A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

FO Friday: Waterlily

Having finished this Waterlily top is a bit of a surprise as I started knitting it almost a year ago. Normally I’m an extremely focused knitter, keen to get every garment off my needles and onto my body. But this top, though I loved all the pictures in the pattern, I found a real slog to make. It’s made on fairly small needles with fine yarn. There are miles of plain stocking in the round. The Latvian braid technique was new to me. The lace, which I started before I made Rock Island, required too much concentration.

But all of those niggles fade away when I look at this garment on the blocking board. It is beautiful.

Another challenge was the fact that this is a bottom-up blouse, which means you can’t really try it on. I used my old trick of slipping half of the stitches onto another circular needle and trying it on, but it’s hard to tell what the tube of fabric will really look like. In the end, it was about right. The top is meant to be worn with a lot of positive ease, but this style swamps me. I made it fitted across the bust, which means that it should hang nicely over my tummy, and I added some waist shaping.

I think the blocking boards and T-pins I bought for Rock Islamd were a sound investment. Both were very useful in allowing me to get this garment to my desired dimensions.

Here’s how it looks on. As you may be able to see, the fabric has a lot of drape, so even though it fits loosely it still highlights ones shape in a mostly flattering manner.

Pattern: Waterlily by Meghan Fernandez

Yarn: Kettle Yarn Co Islington in Vestige

Ravelry project page here 

Marshmallow workshop

Wow, it’s been nearly a year since I went to the Robin Collective’s marshmallow workshop with Anna. How time flies! I thought I would revisit the workshop now as I’m a complete sucker for posh marshmallows so I would like to give them a go. One of the things that prevented me from trying before was the fact that I didn’t have a stand mixer. Now I do, the world’s my artisanal oyster-flavoured savoury marshmallow. Yummers.

Here are some of the sweets I decorated. I am a child.

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The basic recipe they gave us is below. I queried the lack of egg white, and was told that egg white gives a fluffier marshmallow, but that a lot of gourmet mallows omit it because people like the chewier texture. I will probably experiment if I ever get around to trying this out.

As well as a stand mixer, a sugar thermometer is recommended kit.

Ingredients

  • 2tsps/10g (1 sachet) powdered gelatin
  • 1cup / 200g sugar
  • 1/4cup/ 60ml water
  • 1/2 cup/ 120ml glucose syrup
  • 1 large egg white (optional)
  • Flavourings/colourings (optional)
  • Either a 1:1 mixture of icing sugar and cornflour (for cube marshmallows) or granulated sugar (coloured if desired) for piped shapes

Method

1. Prepare yourself. For cube marshmallows, grease a baking tray, being careful not to leave any lumps. Then sprinkle generously with the mixture of icing sugar and cornflour. For piped shape mallows, fill a baking tray or dish with coloured sugar.

Trays of coloured sugar

It’s easy to colour sugar yourself using food colouring. Just add a few drops and stir to avoid lumps. Also leave open after colouring- any dampness will cause lumps. If you get some lumps, smashing them up with a mallet is very therapeutic.

Smash up any lumps of sugar with a wooden mallet

2. In the bowl of the stand mixer, soak gelatin in water. Leave for several minutes to bloom

3. Meanwhile, gently heat sugar, glucose and water (add a pinch of salt if you like) until the sugar has dissolved. Then, turn up the heat and take the solution to ‘soft ball’ stage (around 112C). Keep a close eye so that it doesn’t burn.

4. Pour the mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer and start on its lowest setting to minimise the risk of scalding by hot sugar. Gradually turn the speed up, then allow to mix for at least ten minutes. If you want to add egg white, take the time now to whisk the white to firm peaks in a separate, spotlessly clean, bowl.

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5. If you want to add flavourings, you need to do it when the marshmallow has fluffed up quite a bit, but is still gloopy. Flavourings need to be added in moderation, especially alcohol, as too much liquid will prevent the marshmallow from setting. Add your egg white now if using.

6. Continue to whisk the mixture for a little longer, but make sure it does not set. The consistency should be similar to marshmallow fluff.

7. For cube mallows, pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray and spread out. Leave to set overnight.

For piped mallow shapes, fill a piping bag with your mixture.

Ready to pipe some mallow

Pipe straight onto your coloured sugar in your chosen shape.

Piping a pink marshmallow bunny

Immediately use a spoon to bury the shape under more coloured sugar. Leave to set for at least five minutes before carefully excavating.

Home made marshmallow bunny

You can use writing icing to add some more detail.

For multicoloured shapes, I partitioned my designs into sections. For example, for my bee, I started with the body, leaving it to set under yellow sugar. I then transferred the shape onto some plain granulated sugar and piped on the wings, taking care to join them to the body firmly.

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Cover the mallow in sugar as above, trying to avoid mixing the coloured sugars as far as possible.

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Have fun and make sure to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Me consuming a marshmallow bunny

Isn’t it funny that this photograph would win me the very stand mixer I need to make more marshmallow? I love circularity at times.

WiP Wednesday: Wedding Guestbook Quilt

As the weather (finally) starts to improve, a lapful of hot wool sounds less and less appealing. This is the time of year when I tend to start exploring other crafts. I could also go outside, but who has time for that?

Something that’s been keeping me occupied is a friend’s request to take charge of the guestbook for her wedding. She wanted something a little bit non-traditional, but that could be understood by older and fustier family members. Basically, fingerprint tress were out.

I started by creating a Pinterest board, to which I added anything that looked vaguely appropriate. I looked around the web and also asked more wedding-oriented friends for ideas. When I sat down with the bride to talk practicalities, the idea she was most drawn to was a wedding quilt, detailed in this post on Offbeat Bride. There are a few ways to go about creating a quilt like this- some people sew a plain quilt in advance, which guests decorate on the day. But this seemed like a high-risk strategy to both of us.

A loose theme of the wedding is ‘afternoon tea’ and another of our friends had been given the herculean task of sewing over 50 metres of bunting. It made sense to try and make use of the leftover fabric in the quilt. Eventually we settled on the idea of a patchwork quilt made of a combination of the leftover floral patterned fabric from the bunting, plain pink squares and plain cream squares that guests can customise on the wedding day. Below are my raw materials. 

I spent one of my bank holidays going at this pile with my mother’s rotary cutter. Each square needs to be 15cm with a 1cm seam allowance. I used a cutting mat and ruler to aid precision. Precision is important because I want all of the patches to line up neatly.

I would recommend a self-healing mat as mine (well, mum’s) had some pretty deep gouges in it by the time I had cut the 130 squares that the fabric allowed.  

The only other thing to do before the wedding is prepare instructions for the guests to create their squares. I spent a bit of time researching and this brand of pen (apparently unavailable online) seemed to have good colour and minimal bleeding on the fabric.  

 
When I consulted the bride on a previous fabric pen option, she suggested using black and turquoise as the only colours. I had had in my mind to have a variety of colours, but actually I think this is a wise choice. I think it would be easy for a quilt like this to look ‘busy’.

I want the instructions to be pretty comprehensive- if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. I tend to find that the larger the group of people you are dealing with, the greater tendency to ignore any direction, especially written. Perfectionism is my cross to bear, and so I have to feel like I’ve done everything in my power to make this quilt as amazing as it can be.

I’ll probably leave it there for now as there are a few aspects of the quilt that I want to be a surprise for the bride and groom, once they return from honeymoon and I officially hand the quilt over.

WiP Wednesday: Polkadot summer shirt dress

The beginning of 2015 seemed to herald the best fortune I have had in some time. I had a modicum of my life back after losing my mid twenties to my doctorate, things were starting to look up after a tricky start at work and I was winning things. One of those things was a competition my workplace held to find the worst Christmas present anyone had received. On a whim, I dashed off an email describing the One Direction pencil case my dad gave me. I decided to omit that it was a gag gift concealing the Tatty Devine watermelon necklace that I’d been coveting. I think the clincher was actually my email signature at the bottom, which states not only my professional title, but also my rather overblown job title. I think what they put in the newsletter in the end was “Dr Monique Davis, Metropolitan Area* Educational Psychologist, was given a One Direction pencil case complete with stationery set. She adds that she is twenty-eight years old.” My prize was a £20 John Lewis voucher, which I intended to spend on some very luxurious wool. But on perusing the selection in the habadashery section, nothing set my crafty soul on fire. I was with a friend who was looking for a sewing pattern, and as I wandered around the fabrics, I spotted some rather lovely polkadot denim chambray. I am absolutely obsessed with denim at the moment, so it felt like fate. I bought a metre and had exactly enough left over for some eye-searing neon rainbow bias binding that was calling out to me. had in mind a little skirt or blouse, but when I showed mum the fabric it spoke to her differently. It said “shirt dress”. Planning The pieces for this dress, for which we are improvising the pattern, are two fronts, a back, sleeves, pockets and collar. It will be pretty tight to get all of these pieces, but mum seems to be optimistic. The first step was to fold the fabric with the selvedges together and check the length. Any additional length could be cut off the bottom for the sleeves. We took my bust measurement and divided by four (adding a generous seam allowance) to get the width for the fronts. I cut the fabric thus. I was also able to cut an extra section of fabric from the back piece, which was wider than I needed. Shaping the fronts I think they call this draping on the Great British Sewing Bee. Before starting, I processed the edges that will form the button bands of the shirt (button bands is a knitting term, I don’t know if the sewing term is different). First, I ironed on some interfacing to strengthen the fabric along the selvedges.    I then folded the fabric over around 1.5cm and ironed flat. Cute selvedges, right? Draping We held one of the fronts up to my body and used tailor’s chalk to mark out where to cut for the neck edge, shoulder and armpit. The most important thing to do is check that the fabric is hanging correctly when you start. At this stage, we also pinned where the bust dart would go, and pinned out some additional darts at the front so that the dress should fit pretty tightly. Once the neck, armhole and shoulder are cut and checked for fit, you can put the two fronts right sides together and cut the other side as well. Apologies for the blurry pic. We basted the three pieces together to check the fit.  The final thing I have done is transfer the darts to the other side of the dress. I marked them using hand-sewn tacks. I have also marked where I want my in-seam pockets to lie. Pockets! There’s still a lot of work to do next time. We have to finish the shaping on the dress with back darts, then cut out and sew the sleeves, collar and patch pocket(s). I did a little sketch to help me think about where I want to add the pops of colour with the bias binding. At the moment, I’m thinking the top of the patch pocket at maybe at the sleeve edges.

Who would have thought that all of this would have come from a 1D pencil case? #missyouZayn

The winning One Direction pencil case

WiP Wednesday: Rainbow shawl

After Rock Island, I craved some very straightforward knitting that I can work on while watching Netflix. And then, serendipitously, the gorgeous yarn that I ordered from the Lemonade Shop on etsy arrived. Just look at it.

It’s called Bad Day sock. They also do a version in white that I originally intended to get, but this was what they had in stock and I’m in love. Plus, the dark yarn is much more practical for someone as clumsy as me.

I didn’t want to waste this gorgeous yarn on socks, but instead make something that I can wear and show off a lot. I settled on a triangular shawl that can be worn as a scarf. I’ve taken elements of a couple of different patterns to make up the design. I want my scarf to be made just in stocking stitch to show off the beauty of this hand dyed yarn. You can check out my Ravelry project page if you want more details.

Here’s how the project is progressing so far.

How to: Maple and pecan sunny side upcakes 

I’ve had my eye on the recipe for these delicious pecan and cinnamon cupcakes for a while. Unfortunately I didn’t read the recipe through before embarking as it is more time-consuming than most cupcake recipes, but the result is a very light and fluffy cupcake that is delicately spiced with an occasional pleasing crunch of pecan. Right up my alley. I made them with buttercream frosting but I think they would be even nicer with cream cheese frosting- a little tang rather than just additional sweetness. I thought I would spend a little bit of time on the decoration for once.

With the quantities given below, I got 24 mini cupcakes and six full sized ones. So I reckon 18 full sized cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 50g (1/2 cup) pecans
  • 190g (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
  • 215g (1 1/4 cups) caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs- these will be separated
  • 175g (1 1/4 cups) plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4tsp salt (1/2 tsp if you use unsalted butter)
  • 1/2tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4tsp ground cinnamon
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 60g (1/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
  • 400g (2 1/2 cups) icing sugar
  • 1/2tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) double cream
  • 4tbsp maple syrup
  • Yellow food colouring

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line an 18 hole muffin pan with paper cases

2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 6mins, until they are just beginning to brown at the edges. Allow to cool, then crush in a pestle and mortar.

3. In a large bowl or electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (7-10mins).

4. Add the yolks one at a time, mixing until incorporated.

5. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a mixing bowl, or the bowl of your scale. In a separate jug, combine milk and vanilla.

6. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed sugar and butter in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture. With each addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure an even batter. Remember to begin and end with the dry ingredients.

7. Stir in the crushed pecans.

8. In a spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.

9. Gently fold the egg white into the batter, in three parts.

10. Divide the batter between the paper cases, filling them three quarters.

11. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15mins, until just browning and passing the toothpick test.

12. Allow to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting.

1. In a medium bowl, beat the butter until soft.

2. Add sugar, vanilla, cream and maple syrup. Beat until smooth and creamy.

3. Put about a quarter of the frosting into a small separate bowl. Add food colouring until you get a really vivid yolk colour.

4. Once the cupcakes are totally cold, spread evenly with the white frosting using a palette knife or offset spatula. Drop about a teaspoon of the yellow frosting on top, a little to one side, for the yolk.

  

FO Friday: Rock Island Shawl

I can’t believe that I actually made this stunning shawl. I have grown so much in confidence as a knitter over the past five years, I never would have imagined being able to make something like this even a couple of years ago. I’m hoping to get some beautiful modelled shots of my shawl in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’ll share with you some things I learned from making this piece of wearable art, which I hope will help others attempting their first piece of openwork knitted lace.

For comparison, here is how it looked before blocking.

Unfortunately I foolishly didn’t measure the size of my blocking mats before I started, so I actually need to re-block this shawl to the correct dimensions. I think that stretching the lace out will make it look even more beautiful. I also found out that I should have used blocking wires at the top edge of the shawl for a cleaner edge, so I will also do this on my second attempt. I can’t say I mind too much as it means I can do this post as well as one with some (hopefully) beautiful modelled shots of the re-blocked shawl in a couple of weeks. Silver linings!

I also think I squeezed too much water out of my shawl before I started pinning it out. It was drying out far too quickly, which means that some of the points aren’t as… pointy as intended. Threading the blocking wires takes time and the piece needs to be damp until you feel confident that it’s in the right shape.

Pattern: Rock Island by Jared Flood

Yarn: Violet Lynx Dyeworks Ariel (bought on etsy)

Ravelry project page including detailed notes.

Just a note, if you are knitting a shawl using a gradient yarn as I did, make sure the yardage of the skein is not much more than the recommended yardage of the pattern. I didn’t know this, which means that you really can’t see the gradient effect in my shawl. I don’t mind as I think it’s still beautiful, but I would have been bummed out if I had had my heart set on this being an ombre shawl.


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