Monthly Archives: February 2009

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Shilasdair

Ooops!  I sort of fell off of the blog wagon this week.  Earlier in the week I received an e-mail that detailed some reduced air fares, which, when combined with the boredom of a very gray late February, made me start to think of potential summer vacations.  Unfortunately, I mis-read the rates and thought they were a much better deal than they actually were, so I guess I won’t be flying anywhere this summer.  ;-(

I had to console myself by looking through some pictures from our last trip to Scotland.  And, just in case you’re a knitter and you happen to be planning a trip to Scotland this summer (the dollar is doing much better against the GBP now than it was last fall!) I thought you might like to see a fun knitterly place to visit.

Shilasdair

This is Shilasdair on the Isle of Skye.  Shilasdair is a small yarn studio known for their yarn dying.  The shop is in a pretty little rock building, in a very small village with spectacular views of the water, off of the northern end of the Isle of Skye.  We were greeted by the owner, Eva.  (Oops, I didn’t get a picture, but there’s one on her website.)

Shilasdair

Above, you can see the gorgeous view just beyond the shop.

Shilasdair

Just to the left of the shop is the dye garden where Eva grows plants that make the dyes.  All of the dyes are natural but surprisingly, the yarn does not come from the Isle of Skye (despite all the grazing sheep!)  Eva said that Isle of Skye wool is very coarse and 95% of it is shipped to I-can’t-remember-where in central Europe to be used in things like mattresses.

Shilasdair1 Shilasdair1

Most of my pictures from the dye room didn’t turn out very well.  It’s a pretty small room, but there are giant dye vats and places to hang the yarn to dry.  Eva said that all of their dye colors come from 3 plants and 1 insect and combinations of those 4 items.  Bowls containing the three plant samples are in the bottom left-hand corner of the above picture with the dye vats.  The insect, cochineal, is shown in the right-hand picture, above.  (As always, all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)  Eva explained the process to us and it was very interesting.  I think TheManoftheHouse even had a good time.

Shilasdair1 Shilasdair1

Some pictures of the pretty yarn.  I bought some blue yarn and I spent a long time debating whether to get wool or cotton.  I got cotton and after we drove away, I wanted to slap myself upside the head — who goes to Scotland to buy cotton yarn?  In my defense, I think I was overcome by visual stimulation and couldn’t think straight.  The colors were sooooo beautiful.  And to make matters worse, I’m thinking the yarn I ended up with wasn’t even dyed by Eva.  She does sell some yarns that are dyed elsewhere.  So, I struck out on two counts!  (But don’t tell TheManoftheHouse — I’m sure he was wondering why it was so hard for me to figure out what yarn I wanted.  There was a gorgeous red yarn that almost sucked me in too.)

Shilasdair

These were some sweaters for sale hanging on the wall.  Some were for sale and some were available in kits.  You could also have a sweater made in a different size than the samples shown.

Shilasdair

This is a picture of the shop while standing with my back to the front door, shown in the first picture of this post. This one room is it…the whole shop. In the middle of the wall on the right (just in front of that blue-green sweater hanging up so high) is the door that leads to the dying room.

Shilasdair

The shop may be small, but it was very inspiring and well worth the trip.  (The only way it could have been better would have been if there were quilts.  Oh, and maybe some guy in a kilt!)  And besides, the drive to get there and the scenery are spectacular.  Lots of little one lane roads and sheepies everywhere!  I hope you get to go there someday!

We’re having high winds and thunderstorms as I type, which is just creepy in February.  I hope the weather is better where you are!

XOXO,
Anna

A Few Sock Tips

Well hello there!  The weekend is getting away from me in a hurry.  I hope you’re having a good one.  My weekend has been pretty lazy.  I went over to MeMum’s this afternoon and watched a movie.  We’ve been watching Netflix movies for the last several Saturdays.  Last weekend we watched Keeping Mum and we loved it (thanks for the great recommendation Melly and Cami) — highly recommended!

In the last month or so, I’ve had a few invisible friends ask me some sock knitting questions, so I thought I’d write down a few things I’ve learned about sock knitting for those of you who are beginners.  And for those of you who harbor a secret desire to start knitting socks (yoohoo Penny…we know that means you LOL!)  I’m by no means an expert and I’m sure all sock knitters have their own way of doing things — this is what works best for me.

Mountain Socks

Socks really aren’t as complicated as you might think.  When I took a sock class, the instructor kept talking about a ratio of stitches, but I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.  After I had a few pairs of socks under my belt, it made more sense. Try to think of a sock in halves.  The front half and the back half.  The front half is the front half of the leg and it runs down on top of the foot.  The back half is the back half of the leg and it runs down the heel and along the bottom of the foot.  Your sock stitches are evenly divided between front and back.  So, for me, I make a sock with 64 stitches — 32 stitches for the front half of the sock and 32 stitches for the back half.

Mountain Socks

I always use the Ann Norling basic sock pattern for all of my socks.  I learned with this pattern and I know that it will always fit me.  I think finding a basic pattern that works for you is key to sock success.  Here’s a picture of the pattern I use:

Ann Norling

Then, from this basic sock pattern, I vary the pattern (note how the word pattern is an overloaded term here) on the leg and the top of the foot.  So, for example, if I say I made a pair of socks from the mockery pattern, I really mean that I used my basic Ann Norling sock pattern, but for the cuff and top of the foot, I used the decorative stitches from the mockery pattern (that means that if you click on the mockery pattern, you’ll see that the only instructions I actually used were rounds 1 – 10 of the leg section.)  I always knit approximately a 1-inch ribbing at the top of the cuff, plain stockinette on the bottom of the foot and either plain stockinette or the eye of partridge stitch on the heel flap.

Mountain Socks

When I get to the instructions for the heel flap on my Ann Norling pattern, I substitute eye of partridge instructions.  There are lots of eye of partridge variations out there — here is my favorite:

Row 1: sl1, (k1, sl1) to last stitch, k1
Row 2 & 4: sl1, purl across all stitches.
Row 3: sl1, (sl1, k1) to last stitch, k1.
Repeat Rows 1 – 4 for the length required for your heel flap.

And, back to that ratio thing mentioned above, the number of rows in the heel flap should equal 1/2 the total number of stitches.  So, in my 64-stitch example, my heel flap will be 32 rows of stitches.

Mountain Socks

The first time I made socks, I had a hole in the valley of the “V” of the sock’s gusset.  I ripped it out and signed up for a sock class.  The teacher recommended that if we got a little hole, we should wait until the sock was finished, then turn the sock inside out and run a piece of yarn around the edge of the hole and pull it tight until the hole closed.  I really didn’t like that suggestion, so I started picking up an extra stitch in that little valley.  It’s incredibly difficult to explain, but luckily for us, Jean has a great little video to show you what we do to prevent that little hole from forming.  It’s a great tip and it works every time.

Mountain Socks

To determine how long to make the foot of your sock, measure the length of your foot, from heel to toe.  Then subtract 1 3/4 inches from that measurement and when you reach that length, as you’re knitting the foot, you can begin your toe shaping.  So, for example, if your foot measures 9 inches, knit the foot until it measures 7 1/4 inches and then begin your toe shaping.

Mountain Socks

Finally, at the end of the toe shaping, the sock is finished off with the kitchener stitch.  For some reason, many people have trouble with the kitchener stitch.  As long as I have the following instructions in front of me, I can always keep it straight (note: kitchener stitch is done with your yarn threaded through a darning needle and you work the darning needle among the stitches as if you were knitting or purling):

Set-up: (do 1 time):  FN (front needle) – Purl, leave on needle, BN (back needle) – Knit, leave on needle.

Repeat across toe:
FN-Knit, slip off needle, Purl, leave on needle.
BN-Purl, slip off needle, Knit, leave on needle.

When there are 2 stitches left (one on each needle) just pull them off the needles and weave the end of the yarn through the stitches on the inside of the sock.

Some of my little tips might not make sense if you’ve never made a sock before, but hopefully if you try a sock, they’ll become clear. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!   I love to knit socks — they’re the perfect portable project. If you have any interest in knitting at all, I hope you’ll try them!

XOXO,
Anna

P.S. These socks are the Fascine Braid Sock pattern from Mountain Colors. The yarn is Mountain Colors in Wild Raspberry.  And special thanks to my SweetiePie model!

You Say Potato…

Well, how’s it going out there?  Are you all still on a Valentine’s luuuuv high?

Not much going on around here.  We’re having a quiet week.  Our little Valentine dinner on Saturday night was Wunderbar (if I do say so myself!) so I thought I’d post the potato recipe that I made.  We love these potatoes, but they’re expensive to make, so it doesn’t happen very often.  And the expense is compounded because I always make them with the Steak Au Poivre* recipe, because the sauce made for the steak is awesome and even though these potatoes are plenty moist, they’re even better when they’re dragged through the steak sauce.

Potatoes Savoyarde

Potatoes Savoyarde

1 tablespoon butter, melted
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. finely chopped parsley
1/2 lb. (or a little more — the more the better!) Gruyere cheese, shredded (Gruyere is very expensive and you could probably use other cheeses, but I think Gruyere cheese is why we love this dish so much.)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 – 6 russet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (this is a very generous amount — I think you could get by with a little less.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees**.  Brush the bottom and sides of the baking dish with melted butter.  In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, parsley, cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Layer 1/3 of the potatoes in the prepared baking dish, sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese mixture over the potatoes, and dot with 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Repeat once more.  Then, layer the last 1/3 of the potatoes.  Pour the chicken stock over the potatoes, sprinkle the last 1/3 of the cheese mixture and dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Cover with buttered aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue baking, uncovered, for 30 – 40 more minutes or until the top is crusty and browned and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.  Serve immediately.

On a totally unrelated subject, look who’s back!

Paul

It’s Paul (TheSecondChild’s 8 month old kitty), who’s here for several weeks, since TheSecondChild will soon be going on spring break.  And, as you can see, Paul is displaying some very poor guest manners.  In case you can’t tell, that’s the ceiling behind Paul, and he’s on top of my kitchen cupboards.  Our ceilings are 9 ft. high, so that’s quite a feat for and adventurous kitty, and he had to have help getting down.  When I expressed my dismay over Paul’s lack of manners to TheSecondChild, he responded, “Well, he thinks he’s a cookie jar.”  I think he was just letting that dog know who’s boss.

Tomorrow is a travel day for me and I’m already behind on your posts.  I hope you’re having a good week!

XOXO,
Anna

* The Steak Au Poivre recipe that I like calls for beef demi-glace which is painfully expensive.  It says it will keep for 6 months which, considering how infrequently it’s used, isn’t nearly long enough.  I keep my jar in the freezer.  It’s been in there forever and it’s still working just fine.  If you don’t want to spend that much money, Ina Garten has a Steak Au Poivre recipe without the demi-glace, which she claims is just as good.

** So, what do you do if you don’t measure your oven temp the way we do in the states?  You go HERE, to a fun and very helpful British cookbook primer for some conversion tables!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope you’re all having (or have had) a good day! I had a quick over-night visit with TheFirstChild and SweetiePie last night and took them their Valentines. I gave SweetiePie the Cutie Pie Pennie Pocket I made and I made Valentine Boxers for TheFirstChild (and his brother too.)

Valentine Boxers

Like last year, SweetiePie did the boxer modeling for me, and like last year’s boxers, the fabric was primarily black, with a valentine print. I think I like the pin-up girls better for boxers, but these conversation hearts were fun too.

Valentine Bunny

I know the day is over for many of you, but Valentine Bunny and I just wanted to wish all of you, very dear and kind readers, a Happy Valentine’s Day!  I must run now and deliver a few pennie pockets to my valentines.  And then I’ll be making dinner for my special ValentineManoftheHouse (who just brought me a dozen pretty red roses and ran into BigDaddy buying some for MeMum while he was at the store — too funny!)

On the menu:  Steak Au Poivre, Potatoes Savoyarde, Oven Roasted Asparagus and Creme Brulee (omitting the grand marnier).

Yum and Smooches!

XOXO,
Anna

Randomness

Just a bunch of random items for this post:

  1. First and foremost, a mention of the fires in Australia.  It’s so hard to imagine, here in the rainy midwest, what it must be like in the midst of the unbelievable destruction.  I found myself agreeing with Suse a bit, when she posted that it seemed bizarre, if not wrong, to read shiny, happy posts, while so many are suffering.  But really, I’ve often felt that way about blogging.  You never know when a reader might be one who has just lost a child, or a job, or just been diagnosed with cancer, or whatever.  How frivolous a silly post about pennie pockets, or bunny salads, or crafting in general must seem.  I really have no answers except to say that I view blogs as a happy place to escape.  Our imaginary world where all is well.  A place where one might retreat when the real world is less than fair.  There’s nothing I can say that so many other bloggers haven’t already very eloquently said.  Suse’s post had a bunch of great informative links.  And, if you’d like to help, One Pretty Thing posted a great Australian Charity Roundup a few hours ago.
  2. A few weeks ago, I was a VERY VERY lucky girl and I won a giveaway from Marsha at Cute Stuff Inside.

    Beaded Purse

    Oh.  My. Gosh.  I wish you could see this adorable little purse and hold it in your hands.  It’s all handknit and it’s amazing.  The pictures in no way do justice to this purse (click on them for a closer view).  I’ve been showing it to my knitting friends and there have been lots of oohs and aahs.  And look, when I opened it up, there was a dime tucked inside.

    Beaded Purse

    I’m hoping Marsha will tell us the secret behind this dime.  I’ve heard several theories, and now I’m really intrigued.  Anyway, THANK YOU SO MUCH Marsha — I HEART my little purse!  (And btw, you should check out Marsha’s blog to see these cute little purses in lots of other colors.)

  3. Thank you for all of your fabulous comments about my rendition of Monica’s Pennie Pockets.  You guys are the BEST imaginary friends ever.  I try really hard to answer all of my comments, but unfortunately, right in the middle of all that commenting, my mailbox filled up and comments started bouncing.  I did some quick mailbox clean-up, but there are about 15 of you who got caught in no-man’s land, which made it extremely difficult for me to reply to you.  If you didn’t hear from me, you were one of those people and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated your comments — as I do all comments!
  4. And finally, TheEmptyNestChild would just like you to know, if you need a place to get away from it all, hiding under rugs is really fun.

    Scruff Under Rug

    Besides, it will make the other people in your house really laugh when they walk into the room and see a big hump in the carpet. If you don’t believe him, give it a shot!

Have a good week — and I hope all of you in Australia are staying safe!

XOXO,
Anna