Tuesday 30 June 2015

Sunny days

Today the weather was beautiful. Pretty much perfect: bright sunshine, warm, the occasional gentle breeze. A perfect day for doing nothing.

Durham Castle in the sun

But nothing isn't generally possible, and today was no exception. Tomorrow I start back at work after a year off, so there was the list of chores - things I'm not sure when I'll next get the chance to do: a couple of submissions to finish swatches for; a couple of patterns to add the finishing touches to; a test notice to write and post. And my son's school taster session, and having a little look over my work notes wouldn't do any harm, especially as both children were out of my hands for the afternoon.

So I spent the morning playing with my daughter and doing easy household things (loading and unloading the dishwasher, throwing several loads of washing in) while her brother was at school, whizzing her round the supermarket while she had a nap so as to make the most efficient use of time.

I probably should have spent the afternoon at home getting on with all the things that needed doing in the house, but instead opted for a quick walk round town to take in some sunshine and an hour in a coffee shop to have a look at a textbook relating to my PhD without the distractions of the house (it's hard going back to work after a fortnight's holiday, never mind a year off), before going back home and getting on with the chores,

I am aware that juggling two children, looking after a house, writing knitting patterns and working at my day job (especially during the intense write-up period) isn't going to be easy, so I'm not sure what will happen to this blog. The frequency of posts is likely to go down, as I suspect knitting and baking may have to take a bit of a back seat once I'm back in the office. But I will try to post at least once a week, which should be manageable. I'll still be happy to hear from you all, so please keep reading, even if it is a little less often - it's probably better that blogging takes a break rather than sleeping!

Monday 29 June 2015

A needle disaster

Saturday 27 June 2015

32 things, #9: Socks for my husband, part 1

One of the items on my 32 things list was to knit a pair of socks for my husband. He had specifically requested a pair of brightly coloured socks, so I decided that the perfect solution would be to use some of the yarn he bought me for Mother's Day to make him some socks for Father's Day.

I cast on with 72 sts per sock, which was a bit of a guess; my husband has large feet (UK size 14), but knitting two at a time I knit much tighter than one at a time, so I decided that I may as well just cast on the socks and treat them as a tension test. Of course they turned out too small - this is the tightest knitting I've ever done, with the socks coming out at 36 sts per 4 inches.

I tried again, after a few calculations, with 84 sts per sock. This turned out much better, and the colour distribution is nicer, which is a bonus.

I knitted an Eye of Patridge heel, which went a bit crazy tweedy, and I had to move the socks onto two circulars for the gusset as there were so many stitches. I didn't really enjoy using two circulars at first, but it got much better (and less tangled) with practise! Father's Day was the Sunday just gone, and the socks were, inevitably, not complete. I'm still on the gussets and they are taking ages as there are so many stitches to decrease.

With the knitting I've done so far on these socks, I've realised that I now know the anatomy of a sock. I haven't had to look at many instructions, just one to remind myself of the sequence for EOP, one to work out how deep to make the heel, and another to work out roughly how many rows the toe would take, which is better than I thought I'd do.

And as for Father's Day? I bought some back up chocolates from Hotel Chocolat (delicious, one of our family's favourite treats, not for sharing with small people), which went down well. And these socks can be a bonus present in a week or two.

Thursday 25 June 2015

New pattern: Rose Garden cowl

Every few months, Knit Now magazine has a call for submissions with a difference. Rather than the standard series of mood boards and theme suggestions, these calls give you some specifics about a yarn (a yarn weight, an amount of yarn, sometimes a combination of colours) and a weekend to come up with an idea. Yes, one weekend. Every time one of these calls comes up, I submit at least one or two designs, usually based on a stitch pattern that has been stuck in my head with nowhere to go. My Codebreaker cowl was a response to one of these calls, and here is another: the Rose Garden cowl, published in issue 49 of Knit Now, which is available today.

The Rose Garden cowl is based on a two colour slipped stitch pattern that I loved the texture of when I first saw it when I was browsing Pinterest one rainy afternoon (and here I discovered one massive disadvantage of Pinterest: every pattern for this stitch was in Russian, with no charts! I figured it out in the end!). When I knitted the swatch and sent it in to Knit Now, I was calling the pattern the Thistle cowl as I knitted the swatch in purple (my favourite colour), but when the yarn arrived, I had two fantastic shades of blue. I named the pattern the Rose Garden as the spikes in the stitch pattern remind me of Rose thorns.

Some patterns jump straight from the swatch to the final design with no further thought. This was not one of them! The design started off with a rolled stocking stitch edge, but when I started knitting the sample I realised that the yardage wasn't going to stretch to the original plan, so I had to make some modifications. The edging became ribbed and the tension loosened a little to make the yarn go a little further. And after knitting a third of a second sample I decided the rib I'd chosen didn't work with the rest of the design, so the whole thing had to be unravelled again, argh! But I got there in the end (with a bit of frantic 2am election night knitting thrown in for good measure as the deadline drew closer), and I hope you all like the finished result.
Need another reason to buy the magazine? It comes with this free gift: a rather cute little tin

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Never travel without a cake

We spent a happy weekend at Center Parcs at the start of June: sunshine, swimming, good food and good company. And I took it upon myself to bake some cake.

I know that I am frequently extolling the virtues of The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, but their blondie recipe really is one of my favourites. For those of you who have not experienced blondies, they are essentially brownies, but made with white chocolate. The recipe suggests that you might like to add chopped nuts to the batter, which I did the first few times, but one day stumbled upon my preferred variation: M&Ms. No weighing required, just throw in a whole sharing bag and bake the blondies as usual.

This batch had red, white and blue M&Ms as that's what the shop had, and I will admit that a standard coloured bag might have made a prettier result. But they are still delicious! Very moreish. And they were eaten very quickly! Having written this, I might have to go and bake some more...


Monday 22 June 2015

A Whovian treat

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to the indie dyer The Yarn Tree. Every month Mel produces a yarn box around a popular theme, like Sherlock, Star Wars, comic book heroes, etc. I was very excited when she announced that her yarn box for June was Doctor Who themed. I ummed and ahhed for ages about it as I don't really need any more sock yarn, but gave in at the last minute and waited patiently for my box to arrive.

I'm always fascinated by themed yarn boxes, as what one person pictures might not be what someone else pictures from the same key words. To me Doctor Who is shades of blue and silvery grey, and that scarf, so I was very excited when my box arrived to see what would be inside. I knew there would be two skeins of yarn, but was surprised by the eventual colourwyas. The purpley greeny one is called The Hath and is inspired by the monsters of the same name; I really like the colours in this skein, and am looking forward to seeing how they knit up, not that I've decided what that skein will become. There's also a matching set of stitch markers (made by Wychwood Dreams), which I do like.

The second skein of yarn is inspired by the inside of the Eleventh Doctor's (Matt Smith) TARDIS and is shades of orange, yellow, beige and turquoise. I am not a fan of orange, yellow, or beige, so I am surprised that I actually quite like it. I'll be turning it into a pair of Bowties are Cool socks - the perfect pattern for this yarn as both the yarn and pattern are inspired by the same Doctor. However, neither skein is what I would think of as obviously Doctor Who themed, and I think I would have preferred it if one of the skeins was in a more obvious colour scheme.

The extras aren't really anything to write home about: I have no need for a hot bead TARDIS keyring (made by Geeky Beads), not my thing at all; the ribbon on the bookmark is cute, but I wouldn't use a paperclip as a bookmark as they can be pretty scratchy on the paper, and I do not like damaging books; the badge is cool, I'm sure I can find a home for that; and Love Hearts just aren't my thing, even if I do like the special wrapper.

Overall I'm a little in two minds about this box. As I said, I'd have preferred at least one skein in a more conventional colour scheme, but the yarn itself is good quality and the dyeing is nice and even. The extras aren't things I would have purchased, so are a little disappointing, but that's always the risk with a surprise. I have ordered The Yarn Tree's August yarn box (My Little Pony themed. For reference, I expect really bright colours, preferably with some pink and turquoise. I still have all my My Little Ponies from when I was little!), but might hold off ordering anything else from her unless I've seen the colours first.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Having a whale-y good time

I have wanted to knit a blanket with whales on for quite a long time now, possibly since my son had a swimsuit with a rather cute whale on a couple of years ago. So when Knit Now had a call for submissions with a nautical theme a few months ago, I grabbed my colouring pencils and sketched this blanket.

I then failed to submit it as I realised that knitting a blanket to a tight deadline with two pre-school children, one of whom does not sleep all night was probably not a good idea, especially as I wouldn't be able to immediately gift it to a friend, so would probably have to knit two blankets within the same time frame. And then a close friend announced that she was expecting a boy, so I asked her whether she would prefer a whale or a rocket blanket. Handily she went for whales.

So a couple of weeks ago I popped into Hobbycraft to pick up a couple of balls of navy to get the blanket started (I need an easy on the go project, and blanket squares are perfect). I went for Hayfield Bonus DK, partly because I know what gauge I knit it to, and partly because I already have several of the colours in my stash. I ordered the other colours (the ones Hobbycraft don't stock) from Woll Warehouse.
And here's the first square. Hopefully I should get the whales charted soon.
Isn't the sheep stitch protector cute? Pity both my children like to take him for little walks...

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Baking? On a Wednesday?

Monday 15 June 2015

Have yourself a Malteser-tastic birthday

My husband's birthday was last month, and an obvious essential for a birthday is a cake. At my son's request, I baked a basic chocolate cake, with cholcoate icing. To make it extra decadent, I decided I would cover the cake in Maltesers (the best chocolate-based sweet!).

I picked up two sharing bags of Maltesers (or Matly-teasers, as my son calls them), thinking that would be plenty to coat the surface of the cake. My son and I spend a fair while carefully placing the individual Maltesers on the cake, with me doing the sides and him the top. As you can see from the picture, it turns out two bags is not enough! Not that it matters, it still tasted good, and the question 'How many Maltesers does it take to cover a cake?' can be answered another time.

Friday 12 June 2015

Coexist socks

My first ever MKAL and non-vanilla socks are done!

And I am delighted by them. They are the best fitting socks I have ever made (I made them using fewer stitches than previous pairs so they hug my ankles a bit tighter, it turns out socks really do stretch to accommodate your feet). And I really enjoyed playing around with all the charts.

The pattern allowed you to choose a different chart for each section, with each chart being associated with a different fandom. With four charts to choose from for each section, this was a great game to play along with. For the cuffs I chose Doctor Who, as I am a bit of a fan; the legs are Harry Potter, partly because I enjoyed all the books and films, but also because the chart looked intriguing. These two sections were the most difficult and took me a couple of weeks as I couldn't work on them with the children around.

I did the basic Eye of Partridge heel as the theme for the heels was 80s movies and I had only seen one of them (The Princess Bride), but wasn't keen on that chart, so decided to go for the easiest option. I chose the Twilight gusset as that's the only vampire series I've read or watched (not that I particularly enjoyed them, a bit too teen angst for my liking). The foot choice was obvious - Lewis Carroll - as Alice in Wonderland is one of my favourite books. I loved working this chart, it was the perfect level of difficulty for TV knitting with a little patterning, but an easily memorisable chart. I followed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer chart for the toes; I've never actually watched it as it was on at the same time as Dawson's Creek (which I loved), but would have watched if there hadn't been a scheduling clash (my children will never understand this issue now everything is available on demand). The Buffy chart would be perfect for crazy variegated yarn, so much so that I'm tempted to go and cast on a pair using that chart for the whole sock immediately.

This pattern has so many charts it was sometimes hard to choose one. There's a Shakespeare chart in the foot section that is beautiful. I'm definitely going to use it for a whole pair of socks at some point. And looking at everyone else's finished projects, there are loads of other charts I love. This pattern is one I will be revisiting!

I didn't complete this MKAL as a strict mystery. At one point I was a long way behind, so decided to have a sneak at other people's projects. But at no point did I know what my finished socks would look like, and that was quite exciting. And the camaraderie of the KAL kept me motivated, even when the socks were slow going. So I've decided that this definitely won't be my last MKAL, afterall, how wrong could mystery socks go?

Tuesday 9 June 2015

A month in yarn: May 2015

I'm not totally sure what has happened to the first nine days of June, they seem to have disappeared! We've had a poorly household, car troubles, and a short holiday, so my poor blog has been neglected. So I'm going to attempt to get back on track, starting with my monthly summary of May's yarny things.
Toe-up socks from my first hand-dyed yarn.
Beyond Puerperium 1 and 2
Two baby cardigans in crazy colours; two rounds of yardage chicken! I love them both.

Knitbot blanket
I feel like I've been working on this for a while, but here it is, the finished Knitbot blanket. The recipient loves it as much as I do. I'll tell you more about it in the next week or two.
My first ever pair of non-vanilla socks, and my first every mystery KAL. Lots of fun.

On the needles
An excellent pick-up and put-down knit. So easy to memorise, and a great use for variegated yarn.

Hermione's Everyday Socks
Such a popular pattern. I'm knitting them in some of the yarn I got for my birthday.

Dinosaur blanket
Whale blanket

The ins and out of the stash cupboard
100g gradient blank
100g mermaid hair sock yarn
100g Hayfield Bonus Buzz DK
100g WYS Blue Tit sock yarn for socks for a friend
700g DK to get started on a blanket
350g sock yarn as I couldn't resist the Drops super sale at Wool Warehouse

400g Aran - given away in a giveaway
91g Beyond Puerperium 1
65g Super socks
416g Knitbot blanket
100g sock yarn passed on to a friend as I ran out of time to knit her birthday socks!
99g Beyond Puerperium 2
79g Coexist socks
+200g; not too bad.