Friday 21 February 2014

February Half Term Stills

This week in pics. And a few words. There has been:

Blue granny-square-swatching for a new project

Blue granny-square-hooking. In some quantity, once I'd pinned down my chosen four colours.

Dutch translating. Slowly and painfully from this book. But persevering because my new project is in it and I will not be beaten. 

Candle-lighting. One of umpteen. Not for atmosphere, but necessity. We had the longest power-cut of the winter (so far) at the beginning of the week.  I will not show you the distressing pics of my homemade ice cream sadly melting in the inexorably thawing freezer!

Tea-brewing on my grandparents' vintage Camping Gaz stove dating from the early 1970s. In use for the same reason as the candle-lighting. A business not without some danger to life and limb. Camping Gaz stoves, although hardy, do not have a life expectancy of nearly fifty years! Sadly, this is probably its swan-song.

Tea-drinking. Once the ancient kettle, that hunts with the Camping Gaz kit, had done its stuff. I can't manage life without tea. Seriously. Does this mean I am addicted? Probably.

Walking. Close to home but in places I normally drive through rather than walk in. Under grey skies and curtains of rain.

As I say, raining. Just for a change.

Preserving. Candied orange peel in syrup from a 17th C recipe in this wonderful book, recommended by Anne here

Baking. Hannah Woolley's 1672 Shrewsbury cakes flavoured with rosewater and cinnamon. Heady echoes of Stuart England on the tongue. Recipe from the same book.

Experimenting with a new crochet stitch. Just because. Because I find You Tube crochet videos quite addictive! This started out as the Duchess Lace stitch but I've simplified it a bit and made it my own and because in this pink it's so evocative of candy-floss, I think of it as "Candy Floss Stitch".

As you can see, it pairs nicely with this pink Tanya Whelan "Sugar Hill" "Birdy" fabric. So I turned my experimental sample into a little zipped bag. Because. Because you can never have too many little zipped bags.

It's been a good week. Low key, but without work for a few welcome days. Creative and good. My kind of week. 

Wishing you all a happy weekend.
(And if you're in the UK, a weekend without rain for a change and, preferably, with electricity!)
E x

Friday 14 February 2014

Hearts, Flowers and Knickers (and Cake of course!)

Happy St Valentine's Day everyone! I regard St Valentine's Day as annual permission for me to indulge in pink and fluffy frivolity without having to justify it. I feel I can rustle up a raft of hooky hearts or flowers or whatevers, without remotely needing to justify their usefulness. They are pretty. They are hugely satisfying to make. They have a disproportionate feel-good factor about them. What do you mean, what are they for or what's the point of them?! There is none! And?!

So having got that out of the way, here are a few of this year's happy and frivolous additions to the modern lifestyle!

1 Hooky heart pin-cushions decorated with flowers with divinely puffy petals. You can find a tutorial for the heart pattern here and have a look at Dragana's beautiful versions if you haven't already seen them. The pattern for the flowers is a Mamachee pattern available on Etsy here.

2 Hooky lavender-filled hearts decorated with little posies of flowers.

These of course are quite useful for anyone wanting to do battle with the dreaded moth, in clothes drawers or yarn baskets. Moths don't like the smell of lavender apparently. I do however. And I've loved making these. And I think they are hugely pretty. Score at half time: Mrs T: 3. Moths: nil.

Fancy making one yourself?

You can use any heart pattern for the cushiony heart base. You want one that will be big enough to provide a decent canvas for your flowers, so nothing too tiny. I used Ira Rott's lovely amigurumi version that's available for free here.

Worked on a 3mm hook in Cascade Ultra Pima cotton (the pink ones) and Susan Crawford Coquette Vintage 4 ply cotton (the pale aquamarine one), they've come out about five inches wide and four and three quarter inches tall, a bit bigger than the pattern suggested, which was perfect for my decorating purposes.

The flowers and leaves are an assortment from this book and the rose is Sue Pinner's pattern for a hyperbolic one that I made in Aran weight yarn to go on my second poncho here but obviously you can use any flower patterns you like.

Instructions often say leave a long tail for sewing decorations like this on afterwards. I've found using the yarn the flowers were crocheted with, although conveniently already attached and the right colour, often seems to squash the shape of the motif or appliqué in question and it's better to use ordinary sewing thread in a matching or toning colour. The nice thing with this method is that the stitches, even odd, gawky stitches, are much finer, don't smudge the definition of the appliqué and they disappear invisibly into the crochet.

Just remember to leave a longish tail of thread when you begin. When you get back to where you started, just knot the finishing tail with the starting one and it secures both ends nicely. Even the ends hide themselves away once trimmed off.

If you want to stuff the heart with lavender, ideally you need to make an inner casing to stop the lavender making its way through the crochet, even if the crochet is, as here, quite tight. Last year I cut up a muslin jelly-straining bag to make little sachets to contain lavender inside some crochet hearts. Worked OK but the little sachets weren't really big enough to make the hearts as lavandery as I would have liked. This year I've used sections of a pair of cheapy, neutral-coloured stockings that I picked up for a couple of quid at the village shop. Just tie one end of the section you've cut off, with sewing thread in a tight knot, fill the resulting bag shape with lavender, leaving some slack space for flexibility. Knot the top in the same way you sealed the base and it's ready to insert into your heart.

You may need to stop crocheting a little earlier in the pattern than it says, in order to accommodate the bag of lavender, which is bulkier to push in, than the tufts of stuffing. I find it works best to fill the arched sections of the top of the heart with the ordinary toy-stuffing first, before inserting the lavender sack and then padding around it with more toy-stuffing so that it's nice and full.

Finally, crochet the hole closed. The result is nicely and strongly lavendery, without being too wasteful in using the dried lavender.

3 And because it's Valentine's Day the time has come around for Sonia's Valentine's Knicker Swap at Fabric and Flowers which you may remember I was, (possibly rashly!), considering giving a whirl a while back. Well, I will never be competing with M&S's underwear department but I've had a lot of fun having a go at knicker-making! The recommended pattern is from Trixie Lixie and it's pretty simple in essence. The only trickiness comes really from stitching on the elastic, which you need to keep good and taut as you sew. No one wants knickers that, from day one, are threatening to head for their ankles. You only need a fat quarter of outer fabric too, so it's quite economical of materials.

I've made four pairs. The first three (in the pic above) were to get my hand in before I let myself loose on making any for anybody else and each pair, I think, is better than the previous one. They look quite "bunchy" because the fabric is cotton lawn, not a knit jersey.

 This pair is the pair I made for the swap.

Accompanied by one or two other little extras to make up for the flaws in my knicker-sewing.

All contained in a toning fabric envelope. (Which was a good deal easier to sew than the knickers, I have to say!)

Sonia is a much more talented needlewoman than me and so are the other knicker-sewing participants, so I fear my swap partner, Lisa, of LisaSew, may not have got a very good bargain in me, but it's been fun and today I got a parcel of my own from Kerry of Pennydog containing the most professionally sewn, perfectly finished knickers any girl could wish for! Thank you so much, Kerry!

 Fabulous aren't they?!

All in all, perfect frivolity for St Valentine's Day!

Which, of course, one couldn't possibly celebrate without a flowery cake or two.

These were going to be violet liqueur-flavoured cupcakes, iced with similarly flavoured icing, but I got cold feet about the colour that both cakes and icing might take on and, fearing they might go an unpleasant grey instead of a nice, pastel shade of violet, I've stuck just to decorating them with these Viennese crystallised violet petals.

Apparently, crystallised violets were the favourite sweet of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and she used to buy them regularly, in some quantity, from Demel's, conveniently situated just down the road from the Hofburg Palace, the Imperial residence in the centre of Vienna. I don't blame her - they are exquisite.

The male contingent in the household were a bit sniffy about the sheer, downright effeminacy of these cakes and the girly, pink and white marshmallows alongside them.

But I notice that despite the sniffiness, not too many cakes or marshmallows are left on the plate this evening!

Friday 7 February 2014

A Snowless Winter's Tale

This year the snowbird who, (as we all know!), brings the first flakes of spiralling snow that change the landscape from dull, wet winter grey to a magical white winter wonderland seems to have passed the UK by, (or she's passed my bit of it by, anyway), and decided to stay across the Atlantic instead. I miss her and the snowflakes she usually brings. So I have had to make do and construct one myself, complete with hooky snowflake, of course.

She is based on the pictures of Attic 24's gorgeous Bower Bird that Lucy posted about here. I think my proportions are a bit out - she has a very long beak for a start, but I like her. And I particularly like her glassy bead wing and tail-feather adornments and her iridescent blue eyes.

Here she is looking for a roost, using my new hooky doily as a launch pad ...

This is my first (and probably last) crochet doily from a beautiful pattern called Winter''s Breath by Denise Augostine Owens which you can find on Ravelry here. I love the result but I am not really patient enough to crochet with such fine thread and such a thin hook, so I think it will be a one-off.

This is my snowbird's final roosting place on the wire tree that holds notes and reminders in my study, among some hooky snowflakes. All the snowflakes come from this book apart from the one the snowbird is holding in her beak which I invented myself . The bigger ones are hooked in DK weight mercerised cotton on a 4mm hook so have come out quite large but after the doily, I couldn't face using the thin thread and hypodermic-needle-diameter-hook combo again.

My snowbird seems quite at home here. And I prefer her and the hooky snowflakes to the reminders and "to-dos" that have been evicted to make room for her.

Outside it's not snowy, it's just "water, water every where, nor any drop to drink" as per The Ancient Mariner.

This is not a lake, or even a pond; it's a field. Quite close to where I live. Not as bad as on the Somerset Levels but the water here and elsewhere is making driving "interesting" / impossible and there are sandbags this evening down the road in case what is currently lapping around the feet starts rising more alarmingly.

But even if there is no snow, there are snowdrops to pick and put on the kitchen windowsill.

Wishing you all a happy (and safe and dry) weekend, 
with or without snow, depending on where you live.

E x