Thursday, 31 March 2011

Made a corsage

I had to pose this in the room which hasn't been decorated yet because of Partner and his boxes
Out of scraps. I literally took these bits of scarves out of the bin* and made it with them (it's all glamour here).
I may make one and pin it to my top I wear to go running
In one way I think, yay corsage, in another way I think, there is nothing I can ever feel alright about throwing away because I can find things to make out of the most desperately unpromising things. They will find me one day buried underneath a stack of scraps and mangled fat quarters and say, why did she keep all this rubbish, and then they will find my blog and the strange compulsion will be understood.

* It is a clean bin. It is just where I put scraps when I am sewing!

Where are they now? - 2KCBWDAY4

Bonus picture of the Cam
You may have noticed that I was absent yesterday when I should have been posting about how my yarn is organised. There is no organisation in this house at the moment, Partner has carefully taken all the boxes out of the box room in a bid to ‘reorganise all the systems’ and has piled them on the living room carpet. Now he feels ‘oppressed by boxes’ and has gone wandering off into town. So you can see that if I had done a post on organisation yesterday the terrible irony might have made me stray into territory that was not delightful and woolly (also, it is just all in a bag). Anyway today we are on safer ground where I am instructed to blog about:

Whatever happened to your __________?

Write about the fate of a past knitting project. Whether it be something that you crocheted or knitted for yourself or to give to another person. An item that lives with you or something which you sent off to charity.

So I thought I would show you my Clapotis.
A rare view of the bird feeder still with peanuts in it. Where is that squirrel? Is he full?
One of the things I have realised since I have been active (well, I say active) on Ravelry is that I am not really a process knitter. I do like the process but I only really do it for the finished result. Although I think this will mean I am never as wonderful a knitter as some of the people whose blogs I admire (Crafty Cripple! Marushka!), it does mean that if knitted items survive my lack of concentration/ peculiar tastes enough to actually get cast off then I wear them absolutely to death. Such an item is my clapotis.

I knitted this pattern for reasons that were shallow and wrong. Firstly, I looked at the picture on the pattern of the creator wearing it in front of a Parisian café. ‘I sit outside Parisian cafés!’ I thought to myself. ‘I sit drinking Kir and reading Bandes-Dessinées! I wear scarves! I wear scarves all the time! I spend my entire life looking like Wilfred from the Bash Street Kids! This is a pattern that has my name on it!’. Secondly, I was encouraged (this may sound bizarre: this was pre-Ravelry, or, pre-me-discovering Ravelry) by the note in the pattern that said people had complained about the original instructions telling you to buy too little yarn and so they had changed the yarn requirements. Because this suggested to me that living beings had knitted from this pattern and given feedback.
Detail shot of the thrilling bit where you drop stitches
When I first started knitting as an adult, before I had properly discovered the whole knitting-internet scene thing, I was always scared that patterns Might Be Wrong. Because I am not a quick knitter, and especially when I first started I didn’t know enough to correct mistakes in patterns. A P2Tog rather than a P3togTBL at the wrong moment could have destroyed weeks of work and there I would be, helpless and whimpering. And who knew that Debbie Bliss wasn’t sitting there thinking, Jesus Christ another cabled sweater I am so bored, I shall put a deliberate mistake just before you start the armhole shaping on the front and see if anyone reading this book ever actually gets that far, HA HA HA HA! So I set off on my Clapotis with enthusiasm, reassured that it had been knitted before and that I would end up with something wearable. And I did. I wore it today, in fact. I wear it all the time. I hate the yarn, though. It pilled. (Lorna’s Laces Lion and Lamb. If anyone wants to suggest a nice soft worsted though, I’m absolutely up for knitting another at some point. Come on with your yarn prOn).

Of course now with the project facility on Ravelry I can check before I knit anything how it has gone for other people, and for me this is a boon on a par with the invention of the wheel. Without it I would still be on garter stitch scarves. With it I occasionally venture into more advanced waters. Thank you, all you lovely process knitters, for paving the way and making it easier for such as I. I thank you with all my heart, and in return I ask only that you never make me Magic Loop anything. Thank you for your understanding.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A year of (not much) woolly progress - 2KCBWDAY2

Today’s blog for Knitting and Crochet Blog Week is about my progress at knitting and crocheting in the last year, new skills acquired etc. Well I had some trouble thinking about this one because, frankly, I have not learned that many new skills over the last year (do you admire my honesty?). This is because I am already a knitting and crocheting superstar and life has nothing more to teach me, no actually it is not, it is because I have just been plodding along. So I thought quite carefully and I realised. One thing I have learned over the last year, actually, is a bit more about How To Make Knitwear That Fits. Or, at least, I have begun to engage with this as a concept. I think this is because as I get better at sewing I start to have some vague idea about how clothes behave on the body and what kinds of things are flattering, so, for instance (this isn’t about knitting. It is only day two and I am failing), I made this dress today
Those scarves were an absolute pig to sew together
And I learned that you cannot just saw off a tank top and attach a few scarves because if you do it looks peculiar (and I’m glad there were no witnesses to the first version), so I had to shape it and everything! And even an inch can make a difference! (That’s what she said). So a year ago, when I knitted something and it made me look like the Abominable Snowman, I accepted that God works in mysterious ways and sometimes knitted garments make you look like the Abominable Snowman and this is as it shall be forever and anon. However now when I knit something and it makes me look horrendous I can deconstruct what has gone wrong a little bit more, so I may still be looking like the Abominable Snowman but at least I know why*. You may be wondering at this stage where the photograph of me wearing something knitted and elegant which flatters my rather barrel-shaped body is, and I have to confess that there is not one as such a photograph does not yet exist. Because my hard won knowledge is still at the theoretical stage. But I am hoping I can move on from this to actually being able to produce garments which fit. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? I actually saw a knitted garment in the wild today. It was a Noro cardigan and it was walking towards the Christian Wholefood Co-operative, where there is the mural of the Sarcastic Lion which Partner says raises its eyes to the heavens a little bit more every time someone buys a packet of mung beans.
Every time I see someone who is going to sprout their own seeds I am seized with cynicism. Seized
So I know if can be done. Woman in the Noro cardigan, I salute you, and I hope one day to join the ranks of Knitters Who Can Actually Wear Things They Have Knitted Out Of The House.

* Normally gauge, bad yarn choice, dodgy pattern, or set-in-sleeves for which I am the wrong build. I can highly recommend Knitting in Plain English for stuff like this, because it is mad but delightful. I wish Maggie Righetti had a blog because if she did I would go and leave her comments and bother her.

Monday, 28 March 2011

A tale of two yarns

Quoth the raven, no more bloody laceweight for me
Right! It is the first day of knit and crochet blog week (2kcbwday1 !), if I make it for all seven days I will open a bottle of wine, if I make it for all seven days saying something coherent I may even drink some of it. Today I have to tell you about two yarns I love and/ or loathe.

Well, readers, at the risk of being controversial, this is my most loathed yarn. I am prepared, I am prepared for the hate mail because I must tell you the truth even though it may be unpopular.
Staring excommunication from the Sorority Of Knitters straight in the face
Yes. Malabrigo Lace. Now, sometimes I say about things I don’t like ‘perhaps it is me’ and I don’t really mean it. But this time I do. This yarn is a complete delight: it is so soft, it is like knitting a cloud. Touching it is like laying your cheek against the ear of a baby unicorn. It is beautiful yarn and to those of you who can knit laceweight without wanting to run around screaming I recommend it to you without hesitation. I myself have now accepted emotionally that I would rather do almost anything than knit laceweight. I would rather go to the dentist. I would rather go out for dinner with Partner’s mother. I would rather wear things made of pleated polyester from the Marks and Spencer Classic Collection. I am done and although this yarn is exactly like knitting a cloud of wonder and delight it is going on ebay. Hooray! I say, because that leaves me more money for...
is that some beige we see? Surely some mistake
unspecified scraggy colourful balls of wool from the John Lewis sale bin. This is my favourite kind of yarn: wool, in saturated colours. I prefer (this is shameful too), at least aran weight and preferably chunky. Because it knits up quicker! Indeed, my absolute dream yarn would be a soft-ish 100% wool, aran weight, ethically produced, in a whole host of different saturated colours. And sold by Get Knitted, because they post orders almost instantly and also send you a free biro. And it would come in balls not skeins as I do not like having to wind things myself as the less time I spend with my knees apart, winding furiously while watching Judge Judy the better. And it would cost £1.20 for 200 metres. That would be my perfect yarn. I am suspecting the ‘produced ethically’ and the ‘£1.20’ are not entirely compatible, but, this is a yarn fantasy and I do not have to let reality intrude. Although if any yarn producers are reading this then you are very welcome to pick up my idea and run with it as I am sure they say in Who Moved My Cheese.

In the meantime it’s Kemps and the John Lewis sale bin all the way for me!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Stuff, stuff happening on this blog

Tonight we have branched out wildly and had lemon tart for pudding (I’m doing well on the no sugar thing, aren’t I? Look. Lemon is a fruit). This is because I have been reading Joanna Blythman’s Bad Food Britain and have gone into full beady-eyed No Trans Fats In My Kitchen! mode. So, having had to engage with pastry, just before I go and collapse twitching I just wanted to say a few things:
First, thanks so, so much to Crafty Cripple, who nominated me for a Liebster blog award, how nice of you to think of me! ;-). I should now nominate five other people, but I have to confess that I always find it incredibly difficult to narrow down all the blogs I read and I am mentally exhausted from the pastry, so if you all don’t mind I will pass on this for the moment and then if I rethink in a few days I will revisit. If you haven’t checked out Crafty Cripple’s blog, though, I’d really strongly encourage you to go and have a look, as her blog is one of the ones I read and enjoy very much.

Second, I don’t know how this is almost upon us or where the time has gone, but, tomorrow is the beginning of Knit and Crochet Blog Week 2011, info on Eskimimi’s blog here, and we are all going to be blogging about knit and crochet related subjects all week. Anyone who wants to join in is more than welcome: Eskimimi has a special tagging system so you can tag your posts and we can all find each other. If you don’t think you can manage seven days straight or you have other things you want to blog about as well, it’s fine just to join in for a couple of days, Mimi has assured us there are no Knit and Crochet Blog Week Police and I think we had better believe her as she normally seems to know what she is talking about. The subjects to write about are actually really interesting so it's something you might enjoy.

And third, I thought I might open up this blog to occasional guest contributors (I know, don’t all rush at once). So I am starting with a very particular guest contributor, some time after Knit and Crochet Blog Week, who is going to be doing a regular post. She is writing her first blog post (first blog post ever in the world, in fact) right now. There may be tears, there may be tantrums close to the deadline, I may need to edit scurrilousness and swearing, we do not know. I will not reveal her identity just yet. I will just say that I do not think we can avoid a blog post at some point about Why Beige Cardigans are Excoriatingly Fashionable This Year And Susie is Just Wrong. I have specified that photographs must be provided as I like photographs, so, shops of Meadowhall, Bakewell and Chesterfield and tearooms and factory shops of the Peak District, brace yourselves. Our Correspondent In The North is coming.

OK everyone early to bed. Big week! Lots of blogging to do. It’s day 5 I’m worried about. No clue yet, people, no clue.

A weekend in pictures

This weekend I was in London. I have to confess that it was not for the protest (go protesters!, though – you looked a friendly and determined lot), I was doing other things. Things like, admiring this bizarre building
I think I might go for this effect on our pebbledash, what do you think? Perhaps with guinea pigs instead for additional sophistication?
As we walked from behind Euston to Camden Town. Behind Euston to Camden Town is not, shall we say, the most drop-dead glamorous walk in London so I think it is an excellent idea that on the way there is a building featuring cats with huge bristling whiskers to cheer everything up a bit.

Admiring graffiti around Camden Lock.
I can never tell what the words say so if it is obscene I am very sorry
It almost makes me want to go and get some enamel paints and Pimp My Punto. I love graffiti.

Thinking about how one of my favourite walks is from Tottenham Court Road through Soho to Regent Street early (well, I say early) on Saturday mornings, when everything is still up in the air from Friday night.
Everything quiet and early
I think I like it because it makes me feel like I am up earlier than everybody else, even though I’m not. And drooling over the fabric in the shops on Berwick Street.
I take photos secretly and indeed should perhaps work for The News Of The World
If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth a look. The fabric is pretty £££, but really pretty if you’re after something special. I tried to get them to let me take photos of the stock in Cloth House (the one on the right), because they had some truly beautiful things, but they wouldn’t let me. I suppose they need to protect themselves from people like me rushing home and using the photographs to recreate complex textural velvet which I might then sell on Cambridge market and undercut them (this is irony). Anyway, go and see for yourself. They have some – ruched velvet! – that’s unlike ruched velvet you’ve ever seen, double-layer white cotton where one layer has holes artfully ripped in it, fabric in gathered tiers, honestly, it’s marvellous. And if you’re a student you get a 10% discount. I myself am currently only a student of Life so no discount for me tant pis. The shop across the road had tie silks for £15 a metre – before you suck your teeth, that’s only about £25 for an a-line summer skirt better than anything anyone else will have.

Buying up silk scarves to reconstruct in Beyond Retro.
All you crocheters, you could make that waistcoat in an evening
Is the vintage shop just off Brick Lane Beyond Retro as well? I can’t remember. Anyway the big one off Brick Lane has a cat who sleeps in the silk scarf box, so if you want to buy the scarves and kitty’s asleep, well, too bad so sad for you, honeybunch.

Admiring cushions
Intarsia cushion from Penny Burdett in Camden Lock/ Needlepoint cushions in Liberty. Partner was concerned I would get mixed up with the protest and kettled on my woolbuying excursions, I said, if they try to kettle me in Liberty's wool department that will essentially be the end of the rule of law
I have this hankering to go into Liberty and spend a fortune on a needlepoint cushion kit. Sometimes with craft, what I want is all the materials in one handy package and instructions that tell me exactly what to do. Then I shake myself down and go and make quilts from scratch again. I shall crack one day though.

And finally, looking at the signs of Spring
When magnolias do their thing they are very pretty, but they do their thing very briefly, so I am never sure how good value they are in a strictly utilitarian sense
surrounding Gandhi in Tavistock Square, and bringing the flowers out on a magnolia tree in St Giles-in-the-Fields, just on the way to Foyles bookshop and at the end of the street with all the guitar shops on it.

I hope you all had a nice weekend too x

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Of crumbles and cushions

I have been making cushions from vintage ties and scarves today.
I know this is a lot to ask but I need you to imagine that chair is a Louis Ghost
Old ties and scarves often have holes in them – ties wear out at the sides and scarves get pin prick holes (possibly from brooches actually. Now that has given me an idea, I must show you my brooch collection sometime), so, the nice thing about making cushion covers is, you can just lop off the bits with the holes, patchwork it all together and there we are, frankencushions from eras when we were Not Afraid Of Colour. I love a geometric pattern, me. The scarf ones are just sewn together, the tie ones are machine quilted and I am experimenting with different quilting patterns on the different ties. The downside of this is that the sewing room is covered, yes, covered in tie scraps and is making me twitchy. So I am having a break to share my crumble recipe with you.
Look, it was dark, I had to balance it under the halogen light
Rhubarb is coming into season at the moment for we in the UK, so you will be able to pick it up cheaply at markets and greengrocers, and if you live in one of the towns which has been taken over by the Great Beast Tesco and you don’t have a market then you can get it from the supermarket as well (I do find fruit much, much cheaper and better from the market, though, if you are lucky and have got one). The nice thing about rhubarb crumble is it does not require that you engage your brain to cook it, indeed a brain is probably a disadvantage, which is perfect for me as by the time I am thinking about cooking pudding I am usually fit for nothing more than slumping in front of the tv sniffling at the poor abandoned puppies on Animal Cops Houston and reading Gardeners' World magazine.

Rhubarb Crumble, serves about 3-4 people

For the fruit layer:
1 lb (about 500g) rhubarb
about 1.5/ 2 oz sugar.

Cut the rhubarb stalks (not the leaves) up into small chunks. Put them in a pan with the sugar (you can use any kind of sugar, go and find something that needs using up in the back of the cupboard!), and cook partly covered over a low heat until the rhubarb is soft enough to eat (about 15-20 mins). In my experience rhubarb stays hard until you have given up, then turns into mush within 5 seconds, if this happens don’t worry, you can have rhubarb mush crumble, it will taste the same. Remove from heat and leave to cool while you do the topping.

6 oz plain flour, OR wholemeal flour, OR half and half flour and porridge oats
2.5 (or thereabouts) oz butter/ margarine
3 oz sugar (not icing sugar, something a bit crunchy).

Rub the butter or margarine into the flour. If you have a toddler, dog, cat or anything that may need physical intervention, he/ she/ it will need it while you have your hands covered in butter. Or the phone will ring. Anyway, rub it in as best you can, then stir the sugar through. Put the fruit into a pyrex or ceramic dish (or something similar), and spread the topping over it. Cook at 180 degrees C for about 40 minutes until it looks slightly browned on top (you can leave it for longer if you need to). Eat with cream. (Also, crumble is an excellent vegan pudding, because you can make it with margarine, and if you make the topping with half oats I love it with Oatly).

In my experience men love crumble. Men love crumble, women love brownies, however we cannot base a theory of gender preference on my acquaintance and also don’t go down the pleasing men route as it does not lead to happiness for anyone.
Eaten and gone
Keith, who provided coffee and distraction during a bad dream that lasted for four years, says you can also make savoury crumble. This seems strange and wrong to me, but, apparently you do this by cooking any veg, plus onion and garlic, in a white sauce, then putting on the crumble topping (presumably without sugar) and cooking in the same way. I have a swede in the veg box that I don’t know what to do with so perhaps this is my opportunity, I may try it and report back.

Have I sold you on crumble or do you have a more exciting rhubarb recipe you would like to share? In which case do feel free because I am very fond of rhubarb and will be all (virtual) ears.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Anti-Beige League

I had just sat down to begin this WIP Wednesday post (thanks Tami for hosting and organising!) when Partner walked past the study door. ‘I’ve just seen the woman from a couple of doors down walking past our house’ he said, thoughtfully. (Because we are a terrace, we have a path through our back garden that the neighbours walk through, and it is sunny and also bin day tomorrow so everyone is roaming about). ‘I’d only gone into the kitchen to get a magazine. She looked a bit surprised to see me’. I looked round the door and Partner is completely naked and on his way to the bath, so if you see a headline in the Daily Mail about Cambridge Academic Arrested for Public Nudity, Neighbour Receiving Counselling you will know who it is and you can imagine me shaking my head in despair and eating biscuits frantically. Anyway let’s get on with the things I wanted to show you. What do we want pictures of when the sun shines, we want pictures of colourful things, which is excellent as here I am tie-dyeing and quilting and managing to free-motion machine quilt without a/ a darning foot, b/ any natural ability, or c/ anything you ought to have ideally, so, go me.
Why yes that is Jilly Cooper you can see on that bookcase. I am an Intellectual
This is my mum’s quilt, do you remember we had the border conversation? Thank you for everyone’s brilliant suggestions. I went with navy, and to my delight they had some navy reduced at Cottonpatch so that confirmed me in my choice (I think I will do the binding a different colour, though). I’m thinking it works, what do you think? Since I mentioned my mother’s liking for beige, I am slightly concerned to report that she has gone into Mad Beige Overdrive and is buying up beige things right, left and centre. I cannot see how she can possibly like this quilt, I cannot see it. Anyway, someone will have it, so I am cutting out squares for the back at the moment. The back has a special theme. It is, ‘random fabrics that are big enough for Susie to cut 10 1/2 inch squares out of’, so you can see that with a coherent and well-thought-out theme like that it is going to look fabulous.
I bet you all iron your duvet covers. I feel inadequate. Ours has got all its buttons missing as well
This is my previous quilt, you may remember it. I am showing it to you in situ to prove how much I use it. When I made it and finished it, I thought, what am I actually going to do with this thing now, but actually I use it all the time. It is on the bed at the moment (I fold it over so it is only on my side as Partner’s core temperature is about 50 degrees higher than mine) but, I sometimes sit in the evenings and think, what I need now is a quilt to put over my legs. Which brings me to:
I can do patterns that are not spirals, yes I can. I can do stripes
This is hot off the press and I haven’t ironed it yet, but it is the centre panel for the next quilt I am going to make. I haven’t decided yet if it’s going to be a lap quilt or a wallhanging, but I’m thinking some kind of double pieced strip border and possibly incorporating non-cotton (but washable) fabrics. I haven’t quite decided yet. And today I have also been making this cushion.
Grey and pink = ironic juxtaposition. I am a one-trick pony
It’s made from ties and old scarves and actually, do you know, I really like it. I’m going to make a couple. I experimented with free-motion squiggly quilting on one of the panels:
The skill is in not losing your nerve, that is all, it is like Life
And it was really easy. For readers who quilt, all I did was, I lowered the feed dogs on my machine and I took the foot off completely (you are supposed to use a darning foot but it worked fine for me with no foot at all). Then you just move the fabric around (this makes sense when you are doing it), and try to keep your lines as curvy as possible and not cross them. I’m not sure I could do a bed-size quilt like this, but perhaps I could – it does seem to bunch less, and I like the effect. I have realised, reading round other quilting blogs, that people do actually send their quilts away to be quilted and do not struggle through the horror themselves. I think this makes absolute sense, because actually it’s not that easy and I’m sure a professional with a long-arm machine is the way to go, but I think I will persevere through at least a few more myself because I like the catharsis when I have finished. I feel like Mrs Doyle when Father Ted bought her the teamaker: maybe I like the misery. Hey, at least it’s only quilting I have an unhealthy and slightly masochistic emotional relationship with, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a self-help book called Women Who Quilt Too Much. So it must be absolutely fine.

For other WIP Wednesday posts, go and have a look at Tami's blog and as ever, be impressed by the creativity out there in blogland!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Let there be decent weather

It’s Spring!

I chased a bee all round the garden today trying to take a photograph of him and I failed. He was a lovely big fat one as well, with a really loud buzz. So instead I’ll have to just show you a ladybird on my lavender:
Just hanging out casually
I had to give that lavender a bit of a haircut. I do hope it fights back. It’s wonderful for attracting insects, in fact I might even go wild and plant some more.
I had to hold it up. This always seems to me to be a design fault with flowers
A posh frilly daffodil. These weren’t frilly last year so perhaps they’ve genetically mutated and someone will have to come and study them, that is fine, email address is in the sidebar, just let me know in advance and I’ll make a cake, how does chocolate sound? Or I could do lemon and rosemary.
Breadmaker bread! Oatcakes and brie! It actually was quite tasty. I buy that brie as it is so delicious even though the cheese shop man scares me
And lunch in the garden (handmade oatcakes! Handmade by me!). I hope you have all had nice weather too, and moreover I hope it lasts right until the end of October in a wonderful hardly-broken stream of hot days and flowers, because what I would really like this year is a nice long hot summer. I promise I won’t be moaning by May about how hot it is. I’ll have the sunburn and the insect bites and sleeping without covers and everything, I’ll take it on the chin. Are you listening, Goddess? Let’s have some nice weather this year. So mote it be, etc etc. There, now you know I’m serious.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Carbohydrates on Sunday

Thanks to Maria's comment on my rant about Chorleywood process bread, I thought I would try my hand at making crumpets again (thanks Maria! ;-) ). I made crumpets once and they did not work, which put me off a bit. I used a Good Food online recipe I can't find now, and although they tasted nice, they had no holes in them (I feel that should be the title of a Gilbert and Sullivan song: What Use Is A Crumpet Without Any Holes). The batter seemed too thick (it might have been me, though). Anyway, I thought I would swap things about a bit and make pikelets instead, as I had a Hugh F-W recipe and Hugh is my current culinary inamorato.
Never mind about that lobster. Get ringing Toni + Guy
I have resisted Hugh fever for years and years as I thought he was a strange scruffy-haired person who ate the more depressing things you might find in a hedge and the parts of animals I try to pretend do not exist, I do not say that is morally right. Well, readers, I was quite wrong, Hugh is actually a strange scruffy-haired culinary hero, I am gradually collecting all his books and All His Recipes Work. No, seriously. Every single recipe I have tried has worked and been delicious, my confidence is growing and I am encouraged to try some of the more recherché ones perhaps involving rennet. And they are not expensive! Everything uses something from the veg box and the garden and things you have lying about in the cupboard (and all I have in my garden are perennial weeds and a few daffodils, so if I’ve got it growing, you might have too). Anyway now I have done my Hugh rave it is obviously only a matter of time before he appears in the News Of The World leaving Tesco with a bag full of bribe money and a 16-year-old lapdancer or something horrendous, but in the meantime I will make hay. So I thought if I cannot make Hugh’s pikelets work there is no hope for me especially as they contain both cream of tartar and bicarb which presumably would fizz up a dry stone wall.
Mounds of pikelets! With holes!
Pikelets! I have succeeded! It is a good day for me as I have also finished the yoke on my Shalom cardigan and it seems to be person-sized. And now I can celebrate my success with a buttery pikelet. (Do you have pikelets in other countries? I don’t quite know how to describe them if you don’t. They are like a flat crumpet. If you don’t have crumpets that doesn’t help. They are like a savoury pancake but with an unusual texture and holes in the top. You eat them hot with butter).
I know they don't look glamorous
I cannot rest on my laurels, though, as I have to go and make cheese scones now to go with our soup for dinner. Partner has asked me three times in a faux-casual manner if I am making them soon, so I am presuming I will not be able to fob him off with a pikelet, which is fine as I will have them with butter on for breakfast. All the more pikelets for me!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

I, the Yarn Exorcist

A while ago, I had the misfortune to buy some yarn with a hex on it.
It looks so innocent and yet it is BAD. Spun from wool and EVIL
They didn’t tell me it was hexed when I bought it. I mean, to be fair, I don’t think they knew. I don’t think that was the reason it was reduced. I didn’t realise myself, at first. Not until I tried knitting with it.

First I started a Cheadle. I knitted half of it then I accepted emotionally that I wasn’t going to get gauge. What was a little bit strange, though was that however far down I went in needle size, the gauge didn’t actually change. The fabric got thicker, but the gauge was the same. In the end I was producing something so disturbingly thick and hairy it was like the underparts of a Yak who has been doing whatever it is Yaks do through the rough undergrowth non-stop for a month, but it was still 12 stitches to 10cm and not 14 and at that point I gave up and frogged.

Then I made almost all of an Asymmetrical Corrugated Sweater and despite getting gauge perfectly it turned out with a 28” chest measurement. Now, clearly there was something wrong there with either the pattern or my interpretation of it (says she charitably), but, let me do my rant about sizing anyway. The medium size would have produced a 37” chest measurement, on a design which needs about 4” negative ease. In what world is a 33” chest measurement for an adult woman a medium? Well, I will tell you: in the same world as American Apparel sizing. If you look down a few posts you will see a picture of me wearing a black tshirt. Does it look big on me? No it doesn’t. That tshirt is a large. There is one size bigger than that, and then presumably anyone who has a bust measurement greater than about 38-39” can just go whistle because probably they aren’t supposed to exist in the first place. I got that tshirt from Print Liberation who I don’t have any beef with – I love the design, their customer service was great, their postage was reasonable and cheap – but, for God’s sake everybody, please stop printing on American Apparel tshirts and make it easier for me to boycott them, because they may not use sweat shops but their attitude to women is, shall we say, not one I share. That is the end of my rant. It began with knitwear sizing and it turned into I Hate Dov Charney. I bet that happens loads.

Anyway after that, I put the pieces of the Tiny Ludicrous Sweater into a cupboard and I gnawed on my knuckles for a bit, irritably. But, I cannot stay away. I have taken up my hexed yarn once more, I have girded my loins (not with anything from American Apparel, like lurex-loin-girders or something), and I have begun a Shalom Cardigan.
It is always best to begin a new knitting project while reading something challenging and intellectual
I am tempted to say, what can go wrong? Seriously, what can go wrong? It isn’t even meant to meet across the bust, look! It only has to close with one button! Surely even the hexed yarn can produce something with armholes that is at least good enough to keep me warm while I am digging over my borders?
We are one pattern repeat in and as yet it has not spontaneously combusted and/ or magically become half the size it should be
Well, we will wait and see. But if I am back doing a post in a couple of weeks that says ‘a random and naughty dog came in off the street and ate my Shalom cardigan, how could this happen’, or, ‘I have somehow made three armholes in my Shalom cardigan and I do not understand why’ then I hope someone will stage an intervention and just make me put that @£$%^$% yarn up for sale on ebay. Because this is the third strike, and after this, that yarn is out. It is so out. It could not be more out. It is on its final warning. I think I am justified.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Bargains at Kemps

For those of you in the UK, just wanted to let you know that Kemps Wool Shop has some good bargains at the moment, including quite a bit of Rowan. Go, flex your credit cards. Kemps are the cheapest for wool I have ever found and I've always found their service good (standard disclaimer, no ties to Kemps, either financial or emotional. I just like a woolly bargain ;-) ).

Tea for Three and no sugar for me

At the moment I am trying to cut down on refined sugar i.e. stop eating my own weight in chocolate every day. I imagine this will lead very rapidly to taut abdominals off which any interested parties could bounce a tennis ball, clear skin, and possibly a fairly intense degree of spiritual enlightenment. This is a jolly good job as in the meantime it is miserable and at the moment I would wrestle anyone to the ground if they walked past me with a Kit Kat. Even if they looked really hard.
Mad gnomic posters. Non placet = it does not please
At the weekend however I did overdose a little bit on sugar so you would have thought I would have built up reserves or something. I went to London with my mum and Aunty Kath and we had afternoon tea at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street.
Tea, champagne and sandwiches = top meal
Whenever I go to London with my mum and Aunty Kath it is like a glimpse into how the other half live as, understandably, what they like to do is stride fearlessly up and down Bond Street and posh places criticising the merchandise, whereas when I go alone I spend most of my time mooching thoughtfully round occult bookshops in Bloomsbury, in my hairy coat. I do sometimes feel that every moment my Aunty Kath spends not heading an expedition up the Nile or similar is a moment wasted, as I have never met anyone so impervious to exhaustion, thirst, hunger or the lassitude that comes upon you suddenly when you find yourself in Harvey Nichols lost in the luxury leather goods department. Her masterful fending off of the very determined Man In Charge Of Perfume in Fortnum and Mason on our last visit was a sight to behold, as was this weekend’s Expression When Confronted With An Overpriced Glass Lampshade in Portobello Market. Do not mess with someone who has been studying the Miller Guide to Antiques since you were drinking Cherry B in a kaftan, lampshade lady, do not mess.
Aunty Kath, fixing my mother with a glance to keep her under control
Anyway I pretended to my mother that we were going there rather than the Ritz because the Cadogan Hotel has an exciting history (it is where Oscar Wilde was arrested, I don’t actually know if that’s exciting or depressing), but this was not quite true. I booked the Cadogan because it was the only place I could find which did afternoon tea for a reasonable charge. Afternoon tea seems to have become quite big business recently, and if you go to one of the big hotels on Mayfair you can be paying £44 per person. That does seem quite a lot to me (because, you know, I could feed us on a week for that), but, I imagine the tea is quite a production, because ours certainly was. It was very nice.
Buns! Scones! Macaroons! Spun sugar! We are refined so we paced ourselves and did not snarfle it all down in one
We had sandwiches, scones, little sweet nibbly petit-fours things and an Earl Grey cheesecake in a glass. It was all delicious, and we had a choice of tea, and a free glass of champagne. The hotel was absolutely full of groups of ladies having tea, but was not crowded, and there was a nice atmosphere. I enjoyed it very much. My mother was a little bit unsure at first because the gents toilets were being renovated and had a dustsheet outside, yes, you did read that correctly, but, it was alright, after she had drunk her champagne she thought no more about dustsheets.
I have now had my champagne and will forgive them their unsightly renovations
Perhaps I might institute gracious living and Afternoon Tea in my own life. I might put my Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water teabag in a nice cup and have a small snack in the afternoons. Might it involve refined sugar? Readers, I think I may crack.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Model's Own

First things first. Because it’s so much like Spring today
The daffodils are practically out! The weather is above freezing!
I’m having a Spring Cleaning. Of my etsy shop! 15% off with the following coupon: CUPOFTEA (you enter it when you check out). It’s an homage to the delightful substance I spend a lot of time sitting on my bum drinking (and sewing as well, not just sitting on my bum staring at the wall. Sitting productively!). Lots of retro fabric shopping bags, vintage scarf tops in various sizes, lovely comfy jersey wrap skirts, all sewn by me. Coupon is valid till the end of March so you’ve got a bit of time, no need to crash the etsy server. (Ha! ;-) ),

Second things second – random celebrity sighting. Roy Strong outside Agent Provocateur in town. Beat that,

Third things third – vintage clothes. As I get older and more vintage myself, I find myself buying more and more vintage clothes. I think the reason I started (violins swell) was when there was all the publicity ages and ages ago about the terrible conditions clothes on the high street are produced in. I stopped buying high street clothes (mostly – I do still buy some), and I looked for alternatives, and the habit kind of stuck. I think there’s a lot of rubbish going about pretending to be vintage, though. I won’t name names, but, I’ve been in shops with rails of things that are absolutely worn out and dropping to pieces, smelly, cheap fabrics, and all really highly priced. And people are buying them! This is the thing: if it wasn’t good quality and/ or stylish when it was made, why would you buy it now? I mean, I could go out tomorrow and buy one of those polyester skirts from the M&S Classic Collection, but if I kept it for 40 years it wouldn’t somehow magically transform into a Vintage Example of Floral Prints from 2011. It would still make whoever wore it look like they were going to spend the morning beadily twitching the net curtains at the man next door in case he lets his poodle toilet somewhere inappropriate. Time does not transform pigs' ears into silk purses.
Battling wind, direct sunlight, and natural diffidence
Some things though I do think are worth buying. I am a fan of seventies clothes (does that surprise you?) and I don’t see why I shouldn’t pick up an original on etsy rather than going to Anthropologie or somewhere and paying three times the price. You’d be surprised how many clothes are just straight rip offs of things from years ago. As you know, I’m very into authenticity, and I think you always look better if you get an original rather than the Topshop take on it in inferior fabric.

You will note I am wearing a belt with the garment above. You have to have a bit of a gung-ho attitude to vintage things you buy: if it doesn’t fit, make it fit. It’s my experience that most things fit if you put a wide enough belt round them and are determined enough, but if your style is less hippie tunic + jeans then you might need to get things altered. I once spent a fortune having the shoulders on a furry coat taken in, but it was worth every penny as now it is my favourite thing in the world. It makes me look like a directional Honey Monster.
Tshirt from Print Liberation, bags under eyes from Dad. You can't do photoshoots without makeup. This seems to be a sad fact. I am going to have to read Andrea Dworkin to see what she advises
This is a sixties patchwork leather jacket. I have been stalking patchwork leather on etsy and ebay for about a year, one came up in my size, and I snatched it up. If you read ‘about a year’ and winced, I understand, I do. You have to see it kind of as a hobby, know what you want, and pounce. I won’t tell you how long I’ve been looking for brogues and a seventies sequinned jacket because you might fear for my sanity.

I’ve had the most luck with vintage from etsy sellers (feel free to trawl through my favourites) – there is some fantastic, fantastic vintage on etsy, and it’s very realistically priced and excellent quality. If I was reliant on buying vintage from some of the brick and mortar shops I’ve been in, well, let’s just say I’d be spending a lot more time with the M&S Classic Collection than I do at the moment.

What do you think of vintage? Pretentious and overpriced or stylish and cool?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

WIP Wednesday. Help Please!

So, it’s WIP Wednesday again, thanks Tami for hosting, which is hugely fortuitous, because I need Help! Help with a WIP! Help and Advice! First though, let me just show you a photo of me which I took with the help of my new tripod. I am hugely encouraged that I managed to get all of me in the photo at a not-mad angle, and I think this bodes well because now I can take photographs of my clothes on me, which is better than on the model. Obviously the downside is I might have to shave my legs and stick a bit of lipstick on, but, swings and roundabouts.
OK, I know. But try to imagine me without the coat on
It was cold this morning so I rushed outside in the bit when it wasn’t raining without brushing my hair and all bundled up in my winter coat. I would like to say I normally look more stylish than this, but, hmm. Anyway, I will brush my hair if I do a proper photo shoot because nobody ever sold a recycled scarf top looking like a gonk.

Now onto my WIP. Advice please! These photos are hot off the press (I am sewing this now), so, you cannot see it very well but bear with me.
Gosh is it by Issey Miyake? No
It is a skirt with some smallish pleats in the front and some box pleats in the back. I have finished it apart from the hem and the waistband. You can’t see the fabric properly, but it is a thin brown polyester which is not dressmaking fabric (I acquired it). I think it is very cool, and am going for a kind of billowy-scruffy-parachute silk kind of look, if you know what I mean. So it is supposed to look a bit deconstructed. It fits great and looks exactly as I want it to look thus far. This is my problem.
There, look at the loose threads. You can see the static in action
It is so static! When I sew it, the thread floats about! When I wear it, I can actually feel myself walking about in a cloud of static electricity. If it was anywhere near my face it would probably be unwearable, but as a skirt I might be able to get away with it. But what do you think? Am I going to spend all the time I am wearing it plucking it out from between my legs and swearing? Is there anything I can do to make it any less static? I have probably got enough lining fabric to make a lining (or some cotton), but, I don’t want to sacrifice my good fabric if it won’t work, because I was only intending this as a semi-disposable toile experiment to wear a couple of times. Should I just make the best of it, wear it and be damned and go and find long-haired animals to rub up against and annoy? Have you ever had this problem? What do you think?

If anyone wants to say ‘I had exactly this problem and then I wore it for 10 minutes and all the electricity entirely disappeared. I didn’t need to line it or anything’ then, that will be a particularly welcome comment (you’re not going to say that, are you, though?).

There. I manipulated WIP Wednesday into providing guidance on a thorny issue (thank you in advance ;-) ). But, for more successful WIPS, go and have a look at Tami’s blog post – you might find some new blogs to follow. There are people out there making some lovely things. I am going to have a cup of tea, blog hop, and make myself jealous ;-).

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Our daily bread

Today I want to introduce you to my very special friend. I love him very much. He has been with me during the bad times and the good. He is reliable and very little trouble. I bless the day he came to my door in a large brown box via the Home Delivery Network.
I'm afraid the CD at the side is just as naff as you are suspecting
It is my Panasonic SD-255 breadmaker. It is wonderful. Do any of you have one? I cannot understand why every kitchen doesn’t have a breadmaker when we all have microwaves which take up as much room and aren’t nearly as useful. Frankly I think there should be national announcements on News at Ten or an ad campaign like for the digital switchover. I love my breadmaker.

Now, one of my talents is, I am actually not bad at baking. My mum taught me when I was very small, and I can bake nice bread by hand. However. If I had to make all my own bread, I would not eat homemade bread nearly as often, because I do find it a bit of a performance. I know there’s a method where you just spend 5 minutes on it a day, but, even so. We all have different tolerances for these things, and I would rather be sewing, or, boring all you lovely people on my blog. Besides, my breadmaker makes better bread than I do and with the same ingredients (in fact, it uses less yeast). Since I had the breadmaker, I have made at least two loaves in it every week and mostly more. In fact, I use it so much, that I gave the first one I bought to my mum and I bought the version that also makes rye bread (I used to have more money). My mum did that special mother thing whereby you give them something slightly grubby and used and the next time you see it, it is all clean and buffed and shiny and looking better than when you first bought it, and you think, how did she manage that. She makes four loaves a week (I don’t know how they get through four loaves, I have to say. Possibly she sells them on the black market).
If it isn't good enough for the wildfowl i.e. the ducks, it isn't good enough for you
Now, I think you would probably have to go a long way to find someone who would say to you that they found commercial sliced bread completely delicious, despite those silly adverts where a woman reacts in a feeble passive-aggressive way when her husband nibbles her Kingsmill (whereas breadmaker bread genuinely is delicious. The smell!). But, what I didn’t realise, was that it is not just crap because it has been industrially produced and there is some taste-loss-through-scale thing going on, it is produced through a specific industrial method which is quite unlike how bread is produced by hand. Yes, they had to use science to get it to taste that bad. They squash all the grains up, add loads of water, and keep the resulting spongey strange thing hanging together with hard fat and chemicals. It is called The Chorleywood Process (I am not convinced this article is unbiased, however, I always go by the principle with food of, the less processing the better, so, you know). And to make it rise they suck it up. Literally! They apply a vacuum. It makes me think of those pumps to cure impotence. And apparently 80% of commercial bread is produced like this now, so, even if you buy bread from the supermarket bakery, it may have been produced like this and I think often they just bake the prepared dough from frozen (although. I used to work in Tesco bakery years ago and I am sure they used to make it normally, because we had big mixers. However apparently this is not always the case now with all supermarket bread. It does taste pappy to me, much more than it used to).

So I say, avoid Chorleywood dodgy bread, buy a breadmaker, be happy ever after! There are a couple of issues that you might call drawbacks, but which I don't mind: firstly, a standard loaf takes about 4 hours to bake, so you have to plan ahead. I just set the timer and put it on the night before, or, there is a special rapid bake programme which takes just less than 2 hours and is fine. The loaf has a small hole in the middle of the bottom because of the paddle – I just don’t mind this: it is only small.
A bonus picture of choccy cake I made. The white bits in the icing are where I didn't sieve the icing sugar properly and are nothing sinister. Sieve your icing sugar!
You wouldn’t believe the difference having really delicious bread always on hand makes. It changes the way you eat. Boring things like toast and sandwiches become a gourmet meal. You find yourself wanting to do things with your leftovers, like, french onion soup, or bread and butter pudding, just to finish the nice bread. You can make dough in it as well, so you can make pizzas, pitta breads, bread rolls, it is great. I am so much a convert I am like someone who has been Saved and is determined that everyone else is going to be Saved as well. Whether they like it or not.

Here endeth the party political broadcast on behalf of the Go And Buy A Panasonic Breadmaker Party. Look, I just want you all to be happy and have nice sandwiches. It is all I ask. Is that so wrong?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Pattern Review - Anna Maria Horner Evening Empire Dress

I want to show you my Evening Empire Dress which I made from an Anna Maria Horner pattern.
Look at that blue sky! It is Spring! Everybody get your patchwork dresses on!
OK, first the serious pattern review bit (because, look, you might want to make it or someone might google and be looking for tips. We don’t know): I thought this pattern was easy to follow, fit true to size, and is a good shape. I don’t think empire line anything is terribly easy to get away with, but, this is actually a good bodice pattern because it is shaped and nips in slightly under the bust, so, if you are thinking, can I try an empire line dress or will it make me look like a doughnut, the answer is, this is quite a good one and worth trying. The instructions for putting the bodice together are good, it is straightforward and the pieces fit together properly. Although my picture makes the bodice look a bit lumpy, you will just have to believe me that it isn’t. It is because my dummy is firm and unyielding. I sadly am not, neither physically nor emotionally. It would also be very, very easy to adapt into a tunic length or a different patchwork design or something, so, excellent value for money!
Also you could use this pattern to make an actual quilt. Even better value for money!
I had a bit of trouble following the instructions about how to put the zip in – in the end I just gave up and put the zip in, well, the way I normally put zips in. This may have been me (I was tired, I cannot follow instructions) or it may have been the pattern. I also would have encased the bodice/ skirt seam in the lining of the bodice and whipstitched – if I ever make another this is what I will do.

The biggest problem with this dress, though, I think, is; I used quilting weight fabric, and there is a lot of volume. A lot of volume. I didn’t line it, because, well, I hadn’t got any spare lining fabric and besides, I didn’t feel like it: I am quite pleased that I didn’t, though, because two layers of fabric would have made it enormous. I would have looked worse than a doughnut, I would have looked perfectly spherical, like a big patchwork sprout. So, if you are using quilting fabric, for God’s sake don’t then line it with quilting fabric, use either thin lining fabric or just go wild and leave it unlined. I ended up having to shorten this dress by taking the bottom row of triangles off so it ended above my knee, because, although I made the shorter length in the pattern, it hit at a quite unattractive point on my calf and I felt I looked like Michelle Duggar. Which was an interesting look, but not absolutely the one I was going for. It is a good pattern though, and I would certainly make more Anna Maria Horner patterns (in fact I am making a Socialite Dress at the moment!).
Bonus pic of listing for shop. Because I took photos today! Because it was so sunny!
Anyway, in order to better convey to you subtle issues like, how to avoid looking like Michelle Duggar in an empire line, I have bought a tripod! Yes! And when it arrives I am going to experiment with taking photos of myself wearing things. Because at the moment I have to use Partner to take photos if I want photos of myself and, readers, I will be honest, he is not very good. He is always rushing off somewhere, he becomes mesmerised by the screen on the camera and we have to have a discussion about what a digital camera is - every time -, and then he turns into David Bailey and tries to impose his own aesthetic sense. And I don’t want to disparage Partner’s aesthetic sense, but he is very, very colourblind, and from things he sometimes says I do occasionally suspect him of thinking dogs are green. And I am quite colour focused. So, I think this extra stress is one of the reasons I always look constipated and tortured in any photographs of me. It is a shame because it is actually the sole thing that has stopped me from being a supermodel, which would otherwise have been a given. I mean, have you seen my cheekbones? I still have to fend them all off, you know, when they ring me. ‘No, Stella, sweetcheeks’ I have to say, sadly. ‘I know I’m the only one who can really bring your pseudo-seventies take on denim to life. But I’m still having that looking-constipated-in-photos thing going on. Yes, still! I know! Can’t you ring Lily? I know it’s not the same. Ciao, hun. Got to go. Karl’s on the other line. You get back to your leather substitutes’.

I hate to disappoint people. It just kills me to hear Stella cry. But what can you do?