Thursday, 31 December 2009


Oooh, is it the Future yet?

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


My first attempt at mitred squares. These will possibly be coasters or I might join them up into.. something.

Mitred squares appeal to me in the same way that the log-cabin knitting did - clever but easy! Actually it's more than that, they're just very satisfying somehow. They feel more like my natural medium than, say, lace. Lace is untidy to me in so many ways - not just how it looks until it's blocked (and sometimes even afterwards) but in its creation. All those rows with different numbers of stitches, the distortion inherent in the process. Granted there's distortion in mitred squares, but ahhh, there's symmetry too! Mitred squares are like simultaneous equations (which were my favourite thing in maths), they prove themselves and have balance.

All hail the mitred square!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A multicultural cure for what ails you

Chicken soup is supposedly the Jewish penicillin - tattie soup is the Shetland equivalent. Traditionally tattie soup is made using reestit mutton, but as a student I had no access to such a delicacy* so started substituting with chicken, mixing the best of both worlds. Far from traditional it may be, but in my opinion it works very well. Generally speaking I hate soup. But I love proper tattie soup, and now I love my own chicken tattie soup.


1. Chop up an onion and gently soften in oil over a low heat. Meanwhile cut two or three largeish potatoes into cubes, and chop a carrot and maybe some neep (Swede) if you have any. You could add more of the other veg if you prefer, it's personal taste - I tend to limit the carrot as it can make the soup very sweet. Which some people love.

2. When the onion is soft add stock (I use chicken stock made from stock powder because it's easy) and bring to a boil. Then add the tatties, carrot and neep if using.

3. Chuck in some chicken. I either use leftovers from a roast chicken or if I've not done a roast recently I boil a chicken portion (leg, wing, whatever) in. If it's on the bone obviously you'll have to fish it out once it's cooked to remove the meat from the bone. But that's kinda fun.

4. Add half a teaspoon (or more) of mild curry powder. This just gives it a bit of oomph.

5. Simmer for ages. Then simmer some more. I like it to reduce down a bit so it's almost verging on being a stew.

6. Serve, preferably with crusty bread and a squeeze of lemon juice or lime juice. The idea of adding citrus juice (the multicultural bit) came from a Bulgarian friend of my parents who served lemon juice with fish soup. I've no idea if Bulgarians do this with any soups other than fish, but it goes really well with chicken tattie soup as it cuts through the comforting richness of the soup and gives it a bit of zing.

It need hardly be said that it tastes even better reheated the next day, as today's lunch was.

* Halls of residence would probably frown on heavily salted lumps of mutton hanging around the place.

Friday, 25 December 2009


Apparently I was on the 'nice' list! Lucky me!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Holly and the Ivy

And the various other bits of greenery I found in the garden. So that's my very first wreath, and I'm pleased with it. I'm not into flower-arranging perfection - and a good thing too!
It's a B&Q silver willowish basic wreath to which I attached, with garden wire and knitting yarn and optimism, the afore-mentioned various bits of greenery, some silver pine cones and some mad glittery red twig things. And I didn't swear once.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Comfort and Joy

I was slightly organised today and hung various scarves up in the porch to keep them from falling off hooks onto the soggy doormat. I had a moment of knitty joy admiring my work (excluding the gorgeous red pashmina - my brother brought that back from India). I love scarves!

Further to my last post on this blog all those months ago, I've been watching Kirstie's Homemade Christmas - aah, comfort telly! Inspired by that I'm having a go at a wreath tomorrow. Should be interesting. That's after icing the cake - I love doing that! I can't wait to see how it's turned out this year. It's based on a Sue Lawrence Christmas cake recipe but with a few tweaks - the omission of cinnamon, cloves and mixed peel because I loathe them (I replace the spices with extra ginger and the mixed peel with extra dried fruit), and swapping the brandy for whisky. I marzipanned it last night and the whisky fumes were delicious. *drool*

And later the boy and I will be baking 'cookies' of some description - the usual recipe we use is really more like a shortbread recipe rather than a chewy, gooey cookie but the book calls it a cookie so a cookie it is to him.

And, and, and... No, in fact most stuff that needs to be wrapped has been, the food shopping is done (we're low-key with the Christmas food) and all the cards that can be delivered have been delivered. Could it be that we're done? The frenzy is over?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Musings on learning new stuff

My latest joy is watching Kirstie's Homemade Home on 4oD (I missed it when it was on actual telly) with a cup of coffee and my knitting. I can't watch an episode tonight because my husband is watching a big pile of shit (points for recognizing the quote) and as my 'puter is in the living-room..

Anyway, last night I watched The One Where Among Other Things Kirstie Learned To Knit and it got me thinking about learning new things, how our preconceptions can make it difficult, how I like to learn things and how mystifying knitting must be to my husband.

Learning New Things

Watching Kirstie learn new things makes me want to learn new things. Maybe not blacksmithing - I've seen too many farriers at work not to be impressed by their work, but likewise too many not to have noticed how fiery and hot and frankly dangerous their work is. Maybe not so much for people who are less clumsy and short-sighted than me but those are not characteristics that go with hot metal and fire. Soldering silver is as scarey as I've ever tried or wanted to try. Stained glass looks fun though, patchwork I've been meaning to play around with, screen-printing looks good...

Preconceptions and Learning

One of Kirstie's comments was that a relative tried to teach her to knit when she was wee but gave up because Kirsty was left-handed. From this Kirsty was left with the impression that left-handers can't knit and so never had a go until making that programme. I'm right-handed but both my aunt and my granny tried to teach me to knit when I was little. They were both lefties, it didn't work! But I learned at primary school so that was okay.
However the downside of learning at school was that I'm not very confident of my knitting abilities, possibly because I hated it at school (the class was weekly torture as far as I was concerned) and possibly because I associate it with there being a right and a wrong way to do things. Therefore I'm unadventurous with knitting, reluctant to experiment. Oddly though with every other textiley thing I've tried - naalbinding, braiding of various types, crochet, weaving, sprang - I've worked from diagrams or written instructions (mainly things I've found online) and just had a go, not worrying about what was 'right' or 'wrong', just seeing what seems to work. Or not in the case of tablet weaving. I keep meaning to go back to that! But the point is I had a go.
It wasn't the teaching of knitting that was in any way at fault - looking back it's pretty impressive that Mrs Manson could take a bunch of largely disinterested eight-year-olds and teach us enough of the basics that we'd be tackling Fair Isle projects within two years. I think it's more to do with the way we learned anything at school at that point (and this may have changed with new teaching methods or it may be just the way primary-age children think) - it was all quite black and white, and experimentation although not actually discouraged was not really encouraged either. So it's only since I've taken up knitting more enthusiastically in recent years that I've learned new things. Things as mundane as other methods of casting on. I learned the long-tail cast-on so always used that, but it's so handy to know other ways. I'd never tried lace-knitting until last year, a full 30 years since I started knitting! It's partly having more interest now, but it's also down to consciously reminding myself to have a go.

Liking to learn new things

This is the positive side of what my mother has always referred to as my 'butterfly mind'. There's always something new to learn or try. The negative side of course is the number of unfinished objects in my various knitting bags!

The Mystifying Knitting

My Beloved is occasionally disparaging of my knitting, but more often when he comments it's with an air of being faintly impressed with it - it's something technical that he can't do or understand. Bear in mind that he's a Software Engineer, a programmer, a proper geek. He installs Linux on things for fun, then slags it off, all the while referring to it as Lunix. He reads xkcd and understands all the jokes. But he's impressed by two sticks (or one or four or five) and some yarn. He was even more impressed when I gave him a list, as requested, of Things I Might Like For My Birthday and he became aware of the technicalities of needle choice. This was prompted by KnitPro interchangeable circs - he asked about them and I started telling him about the various types of needle there are, the properties of different types of material in needles (metal vs. bamboo vs. plastic) and so forth. He looked both put out and impressed that I was a tech geek too, just in my own field. He is equally mystified by the fact that I can read music, and pick out the Iggle-Piggle song on the piano by ear. Funny old world innit?
To get back to Kirsty, seeing her struggle with the basics of knitting when she's so clearly competent and knowledgable in other fields was oddly reassuring to me. Compared with a complete novice I must seem fairly competent and confident - to non-knitters it must seem we have weird arcane (and pointless?) knowledge, possibly the reason my husband refers to my knitting group as the Coven.

So what shall I learn next?

Friday, 31 July 2009

Rescuing abandoned patterns and books

I may be alone in this, but I am completely and hopelessly sentimental about knitting patterns and books that are homeless. I saw two knitting books in a charity shop yesterday, glanced through them, thought 'hmm, not my kind of thing', went home empty-handed - then worried about their well-being and had to go back and get them today.

They're both rather '80s, one a Kaffe Fassett, the other a Sasha Kagan one - not designers I'm particularly keen on, I must confess. I know they're the great colour gurus but their designs have never really appealed to me, even though I can recognise they're doing interesting things with colour and pattern. However now I've got the books home, had a good look through and overcome my aversion to '80s hairstyles, the designs are starting to appeal to me - not as garments, but potentially as soft-furnishings. Quite a few designs would make very nice cushion covers, which would be fun winter knitting. So my hopeless sentimentality is not so bad!

I'm really quite taken with the section showing the colours used at the end of the Sasha Kagan book - it's attractive in itself, but also interesting to see the unexpected colours chosen.

Last week while mooching around the antiques/collectibles section at the Speyside Heather Centre, I found a pile of 1950s knitting magazines. I resisted most of them, primarily because they're machine knitting magazines, but I did buy two just for their historical interest. Jen, if you fancy these you're welcome to them now I've read them!

They even have the odd article on fashion which read oddly in a modern way - 'The Importance of Accessories' could almost have appeared in Red, until it states that 'a woman never looks well-dressed without gloves'! My mum, who remembers the '50s, flicked through the magazines and had a chuckle at that.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Aestlight continues

Apologies for the terrible picture - I keep meaning to photograph it in daylight when it actually looks Quite Nice, but only remembering after dark. The lighting isn't ideal in our house. So, this is my Aestlight - obviously I'm still on the soothing garter stitch triangle. I keep freaking myself out reading other people's project notes on Ravelry and so many talk about it being so quick to knit up! I've been so busy recently (holding the fort while my Beloved putt-putt-putts his way round Scotland) that I'm lucky if I manage a couple of rows a day.. Good thing I'm not in a hurry! I think I'm up to 105 stitches or so now. Counting stitches isn't my forte.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

"Mama, my bwoken your knitting!"

Indeed she had.

The neat ball at the back is what it looked like before Miss Mouse got hold of it. She also pulled the needle out and I had to pick up about a squillion stitches.

Meanwhile I've done some colouring - an attempt to get my log-cabin panels to not have overlapping colours. I've done the four panels now and need to block them to the same size before sewing them together and then adding some strips at each end.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Soft things

On a trip in to Glasgow the other day, the siren call of the John Lewis yarn department proved strong. I fell in love with this Rowan Tapestry in 'Whirlpool'. The photograph doesn't really do justice to the subtlety of the colouring, which is like early-morning light on the sea. Oddly enough one reason I was in the yarn section was to find some suitable 4-ply for the Aestlight shawl which will be one of my next projects. The Tapestry is DK so that's not the yarn I'll be using, but obviously I had the dawn on my mind. In a happy coincidence, for some reason that shade of Tapestry was half-price, so I didn't need to feel any guilt about buying without a specific project in mind.

In fact I was buying using vouchers so I was also throughly self-indulgent in also buying a ball of Baby Alpaca, which is just so soft and squidgy. Really, shopping for yarn is such a multi-sensory pleasure :-).

In the meantime the log-cabin continues (slowly and in short stints, as I've had hayfever and the fluff on the yarn doesn't help my poor nose!). I spent some time yesterday drawing diagrams in an attempt to work out how I could arrange panels such as this so that I can make something bigger but not have colours overlapping, seeing as I only have three colours of the lopi. As an aside, isn't the 'yellow' yarn yummy? I keep thinking of mango sorbet when I look at it! I'm not an ice-cream person at all, but sorbet is a different matter entirely!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Oooooh, I like this - it's fun.

I've been dipping in and out of Mason-Dixon Knitting, my favourite comfort-reading at the moment, and decided to have a go at log-cabin knitting. I like it a lot - it's simple and soothing but satisfyingly something-or-other (square probably). The yarn is some Sirdar Highlander Lopi, a long discontinued yarn I suspect. I've had it lying around for, um, years - I made some naalbinding socks using it (roughly copying the Coppergate sock) sometime last century in our more active re-enactment days.

Notice my mistake (the dotted line) on the first square - I couldn't remember the 'proper' way to pick up stitches so I did it my own way, resulting in it being back to front. Oh well :-).

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pattern for the Underpants Alien

'Pattern' may be overstating it slightly but here goes..

Alexander's Underpants Alien
Requires: cheapy garish acrylic dk yarn, the brighter the better! And 3.75 mm needles. I used two dpns 'cos they were more transportable being shorter but I did have to remember not to let the stitches slide off the other end.


Cast on 30 stitches and knit 4 rows in stocking-stitch.
Next row: k1, kfb*, k 'til 2 st remaining, kfb, k1.
Next row: purl
Repeat last two rows once.
Continue in for 12 rows.
Next row: k1, k2tog, k 'til 3 st remaining, k2tog, k1.
Next: purl.
Repeat last two rows until 26 st remaining on needle.
Next: k1, k2tog, k2tog, k 'til 5 st remaining, k2tog, k2tog, k1.
Next: purl.
Repeat last two rows once - should now be 18 st on needle.
St-st 10 rows.
Next row: k1, k2tog, knit 'til 3 st remaining, k2tog, k1.
Next: purl.
Repeat last 2 rows once.
Now 14 stitches remaining on the needles.
Next row: cast off 2, knit to end.
Next: cast off 2, purl to end.
Next: knit first 3 stitches onto a stitch holder, then cast off until 3 stitches remaining - knit these onto another stitch holder.

* increase by knitting into front and back of stitch.

Front: as for back.

With right sides facing out, sew up one side of alien to the stitch holders - these will be the antennae/head-tentacles. Using 3 dpns (1 for each set of 3 stitches, and one spare) knit a tube up as far as looks suitably alien. This can be fiddly. Repeat for the other side, then sew up the top of the head (between the antennae). Stuffing the antennae can be tricky - in the end I put a bit of pipecleaner in the antennae. Stuff the rest of the body until comically plump, and sew shut.

Lower tentacles/arms (x2):
Cast on 12 stitches and stocking-stitch for approx. 34 rows or as long as you want really. Cut the yarn leaving a long end, thread this through the stitches from the other end pull tight. Then sew the side shut, stuff and sew end up. Repeat for other lower arm/tentacle.

Upper tentacles/arms (x2):
Cast on 12 stitches and stocking stitch for approx. 22 rows (or as long as you want as long as it's more than about 10 rows shorter than the lower ones). In the next knit row increase into every stitch (by knitting into front and back of each stitch), hence doubling the number of stitches. Stocking-stitch the next three rows, then cast off. Sew up and stuff.

Legs (x2):
Cast on 14 st and stocking stitch 39-ish rows. On the next knit row, increase into every stitch by knitting through the front and back of each stitch (as with the upper tentacles). Stocking-stitch the next three rows, then cast off. Fold in half and sew up, the foot and side. Stuff from the top and sew up. Attach each leg a few stitches in from the edge of the body.

Making up - attached the lower (longer) tentacles, and then the upper ones. Cut out an oval of white felt and a smaller oval of black felt. With black thread sew the black oval onto the white one. Then with white thread sew the eye onto the head. With contrasting yarn embroider a mouth. If it's wonky it adds to the charm, or so I tell myself.

Pants - I can't find my notes for this so it's incomplete and possibly bewildering.

Cast on 32 stitches.
2x2 rib for 4 rows. for 6 rows.
Next two rows - cast off 3 stitches at start of each row.
Then, um, decrease at beginning of next few rows until it looks if there's enough space for the legs. for at least 6 rows - the length of gusset depends on how well stuffed his bum is - you want his pants to be reasonably roomy. An alien with Builder's Bum doesn't bear thinking about...
Then complete the pants so they're symmetrical - i.e. increase to match shape, then cast on 3 stitches at beginnings of two rows, then 6 rows and 2x2 rib for 4 rows, and cast off. I will write this up properly when I find my notes!
Sew sides of pants up and dress alien :-D. I'd originally planned to embroider them so they'd look like Y-fronts but ran out of time, so that's an option too.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Underpants Alien

With removable pants! Never let it be said that I don't pay attention to detail (that was the mantra of an old boss of mine actually - 'Attention to detail, team, attention to detail!').

Anyway, it was the Boy's birthday yesterday. I'd made up a 'story sack' for him as a present, rather like the ones they had at school - one fact book, one story-book, and a couple of toys/puzzles, all on a related theme. I chose 'space', got him a Dorling Kindersley kids' book on space, Aliens Love Underpants for the story-book, monster snap and a space jigsaw. Then I thought it'd be fun to make him a knitted alien along with pants to go with it, as he's quite appreciative of my attempts at knitting. So I picked a couple of suitable-looking aliens from Aliens Love Underpants and amalgamated them to make this endearing chap.

I made it up as I went along but noted down as I went so the pattern will be added here when I've deciphered my notes. It's by no means perfect, but I'm quite pleased with it.
One of the things I like about knitting is that as I often knit while watching television after the kids are in bed, my knitting then reminds me of what I've been watching. An example being the alien's felt eye which got sewn on while watching Griff, Dara and Rory messing around in Three Men In Another Boat, and I knitted the body while watching Ewan and Charley's adventures in Long Way Down (as an aside, when are Virgin Media going to stick the last three eps on catch-up? We're missing half of Africa! I'll have to buy the DVD at this rate..). Conversations are the same - I remember bits of conversations from the knitting group when I look at the thing I was working on at the time. It's odd, the way the mind works.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Well, hurrah and huzzah!

That's the scarf finished, and just in time too. It went like a rocket once I got going. Apologies for photographing it on the kitchen floor - it was the only place where the light was good enough.
The question now is - what next?

Some possibilities:

1 - A toilet roll doll for my friend's five-year-old daughter. Free rein to be as silly as I like! And come to think it's her birthday soon, so it could be the silliest birthday present she gets this year.

2 - Something for me. I think I'm ready for an actual garment now. Generally I like small projects as I get bored easily, but I need and want a really nice warm cardigan. It might even be done by next winter if I start now.

3 - Yeah, I should really finish those unfinished objects shouldn't I?

4 - Seeing as my Fair Isle Beanie came out a bit small and Miss Mouse acquired it I'd really like to do another for me. No hurry for that though as winter seems to be abandoning ship now (oh noes! Did I say that?? A big temptation for fate there..)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Knitting frenzy

The Scarf has changed again - nice pattern but time consuming and the texture of the yarn didn't show the twisty rib at its best. So I frogged it on Tuesday and started my squillionth One-Row Scarf! Thankfully it's rocketing along and looking quite good now. Just as well as it needs to be finished by Friday!

The kids are at their Grandma's house tonight so we've been watching DVDs/telly and I've been knitting all evening. Saturday night eh.. wild or what?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

This is clearly going to be one of those projects I Learn From.

Whether I want to or not.

As I half suspected the Summer Tweed didn't work out very well with the Swiss Cheese scarf - there's just not enough give in it for the cast-ons after the holes and it's prone to snapping under too much tension. Besides my cast-ons are horribly untidy. So I frogged it and decided to play around with the yarn and see if inspiration struck. I cast on 'some' (didn't count), stocking-stitched a few rows then tried the 'yarn round needle every stitch, drop off the excess non-stitches on the next row' approach. But the yarn isn't 'tidy' enough for that effect to work very well so I was secretly relieved when my two-year-old grabbed the needles and frogged it for me. If she hadn't I'd have felt obliged to stick with it for a few more rows to see if it grew on me!

So attempt three. I had a quick look through Rav to see what other people were making with this yarn and came across a project using Beth Collins' wiggly-waggly Rainy Day Scarf, so I thought I'd give it a try. This is going much better, I'm glad to say. It's the kind of simple but interesting, arithmetically satisfying pattern that suits me. As long as I don't knit when I'm sleepy and miscount the ribbing! On that note therefore, good night..

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Oh what a tangled web

Converting hanks to balls, it is safe to say, is not my strong suit.

My yarn (Rowan Summer Tweed) arrived today for the groovy little scarf I'm going to make for the Boy's teacher who is leaving at Easter. It's going to be some form of Winnie Shih's Swiss Cheese Scarf, if I can ever get the yarn untangled. It's a metaphor for my life really - starting out with good intentions, quickly descending into chaos, but ultimately, miraculously, resolving itself into something not entirely crap. *rolls eyes*