Monday, 30 July 2007

Mushroom farm

I've had a go at growing mushrooms in the past using those kits you get in polystyrene boxes and have to put in the shed or the airing cupboard, but they were always for fairly boring white mushrooms.

Recently though, I came across Ardnamushrooms Shitake block at the Partick Farmer's Market in Glasgow in May and they're great.

It's a gypsum and woodchip block that's colonised with shitake spores. You soak it in cold water for a couple of days, then set it up in a humid chamber (basically a plastic box with water in the bottom and an old towel draped through the water and up the sides with cling-film over the top) somewhere it will get the light for at least half the day, and just let it go. It produces mushrooms for a couple of weeks which you harvest as soon as they're big enough. Once it stops producing, you take the block out of the chamber, trim off any bits of mould that have come along for the ride, and store it dry for eight weeks. By then, it's ready for another round of production.

This block is in it's second cycle of production for us and the guy from Ardnamushrooms reckons that it's possible to get up to 8 rounds of production out of one block.

The mushrooms taste really good too!

Needlecase: Part 2

So once I had my straight needles, crochet hook and stitch holders etc organised, I started wondering how to cope with circular needles.

The solution was almost the same as for the straights, with a bit of an internal redesign so that the pockets faced inwards and there was space for a needle gauge. Each pocket will hold up to three circular needles comfortably (depending on needle size).

The only problem was that this case didn't really roll up very well. Eventually I figured out that the best option was to fold it in half and concertina it, holding it all in place with a loop of elastic round a button as before.

I'm not as pleased with this case as I was with the one for straights, I'm sure with a bit more reworking I could improve the way it folds up and closes, but it works and has been in use ever since I made it.

Needlecase: Part 3

A good friend of mine who has recently had a sudden and rather dramatic conversion to knitting as a hobby has just bought herself a lot of needles, crochet hooks, stitch holders etc. She's also about to move to North Carolina (from Glasgow), so I thought that a gift with a practical underpinning and a slightly Scottish feel to it might be in order.

And so a tweed needle case was born...

This is the same size and basic design as the one I made for myself but the construction is better and the darker fabric shouldn't show up the marks so badly.

The fabric came from another friend who makes kilts etc and was having a clear-out of off-cuts, so the tweed had to be patchworked together.

The fabric was also a lot heavier that the stuff I used for my own case so I didn't need the wadding. The button was a stiffened leather one from John Lewis.

The biggest improvement though, was that I finally learned to use the walking foot on my sewing maching. My in-laws gave us the sewing maching as a wedding present and it came with 8 different feet. I know how to use 5 of these and haven't had a need (yet) for two, but the walking foot is something that I've been meaning to get to grips with for ages. It's just genius! No more will a stack of heavy fabric all want to go different directions at once. I can't believe that I didn't have a go with it sooner as it would have made my own needle case a lot simpler (getting the wadding to stay in place was very tricky)!

Needlecase: Part 1

About a year ago, I decided that the time had come to stop storing my needles in one large bundle in a sterile drape box my mum had used since she first qualified as a nurse. I was fed-up having to rake throught them all to find a matched pair and wanted to devise an alternative system.

I went through my fabric stash (something that existed long before I even thought about knitting as a hobby), set up my sewing machine and came up with this...

A fabric needle case with three tiers of pockets for long needles, medium needles and DPNs and crochet hooks.

It rolls up for storage and fastens with a loop of elastic secured round a button.

The edges are all bound with seam tape and there is some medium weight wadding between the outer shell and the inner lining to keep the needles snug. It's not the best sewing job I've even done but it has been in use constantly since it's conception and I wouldn't be without it (thought the old sterile drape box is still somewhere in my stash storing needles that I have many duplicates of - my granny had a real thing for old UK size 11 and 12 needles (3mm and 2.75mm) which I don't really have the patience for).

I absolutely loved the fabric at the time (fairly recent furnishing fabrics from John Lewis - all odd remnants) and still do, but it's perhaps not the most practical choice for something that is stuffed in bags and rolled out on the floor etc as it's getting a bit marked now. I do however learn from these errors in judgment as Needlecase: Part 3 will show...

Ooooh, pretty!

I thought I'd provide some pretty eye candy that has brightened up my week. A few posts back, I showed some pictures of my spoils from Woolfest. Lurking in one of those pictures was a pile of space-dyed merino roving.

In fact, here it is...

Well, it occurred to me that it was probably too good to felt and that the particular blend of colours would be lost when combined with other roving I have. To cut a long story short, I got in touch with the wonderful Lilith who spun and plied it for me, and now I have approximately 190 yards of heavy sock yarn.

So, what to do with it? I didn't want to make any decisions before I saw the yarn as I couldn't picture what would happen to the colour distribution once it was plied. Now I've seen it, and it's beautiful, I really want to make the most of it. Suggestions please...

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Normal service has not (quite) resumed...

...because the new Harry Potter book arrived the day after I got home from my conference - I don't really think that needs further explaination!

Being in Trieste was like being on another planet. It was really warm - the sort of warm you don't get in Scotland - where the heat is all around you and not just coming from the direction of the sun. The conference didn't allow much time for sightseeing, but what we did see was lovely...

The castle on the hill...

The roman ampitheatre...

The canale grande...

Miremare - the home of Archduke Ferdinand...

And of course the beautiful sunset every night.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Lily Burst

My garden became a lot more fragrant this week due to this...

...the pink lilies have started opening. They've been threatening to for a while, the buds getting larger and larger, and then holding out for over a week past the point when I thought they couldn't possibly stay closed any longer.

They're a bit unusual as lilies go. The first year I had them, they were your standard pink scented lilies but they appear to have picked up a mutation and become doubles or semi-doubles in the last couple of years. Not to worry, they still look great and smell wonderful.

Things are going to be a bit quiet here for the next week or so. I'm off to the DNA Tumour Virus Meeting in Trieste to present some work, meet up with colleagues and collaborators and catch up with the current research in general. It's not going to be all work though, Trieste is going to be warm (35 C) and there are always a couple of breaks in the schedule for sight-seeing.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Back to socks

It's ages since I last knitted a pair of socks and, as I've acquired a few new sock yarns lately, the time seemed right to cast on another pair.

These are for the resident radiologist. The yarn is Lana Grossa Mega Boots Stretch. It's the first time I've used this yarn and I really like it. It's slightly hairy, but not in an itchy way, rather a will-wear-well kind of way. I'm knitting it on 2.5mm needles, with the heels and toes done on 2mm needles to toughen them up a bit (the RR can be a bit of a sock monster). The pattern is a basic sock pattern with 68 stitches that I've adapted to have an afterthought heel (hence the yellow stripe of waste yarn).

I feel that there may be more socks in my near future as I'm remembering how satisfying, non-attention-requiring and portable they are to knit. The pair of this sock will be accompanying my on my travels to Italy for a conference next week.

And for anyone who's noticed that Betty has slipped below the radar recently, I've developed a new Betty-finishing strategy... before I pick up any of my more appealing projects of an evening, I knit an hour of Betty first. In this way I can add just under two inches of sleeve per session and should make steady progress.

Felted soaps

Before I start today's post, I'd like to thank the people who left comments about Swallowtail. For some reason, blogger wouldn't let me reply to you all individually.

And now to felted soaps: these are something I've been meaning to try for ages, but despite looking at the roving available here, I only got round to buying some at Woolfest.

The method is very simple - take a good bar of soap (just like yarn - no point in using nasty stuff!) and wind roving round it until it is covered. You can then add other bits of colour to form a design or pattern. Then put your hand to the bottom of a pop-sock and grasp the covered soap through the fabric and draw the sock over your hand to cover the soap and roving and hold it all in place.
Wet the soap with hot water and work it in your hands to get the roving to felt - you can feel it tightening up. I then carefully take off the pop-sock and put the felted soap in a metal seive and pour very hot (almost boiling) water over it, followed by cold water, to shock the felt. This firms it all up. I then leave the felted soap to dry.

The soap can then be used as normal - it's like having its very own flannel attached, or can be put in a drawer for scent.

This was my first go at felting soaps and I think I was probably too stingy with the base coat of roving. I think a more generous layer would felt better and form a firmer coat.

Monday, 2 July 2007

The miracle of blocking

I have a confession to make. Since I started swallowtail, two Sundays ago, I've not been able to put it down. So, not only did I have Swallowtail Sunday, but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc, etc - you get the picture? All in all, exactly a week after casting on, I was binding off - which took considerable longer (the pattern increases from 2 stitches in the first row to almost 330 in the last).

Here it is unblocked, just off the needles, looking all crumpled and lumpy...

and here it is in all its stretched and smooth beauty.

And just for good measure, a couple of 'serving suggestions'.

To say that I loved this pattern would be understating things slightly. I couldn't put it down. I wanted to see how the next pattern repeat would turn out, then how the next lace chart would turn out and so on. The finished article was blocked within 45min of leaving the needles (I had to soak it and hoover the floor first) because I was in such a hurry to see how it would look.

Finally here is a close up of the different patterns: the budding lace body, the lily of the valley border and the peaked edging.

The finished article is lovely to wear, warm but not scratchy (100% cashmere), very versatile and destined to be a staple of my wardrobe. I may even need another in a different colour...

Woolfest Part II

So - what was in the bag?

Well, there was some of this ...

and some of this...

a little of this...

some of these...

and a few balls of this...

The roving was bought for felting - something I've fancied doing for a while. I've used up the ends of bits of Noro Kureyon in the past to make small felted balls which I want to join together to make a table mat, but I need a lot more balls. The white will form the cores of the balls and the colours will cover the outsides. I've also fancied having a go at making felted soaps so I'll use some for that too.

The beautiful pink and orange roving in the foreground was also intended for felting, but now I think that might be a bit of a waste so I'm looking into having it spun into a sock-weight yarn.

The lopi roving is for knitting and then felting. This caught my eye recently and I think Splat might really like it. I also fancy making this market bag from knitty which Lene has made and finished so beautifully recently.

The sock yarn is for the resident radiologist's delectation (once knitted of course) and I haven't a clue what I'm going to do with the baby alpaca 4-ply. It's a fairly heavy 4-ply (almost a DK) and there is 200m per skein so I'm thinking maybe a little cardi with elbow-length sleeves. To be honest, I just really loved the colour and had to bring it home!

Finally, the buttons are intended for Wisp.

All in all, I think I was fairly restrained. There was loads more I'd have liked to have bought, but I tried hard to have something in mind before I bought yarn. The baby alpaca was the only item which slipped through the mental net...

Woolfest 2007

Where to start... well on Friday I took a day's annual leave from work, picked up a friend and drove down to Cockermouth for Woolfest 2007. This was the third annual woofest but the first one I had made it to. This said, I'd heard about the previous ones from enough friends to have a plan of attack.

India said that the first time she walked in, she hyperventilated for about 10 minutes and had blown her budget within a further 10 minutes. To counter this, I took my budget in cash so I couldn't overspend and I made my way round all the stalls with my wallet firmly at the bottom of my bag and only let myself buy things on the second and third rounds.

So what was there?

Well, there were plenty of these,

and these,

and these...

There were even a couple of these,

and some of these...

Then there was even more of this,

and this,and this...
I finally came away with this (having done some shameless advertising for Katherine). Details to follow soon.

As my friend put it, 'We just drove for 6 hours to buy wool didn't we?'

Oh yes...