Monday, 28 July 2014

First gardening results 2014

Enjoying having more space to garden in with our courtyard garden. It's all still a little hit and miss, learning some things, getting frustrated by others. Next year should be even better!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

My First Food Swap

Food swaps are something I've seen mentioned in the blogs of American crafters before, but apart from the odd one in London, I'd not heard of any in the UK. So imagine my joy when a local allotment group I follow on Facebook announced one happening in the very city I live in!

A group called Apples for Eggs were putting on a food swap and I was determined to attend! I recruited my fellow baker/food enthusiast SGx and we set to working out what to make. It was a bit difficult doing research online for it. The majority of food swaps I could find mentioned were ones held in the US, and they seem to take their food swaps very seriously over there! A lot of the things being exchanged were of a quality you'd expect to be paying for, not at a food swap. I didn't think we were ready for that level yet. So, bumbling along through things as I normally find myself doing, I came up with this humble selection of goods:

That's jars of lemon curd, plates of chocolate muffins and tubs of granola.

Once we arrived, we found a place to display our wares and filled in a form for each thing we'd brought with us. After set up there was about an hour for people to mingle about and bid on your items with theirs. (e.g. if I found something I wanted to take home I'd bid one jar of lemon curd or "anything from my table"). Then there was announcement saying it was time to swap.

Now I'm sure this bit works fine when you've got a group of outgoing individuals (not to cast asparagus, but I'm sure it works a it better in America), but I found this bit took a bit of getting used to, we were really only getting into the swing of it by the time everything was swapped. This part of the afternoon required you to be brave and go up to people with one of your items to offer in exchange for theirs. There was a lot of awkward interactions with people and missing out on things I had my eye on due to my being too slow and doddery. But I definitely learnt a lot from it. People were by far more interested in savoury things, the cake market was a bit saturated to say the least. Interesting preserves (someone had made some apple curd, and it was SO GOOD) and different taste combinations went down best. It was also a good idea to have lots of tasters for things, which I foolishly thought I could get away with not doing.

At the top of this post you can see the goodies I came home with. A fair few jams, some reallllllllly good flapjack, a jar of SGx's delicious passata (she was totally eyeing up my chocolate muffins all afternoon, so we swapped :D ) And some dried apple slices. Hmmm...

Overall the food swap was lots of fun, very interesting and enlightening. It's lovely to see what people outside your normal baking circles (i.e. Ma and SGx!) create, lots of new ideas.

It was even covered by the local newspaper! Here's the video link. You can see me about a third of the way through, scratching my face and looking generally a bit shifty....

There's another food swap in the works for York due in early spring apparently, with things like seedlings and cuttings being swapped as well this time. I've already started with my game plan, I've got what I hope are some good ideas for things to swap. I just need to work on being more outgoing and I should have a winning food swap formula!

Christmas Gifts 2013

After the success (I hope anyway!) of making all my Christmas gifts to friends and family last year I thought it would be a good idea to repeat it again this year. Although this time with bigger projects. But the same amount of time.... Err... yes. Despite my best efforts, and having started planning and picking out projects as early as September, the actual making of the gifts didn't end up starting until mid-November. Oops! I did manage to get most of them done though, which was some sort of miracle.

So here's a selection of the gifts I made, unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of some of the things I made, but this will give you the gist I'm sure!

One of Planet June's succulent crochet collections in a cardboard presentation box


(And nicely wrapped up of course, that's part of the fun)

And a hand carved stamp set.

A pack of hand made stitch markers

A pair of rice filled hand warmers (tute here)

A knitted rugby ball, adorned with the England rugby team's rose logo (painstakingly cut out of felt then each piece individually hand sewn on, more fun that it sounds actually!)

I made two pairs of socks for various people, although not without major frustration! One pair needed just a tiny bit more yarn than I had in the right colour (this was one of the late presents, so time was of the essence), so they ended up like this! And the other I tried to knit part of whilst in a pub (tut) and had to frog back this much (*sob*) But in the end they were ok! I used this pattern  for them. A nice straight forward heel turn, and an easy pair of socks to knit, as long as you're paying attention!

This little amigarumi Hello Kitty/Totoro was another late gift, although in my defense I had no idea it was so awkward to find safety eyes! (I found mine here in the end, good price and sent as quick as you'd expect for something coming from China to the UK)


And finally le Boof's patience paid off and he got his cardigan I'd been promising since July. Not strictly a Christmas gift, but it was finished in my big crafty post-Christmas spell when I was trying to get everything promised to people done! It probably would have been finished though if this hadn't happened. I've not had much luck with flexible needles finer than 5mm :S

As well as hand crafted gifts I did a few small food hampers. These included:

Peppermint creams (made with Ma's traditional Christmas recipe)

Butter tablet fudge, which came out nice and crunchy (yay for achieving my first proper hard-ball set on a sweet!)

A gingerbread house, which I got the icing just right for this year. No mugs holding up my gingerbread walls while they set!

I've got lots more lovely Christmas things to share with you, but that'll be for another post methinks!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Fleece and Knitting Society

Almost a year ago now, having moved 300 miles away from all our friends and family, I was very very glad to discover that the university that BF's attending allow non-students into its societies. I joined up to several, wandering round with le Boof at the Fresher's Fair, but the main one that interested me was their Knitting Society. They turned out to be a fantastic group of people, welcoming and supportive, exactly what you're looking to stave off the homesickness! The long and short of this now is I've ended up being a driving force in what's happening in the society next year. As a non-student there are a fair few restrictions on what I can do within the society, but I've been working closely with this year's committee, and next year is shaping up to be super exciting for KnitSoc.

Once we'd managed to get ourselves a logo sorted, one of the first things I put myself forward for was screen printing T-shirts.


These went down very well! I used my little Speedball screen printing starter kit (here), with the photosensitive emulsion, the same I used to make these T-shirts last year. It's very good for detailed images, and thanks to all the testing I ended up doing with exposure times last time it only took the one attempt to get the screen right! (A good photo-tute on screen printing with photosensitive emulsion here)

Exposing the screen
Ready to start printing!

We then decided stash bags would be a pretty good idea. I've just today finished the first batch of fifty!

KnitSoc stash bags!
Just a few to start... well, fifty.

Another project I've thrown myself into, mainly because of my involvement with the knitting society, is making my own wool from scratch! The fleeces were from Freecycle again. A very nice lady in a village not far out of the city takes care of unwanted animals, and in amongst her menagerie are four sheep. Three Hebridean and one Southdown (I think). She was giving them their yearly shearing and decided to offer the fleeces on Freecycle. I eventually decided this was a good idea (le Boof was not so sure to begin with) and once they had been removed from the sheep, went to pick them up.

The first thing I did was ignore all the advice and instructions on how to clean sheep fleeces I'd been reading online and chucked one into the bath. No, I could not tell you why I did this. Once I'd salvaged it from the bath (thankfully it hadn't fleeced very much) I sat back and made a plan.

A bath full of not poop, but wet fleece :S

The method I went for in the end was:

Pick over the fleeces for the bigger bits of hay and plants pieces (and poop D: ), split them into small bits and put the pieces into net wash bags like these. Then fill a bath tub full of water (I went for coolish water. There are various different methods I read up about online, but starting the fleece in a cold bath reduces the amount of effort involved, I felt), and add a bit of shampoo (nice cheap stuff worked fine). The fleece can soak for two hours, then drain the bath and repeat this step once more. Finally drain the bath again and give the bags of fleece a final one hour soak in clean water. Give the bags a good squeeze then pop them in the washing machine on a single spin. Just the spin though mind, any spraying of water onto the fleeces and you'll get felting. Which is exactly what we don't want for spinning fleeces! Once spun, hang out until dry.

I found this process to get the fleeces clean enough for me. They still smelt a tiny bit like sheep, maybe after it had had a shower, but the sheepy smell staying means some of the lanolin (sheep sweat, gross, but useful for spinning!) is still on the fleece, but this helps when it comes to spinning the fleece.

So now the vestibule in he flat is full of boxes of fleece. They are now waiting for either myself or the knitting society to invest in some carders. Carding is the next step in the process of making yarn from fleece. It aligns the fibres of the wool, therefore making it easier to spin.

I've already got myself a drop spindle ready for spinning, and recently attended a spinning class at a local yarn/fabric type shop and managed this -

The majority of it however will be going to the knitting society so we can offer the chance to spin wool to our members, which is pretty exciting (and relieving as it means I won't be having to deal with it all!)

Welp there's loads more to mention about my KnitSoc adventures, but that will probably do for now!

Currently listening to Cough Cough by Everything Everything
Currently playing (obsessively) Tekkit (A Minecraft mod pack)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

It's been a long, long, long time.

Ok, so first off I have unintentionally initiated a bit of a Beatles bender just by naming this post. So here's the song that started it for you.

But yes, it has been a very long time. I would like to say something dramatic like life's gotten in the way or I've been very busy, but to be entirely honest, I just got out of the habit of writing on my blog. It happens. I've not been idling about though, I have done many things in these long five months. Many small enough not to warrant looking back months and months to comment upon.

One thing that is definitely worth a big mention however...

Yes! It's a knitting machine! Of course you all knew that.

A very kind couple were offering it on Freecycle. They were moving house and emptying out their garage and attic, and weren't sure if it had all the pieces, so were offering it for FREE. Whelp. It has all the pieces, plus a ribbing attachment, and all the various bits and bobs it needs to operate fully! Not only that but the couple also gave me a HUGE posh briefcase full of fantastic 80's pattern books, instruction manuals, blank punch cards and punchy thing to make my own patterns. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the next day I received an email asking me if I'd like the box of yarn cones they'd just found in their attic to go with the machine!! It was an EVEN HUGER box of cones, I could only just lift it and fit it into my poor little car!

On first getting it set up, I experienced a bit of new-toy-at-Christmas syndrome. I was certain I'd put it all together correctly, but whatever I tweaked it wouldn't work properly. So followed many a "humpf" and "argh", until I gave up and trawled through the internets to try and find a solution. I eventually discovered it was something called a needle retainer sponge bar that was causing my problems. It should be a nice plump bit of sponge holding the needles down so that they catch the yarn as it's drawn across. However on inspection, the one in my machine was as flat as a pancake! They can be fairly expensive to buy replacements, but thanks to this very useful tutorial, it barely cost a thing. (DIY ftw)

So now I've been working my way through the various techniques in the getting started manual.

Two colour skip-stitch knitting
Plain knitting, I was so proud!

Skip-stitch knitting

It's a proper old school punch card machine, which, although means there are certain restrictions on things like pattern width, is fascinating to watch and learn the inner workings of. It's piqued le Boof's interests too as punch cards are a very (very very) basic form of programming! (He's a computer scientist fyi)

Needless to say I was dead chuffed when I finally got it working!

This contraption, however, I'm still figuring out. It's the ribbing attachment that also came with it. The knitting machine itself can only knit one way, so no ribbing. This adds another bed, the other way around, which enables you to do it. Not a great deal of luck with it yet though! It also puts the dinner table out of action as that's the only surface large enough to fit it on :S

I've made plans for my first pullover, just have to get up the courage to start a garment on it!

Oh yes, by the way, the picture at the top of the post is an old steam roller we spotted in town the other week. It had been used in the 1960's to flatten the roads in York and had been brought back to it's old stomping grounds by the lovely people who had restored it. It was utterly fascinating to see! Here's an article about it in the local press.

Currently obsessed with: Arrested Development on Netflix (Netflix is so good!)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

My Adventures With Pinterest, and My Busy, Busy Week.

First off, I organised my paper stash the other day. Let us take a minute to fully appreciate the beauty of it. Mmmm.... paper.

I deny any accusations of having an unhealthy obsession with paper. *stroke*

In other news....
I have no problem at all with owning up to having spent a little bit too much of my time on Pinterest of late. My craft related productivity has been the highest since I last had space to craft (probably not far off a year ago now), I've made lots of useful things and discovered many new (to me) wonderful craft and food blogs through it. Can't recommend it highly enough for inspiration. And a super long to do list! Mine's miles long now. Some things I have got crossed off in the past week though are:

Polymer clay plant marker.
Very useful as my brightly coloured lolly sticks markers were starting to suffer from being sat in wet soil. These make my plants look classy instead of like a small child is growing them.

Inspired by an image from this blog, I finally made something to brighten up one of the corners of our front room. I spent many, many hours playing with my Cuttlebug cutting the shapes and then abusing the needle on my sewing machine by using it to sew them all together. It's currently awaiting further additions, hence the dangling red thread on one end.
Sat bored watching a film (I can't just watch things, unless I'm falling asleep. I have to be doing something at the same time), I decided to have a go at making a cardboard loom using these instructions. Still a work in progress atm, it's eventually going to be a small mat for something. Maybe not a place mat, cheap wool isn't normally too heatproof I don't think.

I've also had a go at making a watering can from a plastic milk container, which has become an invaluable part of my gardening equipment. I've got lots of large pots with plants in now and trying to water them all with my little dinosaur watering can would take years. This is great, although don't try and punch holes in the lid with something pokey instead of a hot needle like the instructions say. I thought I was being clever by not reading the guide properly. Didn't work, the smooth holes mean that the water comes out in a proper watering can style sprinkle and not one big stream (yes, despite the multiple holes). That'll learn me.

I've attempted to make a friendship bracelet seat cusion, with limited success. I was using strips of material from some old t-shirts which turned out to be not quite long enough, meaning the cushion ended up being stretched a fair bit. But the parts where I still had plenty of fabric to work with look good, so it had the potential to come out looking like the one in those pictures. Albeit far, far more offensive colour-wise (I was using near fluorescent green, pink and orange fabric).

Having recently come into ownership of a lovely table and chair set for the balcony, I made myself some plant hangers using this tute. I used just bog standard cotton kitchen string to hang some of the smaller pots on the balcony from the railings to free up some floor space. I'll pop some pictures up if I remember to take some when it's not pitch black out.

So that's about it for things what I nicked off Pinterest. For now. Expect further updates.

When I wasn't busy getting stuck in string or stroking my paper collection this week, I made THE. BEST. HOT CROSS BUNS. EVOIRB. E-V-O-I-R-B. Modesty aside, it was a fantastic recipe, found here. I wanted to get a good recipe so some could be taken down with us when le Boof and I go to see the fams for Easter this weekend. (Correct sentence structure? Pfft, too excitable) The first recipe was based on a fairly standard bread recipe. The came out a bit solid and went stale really quickly. These babies however. OMGoose. Once they'd cooled (enough) we had a taste. They were super soft and just perfect. They were everything I wanted from a hot cross bun. I was super excited. In fact, I've still only made the one batch but I can't stop raving about them. Unfortunately for le Boof he's pretty much the only person I've seen all week, so it's been mostly aimed at him (although I'm fairly certain he wasn't listening most of the time, so I guess it's ok.) I can't recommend this recipe highly enough. It's a bit more labour intensive than the first I tried, it's probably best left for when you've got an entire day/evening set aside for breaded goods based tinkering. Or if you're a work from home seamstress who is easily distracted. *ahem*

I'm making the proper batch tomorrow, here's hoping I can keep them from le Boof long enough to get them all the way down South!

And finally, golly, there's a lot more to be blogged, but this'll be the last thing for now, postable birthday cakes. Two of the lovely ladies that I worked with when we were down South had their birthdays last week. So when the delivery man came to pick up my finished box of sewing, I snuck in a tin of cupcakes.

The main challenge with this was making sure the cupcakes didn't rise too much so they wouldn't fit in the tin. I tend to have issues with my cupcakes being tall, but I just about managed enough small ones to spell out happy birthday! They were vanilla sponge with a hole scooped out the top, Ma's home-made strawberry jam plopped in then a thin bit of the scooped out cake put back on top to keep the jam in place. Iced with glace icing, piped on letters with the same in purple and finally, edible glitter. Yay! Off they went with the courier man.

Unfortunately it took a week for them to reach their destination. I was fairly certain it was a next day delivery thing, but I have been assured they were still yummy when they were finally received yesterday. Oh well.

For anyone who has played Portal 2 all the way through - here ♥. If you know the background, it's quite emotional. Such a fantastic game, and a great song.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fruity cakes and more bunting.

I've always been more into veggies than fruit, but when I do my twice weekly (ish) grocery shop down the high street, I do try and buy a few bits of fruit in an attempt to nudge le Boof and I closer to our 5-a-day. However more often than not, said fruit will sit for a little while in the fruit bowl, full of potential, then start to go a bit past it's best, and of course then there's an excuse not to eat it. This week though I decided enough was enough. I rescued the three apples and one banana from certain bin-based doom.

And put them in cakes.

Well, we're still eating them, just maybe in a slightly less healthy fashion than I had first intended.

So for me, a humongous apple cake, and for BF some banana muffins (actually a banana loaf recipe that I was too lazy to bother with the loaf tin for so they went into muffin cases).

The banana loaf recipe was from my wonderful Hummingbird bakery cook book, the one I always seem to turn to when I'm at a loss for what to bake. As for the apple cake...

450g cooking apples (although I used half eating, half cooking this time and it came out fine)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
225g butter
280g caster sugar
4 eggs
2tsp vanilla essence
350g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
A little Demerara sugar (or similar) for sprinkling on top

1. Set the oven to 180°c
2. Peel, core, then thinly slice the apples
3. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apple slices
4. Beat the butter and caster sugar together, then add the eggs one at a time.
5. Stir in the vanilla essence then sieve in the flour and baking powder.
6. Line a large, deep baking tray with greaseproof paper, or grease one well with oil or butter.
7. Spread half the cake mixture evenly across the base of the tin, then layer half the apple slices on top.
8. Carefully cover that with the rest of the cake mix and finally arrange the last of the apple on top, and to finish, sprinkle with (lots) more sugar.
9. Bake for 40-45 minutes, leave in the tin for 10 minutes to cool once it's out of the oven.

When I was not eating cake (as part of my 5-a-day), I managed to finish this; bunting for the university's knitting society which I am part of.

I used this pattern for knitted bunting triangles I found on Ravelry ♥, but changed the amount of cast on stitches to fit the embroidered pattern... which was a cross stitch pattern for the Times New Roman font, that just so happened to translate nicely to knitting embroidery. I did try knitting the letters in as I went, but it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. I'm still new to colourwork with knitting. Someone with more experience (or not, who knows) might have had more luck, but for me it came out looking sloppy. The embroidering however came out rather nicely, even if I say so myself. I used a duplicate stitch, which took a bit of getting used to, getting the embroidery yarn to sit directly on top of the stitches, but I got it in the end! Very pleased with this, it shall be adorning all future KnitSoc tables for various events.

In other news, I have recently become obsessed with Pinterest. It's kind of social networking, but more than that. You set up "boards", collections of things that you like the idea of or that inspire you, or that you just plain like the look of, then whenever you come across something on the internet that falls into one of these categories you can "Pin" it, and add it to one of your boards. You can also follow other people's boards, and they can follow yours. There's lots of pictures of things people want for their weddings, and cute puppies, and pictures of attractive/famous young men and women, but personally I have found it incredibly inspiring. In the last week I have been more productive, arts and crafts wise, than I have been since we moved up here. All the things I have made need an entire blog post of their own, so I'll leave that until next time, but for now, here's my collection of boards, enjoy!

Just watched Fight Club for the first time (yes yes, I know) so song for this post is
Pixies - Where is My Mind