My stay at home Norwich Yarn Festival…..

 

 

norfolk yarn windowA few weeks ago it was Edinburgh Yarn Festival and although I would have loved to have gone and join in all the fun and community and yarn squishing it wasn’t something I was able to do, so rather than sit at home and feel in the doldrums I decided to have my very own little celebration of yarn…a bit of a stay-cation crossed with a festival at home….it all coincided rather nicely with one of my local yarn shops (the very nice Norfolk Yarn) running a stranded colourwork/Fairisle knitting class on March 11th…ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved the look of this style of knitting, but never thought it would be something that I could actually do….however this past year or so has seen my knitting come on in leaps and bounds…. personally I’d still call myself a beginner, but an adventurous one and I’ll pretty much rush in where angels fear to tread….so when I saw the sign for the class I thought “yes please” and booked in…… then ,as it all tied in nicely with the dates for EYF I decided to have my own “festival at home”….really this was just a good excuse to buy a couple of books I’ve wanted for ages and perhaps order some new yarn and needles…….

This is the window of Norfolk Yarn at the moment, I love the blanket and those crocheted bobbles inspired me when I finished off my crochet blanket…..

my norwich yarn fest

A book I’ve really wanted even before I could properly knit was Yokes by Kate Davies, I love the patterns and am very much of the opinion that it does you the world of good to look at things to inspire you to get better at something, a bit like a woolly carrot dangling in front of you…..I think the hardest thing is going to be which to cast on first but there are a couple that I keep turning back to look at……

The purple knitting was some travel knitting, something to do on the bus and to have in my lap while drinking a coffee (more of this another day as it was some of my gift knitting which will be it’s own blog post) I’m finding that I like to start off most of my knitting on wooden needles, I love the way they feel and also I find small cables want to curl up under my chin which these long needles don’t do….

I’ve used West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley dk in the past to knit squishy socks for my boyfriend and I really feel it’s about time I made some for me…this yarn is slightly thicker as it’s aran weight but it was reduced and I like these bright colours….In case you’re at all interested you can find a nice simple pattern for aran/worstead weight socks just here…these make lovely comfy house socks and I think if you used a softer, fancier yarn then you could make some beautiful bed socks (I’m thinking to make some with eyelets around the cuff, then thread ribbon through them)….this yarn was purchased from The Crafty Ewe which is brimming full with a really wide selection of yarns, needles and books for every pocket…(they also sell KA needles which my friend Claire uses, (I totally trust her needle suggestions, so I’ve recently bought some of their dpns to try out and they are as smooth as William Powell in The Thin Man films… I can certainly see myself buying more in the future….)

Along with the yarn I also bought a packet of Hiya Hiya bamboo tips from The Crafty Ewe and a packet of Knit Pro wooden tips from Norfolk Yarn…..although I have plenty of metal tips I find I like the feel of wooden/good quality bamboo ones more…..

The Colman’s Mustard postcard is a nod and a wink to my lovely friend Eva in Italy, I noticed a Colman’s Mustard tin on her bookshelf in an instagram picture she shared, and Norwich is after all home to Colman’s…

Both yarn shops are located very centrally in Norwich and are just a few minutes walk of each other, Norfolk Yarn is on Pottergate near Head in The Clouds, and Crafty Ewe is just up past The Guildhall…..

stranded colourwork rowan tweed

The workshop on the Saturday was much easier than I was expecting it to be, I still need to work on my tension and not pull the strands too tight but on the whole I was pretty impressed with what I was able to do (I know I sound like a right old head swell saying this, but I really was pleased with these and to say otherwise would be silly)…..the yarn we used in the class was a Rowan one and while I know a lot of people do like this yarn it didn’t do a lot for me, I think I like those wilder yarns with a bit more baa ram ewe to them, all Gabriel Oak with a little Heathcliffe on the side….however the colours were very pretty even though I know the ones I chose are too similar in tone……

I managed to knit about a quarter to a third of one fingerless mitt in class and then finished it and it’s twin off at home during the week….they are lovely and warm to wear though I think now it’s all sunshiney I’ll be tucking them away until the Autumn…

The workshop was very well priced as it included materials including yarn, a pair of needles to keep and cups of tea and coffee….

 

my own yarn fest

I also made a few other “festival at home” purchases….I ordered some yarn from Isla at Brityarn,  because I knew I was doing the stranded knitting class and thought it would be nice to then have some sticky Shetland yarn to play with (and if I’d gone to EYF I would definitely have made a bee-line to the Jamieson and Smith stall )…..last year I bought this fabric and think it would be interesting to try and match the colours for a pair of mittens or wrist warmers to start with….I was really inspired by the Knitsonik Colourwork Sourcebook which I’ve mentioned here before, not just as a very inspiring resource book for knitting, but I’ve used some of Felix’s ideas and suggestions with my crochet, embroidery and patchwork…and as Isla is totally awesome she’s also ordered in some other colours of the Jamieson and Smith yarn so I’ve since been able to match the lighter pink in the above print….

knitting goddes yarn

The other book I’d really been wanting to buy was The Book of Haps, and I think my first cast on will be the Houlland Hap by Donna Smith, this book was just waiting to come back into stock when I did my workshop at Norfolk Yarn but I was able to pick it up the following week (which meant my yarny “festival at home” was able to last a bit longer….I’ve got some beautiful yarn my big sister bought me for Christmas and think that would suit the Houlland hap really well, but I’d also like to try knit it with yarn that I’ve hand spun…oh, but telling you all about that will need to wait for another day….

I’ve mentioned The Knitting Goddess several times before, I love the way she colours yarn and I was lucky enough to test swatch some of the St Kilda yarn she dyed for Blacker Yarns last year….when I saw she had released another limited palette which included this mid blue green I decided to buy two skeins as I want to knit a fancy shawl to take away with me on an equally special holiday in September….. Buying this yarn I was able to support my favourite yarn company and favourite dyer, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank them both personally for all their hard work in creating beautiful yarns and sumptous colours.

rob's handknit jumper

Another highpoint of EYF after seeing all the amaing pictures popping up on Instagram is wowing at all the wonderful handknits that people wear…..and I was even able to participate a little in this…..when I went to buy some vegetables on the market that Friday, lovely Rob from Folland Organics had his coat open and a peek of handknit was on show, so after kindly taking off his coat on what was quite a nippy morning, he let me take a picture of it….what is so nice (and not just becuase I really like the pattern and colours) is that this was knitted by his wife’s granny for her husband, and once he died the jumper was passed onto Rob….I love that there is a real sense of family and love in all those stitches, and how this didn’t just end up going to the charity shop…..I love the warm almost toasty and chocolate hue of the brown, and Rob said it’s super warm and cosy to wear.

devonia

And then, when I thought all the yarn excitement was over, this beautiful braid of John Arbon Devonia fibre arrived as a “sorry you didn’t get to come to EYF” present from the awesome Meg who writes a very interesting blog called Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet …. this is a real deep and eerie underwater green yet somehow makes me imagine those huge forests from the dawn of time in dinosaur films …It looks like a huge piece of green apatite quartz with those deep pine tree hues all swirled alongside silvery slate and gunsmoke……. Along with this stunning fibre Meg also sent me one of her beautiful handmade notebooks which is even fountain pen paper friendly inside… and while there is still a way for me to go with my handspinning before I dare spin this, tiny ideas at the back of my mind are thinking to try and find some knitting patterns inspired by Devonian fossils…thank you again so so much Meg, your kindness and thoughtfulness just blows my breath away.

I know this post was all about knitting, and that not everyone knits so hopefully it won’t have been too boring, but I think most people who read my blog craft in some way or another, and so will know about other festivals, and events, perhaps Quilting ones or The Knitting and Stitch show, which again might not be possible for everyone to travel to, having a “Festival at Home” is very easy to do and can be tailored to whatever your interest or hobby, and it means you can support local to you shops, especially if they are having a workshop that weekend where you can learn something new or perhaps support favourite vendors that you know would have been at the official do/show etc…. I know it’s not the same as going to the bigger shows, especially whre meeting up with friends is all part and parcel of the enjoyment, but at least it still feels like you’ve participated in a little way, especially when you can compare yarny or fabric purchases on Instagram.

 

 

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A cosy spot, knitting socks for Ivo, sheep spotting at The Forum and baking bread…..

a quiet spot

Goodness, and where has the time gone…..it really doesn’t seem like 5 minutes ago I was thinking about what we were going to eat over the Winter holidays and now all of a sudden the front room windows are open, the apple trees in the garden are in blossom and I can hear fat bees buzzing about for pollen filled flowers to tumble around in….and if you’re wondering about Bernard, well he’s taken refuge today behind the sofa, while he seems to get on for the most part with the little cat from next door, he also knows when he’s had enough of her playful ways and then it’s tappety tap tap at the cat flap (yes, he can let himself in but he likes us to open the door to him…and now said little cat from next door does it too, not that we let her in but we often hear a tap tap noise only to see her face through the cat glass…)

So I hope you’ve put the kettle on and have a cup of tea as this is quite a bit of a catch up and round down of what I’ve been up to of late, and you know by now how I do go on…..I know my blog posts have been a bit sparse these past months and I’ve had a couple of worried emails asking if I had stopped writing it, so many thank yous for those..we’re all okay but I just needed a little time to me….so come on in,  sit down….the cushions have just been plumped, and I know there are some tunnock biscuits in the cupboard……

As a lot of you will know I finally got round to gettitng a new phone, one with a camera and so I’ve been able to share pictures over on Instagram, and back in February there was a daily photo challenge called “yarn love challenge”…and while it was centered more on knitting and crochet it really made me think a whole lot about my other crafting and making…from sewing and patchwork to cooking in the evening and baking bread….one of the prompts was “where I craft” and while for the most part I do all my sewing, embroidery, patchwork (anything where pins and needles might drop and lurk, waiting for the boyfriend to come home and stand on them) upstairs in my work room, I love tucking myself into this corner to do my knitting……there’s a little coffee table just out of shot where I can have a pot of tea, and most days Bernard jumps up alongside me, sprawls all out, has a wash then a little nap…..it’s a nice cosy spot nd it just feels good to have squishy hand made cushions all around me……(you’ll probably recognize these cushions from when I wrote about making them the other Summer)….the side lamp was a charity shop buy, it had a very boring wicker shade on it but I cut that all off and covered the wire frame with vintage Sanderson prints…..and on the wall are some of my tapestry pictures which have been picked up from all over……..

finished socks for Ivo

Quite a lot of my time this year has been spent trying to catch up with Christmas/ birthday presents (I know, I’m terrible but I just ran out of time in December)… I always forget how long a handmade gift takes to make, it’s never the cheap or fast option is it, and I probbaly take longer making things as a gift than I would if it was someting for me, I want it to look just right, be as perfect as I can get it….anyway, a whole lot of gift knitting went on because we got to see some friends who live in Norway, this was the first time we’ve seen them in just over 3 years so it was really exciting, we all met up in Cambridge and had a really lovely day out there (I definitely want to try and pop back for the day at some point this year)…sadly one of their children had to stay with granny for the day as she’d come down with chickenpox (the little girl, not granny) and I haven’t had it so ….. but we sent back lots of hugs and kisses for her…..one of the gifts I made was this little pair of socks for “baby” Ivo….he’s not a baby anymore and is actually 3 in about a weeks time….the yarn was some that I bought from Meadowyarn which is a really nice on-line shop which is based very close to the village where I grew up, so buying from them most certainly feels like I’m shopping local (for Christmas my boyfriend’s family bought me a beautiful swift to wind yarn on that was made by Mister Meadowyarn so that always feels very special to use)…the yarn for the socks was quite plump, it’s almost an Aran weight so these are lovely and squishy, a bounce with every step…..I used this pattern (it’s a free one) and my making notes are just here in case you are interested……it’s a very easy to follow pattern, and has a nice range of sock sizes from baby all the way through to 8 years old….

knit pro needles from meadowyarn

Along with the socks for Ivo I knitted his mum a big shawl (I used the Open Sky shawl pattern by Andrea Mowry as this was the shawl pattern that made me fall in love with knitting) the notes for Goska’s shawl are all here…and for the two girls I knitted each of them cowls which I pretty much designed myself….that sounds way more fancy than what I actually did….this was the cowl for Saski with the notes here..and this is the one for Hanja…..and the notes are here...

The yarn was Hjertegarn Lima and it’s a Danish all wool yarn, I wanted to use the same yarn for all the projects and then with what is left over I thought I would knit something for myself and then whenever I wear it they’d be in my thoughts in an instant……

There’s also been some other knitting going on for friends and family who live much closer but I’ll share that for another day…..

end-of-january-loaf

I’ve also been baking lots of bread again, our stove has been playing up for a long time and we’re just waiting to buy a new one, in the meantime we have a smaller one which isn’t really as good but with a bit of experimenting with dough and cooking times I feel reasonably happy with the loaves I’m able to bake in it…..mostly it’s just a very simple loaf made with a natural starter/leaven….and then a dribble of honey, good bread flour from Shipton Mill, some oats, sesame seeds, oil and salt……it’s best to take your time making it, not rushing the proving times, but there’s lots you can be getting on with while the bread is resting under a floury cloth…..

crocheting-along

I’ve also taken part in “Lentenwipdown” which Hanna from Patch Aesthetic writes about here …basically it’s all about finishing off those wips (works in progress) that are laying around, or are lurking in the back of cupboards before you start any new projects….gift knitting or making is still allowed though….I like not doing things for Lent even though I’m not Christian, it makes me really appreciate it when I start doing them again….and while I seem to have spent most of the “wipdown” gift knitting, I have managed to finish one of my crochet blankets which really does deserve it’s own blog post……I actuallly finished it last Sunday and was so pleased…..being made of acrylic the colour combinations are certainly on the gaudy side, and it’s already been plucked half to death by Bernard (I find acrylic yarn is a devil at plucking, whereas wool yarns seem able to resist his attentions much better)…

whiteface woodland

Other fun and exciting things, The Forum in Norwich was once again home to Maker’s Month in February, and one of the highlights for me was seeing these beautiful Whitefaced Woodland sheep…….it’s actually a breed I’d not heard of before and is on the “vulnerable” listing by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust , oh but aren’t they sweet…..Their colouring was lovely, a really creamy white fleece, with beautiful milky faces and legs with the pinkiest of rose petal noses…..Their horns are quite small and were the prettiest fawn colour….if you’re at all interested in their yarn then I believe you can buy it from www.blackbat.com…after seeing them it’s certainly made me want to knit with some.

The other really fun thing for me during Maker’s Month was getting to do an afternoon workshop with Jen Monahan (she’s Fibreworkshop on instagram and she also has a very interesting blog and sells beautiful hand spun yarn and fibre in her etsy shop)….I met Jen last year at the Maker’s Month, the fibre she’d spun was breathtaking and she kindly showed me how to use a drop spindle…so I felt I really needed a refresher and booked in for a workshop this year, and have come away feeling much more confident with my spindle using…..this has actually set some “wheels” in motion…more of which another time……if you get the chance I wholeheartedly recommend her classes, she’s very patient and is very good at demonstrating what it is you need your hands to do……

Phew…I think after all that we both need another cup of tea, now who’s going to put the kettle on…..

 

 

 

 

Liquid moonlight and silk woollen stitches……

samite colours

Last week I received the most exciting package from Blacker Yarns…a wee skein of their latest yarn blend which truly is, more than a little bit special.. The yarn is a luxurious blend of Blue Faced Leicester, Shetland, Gotland and 20% Ahimsa silk* and has been named Samite after the richly woven silk cloth produced in Medieval Europe…the colour palette has been inspired by the Arts and Craft and Pre-raphelite movements, rich tones that are a little brighter than some of Blackers other ranges, each one by themselves is a Pre Raphelite “stunner”..but seen together…they leave me breathless…

The range of colours is so appealing, I’m particularly drawn to the two green shades, especially the lighter one and there is also an almost egg shell grey that is making my heart ache….

swatching samite

The little skein was incredibly soft and I needed a few days to pet it before casting on (pet it is exactly the right way to describe all the pats and rubs against my face I gave it, it’s all muzzley and fur warm)…actually when I opened the package I straight away was all “ooohhh” and closed my eyes with pleasure as I held it against my cheek….it’s one of those yarns that just feels so …sigh… (I’m sorry, when you feel it you’ll understand why it’s made me go all weak kneed and wobbly) wonderful……it’s nice and silky, it’s soft but there’s a lovely woolly bounce and feel which gives it some body, some stability, a little fudgey-ness…it’s slightly finer than a 4ply/fingering weight yarn, however being from Blacker Yarns it’s still very generous in girth, certainly not a laceweight….

It was nice to keep stopping and really look close at the yarn, the surface of the knitted cloth becomes a soft haze of silky fine fibres, tiny shadows sit and hide amongst the twists, every so often cobweb strands of dark hair lift and poke up from the stitches…

swatching detail

If you’ve read any of my yarny reviews and ramblings before then you’ll know I like to swatch on wooden needles, generally the yarns I like to knit with love being on wooden needles and the Samite was no exception, the combination of silk and wool just flowed along my needles, it’s a very easy to knit yarn….the only thing, and this is more because I I’m still very much at the stage where I have to rip a lot with my knitting so I find it helps me to know what a yarn will do when I inevitably make mistakes, it didn’t like being ripped back too much…now I appreciate I might have gone a bit overboard with this but I knitted up about an inch of stocking stitch and ripped it back about half a dozen times, by the time I’d knitted and ripped, knitted and ripped the ply had definitely loosend up and didn’t feel quite so soft however once that section was washed and blocked, you’d never know it had been treated so horribly, so just in case you need to rip and rip and rip like I seem to do then worry not, it might feel a bit “oh dear” while you’re knitting the ripped yarn but it will wash and block perfectly.

catkins

The colour I was sent is called Aspen’s Shiver and it’s so like the velvety soft catkins that are starting to make an appearance, silvery and furlike to the touch..it’s a very warm stone colour and reminds me of medieval Italian palaces, time worn and fingertip smoothed edges or statues where peole touch them for luck….

As I write this it’s gone a bit overcast outside and my swatch isn’t quite so luminous, however the silk becomes alive when I hold a flame in front of it and the defined accents of the textured stitches becomes much more pronounced….

blocked samite

I really wanted to try out a range of different stitches, textured, combinations of knits and nubbly purls, lace work and fat rows of garter stitch..this yarn loves texture, smudges of shadow sit deep amongst the stitches…..it’s a very elegant feeling yarn and even though I’ve not knitted anything like this before so I’m only guessing, but I think it would be rather wonderful to use for a Shetland Spencer (there’s a pattern in the 2016 Wool Week Annual) or one of those beautiful and delicate looking ladies undergarments which are often featured in Vintage knitting books, the blend of silk and wool being like pearls and benefitting from being worn agaisnt the naked skin….

blocked samite texture stitches

The blocked fabric feels really special, it’s definitely woolly but that added silk just takes it to a whole other level, it’s so warm and velvetty to the touch and there’s a very gentle lustre to the knitted cloth, it’s not so lustrous as Blacker Yarns Tamar but the more I keep touching and stretching out the fabric, the more and more I find myself captivated by it….Samite just seems so made for touching, for stroking (and now I worry about sounding like one of those Marks and Spencers adverts where with a deep Marlene Dietrich voice I say… “Samite isn’t just any yarn”…but it’s so true…

I’ve had the swatch tucked under my clothes and there’s a few seconds tickle but it’s like the gentlest sheepy kiss more than anything else, it’s very warm and when I moved it around to try it against different areas I was very aware of the cold spot….I also tried rubbing it up against itself for 30 seconds at a time, I’ve done this about a dozen or so times and the swatch still looks good…

blocked samite lace stitches

The swatch did grow a little, I used a 3.75 mm needle as I wanted to knit a drapey piece of fabric, with ideas initially to consider the yarn for a shawl.  My cast on was 23 stitches and the unblocked swatch measured 8 3/4 high by 4 1/4 wide, blocked it then measured  9 3/4 high by 4 1/2 inches wide.

Using the 3.75 mm meedles, my gauge over 4 inches had a row count of 28 in stocking stitch with a stitch count of 21, the fabric this created was flowy and drapey, all liquid and moonlight, and yet it still felt substantial (seriously the vest isn’t such a daft idea, you would keep wonderfully warm wearing this as undies)….

samite skein

I believe Blacker Yarns will have some Samite over the next couple of days at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and then it will be offically released on the 23rd of March on their website and also with their stockists, but you can order a shade card from them before hand if you like….

Now this isn’t the cheapest yarn in the world but it might well be one of the most beautiful, it’s going to be retailing for £24.60 for a 100 gramme skein, the 3ply thickness means there is around 460 metres/478 yards on a skein and I’m very happy to say this is going to be a permanent addition to their range, so you can save up or if you have a birthday etc you could ask for Blacker vouchers and then knit yourself something totally beautiful which you will treasure forever….but you really are going to be buying a very special and unique yarn.

Many many thank yous to Sonja at Blacker Yarns for asking if I would like to have a little play with this wonderful yarn…aaagghh Blacker, you’ve done it again with another incredible blend….this is definetly a #yarnthatsbetterthanchocolate.

 

*Ahimsa silk is the only method of silk production which allows the moths to reach maturity and emerge from their cocoons.

 

 

 

 

A wildling green wooliness……

a-wee-wildling-of-a-skein

A while back the very lovely Joy of The Knitting Goddess sent me a wee sample of her Wensleydale Shetland yarn to have a little play with…I’d already seen and swatched some of the St Kilda yarn which Joy dyed for Blacker Yarns and so was more than a little curious about this blend….I know Wensleydale is a particularly lustrous wool and Shetland is more matt so I wasn’t really sure how the yarn would look and feel.

The colours for the St Kilda yarn were incredibly bright and vibrant, very different to the more muted shades I normally associate with Blacker Yarns and when I first saw the shade card I couldn’t help but laugh and think of the Can Can dancers in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge film…all flashes of colour admist twirling skirts and petticoats…..

walking-home

The sample I was sent of the Wensleydale Shetland is the most wild apple green I can imagine, you think you know a colour and then you see what Joy can do….it’s not a particulaly dainty or green green but has a slightly brown hue, it’s very like something I would expect to find growing in the hedgerows, those leafy natural greens you imagine wood nymphs and dryads to be………the yarn seems full of shadows, softer hues slowly becoming deeper and more mysterious…..I love how even on a “solid” colour Joy is able to capture so much more, and creates a yarn where colour seems to dance and twist around the ply…..

As you can see in the top picture, the yarn is really glossy, the vibrancy and sheen of the the yarn is really something special, there’s some very very fine floaty up strands but these are more like thistle down than anything coarse or kempy….there’s also a nice bit of bounce to what is quite a fine yarn and it also smells….mmm, there’s a very (this smell always makes me want to breathe it in deep) soft and warm sheepy aroma to the skein….holding it up to my face it feels a little tickly, like when my cat wants treats and he tickles me with his whiskers when he brushes against me with his furry cheeks….

 

knitting-goddess-wensleydale-shetland-swatch

I decided to knit up a swatch on 3.25 needles and try my hand at a simple little lace pattern (this is a Diamond lace pattern which has a repeat worked over 20 rows) as I thought I’d probably look to use this yarn for a shawl as it’s so fine…..(compared to the Blacker Classic I’m currently knitting with it seems barely there on my needles)…..

I also chose to knit the swatch on these Brittany wood needles, they are my prefered needle of choice when knitting up a swatch…the Wensleydale Shetland loved being on wood…..and I had no trouble with knitting or slipping stitches together, no poking needle tips through the ply or anything……also I found the yarn very good for not tangling up out of a ball (I like to hand wind my yarn on a “nostepinne*” and sometimes a yarn seems to really catch itself and knit up, however this was so lovely and slippy , no tangles…no tantrums….)…as always with lace knititng it’s a bit hard to see quite what is going on with the stitches but while they were on the needle my knitting was surprisingly easy to read….the markers either end of the needle are for the border which isn’t worked in the lace pattern.

After knitting about a dozen rows, I left the knititng for a day and then  I ripped all the stitches back which sounds a bit foolish but I was curious how the yarn would rip…I’m still very much at the stage with my knitting where most projects need a little correcting…the yarn slipped apart beautifully, there’s enough sticky to keep a stitch relatively in place if you accidently drop one, but if you need to do extensive un-ravelling then this is pretty straightforward….and nor did the stitches crimp and curl up too much, there was a little kinky curl but not enough to distract when I re-knitted…..

blocked-wensleydale-shetland

Once I’d knitted my swatch I soaked it in a little bath of warm water and Eucalan Wrapture, there was no colour bleed, and then I blocked it out and allowed it to dry…the lace work opened up a treat….I was really surprised at how strong the knitted fabric feels, I’d initially dismissed this for anything other than shawls but I can imagine it looking amazing in a cardigan, perhaps not one you wear where the cat will pluck it, but something for if you’re going somewhere fancy but a bit on the nippy side…..Actually the way the colours in the yarn respond to light I can imagine every head turning if you wore this somewhere where there’s lots of candles…

I’ve had this swatch tucked under bra straps and pinned under thermals and I’ve not been aware of any yarny tickles, although it is a tiny bit wispy held around my neck, I quite like that feel but I know for some people it’s not so pleasant.

on way to mill

I tried taking a picture near a candle to show how dappled the colours look in that sort of flickering light but it didn’t come out very well…..but the above picture of the little lane up to the local water mill captures what I’m trying to explain…all those shadows and bursts of green n the sunlight…..negative spaces and patterns created by them rather than clearly defined stitches (or in this case, leaves)….

wesleydale-shetland-swatch-detail

While I don’t think the yarn has the most defined stitch, the wispery haze sort of blurs them a litle, the stitches that it makes are no less lovely, the yarn overs and knit 2 togethers are held perfectly in place, and I think it’s made my relatively beginnery stitches look pretty impressive…..perhaps it’s a yarn that benefits from going up a needle size so the wispy fibres have room to stretch out rather than hunch up.

There’s also a wonderful feel to the fabric, it feels very silky and is reminding me slightly of an alpacca/silk blend I used recently but it has way more character….it’s a nice springy fabric.

I can imagine a shawl or wrap knitted up in one of the coppery, bronzey shades Joy also creates would almost look like ethereal armour….and those blue, turquoisey ones are so liquidy….you can picture how a piece knitted from those colours would look spilt, flowing….

Regarding stitch count….on 3.25 needles I was getting 20 stitches to 4 inches in stocking stitch…I forgot to write down my row count and I don’t think they’ll be the same as in the lace pattern….

knitting-goddess-coral

I really enjoyed knitting with the yarn, I loved how what I thought was a very delicate fine yarn has surprised me with it’s strength….

I’ve actually ended up buying myself a couple of skein, and I chosed the coral colourway….I really do like single coloured super sized shawls so I thought if I order 2 skeins I can knit something really wow factor….as I mentioned on my instagram when the yarn arrived the skein keeps shifting from browny pinks to warm almost faded rose petals with hints of vintage rouge tins and old tea bags which I know doesn’t sound too complimentary but there’s something really time worn and faded, almost Miss Havershamy about this colour, which has me proper smitten.

I know I’ve said this before but Joy’s parents couldn’t have chosen a more apt name for her as her yarn colours make me so full heart singy and smiley-ness….skeins of beauty, skeins of Joy indeed.

The Wensleydale Shetland blend is currently priced at £18.50 for a 100g skein.. the skein is 4 ply weight with approx 400 metres per skein.

The wool is all sourced and processed in the UK and has been custom spun by The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall before being hand dyed by The Knitting Goddess.

*it’s the rolled up cardboard insert from the kitchen paper….not pretty but it does the job.

 

 

Wovember’s woolly needlewrap…..

folded-wrap

I’m so pleased to finally be able to share this project…for me it’s very much been where a love of knititng and sewing and embroidery and of course wool has all come together….

You might remember, back in November I wrote a couple a couple of posts on here about my love for wool and for knitting, how during the past year I’d been on a bit of a knitting adventure and had been knitting with various different British Breed yarns, not really to do anything with them, more of a get to know you, how do you do sort of thing….all this really can be laid at the door of Knit British podcaster Louise Scollay…her podcast has really inspired me to look for local yarn and to find out a bit more about the yarn I use….this background and story to my knitting has really fed my story/need to know addiction….whether it’s patchwork (so and so’s auntie Flossie had this leftover from a pinnie, this was a pair of pyjamies, this scrap was from one of my dad’s shirts etc) or knitting (what’s the breed, the story of the shepherd/ess, who bought me my needles and what do I use as stitch markers….)

Waffling aside, November is also Wovember…a month long celebration of wool and how wonderful it is….most of the focus tends to be on yarn and fibre, knitting,spinning, felting and the sheep…Wovember 2015 was such a revelation for me, it really opened my eyes, and by the end of the month I was very much all about the wool.  So I was very excited thinking about Wovember 2016 and wondered how I could give the organisers a thank you.

embroidering-hand-woven-donegal-tweed

Earlier in the Autumn I’d been in touch and asked if they would like a prize for one of their competitons, and I’d be happy to make a bespoke made knitting needle-wrap made from and lined with all wool fabrics…..

Various Wovember competions take place including one on Instagram, all set up by Louise and Felicity (Felix Ford)…you needed to add #wovember2016 to your pictures…you can see the amazing photos just here ….

I’m really lucky becasue we have an amazing fabric shop in Norwich called Anglian Fashion Fabrics on Magdalen Street and they often have very limited runs on the most beautiful wool cloth….and I happened to pop in when they had some hand woven Donegal tweed…..

tweed-fabric-once-it-has-been-embroidered

I had to wait until the winner was announced and then got in touch with the lovely Sherrie @woollykindknits (this was her winning picture…) and asked her what sort of wrap she would like…Sherrie lives in the US so this was all done with text messages rather than being able to chat with her on the phone…in the end we decided to go for a wrap for her dpns…she has possibly one of the largest collections I’ve heard of though I think Evaowl could possibly come in very close….

Once I’d drafted a pattern for the wrap that would not only hold all the needles Sherrie has at the present, but which would also allow space in case she buys some more….I cut the fabric and embroidered particular areas of it using a selection of vintage wool threads, mostly crewel-work yarns for the fifties.

inside-embroidery

I tried to highlight the tiny flecks of colour that is worked throughout the Donegal tweed cloth….the sprigs of embroidery were worked in small areas on every side, as I felt that would be like little surprises whenever the wrap is opened……

lining-reveal

As well as choosing Donegal tweed for the wrap I also bought a very lightweight wool cloth for the lining….this is a slatey grey/blue colour which complimented the tweed.

The wrap was sewn so that there’s room for two rows of needles, the left hand front pocket is designed to fit both 6 and 7 inch needles….and then the pocket behind fits the 8 inch needles.

finished-wrap

The wrap is kept closed with a piece of vintage leather thonging, and folds over quite snug so it will fit nicely into a knitting basket.

I was starting to fret a little as it was a bit slow in arriving, and thought it might have got lost in the post so was all about to make a second one but I was worrying over nothing as I had a lovely message from Sherrie this morning saying it had arrived safely and was already full of needles….

Huge thank yous to the inspiring team at Wovember, for encouraging me to learn all about the woolly wonderfulness that is just on my doorstep, and big hugs and thank you to lovely Sherrie who was so patient while I sewed so slowly….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woolly ripples and rose pink stitches…

nannys-face-powder-socks

Over the weekend I shared a wee peep of these beautiful socks I managed to finally cast off over the Winter holidays, they weren’t a fast knit for me by any means as they took just over 3 months to knit (though, as always, I was making other things at the same time) but I can say I am very proud to look down and see these pink poppets on my toes….

I’d bought the lovely rose pink sock yarn from Meadowyarn in the Spring last year, it’s the Exmoor sock yarn by John Arbon and the colourway is blossom.  I liked how it looked just the same rosy pink as my Nanny’s face powder (it’s actually her old compact in the above photo)….and like Mooch in the Mutts comic strip, I’m very much a fan of little pink socks

The pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook..it blends a series of different stitches into a beautiful flowing and very natural feeling design… with lacework and cables and moss stitch, it really echoes the pattern left by waves along the shoreline …… incredibly the pattern is written both top down and cuff down (I still find it amazing that Louise writes most of her sock patterns this way, she’s definitely a knitting wizard in my eyes) and even more awesomely…this is one of her free patterns.

The advantage to starting a sock at the toes rather than the cuff, is that you have somewhat better control over how much of your yarn you’re then using for the leg…if you want to use up all your skein then you don’t have to worry that you might run out like when you knit cuff down socks….I really wanted these socks to be a fancy luxourious pair that used up as much of the skein as possible and I ended up working quite a lot of repeats to create that lovely leg length….(I’ve not actually washed and blocked these yet, I’m too busy enjoying having them on my feet for any of that)

toe-up-lunar-tides

The wonderfully kind Isla from Brit Yarn gifted me a sock shop amount of assorted dpns last year and I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the Knit pro ones…as a rule I don’t really like their patterned wood needles, they make me feel a bit nauseous, like I’m on a rollercoaster…but actually these weren’t too swirly at all and were wonderfully sleek, the woolly stitches slid over them a treat, not so slippy as a metal needle, not quite so sticky as a regular wooden one…a real mummy bear of a needle….

I’ve not yet attempted magic loop or any proper two at a time knitting ( if you’re not a knitter I’ll try and explain magic loop a little….it’s when you knit something on a pair of needles that have a big loop of cable between the needle tips…some incredibly amazing kntters who I feel should all be in the Magic Circle with their “that’s magic” skills, can knit two socks at a time using this method…and I’ve even seen pictures of people …possibly wizards…knitting 2 pairs…that’s 4 socks at a time….however I know I can be a bit muddley with things like this so am happy to knit one sock at a time on little wooden pointy sticks)…..so instead I just did what made sense to me…..I had a set of Brittany wooden needles the same size as the Knit Pro ones so I mixed up both pairs so I’d have enough needles and worked a bit on one sock, and then a bit on the other…..just because the last pair of socks I’d made came out rather different in tension and I thought this would keep me on more of an even keel……actually I ended up liking the Knit Pro needles so much I bought a pair so I could knit both socks on those.

The only thing I would change about the pattern is that next time I knit these (and there will be a next time as I really liked the pattern) is to make the toe a little softer, just because I have very round toes and I find this suits my feet better….but that’s a very small change.

lunar-tides-detail

Working the increases around the heel and gusset of the sock was proably the hardest part of the sock for me, I’ve only knit one pair of toe up socks before and that pattern was very different in the heel construction, I’m more familiar with cuff downs and so everything here seems like it is being worked backwards….there was lots of ripping out and doing it again on both socks as I kept making silly mistakes but I got a real bee in my bonnet and kept on until that wonderful moment where the sun comes out and you understand exactly what you need to be doing…..it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, knitting socks, making creme brulee or baking bread, that moment where the cream starts thickening and resisting the spoon (it’s ready to cool and set for tonight’s pudding) the kneaded dough cools and becomes silky (it’s ready to leave it be so it can prove)…tiny happenings where understanding just dawns and a smile beams across your face.

I probably need to now knit another pair of toe up socks, no fancy pattern just basic plain vanilla socks, so I can go over this process again then I’ll have it fixed in my mind a little better….perhaps a pair of really tiny baby socks (no….not dropping cryptic hints about storks arriving, but I’ve seen other knitters do this to learn a technique)

lunar-tides

There were a couple of other little mishaps while knitting…not the patterns fault but knitting on the bus in fingerless gloves using dpns is possibly not the best idea when the driver of said bus is a lumpy and brake screechy driver…..at one point the needle caught n my gloves and before I knew it….a section of live stitches were all exposed….I had to just sit still and wait til I was off the bus and then was able to pick them all up…..but it was hairy scary for a minute though….

And the tah dah moment when I cast off the second sock to show my boyfriend and we both did a Cary Grant double take at the socks…..one was somewhat longer than the other…. I had some how managed to knit different lengths even though I was sort of knitting them at the same time together….anyway, we ended up laughing as there’s not much more you can do at times like this, and then after trying them both on I felt the shorter sock fitted better, so I just chopped off the very top edge of the longer sock, ripped it back to where I needed the new rib cuff to start and picked up the stitches……

However….after many weeks of picking up and putting down my socks were finally finished….the yarn is lovely, there’s a soft gentle haze over the stitches, my toes feel warm and and the socks are wearing well…I’ve saved a little yarn back for darning (I’m quite heavy on my socks) just in case…..

If you’d like to know a bit more about Louise then there is a great interview with her just here on the Shiny Bees podcast, or you can pop over just here to her website.

If you’re on Ravelry then more sock notes and waffles are over on my project page.

And I totally appreciate this will sound like I’m showing off, I’m just so super chuffed and excited about it…..I had a little message from Louise asking if my picture of the finished socks could go on the pattern’s Ravelry page….

 

 

 

Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..

karise-shawl-2

And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.

 

ready-to-eat

Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……

winter-blossom

I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing…..one of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..

lunar-tides

Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..

a-lichen-miten

We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…

bernard-shawl-testing

And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.

 

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…..