Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas Cake 2012

Look what I've been doing this morning!

I made my Christmas cake months ago, they always improve by being stored and "fed" with a spoon of brandy every now and then. It's a traditional rich fruit cake, similar to Delia's recipe. I covered it with marzipan last week and today have rough iced it with royal icing to give a snowscape, and then used readymade fondant icing to shape three polar bears. I got the idea for the polar bears from this site but posed mine differently.

This little guy sprawled on his back is my favourite!

If you look carefully at the bear in the front above you might see I've had to skewer him through the neck! I wanted him to look as if he was about to slide down the side of the cake...and he tried to do just that! He'll stay in place once the royal icing has set firm though.

Next up - the mince pies. I always set aside the egg yolks left over from the royal icing to use in my sweet flan pastry, a favourite recipe which makes really soft and melt-in-the-mouth mince pies.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Book Review: Knitted Toy Travels

As with my earlier book reviews,  I was given the books in return for writing reviews. It's not edited though, these are my real opinions.

Knitted Toy Travels by Laura Long is a real treat, not just for the knitting patterns but for the fun way the book is written. Each animal is discovered by Ed the Explorer as he travels around the world - there's even a pull-out world map! I plan to have a great deal of fun with this book and my grandchildren...when they arrive! Ed even has two outfits, one for cold weather and one for warmer climes.

Like me, Laura isn't a fan of sewing together small pieces so her patterns are shaped as you knit, or sometimes by a few extra stitches at the end to add definition.

Each new journey introduces a new animal with a short story, a rhyme and a little geographical information. This is definitely a book to read with a child, not just to knit from. Amongst other animals we meet Polly Parrot in Mexico, Kangaroos in Australia, a tiger in India and of course meerkats in Africa. It's quite strange for me to see meerkats knitted by someone else!

The patterns are rated for difficulty, well photographed and there are clear instructions and diagrams for the stitches and techniques you'll need. If I ever published a knitting book, this would be the style I'd love to write. Of course, that would imply I'd got around to actually writing down my patterns....

Knitted Toy Travels by Laura Long

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Even more Christmas

I was lucky enough to win a giveaway from Etsy seller ElectronicGirl, isn't it fun? The light transitions between red, green and blue in a fairly random sequence, I can see us placing bets on what colour will be next! Other variations still available, they're not just for Christmas so why not check out ElectronicGirl's shop

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Oh my poor neglected blog! Life has been very busy lately but I have finally started to get ready for our family Christmas.

In the previous couple of years I was frantically knitting and posting parcels right up to the last minute, but this year I decided it was more important to relax and enjoy my preparations. The world will not stop turning due to a shortage of knitted meerkats!

I'm not the best seamstress in the world, but even I can make bunting. As our current house is an unusual shape with double height ceilings and exposed balconies it seemed an ideal solution:

Now we just need to get the tree! My cake is marzipanned and ready to ice (I'm molding polar bears to go on a royal iced snowscape) and the mince pies will be made any day now. Bring it on!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book Review: Knit, Purl, Save the World

As with my earlier book reviews,  I was given the books in return for writing reviews. It's not edited though, these are my real opinions.

Subtitled "Knit and Crochet Projects for Eco-friendly Stitchers", I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't even know if I knit in an eco-friendly way!

Vicki Howell and Adrienne Armstrong are clearly dedicated to their form of environmental consciousness and sprinkle tips about eco-friendly living throughout the book. Although they don't say we should all get rid of our acrylic yarns, they prefer to source what they call "sustainable" yarn, for instance by using wool that "comes from animals that were raised organically and humanely: baby alpaca, baby camel, merino sheep, etc."

Maybe not the book for me then: I knit almost entirely in acrylic, it's inexpensive and brightly coloured and suits my particular knits perfectly.

There are patterns for 31 projects: clothes,accessories, home furnishings, all designed to use eco-friendly materials.

I found one project that interests me, a bag crocheted from plarn. Plarn is is yarn made by cutting strips from plastic grocery carrier bags! The book gives instructions to make the plarn, or you can track down numerous tutorials online if you prefer videos.

I consider myself quite environmentally conscious - I don't fly (don't even have a passport!), prefer to walk and shop local, recycle everything in sight and buy secondhand - but my budget does not allow for the yarns suggested here. Ideal for some, but sorry - not for me.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Christmas sherry, anyone?

I spotted this vintage cocktail cabinet (60s?) in a charity shop for £45 and brought it home. We are sadly lacking in cupboard space in this house, and I just fancied the idea of MrNifty serving Christmas beverages from a cocktail cabinet!

If you're wondering why I didn't clean the mirror....well, I did. But then I spilt some sherry!

I really like that the original lemon squeezer and cocktail sticks are still there. 
Don't think I fancy using them though, I'd never be sure they were clean!

The opening "flaps" are hinged together which is clever, although disconcerting if like me you're prone to dumping stuff on any available surface...because as you pull the flap down, the top moves too!

 I like the weathered appearance of the knobs, but in an ideal world I think I'd rather like something a bit more steampunky... like these from LumberJackLad on Etsy

I had already bought some glass straws from VortexGlassWorks, also on Etsy

So we're all set! Sherry, anyone?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Warm toes for MrNifty!

It's not often I knit for family, so here's a rare example!

Don't just sit there, MrNifty, chuck another log on the fire!

Now, knitting meerkats from my head is easy for me - but socks? Not so much. I used a pattern by Kim Goddard available here (thanks Kim!) and an excellent tutorial for Kitchener stitch available here (thanks to Theresa Vinsen Stenerson)

Having allowed the poor man to pose for photos I'm now taking the socks away again to wrap in Christmas paper - he'll be SOOO surprised when he opens that package!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a yarn shortage!

Barry (seen here with Walter Koenig and Data and Chekhov Meerkats) has a MeerTrekkie habit second to none, so when my local yarn shop told me that the "Star Trek command gold" yarn was discontinued, I told him of the emergency. I hunted around a few towns, but there was none to be found. 

Some months later...a package arrived from Barry! No, it wasn't yarn, it was entirely the wrong shape. It was... a book! 

Not just any book, it's a photo book detailing Chekov's mission: Kat Trek, the Search forYarn. 

As I started to read, my laughter got louder. Barry channeled his inner-Chekhov very thoroughly, the whole book is written in the broken Russian accent known so well by Original Series Trekkies.

Chekhov searched and searched. 

Chekhov bravely went to London and tried to use the transporter at Oxford Circus. The instructions were confusing. Standing on the right did not achieve transportation.

He discovered evidence of 20th Century alien visitors 

but the correct yarn was not discovered no matter how he set the tricorder.

Eventually I realised there was only one answer, and knitted Captain Benjamin Sisko, The Emissary to the Prophets. He consulted the orb of Prophecy and showed me where appropriate yarn might be found. He also suggested this was a job for a man, not a boy (sorry, Chekhov) so Captain Kirk boldly went on the next stage of the away mission.

Well done Captain Kirk - and thank you, Barry. 

You made me a very happy knitter indeed! Live long, and prosper. 

You wouldn't believe it - but there was still more in the parcel. 
A photo of the lovely Nichelle Nichols, signed for me with my name on it!!!

I have shared only a few of the 42 pages (it *had* to be 42, didn't it? answer to life, the universe and everything!) but if you've had fun, go find Barry on twitter and tell him! @CoachDriverBaz

MeerTrekkies are of course available in Etsy and Folksy, and if you take yours on adventures I would love to hear about it!!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Book review: Beautiful Botanical Knits

Third in my series of book reviews - I should tell you that I was given the books in return for reviews, but there was no compulsion to be "nice", these are my genuine opinions.

I was pleased to be sent this particular book "Beautiful Botanical Knits" by Nora J. Bellows because I used to knit flowers myself and was keen to see how mine compared. 

I knitted daffodils, tulips, poinsettia, bluebells and primroses. This week I found a fuchsia lurking in a stock drawer so that has just been relisted on folksy!

Although I still like my own designs, Nora's are a cut above. She has clearly observed the flowers very carefully and tries to include as much of the anatomical detail as is possible. I'm pleased to say we both start knitting the same way: "I want you to get down and peer into the throat of a single foxglove flower - and to wonder how to knit it."

Nora shares patterns for 40 different flowers and shows each flower both knitted and then felted. It is not "compulsory" to felt them, in fact I think some look better without. Some flowers are wired, some are embellished with beads - it's all down to your preference. As is generally the case, the patterns are for personal use only and the finished articles are not licensed for sale.

The knitted flowers are cunningly photographed on natural stems and leaves, it's quite hard at first glance to see where nature stops and knitting takes over! 

What I really liked about this book is that Nora doesn't "just" show us how to knit flowers, she also suggests uses for them. As I discovered myself, there are only so many knitted flowers in pots that can be accommodated! 

Isn't this fuchsia wrap stunning? The book contains patterns for flower embellished projects: bags, shawls, gloves, cushions and Nora encourages us to be creative in our use of these patterns: "Change the scale of the "scarf" and it becomes a wreath of violets, a necklace of lesser celandine, the cherry blossom headdress of a little girl, or a jasmine wedding garland for a bride."

To conclude - if you have a hankering to knit flowers, I recommend this book. The patterns are graded for difficulty and there are clear photos of the various stitches and techniques you'll need. Like my own knitted flowers - they don't cause hay fever!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

We're on the BBC news website today!

woohoo! Elvis is rocking with many of his friends from Etsy and Folksy on the BBC News online magazine which is fab! I do rather take issue with their idea of crafts such as mine being learned in just a few hours though. I've been knitting for over 45 years!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

New Yarnbomb!

I've been yarnbombing one of my last remaining wooden sculptures, saving him from landfill and making a thing of beauty!

He was quite embarrassed that one of his horns was shorter than the other, so I've compensated by giving them a wonderfully swirly appearance. He's knitted in bright orange and yellow and seated on a grassy mound. I'm rather pleased with the way his legs are over the grass, that took some thinking.

Most difficult piece? The strangely shaped orange piece for his head! I wasn't quite sure how I was going to manage the head all-in-one, but did my usual trick of sleeping on the problem and awoke with the solution!

He's one of a kind, obviously, and I've chosen to list him on Etsy.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Meerkat Biker Leathers Design Assistance Please!

Now here's a question you don't get asked every day! I'm ready to start on the costume for the rider of my biiiiiiig motorbike, and would welcome your thoughts. I've bought some yarn that's a very good match for the yellow of the bike, and I have black (and silver) for the detailing.

It is a fabulous bike and I want to do it justice - so what do you think would really set the meerkat rider off? I'm toying with the idea of a lady rider, I could give her some falsies under her suit!
The bike is marked Honda California Style, American Drag (if that helps!) and as you can see is way bigger than my others and is seating my 11" tall Meerkat in the photo - although I may redesign the kat too, I think the body could do with being slimmer and shorter - what do you think? If anyone comes up with the final design for the leathers I'll credit you in the listing as my designer! If it's left to me it'll be mostly yellow with black and/or silver go-faster stripes I think. Maybe a black/silver storm cloud with lightning on the back - I *think* that is what I can see on the bike.

Anyway - over to you. Written suggestions can be put in the comments, if you want you can send me a picture and I'll add it here. Pics can be attached to "message to seller" at Niftyknits

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Teeny tiny Star Trek stockings

I knitted each of the original series crew a tiny Christmas stocking for their party photo. If you're thinking it's time you rehomed Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura or Bones then now is the time - the next time each of these crew members goes to a new home they'll bring their own exclusive stocking. Don't worry, they're VERY small so you won't need to put much inside! I only knitted the 5 stockings you can see, so when they're gone they're gone.

Trekkies at Etsy  or Trekkies at Folksy

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Christmas Last Shipping Dates

It's that time of year again, when online sellers enter a state of panic, worrying that parcels won't arrive in time! I know a really good way of making sure they arrive - it's the technique known as BUY EARLY.

Royal Mail have issued their optimistic dates for last shipping for Christmas arrival, but my experience is that they mean "it'll probably arrive by December 24th" and that is just not good enough. So I'm going to give an extra 2 weeks for international parcels...which means that my last recommended shipping dates will be:

Wednesday 21st November : Asia, Australia, Far East (including Japan) New Zealand
Friday 23rd November         : Africa, Caribbean, Central America, Middle East and South America
Monday 26th November      : Canada, Eastern Europe and USA
Wednesday 28th November : Western Europe
Thursday 6th December       : UK

I will still ship after those dates if you buy - but it's down to you to do the worrying :-)

I will be removing "knit to order" items from my shops within the next few weeks, so please please please buy early to avoid disappointment - or buy a gift card from my Etsy shop so that your gift recipient can choose for themselves. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Book review: Aran Knitting

Today I'm reviewing my second knitting book - if you read the first one, Knitting Know-How, you will know that I was given the books in return for writing reviews. It's not edited though, these are my real opinions.

Enough of the small print!

Today's book is Aran Knitting, by Alice Starmore. It's an updated version of the book she wrote 15 years earlier and is far more than "just" a book of Aran patterns.

I'm getting ahead of myself - do you know what Aran knitting is? I thought I did! My mum knitted an aran sweater for me about 40 years ago. It was cream, thick, and on the front there was a central pattern of diamond motifs with cables down each side. I was told it was a traditional design of fishermen's sweaters that dated back to ancient times.

Having read this book I now know I was misinformed! The first 50 pages are devoted to historical background, including photos of genuine early Aran sweaters, museum pieces, and show that the patterns are considerably less ancient than had been supposed.

For me, this was the most interesting part of the book. I could picture the early knitters Alice imagines sitting in church staring at the sweater of the lady in the pew in front, learning the pattern by heart so that it could be reknitted later. This is close to my own way of working, I like to stare at animals or pictures and gradually the pattern takes shape in my head. I wish it could be automatically transferred to paper!

If you're more interested in knitting Aran designs Alice explains how to knit from charts and shares many pattern elements. She shows that Aran designs are not rigid, but suggests taking the elements you like and making them into your own. There are 15 complete patterns for you to knit for your own use - like most commercial patterns these are not licensed for resale.

Some of the patterns are in what I remember as the classical Aran style:

Some of the designs are quite delicate, not at all the chunky sweater I remember from my teens. I'd love to wear them - but knitting big projects is not for me, not at the moment anyway. Alice's website sells her own recommended yarns with free international shipping on orders over £25 so if anyone fancies making "Eala Bhan" (shown below) for me (and paying for the yarn!) I'd be more than happy to wear it!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Do you remember Biba?

We were in Brighton this week and visited the Biba exhibition, it's there till April so well worth a look especially if, like me, you remember Biba "back in the day". I only had one genuine garment, and that was second-hand from another girl at my boarding school. I remember it well though - it was a muted dusky aubergine skinny rib top with elbow length sleeves and a square neckline.

I confess I don't always read captions at exhibitions, but these interested me. The crop-top trouser suit in the middle of the photo above was worn by a bride at her wedding! I remember those reallllly wide legged trousers.

The caption here reminded me of something I'd totally forgotten. You can't tell from the photo, but at that time we all had chunky 3" heels and big platforms on our shoes - so trouser hems had to be much longer at the front than the back, so that the front would just touch your shoe while the back dragged on the ground.
Why? Who knows!
I was never very tall so usually ended up cutting off most of the wide part of the trouser legs.

The only Biba attribute I achieved in my teens was the flat chest LOL and I wasn't too pleased about that!

I remember going to the Biba store in London, must have been around 1973. 
I bought a nail varnish I think,  that was the only thing my pocket-money would stretch to.

I wish I could have watched this instructional video on the "Biba eyes" back then. 
I could manage to make up one eye but could never get the other to look the same. 
We all loved the Biba packaging.

I hadn't realised it all started with a newspaper competition - this is 1955, the year before I was born.

I absolutely love the coat in the middle of the photo below, I'd wear that right now if I could. 
I did have a brown coat in the 70s with "frog fastenings" like this one, but nowhere near as stylish.

Biba and Twiggy are linked in my memory. 
She was (and still is) so very beautiful. It's fake fur of course.

I said to the exhibition curator how I wished I'd kept some of my 70s clothes - she said most of the visitors in my age group had said the same. So hang on to those fashions, people! One day they'll be worth a mint!