Friday 10 October 2014

Get Your Knit On!

This week is National Knitting Week (6-12 October), a celebration of snuggly jumpers, woolly hats, and that thing with one too many arms (or legs) that your Grandma once made you.  The official soundtrack is the rhythmic click-clack of knitting needles.

By way of celebration I've dived into the odds and ends of yarn at the bottom of my knitting basket and started knitting little hats for the Innocent Big Knit.  It's really nice to work on a small project that gives almost immediate gratification for once--I'm still beavering away at my quilt bur the quilting design I went for feels absolutely endless.

If you haven't heard of the Innocent Big Knit, then here's a handy video for you:

I love seeing all the little be-hatted bottles on the shelves and it's much more fun than if Innocent were just to donate to AgeUK.  Plus, there are apparently collectors out there, who pay insane prices for the hats on eBay!!

I've been working my way through lots of the fantastic patterns on Jo's Big Knit and stretching my design muscles a little.  The three 'cake hats' in front are my own designs--I might have been craving cake when I came up with the carrot cake!  Thinking of things to turn into hats has been such a lot of fun.  I might try doing a jar of jam next and embroidering the label.  First though, I need to make a cup of tea to go with the cakes!

As I'm particularly pleased with my Viccy Sponge hat, I thought I'd leave my pattern for it, in case anyone else fancies making one (or improving upon it).  French knots aren't my thing, so I'm certain that yours will be better than mine!!

Victoria Sponge knitted hat

Victoria Sponge

light brown DK yarn (a sponge brown)
red DK yarn (suitably jam coloured)
cream DK yarn
4mm knitting needles
3.50mm crochet hook
wool needle

With the brown yarn cast on 28 stitches.
Purl one row.
Knit one row.
Starting with a knit row, stocking stitch (ss) 4 rows.
Join in the red yarn and knit one row.  Cut off the red yarn leaving a tail to work in at the end to secure the stitches.
Join in the cream yarn and purl one row.  Cut off the cream yarn leaving a tail.
Resume working with the brown yarn and ss 4 more rows.

Shaping top of cake: 
Purl one row
Knit one row (this creates a handy ridge for you to sew the icing to)
Starting with a knit row ss 2 rows
(K2, K2tog) repeat to end
Purl one row
(K1, K2tog) repeat to end
Purl one row
(K2tog) repeat to end.
Cut the yarn leaving a long tail enough to sew up the hat.  Thread a yarn needle and run the tail through the remaining stitches, pull up tightly and secure.  Sew hat up from the wrong side by oversewing row ends.  Work in the loose ends from creating the filling.  Turn right side out.

Crochet the icing (US crochet terms)
The icing is worked in continuous rounds until the very end, as shown in the pattern.  I use a paperclip as a stitch marker (I keep losing the proper ones!)

NB. If you wanted daintier icing, you could use 4ply yarn with a smaller hook. Thanks for the suggestion, Julia!

With cream yarn make a magic loop:

Round 1: 6 sc into loop. (6 sc)
Round 2: 2 sc in each st around. (12 sc)
Round 3: (2 sc in next st, sc in next st) 6 times. (18 sc)
Round 4: (2 sc in next st, sc in each of next 2 sts) 6 times. (24 sc)
Round 5: (2 sc in next st, sc in each of next 3 sts) 6 times. (30 sc)
Round 6: 3 sc in each st around, sl st in next st to join, fasten off, weave in the short end from the magic loop and leave the long end to sew onto the cake.

With red yarn sew a ring of French knots around the top of the icing, as shown in the picture.  Fasten securely.

Sew the decorated icing piece to the top of the cake.  I found it easiest to put the cake onto an empty smoothie bottle, pin the icing on, and then sew from just behind the frill of the icing down into the ridged row at the beginning of the shaping.


Saturday 4 October 2014

Book Benches around London

This is another one of those woefully overdue posts.  We went up to London at the end of August for the weekend as an end-of-summer treat for Lucas.  One of the big draws for me was the Books About Town book bench art trail around the city and we decided to combine tracking down benches with seeing some of the sights I've somehow managed to miss on my previous eleventy-million (slight exaggeration) visits to London.

I love these art trails which are all the rage these days.  Gromit Unleashed was the highlight of our summer last year and as I love books even more than Gromit, I was all set to absolutely adore this one.

The trail is now over, however, the benches are all congregating for one last hurrah prior to the auction on the 7th of October.  For this weekend (4-5 October, 2014) you can visit all of the benches at Gordon Square Garden WC1.

St Paul's Cathedral
We found our first three book benches in the shadow of St Paul's.  I had really wanted to walk around the cathedral and visit the Whispering Gallery but oh my god, the price.  I'm still struggling with the concept of paying to go into a church, even more with the idea of spending almost £100 for a family of three.  Still, there was plenty of gorgeous architecture for me to admire from the outside and once I'd had my fill, we went book bench hunting.

Mary Poppins
Our first bench was Mary Poppins.  I almost wish we'd seen another one first, as this was such a disappointment to me.  She looks wrong and nice.  I appreciate that it's highly stylised--check out the cherry trees--but it just felt wrong for the book.  Lucas wasn't very impressed, either.

Still, things picked up dramatically with Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch just a few steps along the square.

Fever Pitch
And I cooed over the Peter Pan bench for ages before I got dragged off to see the rest of The City.

Peter Pan bench
Isn't it perfect?  So whimsical and the watercolours are perfect for the book.  I love the gilt-edged pages and Peter's shadow is sword-fighting on the back!

The back of the Peter Pan bench
There turned out to be quite a few book benches near St Paul's.  I bought the unofficial app as we strolled along to make sure we didn't miss any along the way.

Usborne's That's not my...Bench
Lucas grew up with the Usborne "That's not my..." books so we all went a bit gaga over this bench.  His crazy-obsessive meerkat phase may be be over, but he still does a great meerkat impression.  Simples!

We crossed the Millennium Bridge--did you know it was in the Guardians of the Galaxy film?--and headed towards The Globe.  Another place I've never been to before!

Shakespeare's London
From The Globe, we walked down the Thames Path, enjoying the sunshine and the hunt.

Great Expectations
Lucas was pretty damn excited to find the Paddington Bear bench.  Unsurprisingly it was really, really popular.  There was actually a queue to take photographs!

Please look after this bear
Another super-popular bench was Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's From Scarecrows to The Gruffalo.  It even had my favourite--Room on the Broom!

From Scarecrows to The Gruffalo
It was such a lovely walk.  I've never seen the Square Mile from the Southbank so I was happily fascinated all the way.  I didn't realise until the next day just how far we'd walked in our quest for the book benches!!

Such a great view!
After a pit-stop in Leon for lunch we started our quest again.  Just outside the restaurant was the War Horse bench.  I've never read the book or seen the play, but the bench was certainly very poignant.  Stark, simple and beautiful.

War Horse
Here's my favourite bench of them all.  The Librarian of Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork.  He seems to have the same approach to filing books as me.  Stack 'em high!

The Librarian 
There was a bit of a cluster of benches around City Hall...

Through the Looking Glass
Dr Seuss

How To Train Your Dragon
None of us had any idea that the How To Train Your Dragon movies came from a book!  I was really surprised when I googled and found that there were loads and loads of them!

Clarice Bean
I'm not familiar at all with Clarice Bean--I thought she was Lola from Charlie and Lola--but I agree with the sentiment.

On Sunday we intended to track down loads more lovely book benches, but just after we'd found our first two in Russell Square it started to rain.  Honestly, it was like the beginning of monsoon season.  So there we were, the three of us sheltering under a not-very-big tree with one very small umbrella, no coats, and the rain absolutely soaking my back.  We gave up on the benches right then and squelched off to Costa.  There's a slight possibility that we might be fair-weather adventurers!

So here are our last two.

Lucas and Dave loved this bench so much.  It's so wonderfully old-school Bond and super-cool.

Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly
Our last bench was Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly.  This was an early short story which got expanded by Agatha into Dead Man's Folly and the Miss Marple short story Grenshaw's Folly.  I'd love to read the original work at some point for fun!

I really wish that I could go up to London and see the benches all laid out together.  Hopefully a blogger or two will visit and take some beautiful pictures!

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Catch of the day!

Meet Bob, the bass.

I made Bob--I have no idea why I named a fish--for my father-in-law's combined birthday and retirement in July.  After years of hard graft he's looking forward to spending his days fishing, so I thought I'd start him off with an easy catch!

This is a bit of a make-ahead cake.  The bulrushes need to be made a few days ahead so that they can dry out and (fingers crossed) stick to the skewers.  You can also make the fish head in advance, too.

I'm afraid that I didn't take many pictures of the cake process--sticky hands and cameras aren't a good combination--but for the rushes I mixed 50:50 flower paste and fondant and coloured about half dark brown and the rest holly green.  Getting the fondant to stick to the skewers for the bulrushes was a bit of a mission: I tried dampening the skewers by soaking them, brushing with sugar glue, and (of all things) some jam.  I wedged the skewers into a polystyrene box insert that was lying around so that they could dry without resting on a flat surface and then draped the leaves over the rest of the skewers to give them the right shape.  Once dried out the bulrush heads stayed in place (thank God) and the extra leaves I made were easy to stick straight into the cake for a nice pond scene.

The fish head was moulded from rice krispy treats, covered in fondant, and then I spent an hour smoothing the surface and adding details.  Despite having a box of fancy tools in the cupboard, sometimes you can't beat a cocktail stick and your fingers for fiddly work!  This tutorial was very helpful, too.  I painted it the next day with food colourings mixed with lustre dusts and vodka.  A dab of piping gel made the eye nice and glossy for that freshly caught look.  (This was my first time using piping gel and it is weird but very wonderful stuff--it made fantastic ripples on top of the cake as well as a shiny glaze for the pebbles. Totes amaze!)

For the cake itself I turned to my new favourite recipe: Lindy Smith's Madeira cake.  It makes a fabulously deep cake with a lovely flat top, so there's hardly any waste.  It's really tasty, too, which is the main thing!  It's easily split into three layers and looks really impressive when cut.

Bob went down a storm with my father-in-law.  He couldn't bear to cut into Bob so, like a real fish, he's been stashed away in the freezer.  We did eat the rest of the cake, though!!

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