Friday, December 19, 2014

Ava

Next up in the FO Parade is Ava, a grandpa-style sweater in angora, designed by Kim Hargreaves.  For a long time I'd thought I wouldn't post this FO, but I decided to go ahead with it after all, because I really like the sweater.

Ava is one of the many lovely patterns in Kim Hargreaves' book Smoulder, published in September 2013.  (The Holt coat I made last fall is also in this book.)  Shortly after I got the book, I ordered the yarn to make this sweater, and cast on in December of 2013.  And shortly after that, there was a kerfuffle about angora yarns and mistreatment of rabbits.  There were LOTS of discussions on Ravelry forums about it, and although Rowan issued a statement that their angora was ethically sourced, a lot of knitters started to boycott angora across the board, and shortly thereafter Rowan discontinued the yarn.

By the time I became aware of all this (I don't actually read any of the forums on Ravelry!), I'd half finished the sweater.  And I had really mixed feelings about it - of course I don't want to support unethical and cruel treatment of animals, and yet Rowan claims this yarn does not fall in that category.  I slowly continued to knit on it, and finally finished all the pieces around April.  Just in time for warm weather! 

So it sat, in pieces, all summer long and through the early fall.  Around mid-October, I got it out again and slowly started to seam the pieces together.  I felt embarrassed to share about it because of all the anti-angora sentiment.


I finally decided that I would go ahead with it - I'd already purchased the yarn; any cruelty I'd unwittingly participated in had already been done.  But I hope that the statement Rowan made was true, and that this angora yarn is "clean."  It's a lovely sweater, despite my mixed feelings about it.





Ravelry notes here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Color Affection

Wowzers, it's been a long time!  I've been stricken with a lack of motivation to write, and an increase in motivation to finish things up.  In the last couple months, I've finished up 3 sweaters, 2 scarves, a quilt and my blazer!  Most of these have been finished for some time, and just waiting for that rare combination of me having time to take photos and the sky not being grey.  It's that season again :-)

I decided to post them in order of completion.  So first up is my Color Affection scarf.  I guess it's really more like a shawl - it's enormous!  But I generally wear all my shawls as scarves, wrapping them several times around my neck.  Here I draped it in a more shawl-like way, so you could see the stripes.


This project was started last November, and had been languishing for a while.  To be honest, I probably wouldn't have finished it as quickly as I did if it hadn't been for Jen - she and some other friends started a knit-along in October on Instagram, and the camaraderie was just the push I needed.  I even finished it on time to show it to her in person when I visited Asheville in October!


I love the finished scarf, but I have to admit, I didn't love knitting it.  I like the pattern quite a bit - like most of Veera's patterns, it's an innovative and interesting knit.  But my yarn was a bear to knit with:  very splitty.  Thank goodness it's a joy to wear though - it's a lovely mix of silk, alpaca and merino.  Yes, it is THAT soft.


I guess I should have steamed it before taking these pix - you can see the fold lines!  I'm a bit ashamed to admit that aside from the day I met Jen in Asheville, this scarf has not been worn.  It's just been sitting in my drawer.  I love the colors but they don't actually go with a whole lot in my closet other than grey.  Also, I haven't been going out much - I've been staying home and finishing up projects!



Ravelry notes here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Barking Mad.

In order to be really happy, I need to do something creative every day.  Usually those things happen with some sort of needle and some sort of thread.  But sometimes they happen in the kitchen.

Lately I can't get enough of making chocolate bark.  I got onto the idea from an article in Midwest Living magazine.  I have no idea why I get this magazine - I've never subscribed or paid for it, it just shows up every couple months!  The November/December issue had a nice spread with all different kinds of chocolate bark recipes, and I couldn't wait to try it.

I've been posting pictures of my bark on Instagram, and people are going kind of nuts.  But it's super easy to do!  The article linked above tells you everything you need to know - really it's just melting chocolate and putting some stuff on top.  But I went ahead and took some pictures today when I made some up, so I could share it with you all.

My big take-away from this article was the part about fake tempering chocolate.  I've always melted chocolate over a double boiler, but you can easily scorch it that way if you're not careful.  This way is so easy and gives great results - the chocolate comes out smooth and silky.

Start with block chocolate you like.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  I used Trader Joe's Pound Plus - 17.5 ounces for $4.99!  And for those of you with no Trader Joe's nearby, don't fret:  apparently you can order this stuff off Amazon!   For each of the following "bars" I used about 4.5 ounces of chocolate.


Chop the chocolate fine.  This is the hardest part of the whole thing!  But the finer you chop it, the faster it will melt.  You could also grate it, but chopping is easier for me.


Place the chocolate in a bowl, then float that bowl in another, larger bowl half full of very hot tap water.  The water I used was about 125 degrees F.




Now this is VERY IMPORTANT - do not let ANY water get into your chocolate.  If it does, the chocolate will "seize" and not melt.  (This is a problem I've had with using the double boiler, because of all the steam it produces.)

Every once in a while, give your chocolate a stir, making sure not to let any water get into it.  It should be completely melted and smooth in 10 - 15 minutes.


Carefully lift the bowl out of the water and wipe the bottom with a paper towel to continue protecting the chocolate.


Pour it out onto a piece of parchment (or waxed) paper, then sprinkle your prepared toppings on it.  You can do your topping prep - chopping and such - while the chocolate melts.  I spread mine to about 1/4" thick; that 4.5 ounces gives me a bar that's about 8" x 4".


I got creative with my first one today and did a combo I've been thinking about for a while:  Turkish dried figs, walnuts and Urfa pepper (a spicy, sweet, smoky red pepper from the southeast of Turkey) on top of 45% dark chocolate.



I made a second bar with white chocolate, which I love but Hubby hates.  Teeheeeheeee!  This one has almonds and candied ginger.


And finally I made one of the recipes from the article:  "The Macaroon."  This one has toasted slivered almonds, shredded coconut and a sprinkle of sea salt on top of 72% dark.


And here's the first one I made a few days ago, now half gone.  This one had walnuts and cranberries, and Hubby loved it.  I've been putting a few pieces in his lunch for the last few days. <3


I've really had fun making these and I think it would be a great activity to do with kids.  There are so many topping possibilities, it's been fun thinking about what to do next.  Of course, it would make a great gift or party theme too.

If you decide to try it out and come up with any creative combinations, let me know!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FO: Anna's Garden Shell Top

Back with more Alabama Stitchin'!!  These days, AC projects and working on my Starmore sweater are all I seem to want to do.

Almost two months ago, I previewed a kit I had purchased over the summer from Alabama Chanin:  the Anna's Garden Shell Top.  I started working on it some time later, and finished it a couple weeks ago.  Today, I finally wore it when I went out for coffee with Alicia, so I took a few pictures before I left. 

I purchased the size Medium kit.  The fit is OK, but not as good as I could make it if I'd traced the pattern from the book and adjusted it for my needs.  I was surprised that the shoulders were a bit wide - surprised because my shoulders are on the wide side.  The top is also quite long.  I could easily cut off a couple inches from the bottom.  And of course, on my body, it would benefit from a sway back adjustment.  But it's a t-shirt, and none of these things are going to keep me from wearing and enjoying it.

Here are some up-close pictures of the garment, and then some modeled pictures.

From the front:  you can see that the cut of these tops is quite curvy, which I like.  The neck is also  high - a true jewel neckline - which I don't mind but I know a lot of people dislike.  I believe that this top uses the "T-Shirt Top" pattern from the Sewing + Design book, so you could replicate this look if you wanted to.  (The kit is no longer available.)


On the back, you can see the stitching from the label.


And here's the label from the inside.  Love. It.  I feel so cool knowing this label is in there.


The reverse applique sections were worked in backstitch using four strands of embroidery floss.  After working my first AC project with button craft thread, I wasn't sure I'd like the floss but I really loved it!  It's so silky.  The floss included in the kit was black and grey variegated.  It makes for an interesting look - I would use variegated floss again.



I was surprised when I received the kit that the cream piece for the inside was not the full width of the front piece.  Now that the top is put together though, I think it's a good thing - this fabric is quite thick.  The appliqued side almost feels like padding on my shoulder, and the weight of it tends to pull the top to that side.  Here it is from the inside, cut away after stitching.


I attached the bindings with cretan stitch again, and worked the seams inside felled.



And I finally bought a pair of black jeans, just to go with this top.  I don't think I've had a pair of black jeans in 25 years!


Here's a better look at the cutwork from the side:


Despite its imperfections, I'm happy with this project.  If you are tempted to try this technique but intimidated by all the hand stitching, a project like this - no sleeves, cutwork only on a small area - is a great place to start.

A couple days after I finished this, I started on a new AC project.  I just couldn't stand not having one on the go!  I'm trying different techniques with each project, so that one is very different from the 3 I've already done.  I'm not sure I like it quite as much, but I am having fun making it!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Starmore Sweater: Cutting Open a Steek

The weather has turned cooler, and that means I've gotten back to working on my Starmore sweater.  I spent a fair amount of time on it yesterday and managed to finish the first sleeve. 

This morning I cut open the steek for the second sleeve, and took a video while I did so.  It looks like the last video update I did on this sweater was a year ago, and there were some comments in between asking to show how the steek is cut.

I apologize for the poor focus - I had the camera to my left side, which meant I couldn't always see the screen to see if I was in focus!  But I think it's clear enough to give you the general idea.


So you see - nothing to fear!  If fear of steeks has kept you from working a Fair Isle sweater, fear no more!  If it's the massive amount of work involved though - well, I'm afraid there's no way around that. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Elephant in the Room: the Demise of the Stash Diet

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I fell off the Stash Diet wagon quite some time ago.  I bought a lot of fabric over the summer - partly because it filled the void of not being able to sew; partly because Hubby saw some guitar-print fabrics he wanted for new shirts; partly because I was high on Emery Dress fumes and wanted Emery Dresses in All The Fabrics.

But there's been something else going on as well.  More and more, I've limited what I share on Flickr, and that is mostly because I've gotten a fair number of creepers following me.  It's gotten to the point that I've decided to completely delete my Flickr account rather than continue to deal with it. 

That is a personal decision, but as one of the administrators of the Stash Diet, I felt I should let everyone know.  There are still a few members who are actively participating.  Perhaps someone would like to take over as an administrator?  If so, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Last Two Questions

Well, gotta say:  this whole thing has felt like a school assignment, LOL!  More proof that I only want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it :-)  Anyway, here are the answers to the two questions I left unanswered yesterday.

My friend Cyndi asked this:  "I'd like to know why you don't put recipes on your blog. I know you have some great ones to share."

Here's some background.  Cyndi and her husband and son are friends of ours from St. Louis, although none of us live there now - we moved here and they moved to Portland, OR.  But when we all lived in St. Louis, we spent quite a lot of time together, and it often revolved around food :-)  Dinner at our house, cookouts at their house.  And my favorite:  picnics at some of the local wineries.  It may surprise you to know that there's a hilly, wine-growing region just west of St. Louis, and lots of the wineries have outdoor patios where you can bring your own picnic and buy some wine, then have a nice meal looking out at the beautiful hills.  So much fun, and such great memories.  


Stef (who I had the pleasure of meeting the spring before last) asked:  "Do you cook any recipes passed down from your mum or a close relative? If so, what?"  Stef's on a blog break at the moment, but if you scroll back through her pages, you'll see lots of mouth-watering photos of food.  But she's still pinning great recipes on Pinterest, and I've found plenty of good ones through her.

Here's the thing, Stef:  my mom has never liked to cook.  She still doesn't.  And my dad was a pretty picky eater.  So we grew up on a mostly meat & potatoes, hot dogs and hamburgers type of diet.  And casseroles of course - it was the '70s, after all :-)  So I don't have a lot of family recipes.  But there is one.

My mom makes the BEST potato salad in the WORLD!!  And here is her recipe. 

Billie's Potato Salad

5 lb. potatoes
2 lb. bacon
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
dill pickles, chopped, and some of the juice from the jar
salt
pepper
garlic powder
paprika

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until done, about 45 minutes - 1 hour.  Drain then allow to cool.  Peel off the skins and slice the potatoes into a large bowl.

Chop all the bacon coarsely and brown in a frying pan.  Add the chopped onion when bacon is almost cooked, and continue cooking until caramelized.

Pour the bacon and onion mixture, along with a bit of the bacon grease, over the potatoes.

Add in mayonnaise or Miracle Whip and pickles to taste, along with some of the juice from the pickles.  Add in seasonings to taste and mix well to combine.
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Now, I should probably admit that I myself have never made this recipe.  But Mom made it for many family gatherings, and I always stuffed myself with as much as I could!  If any of you try it, let me know!

And I'll go back to Cyndi's question to wrap it up:  I'm not really sure why I don't post recipes!  I never really thought about it, I guess!