Between projects

Yes, I am currently ‘resting’ from creativity. I am very much between projects. But I am spending a lot of time in my studio – my favourite place – planning.

Corner of my studio

Corner of my studio

In a surge of efficiency I finished off a few projects which were mostly done but required tweaking and finishing touches. I had some giant wool scraps which I turned into this lovely bunting:

Spiral wool bunting

Spiral wool bunting

A while ago I made this little ghostie from an old Jean Greenhowe pattern, and I never got round to sewing on the eyes, because embroidery isn’t my strong point. So instead I finished him off with some cool sunglasses, which made him very jolly indeed, as you can see.

IMG_2592

It is very nice to have objects about you which inspire and encourage. In my studio, these include my giant knitting needles hand-crafted by my Uncle, and the note he sent me in the parcel:

'Happy Knitting!'

‘Happy Knitting!’

My workbench is more or less clear and ready for me to start something new. Now all I need is a clear mind and a few free hours to get my notebooks out and start creating again.

Wishing you all the best with your creativity over the coming weeks!

Till next time,

L x

Butter-free Carrot Cake

As part of the new dairy-free regime, I have been looking into dairy-free baking. I see that you can replace butter in a cake mix with oil, which doesn’t sound very appetising. But then I consider that butter is a type of oil too, which when you think about it isn’t that appetising either. It’s just that it tastes soooo good!

There is absolutely no point in making shortbread without butter, in my view. The whole point of shortbread is the butter. But what about carrot cake? Moist, flavoursome, with brown sugar, cinnamon and sultanas, the butter is not the star here. I found a recipe online which uses sunflower oil and gave it a whirl yesterday.

It turned out really well, and I would definitely make this again.  Next time, I think I would add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavour. As I’m used to baking with salted butter, I found the salt was missing.  Some chopped walnuts would be a good addition.

The other thing I really liked about this recipe was that it was so much easier to mix by hand than a butter mixture.  With butter baking, unless you are using a food mixer, it’s quite heavy-going. I don’t have a food mixer, because I really enjoy the process of baking by hand. I like getting up close with the ingredients, and feeling the rhythm of it all. Firstly, the butter has to be soft enough to beat, so you have to remember to take the butter out of the fridge and soften it before you can get started. Beating the butter and sugar by hand is quite hard work. Then folding in the flour properly takes a little time. I always think of those remarkable ladies, the cooks in the great houses in past centuries, who did all this mixing and beating by hand. They were strong women with stout arms!

With the butter-free recipe, light stirring is all that is needed. The egg does not curdle with the oil. When you add the dry ingredients, you just ‘lightly mix’, and it’s ready to bake.

Mmmm, carrot cake!

Mmmm, carrot cake!

I had a cup of coffee yesterday, mistakenly made with semi-skimmed milk instead of soya milk. It tasted surprisingly rich, but not in a good way. I drank it, but would have much preferred the soya milk. It’s as if my body is quietly on dairy alert.

I am also trying to think of dinners to cook which are free of red meat and dairy products. Unfortunately the OH likes red meat and creamy sauces. At the very least, he will want to chuck a knob of butter in. So we are looking for compromises at the moment.  Last night I devised a dish of spicy couscous with chargrilled chicken, roasted vegetables and salad. Well, it was a nice dinner, but the subtlety of flavour I was trying to achieve (lemon, coriander, spices) was rather swamped by the extra chilli powder he threw over the chicken. Still, I was pleased to have achieved another dairy-free dish we both like.

Till next time,

L x

A Handmade Gift

It is lovely to receive a gift.  Big or small, it’s the thought and the good intention behind it which warms the soul.   I like to give people gifts that I have made.  I like making things, and at least with a handmade gift I can know for sure that they won’t already have one like it.  Still, I don’t always manage to give people gifts that I’ve made: time is short and I’m not that well-organised.

There is a perception, however, that by giving a handmade gift you are some kind of cheapskate because you probably haven’t spent a lot of money on it.  This implies that the most appreciated gifts are the most expensive.  But I don’t necessarily agree.  By giving an expensive gift you are showing that you have a lot of money and are willing to spend it on the recipient. That’s all very well, and such extravagance is exciting, both for the giver and receiver, especially when the gift is something that they really, really want.  Don’t get me wrong, if someone gave me an iPad or a diamond necklace I’d be over the moon.  But I’d also be a little embarrassed about returning such generosity.

On the other hand, a handmade gift can actually be quite expensive when you consider the cost of the higher end yarns. But whatever the cost of your materials, a handmade gift should be especially appreciated: the time and skill involved really shows you care.

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

For Christmas I received these marvellous sparkly knitted slippers from a friend. The design and construction intrigued me. I loved the mad, multicoloured sparkly yarn they were trimmed with; I loved that they stayed securely on my feet; and that they were a perfect fit.  I know my friend is on a tight budget, and I know these slippers would not have cost a lot to make, but that isn’t the point. The fact that they were made by her own fair hands is very special to me. She knows me, and she knew I would love them, wear them and find them interesting. For a gift you can’t ask for more than that.

Last week we caught up with some friends who we hadn’t seen over the holidays because they had been ill. With embarrassment they presented us with this beautiful cake, being modelled here by Herbie.  Seconds later he was trying to lick it.

Happy New Year cake

Happy New Year cake

Our friends felt they had to excuse the absence of bought gifts. They felt they had to explain. They are both working, but with pay freezes, childcare costs and house maintenance they are feeling the pinch, and they hoped we would ‘make do’ with this offering. They further explained that it was a quarter of a large Christmas cake which they had baked but not managed to decorate because of illness. Of course we were delighted with our gift, and the fact it was handmade was all the more special. There was no need to explain. I love how the cake is boldly decorated and placed on a handmade silver foil cake board with extra sugar flowers. It’s just delightful. OH has not allowed me to cut it yet because it’s so special and beautiful and he wants to take a picture of it. We will eat it and enjoy it.

What special handmade item did you give (or receive) this year?

Til next time,

L x

Autumn Craft Fair

Now that I’ve knitted a few dishcloths and fishcloths, I thought it was time to do a craft fair. I don’t often do them because I mostly sell my printed patterns, so my audience is limited to knitters. So I was interested to see which would sell best, the finished items or the instructions on how to make them.

Gathering my stock together, I realised I had quite a few new designs to add to the cupcakes and Chrismas decorations. Firstly there was the Fishcloth, which is selling quite well on Ravelry.

Fishcloth

Then the Rayfishcloth

Rayfishcloth

The ideal cloth should be reversible, so after much research into reversible patterns, I have these three:

Three Reversible Cloths

I just love having no wrong side – it’s a kind of knitting magic.

Then there are the two cats. I’m not completely happy with either of them. I feel I could go further into detail without writing a very fiddly pattern. So they are a starting point for a work in progress.  But a friend of mine went wild for them and asked for the pattern, so I thought, there’s nothing to lose in writing up the patterns as they are and seeing if they sell. I called them ‘Shelf Cat’ because they have a flat circular bottom which makes them ideal for sitting on your shelf or bedside.

Shelf Cat

Shelf Cat – the fluffy one

Then there were the 3 gorgeous little keepsake bags, based on my cupcake pattern, i.e., they have circular bottoms. And some beautiful stitch detail, beading, and double drawstrings.

Trio of Keepsake Bags

The fair was a lot of fun. The homemade cakes were wonderful, the tea first class, and they looked after the stallholders so well. The tea ladies came round often to take tea and cake orders so that you didn’t have to leave your stall, and the tea was served strong in big mugs – just the way I like it and perfect for going round the cake menu.  Lots of people stopped to admire my things and to chat about how their mother or grandmother used to knit. It was quite funny telling people that most of my things were not for sale, they were just samples to sell the patterns. Even so, I sold quite a lot of patterns. My deal of the day on buying three really helped.

As for the finished items, I priced my fishcloths, rayfishcloths, and reversible cloths at £5 each, showing the ball band from the organic cotton yarn.  Not surprisingly I didn’t sell a single one. But I expected that, and I don’t mind because I don’t really have time to make up my designs to sell. I am more interested in working on new designs, in the limited time I have.

One very friendly chap spotted my Birthday Cake with Lit Candles and just loved it. He was off to a birthday celebration that evening and really wanted to give it as a gift. ‘I’m very sorry, but it’s not for sale’, I said, quite amused by having lots of things on my table which were not for sale at a craft fair. ‘But I can sell you the pattern, if you’d like to knit it yourself’. This made him laugh, and he asked me why I wasn’t selling it. ‘Because then I’d have to knit it again, ‘ I replied. This made him laugh even more. I relented a little, seeing his enthusiasm, and asked him to make me an offer for it. ‘I’ve no idea what these things cost’, he said. ‘Why don’t you tell me what you want for it?’  ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Fifty quid’. ‘Fifty quid!’ he said, still laughing. ‘I’m not buying it for that’.  And I replied ‘I’m not selling it either’.  It was a hilarious exchange.

And the bestseller of the day? The Shelf Cat!

Till next time,

L x

It’s a knitting revolution!

Ooh it’s my first blog post!  Been meaning to have a proper blog for ages and now I’ve finally got one.  I’m not the sharpest tool when it comes to the technical stuff and it’s taken me most of the day to work out how to get my page to look just so. Now I must post something so that it feels like I’m off the starting blocks. (mmm, topical metaphor there).

But I’m not here to go on about the Olympic Games, fabulous though they are (did you see the cauldron being lit? Wow!  And the Queen!).  No, this blog is all about creativity and design.  I design things in yarn.  Mostly cakes.

Flower Cupcake

The Flower Cupcake

A while ago I wanted to knit a cupcake.  I googled like mad for a pattern, but didn’t find any that were quite right.  There were some very good designs out there, but they either did not have the detail I was looking for, or the construction involved sewing together various little pieces.  Now, as a lifelong knitter, I know that knitting is the fun part.  The sewing and seaming is a pain, a necessary evil that all knitters have to take in their stride at some time.  Or the project might never be finished.  Unless it’s a scarf.  That’s why there are hundreds, no, probably thousands, of unfinished projects stashed away in drawers and attics the world over.

So I set about designing the ultimate knitted cupcake.  Starting from the bottom, I made an attempt with no seam at all, working in the round on 4 double pins.  But I came unstuck when I got to the top and had to think about inserting a cardboard disc and stuffing.  It didn’t work.  So then I decided to aim for one piece with one seam.  I still had to use a couple of double pins in the first few rows, to allow for the multiple increases, but I found I could switch back to 2 needles once I’d worked the sides.

Then I had a brainwave.  A picot edge would nicely suggest the crimped sides of the cupcake case.  So I did a ‘pick up and knit’ on the last row of white, and worked a 2-stitch picot all around.  All I had to do now was to cut a cardboard disc to snugly fit the bottom, stuff, and sew one little seam.  Then a flower and a bead to finish.

Using this basic construction, more designs followed.  Obviously I had to knit a butterfly cake:

Butterfly detail

The Butterfly Cupcake

Then, inspired by the pattern of 8 decreases per row on the cupcake top, the Spider Cupcake followed:

Spider Cupcake

The Spider Cupcake

I never thought I’d be knitting cute spiders to decorate toy cakes.  On a bit of a roll, I then produced the Rainbow Ladybird Cupcake, Goodness knows where this came from:

Ladybird Cupcake

Oops, forgot to do the picot edging on that one.  More of a bun, then.  I had a lot of fun making these bug-topped items.

I made a few more pink flowery-type cupcakes and the obligatory Christmas Cupcake, but the Flower Cupcake was the first design and turned out to be the bestseller.  So far I have only sold the patterns, not the finished items.  This is simply because I don’t have time to knit a lot of cupcakes and I would get bored making more or less the same thing over and over again.  Besides, I get the biggest kick from working out the details of a design within the limitations of some yarn and two needles.  So, on to the next design!

http://stores.ebay.co.uk/knittingrevolutionpatterns