February Charity Knit

knitted-chicksJust in time, here’s a photo of my charity knitting project for February. I made two chicks, which will each hide a chocolate egg inside for Easter. They were made for Francis House, a children’s hospice in Manchester.  For the last few years, knitters have produced thousands of chicks to raise funds; in 2016 over £27,000 was raised. If you fancy trying your hand at these, these is a knitting and a crochet pattern available here.

The instructions for the chicks use double knitting wool, but as I didn’t have any in yellow I used two strands of four ply instead. I dyed the wool myself using food colouring, which is great fun and very easy. There’s a great article here about how to do it. That suggests Kool Aid, but any type of food colouring will work, as long as your wool is made from, or is blended with, animal fibre; so silk, cashmere, angora will all work, but not cotton or linen.  A tiny piece of felt for a beak and a couple of black eyes, and they’re ready. The 13th of March is the last date to send chicks in, but they don’t take long to knit if you wanted to try one for yourself.

Tiger cake

tiger-cakeI was given a book on Cool Layer Cakes last year (find it on Amazon here and the Tiger Cake was the one which really captured my imagination, not least because the stripes in it go up and down. I couldn’t see how this could be achieved in cake but it turns out not to be so difficult after all.

All you have to do is mix up some different colours of cake mix and drop it, spoonful by spoonful, into the centre of a cake tin. As each new layer presses down on what’s underneath, the batter is slowly pushed to the sides to rise up in stripes. A soft batter is the key; mine wasn’t quite as soft as I had hoped and it took a bit of effort to ease it off the spoon. I used cocoa powder to flavour the brown batter and orange zest and juice for the orange one, leaving a small amount plain.

I used this youtube video  as inspiration for the icing but instead of black buttercream I used cut pieces of black fondant icing. These were layered over a buttercream base in shades of cream and orange. The real test, of course, was cutting into it, and I was so pleased when I  realised it had actually worked! Baking isn’t really my thing but I may be making this one again…

New Year’s Resolutions

innocent-hatsToday, apparently, is ‘Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions’ day – which is a little sad, since it’s only January 17th. I may be about to buck the trend, though, as I spent the weekend working on what I hope may become my 2017 resolution; to knit something for charity every month. I made a couple of projects for charity last summer, and I want to see if I can manage one each month this year.

The weekend was spent knitting tiny hats for Innocent smoothie bottles.  When people buy the cosy little bottles, 25p is donated to Help the Aged. There are lots of patterns and tips at http://www.thebigknit.co.uk, if you want to try making your own. Mine are the stripy ones on the lower row; the others were knitted by my friend Jane, who came for the weekend and insisted on borrowing a pair of knitting needles. The bobbles are made by winding wool around the tines of a fork, then tying the little bundle in the middle and cutting the loops.

Let me know if you see one of these on your supermarket shelf!

Loch Ness Knit Fest

knitted-nessieI was at the Loch Ness Knit Fest at the weekend; a chance to inspire myself anew regarding one of my favourite hobbies. Some of the work was amazing; the knitted garments designed by Christel Seyfarth, for example, were awe-inspiring, but I don’t think I could keep up my concentration long enough to work one of them now.  Scattered around the venue, Eden Court Theatre, was a wide variety of knitted Nessie, including this splendid example in the entrance hall. There was an even bigger one in the vestibule, but I couldn’t get far enough away to photograph it in its entirety.

One of the displays I really enjoyed seeing was on the Moray Firth Gansey Project. Ganseys, sometimes better known as Guernseys, are knitted sweaters made for fishermen. There are all sorts of stories about what the different patterns mean; zig zags are called ‘marriage lines’ and a double cable makes ‘horseshoes’. They’re rather like Aran sweaters, but traditionally knitted in dark blue wool rather than the natural Aran colour. The Project website has lots of examples and some patterns to knit yourself, so do take a look: I rather fancy trying the knitted teddy with his own gansey.

inverness-castleI could only manage to go on the Sunday, when the show closed at 2pm, so I spent the afternoon wandering around Inverness. I haven’t visited it since I was a child and I’d forgotten what an attractive town it is – although since the year 2000 it’s been a ‘city’. The river Ness runs right through the town, and there are lovely walks along its banks. The weather was perfect – clear skies with a little autumnal nip in the air. My second photo shows Inverness Castle on its little hill. It’s quite modern (1836, which is modern for historians!). It houses the local Sheriff Court and isn’t open to the public, although its grounds are. Should you ever find yourself holding a Royal Bank of Scotland note for 50 pounds sterling, turn it over and you’ll see Inverness Castle.

I really enjoyed my little trip and it reminded me I should get out more instead of spending my time inside gazing at a computer. I must get a few walks in, scuffing through the leaves, before winter arrives.

Order from Chaos

Woolly drawersI had a real treat last weekend. It might not sound like much, but I spent most of the day sorting out my knitting wool. It had been piling up all over the place for years, much of it in boxes that I never got to the bottom of, so I had no real idea of what I had. The sight of some well-priced plastic drawers in The Range decided me, and I was off.

Really, I should have taken a ‘before’ picture, but I didn’t want your opinion of me to be too low. Here instead is an ‘after’ shot of neatly labelled drawers containing (mostly) everything knitting-related. I had bought just two sets of drawers but reluctantly concluded, with balls of DK swelling around my feet, that I was going to have to buy another one. Fortunately they all fitted in one corner of the room, and it makes my heart soar to see them standing there so neatly.

Novelty YarnsThere may be added refinements coming along: the large labels are very easy to read but rather block the view of what’s actually inside, so I may have to make them smaller. And if I printed them, they’d be neater than my handwriting. And really, I should sort the DK into wool or synthetic fibres. And…

But just look! Here is a view of the drawer of ‘novelty yarn’ (bottom) and ‘Mohair (on top). Isn’t it inspiring to see all the different yarns, and think what could be made with them? The bright pink one on the right has sequins! The autumnal one on the left is all fluffy! I have so many ideas buzzing round my head now – I wonder how many I’ll get done before the end of the year?

Paris

Eiffel TowerWell, I didn’t win the Beau Monde’s contest – but I have been abroad for the first time in ten years, which is also something to celebrate. My fourth visit to Paris, but at seven days away it was the longest time I’ve ever spent there, and enabled me to revisit some of my favourite sites as well as see others I’d never managed to reach before.

It may sound incredible, but the Eiffel Tower was one of these latter. I had never taken the time to visit it before, as my interest lies in earlier buildings. Now, though, I was determined to reach the top – which actually needed a second visit, as the top was closed the first time so I could only go as far as the second stage. Using the elevator, naturally. I hadn’t realised just what a massive construction it is. It’s tall, of course – over a thousand feet – but there are lots of tall buildings now. What really impressed me was the massiveness of its construction, with hundreds and hundreds of girders in a complicated latticework, like a giant’s version of Meccano. And it has toilets at the top! – though I have no idea where the flush goes…

Around the lowest stage were the names of 72 French inventors and scientists. I’d only heard of one – Ampere – but it struck me as I was going around Paris how many streets and subways stations are named after people the French want to celebrate and remember, which I thought was admirable. There are other ways the French celebrate their history, too; admission to all the national monuments in Paris is free for children, so that families can show their children their heritage.

Saint DenisThe Eiffel Tower, of course, is the internationally recognised symbol of Paris and France – even the logo of the airports is a little Eiffel Tower with wings – but centuries ago it was the fleur-de-lis which represented France and the French monarchy. Many pre-Revolutionary kings and queens are buried at St Denis, my favourite place in Paris. I’d visited it nearly thirty years ago, and just fell in love. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, even in July it was almost empty, which really let me appreciate its scale. I love the intersecting voids which you see when you look between pillars to more pillars and the spaces between them. There is some stunning stained glass in the little ring of chapels on the east.

The shape of a Christian Church is meant to represent Christ on his cross, and early churches often had the choir at a slight angle off the straight to indicate this. I’d completely forgotten until I realised that the first bay in the choir was squint! My guide to Paris recommended Notre Dame and the Museum of the Middle Ages to visitors interested in the medieval period, which may explain why St Denis was so empty – but if you do go to Paris, don’t miss it. It even has its own station on the Metro network, Basilica de Saint Denis, so it couldn’t be easier to get to, and it’s just stunning.

“Commit to Knit”

knitted hat and flowerThis is an initiative of the UK Hand Knitting association, and a very good idea it is. During the month of June, knitters are asked to create something for charity and send it off to be used or to raise funds. Commit to Knit has a website and links to several charities which welcome hand made gifts.

I decided to knit something for the Mission to Seafarers and went with a fairly simple hat pattern in cheerful stripes. As it’s rib, it should stretch to fit whoever ends up with it, and as it’s quite long the wearer can turn up a brim to keep the ears cosy.Mermaid

Also in the photo above is a knitted flower (supposed to be a Chrysanthemum!) which is not to be worn with the hat. It’s being sent to the Drunken Knitwits in Oxford, who are hoping to string knitted flowers and insects along the length of the railing around the Radcliffe Camera on the first of August to raise money for a mental health charity. Another excellent cause, and my little contribution is already on its way.

And then after that I was attracted by a cute knitted mermaid in my latest magazine and made her up last weekend. I added some star beads to the tail for some sparkle (hence also the purple hair). I’ve just realised I should have embroidered a face, instead of sewing felt pieces on, as they’ll probably bleed if she’s washed. Dash! Oh, well, if she’s a mermaid she’ll be used to getting wet…