Making Chocolate

As if I needed yet another hobby, we decided to try our hands at making chocolate. From scratch.

After complaining that I eat too much chocolate and he’s worried about all the sugar in it, Ric announced that he was going to try and make me some “healthier chocolate”. He thought mixing cocoa powder with cocoa butter and using an alternative sugar like fruit syrup might work. He tried it. It didn’t. It was really horrible. So he went searching for a proper way to make chocolate. Read more

More Runes

The runes I made a while ago were getting a bit crumbly and weird looking. I made them from a stick I found on a walk, and the wood wasn’t really very good. It’s a shame, because I really liked the runes, but they needed replacing.

I decided to make myself a new set, but rather than pick another odd stick that might not last, I picked up some Wooden discs from Hobbycraft. They’re very round and smooth and seem unlikely to crumble. There are twenty-two in a pack so I had to get two packs. I also bought a small Wooden box from The Works, which turned out to be the perfect size to stack in 24 of the disks.

I fired up the pyrography tool and set to work. I burnt the runes onto the discs and around the bottom of the box, and I burnt the word “runes” onto the lid in a rune-ish style. Here are the results, I’m rather pleased 🙂

 

Armoured Gloves

I started a new knitting project a few days ago, and I’ve been knitting to destress after my driving lessons, so I’ve whizzed through the project and finished it already. It was a really fun thing to knit, using basic garter stitch and looping metal scales into every second row to create a scale maille effect.

I was looking for a pattern on ravelry a few weeks ago and thought it would be good to try a new technique, and this jumped right out at me.

I ordered four packs of small anodised aluminium scales from The Ring Lord in black, bronze, gold and champagne. The gold and champagne scales look quite similar to each other in some light conditions and quite different in others. I’d have preferred a more distinct colour difference between them, but other than that, I like how the colours go together.

I decided against doing a particular pattern and go for a random mix of colours. I wanted to avoid putting the same colours next to each other, to make sure there was a relatively even distribution and no big clumps of any one colour, so I divided the scales into two sets, one for each glove, with an equal number of each colour. Then I stacked up the scales for the first glove so I could see how many of each colour were left and try to use them evenly.

I chose a dark grey wool, Rowan’s Creative Focus Worsted, which I’ve had in my stash for a while. It’s a really nice yarn to work with, a single ply that’s very soft but not too fluffy. I keep seeing it on sale at Hobbycraft and picking up one or two balls of a colour I like, and the grey went best with the scale colours. Bright pink wouldn’t have worked very well!

Knitting the scales in was really easy, and the position of scales on the row below made it clear where to start adding scales. It was a very low effort project, which I liked after the complex cable patterns on the dress I made before.

The gloves are knit flat, back and forth, then seamed into a tube with a space for the thumb. I don’t like seaming, but since it’s just a small project it wasn’t such a big deal, and I think it would have been a bit awkward to knit in the round anyway.

I managed to cast off a bit too tightly on one glove, but it’s not too tight to wear, so it’s not a big deal. I really like the way the scales came out. You can’t feel them at all from the inside, the gloves are super comfortable and soft. They’re also only on the back of the glove, and the scale section is just the right width so they don’t get in the way of using your hands, but they don’t look like just a narrow strip.

View this project on Ravelry.

Cowl Neck Sweater

In December 2009 we moved from Toronto back to the UK. My brother and sister stayed over there, and it sucks that we live so far apart now. My sister visited the following summer, and when she left I bought some yarn to cheer myself up.

I bought 10 balls of Artesano Inca Cloud, a sport weight alpaca yarn that is lovely and soft. It came with a free pattern, and I selected the Nico sweater by Jean Moss. I had only knit one sweater before, a chunky acrylic man’s cardigan, so this would be the biggest project I’d started for myself, and the second sweater.

I started knitting the sweater right away, but I didn’t get very far, and I kept putting it aside and doing other things that seemed more important at the time. When I realised that it had been on the needles for three years, I decided it was past time I finished it, and picked it up again determined to get it done. It worked, and today I’m wearing the finished sweater 🙂

My tension was a bit wonky while knitting, so I was a bit worried about the way it would fit, but it turned out alright. It’s a little wider than I had hoped, but it’s not a big deal. Somehow I managed to knit all the purl stitches backwards. I’m not sure when I started doing this, but it has affected the texture of the sweater. The ribbed parts aren’t as stretchy as they should be, and the stocking stitch isn’t as smooth as it should be. It’s a little weird, and may have contributed to the odd tension, but it’s not really a problem.

 

Overall, I’m pleased with the garment, and I’m really glad that it’s finally finished so I can start on my next project. Hopefully that won’t take me quite as long!

See the sweater on Ravelry

Sock Knitting

I’m not sure where I heard the idea that real knitters knit socks, but I’d been knitting for probably over a decade and had never tried to make a pair of socks before. I was curious, were they really so difficult? It was time to find out.

My friend bought me some lovely alpaca sock yarn for my birthday back in 2012 and I started knitting. I chose a toe up pattern as that meant no seaming on the toes, and a short row heel as I thought they looked the nicest. I went with Elfine’s Socks, a free pattern with a pretty lace design, with both a chart and written pattern. I prefer to knit from a written pattern, but many lace patterns only provide charts which I find frustrating.

I hadn’t done a figure 8 cast on or short rows before, but I had knit in the round and knit lace patterns many times, so the socks should have some challenges and some easy sections.

The cast on was particularly fiddly, and it took me a couple of attempts to get started without dropping stitches off any of the needles. Although the pattern called for a circular needle, I didn’t have one small enough, so I opted to knit these on double point needles instead. This added a challenge as well, the lace pattern didn’t allow for a suitable stitch distribution across the four needles, so I had to shift stitches around on several rows to allow for the increases and decreases.

One of the benefits of the toe up structure is that you can try the sock on as you go and get a great fit. I tried the first sock on every few rows to see how it was looking, and decide where to start the heel. The heel was easier than I expected it to be, short rows sound pretty difficult, but after a couple of youtube videos I was flying through them.

The foot section and leg section of socks require nothing more than regular knitting in the round, so other than the stitch distribution, these sections were easy. I did get pretty bored during the leg section on the first sock and considered making it short just to get it finished, but I persevered, took several long breaks from knitting, and eventually got it to a decent length. I found the needles made my fingers sore when I was knitting the first sock, but I must have held them slightly differently when knitting the second as it stopped bothering me.

I finally finished the second sock a few weeks short of three years after I started the project. I actually completed the second sock in a matter of weeks, so most of the time was due to avoiding finishing the first sock. I enjoyed knitting the second sock a lot more as well. Knitting with yarn as fine as sock yarn takes more patience than I was used to, as I mostly knit with worsted or chunky weight yarns before I tried the socks.

I’m glad I took the plunge and knit a pair of socks. I’m not sure that I am any more of a knitter for having completed them, but I (eventually) enjoyed working on a more fiddly project with a finer yarn than I’m used to, and I expect I will be knitting more adventurous projects like this again in the future. I do still have a sweater on the needles that I started before the socks though, so that’ll be the next thing I work on!

View on Ravelry

Making Runes

My interest in runes began when my sister lent me The Book of English Magic. One of the topics it covers is the runes. It briefly describes their history, meanings, how to use them and how to make a set. My sister had access to wood and tools through her work, so she made me a set.

I was interested in learning more about runes and how to use them, so I installed an app on my phone that popped up a notification each day describing the meaning and associations of a random rune. After a few weeks I had learnt the names, symbols and meanings of most of the runes, and I was ready to start using them.

My friend gave me a book about runes for my birthday, which explained in more detail the history and meanings of the runes as well as how to use them. I started to do some readings for myself and some friends. I liked working with the runes, but I fancied making a set myself.

My sister in law bought me a pyrography pen for my birthday, and I had some old sticks I had collected on walks in the woods, so I had everything I needed to get started. If you want to make your own runes, make sure your wood is completely dry before you start. My stick had been sitting in my house for about three years so it was definitely dry.

The first step was slicing one of my sticks into discs using a jigsaw. This was harder than I had thought it would be, since we don’t have a suitable work table or a clamp to hold the stick still. My chosen stick was twisty and crooked, it had probably been a root. This made it even more difficult to slice as it wouldn’t lie flat on our kitchen table. Holding the stick at various angles with one hand and the jigsaw in the other, I managed to slice it up without injuring anyone or damaging the table, which is probably a miracle in itself. I was left with a pile of 58 usable slices and a few extra gnarled or damaged pieces.

I sanded the slices lightly, they were mostly pretty smooth but some had sharp or rough edges from the sawing. Then they were ready to burn.

For the first set of runes, I chose tip with a fine point for the pyrography tool, I had previously used this tip for making plant labels and it had worked well for writing. The runes came out reasonably well, but the wood was a bit uneven in that some areas were softer than others across the same slice. This meant that some parts burnt really easily whereas others needed more time and pressure to achieve the same effect. Because of this, some of the rune symbols came out slightly wonky.

For the second set, I chose a wedge shaped tip which allowed me to burn a straight line. Since rune symbols are all made up of straight lines, I hoped this would help reduce the wonkiness, but I was a bit worried about whether the lines would be even due to the softer areas burning faster. I needn’t have worried, the straight lines came out really well, and were much easier and quicker to burn than writing freehand with the pointy tip.

For both sets of runes I used the elder futhark, a 24 rune alphabet, primarily because these are the runes described in my books.

The process of burning the symbols into the discs was relatively simple and I enjoyed it. The main difficulty was holding the discs still without burning my fingers. I solved this issue by holding each disc between two chopsticks lying flat on the desk. This enabled me to keep my fingers well away from the hot tool and also allowed me to turn the disc while I was working on it. The other difficulty was the tool itself got incredibly hot, and by the time I had finished one set, it was too hot to hold any longer. This meant that I had to burn each set on different days.

When I had finished burning the rune symbols, the last step was to protect the wood. I chose walnut oil for this as I wanted to use something natural that would show off the beauty of the wood. I used my fingers to rub the oil into the runes and left them to dry.

The following pictures show the second set of runes made with the wedge shaped tip.

The colour of the wood changed dramatically when I applied the walnut oil, and the pattern of the grain was highlighted. I really like the darker colour and the way it totally changes the character of the runes.

The finished runes are just lovely, I’m really pleased with them. I enjoyed the process of making them, and I love that they are completely hand made from natural materials. I will be keeping this set for myself, and the first set I made is a gift for a friend. I hope she likes them as much as I do.

Harris Tweed Handbag

My handbag finally gave up on me after three years of daily use. The handles had been fraying for months, the lining had torn, the out fabric was wearing thin, but I still carried it with me every day. When the handle broke away from the bag, there was no way I could keep using it. I had to accept that it had come to the end of its life.

The good thing about losing a handbag is getting a new one, and I had been looking forward to owning a handbag that wasn’t falling to pieces. As my old bag died at the end of January, there were still sales in the stores, so we went to have a look. I didn’t like any of the bags I saw at the shopping centre, they were mostly made from plastic and covered in gold fixings, not to my taste at all. I knew I could make something for myself that I would like a lot better, and it would also be much cheaper.

I had an ample supply of organic cotton for lining bags, but the rest of my fabric stash wasn’t sparking my inspiration, so I headed for pinterest and browsed handbags. I fancied a clutch bag, and I saw a few that were quite nice in tweed fabrics. I searched for tweed on google and many of the links were about Harris tweed. I had heard of this before but didn’t know what it was.

Harris tweed is the only fabric protected by its own law, the Harris tweed act of parliament. It is handwoven by self employed weavers in their homes on the isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It must be made in accordance with traditional methods to be approved as Harris tweed. It is 100% wool, and it’s very durable. It sounded perfect for me, I like natural fibres, craftsmanship and supporting small businesses. I found a section on the Harris tweed website linking to small producers, and had a look.

I found Butt of Lewis textiles which sells Harris tweed for just £16 per metre including shipping, which was less than the price of most of the plastic handbags I had seen in the shops. I just needed to pick a colour. I’m not keen on the tartan patterns, but the bright pink and purple tweeds they offer were tempting. I headed back to Pinterest to browse more bags while I considered which colour to order. I noticed that the bags I liked best were not the brightly coloured ones, but grey or brown herringbone tweed. Butt of Lewis had a brown herringbone tweed, so I ordered a metre of it.

When my tweed arrived in the mail a couple of days later, I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected that the tweed would be rough and scratchy, and quite stiff. When I opened the package, I found a soft, flexible, blanket like fabric that was not scratchy or stiff in any way. My plans for a clutch bag went out the window and I decided that a slouchy shoulderbag would be a better fit for the fabric.

By this point, I had thrown away my old handbag and was using a Sainsburys carrier bag to carry my belongings around in, so I didn’t have anything to use as a size reference when cutting my new bag pieces. I don’t sew bags using a pattern any more, I just cut the fabric to the appropriate size and sew it together, but I usually have an idea of how big I want it to be before I start cutting. I couldn’t visualise how big a handbag should be, so I took a deep breath and hoped for the best as I cut through the fabric.

The only things I knew for sure when I was cutting the pieces out was that I wanted a pleated top to give plenty of room inside the bag, and I fancied corners at the bottom rather than my usual round bottomed bags. I wanted the main fabric to continue inside the top of the bag rather than having the lining on show. I needed a small pocket for my phone, and I like bags with two handles rather than one.

I bravely cut out pieces that felt about the right shape and size, and by sheer coincidence everything lined up really well with the herringbone pattern running the right way through each piece. I have less than a quarter of the metre left which I plan to use to make a matching purse. I cut the lining pieces too and began to sew.

I started out with the straps as they were the easiest to sew. I searched for a tutorial for a single welt pocket as I have never sewn one before. I found a few, but this one from Pattern Runway seemed like the neatest method and that is the one I followed. My pocket is quite wide so it gapes a bit more than I’d have liked, but it is the perfect fit for my phone, which I used as a size reference whilst cutting and sewing.

I used the herringbone pattern to line up the pleats for the top of the bag and tacked them in place. This was much easier than measuring them out as I have done in the past with plain fabrics. I stitched the outer pieces of the bag together. The lining needed to match the shape of the pleats, so I ruched the top of each piece. I sewed the lining pieces together, leaving a gap to turn the bag the right way out.

There was just one row of stitching left, attaching the lining to the outer piece of the bag, and the handles needed to be sewn in at the same time. At this point, my mind went a little blank and I began attaching the handles with the bag and lining the wrong way out. Luckily I noticed my mistake before I had done any damage, and unpicked a bit of stitching to start over. I finished attaching the pieces together the correct way out, turned the bag out through the hole and marvelled at how well it had turned out. I hand stitched the lining hole and tried the bag on.

My last handbag was a little on the small side, and only just had room for my everyday essentials. The new bag was much bigger, and even with everything I usually carry it seems almost empty. This will probably lead to me carting around more than I did before. The larger size is offset by shorter handles, so the bag itself sits further up under my arm. The phone pocket is perfect, it’s snug enough that I’m not worried about my phone falling out if I put the bag down at the wrong angle, but it’s easy to get the phone in and out quickly, and much better than it getting lost in the depths of the bag.

The best thing about the bag is the fabric itself. The tweed is so warm and soft, it’s lovely to carry. Although it’s super soft and comfy, it feels very strong and thick, so I’m sure it will be durable. I love the brown and cream colour of the tweed, and I love that it is speckled with green and orange fibres so each stripe is slightly different. I love that it’s hand crafted, both by me and by the weaver. I’m so glad I didn’t find anything I liked in the January sales, because I love my new handbag.

Moss Stitch Tie – Free Pattern

My brother asked me to knit him a tie. He chose the yarn (a cheap acrylic) and described how he hoped it would turn out. I had previously knit him a wool tie in stockinette stitch that curled terribly, and he wanted one that wouldn’t curl. I assured him that moss stitch was the way to go and started knitting. A few inches in, he told me he wanted a “flat bit” at the end. He wanted a few rows of stockinette to make a neater edge. He could have told me that at the beginning.

I stuffed the unfinished tie into my yarn storage box and forgot about it. Then his birthday came around and I thought I would be nice to him. I ripped out the original tie and started again with the “flat bit” he had asked for. Here’s the result, along with a free pattern in case you also have a fussy brother who wants a hand knit tie 🙂

 

The pattern creates a straight tie with square ends, and decreases that will be hidden under the collar when the tie is worn.

Supplies

  • Approximately 50g DK yarn
  • 2.25mm needles

Instructions

Cast on 17 stitches.

Knit 6 rows in stockinette (knit a row, purl a row).

Switch to moss stitch (*k1, p1* repeat to the final stitch, k1) and continue until work measures 80cm or 31″ ending on a wrong side row.

Work across to the centre three stitches in pattern, knit or purl three stitches together, work remaining stitches in pattern. Whether you knit or purl the decrease depends on the previous stitch. If you just knit, purl the decrease. If you just purled, knit the decrease. This preserves the moss stitch pattern.

Continue another 2.5cm or 1″, decrease as before. Repeat until 9 stitches remain.

Continue working in moss stitch until work measures 140cm or 55″.

Work 4 rows stockinette, cast off, weave in ends.

Curled Cowl Knitting Pattern

Flat knitting has a natural tendency to curl up on itself that is usually considered to be annoying. It is often “fixed” by adding a few rows of ribbing or moss stitch. For this pattern, that curl is what we’re looking for.

You will need:

  • One 50g ball chunky yarn eg Freedom Wool from Twilleys
  • 10mm circular needles
  • About an hour, depending on how fast you knit

Step One – Cast On

Cast on 60 stitches using your preferred method. Join in the round. Gauge is not terribly important, but you should get about 10 stitches to 10cm.

Step Two – Knit

Continue knitting in the round using knit stitches only, which creates standard stockinette in the round. You should be able to knit about 15-20 cms before running low on yarn.

Step Three – Cast Off

When you’re almost out of yarn, it’s time to cast off. You need a tail that is long enough to go around your cast off edge approximately three times. Cast off loosely in your usual fashion. Weave in your ends.

Your cowl will naturally roll in on itself from the top and bottom like a scroll. It is now ready to wear. Enjoy!

If you’d rather not knit your own, check out the range of cowls available at Strawberry Moonbeam.

Needle Felted Bead Tutorial

Needle felting involves repeatedly stabbing a piece of wool with a barbed needle until it has felted. It is quite fun and very easy. Beads are a great beginner project as they are small yet simple. Today I’m going to show you how to make some.

You will need:

  • Wool fibre – other fibres may felt, try at your own risk
  • Barbed felting needle
  • Foam block
  • Thread
  • Large eyed sewing needle
  • About 20 minutes per bead
  • Read more