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Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

Christmas baking

I've made three batches of these Christmas biscuits to give to friends and family. The recipe is Nigella's butter biscuits from Domestic Goddess with the addition of a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and a good grating of nutmeg, plus a zigzag of chocolate with orange oil. The bonus for me is that it makes the whole flat smell like Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

DIY update

If you follow me on Twitter or happen to know me in person (actually I think that's more or less the same group of people) you'll be aware that casa del thomasinaknits is undergoing a bit of a revamp. It started back in June when we got new carpet for the hallway and spare room and like a set of dominoes this triggered a series of renovations throughout the flat. Once we had the carpet we needed some new doors which would close over said carpet and the doors had to be painted. And once I'd started painting I realised it wasn't as scary as all that and decided that the rest of the flat could do with a lick of paint too. Which brings us up to today.

I now have a green bathroom.

Painting the bathroom

It's a somewhat blotchy, streaky green bathroom as yet as the paint's still drying and it's only the first coat. The odd thing is that I'm rather disconcerted by the fact that I now have a green bathroom. Despite buying the paint and painting a swatch (which has been on the wall for the past month or so) I don't think I was ever truly able to realise (or visualise) the fact that once the paint started going on in large quantities the bathroom would be a completely different colour*. I expect to be doing a double take every time I go in there for the next week or so.

Right, must get on now as I have a whole list of things to do whilst the paint is drying none of which include blogging, checking Twitter, or generally messing about on the internet.

* Previously it was blue and I'm afraid I don't have any before pictures because I didn't think to take any this morning and it wasn't such a nice bathroom that I would have taken any in the past.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Serendipity (or a last hurrah for Wovember)

After a very jolly evening knitting and eating Thai food with the Sticks'n'String knitting group in Reading I was walking back towards the train station with Felix, discussing the merits of tweed for skirt making, when we came upon this display in the window of Jackson's department store.

Harris Tweed display

You can't quite read the tiny label on the equally wee jacket but it says "Not for sale". Presumably in response to or anticipation of the hordes of people enquiring whether they could buy said jacket for their wee tot or teddy bear (it's like a 6 month old size!).

Further up the display there's a rather splendid picture of the current Doctor with the slogan "He chose Harris Tweed, why don't you?".

Harris Tweed display

The display even references the sheep whose wool is used to weave the tweed. It's a far cry from all the fake woolliness to be seen elsewhere on the high street.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Starting them young

At the weekend my 4 year old niece said the words that all knitters want to hear. Not "Lizzy, can you make me some cosy bed socks?" (although she said that too) but "Lizzy, how do you do your knitting?". It's not quite an outright request to teach her how to knit but it's close enough for me to pick up some chunky yarn with a decent amount of pink in it and suitable sized needles to have on hand should she express such a wish again over Christmas.

She's already got the hang of baking (at least she knows about stirring and licking the spoon afterwards) so I think she's ready to start playing with yarn.

Making brownies

Saturday, November 26, 2011

FO - Peerie Flooers hat

Peerie Flooers hat

Finally I get to reveal the genius that is the flooers. I was so excited when Kate released this hat pattern that I instantly began working out how soon I could get to John Lewis, get my sticky mitts on some Rowan Fine Tweed, and cast on in order to have the hat ready before the weather turned.

And turn it has. In contrast to the scorching October day when I bought the yarn it is cold and wet outside now and I thoroughly appreciate a hat that can be pulled right down over my ears. For this reason I cast on for the medium size*, which Kate describes as a slouchy beanie, and it's just perfect.

Peerie Flooers hat

The crown is a little tricky to work after the simple flooers pattern but it's worth it - it's like a sunburst of colour on top of the hat.

Pattern: Peerie Flooers by Kate Davies
Yarn: Rowan Fine Tweed
Needles: 3mm circulars

The only change I made to the pattern is to use Skipton rather than Muker for the darker blue and that was only because John Lewis were all out of Muker.

* full disclosure - one of the reasons that this took so long to make it to the finished objects pile is that I originally and accidentally cast on for the small size and didn't realise until I'd worked about three repeats of the flooers pattern.

Wool on the move

I just found another candidate for the Wovember gallery!

Running sheep

Stampeding sheep in Stonethwaite in 2009. Photo taken the day after one of the wettest walks I have ever taken, to Scale Force with my parents.

Mum at Crummock water

Hardy souls that they are, my parents plugged on through solid rain I think mostly to humour me (I hate turning back with a walk half done). Besides, you can't really appreciate afternoon tea in the cosy lounge of a traditional lake district hotel with a crackling fire and a pile of weekend supplements unless you've been soaked to the skin for three hours first.

The Langstrath Valley (in case you're not familiar) is the prettiest valley in Lakeland - photos really do not do it justice.

Langstrath valley

Friday, November 25, 2011

100% wool

It's pretty late on in Wovember (if you're not up to speed on Wovember please do pop across to Kate and Felix's fabulous site, and then pop back again) but I've finally got around to picking out the contenders for my contribution to the Wovember gallery which features many amazing photos (mostly of beautiful sheep) illustrating the idea of 100% wool.

Contender #1
The fleece!

Taken at the Oxford Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers fleece day back in 2010, this is a fabulous Oxford Downs fleece - that's local fleece for local people.

Or we have this series of photos from the OGWSD's fleece to blanket day in 2009. Held at an idyllic smallholding in Bledlow the guild took the fleece of a dearly departed sheep, graded it, spun it in the grease, and knit it (also in the grease) into blanket squares.

Grading the fleece

Here, Carol is showing us newbies how to skirt a fleece.

Spinning in the grease

I'm not sure anything says 100% wool quite like 15 or so industrious ladies all spinning away at the same time. You can see that pile of fleece on the floor has got quite a bit smaller.

Knitted squares

The finished-ish product. You can see how crisp those square are with all the lanolin still in them.

Shorn Kendal Rough Fell sheep

Also from 2009 we have a photo of freshly shorn Kendal Rough Fell sheep at Woolfest which was just the sheepiest knitting event I've ever attended. Not only were there a high proportion of breed specific vendors there (it was the first time that I came across Garthenor and Blacker yarns) but there were rare breed sheep actually in the same space as the finished yarns. It was fantastic to see the connection being made between the sheep breeders and the end users in this way and I know that Felix, Kate, Lara and I all came away feeling very inspired.

More recently I even managed to find some sheep whilst on honeymoon in Australia. I know I shouldn't be surprised to come across sheep in Australia, the place is swarming with them, but I felt pretty lucky to find a herding and shearing demonstration quite by chance at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (we had gone for the koalas after all).

Herding merino sheep

Sheep shearing in Brisbane

I love watching sheep being sheared - it's an amazing skill to be able to manhandle a couple of hundred pounds of sheep in such a way that the sheep is entirely docile throughout and the fleece comes off in one beautiful piece. I prefer the character of Shetland yarn for knitting and spinning but there's no denying that merino is soft.

One bag full (of merino)

Any thoughts on which of these I should submit to the Wovember gallery?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Birthday princess

Laurie's birthday cake

My most recent culinary commission was a birthday cake for my four year old niece who had a very clear idea of what she wanted. The creative brief which I received via my sister specified that it had to be a chocolate cake with chocolate icing with pink smarties around the edge and a pink ribbon and a ballet dancer on top. Think I fulfilled it?

Laurie and cake

She looks pretty pleased doesn't she.

The dancer and candles are from The Cook's Cupboard. There was a sharp intake of breath at the postage and packing fee (which was the same amount as the cost of the items) but they came really quickly and wrapped in lovely pale aqua tissue paper - almost as if they knew they were for a VIP (that's very important princess) birthday cake.

From scratch

There's something very satisfying about the words "from scratch" and it's something that I've been doing quite a bit of lately. I think I've got more use out of the pasta maker in 3 weeks than my parents did in 3 years and today I finally got around to trying my hand at ravioli.

Butternut squash ravioli

I still aspire to owning a ravioli cutter but in the meantime I've found a use for my smallest scone cutter.

Butternut squash ravioli

Ideally I would have used fresh leaves in my sage butter but I couldn't find any in the Co-op, Marks and Spencer, or even that out-of-season-produce giant Sainsbury. I must start growing my own.

Butternut squash ravioli

I was so pleased with these, they're not quite as amazing as the filled pasta I had at Eataly in New York but they're well up to Strada standard. They are, I'm afraid, a right faff to make but good fun and well worth it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Last night, inspired by the start of the new series of MasterChef The Professionals, I brought out my new-to-me* pasta maker and made lasagne from scratch** with homemade pasta. The really lovely thing about making my own pasta (aside from the fact that that always gets you bonus points in the MasterChef kitchen) is that I could cut individual sheets fit the round baking dishes rather than having to create a kind of crazy paving lasagna by breaking the corners off the rectangular sheets from the supermarket.

homemade pasta

Perfectly round lasagne.

Lasagna from scratch

The next challenge is ravioli. Maybe I can make a few to accompany tonight's episode.

* bought some time ago by my parents and never used
** full disclosure - husband made the bolognese sauce yesterday but otherwise I made it from scratch

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wee flowers

Rowan Fine Tweed

The only thing more utterly charming than these little cakes of Rowan Fine Tweed is the hat that I'm knitting with them.

Peerie Flooers

I am completely in love with the way that the yarns look together and how the main colour in one shade is picked up by the tweedy flecks in another. The hat is, of course, Kate Davies' Peerie Flooers and I have enough yarn to knit the hat plus matching mittens and then maybe another smaller hat when I'm done. The  only colour that I've substituted is the blue for the flower petals - John Lewis, Reading were completely out of Murker so I've used Skipton instead. I did toy with the idea of using a different colour scheme (I think grey with pinks and purples would look completely fabulous) but I just love the perkiness of Kate's original design. The other thing I love is how quickly this seems to be knitting up. The temptation to knit "just one more repeat" means you whip through the rows really quickly.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And that's your lot

sheepie mosaic

So if you count the hats in these mosaics and add them to the 32 in this post and the 20 in this post you get the grand total of ...

mosaic 2

... 90 hats!

Favourites this time are of course the pink sheep in the top mosaic and all the little Fair Isle hats. I started making the Fair Isle hats last Friday and just got sucked in. I think I might have been missing 'real' knitting and I was definitely feeling the colourwork urge (maybe because I have these hats mentally lined up to knit as soon as I get the yarn).

In the meantime I'm doing some Finnish colourwork.

Rovaniemi mitten

These are Rovaniemi mittens and I've got the full yarn kebab going on.

Rovaniemi mitten

They're knitting up surprisingly quickly given that I'm working on 2mm needles. Of course it was helped by a mammoth knitting session in the pub last night. I thought it was going to be a quiet night but we had three new knitters - autumn is obviously the season for joining the knitting group.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hats off

I've just parcelled up the little hats to send to innocent for their Big Knit 2011. And how many did I knit in the end? Well you'll have to wait for the final round-up post to find out but the parcel weighs just under 500 grams - that's nearly a whole sweater!*

Wee hats

You can see one of the latest batch of hats in the middles of the photo. I got a bit carried away with the Fair Isle in the end (which I think is a sign that I'm ready to get back to some 'real' knitting now).

*Although I suppose a fair amount of that is pom-pom.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Perfect pompoms every time

In response to Lynne's comment on my last post here's my quick and easy recipe for making pompoms. I came up with this method the first year that I started knitting Innocent smoothie hats when I realised that the traditional technique was just going to drive me insane.

1) Cut out two 1 inch circles (I draw around a 2p piece) from a piece of cardboard.

Making a pompom

2) Fold each circle in half and make two cuts to cut out a small square from the centre (life's too short to be cutting out tiny circles).

Making a pompom

3) Measure out three arm lengths of dk weight yarn, tie the ends in a knot, double the yarn and then thread the doubled yarn through the eye of a large yarn needle and pull through so the ends are even (i.e. you will be pulling 8 strands of yarn at once through the hole).

Making a pompom

4) Sandwich the two card circles together and wrap the yarn around them until the hole in the centre is absolutely filled (this is the real secret to a properly plump pompom).

Making a pompom

Making a pompom

5) Cut a 4-5 inch piece of yarn and thread the yarn needle. Pull aside the strands of yarn and insert the needle between the card circles and out the other side (don't go through the centre of the pompom). Repeat until the yarn goes all the way around the pompom then tie the ends in a single knot.

Making a pompom

Making a pompom

Making a pompom

6) Taking care not to snip the ends of the yarn you're using to tie the pompom use a pair of sharp scissors to snip through the strands of yarn wrapped around the card circles.

Making a pompom

7) Pull the single knot tight around the centre of the pompom and then tie another knot to secure it.

Making a pompom

8) Trim any long strands until the surface of the pompom is even and then use the two ends to secure your pompom to your hat.

Making a pompom

More wee hats

wee hats mosaic

I had thought that I was running out of steam on the wee hats but it turned out that all I needed was a fresh injection of stash odds and ends into the project bag and another seven hours on trains this weekend to get me going again. Yes, it turns out that I am that easily amused that simply knitting with different coloured yarn is enough to enthuse me. In addition to the twenty hats featured above I've got another ten knit up and simply needing a pompom - the pompom-less beanie is not a good look on an Innocent smoothie it transpires - plus one more where the pompom completely blended into the wall behind when I took the photo.

Favourites from this batch include:

ladybird hat

The ladybird spot hat


Another sheepie hat - this time with added loopiness (loops made every other stitch rather than every fourth stitch).

wee hat

and all the hats featuring Harris rib stitch (as it's called in my Harmony guide).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Afternoon tea at Hughenden Manor

Hughenden Manor

On Saturday we visited Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire, former home of Benjamin Disraili and now a National Trust property. We'd been to John Lewis to drop off our carpet offcuts for whipping (we're nearly at the end of that particular saga I hope) and decided to make an afternoon of it in High Wycombe.

Afternoon tea at Hughenden Manor

This was the dining room set out for afternoon tea. Our own tea, taken in the stable block, was slightly more modest but the cakes lived up to the National Trust's reputation.

Tea and cake

Today I made my own afternoon tea - Nigella Lawson's Banana Bread - this is an absolute classic from Domestic Goddess but the recipe's also online at This is what you want to bake if you have someone coming to view your house. Sadly the husband is not at all keen on banana bread, but at least that means all the more for me.

Banana bread