Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Holidays!

over here we are still saying "happy christmas" though, despite political correctness etc. when you go outside today the country seems to be asleep. apart from the occasional car far away and the rain on the roof there are hardly any sounds outside. in germany we celebrate mainly on christmas eve, but over here everybody celebrates on christmas day! it's a family day, no visiting neighbours or trips to the pub! 
luckily the weather was alright today - last week we had one day of snow in the morning, which came as a surprise - just a day after I said that I had to upload a snow photo from last year:) it looked ominously grey and threatening, but it calmed down in the afternoon and we went back to rain and wind over night! we seem to be stuck in that pattern - there's another hefty storm in the forecast for tomorrow night - and more heavy rain, too:( is this our punishment for a fairly dry autumn now?

I am not sure that all the presents made it to their intended recipients in time, but I think I can safely show these pix, as most of my family members either don't own a computer or they don't look at blogs...
a little while back I ordered some charms and added a few bookmarks to my order - those oddly shaped hooks. I also found some funny little pewter bits at our september group meeting - a hippo in two parts and a frog. the middle can be a large bead, a felt ball - or little crochet tummies in green and pink. my mother collects hippos and she likes to read - I hope she likes the pot-bellied pink hippo girl:) the frog is for my MIL. the owl bookmarks were a bit easier to work - the beads are easy to put on wire, whereas I nearly broke my fingers, when I crocheted and filled the hollow crochet beads. but of course owls are a bit more sedate than frogs:) not sure about hippos....

the background behind the bookmarks is this:
I spun some of the donegal tweed pencil roving and chainplied it to knit three round covers for kitchen stools for my parents. I chose three slightly different "patterns", just different ways of increasing really. the back is made from two layers of dark green fleece, which is nice and soft - and easily washable. as an edge I knitted attached i-cords all around. they are between 33 and 35 cm in diameter...

...and all have different colours. this is still drying after blocking.
the first two gave no problems, but with the third one I ran into trouble. this only has 5 points of regular increases, but can be blocked to a circle. the problem was that the middle bobbled upwards! I had to block it really hard, which shows in more open knitting at the outer edges. eventually I managed to steam the middle down - and the rest out, but the other two turned out nicer. lesson learned: more increase points apparently make smoother circles?!

a few days ago I received a small needle book as a present - and I liked the idea so much that I "stole" it:) mine is a bit bigger though and I added two layers of felt for needles. the hexagons measure 4 cm on each side - so that I can put quite a few needles inside, but it's not as big as my normal one, which is old, rectangular and quite ugly by now:) this one is going to be a present though - but I plan to make one for myself - eventually.
it's big enough even for my largest pins, which I use all the time. I cut the inner felt a bit smaller than the outer one, so that it's easier to see, which needles are where.

it's closed with a button and a small loop, which I crocheted out of stranded cotton. a small gift and easy to make - perfect for leftover patchwork fabrics and the odd single button?
 the last 3 days before christmas I did nothing much but baking. a lot of baking:) and I still have one lump of dough in the fridge, but I ran out of time yesterday afternoon or the presents would have been unwrapped after midnight! and I just couldn't bring myself to bake them today - but I guess I have to do the vanilla crescents tomorrow! we finished the plate quite quickly, but in my experience the rate of munching slows down with every day that passes after christmas eve.... still plenty in the tins though! the one covered in chocolate is the odd one out. I saw the "top hats" somewhere on pinterest. they are just bought oreo cookies, a marshmallow glued on top (with melted choc) and covered in dark chocolate and a few sprinkles. I have to admit that they do taste nice - but I only made 14 - that's all there was in the roll of oreos:)
I also started to "make" chocolates - which is a bit of a misnomer. I don't make my own chocolate from scratch, I just melt it, blend several together (dark, medium, milk, white etc.) and add whatever I think might work, I made coconut (with desicated coconut and coconut oil), peppermint, mixed spice - and some "ice praline" (the ice is a bit misleading. it's not kept in the fridge, but the melting point of coconut oil is lower than that of the chocolate - which leads to a cool feeling in the mouth.) - with mocca flavour. I also made pecan-marcipan and marzipan-nougat pralines - the rest is bought - but that plate is also nearly finished:)

I hope everybody had/still has a nice christmas - to be honest I am rather glad that the rush is over for another year. I am going to finish a few projects now that I started quite some time ago, but didn't finish because I had to work on christmassy stuff . the first in line is the christmas kal shawl - where I am doodling about on day 12 - instead of wearing it proudly already:)  and tomorrow I'll do some spinning - which I haven't done in weeks - withdrawal symptoms have set in days ago:) see you soon!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

I lied....

... about the blogging:) I nearly forgot to tell you about a new book I received. unfortunately I didn't have time yet to really read it through, but I usually spend a lot of time reading during the holidays, so I expect to finish it next week! so here it goes:
the book is by Leigh Tate, a fellow blogger I've been following for quite some time now. she (and her husband) bought a smallholding to live the dream of self-sufficiency.
I am not going to go down the same road; we don't own nearly enough land to keep animals other than a few chickens. goats/sheep etc. simply need too much land - and they also need a lot of time and dedication! but even though I don't have exactly the same life goals, I do find her writing very interesting. I live in a very different country with a different climate and surroundings - but basic principles apply here, too. and I like her style of writing, very informative, but not "dry". realistic, not the dreamy "I wish I was" or "if only" reading of others. but not heartless either, you can see how much both of them care for their animals and how sad it is to loose one of them.
there are even a few cooking recipes to try - but I still think that Leigh should publish those and more in a special "smallholding" cook book:)
if you are interested - you can find more information (and even a special offer for a few days) here. I got mine from amazon uk, but it's listed elsewhere, too - or you could order directly from Leigh. happy reading!

Monday, 16 December 2013

this is...

.... a photo from last year. no snow this year, not even the smallest speck! it's grey, windy, sometimes wet, but not really terribly cold either. which I don't really mind, it's just that I've lost my christmassy feeling by now - and the weather isn't helping:)
I suppose it's down to the usual "getting-everything-done-in-time" at this time of the year. I do listen to carols, I light candles, I even eat stollen and cookies - but the feeling is gone. which happens to me every year  - by the time I've done all the jobs I wouldn't mind moving on into spring - or at least to the time right after christmas. I think my head just moves on - after concentrating on all the things I need to do, have to do, should be doing - my mind is ready to try something else (typical gemini really?) - I am just a bit too early to start.
anyway, I have finished nearly all the gifts (just a bit of sewing to do on one batch), now it's down to the rest of the christmas cards, packing everything up, baking more cookies and getting the deco in. not too bad really, considering! I might even manage to frame the x-stitched christmas market and hang it up (of course, it wasn't a present, so it hasn't been finished yet:). sometimes I wonder how it would feel if I didn't do any gifts at all - would I miss it?
this is a hat, knitted from the dewdrop yarn I spun up last year. difficult to see the beads, but they do look a bit like water droplets. they don't dangle much, because I spun them into the yarn instead of plying with a fine yarn with strung beads. I found the pattern on ravelry, but I added one more repeat, because I wanted the hat to cover the ears! 
 the top forms automatically from the decreases - it looks a bit like a chunky snowflake.... I had so much yarn that I actually made two hats, the same apart from the rib. one will travel to germany, the other was a "secret santa" exchange gift.
after making two hats there was still yarn left, so I made a pair of wrist warmers in circular tunisian crochet - just by changing the hole into which to crochet the fabric looks very different!  

these are made in exactly the same way - but with the different yarn (black merino with pink cochineal-dyed silk) and a different stitch (the basic tun. crochet stitch) they look quite different. I added some skeletons and skull and bones for decoration:)  

I also knitted a lace moebius, called chameleon, from a handspun white merino that I plied with handspun, handdyed (alderbuckthorn berries) viscose. the colours are an icy blue and a slightly greener tinge - like a glacier, that's why I call the colour glacialis:) it's soft and warm, but rather difficult to photograph, due to the "bulge" and knot of a moebius. same for blocking, I had to do it in stages to manage....  
this is my latest "haul" - I found a supplier for charms in the uk. I splashed out on harry potter utensils - bolts, owls, books, snakes and
something like the deathly hallows sign. then there are the skulls and skeletons, snowflakes, bees with honeypots - and snowflakes and teacups. I want to use some in hp themed art yarns and some... for the stash for now:) but I am sure I'll find a use for them.  I see a prof. trelawney and her teapots - yarn coming up:)
 this is the gift I received at the secret santa exchange. a mug with a... hm, an "apron" in it? it even has the same shape, just no ties. it's very practical, standing on the table where I usually work at - and keeps all the bits and bobs handy that usually end up under a heap of paper or knitting or stitching etc... I like useful gifts:) and there's even some "purple" in the fabric!
 this is how the fabric part is shaped - it's folded in half and fixed with a velcro strip, when in use.
when I received one of my first christmas cards - from canada - I was rather surprised to the the picture on the stamp - I had the one with the christmas tree on it (I took the photo with all three from the internet). it's actually done in cross stitch! haven't seen any textile themed stamps in ireland - or in germany, come to that! I don't usually collect myself, but I am going to keep this one.
of course it's not all work - it's also food sometimes:) DS has been pestering me for a long time to make donuts again. well, they are not "real" donuts, there's no jam filling in mine. but they were nice and fresh anyway. not really a christmas treat, but because of the deep frying I wouldn't do something like that in summer. they were "inhaled" in one sitting - even worse than christmas cookies:) 
not much to show from the garden - but my lemons are finally ripening. they do take a very long time - haven't been growing in size for months, but not changing colour either. I'll wait with the picking until all 8 (one more than the last crop - and larger:) are yellow - and then I am going to make another batch miniscule amount of jelly with them - I think! they're so much more precious when homegrown!  
this is it for now - I doubt I'll find the time for another entry before christmas. I hope you're all going to have a wonderful christmas with lots of fun, a few fullfilled wishes and surrounded by friends and family - with or without snow:)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

it's creeping up....

... christmas I mean. of course there are several gifts in the works, but I cannot show any of them... there's also material on the wheel for one - but I cannot show.... you get the drift:)
but there are also lots of smaller projects, some of them are cards:
one of them has to be a mouse - every year (for the woman, who loves everything with mice:). this year I liked the embroidery better than last year! a few back stitches, but no half crosses - I don't like half crosses, esp. not on aida fabric! now I just have to find (or make) a card with a circular aperture in the right size.....

stars are easier to fit - the red is more burgundy in reality (flash colours:(). and the blue and white is similar to the one from last year, an easy motif, not much to count:) both are freebies from the Stickeule....


as is this SAL, which I finished a few days ago. the frame (patchwork fabric) is still missing, which means that I have to sew on the first stripe by hand - maybe I should have thought about that before I attached the small green seed beads? but I am not taking them off again now! the original has no beads in it, but I made a mistake with the second house on the left, which has a different roof colour in the pattern. I didn't fancy taking all the white stitches out, so I decided to add some beads instead of stitching the yellow "lights". and while I had the beads out, I put in some golden and red ones in instead of the rest of the christmas tree lights etc. and added a bit of glitz.... it's a christkindl market after all:) now all that's missing is some music and the scent of mulled wine! I also used some multicoloured green and blue embroidery yarns. no problem for the greenery - but the sky was a bit fussy to do. to end up with a more realistic pattern for the sky I had to work mostly single rows, otherwise the hole thing ends up quite patchy!
another christmas project is this - looks like homemade cabbages from the top?
they're not - they are christmas trees:) crocheted ones.
and they look better like this, I think. the first one was done with one thread of yarn, for the second one I doubled it up for the base, but the leaves looked to rough and chunky for my taste, so I took them out again and worked them with a single strand, too. all that's missing now is a nice golden chain, some "baubles" (beads?) and maybe a star for the tip? the pattern is available free on ravelry. thank you to the designer:)
I've also been trying out a few things in the kitchen. I found 3 silicone chocolate moulds during the summer and tried them out now. on the left the pralines are medium dark chocolate, filled with some peanut butter. the hearts on the left are dark chocolate on top and homemade coconut choc for the bottom - yummeeh! unfortunately - because they vanish all by themselves somehow:) I see a few more sessions of chocolate messing coming up!
just to show that there really is peanut butter filling in them:) I think if I kept the chocolate a bit hotter (i.e. runnier), filled the mould first, swished the chocolate around a bit - I might be able to add more filling?
of course I've done a few fibrey things, too. those are some wrist warmers out of wool/silk blend. ever since I took part in the demo about tunisian crochet in the round - I've become "hooked":) so much so, that I ordered myself a set of 8 double- hooked needles to work faster... and yes, I changed the colours on purpose, that wasn't accidental...
the garden on the other hand doesn't have all that much to offer anymore - no wonder, with the grey and wet weather we've had. but I picked all the tomatoes in the tunnel - and most seem to ripen quite well inside now. the funny brownish looking ones in the middle are actually ripe - they are green with dark green stripes when unripe and turn this odd colour with red tinges once they're ready to eat! I do like making tomato salad with all those colours, it looks very inviting to eat!  
and now it's time for kitchen duty - see you in a while!

Saturday, 2 November 2013


that's what our weather is like just now! yesterday I was very lucky - lovely sunshine while I cycled to town to do our weekly shopping. today a typical autumn day: grey, very windy, leaves flying about, heavy showers - and a ray or two of sunshine in between. tomorrow is supposed to be good again - we'll see. gardening hours are few and far between now, even though I'd have plenty to do outside!
we have had enough cool and sunny days to change the colours nicely - my little japanese maple has turned its usual strong red:
 or maybe it just looks that "hot" in front of the evergreen lonicera hedges? its big brother "outside" in the garden (this is in a pot at the front of the house) has barely even turned yellow - and it only turns to light orange anyway. but in contrast to the red leaves that seem to drop all of a sudden in one or two days, the ones from the large tree turn slowly - but come off slowly, too! the sycamores all suffer from black spot disease here, which means that the leaves turn brown and drop off early, but the ash trees are still fairly green! when we have strong winds it feels like sleeping in a tent in my "upstairs" bed - the leaves hit the attic windows and make their own kind of music  - together with the raindrops. very cosy and sleep inducing for me!
the blueberries all look very different now - two of the early fruiting varietes are still totally green, while the ones that carry fruit later are a fiery autumnal red! the colour of the flowers at this time of year seems rather "washed out" in contrast to the leaves; the cimicifuga is all white, the fuchsia only has a pinkish edge. the only two strong coloured flowers just now are the small red dahlia and my one deep purple lupin. the blue lobelias that I planted in the boxes together with fuchsias and pelargoniums are nearly gone - only a small blue spot here and there in the middle of a brown, leafless blotch:( oh yes, and I nearly forgot my fearless sanvitalias. like tiny sunflowers they keep going until the first real frost kills the tops. this flower amazes me: I never do anything with them, apart from watering. no faded flowers to pick off, no cutting back - nothing. and still they have been in full flower since spring! and they'll come back next spring, unless the winter turns really frosty (in which case I'd rescue them into the shed!).
it's not all gardening though, I've been spinning the bag full of baby alpaca for ages, or so it feels. probably because it's natural white - no entertainment with colour changes etc. I will dye the spun yarn, and I am nearly done now. two bobbins full means 2 more skeins after plying, which should be enough for the planned cropped cardigan....
and I finally dug out all the saved dahlia flowers I'd frozen over the last few weeks. I was going to go for a stronger orange, but then decided to put all the merino I had left into the dyebath. lighter in colour, but at least I have enough to do something with it! the red pompoms were very lazy this year, so I had to make do with the blooms of a single small plant. but it was still enough to dye a lighter, more variegated shade on some teeswater top (left) in the leftover bath. I tried cold mordant for the first time - and you can really feel the difference on the fibres: no matting, as soft as they've been before! it's easy to use as well - it's dissolved in warm water and can be used by just putting in the fibres over night or even for a few days - no damage to the fibres and no more heating stuff on the stove! but for this year the only thing I still plan to dye with will be the mahonia berries I found in the freezer. but luckily there's still plenty of dyed fibre in the stash to work with - and it might not be a bad idea to use up some of the finished yarn over winter - to have room for new stuff next spring! happy spinning! or knitting... 

Monday, 21 October 2013

this and that

today it looks like autumn - rain or at least drizzle and grey, grey, grey.... but it doesn't feel like autumn, when I go outside! it's still very mild, nearly muggy out there. my strawberries think it must be spring - they started flowering again! same for some of the roses - they're producing flowers as well, while the rugosas are still full of hips. very odd, but I do like the sight of all the yellow and red on the leaves just now (we had a few sunny days and cold nights, which always makes the change of colours brighter!).
and I have a few more reds and greens to show:
this is the Argenteuil pattern that I changed a bit by using more stitches (my yarn was finer) and by adding a crochet border. the colours were different as well, of course, no green in the original, so mine isn't a sunset - more of a rose garden?:) but it's a blend of wool and silk, too. the green and the red tones in the middle were dyed with acid dyes on light grey yarn, the reds on the left were dyed on white. I plied this one with one thread of very fine silk, but you'd have to look very closely to see a difference in the knitting. I had to block it in two halves though - too long for my 10 foam jigsaw pieces. high time to get myself another one or two of those sets, but apparently they are out of fashion just now? I didn't see any on offer for quite some time, but I'll wait patiently until they're on sale again somewhere.
 even though the edges didn't roll very much, I thought the shawl looked unfinished without edging. I thought about knitting a lace edge, but none of the narrow patterns appealed to me - and I wasn't sure I'd have enough for a wider one! so I started digging around the crochet books and found an edge pattern I liked in this one. easy to do, not too frilly - and I still had some leftovers....
 ....which I used to make a cowl. in tunisian crochet, worked in the round - a technique we learned from the latest demo at our group meetings. it's simple really - but as with all things it helps if you check the fit before you finish the project:) I worked the cowl - and tried it on when I had just finished it. trying is the right word - because it didn't fit, too narrow to go over my head! so after a bout of ripping I started again - and this time remembered to try out the chain st base before going on! I nearly finished the green, but had some of the two red yarns left, so I added a bit of "normal" crochet along the edges.
in the detail you can see that the wrong side looks a bit like purled knitting. it's quite dense, but soft enough to wear around the neck.
not sure I'll keep it though - I don't wear stuff like that often, so both of them might end up in  the "gift" box...  
we had a bit of a problem here on saturday - which lead to me having to go halfway into town again to pick up a bike. on the way I passed this cow - which looked totally normal from further away. but when I came closer I saw her eye! I don't know what's wrong, but it looks like a big glass orb, terrible! I tried to find out something online, but so far without success. it looks painful to me, but the cow was very calm, and well fed, she didn't look sick at all otherwise. I wonder if maybe she was born with it?
I am using the rain today to get the ironing done - at least I hope I do, because the mountains are growing... out with the music, otherwise I'll bore myself to death:)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

before and after...

the weather is still unusual for october - very mild, often sunny or at least dry and not too much wind! I don't trust this - somehow I have the feeling that very nasty weather is just around the corner:) anyway, I finished most of my berry picking, endless blackberries (taking advantage of a very good year!), seemingly endless rosehips (though that's down to the job of scraping out the seeds before using them) - just the elderberries left, but I expect that I can pick the first batch this weekend.
I managed to pick about 12 kg of blackberries, and after days of scraping and sieving of rosehips I ended up with 2.6 kg of rosehip puree (without sugar, most of it will end up as jam). I keep picking blueberries, but they only ripen bit by bit, so I have to freeze them and wait until I have enough - unless I take what I have and put them into a fruit salad. soon fresh fruit will be harder to find - unless you're willing to buy stuff imported from the other end of the world! I also tried rosehip syrup for the first time - but I think I let it simmer for too long. I filled it into a tall, narrow bottle - where it set so nicely, that it barely moves at all. I think I have to re-heat and dilute it, otherwise I'd have to scrape it out of the bottle to use it!
Mostly I make juice from the blackberries, which I can use for fruit soups, hot drinks and jelly, of course. and I make some fruit puree (without seeds), which can be mixed with gelatine and whipped cream for dessert, or for ice cream etc. but I also froze some smaller bags full for cakes - like this pastry filled with almond/egg/sugar/blackberry mix - delicious!
I just wish that our grapes would be as plentiful as the blackberries - this is the one and only we managed to pick. but I have to say: they looked perfect (this colour in yarn - I want some!!) and they tasted just as nice. maybe we'll have some more next year?
even though there are still a lot of gardening jobs waiting to be done, I managed to finish a few bits and pieces on needles and wheel:


 I blended some merino and corriedale in greens and yellow with bits of sari silk, made rolags and spun it into a coiled yarn. the plan is to make another bracelet, but first I have to crochet around the metal base, before I start weaving the coil yarn around it.
 I also started a few small christmas decorations - not, because I felt very christmassy, but because some members of our group are doing mini workshops shortly before christmas in the museum, where we have our CTC meetings. before I decide for a suitable small deco project, I have to try out different patterns! they don't look very promising all curled up (and worked from sock yarn, they are too chunky anyway!)...
... but once they are blocked, I think both of them look ok. I'll spray them with starch - but I will try out a few more before I decide on one or two. we only have 2 hours, which doesn't exactly leave an awful lot of time, esp. when I don't know how good visitors will be at crocheting! which means that the patterns have to be quite basic, nothing fancy or complicated!
these "before and afters" have been finished for a while, but I couldn't show them before.. not very promising, some sock yarn in very boring colours...
.. after a lot of tiny bits in crochet, some sewing, some stuffing, some beading....
... let me introduce you to bride and groom, Mr and Mrs Birdie:) they were just a small gift to unwrap for a wedding in the family. I don't particularly like money gifts, but being far away and not knowing what might suit this was the most sensible way, I think. though in hindsight I find a bride in natural white with gleaming white hat and skirt a bit odd - that's why I added a bit of purple. the original had white beads and white ribbon, which made for an even paler looking bride....
I also finished the base of my first "moody jungle" sock, knitted with the silk sock yarn I had dyed during the demo session at one of our group meetings. I will make a few colourful flowers, probably in crochet, to attach them to the sock base. and one bell-shaped flower will be attached to the i-cord, which I used instead of a rib. a leaf already dangles off the other end of the cord, which can be knotted - but the sock is tight enough to stay up on the leg anyway.
the second "first sock" I started is knitted with the very colourful sock yarn from the same dye session. I didn't like the colours very much at first, but then I thought I'd give them a try together with black. the idea was to work something like "stained glass windows" - and I am quite happy with the pattern now. the heel and toes will be all black (lots of fiddling and knitting in rows involved in the gusset:) but the foot will have the same pattern. I put on the leg part and checked if I can feel the slipped stitches under my foot, but no, it didn't feel different from "normal" socks at all.  
 the group project for this year was a postcard exchange - which we held at the september meeting. I thought about embroidery first, felting maybe, patchwork? but then I decided that I am first and foremost a spinner and knitter. so I spun up some fine white merino yarn (single) and knitted a rectangle in the estonian lily-of-the-valley lace pattern.
 actually the making-up of the card was far more work than the knitting:) I zigzagged the front across a piece of cardboard, covered in dark blue crepe paper, made up a "postcard" back in white evenweave, embroidered the lines and sewed it all together. it could be used as a real postcard, but I don't think it will be. we had lots of very different entries, and everyone agreed that we should do another exchange next year (and I just realized that I forgot to take a pic from the card I received in exchange!)  
of course I always have some fibres on the wheel as well. this skein on the left is the first one spun from the "studio donegal" pencil roving I brought back from the trip up north. the colours are gorgeous, even though the yarn is a bit rough. it's not really spun for use as knitting yarn, normally it's used to weave tweed fabric, so it has to be quite durable to last. I think if they made the same colour graduation from merino wool, spinners would stampede them and buy every scrap they could lay their hands on:)  
and last but not least - the forgotten fat quarters of christmas fabric I bought. some of them might be used for textile christmas cards and the greens will probably end up as binding for a christmas runner. high time to start, only a few measly weeks to go!! not to mention halloween - and the fact that I still haven't framed my cross stitching!