Using a starter for an everyday loaf……..

starter-is-ready-to-use

Making a bread with a natural starter takes a little longer than a dried yeast loaf but to be honest, most of the extra time is” leave it alone so it can do it’s thng” time, time where you can pretty much forget about it for a few hours and get on with whatever else you’re doing……

You need to start off with a natural leaven or starter, if you’re not sure how to make one or have one lurking away in a jar at the back of your fridge then yesterday’s post explains how to wake the leaven or starter from hibernation, and also how to make a natural leaven if you don’t already have one…..

Our main gas oven which I’ve used in the past to make big family sized loaves has been on the blink so I used a small top heated oven…it’s not ideal but I was curious as to whether I could use it to make a loaf of bread…..the measurements aren’t written in stone, more often than not I tinker with my bread recipe so no two loaves are ever really the same, but this should give you an idea of the stages involved…..

making-bread-with-the-starter

First you need to make a bread sponge…I decided to make two small loaves as I thought they would bake better in our little oven…..normally I make a sponge before I go to bed and leave it overnight, then as I’m a really early riser I can give it a gentle kneed in the morning while the house is still sleeping….this way you can have a loaf ready to eat for lunch time, if not it will be a supper time loaf…..

150 g of starter

250 ml of tepid warm water

200g of strong bread flour

1 teaped spoon of honey (the size you use to eat pudding or soup with)

small handful of sesame seeds (this is optional but I think it gives the bread a lovely mellow smell and flavour)

Take the starter or leaven out from the fridge,  weigh out the amount you need of your leaven in a medium sized baking bowl* (I like to use ceramic bowls) pour in the tepid warm water, mix and stir in a good dollop of honey and add about 200 g of strong bread flour…if you like you can now also add a small handful of sesame seeds……. (if I’ve got them, I’ll also add a handful of strong porridge oats…for this size loaf I’d use 125 g flour and then 75 g oats…)

Cover with a clean cloth and leave until the starter/leaven is all bubbling up lke something out of a Shakespearean witches cauldron… (this is where leaving it overnight comes in very handy…..you can leave it for a few hours if you like but I find leaving it overnight gives me the best results)

Next morning, add a little more bread flour to the sticky mix (I often use spelt flour at this stage, I never use rye flour as my boyfriend doesn’t like it but feel free to use it if you want…..) along with a glug of oil and a good pinch of salt….I use sunflower oil but if you’re making a foccacia style bread or pizza base then olive oil would be ideal, and for spiced buns I use cooled melted butter…..before adding more bread flour…..how much is going to depend in part on your bread…for these loaves I ended up using another 200g….just add it a sprinkle at a time….

You need to knead the floury mess into a dough but for just long enough for the dough to go from feeling sticky to silky and smooth, it also feels a bit cooler to the touch……this won’t take too long at all….

Now lightly oil a large baking bowl, place the dough in there and move it around so it’s lightly covered, this helps the surface from drying out as it rises…now cover and leave for a few hours until the dough has about doubled……

Top left, mix flour in to the starter/leaven…. Top right, Cover the leaven and leave to bubble up…Bottom left, knead the ingredients into a dough….Bottom right, allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl….

add-extra-flour-and-kneed-the-dough-until-it-stops-feeling-sticky

Once the dough has swelled up you want to gently knock it down, you want to be firm but not bash it…… and just very gently knead it back into a round ball again.

second-part-of-making-bread-with-the-starter

If you are using tins, line or oil/flour them before placing in the dough and allow the dough to prove or rise again…….more often than not I bake those Venus of Willendorf looking loaves, so I use a wooden proving bowl, I lay in a muslin cloth well sprinkled with flour and place the dough in there, then when it’s risen, I place a baking parchment lined tray overtop, and flip everything over just before slashing the top and putitng it in the oven….however as I was using our small oven I used these little panibois from Shipton Mill….allow the dough to rise again, when it’s almost doubled (generally around an hour or so) turn on the oven to a good hot temperature…just before placing the loaves in, slash the top, I used a really sharp kitchen knife but you can buy a grignette or bread lame if you want……..slashing the dough allows the loaf to expand and stretch….

Place the dough in the oven and allow to bake…… these loaves were on 230c which is about gas 8 for 35 minutes……

Top left, divide the dough into the panibois….Top right, allow the dough to rise….Bottom Left, slash the dough immediately before the dough goes into the oven…Bottom right, Remove from oven and allow to cool……

ready-to-eat

So how did the first loaves in a long time turn out….boyfriend said the bread was lovely as he ate a piece smeared over with a local honey…..it certainly smelt nice though not as rich and deep as when I’ve used the gas oven…next time I’d bake the bread in a metal tin on a metal tray so more heat is conducted underneath….before I didn’t have to worry about that as the gas flame was beneath……

I’ve always gotten really good results using Shipton Mill flour, their mail order service is excellent and along with a wonderful range of flours they also sell some nice baking equipment such as proving bowls and panibois and bread scrapers…..they don’t sell grignettes or bread lames but they aren’t hard to find on-line….if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a locally milled bread flour then try and support them, a local miller is a real wonder in this day and age.

I’m not a fancy baker or anything like that, this is just how I bake an everyday bread, one we can use for toast and sandwiches…..some loaves look a bit rum and lumpy…others I could happily cuddle….but all smell wonderful and soon seem to disappear…..

*Don’t forget, once you’ve made your sponge you’ll need to “feed” your starter…all this means is topping up with tepid water and flour in a ration of 4:5 to the amount you’ve taken out….so if you used say 225g of starter you will need to stir in 100 g of water and then 125 g of flour…re-seal and put back in the fridge…..

Waking and making natural leavens and starters for the best tasting home baked breads…….

waking-up-a-natural-starter

I’ve always loved baking bread, mixing ingredients and allowing the dough to magically rise has never failed to delight…it’s very calming and even if I’m really busy and have like a million and one things to do, just taking a few minutes out to tumble in flour and yeast, warm water into a large bowl….allows me to breathe…..feel human again.

A few years back my friend Daisy gave me some of a natural leaven or starter she’d made and by “feeding” it regularly with flour and water I was able to make some rather wonderful loaves…..the past some months we’ve been without a main oven and the small one we’re using doesn’t get over hot so I’ve allowed the leaven to hibernate at the bottom of the fridge……but over the holidays I thought about waking it up and seeing how a loaf would turn out in the small oven.

Waking a leaven isn’t that hard, it just takes a bit of time to allow the ingredients to slowly stretch back into feeling all perky again…..

Waking the starter or leaven….

Day one…..The top picture is the leaven, it doesn’t look too pretty at this stage, it’s all sludgy covered with a tangy pickle juice liquid, tip this off (you’ll want to save it) …under the liquid the leaven is a bit like putty….remove a heaped teaspoon of it into a bowl and mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water…..it probably sounds odd to measure your water but it’s more accurate. You can pour the pickle smelling liquid back over of your hibernating leaven and put it back into your fridge.

Top Left, the hibernating leaven…. top right, pour off the liquid….bottom right, a teaspoon or so of leaven….bottom left, mixed in with some water

second-part-of-the-natural-starter

After you’ve mixed in the tepid warm water and the “putty” has dissolved, add 125 grammes of strong bread flour (I like to use bread flour from Shipton Mill, I don’t use a rye flour or anything fancy, just a good strong flour that is especially for bread)..at this stage you might prefer to mix with a spoon but I like using a whisk….mix it so the flour is all blended in and then cover with a clean cloth for 24 hours……..

Day Two….you’ll now see that the floury mixture will look rather putty like.

Top left add flour to the leaven….top right mix in the flour…bottom right leave the bowl for 24 hours …bottom left, the leaven after 24 hours.

third-part-of-the-natural-starter

Day Three….Take a good heaped teaspoon of the putty like leaven and again mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water, you’ll find the putty is more springy this time and I find I need to add some of the flour to help it blend in…..in total you ‘ll need to add 125 grammes of flour, and you’ll find using a spoon now easier than the whisk……. cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave for 24 hours

Top left, place some of the leaven in to a bowl…. Top right, mix in water….Bottom left, the leaven after about 12 hours …..Bottom right, the leaven after 24 hours

fourth-stage-of-the-starter

Day Four….the leaven will have a glossy sheen, its full of air and has a nice fresh yeasty aroma…… using a bread scraper or spatular, transfer all the leaven into a medium sized bowl, add 100 grammes of tepid warm water and then slowly mix in 125 of flour……

Cover the bowl and leave for a couple of hours.  The leaven will now be fully awake and look very lively…it looks a fair bit paler,almost white, and is ready to now use to make your bread…………

Top left, add water to the leaven and mix…..Top Right, add some flour and mix in ….Bottom left,add the last of the flour and mix in ….Bottom right, the leaven after it’s been left and is ready to use

Making a natural starter or leaven…..

If you need to make a leaven from scratch it’s very similar to the stages above, it’s ready to use on day 6 so it’s a good idea to make on a monday and then will be ready to use at the weekend…

Day 1…50g tepid warm water and 2 fat teaspoons of strong bread flour…. mix in a bowl, and cover (or you can use a 500 ml Kilner jar) .leave at room temp.

Day 2…50 g water and 4 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….stir the water into the leaven and then add the flour…..cover and leave for 24 hours

Day 3…100g tepid warm water and 8 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….add the water, stir well to combine everything and then add the flour, stir ell again and then cover…leave for 24 hours

Day 4…100g tepid warm water and 125g bread flour….mix the leaven and remove and discard 3/4 of it……to the remaining 1/4 add teh water, stir and and then add the flour, stir well and cover….leave for 24 hours….

Day 5…100g tepid warm water, 125 g bread flour…..stir the leaven, remove and discard 3/4 of it…to the remaining 1/4 add the water, stir well and then add the flour so you have a nice thick paste….cover and leave for 24 hours.

Day 6….the leaven or starter will now be all bubbles, light and airy and smeling slightly pickley…it’s now ready to use…..

 

 

 

A year of cats and knitting, frosty mornings and Summer strolls, handbaked bread and foraged fruits part two…….

July was really glorious this year, early sunshine filled my work room and many was morning where I found myself  waking around 5 and with a pot of tea would settle down on the back door step or at a table on teh patio and have a few quiet moments knitting…..

We’ve got a big laurel tree at the bottom of the garden and I can always hear when the wood pidgeons are in there, shufling about and sounding all the world like someone fussing with their umbrella….even though the house and neighbourhood is still sound asleep the garden seems a hive of activity in those early hours…… the rosemary gets the first of the sunshine and by 8 the garden is filled with a nose tingle of fragrant herbs, the air almost shimmers with it’s oily aroma…..I like to pick the delicate blue blossoms to scatter over goats cheese and salad…….

July was also the month of the Karise shawl…..I’d asked on ravely if anyone could suggest a nice easy shawl pattern that I could knit for my boyfriend’s mum and lots of people suggested looking at Karie Westerman’s patterns….I ended up choosing Karise and even though the lace work was charted which made me have a bit of a panic at first, within stitches I found the chart much easier to keep track of what I was doing…… I’ve ended up knitting 4 of these shawls now, 2 were knitted in the Tamar yarn from Blacker Yarns (I’d won one of the skeins a month or so earlier) and this yarn loved lace work so much……I still can’t really believe I made these…almost as soon as I cast off the gift shawl I started knitting a Karise for me, all pollen hued and sheep kissy….and the others were knitted using the yarn I’d un-ravelled in June….I found I did need to use stitch markers as I was a bit nervous in case I made a mistake and wouldn’t be able to correct it….I’d already made stitch markers in the Winter from some vintage glass beads but this time I made some more using beads which I’d been given by my friend who’d died in the Spring……I use the markers a lot and can’t see or touch them without thinking of happier times with her…..

And I also picked up some rather excellent vintage sewing and knitting books along with vintage haberdashery notions….zips, binding s and threads…., none of them cost very much and the quality is superb….

 

 

I finishd my third Karise shawl in August, this was using the yarn I’d ripped out, washed and re-skeined earlier in the Summer…..this was a gift for my sister Rachie and I think it was a nice surprise for her to receive in the post as the last time I’d sent her a hand knit it had been a dish cloth……and I also knitted my first Ishbel shawl…this was a really big deal for me as I’d bought a skein to knit this with 5 years before, back then it was just a “one day when I can knit” dream so actually being able to wear the finished shawl was more than a little special……

On nice days we try head out for walks over the marshes and while there had been some wet days for the most part the marshes and surrounding pastures are dry enough to walk from what seem like meadows of wild flowers….the Rosebay Willowherb and Purple Loosestrife grow shoulder height and higher,there are  smudges of vetch and swaithes of meadowsweet wherever you look…..this time of  year the colours are now fading though. Look close at any blossom and you’re bound to see bees tumbling around and getting covered in dusty pollen……the blackberries seem a bit small again this year but we’re able to pick enough for some jam and junkets…..

Another rather special knit was knitting a pair of socks for my friend Anne and also making her a needle wrap from an old coat that had belonged to her mum… I embroidered on the fabric and used some vintage thonging to keep the wrap closed……and decided to make some wraps for my Folksy shop…..

We also got to experience the naughtiness that is the cat next door…we soon find out that she is a knitting needle thief and will happily rip out and play with any knitting that gets put down even for 5 minutes……

September was a real Indian Summer, the days were still hot and full of sunshine, the hedgerows fair teeming with fruits but the nights soon felt they were drawing on in and on more than one occasion a huge hairy spider is spied scuttling across the living room carpet (you should see me move, legs up off the floor and tucked underneath me on the sofa)…… the huge copper jam pan is un-packed once more and seems to live on the stove as I simmer hedgerow fruits into panty jams and jellies…..the joys of a pan of bubbling blackberries fills every sense with pleasure….

Towards the end of the month I realise it’s now been about a year that I’ve been knitting, at first it’s just been wobbly practise stitches, knitting up tiny swatches and then slowly gaining in confidence…..

I had a lovely email from Blacker Yarns asking if I’d be interested in having a play with a couple of new yarns they had coming out, the answer is “yes please” and I’m in for such a treat….firstly it’s Cornish Tin II which is all full of bounce and plumpness, so stuffed full of goodness like a Christmas pudding…..and then I’m sent a wee skein of St Kilda laceweight, hand-dyed by Joy of The Knitting Goddess…the swatch card is as bright and vibrant as the can can dancers in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulon Rouge…..

And finally himself gets a day out on the bus to the vets for annual vacinations but this is when he finally gets the all clear with his cancer….I’m so thankful that my vet was suspicious about the lump and advised getting it removed before any further tests and what not, without her I don’t think we’d have our boy today…. (currently sitting alongside me having a right good wash)…so huge huge thank yous to Chantelle at Chapelfield Vets….we think you’re awesome.

Right at the start of October my boyfriend felt rather unwell and when he went to the doctors was told it was shingles….as he doesn’t have the best of health this was a bit of a worry and so the month passed rather quietly….I went out for a few marshy meanders and did some foraging but a lot of days were spent at home where I was able to potter in the kitchen making more syrups and jellies and apple falvoured vodka when the cat wasn’t napping in the jam pan……

Even though this is the second year the blackberries here haven’t come to much, the other wild fruits have been amazing, the leaves seem really slow to turn and the lane is beautifully lit with sunlight glowing through vivid green leaves, illuminating acorns like tiny lamps….

I finished another needlewrap for Anne again using the fabric from her mum’s coat and made a project/workshop bag to go with it…..

The yellow socks were actually knit during August and Spetmeber but it’s been so mild I just tucked them away…the pattern is called Hermione’s everyday socks but I don’t know what happened but the tension is rather different between the two and so one is a bit bigger than the other….it looks like Hermione’s been at the butterbeer….

I also knit two more Ishbel shawls but as my boyfriend is poorly it’ll be a good few weeks yet before I can get them properly photographed…..one is knit using the Cornish TIn II I’d had a sample of…the yarn is a bit greedy soon gets all gobbled up and only the kindness of Montymouse on ravelry means I have enough for my shawl….the other is knit with yarn that I’d previously crocheted into a scarf but hadn’t worn for ages…..

November was for me all about the knitting, all the wonders of wool, local yarn and celebrating all the people who create beautiful yarns for me to knit with…..

Last year I’d not been knitting for all that long when I found out about Wovember, but reading all those woolly, sheep praising  posts was what made me really fall in love with what was on my needles…. Anyone who has been a reader of my blog knows I love using vintage haberdasheries, vintage fabrcs that friends and family have passed on to me, fabric that has a bt of a story to it, needles that came from a friend’s mum’s workbox…. over the years I’ve really struggled to find that same connection with my knitting but thinking about the different breeds the yarn comes from, who’s spun it, where the sheep live, how local to me they might be has fare captured my heart and swept me good and proper right off my feet…I love story, I love a good yarn (whether it’s a yarn on my needle or a right good chatty catch up) but hadn’t ever thought that that might be the way I would fall in love with what a pair of pointy sticks could do……

This past year I’ve knit with yarn that comes from sheep 15 or so miles away, I’ve bought beautiful handspun yarn from a sheep called Delilah…..I’ve been sent hand spun yarn from a complete stranger, I’ve knit with yarn from sheep that graze on seaweed, and fallen in love with yarn that feels like old worn velvet……most precious is the yarn I’ve bought because someone believed in her dad, and felt his sheeps fleece should be valued……

 

The best part of December was that my boyfriend was finally feeling a bit better, we took a couple of leisurely ambles across squishy meadows and marshes, and were even able to take some pictures of my two Ishbel shawls I’d finished back in October…(and yarn has already been tucked abway for Ishbel 4 but that will be a 2017 knit now)…..the shawls are rather chalk and cheese, one is small and rather plump and the other is like a waterfall of soft stitches…..both equally beautiful.

Another smiles and heart warming knit was knitting a pair of socks for my boyfriend’s dad’s birthday….wish so much I’d have been knittingn while my own dad was alive but Phil is lovely and very knitworthy so it was a pleasure to make these, and seeing him wiggle his toes as soon as he tried them on felt more than a bit special……

I’ve got a bit of chocolate and cheese head confusion as I clear forgot to mention that one of my wee little stockings was featured in the December issue of Country Living magazine and felt proud as punch at seeing my work in such a high quality publication….

The needle wraps I’ve made have been selling well, and I love that by knitting and finding out about interchangable needles that I’ve thought to make these wraps…..and I’m hoping to make some project bags that compliment them in the coming months….

It’s been lovely to look back and review my year….I hadn’t realized there’d been quite so much knitting, sadly not so much sewing this year which I hope to ammend rather in 2017 as I have bolts of fabric for new frocks, and a stack of resting patchworks that really need to get made up into quilts,many thank yous to people who’ve bought from my shop or requested commisions, and lastly thank you to you for reading my blog this past year…..but for now lets raise a toast, whether it’s a glass of something cheering, or a cup of tea, and wish each other health and happiness, peace and kindness for 2017…..

 

A year of cats and knitting, frosty walks and Summer strolls,homebaked bread and foraged fruits…..part one…..

bernard-shawl-testing

Sometimes when I take stock of a year I find it too easy to remember the bad stuff, the sad times…horrifying world wide events can all too easily make us forget those little moments of smiles, and happiness and everyday pleasures, a spiral of despair and feeling hopeless can take hold in the blink of the eye and all those good things, however small and unimportant to others just seem gone……

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed so much about writing my blog and sharing pictures along the way is there’s a record, something tangible I can touch and look at and think “yes, that happened and it was a good thing” or “mmmm that tasted delicious”…remember how it felt to sit on the back door step with the sun on my toes or heading out for a walk when it was all frosty out and my nose turned numb before I’d even turned onto the lane…

I know it’s really not the same but all these tiny moments and occasions remind me of the bit in the sixth Harry Potter film, where everyone stands in the Hogwart’s courtyard with their wands out, shooting up wisps of light, sending out memories of love for Dumbledore and the dark mark of skull and snake in the sky slowly breaks up and fades under all that love…..as I say, I know it’s not the same but sometimes it’s necessary to remember the good bits and focus on that, to gather a bit of strength to be able to deal with everything else……

And so that’s what I’m trying to do today…..so go put the kettle on, make a hot drink, and get a plate of biscuits and sit down somewhere comfy as there’ll be waffling and rabbiting as I look back over my year……

Guess who has pinched my shawl

I’m starting with these pictures of Bernard cuddling in a shawl as they sum up my year better than anything else……after being told last Christmas Eve that the lump we’d had removed from Bernard’s paw was cancer we spent the first weeks of the year on tenter hooks….every morning his paws were checked for anything suspicious and days were spent with him curled up along side while I slowly re-knitted my shawl and fell very in love with the scent of sheepy yarn and the gentle click of my needles……. this is pretty much how the whole year has been but it wasn’t really until September that we got the thumbs up all clear from the vet regarding his health…it goes without saying that everyday this year has been so blessed, regardless of windy bottoms and swipey paws….

 

Most of Janurary was pretty much devoted to sock knitting (I’d been warned it’s somewhat addictive…..) my dear friend Anne gifted me not only another pair of hand knitted socks but also a ball of yarn, a set of needles and the lessons in which I learnt to knit a pair of socks for myself……yes there were grumbles when it went a bit wrong, but even better was the feeling of wriggling toes in socks I’d knitted myself…..

Most mornings started off cold, a bit damp and dreary outside, but we were treated to a spectacular frost near the end of the month, all silver and twinkles, glittering cobwebs and frozen marsh ponds…..I bundled up warm  in my first ever shawl and headed out over the pastures, it’s so cold my cheeks ached and felt incredibly rosy and pink….along the back of the golf course there’ss a small copse and it’s shaded, protected from the frost…the sun shines through the trees and the dry bracken just glows golden in the morning light…so beautiful and felt glad I’d got up and out to see it.

February was a bit of a frosty old month, we had one really foggy and frosty morning where the walk over the marshes was proper eerie, all mysterious shapes looming up out of the mist….fog totally transformed the meadows there and while normally I’m a bit loathe to step out where I can’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me, when the ground is so frozen underfoot I felt a lot safer.

I made some more sourdoughs, each one seemed to come out a bit different but I found I really prefer the smell of just a sesame loaf to those made with other seed mixes….the beloved says he doesn’t have a preference so I ended up baking to suit my nose rather than his tummy.

I finished my first ever pair of socks and was proud as punch to wear them out and about, (going so far as to wear them with red heels and leggings so they wouldn’t be covered up with boots) and hot on the “heels” of those were the ones I’d began knitting using some Shetland Spindrift I’d found lurking in my stash…so warm and the most gorgeous tweedy colour….all plummy and fruit crumbly.

On particular days it feels like Spring had very much sprung, the hedgerow that lines the lane behind where we live is bursting into bloom right now, wafts of heady blossom scent the air and it makes me just feel so happy.

And it’s not just nice scents that the air is filled with, there’s also that underarm farty sound which small boys like to make….it’s what I think Long Tailed tits sound like, we’ve got a least one little colony living near by and the garden is regualrly filled with them, they swoop around the the garden and are as impressive as anything by the Red Arrows…..I love their dainty colouring, all soft dove grey, milk white and rosy tinges on their fronts with a charcoal tail.

High point of the month was popping into my local library and finding the floor space there given over to the local guilds of Dyers,Spinners and Weavers…I had a go on a drop spindle and spun a wee skein of wool, so exciting, and I even had a go on a spinning wheel….so relaxing and I just loved it.  I went back the following week and bought some amazing handspun dk yarn, one skein of Castlemilk Moorit and one of Shetland….absolutely increbible to touch and the smell….sheepy heaven.

March was a really sad month for me, my oldest and dearest friend passed away….I was lucky enough to have known Joyce since I was about 11 or so, originally she was the mum of my oldest sister’s boyfriend, and soon she become such a warm and freindly addition to our circle of family friends….she’d always appear on her bike with a beaming smile and a jolly wave, bicycle basket laden with a harvest from her garden, a bunch of something bright and cheery for my mum……we really looked on her as a surrogate grandma, we certainly loved her as such. The past couple of years she’d been lost in a hazy confusion of dementia so in a way I’d already said goodbye to the lady I loved, she was one of the nicest people I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  She’s left a real ache in my heart.

The rest of the month was rather knitty based  (as I said at the start this was my year of knitting)… I joined up for a new kal (more of an unkal) over at the Caithness Craft Collective, and nominated a couple of unfinished woolly bits for that, firstly the grannies paperweight crochet blanket with it’s never-ending amount of tails to sew in, and a forgotten about tea cosy that I super-sized knitted by mistake…I began a “unicorn” in soft blue alpaca and silk….and this gave me the kick up the bum to start (and finish) my Nature’s Shades kal, a beautiful Moonraker shawl in soft and sulky greys, with accents of coffee bean and golden cream pips.  I also finished a pair of socks I’d began knitting for the beloved’s birthday, watching him put them on and wriggle round his feet as he admired them….well my heart near burst.  Even now a year later, I still can’t believe I’m knitting socks…thank you awesome Anne for the lessons…

Other highlights included making possibly the best hot-cross buns ever, making a real nose runningly spicy thai style soup (it was nice, just a bit hot), doing a Spring Fair over in Holt organised by my friend Ruth and bird-watching in the garden with Bernard on days when it was all sunshine and birdsong.

After what seemed like a long, damp and dreary start to the year, we started to see signs of life in the garden in early April…a little smudge of blue forget-me-not blossoms by the side of one of our raised beds and spotted lady birds scurrying about as we began a bit of weeding and tidying out of doors.

I finished my Nature’s Shades shawl for the Knit British/Brit Yarn kal on Ravelry…I was so pleased with how the shawl turned out…it’s very drapey and light, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be….the weather held up well and treated us to a couple of really smashing Spring sunshine days so we headed out with the shawl to take pictures and then walked round to Keswick Mill and saw fish for the first time in one of the streams (which we found very exciting) …  I also took some pictures of the beautiful dappled marking on the Keswick Mill brige, soft speckles of pink lichen amongst the grey stone work, walking home we saw an incredible puffy fungi on one of the posts near the golf course, soft rhthymic scallops in gentle shades.. ..everything you need for a shawl design is there in that fungi…colour, and shape…

Pudding of the month has been Creme Brulee/Trinity cream……so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I didn’t bake as much bread as usual as our oven is starting to play up, but each time I open the oven door it’s such a surprise to see what the loaf will look like, no two have ever looked quite the same, subtle changes in colour and shape…but all smelling so good.

I had such a thrill this month, I won a skein of the beautiful and lustrous Tamar…the colourway was Tiddy Brook and it’s a real powdery pollen yellow green…the colour changes in the sunlight, the twists in the yarn capture and hold light and shadow like you wouldn’t believe….the competion was held by lovely Isla at Brityarn. I really was over the moon when I realized I’d won this yarn, along with a gorgeous Ethel the sheep bag which I soon filled with all my Natural un-dyed British yarn….little did I know this would be the start of my Karise shawl addiction and love for Blacker Yarns….

I bought a couple of old books from charity shops, my favourite being this knitting book from the seventies, all the pieces in the book are knitted by children. I couldn’t resist the cover with that dear little knitted horse.

 

The weather was really splendid for most of the month, the air just seemed filled with sweetness and floral scents each time we stepped out the door…just up the road form us is a big patch of grass where all the dog walkers meet up and if I time my trips just right I get to have doggy cuddles with some of my four legged friends….at one side of the green there is a clump of Stag Horn Sumac growing and at this time of year those first leafy fronds look all the world like phoenix feathers or dragons feet…fancible imaginings but I think you can see where I’m coming from..I can’t walk past these without stroking them, it’s always the simplest pleasures make me happy…..

I also finished my second Moonraker shawl, this was using an alpaca/silk blend with the woolly pips of colour knitted with vintage tapestry wool…at first I was quite pleased with it but after wearing it a few times the different weight of the yarn I used didn’t really feel right…..definitely a case of (k)notting rather than knitting…. oh well, not the end of the world but I did feel a bit disappointed.

I also wrote a rather lengthy piece on what I like to use for my quilting….it really gets my goat that a lot of people seem to think you need to spend lots of money to be able to make a quilt…yes you will need to spend a few pounds but if you spend it in the right places and not on a lot of what I find un-necessary or not needed straight away equiptment then a quilt needed cost an arm and a leg to make….

As the weather is nice lemon possets become a favourite pudding to finish off a meal, and I baked some Moomin Mama buns….

June was rather damp….barely a day seemed to go by without it raining, though the garden seemed to thrive on all the water and almost overnight our raised beds were full of wild flower blossoms and smudges of forget me nots and dandelions lined the steps and path to the compost bin…..

Back in May I started knitting my first ever cardigan and in June I was able to cast it off the needles…. the pattern is Ramona and I love that the techinques for making increases in the Open Sky Shawl are now used to make increases in this…..the yarn is some I’d bought years ago from a charity shop, it’s all wool but reminded me of the pebbly beache sof the Suffolk coastline where I grew up…(however looking down at it now while I typ I’m all too aware of how it’s bobled and pilled so not great yarn but it is nice and cosy to wear….)

I also knit my first ever pair of toe up socks…the pattern is by Rachel Atkinson and was a gift from my friend Julia in Scotland…it’s all nubbled in texture…I used a now discontinued homemade strawberry ice-cream pink from Blacker Yarns and can’t not think of holidays in Italy where gelatto is served in glass dishes……

I also made some elderflower cordial, not so much as last year as it was too wet, but once again I had a little furry asisstant to help me check for insects in the blossoms..and I also made a fruity semi-freddo….

After listening to podcasts by both Caithness Louise and Shiny Bees Jo I ripped out the alpaca/silk shawl…..no tears, no sighs of bother….this is one of the joys of coming to knitting from a background in sewing…the ease with which a yarn can be re-used…..so with the help of an upturned chair, a sink of warm water and a rolled up card tube from the kitchen roll to use as a make shift nostepinne the yarn is re-balled and looks good as new…..

 

Part two tomorrow……

 

A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..

making-mincemeat

Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf

Ingredients….

2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy

Method

In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

Unravelled stitches and sea shanties ahoy……

kinky skein of shlasdair

Earlier this year I started listening to The Caithness Craft Collective Podcast and loved it straight off, Louise is warm and friendly and funny, and as well as knitting she also talks about her sewing and quilting which I find really interesting to listen to as it’s not always as easy to talk about fabric as it is yarn, anyway if you’re not already listening to her then pop on over as I think you’re in for a treat….Anyway, back in the Summer Louise held a unkal/kal which was split into 3 divisions…..to knit something you really wanted to knit, not necessarily the same as everyone elses current knitting project but something that you wanted to do,  second was to rip out something that you were not liking and then you could use the yarn for something else and thirdly…I loved this one….if you had a work in progress (or wip) then to leave it alone til a certain date then to get it finished by the end of September….

Well I had several wips (quilty ones and woolly ones) and entered a couple in that division, though sadly I ran out of time and couldn’t get them finished in time but fingers crossed for finishing at least one of them over the holidays…(grannies paperweight blanket I am looking at you)….and I knitted 2 shawls for what Louise was calling the Super-Corn” division….(her little girl Daisy decided a Unicorn with superpowers would be called a Super-Corn…)…one was in all natural shdes of undyed yarn and the other was in a lovely sky blue alpacca silk with woolly pips of tapestry wool…yeah, I don’t have a huge budget and had the tapestry yarn and wondered if it would work……

three balls blue

Anyway I didn’t feel I had anything to rip out until I listened to a Shiny Bees podcast episode….(it’s knitting based and Jo interviews lots of knitting designers which I really like, and she’s very funny)…on it Jo was talking about the qualities of alpacca yarn and how like woolly yarn it can be made to look brand new when you un-ravel it and wash it and leave it to dry….. and that got me to thinking about a crochet scarf I’d made a few years ago, I didn’t make it wide enough and the yarn I used was only 4 ply and pretty soon it began to curl up along the sides and I just stopped wearing it….anyway I emailed her and she replied explaining the steps I needed to do to make my yarn beautiful again……

So I chopped the very top edge off and began to unravel, it wasn’t easy as the yarn had felted a little, a lot in parts, and oh man, I had sewn my ends in like you wouldn’t believe but finally I had a handful of different sized yarny balls……the yarn was a luxury blend by Shilasdair  which had been hand-dyed on the isle of Skye and was a blend of merino lambswool, angora, baby camel and cashmere….every bit as soft as that sounds…..

And I took Jo’s advice…which I wrote about here….

Something that I love about knitting or crochet is that if it all goes wrong or you’re not happy with then it can be un-ravelled/ or frogged/ ripped right back to become once more a ball of yarn and all ready to star again…..very different to sewing where if you cut that fabric wrong…it’s not always so easy to fix.

ishbel-lace-work

So now I had this beautiful freshly skeined yarn…what to knit……it won’t really be hard to guess…..and so before I knew it I was knitting another Ishbel shawl….I hope the above picture captures the soft squoosh of the yarn…..it really was kitteny and oh…..sort of fudgy …..the stitch definition is….hmmm not really well defined, it’s not stark but more subtle…

I knew I wasn’t going to have enough yarn as I lost a bit due to felting and where it was impossible to unravel because of how I’d sewn my ends in (I like to be thorough is my excuse) and luckily I found Tangled Yarn which is a lovely online shop and they still had some of the original blend by Shilasdair (the blend has since been changed)…..Rachel is really lovely and was very helpful, and was very intereseted when I told her about my adventures in yarn unravelling and re-using and posted about it on facebook….

ishbel-ripples

I love the back and forth, undulating flow of the pattern , very rythmic to look at and stroke, it makes me think of waves and the lilt of a boat rocking, of sea shanties and sailors and life on the ocean blue…..there was a little speckling and mottling as I included in the other skein, remember the original yarn was at least 5 years old and had been washed 2 or 3 times  so I was pretty pleased with how comfortably the new yarn fitted in……

By this time I’d become pretty happy knitting this pattern, I left off my stitch markers (feeling very brave and hoping it wouldn’t all end in tears)……and just kept going, I kept an eye on my yarn and worked several repeats so I would have a really large shawl……

shilasdair-ishbel-shawl

And that is exactly what I’ve got……I’m really super happy and over the moon with this (I know, I say that about all my knitting but….I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with it this year and if I said otherwise than that would be fibbing)……it’s really really soft, very drapey and floaty…..I know this yarn is available as a dk and am thinking a shawl in that would be wonderful, a slightly weighter yarn to fare woosh around your shoulders….

It feels like I’m wearing a waterfall…..

I worked the new yarn in over the lace work every some rows, not really keeping count and so there were a few ends to sew in at the end, it was only when we were photographing the shawl that I saw I’d not trimmed a couple of those tails off quite properly…..

isbhel-detail-after-blocking

I’m just squooshing the shawl around and demonstrating the ooohhh soft and springyness of those swaddled layers……

You can see the mottled speckles of the different yarns a bit clearer here but it doesn’t bother me and I quite like the watery effect it has…..

agggghhh there’s one of those not quite trimmed off ends poking up under my chin

stitches-that-flow

Here those pointy tips are really defined and pokey but actually after wearing the shawl out yesterday where it was wrapped and bundled around me the points are curling inwards rather now but that doesn’t detract from the overall shawl loveliness factor…….

i-love-my-knitting

I couldn’t help it…..this is such lovely soft yarn (sorry for keep saying it but oohhh it is rather wonderful) and it feels really airy, I used a 4 mm needle and found the yarn possibly on the skinny side of a 4 ply although it knits up nice and plump…..while I was knitting this I was also knitting the Ishbel shawl in Cornish Tin II which as we all know is a right plump and puddingy yarn so perhaps that is why this felt a bit skinny…..

I really wanted a big shawl that I could properly swaddle myself up in without feeling like I was on the verge of having a hot flush,one I could wrap around my shoulders and feel like I was …oh, channeling my inner water sprite or something and would happily sit by a murky pool or bog if I could wear this……

So huge huge huge thank yous to lovely Louise for making me appreciate and think out of the box about re-using yarn and inspiring me to create a piece of knitwear I am so thrilled by, and to the awesome Jo of Shiny Bees who explained the best way to skein up and re-wash my kinki curled yarn……I am now off to swaddle  and shawl woosh some more…….

(the yarn is the Summer Loch colourway and if you’re interested, my notes and observations on knitting the shawl can be found on my Ravelry project page)

 

 

A very special bespoke and woolly wrap……

 

 

inside-wrap-fro-claire

Over the Summer I was able to combine my new found love of knitting alongside my older love of sewing….previously when I’d attempted to do any knitting it had been on 12 inch or even 14 inch straight knitting needles, but since trying out the wonders that are interchangable circular needles my heart has been rather taken with them however it did seem that tips and cables were soon scattered about in almost everyroom…. over the Summer I started making needle wraps where I could store all my interchangeable needles together ..I’m rather a fabric horder so I had plenty of materials with which to tinker …..I made a couple and sold some to very kind friends and found I really enjoyed working to their specifications….I also made some wraps for double pointed knitting needles too as  I had a rather large collection of those as well (many thank yous to lovely Isla at Brit Yarn who sent me no end of beautiful wooden ones she wasn’t using)…..

Something I’d not initially thought about was the different tip length for needles, mostly I like a short needle tip but other friends have said they like longer ones or more often…half and half….. but none of the cases or wraps I’d seen were made where you could store both types of tips so a bit more tinkering was in order…..what I had wanted to sew though was a wrap that you could store all your needle tips, cables and a couple of other pieces like a needle guage and some short stubby needles for when you’re knitting softly flowing cables……

embroidered-wool-coat-wrap

Most of the fabric I have in my stash is more often than not special in someway to me…perhaps it’s the same floral print I had in my bedroom curtains when I was little, a cushion or chair cover from an elderly friend or relative or it’s a fabric I’ve found in the bottom of a box at a car boot or flea market, one that makes my heart all skippy ….and while these all make me happy I’m aware other people have equally special fabrics themselves……while I’m happy to hoard fabric or notions, I really love being able to make it into something that I will use, so I see that cloth and get all those memories every day with every touch…..

Last year my lovely friend Anne gave me an old wool coat that had been her mums, sadly it had a really bad tear so would have been a bit difficult to repair however she thought the fabric might be useful for me…..so I used it to make her a series of needle wraps and a big knitting bag to keep them all in…….the fabric was nice but not very interesting so I embroidered small wild flowers over it in vintage crewel yarn……when she opened her gift she straight away recgonized the fabric, and said “it’s mum’s old coat”, pressed it to her face and sighed “ooh, it still smells of her”….to which we then had to blow our noses because we got a bit teary.

So while not really a comission that was such a meaningful make because that fabric meant such a lot to one of my friends……she’s pretty sure it would have been her mum taught her to knit so seeing and using that wrap everyday holds a whole lot of memories…..

wraps-for-eva

A more recent commission has been for my friend eva, one wrap very sensibly is for her (fixed circulars this time so it was made with deeper pockets) and then 2 long wraps were made for a couple of her friends which were designed for interchangables…eva didn’t want the space made for a needle gauge but instead wanted them filled with spaces for lots of tips and while similar in construction ended up looking quite different because of the fabric used…..

Last year when I started knitting I began listening to a couple of podcasts (KnitSonik and Knit British) and started reading all the wonderfully woolly and sheepy articles on Wovember…..both podcasts and woolly articles really lit such a fire in my heart, on days when my knitting was mis-behaving I was able to put it aside for a little while I’d listen or read…and then return back to my yarn and pointy sticks a little bit more relaxed……

Anyway, I’m very grateful to Felicity (Felix) Ford  and Louise Scollay who both do so much hard work preparing for all that is Wovember and I wanted to show my  appreciation in some way so I emailed Louise and offered a bespoke wool wrap as a prize for one of their competitions…..so I’m very excited to say I will be making a special, custom made, all wool fabric, needle wrap for the winner of the Wovember Instagram competion…..the winner will be announced today over on the Wovember site….(if you look for #wovember or #wovember2016 you’ll see some beautiful knits, wonderful sheep, and some amazing woolly goodness going on…a real celebration of such an incredible fibre) ….

I’ve bought some beautiful hand woven donegal tweed especially for this and have some very fine weight wool cloth for the lining…..over the holidays I’ll be working on this special bespoke wrap to suit the winners needle specifications and will be posting progress here and on Instagram (yes, I’ve finallly bought a phone that has a camera)…..thank you so much Team wovember for your wonderful enthusiasm for wool and for all the interesting essays and features on the Wovember site….if you’d like to help support Wovember there is a little donate button at the bottom of the Wovember site page.

 

 

Bubbling blackberries and a yarn to fare own my heart……

blackbery-jam-red-stitches

I’m so excited to finally be able to write about this shawl….as you may remember back in September, lovley Sonja from Blacker Yarns emailed me and asked if I would like to have a little play with their new Cornish Tin II and I was really bowled over with how beautifully it knitted…..plump and velvety, lots of bounce and seeming to hold on to all that heel kicking and joyfulness of a field full of baa lambs….between then and the day it went on sale I hummed and hah-ed about which colour to go for, I knew I could only afford one skein so the pressure was on….I finally chose Wheal Rose Red though if there had been a bright forest green I’d have chosen that as I’ve got a bit of a thing at the moment about green, but that’s beside the point, all the shades in the Tin II are gorgeous, combining rich and deep with a gentle subtleness…they aren’t brash, I think that’s what I’m trying to say……anyway I woke up crazily early on the day it went on sale and had ordered a skein from Isla at Brit Yarn before I think she’d even had a morning cup of tea and was out of her pyjamas……

a-deep-red-sea-of-yarn

The skein arrived the next day and the Autumn sunshine meant I was able to sit outside and slowly untwist the skein and allow the light to skip along those woolly twists……The Tin II is a wonderful blend and some of those darker natural fibres cause the shadows to really swallow down amongst those wraps of ply………it’s not as glossy as the Tamar but where as that was almost like knitting with sunlight and air, the Tin II is much more puddingy and substantial feeling…so much so that I had to keep checking the label as it doesn’t feel like a 4 ply at all, it’s certainly robust.

In the time leading up to the release day I went through my library of patterns and the one I wanted to cast on again was Ishbel by Ysolda Teague (I love how it’s nice and wide rathe rather than short and deep)…I’d only just cast my first one off and was really happy with how that looked and it also gave me some wriggle room with yarn…..or so I thought

a-deep-berry-red-yarn

I spent a few days just petting and stroking the new skein, I’m sure I’m not the only knitter that does this, I’d already said “how do and hello” earlier when I’d knitted the wee skeins Sonja had sent me, but there is something so wonderful to sit with a whole fat skein of such beautiful yarn, allowing your fingers to sink down and immerse themselves in colour and stroke those woolly fibres……after about a week of such nonsense I cast on and was treated with the most wonderous raspy shuffle as I wrapped the yarn around my needles…..from the notes I made while knitting the swatch I decided to cast on with a 4.5mm needle so I’d create a little more lightness and drape to the fabric….the  first part of the shawl almost knitted itself and because I just got far too excited knitting this I made one of those daft sort of mistakes that I didn’t notice and after spending a couple of hours trying to correct it I decided to just rip it all out and start again a bit more slowly……the yarn was fine about being ripped, the stitches popped apart so easily……

This yarn has such an amazing stitch definition, you really can see which stitch is which and so I decided not to use my beloved stitch markers, a bit scary at first but I was able to “read ” my knitting really clearly and progress was actually faster I think than if I’d have been shifting markers along all the time….there was no interuption to the flow of knitting and the stitches almost seemed to appear by magic…..

One of the lovely things about knitting this Ishbel was the back and forth messages I had with my friend Alida….she’d admired my first Ishbel and wasn’t sure she could knit one herself but I thought otherwise (she’s an amazing sock knitter so I knew she could do it) and even though she’s in Canada and I’m here in Norfolk we were having our very own little Ishbel kal…..

Even with having to re-knit the centre part twice (I was a row away from starting the lace work when I’d had to rip it) the shawl was finished in just under a fortnight which is pretty good going for me…however disaster almost struck….I didn’t have enough yarn……Ishbel is a fantastic pattern and this is a link to Ysolda’s chart for Ishbel if you want to keep an eye on your stitch count….a % of shawl made is given and I was keeping track of this and where when I started thought I had plenty of yarn, as I worked those last rows I realized my yarn was almost gone…so I put a call out in the Blacker Yarns group on Ravelry and the very very kind MontyMouse sent me enough yarn to finish my knitting (actually she sent me extra to what I’d asked for in case the yarn got gobbled up quicker than I’d anticipated…..) so hugest of huge thank yous to her…….this was a valuable lesson to me though in how much a 4ply can differ.

tin-ii-after-blocking

I know from the handful of shawls I’ve knitted this year that lace work can look a bit….hmmm, squishy and wet pasta like before blocking and while I really liked the look of those fat stitches above I truly was swept off my feet when I saw what happened after I’d soaked my shawl in a sink of warm water……you can really see those those undulating waves of knitting……and any rusticness and hedgehoggyness totally goes away on that wash….not that I thought this was hedgehoggy in the slightest, shuffley and full of sounds when you rub it or knit it yes but not unpleasant to sit against your skin……

I allowed the shawl plenty of time to fully dry before taking out the blocking pins and was so over the moon and happy with the results…..it looks much weightier than it actually is and oohh the colour…..if you’ve ever made blackberry jam, think back to when the sugar and berries begin to merge and the contents of the pan is transformed into that deep bubbling red….this is that shade exactly……..

tin-ii-shawl-finished

(just look how it flows over my shoulders…..that’s softness for you)…..While I was knitting this my boyfriend became rather ill and it’s taken him a while to feel up to taking any pictures for me so the shawl has been very patient and waited and waited…..but he’s feeling a bit better and well enough to be my “David Bailey”…. finally I am so so thrilled to share this with you…..

It’s really soft to hold, not Blue Faced Leicester kitten tummy soft, but soft like old velvet chairs, comforting softness that envelops and makes you feel safe……the texture of the stitches is incredible, tracing over the lacework and I can feel those knit two togethers and slipped over stitches…the spine down the centre is so clear and defined….tiny ridges are a tactile pleasure for my hands and fingers…..and my favourite part…look at those pointy tips along the shawl’s edge…so pokey sharp they could nearly take your eye out…..

weighty-lacework

I really am incredibly happy with how this project came out….it’s wonderfullly warm without feeling over heavy, and while I wish I’d have bought two skeins so I could have made it a little longer I’m not really fretting about it as this is still a nice wearable size…..because I used the 4.5mm there is a really lovely drapey feel to the shawl which I hope you can see from the above pictures…..

The fabric feels wonderful and fudgy, like when you see moss growing and you can press your fingers down into the green and it feels all bouncy…..

This is always how I imagined yarn to feel, warm and soft, light, a slight tickle, mossy and woolly…..thank you so much to everyone at Blacker Yarns who have worked so hard to create this stunning blend, it honestly has felt like a real privilage to knit with this yarn and certainly this knitter for one greatly appreciates all your hard work………

I’ve just checked and both Brit Yarn and Blacker Yarns still have some of this very special and limited yarn left, so if you’re still wondering what to tell people you’d like for Christmas…perhaps a skein or two of this….it’s available in 4 ply and dk weight and Blacker Yarns also have a section on their site with some really beautiful free patterns which use this yarn……

More notes on my bubbling blackberries Ishbel can be seen on my Ravelry page…..