Monday, 25 April 2016

Baking Style and Substance

Those who, like me, have been watching the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) for some years will be familiar with Frances Quinn. The eventual winner of GBBO in 2013, she was constantly chastised by Paul Holywood for being 'style over substance'. Not be able to taste her bakes I couldn't tell if she had the substance, but her bakes certainly showed style.

Last Christmas I was given a copy of Frances' new book Quinntessential Baking (love the name). The book certainly has plenty of style; the ideas, pictures, presentation and production quality are all fantastic. The book is divided up into fifteen chapters of different type of cake or biscuits. Within each chapter there is an introduction was a standard recipe, and then four different interpretations of the recipe. All are fun, quirky and playful ideas, based on word plays or common associations - white rabbit carrot cakes or ginger snap cards! 

I am very much a substance baker. I like making cakes but I'm not normally to worried about how they look. They are going to be eaten after all. So, while I have loved looking through the book, I didn't really think I would make anything from it. I was showing the book to a friend last Friday, and just saying that, but over the weekend I thought, why not give one of them a go.

I decided to start on, what I thought would be, an easier recipe - marmalade cat-flapjack. A version of the basic flapjack recipe with added orange zest and marmalade. The mix is divided between a 12 muffin tray to make individual flapjacks. (This was a little fiddly but I did it). Once cooked the flapjacks are decorated with chocolate paw prints, hence the cat-flapjack! Not having a clean paintbrush to hand, I did my paw prints with the aid of a teaspoon, and all things considered they are not bad.

Despite my initial reluctance, I really enjoyed making, and more importantly decorating, these flapjack. Every time I go to eat one I smile at the little paw prints, and the chocolate makes a nice addition to the orange flavour of the flapjack - both style and substance! Having got my confidence up, I can certainly see myself making some of the other recipes from the book. I really want to make the coffee shot 'cup' cakes (in the picture above).

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A happy ending, and a new jumper

At the beginning of last winter I attended a conference for work, it was the first really cold day of the season and I took my favourite hat and scarf with me. What was my horror when next time I went to put them on that they were nowhere to be found. I was distraught!

From looking on Ravelry I can see that I made the scarf, a cladonia, back in 2012. I knew I'd had the hat for much longer but it seems I made it pre-Ravelry, which means before 2007, so I've had it for about ten years. Oh, that makes me even sadder :(

As it got colder in November I decided I had to get over my grief and make a new hat and scarf. I'd already planned to make this hat, so that was easy enough. But when I set about making a new cladonia I hit a problem. I picked some pink and white alpaca-silk yarn and I started knitting, but I just wasn't loving it. 

It's pretty, but its just not as nice as my old one. I was clearly not over my grief yet, and it languished uncompleted in my knitting basket.

Then one morning in February I came downstairs for breakfast and what was my surprise to find my missing scarf and hat on the kitchen table! The boyfriend, who had been up early, had been digging in the cupboard under the stairs for a bag. He had found them in the bottom of a bag which, I clearly, don't use very often! How did I feel? Mortified? yes, but so very, very delighted :)

To be honest, I'd already been considering ripping back my pink and white cladonia and making something else, and now I could with a clear conscience. I'd been admiring the Ravello jumper pattern for a while, after seeing several lovely versions on Ravelry, and this seemed a perfect opportunity to make it. 

A hunt through my stash turned up some beautiful emerald green silk alpaca (which I had slightly forgotten about) and I through it would be a great contrast.

Pretty good, no? I'm so happy with top, so much happier than I was when the yarn was the cladonia. The pattern was really straight forwards, and easy to knit. I didn't have to make any changes to the pattern but just knit, knit, knit.

Plus check out my wallpaper - oh yes, I've finished and it is so nice. I will be doing a separate post just on the decorating but I couldn't resist sharing a little peak!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Spring Pattern Giveaway :)

I can't believe it is April already! The clocks have gone forwards, there have been some sunny spring days (although not today) and I'm still decorating! I am, I think, finally getting to the end of decorating my hall and either that, or the spring weather, has got me in a good mood. I've decided to share the spring joy but holding a pattern give away. 

These seven patterns are all looking for a new home, if you would like any of them just leave a comment or send me an email. There is no geographical limit on this, I'll post them anywhere as long as its a good home! No time limit either, just first come, first served :)

Monday, 21 March 2016

Stitching for a cause - Drop stitches not bombs

I was visiting my parents in my home town last weekend (I had a lovely time thanks) and ended up helping my mum sort out some of her photos. Amongst them were some of one of my sewing projects of which I am most proud. It was made well before I started this blog so I've not shared it before, but now seems a good time.

I made this banner for my brother, who was, and is, an active anti-war protester. He is also a fervent environmentalist and impossible to buy gifts for. One birthday I decided to make him a anti-war banner, and to add to the challenge I decided to make it out of recycled materials.

I was fine with the backing, which is a second hand white bed sheet, but where to get the rest of the fabric from? I was still pondering this when I passed by a very nice interior design shop round the corner from where I was then living. Outside in a skip were stacks of fabric sample books. Being a law abiding citizen I asked permission before I started taking them, and the shop very kindly provided me with bags for my loot. 

In an amusing aside, as I was happily diving into this treasure trove a man walked passed talking on his mobile phone, seeing what was in the skip he commented to whoever he was talking too; 
'That there were lots of fabric sample books in the skip outside Helen Turkington', taking another look at me he said 'um ... you might want to hurry!'
Armed with a supply of rather high class fabric, I was able to set about designing the banner. I think I worked out the designs on paper first, and then traced the pieces I needed in fabric. There is also a tiny bit of hand stitched embroidery at the bottom, you can just about see it in the picture, I couldn't resist adding the slogan 'drop stitches, not bombs'.

Hand stitched embroidery not being top of my skill set, I set myself a much harder task with the back, decided on working the dove of peace - as its normally viewed at a distance I guess my wonky stitching won't be too noticeable. 

I finished off the banner by making a frame to carry it out of some bits of wood from the cellar and a few oddments of string. So the banner is, as it boasts, 100% recycled.

My brother was, I think, delighted with the gift and it has been on many marches proudly carrying its lovingly hand stitched message of peace.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Finished Project: A Rialto Quince

When on a trip to London in September I couldn't resist Kim Hargreaves' (then) latest pattern book, Embrace, when I came across it while browsing in Liberty. I'm a fan of her designs, as can be seen from the number of her pattern books already on my shelves. 

There are several designs which went straight on to my 'to knit 'list. Embrace is described as a collection of designs with a 70s flare that 'moves effortlessly from the fading glow of summer into the welcoming arms of autumn'. I was certainly feeling fairly autumnal when I picked the design Quince, a cable and braided cardigan, and matched it with some rusty orange Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran wool. The wool had been in my stash for a relatively short time, just a year. I picked it up at the 2014 HandmAid sale. It wasn't just the colour that attracted me, but also that I live in an area of Dublin called Rialto!

(I'm not entirely sure why the boyfriend decided to cut my head off in all the pictures)

I did make a couple of changes to the pattern - it is written to be knitted in pieces but I changed it so the body was worked in one piece and the sleeves in the round. It worked fairly well, and the only sewing I needed to do was setting in the sleeves. I had a bit of trouble getting the gauge on this project, and ended up knitting a size x-small and getting about a small. I also added a few centimetres to the sleeves as I like them long, and I'm happy with the fit overall. The buttons are self-cover ones made up from a quarter of Liberty fabric, I love the combination of orange and green.

Overall, the pattern was clear and easy to follow, plus I got all the cables the right way round (yay!), the wool is beautifully soft, and the cardi is warm and cosy. As it has taken me nearly six months to knit, we are well past the 'welcoming arms of autumn' and into the cold grip of winter (and hopefully soon out the other side) but I'm sure I'll still get plenty of wear out my Quince.

Outfit details
(I'm always impressed when I see other bloggers include a piece like this. 
However, I've never really done it, as I'm not normally organised enough to pick a
 proper outfit for my photos, but this time I have made a (bit) more of an effort)

Cardigan - you know I made it :)
T-shirts - also made by me (pattern is Gertie's Knit Sweetheart Top)
Necklace - 'vintage' coral, I guess, it was my aunt's
Mug - a Christmas present, thanks Secret Santa

Thursday, 3 March 2016

A finished project to share, at last

Long term, and attentive, readers of this blog might have been wondering if my dad received his birthday socks on time this year? Well, I'm glad to report he did!

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here is the short version. For the last few years I've been making my dad socks for his birthday or Christmas gift (past projects here). It's all because his granny was an obsessive sock knitter but had lots of grandchildren so he never got any of the socks she made. Also, as he has very big feet I have, in the past, not always got them finished on time!

This year's pattern is Retro Jubilee Socks by Susan Crawford, from her book Coronation Knits. The pattern is a fairly straight forward six row repeat in three colours (only using two at a time). Its easy to knit but looks deceptively fancy. I decided to knit it in a rather jazzy green and blue, with the brown to tone it down a bit. 

The heel uses a technique for short row shaping that I've not come across before and, lets be honest, I didn't do it right on the first sock. I realised that it didn't look right and sorted it out for the second one. It's not going to fall apart or anything, but, it is not as neat as I might wish (Sorry Dad). Overall I really liked this pattern and would certainly knit it again. The yarn is schoppel-wolle admiral, a great quality German sock wool, and machine washable - a requirement insisted on by my mother, and reasonable enough I feel. I've loads of wool left over, plenty for a pair of socks for me :)

I'm glad to have finished my first knitting project for the year, and I've quickly followed it up by finishing of a cardigan I've had on the needles since September. Pics to follow once I've sewn the buttons on.

In other news, my decorating project is going well, as the paint splattered all over my hands will testify, but there is still lots more to do!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Still working.

Yikes ... it has been over ten days since I last posted. I don't know where the time has gone. 

I'm slightly hampered in my posting by not having any finished projects to share. I have just finished a knitting project, but it is a birthday present, so no pictures for another week. I've not been doing much sewing because I've been spending most of my free time on a rather large home improvement project. Having completed re-decorating my sewing room last September, I moved on to the hall and stairs just before Christmas ... and I'm still working on it :(

Thankfully, thinks have been moving forwards at a quicker pace the last two weeks - partly, because I've been putting more time in and partly because I've been getting help (Thank you!) I'm nearly at the end of the terrible stripping of paint and wallpaper phase which makes everything look worse; and I'm hoping to get started on painting this week. I've (almost) decided on the wallpaper as well. Or at least, I've decided on a wallpaper plenty of time, but then changed my mind. At the moment this is the front runner.

In other news, last week I caught up with two of my lovely knitting friends for the first time since before Christmas, and much to my surprise ended up with some belated Xmas presents. Thank you ladies :)