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The Knitty Kitty

Well WIP Wednesday may have to wait until a) I’m paid and can afford materials for a new project and b) my camera resurfaces from the depths of its hiding place.  Fortunately, I have outsmarted my camera’s intentions for I have pictures of my first ever knitting project.  Let me explain: knitting has always been a big bug bear for me.  Although I never had any parental tuition in crochet despite both my parents apparently being able to, although I never saw either of them crocheting, when I started teaching myself it just seemed to come naturally. I understood fairly quickly how to read patterns, but more than this I quickly and easily found my own way of controlling the yarn, holding the needle.  I still made mistakes, but more often than (k)not, I could seem where I had gone wrong and correct it.  Knitting, however, is an entirely different matter.  My mum tried to teach me on several occasions, but I never got beyond knitting scarves that were far too small for even the smallest human being and they were too big even for my dolls, essentially straggly, holey swatches.  I couldn’t find a comfortable way to hold the needles or control the yarn, and mistakes appeared out of the blue and it just took so bloody long to produce anything.  I never tried to knit again for another 20 years and then I discovered crochet.

Knitting and crochet seem to be inextricably intertwined.  As I got more into crochet, the more I saw about knitting.  I’d be searching out patterns for crochet and find knitting patterns that I prefered.  Not being able to knit had me feeling left out: all those beautiful thing that I could make if only I could knit!   I even owned knitting needles, after expressing my desire to learn I was given some for Christmas presents.  So a couple of months ago, mired in the frustration of the poverty portion of the month where there is not enough month to buy lovely yarns, I decided to have a look through my stash and found a pair of still packaged 5mm needles.  “Enough is enough” said the inner voice, so I grabbed some needles, some aran yarn and a knitting tuition book (also a gift), marched downstairs and began, once again, to teach myself to knit.  Within a couple of hours, somehow, I had picked it up.  I had to work at it much more than I did crochet and mistakes were frequent, but the tuition book really helped me to see what I’d done wrong, and came with a the sage advice ‘never be afraid to undo your work and start again’.  I discovered that I knit tightly, a problem I had when I was 8.  I just couldn’t get the needle through the stitches after my first row so I had to force myself to knit loosely.   After a couple of holey, and subsequently unpicked, swatches later a perfect one emerged.  Oh the pride, the joy!

In a flurry of excitement, I bought my first knitting magazine.  After flicking through various patterns for sweet little baby clothes, a beautiful fair isle type red dress for a little girl (that I will make one day!) I realised I still didn’t really know how to follow a complex knitting pattern.  Tucked in the last pages through was a pattern for a toy,  a sweet little cat.  All stocking stitch with a few increases and decreases.  The yarn was Drops Baby Merino which is so soft and quite fine so I bought new needles, and set about the pattern.  The magazine had conveniently come with a free row counter, a piece of kit I’ve never had cause to use before.  It was like it was meant to be!  I discovered that I enjoyed knitting with finer needles and yarn.  I can understand why chunky needles and yarn are recommended for beginners, so that mistakes can be seen and whatever you’re knitting knits up quickly, but I found I much preferred the opposite.  Little knitted stripey legs and arms appeared on the side of the sofa and not long after I started I was ready to assemble and stuff the knitty kitty, as he came to be known in my home.

knittykitty

Here he is.  I’m so pleased with him.  After not being able to knit for so long, and feeling almost left out, I’ve begun to make inroads into knitting.  I’m also quite pleased with my fairly ropey embroidery skills as the mice, claws and facial features, apart from the eyes are all embroidered.  I’m desperate to improve my skills though, and I’m not particularly a scarf person, but I think I’ll have a go at some mittens and a blanket, and then hopefully progress on to knitting some clothes.  I’ve read that local knitting groups can be a good place to learn new skills, but I feel a bit bad just turning up to mooch instruction, so I’m going to try working on it by myself for a while.  I love cardigans and I’m rarely spotted not wearing one so would love to knit my own selection of cardis.  I also love knowing that when I eventually get round to having children, I’m sure I’ll be able to knit them something.  Indeed my first child will be the one to have the Knitty Kitty.

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First Homemake of the Year

It can only be bread.  On opening the bread bin yesterday morning I found only the white processed stuff and so rather than head out and buy some I decided to make some.  Bread isn’t generally a quick thing and although I mixed up the dough at about 11am I didn’t bake it until gone 5pm.  It is utterly worth the wait though and I have to say that this batch was one of if not my best yet.

Making bread is a process that is entirely in the hands and not at all in the head.  You can sense at the kneading stage whether or not it’s going to be a good loaf, by the way the dough yields (or doesn’t) to your hands, or the feel of the surface of the dough.  It’s heartening to have at least a few certain successes with bread making, because if nothing else, it gives you a reference point for all future mixes.  I don’t have a standard recipe per se.  I always seem to have numerous bags of flour, some fuller than others, so I empty bags into the scales until I have a kilo (2.2lbs in old money) of flour and tip it onto the work surface.  Then add 3.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp of sugar and two of those packets of quick acting dried yeast.  As for water, there never seems to be a set amount to use and my guess is this is because all flours absorb different amounts of water, so I keep a large jug of blood temperature water to hand and add a little at a time until I have a slightly sticky dough.  I used to mix up the dough in a bowl until I found that working with it just on a work surface gave me far better control over the consistency.  Again, bread is made by the hands and not the head.

I put my bread dough in a large oiled bowl and then put the bowl inside my bread black binbag as apparently the black of the bag absorbs more heat and helps the dough rise.  Seems to work!

I prove and knock back the dough about three times, which is why it takes so long from start to finish.  It’s not a problem though because you don’t have to stand over it.  I’m all for slow cooking and baking in all its forms and I love recipes that take very little time and attention to prepare and bread is a perfect example of this.  After proving, shape the loaves and leave to rise for twenty minutes or so.  I then sprinkle with seeds and slash the tops as this seems to help the loaves rise when in the oven.

For the first ten minutes of baking I set the oven to the highest temperature it will go as this gives the raw dough a final ‘spring’ before turning it down to bake the loaves all the way through.  After about half an hour, I got these beauties from the oven-

There is a rule that warm bread is for tearing and cooled bread is for slicing, but I simply cannot resist a slice of warm, freshly baked bread.  So with careful slicing and an oven glove, flaunting the rules yields wonderful results-

Rather pleased to say the least.