My quilting essentials……

translucent patchwork and quilting

Last May I wrote a rather lengthy piece about what I’ve found to be really essential when I make my patchworks…I hate that a lot of people seem to think you need to be super rich to make a quilt, okay, it would be wonderful to have big pots of money and to just buy everything all in one swoop but that’s never been a situation I’ve found myself to be in. For the most part, I’ve bought the pieces I use slowly, in dribs and drabs…some fancy shmancy pieces of equipment (like gridded rulers and fabric shears) were bought for me for my birthday or Christmas (which makes using them extra special), but most of my quilts were made without a lot of flashy stuff.

I had a message the other day from Buttercupandbee regarding my quilts, and well, you know what I’m like, there’s never a short answer with me (I see it as being thorough)….but it reminded me of my original post and thought it was time for a follow up.

hand quilting on the diagonal

This is a break down of what I use to make my quilts once I have a patchwork top ready to work with…first up I’m a hand quilter and while I have made one quilt using a machine, I really do prefer to use my hands..(but if you like making them on a machine  then that’s great, I’m just saying it just wasn’t for me).  I don’t live in a particularly big house so there isn’t the space to store more than a couple of quilts.  Nor do I have the funds to make an unlimited amount so the fact each one takes me a good while is a positve thing to me….If a quilt takes me a couple of years to make then that’s okay, I’m fine with that….obviously the ones I make for commissions don’t take as long as that but there’s still a lot of hours in all those stitches…the real pleasure for me is in the handling of the fabric, finding an inner quiet time in those tiny stitches….the rhythm and motion of the needle passing through the fabric, joining pieces of patchwork into a whole and then later embellishing with quilting……

green bow tie print star block

As I say, funds for quilts that are made for our home are quite limited…the biggest spend after fabric for the patchwork top tends to be on the wadding but I’ve found that buying wadding in bulk (I buy a kingsize pack of wadding and then cut it down into smaller pieces) works out excellent value for money…..next comes fabric for the backing, then thread and needles and a quilting hoop, something to mark your pattern out with and something to draw around like a template….anything extra is just that…extra.

I try to keep all my quilting/patchwork tools and equipment together though there are bits and bobs that cross over from one sewing box to another…but while you’re making your patchwork top you might like to keep an eye open for the items you’ll need later to make your quilt…it’s surprising how often I’ve seen a quilting hoop in a charity shop or beautiful vintage needles at a flea market….and if you’re making a quilt for you or for your home, then vouchers for your birthday to spend at your local quilt shop will help toward the costs of wadding and backing fabric.  I think a mistake people can often make is to feel that you need to buy everything all at once…I think it’s much better to buy slowly, and if you’re lucky enough to have friends that quilt they’ll probably be happy to lend you things so you can try them out first.

a rippled baptist fan

Marking your quilt

You can buy special silver pencils or chalk pencils from quilt shops to mark up your quilting design.  Both of these wash out really easily.  I don’t get on so well with the silver pencils myslef and prefer a white chalk pencil.  When I’ve made very small quilts I’ve marked the quilt in wash out blue pen but I don’t recommend this for larger projects as the pen can become permanent if left for a long period or is exposed to sunlight….regular HB pencil isn’t generally suggested to use as the graphite rubs off against your hand which then brushes against the fabric making the quilt become rather grubby..however, I’m not going to say I’ve never used it because I have, but I do need to wash all my quilts as soon as they are finished (this also helps the fabric scrunch up and look a bit “time softened” rather than something I’ve just made as well as sprucing it up)…..Not that long ago I read in a recently published book to mark up your quilt using tailor’s chalk…seriously I would not suggest this as tailor’s chalk is waxy and it doesn’t always wash out properly.  I’d also suggest getting a top quality pencil sharpener from an art suplies store to keep the pencil tips sharp (cheap ones always seem to chew up the “silver lead”/chalk  inside).

morning sunshine through patchwork

Depending on your quilting design you can also use strips of masking tape, (although I tend to buy big reels of it from a local Ironmongers as it’s cheap as chips from there, you can also buy skinnier versions from quilt suply shops)….you just stick this to the patchwork and quilt either side of the line and then it just whips right off, you should be able to use it a couple of times before all the sticky has gone….it’s quite handy for quilting squares or diamond shapes in the middle of feathered circles….and you can stick it diagonally across the quilt, and quilt along like that, though you’ll need a sturdy ruler to guide you so the line is kept super straight (or spread your quilt out flat, and tie and pin across a piece of thread across the corners, then run the tape along the thread line.)

You may prefer to get fancy and want to quilt cables around the edges of your quilt, if so then I’d suggest buying some quilter’s plastic, you can buy this in A4 packs or in A3 size sheets ( I buy the sheets as they work out better value for money and last me ages)….but you can also use the plastic to make a bar for baptist fan quilting.

quilting wrap 012

Wadding or Batting

I prefer to use a pure wool wadding from the Tuscany Collection by Hobbs…it’s not cheap but it hand quilts beautifully, and when washed carefully gives a wonderful drape and lightness to your finished quilt.   I’m happy to spend the extra money this wadding costs as it is so wonderful to work with.

I also use cotton wadding and find that quilts up really well.  I tend to use it more on notebook covers and small projects rather than bed quilts but if you wanted to make a Summer quilt and were on a bit of a budget then that would work beautifully.  Most quilt shops sell this on a big roll so I don’t know a brand name, however I’ve bought cotton wadding from 3 different places as it’s all been about the same so I think it’s quite generic.

I don’t use synthetic waddings as I find the fibers seem to resist the needle, and it’s much harder to make my stitches.  I think it’s a bit of a false economy to skimp on a good wadding, okay I know you don’t see the wadding but the time you spend working the quit, if you’re constantly fighting with your needle then it becomes a chore not a pleasure….I also find it doesn’t really “flop” like a wool wadding (I like a quilt that flops over the edge of the bed, corners forming soft folds)….instead it sort of just sits there

Also because I’m a cheap skate and don’t like to throw anything out….I often sew small pieces of wadding together to make a larger piece…when you make your quilt you get left with strips from the side, rather than throw these away I just save them until I’ve got a few and then just slightly overlap the pieces and then sew them together with a slanted tacking stitch.

rumpled and puckered hand quilting

American muslin/quilting calico

For the most part this is what I’ve used to back several of the quilts I’ve made…it’s available in really generous widths so you could buy a couple of metres to back a quilt with it without having to join the fabric and have any distracting seams….it tends to come in two colours, bleached and un-bleached..so white or natural.  It’s not the prettiest fabric in the world and I know most quilts in more modern quilting quilts seem to use printed fabrics for their undersides (this is what I’ve done in the above picture) but if you’re on a budget then using this will help save a fair bit of money, also your quilting will show up much clearer on a plain background…it also holds dye incredibly well so you could also dye some and just wash it a few times before basting your quilt together.

Generally I wash all my fabric for quilting before I begin sewing with it, and I make sure to wash the muslin/calico too as it does shrink up a bit.  There isn’t a particular brand of calico I favour, I just ask for American Muslin at my local quilt shop, however don’t ask for English Muslin as that’s cheesecloth and isn’t suitable to back your quilt.  American Muslin is also a lot softer than dressmakers calico so I find it’s best to buy it from an actual quilting shop.

If you wanted to make a wholecloth quilt (a quilt which doesn’t have a patchwork top but instead is a single piece of fabric which is then beautifully quilted) then this is the fabric you’d want to use.

quilting wrap 018

When I’ve had a long break from quilting I find it can take an hour or so for me to get my rhythm or quilting mojo back…I’ve always have a play/sampler quilt to feel my way back in to the motion of the stitches…this is often just a couple of pieces of American muslin with some cotton wadding inside (this is a perfect way to use up those wadding scraps you’ve saved and sewn together), basted together and which I can just randomly stitch until my fingers become familiar to the motion of the needle again.  It doesn’t have to be very big, mine tend to be about 18 -24 inch square “quilt sandwiches”.  It’s not meant to be a work of art or anything, the stitches aren’t made to be perfect, it’s all about you finding that needle,fabric, fingers rhythm again…..and when you feel your stitches are nicely consistant, then you start back on your quilt project, tucking the scrappy sampler away for next time…they can end up getting pretty heavily quilted, and in the past when I feel I can’t quilt them anymore I chop them up for cushion stuffing….like I say, they aren’t pretty, and aren’t designed to be admired or anything, it’s like scribbling with a new pen on scrap paper, encouraging the ink to flow….

threaded quilting needles

Quilting threads

I really like using Star brand hand quilting cotton, it’s incredibly well priced and makes for very nice quilting.  It’s a bit thicker than regular quilting cotton so is a bit hard to thread really tiny needles (such as Clover Black Gold)  It’s quite hard to source in the UK and I’ve only seen it available in a few colours (although mostly I prefer to quilt in an ecru shade or grey) but I’m told it’s widely available in the US and Canada.

However, I also like Gutterman hand quilting cotton.  It’s finer than the Star brand so it’s easier to thread your needles, but is a bit more expensive.  It’s available in a really wide range of colours.  I always use proper hand quilting cotton and don’t touch the synthetic threads.

If you’re quilting a patchwork top made with brushed cotton then you could also try using coloured button thread by  Gutterman, it’s thicker but the brushed cotton isn’t woven so tightly as regular quilting fabric so it doesn’t damage the weave.  This is what I used on a very early quilt I made (actually it was a pair of quilts for two of my nieces, just large squares of brushed cotton hand sewn together and then I quilted rows of heart/star motifs on them…)  it’s also what I use when I’ve made quilts for the cats…(which were made from an old pair of pyjamas and some plaid shirts)

vintage quilting needles
selection of vintage quilting needles

Quilting Needles

Quilting needles are often called “quilters between” but sometimes it just says “quilting” on the packet.  The needles are short, and slightly stubby.  They need to be nice and strong to go through all the layers.  (unlike the straights or applique needles you use for the patchwork, those are super skinny and a bit longer.)

Depending on what I’m quilting I go on and off different brands of needles, mostly I prefer the tiniest little needles imaginable, the sort you’d expect the mice in The Tailor of Gloucester to have used on those buttonholes…but I appreciate these aren’t for everyone. Some brands sell little packets with a selection of quilting needles in them, and while you may not end up getting on with all the different sizes, it gives you the chance to try out and find what feels comfortable for you ….also, don’t expect to find the teeniest needle comfy the first time you quilt…like most things, it takes a bit of practise and when I started quilting I prefered a longer needle to what I like to use now.

rebel patch 003

Millward and John James are both good basic brands, you get about 20 needles for around £2.00, you really want to store them in-between sewing in a needle case as the quilting needles are so short they’ll soon disappear to be forever lost if you push them into a pin cushion.

I’ve also used Clover Black Gold which are very very tiny and skinny, they probably aren’t so great for a beginner and they are very pricey, the last ones I bought were £4.50 for 6 needles, but they are super sharp. (their applique needles in this range are excellent)…from time to time in brickety brac/flea markets I’ve been able to pick up Blue Dorcas vintage quilting needles, these are my all time favourite and never cost me much.  Always check for rust though if you look to buy vintage needles for your sewing (I like using them as I find they are stronger and sharper than modern needles)

needles in action

Quilting hoop

If I’m quilting something small, anything less than a foot square I’m not likely to use a quilting hoop, I still baste it the layers with thread but find I can handle the fabric better without a hoop, but when I’m working larger than that I find using a hoop makes things a lot easier…and there’s much less chance of you quilting yourself to your work (it’s incredibly easy to catch a dress or skirt fabric on to your quilt when you don’t use a hoop…I speak from exprience)…a quilting hoop is bigger than an embroidery hoop, it’s also fatter, generally about an inch thick.

A hoop will help give the right amount of tension to your work as you quilt it…some people like their work to be held super taut like a drum, I prefer a bit more slack, but there isn’t a right way or wrong way, it’s what feels right for you.

dresden plates 006

I’ve got 2 different sized hoops, a couple that are 14 inches wide which I tend to use for most of my quilting, and a bigger one that is 18 inches wide and which I don’t use quite so often, even though I’ve got what I think must be freakishly long arms (cardigans and coats never seem quite long enough to my liking and cuffs often sit well above my wrist bone) I find the 18 inch hoop quite hard to manoeuvre when it’s in my lap….I imagine it would be perfect for quilting feathers and cabling when you need lots of space to maneuver and perhaps I’ll do some fancier quilting like that again when I quilt up “dear ethel”.

Some years ago when I made a huge sampler quilt that my mum now has, each of the blocks in the centre was quilted with a different pattern, cabling ran along the sashing and a double or triple cable ran over the flying geese border.  Using the hoop helped me focus on each block as I quilted it without being distracted by what was happening in other parts of the patchwork.  It’s nice to do fancy things like that for other people but I rarely bother for myself though I’m thinking “dear ethel” deserves it.

quilt books 013

Suggested reading…

My favourite hand quilting book is The Essential Quilter by Barbara Chainey….it was recommended to me by the lady who taught me to quilt and I’ve not found better for the basics….it’s very clearly written and easy to follow.  The only downside is that the quilts in it are a bit dated and fuddy duddy looking in my opinion but the workmanship is amazing. In the back of the book are some simple shapes which you can trace or photocopy to make templates to quilt around.

And as I mentioned in my patchwork essentials piece, I’ve also got a book which was like 25p or something from a car boot simply called Patchwork.  It’s part of the traditional needle arts collection and is written by Diana Lodge……it covers a nice range of patchwork designs and although some of the colours and fabric choices aren’t really my cup of tea, the information inside is very sound.

I wrote some more about my favourite patchwork/quilting books just here

And to be honest that’s it, little extras like fabric grips have only come much later in my quilt making.  I do use a thimble but just a regular sewing thimble… I’ve seen fancier ones in shops but I get on fine with the one I have.  I also a little velvet strawberry needle sharpener that was from the Royal School of Needlework, this was bought with birthday money from my dear friend Joyce so now she’s psssed away it’s become very dear…but a cheaper one filled with emery will work fine to keep your needle tips sharp. (note, if you do buy the Clover Black Gold then don’t sharpen them, the emery removes their black coating)….for me a quilt is all about time, slow stitches rather than a fat purse in which to go wild at a local fabric store with.

If you ever get the chance there is a fantastic collection of quilts at The American Museum just outside of Bath…the collection regularly rotates what’s on display.  There are some really breathraking quilts on show and may of them incorporate scraps and would have been made with what was to hand.

Other posts you may find useful…

My patchwork essentials

Making a quilt sandwich

How to baste a quilt not a turkey….

Baptist fan quilting

A slow wave of wobbbling hand stitches

blossoms, bees, butterflies and bernard……

apple blossom

We’ve three small apple trees in our garden and this year we (well I say we but it was the boyfriend as he’s the one with the green fingers and thumbs,) decided to move two of them so they’d get a bit more sunshine and light…two are in huge pots, and I’m not wholly sure what the plans are for tree three…one of the trees is still to blossom but it’s a later variety however the other two have been a real treat to see….delicate rose tipped petals…with glorious buttercup coloured centers…..

the palest pink blossoms

The fragrance surrounding the trees has been so wonderful, the scent is quite reminiscent of gardenia or tuberose…especially one of the trees we’ve moved, it’s really basked in the sunshine and it’s blossoms are incredibly heady.

The powdery apple pollen has been somewhat of a feast for the bees, most mornings when I’m either taking out vegetable peelings for the compost or filling up the bird feeders I spot fat bottomed bees tumbling around in those silky scented petals…and it’s not just bees that have been enjoying the apple blossom, the garden is already full of tiny blue butterflies and pretty orange tipped ones.  As we live pretty close to a river and some of our neighbours have ponds, we often see damson flies and spectacular jewel bright dragonflies darting about the garden, sometimes they rest near the blossoms before flying off in the air above.

blue and yellow forget me nots

The forget-me-nots have begun to take over the garden and while I know some gardeners see them as weeds, we’re happy to let them grow, enjoying the soft smudges of colour as they spread out along path edges and down the sides of steps…the petals are a much darker bue this year, I suppose as it’s been a combination of mild weather which has meant they’ve grown, but without the full Summer sun to then fade them….they’re almost as dark as a bluebell.

delicate blue forget me nots

I love watching the colours of the flowers change, they start off as the tiniest buds of lilac and lavender, mauve and pinky…..slowly opening up to reveal those blue petals.  Last year we also had lots of catseye/birdseye speedwell but that’s been a bit slow making an appearance.

tiny blue sprigs

Tiny clusters of petals seem to form the smallest little posies….along with the forget-me-nots we’ve also let our wild strawberries spread out, everywhere we look there are tiny strawberry blossoms.  We’ve grown both the alpine (long pointy fruit and very hardy…I’ve eaten freshly picked Strawberries in November) and wild (rounder in shape and as sweet as a kiss) strawberries and over the years they’ve cross pollinated so the fruits now are seem to be a bit of a mix, some can be a bit tart but others taste like an opal fruit sweetie.  I like adding a few of them to the bigger berries when I make ice-cream and we’ve also used them before with some water mint or apple mint I’ve picked from a walk over the marshes to make a Summer cocktail with very happy results.

under the chery tree

And it’s not just blossoms, bees and butterlies in the garden…if there’s sunshine then Bernard soon heads out and takes up residence under the cherry tree….the shade there is all dappled and when he sprawls out he almost disappears….for the most part he ignores the birds, there’s been a few disagreements in past years wiht the blackbirds and he’s now a bit frightened of them, many the times he’s been chased indoors only to sit up and glare out the window at them.

Equally the birds don’t seem too bothered by Bernard, he’s not really agile enough to climb the cherry tree so they seem quite content to use the feeders above him (dropping bits of seed shell down on him as if to tease)….they’re also still pulling off wisps of fleece for nesting…mostly its the tiny tits that seem to love the fleece though I’ve also seem the goldfinches inspect it…but generall it’s the tits, they pull out the finest strands of fleecy fluff, and keep pulling and pulling, until they seem almost covered with sheepy candy floss fronts before flying off.

handspun spun and sheepy, the pleasures of wool from just down the road….

handspun wool

Back at the start of the year I had the pleasure to meet some of the ladies from the wealth of local Spinning,Weaving and Dyers Guilds that Norfolk seems to have in abundance…. the main library in Norwich is in a building  called the Forum and there are often exhibitions on in the atrium.  I’d seen a sign up outside saying something about a Maker’s month but didn’t really know what to expect….so wandered in, more with the intention of re-newing a couple of books than anything else…and then almost had to stop and rub my eyes as there before me was a group of ladies all on various spinning wheels with a backdrop of beautiful handspun yarn behind them…..I wrote about this at the time, but I then went back the following week with a bit more money on me so I could buy some of the fantastc yarn that was for sale.

I wish so much you could rub the screen of ypour computer and get a good whiff of these two fat skeins….they smell so good, there’s a slight sharp tang followed by such a softness…..I can’t smell either without closing my eyes, my face fair beaming with the intoxicating sheepy bliss of the smell and feel of them.  Both of these were spun by Lizbeth Cranmer from The Mid Norfolk Guild of Spinners,Weavers and Dyers.  I don’t think she has an on-line shop but you can contact her via The Mid Norfolk Guild.  Lizbeth was also very kind and has answered a couple of questions I had about where the wool for the yarn was sourced…..

handspun castlemilk moorit

First up is a fat and fragrant skein of Castlemilk Moorit, this is actually a lighter shade than some I’ve bought from Brit Yarn.  It’s a fat dk/aran.  For hand, squish grab delight…oh my goodness, I could barely put it down, even now it’s near to hand so I can regularly bury my face into it….the skein weighed 87 grammes and is approx 234 metres in length.  I’ve opened up the skein and wrapped it around my neck like a cowl…no tickles or itchiness…just that warm, secure comfort you only get from wool.

The Castlemilk Moorit comes from Wood Norton (about 19 miles from Norwich) and is from a small flock of 8 sheep which are kept as pets/lawnmowers.

handspun Shetland wool

The second skein is a rich chocolately Shetland, spun about the same thickness.  This is a bit of a heavier skein weighing in at 119 grammes with an approx length of 250 metres. While still sheepy scented this isn’t as sharp as the Castlemilk Moorit, but my goodness it’s as soft and velvety as a kittens tummy…I’d happily wear thermals knitted in this…you know when you eat something nice and you instantly go “mmmm” …this wool is just like that, my eyes close, my heart beat slows and I can’t help but smile and “mmmm” with pleasure.

Lizbeth believes the Shetland is from a fleece that she  got from a friend who lives in the Dereham area (about 15 miles out of Norwich).  It makes me really happy to know I’m using yarn that comes from sheep that live so near by and which hasn’t been flown in from goodness knows where.

I’m pretty undecided yet about what I’m going to knit with these skeins, in part because my knitting know-how/skills are as yet somewhat limited.  There’s enough for a huge cowl but I understand that both yarns are pretty hardy so I’m thinking they’d be lovely as a cardigan, the yarn isn’t making my skin prickle so I’d happily wear this without my thermals underneath so I’d have the full pleasure of feeling the fabric against my arms.

I was going to say this wasn’t particulalry “sexy” wool but actually it is, it’s rustic in that Gabriel Oak, gentle, strong and capable way…I just want to drape both skeins around me and spend the rest of the afternoon on the sofa watching Far from the Madding Crowd or reading a book of English Folk tales.

dorset horn and my spinning stickAnd there wasn’t just beautiful handspun yarn to buy, the ladies were all very enthusiastic about “come and sit down and have a go yourself”.  The first week I had a try at a spinning wheel (for the most part without the yarn but just trying out the pedal motion which left me as relaxed feeling as a couple of glasses of wine) and I also had a try with a drop spindle….the drop spindle was okay but I couldn’t really seem to get my fingers doing what they were supposed to…..then when I went back the following week Lizbeth suggested I try a Bulgarian spinning stick …even though my attempts at spinning weren’t great, the spinning stick (or vretana) felt so comfortable in my hands that I ended up buying one of those as well…..the yarn that came with it was some commercially produced Dorset Horn so while Lizbeth was able to name the breed, she wasn’t able to say where the wool had came from.

fleece from Delilah

Then she produced these fat wobbles of fleece (or rolags) she’d made which came from a sheep called Delilah….Delilah is a Manx Loaghtan/Zwartbles cross and lives on the Norfolk/Suffolk border out near Bungay (so about 12/13 miles from Norwich)….these are real wisps of wool, sheepy smelling and slightly oily to the touch.  So I also bought a 100g bag of these to play on my spinning stick with…..it’s really lovely to know not only where the wool came from and it’s breed but also knowing Delilah’s name makes these fat squishy sausages even more special.

All of the ladies from the various Norfolk guilds were so incredibly kind with their time and patience, answering my many and numerous questions…so a huge huge thank you once more especially to Lizbeth and also to Jen Monahan who took this picture of me attempting to spin and Lizbeth supervising, and put up with all my chatter….and there’s a whole heap of pictures just here showing what a fantastic display the Norfolk Guilds put on at the forum during Maker’s Month…..

 

 

Phoenix feathers and dragon toes…..

sumac

Just up the road there’s a small green, mostly it’s used as a meet up place for people with dogs and I often get the chance to make a fuss of one of my four legged friend…I don’t know half the names of the owners but I seem to know all the names of the dogs…on the green are various trees including a stag horn sumac tree (it was planted by one of the dog walkers called Ken who has a lovely little Westie called Harry, or maybe it was his brother in law who planted it…anyway, I always think of it as Ken’s tree)….

A few years ago we noticed that some of the sumac had self seeded/spread by runners…not sure how it re-produces, but there’s now a small patch of shoulder high stems growing alongside one of the paths…..they look a bit odd at the moment but come Summer and they’re all covered in leaves…..I can never just walk past them, I always have to stop and stroke those velvety stems, they really do feel just like an antler, hard and fluffy at the same time…..

buds of sumac leaves

At the moment though they look most peculiar, slightly sinister…..the leaf fronds have begun to appear and they’re slowly stretching and unfurling out….the brightest reds and flame orange, tinges of a sickly yellow green….easily as bright as something you’d expect to see in an Amazon jungle….there’s something about the shape which reminds me of parrots, those amazing colours and those fronds look as hooked as any parrot’s beak..

But touching them is as pleasurable to my fingers as stroking those downy stems…they feel quite boney, yet downy soft…the closest comparrison I can think of is a rabbit’s hind foot…fur covered and soft, yet you can feel the bone and sinew underneath.

budding sumac

Last year I bought some fat alpaca yarn by Artesano from my local wool shop in the sunset colourway and it matches these sumac buds so well……a deep flame burst of Autumn leaved orange…….I’ve kept changing my mind about what to make with it, but after spending time touching these dragon toes and phoenix feather-like leaves I’m thinking something with a lace pattern, even though it’s a heavy aran weight yarn……it’s certainly as soft and velvety feeling as the budding stems.

 

An alpaca and silk “unicorn”with some spring hued pips….

woolly pips of colour

As promised, here are some pictures of the “unicorn” moonraker shawl…I’d actually finished knitting this a couple of weeks ago but we were waiting for some nice weather to go out with the camera…on the whole I’m pretty happy with it, it’s nice and drapey and feels light not too heavy, just the thing for spring really when the temperature can soon cool in the evening.

I used some yarn that I’d bought in the Autumn from my local yarn shop (I loved the colour, a proper egg shell blue) but I don’t think it was such a good choice for this shape of shawl…..I’m not sure if it’s my knitting but both of the Moonraker shawls I’ve had to block quite heavily, and where as the wool yarn shawl was quite happy to put up with a bit of rough treatment and has held it’s post blocking shape perfectly, the alpaca/silk blend seemed a bit more fretful.  I used about a million blocking pins (well 3 packets) and it all looked fine pinned onto the mats, but as soon as the pins were removed the yarn sprung back into itself and left some stretch marks behind.

alpaca and silk moonraker shawl

The bottom edge in this picture shows what I mean…that little up and down pointy edge, it’s not a picot bind off, it’s meant to be a straight line.  It’s not the end of the world I know, but at the same time I know it’s not right and it’s distracting me when I see it…I’m wondering whether I could soak the shawl again and re-block it, and this time thread through some heavy silk thread (used like blocking wires) along the edge and see if that would do the trick….but apart from a wonky rippled edge, that’s my one grumble.

The yarn is very soft and the shawl just falls back off my shoulders, it’s as flopsy as my legs after I’ve had more than a glass of wine.  The row of red and pink “pips” are my favourite…I love how those colours sit so happily together, and when I’ve used up some of the yarn that seems to have bred in my work room, I’d like to try something in those lipstick and face powder shades once I’ve redued my stash some.  (I’ve not been knitting for that long but somehow I seem to have accumulated half a yarn shops worth of brightly hued balls and skeins).

Looking at these two top pictures I did sit a bit open mouthed at how much I look like my younger sister Rachel…where as I’m all dark brown hair (with kempy grey wisps) she’s a fawny blonde with a real peaches and cream complexion but our face shapes are the same, there’s a shared jaw line and mouth…even those straight eyebrows ….we’ve inherited all those from my dad’s mum’s mum…..

unicorn moonraker

Mostly I’ve been influenced in my colour choices for the “pips” by what’s been growing along the verges and in the hedgerows, powdery primrose and pollen yellows, apple blossom soft pinks, new leaf greens….bright red tulips…and then there’s those two  purple rows…in my head they worked really well but after I’d knitted those rows up I had some mis-givings but didn’t listen to my heart and carried on regardless.  I found the aplaca/silk yarn very slippy to catch stitches when I was ripping out and correcting mistakes…the thought of then re-knitting it wasn’t thrilling me so ….I have two purple rows…when the shawl is worn scrunched you don’t notice them so much.

adjusting the shawl not fighting off a bee attack

 

In case you think I’m shooing away a bee or a wasp…I’m just re-adjusting the shawl but this picture made me laugh so I thought you’d like it too…..

The Moonraker pattern is really easy to follow (and take it from me, if I thought it was hard I’d let you know) I’d certainly recommend it, if you can knit a knit stitch then you can knit a Moonraker.  It’s very soothing to knit as for the most part it’s all worked in garter stitch so I was able to switch off a lot and just relax into the yarn and needles.  And while I did like the yarn, I’ve got a skein and a bit left so will need to use that up for something or other…. I also know I preferred the feel of when I was using sheepy scented yarn, I missed that rustle as the yarn wrapped around my needles and the scent of those natural un-dyed wools.

The shawl was knitted as part of the unkal/kal over at The Caithness Craft Collective Podcast’s Ravelry group….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy posset

unwaxed lemons

It’s been absolutely glorious here the past few days, sunshiney and warm without a cloud in the sky….windows and kitchen door are wide open til gone 8…I’d say it feels more like Summer than Spring but suddenly there’s a chill in the air and the evening temperature drops quickly….most nights we have a pudding of sorts, sometimes it’s just yoghurt or a piece of fruit, the boyfriend tends to prefer something chocolately.  But weekends I try to make a bit of an effort and then it’s creme brulees, crumbles and custard, meringues…..come the warm weather though and I start to crave homemade icecreams using fruit from the garden or what I find growing in the hedgerow.

But it’s not quite warm enough for ice-cream in my book yet so this easy peasy “lemon squeezy” posset fits in nicely to the time of year…..it’s lemony flavour is nice and refreshing  but the custardy smoothness of it doesn’t chill like an ice-cream would……

Ingredients (enough for 4)

500 ml double cream

juice of a fat lemon

100 g of castor sugar (vanilla is nice to use but not the end of theworld if you don’t have any)

4 ramekins

method

In a heavy bottomed pan gently heat the cream and caster sugar, stir all the while with a wooden spoon and bring it to a boil.  Allow it to boil for about 3 minutes.

Remove it from the heat and pour in the lemon juice, stir with the wooden spoon or a wooden whisk.  Sieve into a large jug or bowl before spooning into the 4 ramekins.

Allow to cool a little before putting in to the fridge for at least 6 hours before eating……(make sure there isn’t anything aromatic like a stinky cheese in there as this will absorb into the posset…if so, you’ll need to cover the possets with greaseproof paper held in place with an elastic band.

They will keep til the next day but will develop a more tangy lemon flavour.  These ae nice served with cats tongue biscuits or almond ricciarelli biscuits….you could also make up some crumble mix and gently bake that in a warm oven until it turns golden and sprinkle it on top of the posset.

grey skies and frothy blossoms

cherry blossom and grey skies

There’s been a such a change in the weather here, finally the cherry trees around here are in full blossom and looking so beautiful……most are in people’s gardens but there’s a handful that are growing in the green spaces that the village where I live is full of…tucked away from cars and traffic so it’s always nice to pick headgerow fruit and forage here without worrying about stepping off any sloping verge into the road.

Last week when I was walking back from the shops I kept wanting to look up, it was hard not to notice the huge grey clouds up in the sky, such a contrast to the soft white petals of the cherry blossom…..I wasn’t home long before the heaven’s opened and the rain/hail started……

a sky of blossom

I love seeing the glimpses of blue sky and billowy clouds up through the cherry branches and the froth of white petals.  I always think there’s something quite cheerleader like when the cherry trees are in full blossom, all pompoms and “Spring is here, Rah Rah Rah”…..

milky white blossoms

Up close the blossoms are so pretty, delicate milk white petals with golden yellow stamens and apple green centres….they must be full of pollen as the trees almost vibrate with the sound of bees gently buzzing from branch tip to branch tip.

And while I love each of the seasons in their own way, the cherry trees seem to be celebrating spring with an abundance of blossoms which fill the air with a sweet scent making a trip outside a treat for eyes and nose alike that…..

forget-me-nots

In our garden everything is waking up, our raised beds and path edges need some serious weeding but for now we’re happy to give over some garden to these pretty forget-me-nots…as the sunshine has been a bit slow arriving the tiny flowers are a much more intense blue than is usual.

The forget-me-nots were one of the first wild flowers I think I knew the name of, they’re very distinct looking and I think the name makes them easy to remember……because other insects like to visit them, along with the bees, then we often notice the birds having a poke about, investigating around the plants, finding food and tiny six legged snacks.

cowslip

Earlier in the year we moved a couple of our apple trees, they weren’t getting enough sun where they were and both now seem to be responding to the move very well….sprouting soft pink buds and blossoms, and giving something for the blue tits to sit on while they queue to use the feeders (they seem to wait for the great tits but anything else that is at the feederes they just fly down and shove out of the way…even the robin which is normally a feisty little chap gets chirped at nd told to move on)…during the apple tree move the cowslips must have been disturbed as there’s been no sign of them this year, but then when I began lifting the leaves of the wild strawberries I found these ones…..and since I took this photo I’ve found another one so fingers crossed next year we’ll have our yellow carpet again……

The yellow is such a soft shade, brighter than a primrose and nowhere near as intense as gorse or broom…the yellow is quite similar in hue to powdery catkins….I’ve always liked the name of them.

jack in the hedge

Something that does grow most unwanted in the garden is this jack in the hedge…it’s super stinky like wild garlic, and you can eat the young leaves…but I don’t like garlic to eat or to smell so it’s not coming into our kitchen…..it’s quite an invasive plant and you need to pull it up as soon as you see it as if not it’ll take over the garden in no time at all…because it’s been so wet some of the garden has been a bit forgotten about so I’ve spent a couple of days going round whipping these out…they do lift out quite easily, but the air around where they’ve been growing is still pungent with garlic aromas for some time afterwards…..And while I’ll happily admit they do look pretty, and have inspired me with numerous little florl embroideries, those tiny white petals combined with the yellowish green un-opened buds are so dainty, they’re not something I let grow in the garden for long.

Being outside when it’s Spring time and sunny feels such a treat after too many wet and windy afternoons cooped up indoors, when front gardens and hedgerows both are bursting with daubs of colour, sitting on the back door step keeping quiet with a lap full of  knitting and a cup of tea, Bernard sprawled out alongside my feet, birds are busy everywhere, scurrying and skittering around under the shrubs, feeding youngesters or still nest building and pulling at the fleece I’ve put out for them….the sound of them all singing lifts my heart as well as any piece of music by Bach, even the magpies raspily squawking at each other in the huge Sycamore tree that overlooks part of our garden…it’s hard not to be out of doors for 5 minutes this time of year without wanting to smile.

Breakfast buns, frogged balls and a puddle murky yarn…

breakfast buns

This morning saw me up with the lark so rather than go back to sleep I got up and pottered about in the kitchen and made these breakfast buns for the beloved’s breakfast…most weekends he has a plate of melt in your mouth buttery pastries from The Norwich Providore but as we weren’t in town on Friday to pick anything up he’s missed out rather, so as it’s a long weekend I thought I’d spoil him a little with these….the recipe is Finnish in origin and it’s one of those unbelievably simple bready cake recipes where it starts off looking all gloopy and nothing much to write home about, but then you open the oven door and have a tray of these lovely wee poppets to wake everyone up with…..they’re really easy to make, especially at weekends where you can dawdle rather than rush…from start to finish they take less than 1 1/2 hours, and you can always go back to bed with a cup of tea while the dough is rising.

Ingredients

100g unsalted butter

2 teaspoons dry yeast (I like Allinsons which comes in a tin)

2 eggs (large organic)…use one in the dough and the other is beaten as an egg wash.

80 g of granulated sugar (I like to use half soft brown and half white) you’ll also need a little extra to sprinkle over the buns before baking them.

350 g of plain flour (I used 250 g of plain and then 100 g of spelt) plus a bit extra for rolling and shaping.

350 ml milk (full fat does work best but a dessert spoon of cream stirred into some semi skimmed seems to do the trick nicely too)

pinch of salt

handful of raisins

cinnamon/cardamon….

 

Method

Warm the milk, if you’re using cardamons then pop a couple of green pods into the milk and allow them to infuse while the milk heats through and then remove them.

Melt the butter.

In a large bowl measure out about 200g of the flour, add the warm milk and mix in the yeast and the sugar. Beat one egg and stir in.  Add the raisins, if you didn’t use cardamon now add a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of slat, stir, add 150g more of the flour and the melted butter…..you may need to add more flour, the mixture will be pretty sticky but you want it to be able to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Cover the dough with a large cloth and leave somewhere warm for about 45 minutes.

Turn the oven on to gas 6, and line a large tray with baking parchment….

Dust a work surface with flour and empty out the dough.  You may need a little bit more flour at this stage as the dough is somewhat sticky.  Divide the dough into 2 and then 2 again….roll out the dough into fat sausages and cut each sausage into 6 pieces, roll and shape into buns, dusting with flour if the mix gets sticky in your hands.  Place on the baking tray.

Beat the remaining egg and egg wash over the buns…sprinkle a little sugar on top of the buns and then bake in the oven for about 10 minutes so they are nice and golden….

Serve warm with jam or butter.

three balls blue

Along with knitting a shawl for The Caithness Craft Collective un-kal division 2 I’ve also un-ravelled a scarf for division 3  that I wasn’t wearing half as much as I thought I would when I made it…because I didn’t have a lot of yarn I made it about half the width that he pattern had suggested, which was too skinny really as it just kept on rolling up…it was an absolute devil to rip out…I’d washed and blocked it twice and in the process some of the yarn felted a bit together…however I’ve got just over 80 g to now knit up into something else…..the yarn (Shilasdair Luxury 4 ply) was some I’d bought a few years ago on a day-trip to London, it was a real luxury soft yarn of angora, merino lambswool, camel and cashmere and as you can imagine was such a pleasure to crochet….there’s a couple of patterns I’ve seen I’d quite like to use it for but I think I’ve now got to skein it up and soak it so it unkinkifies….

knitting my first cardigan

I’ve started on my Ramona cardigan….this is the first time I’ve knitted a cardigan or a jumper so it’s equal parts exciting, a bit nerve wracking…mostly incredibly gratifying and feeling jolly proud of myself to see this slowly grow.  I had a few false starts where I thought my maths was out (it wasn’t, I just don’t always have the sense I was born with) and then I was making increases to the left when I should have been knitting to the right…it ended up looking like I’d done the hokey cokey with my knitting in the other hand…I’m slowly learning that if it’s knitting I’m familiar with then I’m fine to chat and to have background noise but when it’s something new where I need to really concentrate….then it’s best put away until the house is quiet.  But now there’s enough knitting on my needles to pretend I’ve got a tiny capelet…

raglan sleeve increaes

Anyway every cloud has a silver lining and by ripping out and re-kniting so many times I’ve finally got my head around what it is I’m actually doing when I’m making the increases, it’s the same stitches I was working when I made the Open Sky shawl, I was also confusing my left and rights, I thought the direction was based on the knitted sections but its all about the stitch markers, and the increases are guided by where they are. I can almost picture my dad shaking his head and saying to my mum “the girl fair’s sah sorft Sandra” ……like I say, now I understand what I’m doing it’s coming along fine…I love the colour of the yarn, that brown with those grey/blue flecks….it’s a bit of a murky puddle water colour as much as a North Sea hue, and I’m hoping it won’t show up cat fur too much as his nibs has already been rubbing round it the past day or so when he clambers up on to my lap.

The stitch markers I’m using are the ones I made during the Christmas holidays…the glass beads are from a tin that was found half hidden in a lovely little box of vintage haberdasheries which the beloved bought me a few years ago… I needed some small markers and where possible I like to try my hand at making things first, not everything turns out quite right, but the doo-dahs and what nots  I’ve made from handed down fabrics, or bits and pieces that have a history (or herstory) about them, always become the things that give me the most pleasure to then use.  This way of choosing snippets and notions from here, there, everywhere, influences so much the way I work whether I’m making things for me and the home, or whether it’s commissions and pieces to sell.

Each time I knit up to one of the small glass beads I’m thinking of my sweetie but also the lady who’d originally owned the sewing box and little Ian who’d wrote the note we found inside (which I treasure so much).

Bread, books, socks and swatches…….

sesame and spelt

I’m none too sure what’s happened to the past week, it’s pretty much flown by without me knowing and I don’t feel I’ve got all that much to show for it….mostly I’ve been poodling, drafting up new patterns, mostly reworkings of pieces to go into my Folksy shop (hopefully they’ll be ready next week) but also I’ve spent a few minutes tinkering with a pattern for a dress based on a dirndl skirt I cobbled together a couple of years ago from a mustardy floral pair of curtains I’d bought at a car boot…the fabric was a bit faded near the hem but I didn’t mind that, it’s one of those nice and comfy skirts that I’d wear everyday given half the chance.  I don’t have a whole lot of tops that really go with it though so I thought to make a dress version which is why I spent an afternoon in the bathroom pinning bits of pattern cutting paper to my thermals (I do have a dress makers dummy but sometimes I find just pinning to me a bit easier) before drafting out something that hopefully will be wearable and which I can stash bust with……

garter toe sock

I’ve also been knitting more socks, well a sock…and if truth be told I don’t even have one of those properly finished to show as this was a test run to understand a new to me pattern….there is a sock knitting kal running over in the Joeli Creates group on Ravelry for knitting socks without nylon….my Shetland spindrift socks I made earlier in the year were knitted without nylon and are so warm that I really wanted to knit another pair of pure wool socks….though I didn’t want to just keep repeating the same pattern as I’d already made so I decided to try knit a pair of toe up socks…..lovely Julia (who knits truly beautiful socks) bought me this pattern for Christmas as part of a small gestures swop….Anne had already been round earlier in the year to explain short rows to me (I do seem to get on better with someone showing me and talking me slowly through a process then just reading about it)….anyway, this is my first attempt, the toe seemed a bit gapey at the sides so I un-ravelled it and had another go and second time it looked much better (not the fault of the pattern but me being a complete numpty and forgetting to wrap my stitches)….I used this yarn just as a tester “have a bit of a play” attempt, the real sock uses some beautiful homemade strawberry ice-cream pink Blacker Classsic woollen yarn I bought from Brit Yarn  (sadly this colour has now been discontinued but I’ve got enough for at least two pairs of socks)……it’s taking a few attempts as I keep turning the sock inside out as I knit it, I’m also finding it hard to start a section of pattern with a purl using dpns so I’ve unravelled again and am just waiting for a 9 inch circular needle to arrive in the post which hopefully will make knitting them a bit easier….

famous tales book

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Debbie for a coffee and as I walked in to town quicker than I thought I would, I had a few minutes spare to have a browse in some charity shops I don’t tend to visit all that often, which I should really make the time to visit them as I nearly always find something of interest in them….I’ve mentioned my love of fairy tale and folk story books on here several times before so was very happy to find this one for a couple of pounds.  The illustrations are by a selection of artists…most of the pictures are quite small black and white drawings but there are also a handful of very pretty watercolours, a bit on the bright and gawdy side but I like them.

big book of knitting 1973

And I also bought this book which is such good reading…..it’s from the early seventies and all the things in the book have been made by Swiss children.  The pattern instructions are at times a bit sketchy and left up to you to decipher, so I think you’re supposed to have a certain mount of knitty know how…..but I just fell in love with those little blue booties and knitted pony on the front cover.

A scarf by Beatrice

The illustrations inside are rather miserable black and white photos which don’t do any of the knits justice but you can get an idea of what things are supposed to look like…..dotted throughout the book are these little letters and notes made by the children who’ve knitted the pieces…it’s interesting to read how young some of these knitters are, and also their notes on pattern making.  I don’t think I’m up to making everything in here but there are a couple of sock patterns I’d certainly like to knit, and I need someone to have a baby so I can knit those booties.

shetland heather swatch

More knitting news…..I’ve finished knitting the Unicorn shawl, which I made for Louise Hunt’s brilliant un-kal, it’s currently washed and blocking….I’d forgotten that tapestry wool is a bit rum smelling when it gets wet…it doesn’t smell anywhere near as nice as something sheepy and lanolin rich…..it’s had a couple of tentative pokes by Bernard but on the whole he’s leaving it alone, which is a good thing as the alpaca/silk wants to snag just looking at it.

I’m quite excited about what’s curently now on my needles though…my first ever cardigan….it’s the Ramona cardigan by Elizabeth Smith.  It’s knitted top down and has nice, clean and simple lines, nothing too fancy but enough to make me have to re-read the instructions and sigh little “pfhoo” noises when I’ve worked a row of increases and my number count of stitches is right…I’m not a quiet knitter and do seem to pfaff, pfhooo and rustle my pattern pages, scribble down notes and observations…tut and sigh as I realize I’ve made a right daft mistake…..initially I was planning to knit this in some beautiful Aran wool from Jamieson and Smith, and while I love the pattern and love the yarn, together….it wasn’t making my heart skip….but then I remembered the Shetland Heather wool I’d started to use for an Open Sky shawl……it’s a murky old grey brown, flecked with quite a cold, clear blue……doesn’t sound like much of a catch but when it’s knitted up in stocking stitch is very pretty….it makes me think of the sea when we used to go to Southwold or Dunwich…not for us the bright azure blue of the Mediterranean waters……there’s about two weeks in August where you can go to the beach without a cardigan or a jumper, the rest of the time, it’s a bit nippy and you need to wrap up, so I thought the pairing of the yarn with this pattern would be perfect.

I’ve learnt my lesson about not making a swatch so knitted up this big boy (just over 10 inches wide) and I couldn’t quite believe it but my tenson gauge is spot on….I washed and blocked it, allowed it a few days to dry nicely…..perfect.  I’ve had it pinned inside a dress and it’s not particulary scratchy, I know it’s there but it wasn’t unpleasant so now it’s all systems go.

fat paws

Weather wise the past week has been proper rubbish…the odd day or even hour of sunshine, and then just as we pull on boots and a coat to go for a walk, the heavens open and it pours down…sometimes rain, yesterday hail.  Loads needs doing in the garden but everywhere is muddy and wet……the birds for the most part are busy gathering up bits of what we call “garden fluff” (this is often bought into the house by Bernard, he rolls around and his fur hoovers up all sorts of muck which he then proceeds to drop all over the carpet and up the stairs)….I keep making trips out with handfuls of fleece* for the birds, I stick it in an old fat ball feeder which has a littel roof so it keeps pretty dry inside, and then go and sit and watch the tits pull it about for nesting.  It’s so much fun as they seem like they’re pulling the fibres ready to spin it…..they gather up huge beakfuls til they look like tiny Amish farmers and then they go flying off with their woolly beards.

natural shades and lichens

When the sun does actually make an appearance Bernard goes trotting down the path to find a patch of sunshine for some outdoors wriggling….often he mews until I go over and rub his tummy and depending on his mood (mischievious or tarty) he’ll purr and purr fit to burst or suddenly grab hold of my hand and fingers, holding on tight with his claws and teeth……

sun wriggling

He’s really showing off his very own Nature’s Shades here as he exposes his tummy….such a mass of Weetabix scented** fluffiness…..I love those splotches of lichen on the pathway underneath him, silver sage and mustard, white and gold……I’m really hoping at some point to use those soft subtle greys of Bernard as a starting point for some stranded knitting….what a great kal that would be….match the colours of your cat’s coat.

*I bought a load of fleece years ago or needle felting but figure the birds seem to make better use of it.

**I’m not sure why but his tummy really smells of Weetabix, but figure that’s way better to when he’s windy and musical of bottom.