Friday, February 18, 2011

sketching the cat

I have recently fallen in love with sketching Pipsqueak - he is such a great model when he's sleepy, which is quite often :) I plan to work him into some paintings soon, and definitely more sketching...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

no knead bread

Behold, the greatest revolution in bread since the beginning of time. Well perhaps I'm over-stating it, but I can't emphasize enough how much in love I am with this recipe, this process, and the incredible result.

I give you (or rather, I show you while I eat) no knead bread. Thanks to Jim Lahey and the New York Times, this wonderfully simple process produces a satiating, crusty artisan bread with a chewy, substantial crumb. I'd like to see you try to squash this bread.

This was my first successful loaf. I had one dud before this because I totally botched the timing, and because I thought I would be lazy and use active dry yeast (oh the irony - once I got off my tail and bought the instant, I never have to proof again). To bake this bread successfully at home using a 1982 oven (or other less-than-professional variety), one needs a cast iron or ceramic dutch oven that can take up to 500 degrees. One also should invest in instant yeast. I love instant yeast. I ordered mine from amazon and keep it in one of those rubber sealed jars in the freezer.

If you want to see Jim Lahey in action, check out the video of him on Martha Stewart's show here. If you compare recipes, you might notice the variable amounts of water, timing, etc. The water is only slightly different, so no biggie there, and the timing of cooking really just depends on the oven it seems. I do 20 minutes covered and up to 20 minutes uncovered (checking at 15 minutes) which turns out a perfectly cooked loaf. I tried the 30 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered and it resulted in some burning. I think this process is subject to a little experimentation, and is somewhat forgiving.

What is not quite as forgiving is the resting and rising. Once you get this timing down, the rest is a cake walk. I am still positively giddy that I can do this at home so cheaply - and with practically no clean up. The bread doesn't stick to the pot, and all you do is wipe out the excess wheat bran and call it a day.
To make a whole wheat version, you use 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I recommend King Arthur if you can't get a good organic brand), 1/2 tsp instant yeast, and the same amount of water. Keep all the rest the same and the result is even better than the white bread. This recipe is located in an old issue of MS Living and for some reason is not on her website. Go figure.
On and off, I bake this about once every two weeks. Ellybeth's post got me all inspired so I baked the whole wheat yesterday (yum) and I've got the white bread in the oven right now. Oh my lord the smell is wonderful. *update* I just pulled the bread out of the oven and remembered to tell you about my favorite part (other than the eating of course) - the crackling of the crust just after it comes out. For me it is a magical as rice krispies were at age 4.
So try it! Let me know how it turns out :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

pi shawl - my first lace knitting project!

Amazingly, I decided to do this at Thanksgiving and had it done a week before Christmas. Yes! This is Elizabeth Zimmermann's Pi Shawl from the Knitter's Almanac. I have wanted to try this for years now, and I was prompted to finally do it when I found a cone of 100% virgin wool at a local thrift store - for fifty cents!!!

With lace I don't know how much the needle size matters. I did not use her recommendation (which is always loose anyway), I just used what I had on hand - number 5 (?) circular needles. The following picture was taken just after a great deal of cursing and perhaps a couple of tears.
I dropped a stitch and kept going without knowing it (curse you lace!!) only to discover the error when the diamonds were not lining up. Yes. I had to examine every stitch in a 200+ stitch area to discover this issue. I really really thought about trying to cover it up. But taking the high and painful road I decided the frogging was the best course. And Pipsqueak was there to comfort me. And to try and play with my fragile frogged lace.
This is when I finally started on the lace edging - that was exciting! Incidentally the rest of the project was error free. Wowzers.
And juuuuust as soon as it was off the needles...
Boy does he love wool. My next big project has got to be a Pipsqueak blanket. Here is the unblocked shawl sans Pipsqueak:
I really liked it all ruffly and unblocked. I was almost tempted to leave it like that :( I am glad I blocked it though since it was a super special gift for my mum-in-law. And holy schmanoly did I have to use a bunch of pins. I literally had to use every pin I owned - even had to take some out of projects I was working on.
See how preeeetty? I was so pleased with how this came out. The wool was a bit rough and scratchy, plus I'm sure it had a germ or two from the thrift store (the store WAS called the litter box). I googled how to soften wool and found a neat tip - right after washing it with woolite, soak it in hair conditioner dissolved in water! I would not have thought this up on my own, but it actually does make sense - and it works! I used a lot of conditioner though - I could definitely tell a difference, but it doesn't turn it into merino wool or anything.
I would totally do this project again...with a tad bit more caution knowing how invisible dropped stitches are in lace. And here is the happy recipient modeling it at Christmas!

We were at the Bilmore House and it was freezing. This certainly came in handy, and someone even commented how nice it was! Next I need to show you the other last minute knitted gift I made for Craig - I whipped up a hat that I had wanted to knit for a long time...turns out it was just the right gift because he had forgotten his normal hat and was panicking. It really was freezing! That is a beautiful house though - if you have a chance to see it I do recommend it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

reverse applique purse

Ok - knuckle pop - I have been wanting to show this for a long time now! I made this back in, um, August I think? Sometime a while ago anyway. As I have said before, I love Alabama Chanin. This project came about after seeing the Alabama Chanin tote bag over at the purl bee. I had been scheming a way to make my own while at the same time scheming a new purse. The two ideas collided in a burst of inspiration and so this purse was born. I love it. I use it every day.

This is made from freebie T-shirts from Craig's law conferences and scraps leftover from other projects. I posted some progress shots to show the start of the technique. Basically I decided how big I wanted the bag to be, then drafted out the dimensions on graph paper. It's really a bunch of rectangles, so it's quite simple.

I used gray fabric paint over my homemade stencil with Alabama Chanin's flower design. Then I put the same size rectangle of white fabric underneath and embroidered around the edges of each design motif. Once all the embroidery was in place, I cut the shapes out of the flowers (the reverse applique). Then I followed the instructions from the purl bee to put the bag together using scraps from my dress as the piping. Oh how I love the piping. It really makes the whole thing pop.

I fiddled with the strap some before finally making it gradually narrow at the shoulder and widen near the zipper. I used a herringbone stitch to finish the strap so it would have plenty of stretch.

I harvested a zipper from an old make-up bag, which fortunately had two zipper pulls so I can open it from either side :)

My favorite part of this project was hand sewing everything. You really gain a great deal of control when you sew by hand - no machine running away with you tears flowing and ripping out seams. All was peaceful and quiet with this project. With this technique, you also get the wonderful raw edges of the knit fabric.

As you can see, I used the instructions from the purl bee to make some pockets - I made a really big one and sewed a couple of seams to split it into three pockets.

This was a very satisfying process from start to finish. It has already gone through the wash, and only got better for the wear. The edges are fluffier and the whole thing got a more settled look. I was a bit concerned about using white for a purse. I am not the world's most careful person, especially with purses, but I decided to risk it. So far I have only gotten one big spot on it which came out in the wash. Otherwise it is doing brilliantly :)

Here are a couple of progress shots when I was putting together the zipper:
That is back before the strap was sewn together. For that I just gauged the distance I wanted it from my shoulder, factoring in the stretch. I am so pleased with how it came out. The neutral colors go with everything, and it is pleasant to reach into a soft bag instead of stiff leather. Perhaps one day I can try something like this with some soft leather? I wonder if the same technique would work....hey why not?!?

By the way, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

wish list

I am so in love with these light houses from my house party. Aren't they magical? I also want everything else in that shop...

While browsing Uncommon Goods, I stumbled across this Aebelskiver kit - oh my lord. I must get this thing. Anyone else not know what aebelskivers were? Am I the only one?

And how freakin cool is this bottle and jar cutter kit?!? Arghh. No bottle or jar would be safe. I could even cut off the damaged part of my mixing bowl that chipped. This would make me feel invencible - seriously how many people can cut glass?!

Sigh. I will dream on :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shoe Makeover

I recently decided my "pilgrim" shoes could use some sparkle, especially after I saw some beaded flats at Anthropologie. I had so much fun making these - it was a freehand beading project on felt, repeat, then hot glued onto the shoes. Pretty quick, and very satisfying. This sort of project really relaxes me - and gives me twinkle toes! I know they're over-the-top, but I love them so.

Monday, December 6, 2010

goats milk soap & organic cotton cloths

I have no idea why I've taken such a long break from my blog - I have had fun though! The best Thanksgiving ever (despite losing my granddad), tons of crafting, sewing and knitting, tons of cooking, and Christmas tree decorating and hanging out with Craig and Pipsqueak :) I am way behind in sharing my creations, so here goes!

My eldest sister got married this year (happy dances!), so for their wedding present I decided to knit up some organic cotton washcloths and pair them with homemade goats milk soap.

The cloths were very relaxing to knit - easy and elegant. Blocking is the real trick to get them to look neat and tidy.

I wrapped the soap in tissue paper and topped them with some stickers I had been saving since I was a teenager (yes I save stickers).

I also wanted to give her a little something sexy and special for her bridal shower, so I whipped up a lacy thong from some wonderfully soft and washable green merino wool from Knit Picks. I definitely want to try knitting that pattern with silk to see what a difference it makes.

I tucked the knitted goodies, and a few other good smelling goodies, into a patchwork drawstring lingerie bag. Note about this - use thin fabric! While the patchwork looks nice, the fabric is a bit too thick to gather nicely for this size bag. Next time I'll use some very thin cotton or silk.
More to come soon! This past weekend was so very fun - I made monster cookies (several dozen!), baked bread (awsome recipe here - more on this soon), cooked up some bolognese sauce (13 cups worth - my freezer is stocked with cookies and sauce!), and worked on a very special knitting project for my mum-in-law. Altogether relaxing and wonderful. This holiday season is shaping up nicely!