Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Lentil Soup

Today I decided to find a use for the bag of lentils I've had in my cupboard for about six months. I'm not a very confident cook, so I thought soup would be the easiest thing to do. It turned out really well, so well in fact that there are no photos in existence as it disappeared too quickly! Here's the recipe if anyone wants to try.

Lentil Soup (serves 4)

175g red lentils
3 small onions
4 medium sized potatoes
5 or 6 average sized carrots
Vegetable stock cube

Put the lentils in a pan of water and boil for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. Dissolve the stock cube in 3/4 pint of boiling water, and add to the lentils. Peel and chop the onions, potatoes and carrots, and add to the pan. Simmer gently until the total cooking time is about an hour, or until all the vegetables are soft. Take the pan off the heat and blend the soup until smooth. Serve with warm crusty bread.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Yummy crusty bread

I've always wanted to be more self-sufficient, but I've been too lazy/tired/busy to actually do anything about it. Well, today I took advantage of a child-free day and made some bread. I'm so proud of it - two lovely white crusty loaves. I just ate a few slices with butter and jam, and it's so good! Think I'll have to start getting up earlier and baking my own bread, the shop stuff just can't compete with a good home-made loaf.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Handbag Tutorial

I designed and made a handbag this evening, as a gift for my mother-in-law's birthday. I've decided to write up a tutorial of how I did it, as I really like the design and will probably experiment and make more in the future.

The bag is made of dusky pink suede, salvaged from a second-hand skirt. I lined it with deep purple fabric, and finished it with a felt flower and a wooden button. It measures approximately 12 inches wide by 9 inches high, although it could be made in a variety of sizes. I had a few issues with the cutting out, as the skirt I used had been cut on the bias, making it difficult to get a straight bit of fabric. I'm not the world's best sewer, and a lot of this was trial and error, so there are probably better ways to achieve the finished result. However, the whole thing took about 4 1/2 hours to make, so quite a quick and easy project.

To make the bag, cut out two large rectangles of fabric, one in the main fabric, and one in the lining. Cut these rectangles on the fold, so that there doesn't need to be a seam at the bottom of the bag.

Next, sew the side seams on both pieces using a backstitch. Trim the seams and press them flat to produce a neater effect.

Turn the main bag piece right side out, and place the lining piece inside, so that the wrong sides are touching. Line up the corners and seams, and then pin the two pieces together around the top of the bag opening. Using a double thread for extra security, gather round the top of the opening with a running stitch. The aim is to draw in the top of the bag just enough to create the desired effect, while still leaving a sizeable top opening. Secure the gathering thread and spread out the finished gathers evenly.

Next, cut a piece of the main fabric to use as a binding for the top of the bag. This should be long enough to go round the opening, and wide enough to edge the top of the bag for about 3/4 of an inch on both the right and wrong sides. Pin the binding in place round the top of the bag with the right sides touching, making sure that the gathering thread is covered. Seam the two ends of the binding before attaching them to the opening of the bag, so that a neat seam will be seen on the right side. Sew the binding in place with a firm backstitch.

Turn the binding to the right side, fold over a hem, and then pin the hemmed edge to the inside of the bag. Make sure that both sides of the binding are an equal depth. Sew the second side of the binding in place - I used a tiny whip stitch for this.

Your bag should now look like this - in my picture the pins are still showing, but you get the idea!

The next step is to make the handles. Cut two long strips of fabric, about 2 to 3 inches wide. Fold in half lengthways with the right sides together, and sew a seam with backstitch. Turn the handle right side out, using a knitting needle or something similar to help if necessary. Fold the raw edges inside the handle at each end, and then attach the ends to the inside of the bag. I used a whip stitch for this bit. Although I handsewed everything, you could probably sew this quite neatly on a machine, perhaps oversewing decoratively with a contrasting thread. You can see the different stages of the handles in this picture - I'm holding one handle before it's turned the right way out, and the other handle has already been attached.

The final stage is to decorate your bag. I used a felt flower with a wooden button at the centre, and sewed it near the top of the bag. You could also add sequins, applique, flowers, buttons, ribbons - anything that suits you and your taste.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The smell of fresh baking...

Here are the scones I baked this evening, to use up some flour and margarine I had left. They smell amazing, and look so yummy that I don't know if they'll last the night!

The recipe is really simple, adapted from Delia Smith, and here it is if anyone wants to try it. These quantities make 6 scones, but you can double it if you have a bigger family than I do.

4oz self-raising flour
3/4 oz margarine

Sift the flour and rub in the margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add a large teaspoon of caster sugar, and mix in milk to make a smooth dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it's about 2cm thick, and then cut rounds. Brush the tops with milk to make them golden, and bake on Gas Mark 7 for 15 minutes (ish). Enjoy!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Felt Applique Book

UFOs. Unfinished Objects. The bane of my life! I've spent the past year steadily working through my knitting UFOs, and have managed to get things down to just two projects on the go at any one time - one that I work on, and one that I need to finish but can't be bothered with. Now it's time to start on the sewing and embroidery projects.

I started to make a felt applique alphabet book when I was about 16, inspired by a 70s/80s American craft book belonging to my mum. I started to cut out and sew some of the pieces, then it all went into a box until I got pregnant with my first child four years later. I thought pregnancy would be the perfect opportunity to finish the project, especially as I was confined to a sofa for most of the last few months. Off I went to the nearest haberdashers, bought the remaining felt that I needed, and cut out all the pieces. This time I managed to sew all the pages up until the letter "K". Then the reality of life with a new baby kicked in, and the applique book disappeared along with all my spare time.

I'm now determined to finish the book before the end of this pregnancy, which gives me a deadline of about nine and a half weeks. Here are a few photos of some of the pages I've done so far.

A is for Apple. The ladybird is velcroed on the back so it can be stuck on the apple in different places.

B is for Butterfly. This one isn't quite finished yet. The pompoms will be attached to pieces of yarn to form antennae, and can be threaded through the holes in the wings.

C is for Clown. He's a bit freaky actually, and clowns don't usually scare me! Apologies for the awful quality of the picture, I need to learn how to take good photos.

And finally (for the moment), D is for Dinosaur. His jaw is hinged with a button, so he can snap his sharp teeth. He's a friendly dinosaur though - he carries a daisy as he skips through the meadow.

I'll post some more pictures of my progress soon - hopefully in better light!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Busy weekend

This weekend I finished the sample and test knitting I was doing for Abstract Fiber. It's all parcelled up now, ready to be sent off. I test knitted fingerless gloves with a braided cuff, which taught me a new technique. The cuff was cast on with a provisional cast on which gives you two sets of stitches, and then knitted sideways. When it's long enough to go round your wrist, you kitchener stitch the live stitches to the extra cast on set - a perfect seamless join! I really like the end result.

Here's a close up of the lovely braided cuff pattern as well.

I finished the test knitting just in time, as one of my work colleagues asked me to help her with a fancy dress costume. She's off to a hen night as She-Ra, and needed to make armbands and a gold emblem for the front of her dress. I love a challenge, so volunteered to take the whole thing home and finish it off. I made the pieces double sided and sandwiched some wadding in between them, then quilted it to show up the details. Here's a photo of the finished pieces - I did try to get my son to model, but he wasn't too keen!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Wedding gifts

One of my managers at work is getting married soon, and I decided to make her a present for her wedding. I was a bit stuck for ideas, and after trawling loads of craft sites and books, I still couldn't think of anything to make. I wanted the present to be practical, rather than something like a sampler or a keepsake, and I wanted to tone in with the pink/grey theme of her wedding.

Eventually, I settled on a photo album, and bought one to use as a base to decorate. I had a pink suede skirt which I used to cover the album, and I embroidered a cute little rabbit from Somebunny to Love to go on the front. I then added buttons to the corners, a ribbon edging, and soft purple cardboard endpapers inside. I was toying with adding the date of their wedding and labelling it as a wedding photo album, but I decided to leave it quite neutral so that they won't be limited in how they choose to use it. I'm very pleased with the finished result - here it is!

It was nice to do something other than knitting for a change. I also made them a card, which was really fiddly to cut out and nearly took longer than making the album!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Abstract Fiber

I'm knitting again, this time for Abstract Fiber in Portland, Oregon. A parcel arrived through the post the other day, with two gorgeous skeins of yarn for me to use. The one on the left is Smith Rock, and on the right is Lady Macbeth, both 4ply weight hand-dyed superwash merino.

I'm sample knitting the Spring Forward socks from Knitty with the Smith Rock colourway, and also test knitting a pair of fingerless gloves with the other colour. The yarn knits up beautifully, although I had to go through a long and frustrating evening of hand winding it into balls before I could get on with the actual knitting. After two days' work, here's the progress on the socks so far.

I really like the pattern, although it doesn't show up too clearly in this photo. It's very simple to remember, perfect for someone like me who likes to watch telly while knitting. I tend to get lost in lace patterns quite easily if I'm not concentrating, but it would be very hard to go wrong with these socks. There are only two simple pattern rounds, and every other round is plain knitting.

I'm hoping to get these two projects finished off quite quickly, as another parcel arrived on Friday - Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran for the final test knitting project on my to-do list. Unfortunately I can't reveal anything about this one at the moment, apart from the fact that it includes lots of colourwork and charts, so it will need my full concentration!

What a busy day!

I'm knackered after today! Not only was it Easter Sunday, but it was also my second wedding anniversary. I was woken up by my husband with a bunch of a dozen pink roses, which was lovely, but made me feel bad because I hadn't thought we were getting each other anything! Here they are in my living room, brightening the place up.

I decided to be productive, so I got up early and baked banana bread with my son. It's the first time I've tried it, and I had a few issues with the cooking time and the consistency. After a phone call to my sister, who's more of an expert than I am, I managed to produce a fairly successful loaf. I would have taken a photo, but it didn't last long enough for that! It's been ages since I've baked anything, as my husband tends to do pretty much all of the cooking. I'm feeling all domestic goddessy now, and am even considering sewing myself a little apron for the kitchen!

We all went to visit the in-laws for an Easter buffet lunch, and had far too much chocolate - I have had to hide one of my Easter eggs in a cupboard so that I'm not tempted to eat it any time soon. I'm determined not to get too massive at the end of this pregnancy, as I was so uncomfortable last time.

After that, I went to work for a long and exhausting shift. We were absolutely mobbed, so I was glad to get home and put my feet up. Happy Easter everybody!

Monday, 6 April 2009

More test knitting

Here are some finished pictures of my latest test knitting ventures. I'm finally reaching the end of my to-do pile!

First up, the Laced Leaves cardigan by Carol Feller. Here's a front view...

...and a back view, which shows up the lovely pattern.

I also finished test knitting the SOLI sock for the Cupcake Factory, which is in aid of the charity Streams of Life International. I love the wavy effect of the pattern, and here's a snap of the finished item.

This picture shows the pattern much more clearly.

I've really enjoyed doing all these test knits, but I will be glad to have some time to finish off outstanding projects and work on some of my own designs for a change. My garden is also calling desperately for attention, so now that summer is definitely on the way I'll be able to get stuck into the wilderness and make it all pretty!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Sneaky peek of another test knit

Here's a glimpse of the test knit I've just completed for Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches. I can't tell you much about it just now, but I do love the finished result. It's a cardigan, and I made it in Paton's Washed Haze Aran, in a shade called Spice.

Unfortunately I had to take this picture at night, so the colour doesn't show up very well. It's more of a rusty brown, not as orange as this. Incredibly, despite my huge button collection, I couldn't find any buttons that were suitable to finish off the job! Another excuse to go button shopping though - I'm thinking something leathery and weathered.

The cardigan was a great pattern to knit, and I'll post an update when it's published and I'm free to reveal more details. Until then, you can check out Carol's work in the latest issue of Yarn Forward magazine, where she has a feature and a lovely top pattern published. Here is a picture of her design - it's the orange and brown one that you'll see if you scroll down, called Fritillary.