Knitting Update

In which there is a flurry of five fibery finished objects.

I haven’t been motivated to blog, but I haven’t stopped knitting. In fact, I have FIVE finished objects to show off. And bonus – they all used yarn that has been sitting in my stash for a long time, so three cheers for stash busting!

First is the shawl I call the Woolly Mammoth. The pattern is the Textured Shawl Recipe, but I increased 6 stitches every 2 rows instead of 4, so that it would be wider and not as deep. I used most of two skeins of Cascade Ecological Wool.

Wooly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth Shawl

Next up is the Kittiwake Cardigan. I modified the pattern to omit the large collar and to add pockets and a zipper.

Kittiwake

Kittiwake Cardigan

Next is Pop Block, a big squishy garter stitch shawl. I used Plain & Fancy Sheep & Wool Co. Sportweight yarn – thinner than the yarn called for in the pattern, but it worked OK. I’d really like to make one out of madelinetosh DK like Anna’s, since I fell in love with hers and it’s what inspired me to make this one. I didn’t know what else to use this yarn for, because I really only liked it when knit up in garter stitch, but I love the color.

Pop Block

Pop Block Shawl

Then there’s Vernal Equinox Shawl Surprise, which was a mystery shawl KAL in 2009. I had to omit one repeat of one of the clues since I was slightly short of yarn, but I’m happy with the final size. This is a lovely pattern that is much easier to knit than it appears – the lace patterns are pretty simple.

Vernal Equinox

Vernal Equinox shawl

And finally, there are the Bird & Vine mitts, which are a variation of Endpaper Mitts. I used the bird and vine chart by EvaKatharina, but further modified it to continue the vine pattern around the palm. (I don’t have two left hands – the photo below shows the back of one mitt (with the bird) and the palm side of the other (with the heart).

Bird and Vine Endpaper Mitts

Bird & Vine mitts

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Free Pattern Generator

This morning I ran across a website where you can design your own circular-yoke sweater. It’s intended to create an Icelandic sweater from Lopi yarn, and allows you to enter sizes and measurements for the sweater, and then design the colorwork patterns for it. Apparently you can then order the appropriate yarn if desired.

It will create a PDF with the schematic, color charts, and knitting instructions.

I see no reason why you couldn’t use it to design a generic sweater with no colorwork if you wanted. There are a bunch of video tutorials to help understand how the software works.

I love Icelandic sweaters, so may definitely give this a try in the future!

The website is: Knittingpatterns.is

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Crazy

I have narcissus blooming. In November.

Narcissus blooming 11/4/15

Although they would normally bloom (in the spring) at the same time as the iris which is also blooming right now, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever had it blooming at the same time as the snapdragons.

Iris and snapdragons

And roses.

Rose

And I definitely have never had them blooming while I had tomatoes on the vine,

Tomato

And basil in the herb garden.

Basil

I’m afraid this weird weather is going to cause lots of problems with the spring bulbs next year. Hope they survive!

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This morning I awoke to…

Snow on the mountains (no photo… by the time I got around to it, the sun was causing too much glare)

Clematis blooming on the fence

Clematis

Lemons growing on my indoor lemon tree

Lemons

And a beautiful sunny day.

Last year we had a record number of trick-or-treaters. Fourteen. Usually it’s only two or three. Wonder how many we’ll get this year.

Happy Halloween!

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So Confused

Is it fall, or is it spring?

We’ve had the longest/hottest fall on record here, and I’ve been loving it. But the plants in the garden are terribly confused.

Iris are blooming – both large:

Bearded Iris

and small:

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsMiniature iris//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

As well as some other spring blooming flowers, like this one (I think it’s some kind of perennial Alyssum):

Alyssum//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

But most disturbing of all are the daffodils I found peeking up out of the ground:

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FO: Canadian Winter

I’ve always liked the idea of a Cowichan sweater–big and cozy, in natural colors; but not so much the traditional designs of them, with the big animals or other representational designs in the midsection. I never thought those bands of stripes would be very flattering on me. But after making my Vintage Green sweater, and seeing how much I liked the weight of it, the urge to make one grew stronger.

Canadian Winter
And so a plan began to form. I liked how the doubled Patons Classic Wool worked out in the Vintage Green sweater, so I knew that would be the yarn. The free Bernat pattern “I’m the Dude” jacket (formerly called “His and Hers Thunderbird Jacket”) was pretty close to what I had in mind, though it was a slightly bulkier gauge. I figured I could make it work by using numbers from the Vintage Green and doing a mash-up of the patterns.

Then began the task of figuring out what kind of patterns I wanted on it. I wasn’t too keen on the geometric patterns most of them have. I spent a lot of time searching the Internet for pattern ideas, and eventually saw one that had a floral motif with vines. That really appealed to me, so I used that as the basic idea.

I spent weeks working on the charts. For the yoke pattern, I took the motif from the vintage sweater and modified it to start from the back center and scroll to the front in a mirrored image. The most challenging part was charting out the raglan seam area so that the pattern would look as uninterrupted as possible. I had to knit a few samples and tweak it before I came up with something I liked.  For the motif at hem and cuffs, I wanted a smaller design, so I just made up a coordinating pattern.

I thought that once it was all charted out, it would be a piece of cake to do the actual knitting. And it was, for the most part. But once it was done, I wasn’t very happy with how tight the yoke was, or how the collar sat. The problem was that my row gauge was a lot different from the Dude pattern, which I’d pretty much followed for the yoke shaping. It just wasn’t tall enough from armhole to shoulder.

I ended up removing the collar and reknitting the yoke. Um, several times. I lost count of how many, exactly. But finally it seemed right. Then since the neckline was longer than it was originally, I had to rip out one point of the collar and add a couple of inches. But it was definitely worth it! The fit was much better, and the collar seam wasn’t exposed.   This was also my first experience putting a zipper in a sweater. I was really anxious about doing that, but it really worked out nicely, and I’m glad I finally made the plunge. It did take a long time to do since I spent lots of time getting it basted in place, and then I hand-sewed it in, but it was worth it.

Trying to figure out how to attach the collar without having a really bulky seam was also a challenge, but I won’t rehash the details here, since they’re on my project page.

Project: Canadian Winter
Needles: US 10.5/6.5mm for the body, US 9/5.5mm for the garter stitch hems and collar.
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Worsted, held double throughout, Dark Gray Mix and Aran

Canadian Winter

Now I’m ready to lounge around on the couch in my cardigan, like The Dude in his Pendleton.

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China: Terracotta Warriors

I’ve been a bad blogger and haven’t posted in ages. But it’s time to continue the China travel story!

After Beijing, we traveled (on the infamous overnight train) to Xi’an, which was once the capital of China, and was the starting point of the famous Silk Road.

The big tourist attraction there is the Terracotta Army, the largest group of pottery figurines ever found in China, and which was only discovered in 1974. I remember reading about it when it was discovered, and thought it was fascinating. I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to actually see them.

There are over 8,000 life-sized warriors in the three pits, plus hundreds of horses and chariots. They date back to a couple of hundred years B.C., and were supposed to protect the emperor in his afterlife. Each warrior has a unique face! Apparently there were several different molds that were used for the heads and body parts, but then the detail of the faces was modeled in clay by hand, and the figures were brightly painted.

The main pit contains rows and rows of warriors (approximately 6,000), not all of which have yet been excavated. You can get an idea of how large this pit is by seeing how tiny the tourists look on either edge of it.

Terracotta warriors Pit 1

Terracotta Army, Pit #1

Approximately in the center of this pit is a small tomb that was dug in the 1940’s – but it was dug between rows of warriors, so they just missed hitting one of the main aisles and discovering the statues. You can see the tomb in the photo below – it’s the arch-shaped hole just above center:

Arch-shaped tomb in Terracotta Warrior Pit

Arch-shaped tomb in Terracotta Warrior Pit

All of the warriors have been restored from broken pieces. The statues and original buildings were broken, burned, and looted before being covered up by centuries of sediment. Here’s a partially excavated section from one of the other pits:

Partially excavated pit

Partially excavated pit

Here are some of the figures that are in process of being restored – you can see how different their faces are:

Terracotta warriors being reconstructed

Terracotta warriors being reconstructed

The museum has a few of the different types of warriors in glass cases so you can see them up close, like this archer:

Terracotta Warriors museum - archer

Terracotta Warriors museum – archer

You can see the detail of the shoe, and a little bit of the remaining paint on the back of the tunic:

Terracotta Warriors museum - archer

Detail of archer’s foot and tunic

As part of this excursion, we also visited the Pottery Factory, where replicas of the warriors are made for retail sale. As with the originals, there are different molds for the heads, torsos, hands, etc., which are fired and assembled.

Pottery Factory, Xi'an

Pottery Factory, Xi’an

The smallest figurines are made in a single mold, but even those are hand-finished to remove the mold markings and add a few details:

Pottery Factory, Xi'an

Pottery Factory, Xi’an

The “Pottery” factory wasn’t just pottery. They also had hand-painted furniture (you could watch people painting some of the pieces), and some lovely embroidered artwork. These are NOT paintings – they are entirely made in embroidery. (Sorry, there is a lot of glare and reflection in the glass)

Silk embroidery "paintings"

Silk embroidery “paintings”

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For the Birds

Since the Scrub Jay population was apparently devastated by avian flu a few years ago, I went a couple of years without seeing any in my yard. But I had a little family that finally came back. This year, there was no sign of them – until today. I was filling the bird feeders when I heard one’s hoarse croak. I looked up, and there was one on the phone line. I put out some peanuts, grabbed my camera, and it wasn’t long before they were coming in for brunch. There are two for sure, and I think three.

This one has some sort of string-like plant material stuck on its chest:

Scrub Jay

And this one has feathers that sort of stick out on its back, which you can’t see in this photo:

Scrub Jay

The hummingbirds have been very active this year, too. Here’s one coming in for a landing:

Hummingbird

Touchdown!

Hummingbird

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Cheryl’s Almost No-Knead Rye Bread

By special request, here is the latest and greatest version of my homemade rye bread – a light Jewish-style rye. I’ve been tweaking the recipe and trying out different baking methods, and I think I’m finally happy with it. (Every version I’ve tried has been really good, but this is the best so far.) If I’d planned on doing a blog post, I’d have taken a picture of the loaf when it came out of the oven, instead of when it was mostly gone.

Rye Bread

Lovely Rye Bread

But first, an explanation of the recipe and process, because the methods are as important as the ingredients.

I started out with Jeff Hertzberg’s Deli-Style Rye as the base recipe, which was really good, but I had a few issues with it: It doesn’t develop it’s best flavor until it’s been refrigerated for a couple of days, it makes dough for multiple loaves (good in theory, but didn’t work so well for me in practice), the loaves come out a bit flat because of the wet dough and no-knead method, and pouring boiling water into a hot pan in a hot oven scares me to death every time I try it.

To improve the flavor and use a less scary baking method, I borrowed from Jim Lahey’s No-Knead bread method, using a tiny amount of yeast with a long rise, and baking the bread in a dutch oven or similar pot (inside the oven) to provide moisture for the crust, rather than water and steam. To get a slightly taller loaf, I used America’s Test Kitchen’s suggestions to use a little less water, and to knead the dough about 15 times.

I also scaled the recipe down to make one large loaf instead of four smaller ones. I haven’t tried doing it, but I’m sure you could cut the dough in half to make two smaller loaves. The second half of the dough would probably be fine in the refrigerator for a few days. The baking time would need to be decreased, but be sure to leave the loaf covered for a minimum of 15 minutes to get a good crust.

The methods: I’ve listed three different baking methods – inside a dutch oven, on a baking stone with a stainless steel bowl over it (the largest bowl from my mixing bowl set), and in a loaf pan.

Bread Baking Methods

Baking stone with bowl used as lid, and Dutch Oven

(Since someone will probably ask… I’ve used a 1950’s era heavy aluminum dutch oven [shown above], and a couple of different stainless steel dutch ovens/stockpots. They all worked fine, but be sure that whatever you use is oven-safe to 450F, especially if it has any sort of non-metal handles or knobs. A cast-iron or enameled pot would be great, but I don’t have one.)

The results with the dutch oven and baking stone were pretty similar. The only problem I had with the dutch oven was that this loaf is large enough that it barely fits in my pot with the parchment paper around it. It bakes fine, but tends to get a slightly scalloped edge from the folds of the parchment paper as it rises a little more in the oven. The dough could be dumped directly in the pot without the parchment paper, but that gets tricky if you’re using the cornstarch wash and seed topping. But you could omit the topping, or of course, just bake half the dough at a time for smaller loaves.

Because of the larger loaf not fitting well into the pot, I tried baking the bread directly on a baking stone and covering it with a metal bowl. That worked out really well – but you do have to make sure that the dough won’t stick to whatever surface you let it rise on, so that you can transfer it to the stone. I used parchment paper liberally sprinkled with cornmeal.

The loaf pan method was an attempt to get a taller loaf for sandwich bread while I was still experimenting with the recipe. Although it gives a more rectangular shape to the slices, the crust is not quite as good. I think the other methods give a much better result, and I don’t really recommend it – but it’s an option if you don’t have an appropriate dutch oven or baking stone.

OK, enough with the yadda yadda. On with the recipe.

** Start the bread about 22-24 hours before you plan to eat it. **

Cheryl’s Almost No-Knead Rye      

Makes 1 large loaf (about 1.5 lbs)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour)*
1/2 cup rye flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2-3 tsp caraway seeds for dough, plus an additional 2-3 tsp for topping if desired
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water minus 2 Tbsp
olive oil or other vegetable oil or spray
cornstarch wash (see below)

Cornstarch Wash: Using a fork, blend 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a paste. Add 1/4 cup water and whisk with the fork. Microwave or boil until mixture appears glassy, about 15-30 seconds.

Mix dough the day before: Mix the flours, yeast, salt, and 2-3 tsp caraway seeds in a medium bowl. Add water (add the last few ounces a little at a time – use as little as  needed to get everything mixed – the dough will get wetter as it rests) and mix by hand or with a spoon for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a little more water only if necessary to get the flour incorporated into the dough. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn it over so that the top of the dough is lightly greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (prevents the dough from drying and forming a skin), and let the dough rest at least 12 hours (preferably 18-20) at room temperature. Dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles.

Shape and preheat: Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Knead about 15 times to improve rising. Cover loosely and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball or oval, using floured or wet hands.

Proceed with rising according to your desired baking method below.

Top and Slash: Regardless of the baking method, after the dough has doubled but before putting it in the oven:  Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust of the loaf with the wash (you may not use all of it) and sprinkle on the additional caraway seeds.  Slash a couple of 1/2″ deep parallel cuts across the loaf with a sharp knife or razor blade.

Baking Note: Bread is done when the crust is dark brown and the middle of the loaf is about 205-210F. (Yeast breads must be baked to a minimum of 190F.)

Dutch Oven Method: Place dough on parchment paper; cover and let rise about 1.5 hours or until doubled (I cover mine with the large clear plastic bowl that’s part of my salad spinner). About half an hour before it’s done rising, preheat oven with the pot and lid to 450F.  When dough has doubled, top and slash as above. Remove pot from oven, pick up the parchment paper and dough and lower it into the pot. Cover with lid. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15-30 minutes until done. Cool on wire rack.

Stone Method: Place dough on parchment paper or a bread peel sprinkled liberally with cornmeal so it won’t stick. Cover and let rise about 1.5 hours or until doubled. About half an hour before it’s done rising, place stone on lowest rack of oven and preheat to 450F. When doubled, top and slash as above. Transfer loaf to hot baking stone with bread peel. Cover with a large stainless steel bowl. (I didn’t preheat the bowl, because I forgot, but it worked fine.) Bake 30 minutes. Carefully remove bowl (watch out for steam!) and bake an additional 15-30 minutes until done. Cool on wire rack.

Loaf Pan: Grease the loaf pan well with oil, butter, or shortening – even if it is a non-stick pan. Shape dough into cylinder, place it in the pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until it’s just starting to crest over the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 450 about 20 minutes before baking. Top and slash. Bake for 35-40 minutes until done, turning pan once halfway through so it bakes evenly. Shake the loaf out of the pan and cool on wire rack.

Please let the bread cool (difficult, I know). Bread should not be cut while it is still hot, or the texture will be a little gummy. It needs time to rest.

* I decided to use 1 cup of bread flour in place of one of the cups of all-purpose flour, but if you don’t have it, just use an additional cup of all-purpose flour instead.

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China: The Great Wall

Probably the thing I was most interested in seeing in China was the Great Wall. We not only had beautiful weather, but since we were there right after the big Labor Day holiday, it wasn’t very crowded.

We went to the most popular section at Badaling.

Map of Badaling Great Wall

Map of Badaling

From the main entrance square, you can either go to the right, which is less steep but more crowded:

Right path at Badaling

Right path at Badaling

Or to the left up the steeper but less crowded direction:

Left path at Badaling

Left path at Badaling

Which did we choose? The road less traveled, of course.

Great Wall of China - Badaling

The Road Less Traveled

And they weren’t kidding about it being steep. Parts of the wall have stairs, parts are just smooth walkway, but there’s definitely a lot of steep up and down.

Climbing down steps - Great Wall of China

Steep steps!

Larry at the Great Wall of China

Don’t fall!

But it was beautiful, especially against the lush greenery.

Great Wall of China - Badaling

Great Wall of China – Badaling

And went on for miles and miles – as far as you could see. (You may want to click on the panorama below for a better look.)

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

By the way, it is apparently not true that you can see the Great Wall of China from space, at least not with the naked eye. But on the other hand, it was great trivia to learn that the mortar used to build the wall was made from Sticky Rice.

And just for fun, a quick video of my nephew climbing those steep steps.

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