Friday 17 October 2014

Knit One, Purl One, Drop Three

As anyone reading here for a while will know, I am not really a knitter. That's not to say that I can't knit. I can - the basic stitches, casting on and off, etc but anything with a pattern beyond the very simple has me on edge and even if the pattern is very simple it is still not beyond my powers to mess it up, big time.

Last year I managed to acquire via Ravelry a few balls of a most beautiful Elle Escapade yarn in a fabulous turquoise blue, flecked with pink and green.

I'd seen the yarn featured in a pattern book but discovered it had been discontinued some years ago. It is a variegated, self-patterning yarn and the way the colours pool makes you think of summer flowers, beside a Mediterranean sea or against a summer sky.

It's an acrylic yarn, which I don't especially like normally, but the colours were just too beautiful to worry about that. Thrilled with the results of my persistence in laying hold of this beauty, I wanted to use it in a knitting project because I loved the way the smoothness of stocking stitch showed off the  colours. I began a simple knitted cowl that had a border of seed stitch and involved knitting on a circular needle. A brilliant first time discovery, as far as I was concerned, finding, as all knitters of course know, that all I had to do when knitting on a circular needle to create stocking stitch, was use nice, easy "knit" stitches not those pesky, purl ones which I find trickier. I know, I know, I am late to the knitting party! Anyway off I went. Problem number one was that the seed stitch border kept curling up - I think I made it too shallow probably - but I said to myself, "Never mind that, it won't show in the end." And it wouldn't have done.

I knitted up about seven inches of this cowl and was mighty pleased with it - the colours pooled beautifully; the knitting was smooth and even; the stitches slipped off the needles, as and when they were supposed to, and all looked quite good. I didn't manage to finish it however, last winter and I parked it in a bag, to await completion. Thinking that, really I should finish it off, I got it out the other day and had a look at it. Yes, it really did look almost finished, just requiring may be a few more rows and then another seed stitch border at the top to finish. Bingo!

...Or not.

I thought I'd just try it on briefly to see whether it was deep enough and assess how much more was required. A bad idea. As in, a Really Bad Idea. Removing said cowl from over my head, the stitch marker I had used to secure the final two stitches in the round failed to prevent several stitches from coming off the needles and a shallow gaping hole greeted me where they had so recently been sitting so safely and neatly. Quelling a rising tide of panic at this ghastly sight, I tried to hook things back to where they should be both with the knitting needles and then using a thin crochet hook. But to no avail. Bad became worse. The hole went from what was originally a shallow, gaping gap to a great, gawping cavern and there was nothing for it but to undo the whole thing back to the beginning. There are no pics because I forgot to take any before embarking on the unravelling and even if I had, I don't know that I could bear to look them in the eye! I could have cried or thrown the whole thing out of the window or possibly both!

It has now begun life again from the safety of a crochet hook and simple, single crochet stitches.

It doesn't have the lovely drape of the knitted stocking stitch but neither does it have a curly border and if I go wrong I can make good without unravelling for Britain. This is what I tell myself anyway. Secretly, I still miss the smoothness of the knitted fabric. May be I'll have another go with the second ball of yarn. Perhaps on something smaller where unravelling won't be so drastic if, (or rather when!), it's required.

This is the second knitting "mess up" I've made in a week. A few weeks ago I was in my local haberdashery shop to pick up some new sewing-machine needles and a zip and there on the counter was the most delightful, knitted, tinsel hedgehog, together with a basket of tinsel yarn and the knitting pattern from which he had been made. Forgetting the zip and sewing-machine needles - who needs them when you might obtain the wherewithal to make a tinsel hedgehog?! - and assured by the lady behind the counter that the pattern was "really simple" I rashly bought both pattern and yarn. The yarn is King Cole Tinsel Chunky yarn, if you're interested and you can get it (and the hedgehog pattern) here.

The pattern is indeed fairly simple but the yarn isn't. It's basically tinsel, not yarn at all - beautifully sparkly and the knitted fabric it makes is amazingly soft and tactile. Delicious, in fact.

 But because of the strands of tinsel, you cannot see the stitches once you've made them.

All went well until I'd nearly finished Hedgepig's body and then, lo and behold, of course, I dropped a stitch. I poked around a bit but, as above, bad became Really Bad and Really Bad became worse and Hedgepig developed an alarming rent in his body cavity that I could not make good in any shape or form. Unravelling the whole thing was the only option and beginning again. The second time of asking, I managed to avoid dropping any stitches but being unable to see the finished rows clearly, I got mixed as to which row was knit and which was purl. It's only in one place and I don't think you can see. This is Too Bad. I am not unravelling him again!

Perhaps I should leave the knit-sticks well alone. Perhaps there are ways to pick up dropped stitches that mean you don't have to unravel whole projects back to square one. Perhaps I will get less clumsy with more rather than less knitting practice. In the meantime I have about an inch or so of cowl instead of seven inches, a friendly Christmas hedgehog who will sit underneath the Christmas tree in due course and I am taking solace in finishing off hand-sewing the flowery panels on my denim jacket! Considerably easier than knitting, I have to say!

What do you skilled knitters out there recommend?

1 Leave the knit-sticks well alone, Mrs T, and stick to a crochet hook.

2 There is a way to pick up dropped stitches that even you, Mrs T, might manage without having to unravel everything.

3 Keep going - with practice, you will get less clumsy and drop fewer stitches, Mrs T.

If you happen to feel like commenting, let me know which option you recommend! If it's number 2 and you have a patent method you can point me too, lead me to it please!

In the meantime Christmas Hedgepig is keeping hold of the circular knitting needles and he's probably safer with them than I am!

Here's hoping for a weekend with not a single stitch of unravelling!

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Leaves On My Lines

Autumn has arrived and just as every autumn, British trains get delayed or cancelled because there are "leaves on the line" I am finding myself getting behind with, (or on), stuff in various ways. Rather a lot of leaves seem to have come down on my lines, figuratively speaking, if I can put it like that. 

1 Falling behind with blogging. Writing and reading / commenting. I worry about this. Not the writing so much, as the reading and commenting on others' blogs which I am struggling to find time to do as assiduously as I would like. For this I can only apologise. I honestly don't know how those who operate Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a blog, find the time to do it all. Perhaps I am just inefficient about how I use my time. 

2 I have also fallen behind on all sorts of work-related things, courtesy of a 'fluey bug that has laid me out for ten days or so. I am not a very patient patient so it is good for me to be stopped in (or on) my tracks occasionally just to remind myself of how much I usually take for granted but I now seem to have a lot to catch up on which is in itself stressful and making me feel bogged down in the equivalent of soggy, leaf mulch. 

3 Falling behind on various crafty ideas I'd planned to get ahead with in September although I am  making progress on a new, seasonally-cosy, hooky project. This was designed to use up my stash but seems to have required me to buy several repeats of colours I wanted to use but didn't have enough of. A frustratingly common problem, I find, every time I think I'll start something stash-busting. That aside, I'm rather pleased with it. For once, it's my own pattern. More details, in due course, hopefully.

4 Falling, not so much behind, as back, on archetypical autumn food - in other words a lot of pumpkin.

Roasted Pumpkin and Aubergine Soup With Cumin - deeelicious, quite frankly! 

The recipe, if you want to give it a whirl yourself, is as follows:

Hack a small pumpkin, (by which. I mean one weighing around 3 lb / 1.5 kg) into wedges with a large, heavy knife. Be careful while doing this  - it's easy to get the knife stuck like Excalibur in the pumpkin flesh and, in the absence of King Arthur's strong arm, it can be devilish hard to extract it again without risking injury. Once you've got the pumpkin hacked into wedges  - about 8 - switch to a smaller short-bladed knife and cut out and discard all the woolly fibres and seeds from the core of each wedge. Trim off the stalk ends of 2 aubergines and split them in half lengthways. 

Put all the vegetables, skin-side down in a roasting tin and roast for about an hour at 200 C until they look like this. No, you don't need to add any oil. I don't anyway.

While that's going on, toast a teaspoonful of cumin seeds in a small pan and when they begin to sing and pop, remove from the heat and tip into a mortar and crush to an aromatic spicy powder.

Peel and chop an onion and cook it in a spoonful of olive oil until beginning to soften. Add the pounded cumin seeds, about 2 tsps salt and about 2 pts / 1 litre of water and cook the onion until completely soft. (I do this in my pressure cooker because it's so quick - a few minutes as opposed to 20 or so).

When the roasting vegetables are ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit. Then scoop out all the beautifully soft, melting flesh from the skins with a spoon and add to the onion pan. Discard the skins. Add some black pepper. Stir everything together and heat through, then whizz to a thick, fulvous purée in a blender. You may need to add some extra water to thin it a bit, if it's really thick but not too much - it should be thick and cosy not thin and floaty.

The addition of the aubergine gives the soup a wonderfully velvety texture that pumpkin doesn't have on its own, while the cumin adds a subtle spiciness, without being over the top. If you prefer things spicier, you could use a bit more cumin or "knock yourself out" as they say, and toast and grind some coriander seeds to add in as well, or add a bit of grated, peeled, fresh, root ginger for added aromatic heat.

Spiced Pumpkin Muffins - I love these (and my autumn plates that are now enjoying their annual outing). You can find my recipe for the muffins here - scroll down past the slippers!

Pumpkin Cheesecake - I know this is a heresy but I don't much care for Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin Cheesecake, on the other hand, is a different matter - all the traditional pumpkin spices mixed with roasted pumpkin flesh in a creamy, baked cheesecake. I ate this once at a Thanksgiving party given by an American neighbour in London and she kindly gave me a recipe which I've tweaked a bit over the years. It's lighter than a classic baked cheesecake - less sweet and less rich as a result of lightening the cream cheese and eggs with the puréed pumpkin flesh. It might not quite qualify as "healthy" but it's heading that way!

What do you mean, you'd like something other than pumpkin to eat? It's October!

5 Falling behind with keeping an optimistic outlook on the world and finding I am worrying about anything and everything, both on a macro level and a micro one. Worrying doesn't improve any of it, of course, but I can't seem to help myself.

Despite the leaves that seem recently to have accumulated on my lines, I do love this time of year - the patterns of tawny, autumn light on greeny-gold leaves turning to bronze and the fall colours of the hedgerows. So while I wait for my wheels to free up a bit, I am trying to hang on to the unchanging changing of the seasons as an anchor in what seems to me sometimes, especially when I hear the news, a bewildering, crazy and hostile world that's travelling at a pace I just can't keep up with.

Wishing you all a gentle Autumn week 
(especially if you feel, like me, that there are leaves on your lines!)

E x