Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cross This One Off the List!

Thanks to everyone who replied about juggling multiple hobbies and multiple knitting projects last week.

On Christmas, as I sat chit chatting with family, I actually managed to finish my cowl scarf. So cross one off the list of potential knitting UFO's.

Double looped with my Lady Grey Coat!

The pattern I used was a free pattern on Ravelry called the "GAP-tastic Cowl". I guess it's a knock off of a GAP scarf. My knitting teacher, Berta, helped me convert the pattern to a smaller needle and less bulky yarn and still get the length and width I wanted. The original scarf was knit flat and then sew together, so there was a seam. The knock off is done in the round. I did mine with a twist on the first round so the whole thing made a mobius. I made it from a nice soft merino yarn. More deets on Ravelry

Single loop up

I also made a decision after last week's lace basics class, which I'm feeling good about. We began a rather complicated lace pattern that consisted of 19 rows, each one different and basically unmemorizable. I learned several new stitches during the class, which was fantastic, but failed to get to the end of the pattern even once. In the class setting, it simply was not quiet enough for me to keep track of where I was in the pattern. I think I sprained my brain trying. So, I decided not to go forward with the lace shawl that we started in the class. It's not really my style and would be a huge amount of work that I would have to do in a quiet room. I like knitting for it's portability and my ability to do it in front of the tv and while commuting. So it doesn't really fit in with my plans right now. All that said, I feel like I now have the know-how to tackle basic lace patterns - I know the stitches and how to read the pattern.

So, one down, two to go as far as potential UFO's go. Next, we'll discuss the alarming list of sewing projects I've got in queue! LOL.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Yay, Santa! I Was on the Nice List!

Apparently, I was nice this year! Santa was very generous and left some fantastic sewy gifts under the tree for me!

I received a copy of The Basics of Corset Building, a book I've been wanting for some time. It's an outstandingly practical guide to the tools, materials and process of building a corset. I like that it is practical rather than inspirational, since I have a greater thirst for skills and knowledge at this point in my sewing. Even when my sewing mojo flags, it isn't because I've run out of ideas or can't find inspiration. In fact, more often I'm paralyzed by indecision over what to sew next because there's just so much I'd like to do and such limited time. What about you?

I also received some fun art for the Craft Lounge and applique scissors. I really need more scissors for different jobs.

And Phin gave me a rolling foot for my sewing machine. He noticed that I've been drooling over admiring the leather tops that other sewists have been making recently. And I've been nattering on about making a leather jacket for myself. (Apparently, he does listen when I talk about sewing! Score one for crafty gals everywhere!) So, that is definitely on the to do list this winter!

I hope the Santas in your life were as generous with you as mine were with me!  Three cheers for Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pop's Holiday Bread

One of the foods I love most at Christmas is my dad's cheese bread. In fact, I love it so much that a year or two ago I asked him for my own personal loaf for Christmas. He did me one better by giving me his recipe.

Since I'm not going to see my parents on Christmas Day this year, and it just wouldn't be Christmas without cheese bread, I had to take matters into my own hands. The kneading and waiting for yeast risen bread to rise always seemed a bit forbidding. But as it turns out, it wasn't so bad to tackle on Monday when I had lots of other things going on in the kitchen anyway. Also, kneading the dough in my stand mixer with a dough hook made it an incredibly simple recipe. Here's the run down.

Cheese Bread from Pop's Kitchen
1/2 lb (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
1c milk
1/4c sugar plus 1/2tsp
1tsp salt
1/2c warm water (90-110 degrees)
2pkgs dry yeast (about 4 1/2 tsp)
1/4tsp dry mustard
1/8tsp cayenne
4 1/2 to 5c flour (all purpose or bread flour)

Scald the milk and add 1/4 c sugar plus salt. Let cool to 90-110 degrees. In pre-warmed bowl of your stand mixer, stir water, 1/2 tsp sugar and yeast together (with a spoon). Let proof for 5 min. Stir in milk, cheese mustard and cayenne. Mix in 2 cups flour. Now, add in 2 1/2 c of flour and get your dough hook going. The dough should not be too sticky (add the extra flour if needed). Knead in the mixer for 10 minutes.

Post-kneading in my mixer

Form into a ball and let rise in a lightly greased bowl covered with a tea towel or dish cloth for 90 minutes, until it has doubled. Punch it down to release air bubbles and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan (I use the largest one I have). Let rise again, covered, for one hour.

Brushed with Butter and ready for the oven
Brush the top with melted butter or egg wash if you want it shiny and browned.  Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 30-40 minutes - until it makes a hollow sound when tapped on top.  Remove from pan and let cool.

Straight from the oven

Now, you know that I can't ever resist tinkering with a recipe. Pop's recipe calls for regular all purpose flour, but I used bread flour, which Phin had on hand for pizza dough making. I thought it might make a softer crumb, and it did. (Score one for my tinkering!) Second, I may have been little lax with measuring my cheese. The block of cheese I had was 10oz and I threw it all in. Again, this worked out just fine. So, honestly, if you are a little off with the cheese measuring, you're probably fine.

Tempting me with it's scent
A few other variations are that you could always sprinkle some poppy or sesame seeds on top before baking. Or a bit more shredded cheese (maybe that's what I should have done with those extra 2 oz?). At any rate, I will be eating a generous slice on Christmas morning, toasted and buttered, which is my favorite way.

Do you have holiday traditions or recipes like this? Some family recipe that gets made just once or twice a year for the holidays?  The kind of thing that speaks of Christmas (or whateve holiday you happen to celebrate?)

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Juggling Act: Knitting WIPs

I'm freaking out about the number of half-knit projects I've got at the moment.

With sewing, I often trace patterns and cut fabric a few projects at a time. But then I sew them up one-by-one. That way, I focus on one project until it's done. But with knitting, this approach seems to fly out the window.

I don't want knitting to cut into my precious sewing time. So, I've limited knitting to my evening commute and while I'm on the couch in front of the tv, unless of course I'm hand sewing something instead. I don't watch all that much tv, which makes this pretty slow going.

Still a few inches short of a pair of socks

I was absolutely fine with two projects going simultaneously. The sock (above) has been commuting with me. And this cowl/infinity scarf (below) is what I've been knitting on the couch. It's very easy - a good project at the end of the day when my powers of concentration are waning.

I'm nearly 5/6ths done.

I'm nearly done with both. But then I started a "lace basics" class*, which includes knitting two projects. We started with a lace scarf. Naturally, I elected to make mine from a cashmere and silk blend. I already have an acknowledged weakness for silk, but blended with cashmere it's like cryptonite... soft, silky, luxurious cryptonite...

"Feathers & Fans" Scarf

I'm supposed to have this at least half done by the next class (tomorrow), when we will start a more elaborate lace shawl. Now, the idea of not being ready for class goes against my hard-wiring. So, I'm knitting this scarf while the other two projects are lingering in idle. And it's got me freaking out. Will my socks and scarf ever be done!?!? Not at this rate.

And somehow I accidentally started a yarn stash. I hadn't meant for this to happen. I just needed a few extra items to qualify for free shipping, and the fingering (sock weight) yarn was on sale. Gah! This is how they get me every time.

The silver lining to all of this is that I've managed to come full circle (or square) with the Hot Patterns Nomad Hobo bag that I made nearly 2 years ago. At the time, I was disappointed with it as a weekend hobo bag because of the shape - it's very square. But I commented that it would probably make a really good knitting bag. I've been using it as a grocery bag, but now it has become my knitting tote. At the moment this is my entire knitting stash - yarn, tools and current projects are inside. I plan to keep it that way at least for the time being. 

Knitting Bag!
Anyway, those of you who knit and sew (or crochet, etc), how do you balance your two hobbies? Do you juggle the two at once, like I've been doing or do you oscillate back and forth? Also, knitters, do you usually have multiple knitting projects going on at the same time or do you stick to one at a time?

* The lace basics class is at School Products Yarn where I took my beginner knitting and sock knitting class. They offer a loyalty program - a discount for return students - which is a good thing since they are very good at at talking me into additional classes. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Santa's Kitchen 2011: Dark Chocolate Bark Balls

So, I spent yesterday coated in molten chocolate and sugar and all things sweet. It was my annual holiday candy and sweet making day. Here's what it looked like:

Ingredients and recipes at the ready

Phin was a huge help. He chopped 7 lbs of chocolate - dark and white..

One of the many batches of molten chocolate
Phin also helped coat the Bark Balls with white chocolate

Peppermint bark, setting up

Finished white and dark chocolate bark balls

Finished peppermint bark

The final tally: 4lbs of Peppermint Bark, 2 batches of White Bark Balls, 2 batches of Absurdly Easy Fudge (which I didn't photograph somehow), and my innovation this year, 1 batch of Dark Chocolate Bark Balls. I also baked a loaf of bread, but that's another post.

White Bark Balls are basically a peanut butter rice crispy treat coated in white chocolate. They were a runaway hit last year. So, this year I thought: why not try them with nutella instead of peanut butter and dip them in dark chocolate instead of white? I played around with the recipe a bit to get them to the right consistency and, thus, the Dark Chocolate Bark Ball was born.
Dark Chocolate Bark Balls 
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup Nutella
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, at room temperature
12 ounces dark chocolate (for coating)

Mix Nutella, sugar and butter in a bowl until combined (I used a hand-held mixer). Add in Krispies and mix until combined (I used my hands). Form into balls and chill for a few hours until set.  Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler or microwave until smooth. Coat balls with chocolate and put back in fridge til hard. Enjoy!
The only thing that didn't get made is 2 batches of peanut brittle, which I hope to get to on Friday. I thought it was a bad idea to start playing with molten sugar toward the end of the day when I was starting to feel wiped out. (Sugar burns are horrible!)

Do you have any Christmas baking or gift making left?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Karl Lagerfeld Skirt Reveal!

Here it is! My Karl Lagerfeld (Burda 10-2010-136) skirt in black wool.

I wore it styled like this last night for a pre-holiday dinner with some friends. 

And here it is styled for work.

While I think it looks just like the Burda version, I did make a number of changes to the pattern. Also, I used my preferred methods and order of sewing and finishing, rather than relying on Burda's instructions.  Here are a few details:
  • First, this skirt is short as drafted: a mere 13". This is not nearly enough skirt for me, Herr Lagerfeld! So I added 6-7" to the length. It's still a few inches above my knee.
  • I omitted the side seam pockets.
  • I lined the skirt with black bemberger because the wool I used was a little scratchy and has a loose (slightly transparent) weave. I used the skirt pattern pieces for the lining, sewing tucks instead of pleats.
  • I interfaced the waistband and the cuff with Pro-Sheer Elegance fusible from Fashion Sewing Supply. I considered using the Pro-Woven, but decided on the sheer interfacing because both the waist and cuff would be folded over, so there would be two layers of fabric and interfacing. I didn't want it to be too thick or bulky, and the sheer did the job just fine.  
  • Instead of making the back waistband elasticized, I shortened it to my waist length. I took most of the extra ease out of the back of the skirt by adding 2 darts. Then (because I hadn't taken quite enough out with the darts) I used basting stitches to gather the back just a scooch so it fit smoothly into the smaller waist. 
  • I finished all the seams with my serger since I think this fabric would be ravel-prone if I didn't
I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself about this skirt, despite all my self-created mishaps and discontents. It has the best looking insides of anything I've made. Usually, I'm not too picky about the insides, but I've had a lot more practice with linings and my hand sewing has come a long way in the last year. So, I think this skirt looks good inside and out.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off from work for this year's version of "Santa's Kitchen", when Phin and I make candy and sweets for our near and dear for Christmas. And I've got a lot of backlogged posts, so stay tuned as I try to catch up by the end of 2011!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sequel in Which our Intrepid Heroine Carries the Day (with Some Help from Jonathan Embroidery)

It looks greenish because I had to lighten the pic so you could see the button holes.

Who am I to argue with Kenneth King and Lindsay T? So, yesterday I marched myself over to Jonathan's and had my buttonholes made while I waited.  Quite frankly, it took less time to walk there, wait for the buttonholes to be made and walk back to my office, stopping to pick up lunch on the way, then it would have taken to make the buttonholes myself. And look at how nice they are! Much better than the nicest buttonhole I could manage with either of my sewing machines. (Jonathan, you are officially on my Christmas card list.)

Thanks to all of you who suggested that this was the smart way to go and was not cheating. In the end, I agree. I'm really pleased with everything about this skirt, and these buttonholes are befitting all the work I put into it. So, score one for the good guys. Skirt reveal and review to come as soon as I sew on the buttons and take some pictures!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Episode in Which our Intrepid Heroine Is Defeated By a Buttonhole

Four awesome leather buttons from my new favorite button shop

Four buttons: that is all that is standing in the way of completing my Karl Lagerfeld skirt. (Insert angry grumbling sound here.)

Back in October when I was contemplating upgrading myself to a PR "Intermediate" sewist, I mentioned that I was not all that experienced with button holes. Little did I realize that I was foreshadowing my own demise! (Is that overly dramatic to say? Mea culpa, peeps.)

I did several test runs on scraps of the fabric, which is a thick, but loosely woven wool. But when I went to sew the actual button holes there were problems. The waistband is not too wide, so my button hole foot is hanging off the edge of the waistband or sitting unevenly because part of it is sitting on a seam. So, I'm having problems with the feed dogs moving the fabric. It keeps getting stuck and making a bobbin nest rather than smoothly feeding. Last night, after very carefully ripping out my second failed button hole, I quietly backed myself out of the Craft Lounge.

I could try using my Granny's machine. I've never tried a button hole on it and am not sure how to do it, but it's a very sturdy and reliable machine, once you figure it out. Or I could march myself over to Jonathan Embroidery where I can pay them to make the button holes for me. Although that smacks of defeat, I think. 

So, before I head back to the Craft Lounge for round 2 of button holes, please share any tips or words of wisdom. Many many thanks!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fancy Footwork: 13.1 Miles and a Sock

That's right, ladies and gentlemen! On Sunday night, I ran 13.1 miles, completing my first half marathon. Difficult? YES. I didn't set any land speed records, but with a field of 44,000 runners I was definitely not the slowest either.

Knitting at 30,000 feet!
Yesterday, on the flight home, I finished my first "victory sock". I'm telling myself that a pair of $50 hand knit cashmere socks is a reasonable and good reward to myself for the run.

One sock.

Now I just have to knit it's mate.