Friday, October 16, 2009

High Time to Learn Fair Isle!

I have procrastinated for far too long on learning to knit fair isle. The main reason being that this style of knitting appeared both complicated and the patterns seem largely outdated. Enter Alice Starmore's Hat Trick a trio of hat designs inspired from flowers in her garden. I fell in love with these hats the minute I saw them and knew that the time had finally arrived to learn to knit fair isle!

The beauty of learning a new technique on a hat is, well, because hats are small! That means sizing and shaping issues are minimal and the time commitment to finish is short. Which boils down to less risk of investing in an expensive project that you never finish because you find yourself bogged down with troubling sizing issues or complicated pattern instructions which invariably lead to a project that languishes for want of love and attention.

Even so, I didn't embark upon this venture lightly, or without advance preparation. I've had the book The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, History, Technique, Color & Patterns by Ann Feitelson for years, which I pulled out and reread in earnest. The best piece of advice I gleaned from this book was that if I did nothing else I needed to master carrying two colors of yarn simultaneously if I was ever going to enjoy knitting fair isle. While it's possible to knit with just one color yarn at a time and then drop and switch colors as needed, this will never allow you to develop a rhythm or uniform tension.

Several methods of carrying the yarn are described in the book, along with the strong advice to try them all before settling on one. I followed that advice and found that carrying both yarn strands in my right hand afforded me the most uniform tension. This also happens to be the most common Shetland method where, after all, they developed this style of knitting and should know a thing or two about how best to go about it.

Something to remember about fair isle knitting is that you only have two colors of yarn in any single row. That means you only carry two strands of yarn at any one time, which, with a little practice isn't all that hard to do. I know it looks complicated but the richness and complexity of the designs is achieved through the genius of mixing both graduating and contrasting colors all the while using just two colors at a time.

I'm running a little long in this post, but when I'm knitting my next hat from this kit (they are all different in both pattern and shape) I'll take pictures showing my hand position to give you an idea of what yarn position worked for me. Unfortunately I did not find any great videos out there to make this any clearer than the pictures I found in Ann Feitelson's book, or I would have linked to them for you.

In summary, I think we can all agree that this is a beautiful design. But it is supposedly inspired by the Hebe flower (picture of a Hebe flower is shown below). Do you see it? I don't know. It's a tough call. I think if you consider how well I captured the plant life in my brooch (immediately prior post) this is a real stretch. But, who am I to say. Alice Starmore is a legend.

Particulars: Hat Trick (Hebe) by Alice Starmore; available as a kit from Virtual Yarns; US 2 double pointed needles; my only modification was not to increase to US 3 needles after knitting the brim sticking with the US 2 needles. I did this because I thought some of the pictures of the hat looked on the large size. As it is, it's a snug fit on my 21" head but I suspect with a few wearings it will relax some.

Mr Puffy Update

I explained to Mr Puffy that now he's doing so well there's been enough lolling about. It was time for him to be productive and useful again. I told him "all your fans have missed seeing you model." When he heard this, he was then only too happy to oblige.

Something to Try this Fall: Homemade Granola

I love homemade granola and this time of year it's particularly nice to have some on hand. My current favorite is Coconut and Macadamia Granola recipe courtesy of Andon-Rein Inn. I generally find that Bed and Breakfast recipes are tried and true and this is no exception.

The only modification (really a substitution) is that I use plain whole wheat flour instead of "pastry" whole wheat flour. I also skip the coconut extract, simply because I don't have any on hand and never seem to remember to buy any. I'm pretty generous with the quantity of unsweetened coconut, which I love. It's hard to find unsweetened coconut flakes but you might find it in the organic food section.

There are a number of ways to enjoy granola. It's nice sprinkled over a dish of fresh fruit. It is also great mixed in with a box cereal (which is what my parents like to do) or you can crush it into small bits and mix it with cream cheese for a fancy bagel spread. Mostly, I just snack on it by the handful.

For a quick and easy alternative recipe, here's Mr Puffy's own recipe for homemade granola:

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
3 cups slow cooking oats
Dried cranberries - roughly 1/2 cup (or to taste)
Chopped fresh pecans or almonds - roughly 2/3 cup (or to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Mix together maple syrup, canola oil and vanilla extract. Pour wet mix over oats and stir until oats are well covered.
3. Spread mixture evenly in a shallow roasting pan. Roast 15 minutes.
4. Remove mixture from oven and add chopped nuts. Continue roasting for another 30 minutes - turning once more after 15 minutes. Watch oats and nuts closely and reduce oven temperature if they are cooking too quickly. They should be a nice golden color - not brown - which means they have over cooked. All ovens are different and some are hotter than others.
5. Total cooking time is roughly 45 minutes. Final step is to add dried cranberries after fully cooked and mixture is removed from oven. Cool completely in pan and store in air-tight container.

Until next time, be well, love well, and try making your own homemade granola ~ I think you'll enjoy it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crafting with Wool Felt

I'm primarily a Knitter, but I also enjoying mixing things up and, lately, I have been experimenting with embroidery and wool felt. I'm pleased with the result and so am passing along to you this cute project idea, which is easy and satisfying no matter how meager or vast is your experience with embroidery.

Pictured above is a small brooch that I embroidered on wool felt. The idea (and "know how") to make this brooch came from Tiny Happy who has a talent for beautiful free style embroidery, mostly inspired from nature. She simply plucks and pillages small bits of foliage from her garden which then becomes the model for her designs.

Following her lead, I set about finding my own inspiration to make a brooch.... which led to Steve wanting to know why I was taking pictures of weeds. I patiently explained that these were not weeds, they were my inspiration!

I'm sure if you look at the picture below, and then compare it to the photo above of my brooch, you will see with what talent I captured these weeds, ahem, flowers. You don't have to say it. I know you can. Because this was my first brooch, I went with a simple design (as recommended by Tiny Happy) and used a combination of running stitch and french knot. I've enjoyed wearing it several times and have since then made several more brooches of different designs and colors that I like equally well!

You'll naturally want one for yourself, but I think they also make cute gifts. With the fast approaching holiday season it's always a good idea to have a few small gifts items on hand for teachers, neighbors or hostesses or for simply whenever the mood strikes you to make someone smile! If sewing isn't your thing, the washcloth shown above takes just minutes to knit and, along with a nice bar of soap, is another quick gift idea.

The handmade bar of soap pictured is from Lizzy Lane Farm . I enjoy this blog which provides a glimpse into country life complete with chickens and a little girl named Daisy. She uses the money from her sales to pay for school books and I wish her every success. I'm sure that I'll buy more as I have thoroughly enjoy using this soap which is scented with roses and has small pieces of oatmeal for exfoliation and is not at all drying to my hands.

Particulars: tutorial on making a felt brooch is found here; brooch dimensions: 2" diameter; I bought the wool felt (and matching embroidery floss) from Prairie Point Junction ( i.e. the wool felt connection); a comprehensive free on-line embroidery stitch dictionary is here; the chenille yarn for the washcloth is from Dancing Leaf Farm; to knit the washcloth I used US 11 needles - cast on 14 stitches - and knit every row until I had a square; you can buy the rose scented oatmeal soap here; the Wool Fat soap I buy from British Import shops.

As you can see, Mr Puffy is feeling great and getting out and enjoying himself. He is eating like a field hand and we like to say to him "Puff, you are A SURVIVOR!"

Steve and I thank you all for your well wishes and concern. Until next time, be well, love well, and happy crafting!