Sunday, February 26, 2012

Every Little Thing She Does Is Not Magic

I had a week off this week and I did lots of exciting things. For a start, I emptied my side of our too-small wardrobe and finally came to terms with the fact that I am now two sizes bigger than I was before I met my husband. Coincidence? I think not. In any case, I have virtuously parted with these items of clothing, having finally realised that I will not be fitting back into them any time soon.

I also have been experiencing a kind of schizophrenic crafting dilemma - I simultaneously have no interest in actually making anything, while being full of ideas about stuff I could make. The problem is, when I start to experiment with something, it doesn't go the way I want it to ... and then I get disheartened and cross. This doesn't happen to me very often: I usually get really stubborn and cranky and power on, till the offending item is finished and then I realise that I do quite like it, actually. but this week has seen me tossing stuff aside, willy-nilly. After seven days of the blahs, I have a bunch of started projects that I don't want to finish.

Witness my madness, readers:

A crazy patchwork Klimt blanket to use up a stack of random squares in autumnal colours. Now I've run out of squares and I don't feel like finishing it. It just sits in my workbasket and laughs at me.

Hexagons in pretty shades of turquoise and spring green and powder pink and chocolate brown. Goodness knows how many I'd need to make to make this into a blanket ... for a baby. My head explodes when I think that this could be a full-sized adult blanket. These hexagons are stacked on the table beside me and out of the corner of my eye, I think I can see them sticking up their yarn tails at me in derision.

And experiment disaster: Hey, I thought, wouldn't it be cool if I could make a motif that resembles a peacock feather? So when you sewed them all together, you'd have this amazing blanket that would look like the vivid colours of a peacock. Like this.

And this is what I came up with.

Epic design fail; sulk, sulk, sulk. I don't hear this motif snickering at me because its mockery is drowned out by the laughter of my unsupportive husband.
Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Me Day

Today the husband set off for a day with his buddies. This Big Boys' Day Out has been in the works for the past week, with lots of excited phone calls and complicated arrangements. Finally he set off, with his hair freshly quoiffed and his freshly-shaven face slathered in aftershave. I don't believe he even changed his socks for Valentine's Day. Just saying.

In any case, I had a day for me (that's actually more like a day for meeeeeeeeeee!!!! in my head.) I did lots of exciting things: I baked. I put away laundry. I surreptitiously threw away stuff that my husband will not part with but won't miss if they're gone (and, in case he reads this: the bowl was cracked. Cracked - much like you, sweetie.)

Then I waited till the sun came out briefly, took a snap and then wrapped up my friend Lenka's afghan:

(And this was not finished a moment too soon. I had just about reached the point where I was crocheting resentment and ill-will into every stitch, and that shouldn't be part of the present you give.)

 I also started taking apart a jumper that my friend Vanda gave me: it's a cashmere pullover with excellent seams for unravelling:

Although it almost seems blasphemous to take something like this apart,
the wool was in need of a bit of tender loving care ... in the form of a Kool Aid bath.

The first dreaded snip has been taken!
It wasn't as easy as I thought, but once I'd found the correct thread, it all came apart quite nicely in my hands. By the time Mr Gingerbread came home, there was a pile of kinky cream wool on the floor and it looked as though I had shorn a particularly big sheep.

Tomorrow, I'm going to dye it! This, as you might remember, involves Kool Aid and a big mess - hurray!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Hearts

Valentine's Day. I'm not a fan. Not least because my dear husband maintains it's a conspiracy by greeting card companies and florists to trick dopey men into shelling out their hard-earned cash for woman-pleasing trifles. At least, that's his story and he's sticking to it. And he's more romantic than I am, so that ought to give you an idea of how fervently we celebrate St. Valentine's Day in this house.

But this is a very quick and simple pattern for little hearts that have an infinite variety of uses. Made with a 3.75mm (F) hook and mercerised cotton, mine are 5 cm / 2 inches tall and a little over 5 cm / 2 inches wide at their widest point. They take less than five minutes to make - in fact, I can knock one out in two or three minutes flat - and use small amounts of leftover yarn.

Here's how you do it...
You need 
  • a 3.75mm (F) hook
  • scraps of coloured cotton
This pattern uses American terms. The British terms are in [brackets].

DC [TR] = double crochet [treble crochet]
TR [DC] = treble crochet [double treble crochet]

Start by chaining 4, then join with a slip stitch.
Chain 3 (counts as the first DC [TR]), do 2 DC [TR] into the ring. Chain 2, 3 DC [TR], chain 2, 3 DC [TR], chain 2, 3 DC [TR], chain 2 and join to the third chain of your first 'fake' DC [TR].

Chain 3, then do 1 DC [TR] in the same corner gap, crochet one DC [TR]  in each DC [TR] of the previous round. Crochet 2 DC [TR] in corner gap, chain 2, 2 DC [TR] in same corner gap, then continue with 1 DC [TR] in each DC [TR] of the round below, and 2 DC [TR] + chain 2 + 2 DC [TR] in each corner. Join to the third chain of your first 'fake' DC [TR].

You should have a little square with 7 DC [TR] on each side.

* Slipstitch. Start a TR [DTR]: yarn over twice, then insert hook in the top of the fourth DC[TR] (the middle stitch) of the previous round.

Yarn over - you now have four loops on your hook. Yarn over and draw through two loops. You now have three on your hook. Yarn over and draw through two loops. You now have two on your hook. Yarn over and draw yarn through remaining two loops. You now have one loop on your hook.

Now do 6 DC [TR] in the same stitch as the TR [DTR] (i.e. the fourth of the seven DC [TR]s in the round below.) In the same stitch do one more TR [DTR].


Slipstitch the 'petal' of the heart into the corner gap **
and repeat from * to ** on the next side of your square.

Slipstitch twice, yank yarn tight and cut a tail, which you then weave in and out of the stitches. Pull your heart into shape. At this point you might consider blocking or starching your hearts - I starched mine, using a light spray-on starch and a warm iron. You can see that the heart on the right is slightly stiffer and flatter than the one on the left.

Now all you have to do is make enough to adorn inanimate objects or to simply make a decorate garland.

If made in a thicker yarn, for example worsted weight, you will have hearts that are big enough for bunting. If done in cotton, you can sew two together  leaving a gap at the top to make a little bag (e.g. for sweets or candies - a nice idea for a wedding favour, if you have the patience to churn out dozens of little hearts in your wedding colours.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chocolate Red Wine Cake

It's very, very cold. Comfort food is a necessity, a matter of life or ... well, life, but a decidedly less sweet life. This is a recipe for a thick, dark, moist chocolate cake, that's more like a chocolatey gingerbread than a light, fluffy sponge. Best of all, it uses up the last quarter of a bottle of wine ... We always seem to have a open bottle of wine in the fridge because, as light-weight drinkers, neither of us (nor both of us together) can manage to finish a bottle of wine, and the thoughts of doing so become less and less appealing as the days pass.*
* NB: This cake doesn't taste of wine and is suitable for children and teetotallers - the wine just makes it juicy and moist. Fear not!

You need:
  • 170g soft butter
  • 170g sugar (I usually use brown sugar, but you can use white)
  •  4 eggs
  • 270g plain cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g grated plain or dark chocolate
  • 3 large heaped spoons cocoa
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • (optional: 1 teaspoon of ginger)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon (I often just add a large spoon of lemon juice instead)
  • 100ml red wine

In a large bowl, mix the butter till smooth, then add the sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla and lemon rind. Mix in the eggs, one at a time.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, (ginger,) and cocoa bit by bit, mixing as you do so.

Mix in the grated chocolate and add the red wine. Mix well and pour into a lined cake tin - I use a 24cm/9.5 inch spring tin.

Bake at 180°c (approx 356° F) for 45 mins or until you can pierce the cake with a toothpick or skewer and it comes out clean. Leave to cool before sprinkling with icing / powder sugar or covering with melted chocolate or chocolate frosting. This cake can be made the day before it's needed, as it "settles well".

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Product and Process - The Crochet Factory

Heather posted a comment on my last entry, wondering what happens to all the stuff I produce - why I don't keep them. She pointed out (quite rightly) that I'm quite speedy on the old hook, but why does so little of what I produce end up in my own home?

This is A Very Good Question and has made me think quite a bit these last few days (thank you, Heather!). Now, some of you are probably hoping that I will reveal a back room a-brim with underpaid German grannies, churning out crocheted squares at the speed of light. Sadly, no - I am, quite simply, very fast. I've been crocheting since I was a child, so I've had a lot of practice, and I use most of my sitting time to crochet. If I'm going to watch a film, I expect to get at least two hours of solid handicrafts done in that time.

The other thing is that I am a Process Crafter. Yes, there is a term for it. I learnt about it on Susie's blog (where, over the course of the past year, I have also been enlightened, Renaissance-woman style, on a variety of issues from soap-making to stalking cats - that is, cats that stalk, as opposed to how one should stalk a cat). Some people make things because of the pleasure of the final product; others - like me - make things because they enjoy the process. I like my blankets and my cushions and my scarves, but I never make them with me in mind: I make them because I like the colours, the pattern, the excitement of seeing something come together under my fingers. Take this blanket, for example:

Aargh! My eyes! My eyes!
It's very similar to the scrapbuster I've just finished and it's for a friend's 40th birthday. I must admit that starting the same pattern directly after finishing the last was a bad idea, because I'm finding it a bit tedious. Not least because I bought myself this book

I can't quilt. But even looking at this cover makes me want to. I want to start sewing pieces of material together now!
and I have a feeling it will Change My Life - or, if I am to be realistic, will fill me up with all kinds of fantastic ideas for new patterns. I haven't even looked inside it yet, I am saving it up for the perfect moment, and the anticipation is a delight. My cup doth brimeth over with excitement and potential.

In any case, despite the fact that this blanket has to be finished by the 20th February and I'm a bit sick and tired of making squares and I'd really like to read my new book and try something else, the danger that this blanket will become a massive chore is mitigated by the thrill of seeing it get bigger, and the improbable realisation that all of those crazy reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and purples actually work together in an eye-popping way, creating a blanket for a winter birthday, for a person who loves all things bright and sunshine-y.

And to stave off the boredom of excessive squaring, I'm knitting baby hats for a friend on the side.
Yes, I'm telling you - I'm fast.