitterati event for Save the Children's new Christmas Jumper Day campaign, to make the world better with a sweater on Friday 14th December.

image copyright Magda Rakita/Save the Children
image copyright Magda Rakita/Save the Children
In spite of the wild weather outside over the past few days, there was a lovely cosy atmosphere inside Mary's Living and Giving Shop for Save the Children (do pop in for a visit if you're ever in the Primrose Hill area, it's an aladdin's cave of goodies!). We were each presented with a little Christmas gift bag, inside which was a selection of Christmassy yarns and a mystery pattern designed by Debbie Bliss, which turned out to be for a trio of cute Christmas sweater egg cosies, perfect for your breakfast on Christmas morning! I'm also picturing Christmas sweater bunting, tree decorations, and someone even suggested wine bottle cosies. Of course, all this would require me to knit in a substantially less mistake-ridden fashion. As is my knit night wont, I was so engrossed in chatting with the other lovely attendees that I spent as much time correcting mistakes as knitting on with the pattern! I managed just the back and front for this cute Santa jumper; I'm sure progress will be much faster (though much less fun!) without all the nattering and snacking!


I've been on a personal quest since Thursday to bookmark some of the amazing knitting patterns for Christmas jumpers out there, which you can find over on my Pinterest Christmas Knits board. Please do pop a link in the comments if you have any other gems to share with me!

Of course, the campaign doesn't require you to actually knit your own jumper, and I've seen plenty of beauties on the high street already this year! The hope is that come Friday 14th December, some 250,000 people, adults, children, celebrities, will pay £1 to wear a festive (or customised - think tinsel, baubles, pompoms!) jumper to work or school and support Save the Children's life-saving work.

image copyright Magda Rakita/Save the Children
There's lots more over on the Save the Children website, including some fantastic tacky or tasteful Christmas jumper e-cards, which you can customise with your own face for a truly personal Christmas greeting! You can download patterns for the three Christmas jumper designs, including the oh-so-cute shawl-collared reindeer sweater by Debbie that I have earmarked to knit for my two year old! The website is of course the place to go for a fundraiser pack, which will give you all the information you need to host your own Christmas Jumper Day fundraiser at your workplace or school.You can also follow the campaign over on twitter using the hashtag #xmasjumperday.

image copyright Magda Rakita/Save the Children
It was such a  pleasure to meet Debbie, the Save the Children brigade and all the other bloggers and knitters who had been invited; I have now discovered some lovely new blogs to read:



Saturday, 17 November 2012

Handmade Christmas stockings

Handmade Christmas stockings


The Christmas stockings are finished and up in the shop.


red-nosed reindeer stockings


Those reindeer rears I was stitching the other week are the reverse side of my Rudolph stockings, with the front side showing a reindeer profile, hand-finished with a super-shiny circle of red-nose sequins.

Christmas tree stocking

The Christmas tree design is made from three tiers of different green cotton fabrics, including one of my all-time favourite liberty tana lawn prints, all stitched in place with red zig zag stitching.

Both stockings have a cuff and toe made from a pretty vintage-feel fabric in cream and festive red or cream and moss green stripes with tiny flower posies. I'm so pleased I stocked up on this print when I had the chance, as I haven't seen it anywhere since, and it really does have a lovely Christmassy flavour!

Of course, just because the shop is stocked up with Christmas things doesn't mean that I'm remotely ready - I was frankly aghast when an acquaintance told me that he had his Christmas card-writing finished by the end of October. There's a distinctly more last-minute approach in the house of Angharad!







Monday, 12 November 2012

Paper dolls - knitting for my daughter

I've been admiring Kate Davies's Paper Dolls pattern for a long while. In fact, I first planned to knit it on 11 November 2010 (Ravelry is brilliant for showing you precisely how long you have been procrastinating for!) then promptly spent so long trying to decide on yarn types and colours that it languished in my to-knit queue for just a few days short of two years. In the event, I didn't have to actually make any decisions at all, as I found I had some artesano alpaca 4ply in my stash that was the perfect gauge for the pattern. I love it when a plan comes together.

Paper dolls fair isle jumper

I cast on at the beginning of the month, and the jumper is coming on apace. I've loved every thing about it so far - the chunky i-cord cast on (new to me) and corrugated ribbing, the frothiness and softness of the alpaca yarn, the little floral motifs emerging from the mass of grey stocking stitch. The joy of knitting in the round is that I'm not really aware of counting rows, and it's very easy to just tack on a few more circuits when I probably would have long cast my straights aside.

Reverse of two-colour corrugated ribbing

Knitting continental-style with the contrast yarn in my left hand, and UK-style with the main yarn in my right has left me zipping around the colourwork. I'm vaguely picking up the floats when they get too long, but I'm hoping the fuzzy softness of the yarn will sort the rest out once it's blocked. I'm also following Kate's tip of turning the work inside out so that my floats run around the outside rather than the inside of the knitting, stopping them from pulling too tightly and distorting the pattern.

I'm reaching the fun bit now, as my sleeve caps are joined to the body and I've just got to the point where I have a row of dolls' feet in front of me, and I'm feeling a little bit disappointed that this project will soon be finished. With so much potential for customising the yoke pattern I might just have to knit one for all the family. I'm picturing pi symbols for the mathematician-husband; I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with such a unique jumper.




Sunday, 4 November 2012

On my work table this week ...

 ... there have been reindeer rears

Reindeer bottom applique


... sequin noses

sequin nose reindeer

... polka dot antlers

reindeer applique detail

... and Christmas trees

Christmas tree applique

Oh yes, I've been working on the Christmas stock(ings) which will be in the shop very soon.

And on my kitchen table ...

Black cat on the kitchen table

... one very relaxed black cat, taking the sun. She doesn't only go for quilts, you know.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Giveaway winner!

Thanks for all the comments in my giveaway post. I will admit to a small twinge of disappointment that no-one told me what they'd had for dinner, mind you. I love to know what people had for dinner. A reassuring number of mishaps though; it sounds as though there are many of us out there relieved to be still possessed of all our fingers. Now if only the makers of the self-healing cutting mats could put their skills to work on self-healing digits we'd all be fine.

 
The random number generator picked Dawn of UK lass in US as the winner, who made me laugh out loud at the thought of stitching with a frozen broccoli floret taped to her finger. Do pop over to Dawn's blog to say hello if it's not already on your reading list - it's full of lovely stitching, plenty of humour and lots of brilliant tutorials (my favourite is for the fabric dolls' house).

Thanks to everyone else who entered. It's always lovely to read your comments and pop over to see some new blogs.

I'm having toast and marmalade for dinner, just so as you know, it's been a topsy-turvy kind of day! 




Saturday, 27 October 2012

Shelf-stacking

I'm busily updating the shop this weekend with a new batch of purses and pencil cases in an array of cute Japanese fabrics.  I think these would make a nice gift - with maybe some spending money or some lovely pens or pencils inside (I am a big fan of nice pens and pencils!). Clearing the way now to start work properly on some new *whispers* festive projects.

Don't forget you still have a few days left to enter my giveaway for one of these purses, pencil cases, or make up bags, just leave a comment on my last post.

Cute purses and pencil cases

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Half a decade - giveaway anyone?


 This week marks my five-year blog anniversary. It was only when Tess posted about her own five year anniversary, and then Lina too, that I took stock and did a bit of mental maths (2012-2007= 5 years) and worked out that I'd clocked up half a decade without even noticing. Quite terrifying.

A lot has happened in that five years.

Isle of Wight 2012 193

My gruesome twosome has become a threesome. My dinky four and almost-two year old are now a nine and almost-seven year old, with a little baby sister of two-and-a-bit trailing after them and ordering them around. There have been many chocolate smartie birthday cakes, interspersed with the odd over-ambitious effort.

We have moved - from Burnham, Slough (right on the Buckinghamshire/Berkshire border) to Chepstow in my native Wales. Still within a stone's throw of England though (well, not for me as I'm more of a stitcher than a thrower but I could put the husband on to it).

I have clocked up more than 200 sales over on Etsy.

5 years of blogging


I have made a lot of stuff.

06/07/2011 moving chaos


I have bought a lot of fabric (as was abundantly clear when the day came to send our things into storage for the big move West ... a whole 3 tea-chests full of my things even after a ruthless clearout!).

I have had a couple of large blogging hiatuses (when morning sickness and new baby exhaustion meant I just couldn't summon up the energy). But I missed it. And blogging definitely makes me a saner person, probably because it feels like I'm actually accomplishing something as the weeks go whizzing by. And so I came back.  

I have noticed more, and am really happy that I have a record of some of the little things that I might otherwise have forgotten. I mean, I can barely remember what happened last week, so the blog is a genuinely useful aide-memoire

I've made some really really good friends.
Which really is the best reason for blogging.

 
And so I wondered if anyone who is (still) reading would be interested in winning one of my make up bags, coin purses or pencil cases. If so, please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear about your crafting mishaps after Annie's comment on my last post set me thinking about the injuries I've sustained over the years.  To start the ball rolling, my own funniest mishap was an injury I sustained whilst at school when I fell off a chair and impaled myself on a knitting machine when putting boxes of fabric away on the top shelf of the textiles cupboard. I ended up with a row of 8 neat holes just under my knee and have a lovely big scar to show for it a full 20 years later.  It doesn't have to be an injury, any kind of crafting gone wrong will do, and if you are a blessed soul who has never had any kind of crafting mishap, then you can just leave a comment telling me what you had for dinner if you like. I'll choose a winner at the end of the month with the good old random number selector.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Tools for hand-quilting

Scrap vomit hand quilted
scrap vomit in progress

My mission to hand quilt my scrap vomit quilt continues. I'm enjoying the slow burn of this project. Something to pick up when I have some spare time in the evening, or for a half hour after lunch on a weekend at home. I've had many a happy afternoon quilting in the sunshine, but now Autumn is upon us, it's even more tempting to sit and quilt of an evening. Sitting under a voluminous quilt is a really good way of not having to put the central heating on. My cat seems to agree with the sentiment and wherever scrap vomit and I go, she's sure to follow.


There's a cat in mi quiltin what am I gonna do?
There's a cat in mi quiltin' what am I gonna do?*
This cat should win a prize for nonchalance, she has totally perfected the '...and?' look.

It's been a real learning curve for me taking on a quilt of this size as my only experience of quilting by hand has been on a baby quilt. Needless to say, working on a larger scale presents its own problems.

I've so far experimented with two kinds of needle. I tried the Clover Gold Eye quilting needles first, which were much tinier than I had imagined they would be, indeed, the eyes are almost too small to see, let alone thread! I followed a helpful tip in Last-minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts and threaded all fourteen needles onto the spool of thread at once, just pulling a new length of thread through one of the needles and cutting when I ran out of thread. This definitely lessened the pain of threading, getting it all over and done with in one go. Though very fine and very sharp, I did find I broke 3 needles in my first few quilting sessions.  I think the key with the Clover needles is not letting the needle take too much of the stress, but manipulating the quilt as you rock the needle. I also bought some John James Pebble needles (after worrying about the snappability of the Clover needles) but, being thicker, I found them much harder to push through the fabric and much less flexible. The Gutermann hand quilting thread I've been using gives a nice stitch definition and it travels well through the fabric, especially after a few passes through my trusty paraffin wax, though it is hard to thread through those teeny tiny clover needles ... I wonder whether anyone has found a better pairing?

hand quilting tools

The other problem I have encountered on occasion is finding I can't physically grip the needle to pull it through the quilt when loaded up with a row of stitches. In extremis, I have found that grabbing an eraser from one of the children's pencil cases and  pressing it into the needle with my right hand whilst pulling the needle through with my left works quite well, but it's hardly the most efficient technique. I had been on a quest to source some of those rubber thimbles used by bank tellers until Florence enlightened me as to the existence of something called a 'needle grabber', which I have duly ordered and look forward to putting to use.

Of course one of the hazards of quilting with 2.5" squares is that when you press all those tiny seams to one side you end up with a huge bulk of fabric to quilt through in places. This is the one place where my clover needles fail me, and I have to abandon the rocking motion and take slow stitches from front to back until I've negotiated the bulk. Is it anathema to quilters to press seams open? I'm thinking this could have saved me a lot of grief and snapped needles! Likewise, I haven't used a frame or hoop at all when quilting and wonder whether this is going to turn out to be a huge mistake later. My feeling was that I would struggle to have enough give in the fabric to rock the needle through so many layers if it was held taught in a hoop.


Hand quilting tools

The one tool I really couldn't do without is my no-slip thimble, worn on the middle finger of my right hand. It has a recessed ridged top which is perfect for holding the end of the needle to push it through the fabric. However, the fingers of my left hand are definitely suffering from those evenings spent stitching. Even though I already have a hard layer of skin on the tips of my fingers from playing the violin, I've found that they're a mess of little grazes from the needle coming through the underside of the fabric. My first thought as an erstwhile harpist (well, I'm Welsh, it goes with the territory), was surgical spirit (which I think is known as 'rubbing alcohol' in the US). This was something used to harden your fingertips so that they didn't blister. I still have a bottle stashed in the medicine cupboard so I'm going to experiment to see if this affords any protection. I have also ordered some Thimble-its sticky patches; I'm hoping they'll still allow me to feel the needle underneath the fabric without shredding my finger tips to smithereens. 

Do you have any favourite tools that you can't do without? Is there anything else I need to complete my hand-quilter's toolkit? I would love to hear your tips and advice to someone who is new to quilting by hand.

*I'm sad enough to think this is really funny, but the husband suggests I link here by way of explanation.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A bag for a little girl


bag plans afootOne of my projects for the the Summer holidays this year was to make a new bag for my eldest. There's a real gap in the market out there - what we wanted was neither a school bag or messenger bag, nor a purse or handbag, but a mid-sized bag, small enough not to be a burden but big enough to house the essentials.

The plan
  • A bag. A bag with a gusset. And a divider. And a zipped inner pocket.
  • A bag with an adjustable across-the-body shoulder strap.
  • A bag small enough to carry around on a day out, big enough to hold a purse, medical bag and other little girl paraphernalia (today's contents include: a bag of humbugs, some small pebbles collected on the beach and a notebook and pencil for jottings).
It  was just the excuse I needed to use these super-shiny nickel rectangle rings and slider* which I have had, unused, for the best part of four years (I am very skilled at long-term bag project planning). And the fabric was one I had chosen especially for the little girl who just happens to have a much-loved black cat from Battersea dogs and cats home, a pretty Japanese linen/cotton mix fabric from Fabrics Galore on etsy. I am a huge fan of these Japanese woven fabrics, which have quite a bit more natural structure to them than quilting cottons but come in the sweetest prints rather than being a straight 'utility' fabric.

* you can find similar ones over at u-handbag


Little girl satchel
I sketched the bag pattern around the medical bag, factoring in a gusset for extra storage capacity and a satchel shape. An elasticated pocket/divider was added, along with a little zipped compartment for precious things. The strap is long enough that my daughter can wear it across her body without the strap being at full length, but so that she could also shorten it to use it as a shoulder bag. I've carried it for her myself without feeling in the slightest bit ridiculous - I think this is one of the virtues of the Japanese fabric which is cute without being cutesy, if you see what I mean.

bag interior: zipped pocket and divider



little girl's satchel

So far the bag has proved to be very versatile.


Climbing the rigging  
a bag for climbing the rigging

Regal eagle bag atop a castle turret  
a bag for feeling regal atop a 128foot-high turret


Llechwedd mine
a bag for going down a mine (trust me, it's there, just moving too swiftly for my phone to capture) 

Views over Tintern Abbey from England 
 a bag for playing half-English, half-Welsh on a cross-country walk along Offa's dyke to view Tintern Abbey in all its glory back in Wales.


And the nicest thing for me is how genuinely pleased my girl was with her new bag. I'm glad they don't feel I'm palming them off with things handmade. Well, not yet, anyway!



Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Pick up sticks

It's that time of year again. The cat has started baulking at the thought of going outside and is mainly to be found ensconced in the warm comfort of a quilt atop one of the children's beds. We'll know it's really cold when we start accidentally sitting on her at story time as she'll have made her way underneath the quilt. Indeed, we once found her sitting on the mattress having burrowed underneath pillow, fitted sheet and mattress protector. She's a right weirdo.

Though I'm resisting the call of the central heating for the time being, my thoughts always turn to cosy knits at this time of year. My list of favourites and knitting queue over on Ravelry are lengthening by the day. Do you ravel? I'm to be found over there as angharadknits if you'd like to befriend me.

So here's the (kn)hit list so far for this Autumn:

artesano alpaca yarn






One little paper dolls jumper for my eldest in fairisle-friendly artesano alpaca.

skein queen yarn










One pair of veyla mitts (previously cast on in the aforementioned artesano which did not lend itself to the kind of stitch definition I had wanted for the gorgeous lace cuffs, whereas the 'bloom' is perfect for fairisle) in a stashed skein of Skein Queen's finest.








Three hat and mittens sets for the littlest and her two baby cousins from Zoe Mellor's Adorable Knits for Tiny Tots, a book which I wholeheartedly recommend for those who knit for small children. (The pirate jumper I knitted many moons ago for the boy came from this book).







Which to start first?? I'm not sure yet, but for the moment my knitting sticks are occupied anyway, knitting up teeny tiny bobble hats for smoothies. And no, I haven't succumbed to some kind of febrile delirium due to the plummeting temperatures; this is the Big Knit, the annual fundraiser of the people over at Innocent smoothies for Age UK.

a vase of bobble hats


There's not much time left as the hats need to be in by 1st of October, but even if you haven't time to knit, UK folk can still support the charity by buying an behatted smoothie during the three weeks beginning 21 November in Sainsbury's - for each smoothie sold, Innocent will donate 25p to Age UK.


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