Thursday, 30 November 2017

Getting Ready for the last Month of the Year

Being the 30th of the month, this is my last chance to write a blog entry for November. I've been busy trying to get organised for Christmas in the last few weeks, shopping for presents, knitting, crocheting and sewing as well. And baking. The only thing I haven't done yet is decorating the house which I will start this evening. This is probably the first year that I have all the Christmas shopping done before the start of December but as I'm going to have a baby just before Christmas I have no other choice. It feels good to have everything done early. There are still a few things that I need to finish off but even if don't get time to do them, I will be alright with what I have.

My sewing machine finally gave up just after finishing Aidan's Advent calendar. I'm glad that I got that done as hand sewing would have slowed me down a lot and tomorrow is the first of December.



I got the inspiration for the calendar here. It's pretty straight-forward to make: just a piece of cloth with 24 pockets stitched on (German calendars only have 24 days as we get our presents on Christmas Eve). I used paper templates before I cut out the pockets as I didn't want to end up with too little space.

I'm still planning to do some Christmas ornaments that I need to hand sew now that my machine is broken.



But I'm actually happy with how they turned out, especially the birds. Hand sewing gives you a bit more control and you achieve a softer look with stuffed ornaments. It's slower of course, but at least it's easier to undo when you make a mistake.

Aidan and I already started baking. We did some ginger bread and some traditional German "Plaetzchen". We're going to do more today.


Regarding baking: I'm happy to say that my sourdough bread has improved a lot over the last weeks. It's probably one of those things that need some time and practice to get right. After my first two loaves rose really high with proving but totally deflated in the oven I did some internet research and guessed that I might have let the loaves rise too long and in too warm conditions. I let them rise eight to twelve hours. The next time I reduced it to four hours and just room temperature (with radiators on). The outcome was perfect: the loaves didn't rise that high when proofing, but rose again in the oven.

I also discovered this recipe which makes a lovely mild tasting bread. The dough hardly rises at all when proofing but all the more during baking. I've made it at least four times and it always turned out really well.


Friday, 27 October 2017

Tutorial: Last-Minute Halloween Decoration

Last year when I decorated the house for Halloween I decided that I needed a few diy decorations to compliment the two garlands and lantern that I had bought a year before. I just don't have a hand for decorating and while some people can make a few shop-bought things look really amazing, I'm not one of them. After a pinterest search I got the idea to get a few bare branches and hang some small decorations from them. So I came up with these little felt bats:



They're really easy to make and look pretty good hanging from a branch. Last year it was too late to make a tutorial so I'm doing it now.

Here's what you need:
paper pattern (Make your own by drawing a similar shape about 15cm across and 5cm high. That size they hang the nicest, the wings are just light enough to not droop.)
Black felt
Bits of toy stuffing (or some bits of cut-off felt)
Black thread
Scissors
Sewing needle
Pins

Cut out two felt bats by placing your paper pattern on a double layer of felt, pinning it into place and cutting around it.


Pin the two felt shapes wrong sides together and sew them together with a simple running stitch around the body first, kind of cutting off the wings:


Leave a little gap in the seam and push some toy stuffing into the body before stitching it closed.


Then stitch a line of running stitch around the edges of each wing. And that's it! Attach a long piece of thread from the back of the head and hang on some branches or the ceiling.




Thursday, 12 October 2017

Two Bags

It's a year since I've started this blog! I'm glad that I got this far and nearly managed to post at least two entries each months. The words still don't come easily but my writing ability has improved at least a little. It doesn't take me that long any more to write an entry.
For the next year I just hope that I will be able to keep this up. With a new baby coming along, the chances that my posts will be more frequent are not high. But I'll try my best. There will surely be more posts about babies and less about craft projects.

So here is another crafty post:

Apart from knitting about four things at the same time, I've also been sewing a little:


This bag is made completely of left-over fabric from other projects. I had meant to make a bag with the flowery fabric for a while but it just wouldn't come together until I got the jeans fabric. And suddenly my head was overbrimming with ideas. The three flowers are made with Suffolk Puffs (little fabric wheels, great for using up scraps) and buttons, the stalks and leaves are embroidered. I should have taken a better photo... I just took one quickly before sending the bag on it's way to Germany for my mum's birthday.

I made this bag, excluding the strap, quite a few years ago before I moved to Ireland.


For some reason I considered it finished without a strap, though it was uncomfortable to hold like a clutch. It was lying around on my sewing table recently while I was sifting through some ribbons that my aunt had given me. And this beautifully woven band just fitted it perfectly. I love when this is happening!

There isn't much sewing going on at the moment. Aidan doesn't nap anymore during the day and in the evening I prefer to knit. It seems to take less effort when I'm tired. But I do have a few ideas in my head and hope to be able to sew more before the baby comes.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Knitting Season

It's autumn again! We didn't have much of a summer here in the west of Ireland but I didn't miss it too much. We had two holidays in Germany and I got all the sun and heat that I needed there. And I prefer autumn over summer anyway, at least when there is some sunny weather, though a rainy day spent inside in front of a fire has its merits too. Still, I hope we'll have some more of those days:



This photo was taken last Sunday which had a wet start but turned into a lovely sunny day. We drove out to the seaside for a walk along the coast. It's much more pleasant to walk in autumn time than it is in summer, I find. The air is so pure and fresh and there's no sweating and baking in the sun even after a long walk.

And more reasons to love autumn: colorful leaves, foggy mornings, the food (apples, plums, berries...) and of course knitting! Though I'm knitting all year round since I moved to Ireland (the cooler weather allowing it), my peak time is still the official knitting season. Obviously. It doesn't feel right to knit a wooly jumper in July, even when your fingers don't get sweaty handling the wool.

My knitting baskets are already full of multiple projects I started. Some of them from last year like my husband's fair isle vest... But I've already finished something:


The pattern is from this book (my latest Charlie Byrne's bookshop find):


It's a baby cardigan for a cherished little someone who is currently still cosy and warm in my tummy but by the time of his or her birth it will be midwinter so I intend to knit lots of wooly warm vests and cardigans.  This one was supposed to have long sleeves and I wish it had. What happened was this: I got the book and decided to start straight away with knitting using up some lovely yarn that I had used for a jumper I knitted for Aidan last year. I had slightly less than the two balls that the instructions said but I chanced it. Big mistake! Never never do this! I figured I could still buy more of this yarn if I ran out. But it turned out that this particular color was discontinued and none of the shops had any left. By this time I had set my heart on knitting a yellow cardigan and did't want any other colors mixed in. My aunt has given me a bag full of sewing supplies among them the lovely heart shaped blue buttons and I really thought that was a sign that I should try and make this cardigan as the blue and yellow go so well together. I ended up knitting several versions of short sleeves until I got the right length that gave me just enough yarn to finish it. In the end I'm happy enough with it but I have my lesson learned!

Apart from knitting for my own baby I have projects planned for friends' babies (quite a lot women of our acquaintance are pregnant as well) and for family members. In fact I will probably not be able to do everything I have planned. I'm due in the middle of December so there won't be much knitting after that. At the moment I'm trying to do as much as I can, fitting in a few stitches here and there. I'll see how far I will get.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Scraps and a new Bread Recipe

When you first start out sewing, you might find it hard to come by materials without spending a lot of money. Yet after a few years most crafters find themselves with an ever growing stash of fabrics, some still sizable enough to be used for future projects, but the bigger mountain is always made up of those scraps of fabrics, too big to throw out but to small and cut-into for most projects. Yet if you throw them out you can be sure that you will need tiny amounts of exactly the scraps you've just thrown away in the near future. I'm always hovering between my tidy minimalistic side that wants to get rid of all those tiny unmanageable bits and my thrifty crafty side that shies away from throwing out anything the might come in useful. So I ended up storing my fabric scraps in various boxes, out of sight and out of mind, which meant that I never really used them at all. After doing some internet research for storing ideas I found this metal basket in a local shop.


It doesn't look the tidiest, but I can just throw the scraps in and they are stowed away but still in sight. And the basket at least is pretty. It would help if I got another one as it's always overflowing. But having the basket in full sight means that I occasionally do feel the urge to sew something with some of those beautiful scraps. Again the internet is great for getting ideas, but my latest idea came from something I've seen in a shop in a town while looking for some birthday presents. They were tiny fabric dogs with a chain and key ring. It's not easy to sew something that small, not for me with my basic sewing machine skills anyway, but I tried some heart shapes, not too small, that came out decent enough. So I did a few different shapes. They're far from perfectly sewn but look alright from if you don't look too closely. 





I used a different kind of scraps (paper) to decorate a folder for my recipes. It was good to cut up some old magazines that could throw out afterwards. While making lots of recipes from the internet I don't like having to use my phone or the computer while cooking. So I usually copy the recipes in handwriting (we don't have a printer), which gives me the possibility to note down all the changes that I might make. My newest addition is a porridge bread recipe that a friend has mentioned when I told her of my decision to make our bread myself. Her mother is making it all the time and after trying it out yesterday I think I will too. The recipe can be found here.

                          

The whole home-baking business is going surprisingly well. I expected to cave in after a week and just buy bread in the supermarket but so far I haven't. It's getting addictive and I find myself looking forward to baking the next bread. Though I have to say that this wouldn't be the case if I had a job. It's easier when you're home the whole day even with a toddler to mind. In fact, baking bread is a way to keep Aidan busy. He loves kneading the dough and always manages to sneak some into his mouth.

The sourdough starter worked out as well after a few difficulties at the beginning. I hated the idea of having to throw out half of the dough at every feeding, so I only fed it a little flour and water every day, but that was wrong. Eventually I followed the instructions here and it worked wonders. Well, that is to say my starter dough was certainly ready for baking.




And when I made the bread dough it rose beautifully... only to turn into a brick in the oven.



It wasn't as bad as it looks though. When I cut the loaf, it looked spongey like it should on the inside and it tasted ok. Adrian, who loves sourdough bread, gave it the thumbs up. So I won't regard it as a failure. I haven't baked since and store the starter dough in the fridge. Hopefully my next attempt will make a fluffier looking loaf!

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Home Baking

Lately I've been very conscious about unnecessary additives you find in commercially sold bread. The obvious answer to this problem is of course to bake your own bread. The only problem I had with this is the fact that all my loaves turn out to be quite dense and even when they tasted good spread with butter or as a side to soup they just wouldn't make proper sandwiches. So I started browsing the internet to find a recipe that would make a fluffier bread. I found this site and thought I might give the recipe a try. And I'm glad I did: Usually recipes I make don't turn out like the should even when tasting fine but this bread actually looked like in the picture shown on the site. Even though I substituted kefir for the milk (I do this whenever I can to use up the huge amounts of kefir that my grains yield) and used a cup of wholemeal wheat flour.


As for the taste, I will have to play around with seasonings a bit the next time, but I was very happy with the texture. Adrian and Aidan were too, so there wasn't much left by the time I remembered to take the picture. It did make lovely toast like it said on the website but it also worked as sandwich. So I expect we'll have more of this bread in the future. 

The other recipe I tried out is this one . Not only did it look beautiful but the quick-no-knead-heading appealed to me as well. I had never heard of a Dutch oven but I figured it must be close to a cast-iron casserole dish which it said you can use instead. I was a bit nervous because of the high temperatures and handling the hot casserole but everything turned out fine. The bread rose beautifully even without kneading and it tasted very good. It's not a sandwich-style bread but I did't expect it to be. I will certainly do it again. It does say to let it rise for 12 to 18 hours or 6 hours in an oven with only the light turned on but mine had risen well after two hours in an oven with set to about 30 degrees celsius.

There's another recipe I'd like to try but I have to be a bit patient for that as I need to make the sourdough starter first which will take a few days. I've made sourdough bread before but wasn't very happy with it. It came out very dense and quite hard. After reading up on this useful website  I figured that I probably didn't knead it enough and didn't let it rise enough. I am ready to give it another try now. I've started making the starter dough two days ago with just flour and water and I'm very curious how it will turn out and if I will be lucky enough to "catch some wild yeasts". It's a bit like trying to trap wild birds I think, you just lay the trap and hope some of them will be lured into it. The first day nothing seemed to have happened but this morning there were a few bubbles in the dough and a vinegary smell so I might be lucky.



My kitchen is getting pretty crowded with all the cultures feeding away: kefir, yeast and sourdough. A few years ago this really would have bothered me, but now I think doesn't look messy, just lived-in and cosy.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rory's Baby Quilt

Yesterday afternoon I finished the quilt.


I have to say I am pretty happy with how it turned out in the end. There was a time during the sewing precess when I was worried that it might look horribly distorted.

This is only the second time I properly quilted after my first experience dampened down my enthusiasm: It was my very first patchwork quilt that I was making for Adrian's first nephew Dara. While I should have picked something simple, being me, I designed something with hearts and circles that I wanted to outline with quilting stitches. I've always enjoyed embroidering and I thought quilting would be very much like it. But far from it! The wadding was very thick and my embroidery hoop kept sliding off, but even when I managed to keep it on, the reverse side looked completely crooked: a circle on the front got distorted into some wonky egg. In the end I managed to make it look kind of right but it took a lot of time and tears (and swearing).

After this I opted for crochet blankets for the next babies and when I ventured another quilt for my nephew Emil I just knotted the layers together. But after five years I decided to give it another try. Again I used the same thick wadding as I still had plenty of it.


Yet I went for an easy design and decided to just quilt along the seams avoiding any curved lines. I also ditched the embroidery hoop which worked out great for me. The quilting didn't go smoothly and there were a lot of wonky lines on the back that I had to undo and redo. But I found that it was easier when I got into a flow of stitching and didn't worry too much about how it looked on the back. 


Not perfect but not terrible either! And Aidan liked the soft wadding.


While the fabric did pucker up a lot, or was stretched too tight in places while I was quilting, it didn't matter in the end. I actually like the three-dimensional look.



As for the edging I meant to do a bias binding but had trouble choosing the fabric. Luckily I visited my aunt in Germany who had just finished an amazing huge quilt. I noticed that for the edging she had just turned over the backing fabric and stitched it to front. She argued that this version is time- as well as fabric-saving - perfect for me! And I like that you can see the backing fabric on the front now as well.

I am itching to do another quilt now!