A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

WiP Wednesday: Rock Island Shawl

I think I’ve mentioned before that I like a challenge. In knitting and in life, I tend to go for things 100%, to jump in with both feet, to act first and worry about consequences later (well, as much as a neurotic overthinker can). It was these traits that led me to select Rock Island as the first proper lace pattern I would ever attempt. I am actually crazy. THIS is what I am attempting to knit.

Rock Island pattern pic

The pattern is Rock Island by Jared Flood. Look upon it and weep.

Maybe the theme of my year is go big or go home. I came into 2015 with my most complex ever knit, Little Wave, on the needles and I have managed to create a garment that I truly love. I also went all out with my birthday bake. Perhaps 2015 is my year to be bold, daring and take risks.

I now own blocking equipment. This just got serious.

Here’s where I was last week. I used my newly arrived blocking equipment to pin out the lace so you can see what it will look like finished.

One of the many scary things about knitting proper lace is that you don’t really know what it will look like until it’s been blocked- washed and stretched to within an inch of its life. Until I finish and block this shawl, I am acting on blind faith that what I am doing in some way corresponds to the incredible beauty of the sample picture above. Oh god of knitting, please bestow your gifts upon this humble madwoman!

I drew a little sketch to show how a shawl can be constructed from the long edge up. For any experienced lace knitters this will be old hat, but it’s all new hat to me!

Here’s where I am right now. I’m working the Rock Island lace chart and I can’t wait for it to be over. I am currently using a lifeline every two rows because if I drop a stitch, it would be beyond me to pick it back up. Each row currently takes over 30mins to knit so having to rip back would be pretty devastating. 

Here’s a close up of the lace.

This project has really reinvigorated my love of the Harry Potter Knitting and Crochet House Cup. This shawl is my Ancient Runes OWL- Ordinary Wizarding Level to any Muggle readers. To earn an OWL, Ravellers propose a project to the examiners, which they estimate will take around two months to make. You also agree a 50% mark for the project. You get 200 points for your House (Gryffindor in my case- go Lions!) in total, 75 for completing the midterm and 125 for the final exam. I am making this shawl for an event in April and I genuinely think that without the additional motivation of the Cup, I would not have persevered with this highly challenging project.

How to: Apple and cinnamon tear-apart bread

I’ve been really seized by the desire to make things this week. I’m also trying to use up the ingredients in my cupboard as I’m planning to move house soon. I’ve had this recipe for apple, pecan and cinnamon bread pinned for a while, so I decided to try it out.
The method of cutting and stacking the slices of dough is the same as I used in my pumpkin tear and share bread.

I’m pretty happy with it!

Since I’m moving, I’ve decided to keep my magical new mixer safe in its box until I’m in my new place. I quite enjoyed making this bread by hand and I noticed that my kneading technique has improved a lot this year. You only have to do it a few times before you get a ‘feel’ for when the dough is ready to rise.
This a lovely soft enriched white loaf packed with apple, nuts and caramel. It’s gooood. I also learnt something, if you use a American recipe that calls for King Arthur All Purpose Flour, you should substitute strong rather than plain flour. Important.
For the bread

  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup water, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups strong white flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast- note this is slightly over one sachet

For the filling

  • 3 apples
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 1tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

For the icing

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2-6 tbsp milk

1. Whisk together the butter, milk, water, eggs, and vanilla extract
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast, then add the wet ingredients.
3. Turn out onto a lightly floured or oiled surface. Knead until the dough is smooth, about 5-7 mins. It will be quite soft. If it seems very sticky add a little flour, up to a 1/4 cup
4. Transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover.

5. Leave to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.

6. Just before the hour is up, prepare the filling. Mix the cinnamon into the sugar and thinly slice your apples. Coarsely chop the nuts. Melt the butter.

7. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf tin
8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Roll into a 12″ x 20″ rectangle.
9. Spread the melted butter over the top of the dough, using a pastry brush
10. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture over the top, using your hand to press into the butter

11. Add the apples and sprinkle on the nuts.

12. Stack the slices into the greased baking tin. Cram in any filling that has slipped out.

13. Cover the tin and leave to rise for about an hour. Preheat oven to 180C (350F) after 45mins.

14. Bake for 45-55 minutes in the centre of the oven, tenting it with foil after 30 minutes if the loaf is browning too quickly.
15. Remove from oven and transfer loaf to a rack to cool for 15-20 minutes before turning it out of pan to cool completely.

16. Make up the glaze and pour over load while it is still warm.


FO Friday: OMG more socks

Fresh off my knitting needles is a new pair of socks for my mum, to replace the last pair I made that met with a messy washing-related end. Washing instructions with handmade gifts are a must.

Pattern: Vanilla Latte, available for free on Ravelry
Yarn: 2 skeins of Regia Mosaic, with quite a bit left over

I really love this sock pattern. It’s simple and the ridges of garter rib provide just enough stretch that mean the sock doesn’t get baggy around the ankle. It’s very easy to memorise and an ideal travel project. Saying that, I am still considering branching out for my final ball of Stray Cat Sock yarn. I’m keeping an eye on Ravelry to see if any patterns catch my eye.

Sunshine on my cutting mat

I’m still plugging away with my craft knife and most recently made a small piece for a friend’s thirtieth birthday. The more I hear about turning thirty, the more I like the sound of it. I decided to emphasise the sunny aspect of growing older and wiser in the cut.


I wonder if this also represents an unconscious response to the feedback that my thesis celebration card was ‘too dark’. Ain’t nothin’ dark about a lovely sun, right? Right?

Here’s what the card looks like finished and backed.


The heart is totally there just for cuteness, and not to cover up a mistake I made right near the end.

FO Friday: Little Wave Cardigan

Well, it turns out that mid February truly is the season for love, and I am delighted to say that I’ve fallen head over heels for the cardigan I just finished knitting. Behold.

Ignore my fringe, a gust of wind disturbed it during the extremely brief photoshoot.
Here she is laid out flat.

I’m so pleased!
The pattern is Little Wave by Gudrun Johnston.
The yarn is Malabrigo Rios in Purple Mistery. I used just over five skeins. It’s knit up beautifully soft and snuggly. Time will tell whether it wears well.
This is an advanced pattern. New techniques I learnt from this cardigan:


Red Velvet Cheesecake Birthday Cake

I may have responded overly aggressively to a couple of people who asked whether this was a Valentine’s Day cake. Maybe I was asking for it by daring to make something red in February, but people need to know that I don’t do VD. It is the reason that I have had to call about ten restaurants to get a reservation on my birthday. I still don’t have the reservation, and the core of bitterness buried deep within my heart only grows bitterer. Or something.
Here’s the cake money shot.

I’m not going to post the recipe today. I will say that the cake was extremely well received and I was the most popular person in the office for a day. People are so fickle when they’re hungry. I really liked the combination of flavours and the cheesecake in the middle gave the cake a delicious velvety texture.

I found it via Pinterest here, though I think this is the original post.

Although the cake looked and tasted pretty good, I wasn’t entirely happy with the actual cake part. It was a bit dry and not as red as I would have hoped. The layers also didn’t stick together well, so it was difficult to cut and take nice pictures.

I’ve got a hypothesis about this matter. I think it’s the European Union. No, I haven’t turned into a frenzied Daily Mail reader in my age and decrepitude. I think that you’re not allowed the same crazy food colourings in the EU as you get in the States. Even though I put in the suggested 1/4 cup (1.5 bottles!) of red colouring, the cake just wasn’t red enough. I added additional quarter teaspoons of red paste colouring until it began to look redder, but I do think it left the cake with a more chemical taste than it ought to have had. I tried making red velvet cupcakes for my birthday four years ago and I had the same problem. At the time, I thought it was the recipe, but now I’m not sure. Have any English bakers had the same problem?

I’m also having a minor ongoing issue with my cream cheese frosting. I realised that part of the problem was that I use 300g tubs of cream cheese rather than the standard 250g, which was part of the reason it was coming out too soft. I’m now wondering if the generic soft cheese I use is part of the difficulty. Next time Philadelphia is on sale, I may experiment.

There are recipes for red velvet that use beetroot and raspberry juice to colour the cake rather than chemicals, and I think I’ll try one of these next time. Here are some process shots of the cake if you’re interested.


Here is the middle layer of baked cheesecake. This was my first attempt at baked cheesecake and I really liked it. I was quite lucky though as I was a bit cavalier with the foil and only narrowly avoided having loads of water leak into it from the bain marie.




Even though I made the cake and cheesecake in pans of the same size, I had to trim down the cheesecake. While the cake layers shrink a little after baking, the cheesecake layer spread. It’s very easy and quick to do, though.



This is the crumb coat. I refrigerated the cake for about an hour at this stage, before putting the final layer of frosting on.



Sealed With A Loving Lump Of Wax

Hm, I wonder why the landed gentry of the past never wrote SWALLOW on their letters, like WWII soldiers writing SWALK. The mysteries of history.
Anyway, for Xmas I was surprised and pleased to receive some sealing wax from one of my best friends. We used to write to each other all the time when we were teenagers and I briefly lived abroad, and I’m sure I would have said then that my dream was to use sealing wax.
Although I am tempted to start signing off all my reports at work with a golden wax seal, I feel it might send a confusing message so I decided to reserve it for personal use.
I recently went on a brief sojourn to the Americas and decided that postcards would provide an ideal opportunity for trying out my stamp.






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