Saturday, 25 June 2011


I've started in a new role at work. In an environment where much seems to be unsettled, it's a strange and mixed experience. More background noise.

The bloke's away again, I'm making withdrawals on the favour bank and doing my best to not let standards slip too far. As usual the littles are manifesting their sense of disquiet in all kinds of ways, all equally sad for them and annoying for me.

Uncharacteristically there was a flood of tears and an hour of wailing at D's departure, a new development for the little bloke. He seems quite convinced that each of D's departures are inching closesr to a permanent separation.

I'm practising a philosophy of knit myself sane. Both knitting machines have taken up residence in the living room.

I've started my machine knit version of Kirsten's snuggly Kakomu with gorgeous lamb linen yarn from Avril and despite a few user error disasters, it's going pretty well.

Silk stainless
I'm thrilled to pieces with this massive scarf/shawl I made too. In construction terms it's just a simple rectangle, but the thread of silk and stainless steel (also from Avril) that runs through it gives it an amazing textural quality. The monochromaric colour effects come from a bunch of lace weight cashmere cone ends from colourmart, switched in and out in single and double combinations with the silk stainless and then slightly felted. It's loosely inspired by the felt shawl in Setsuko Torii's Hand-knit works, one of my favourite aspirational knitting books.

And there's a big bunch of other machine knit projects in my head just busting to get out.

Home stretch
I'm also on the last gasp of the great golden hoodie. I love this project, this yarn, the pattern. But I will be very happy to give up carrying around 800gms of knit in my handbag everyday.

Now busy thinking about what I'll be casting on next...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Tom is soup in Thai, and the Thais make several soups that are right up there with my all time favorites. Tom yum goong was the first Thai soup I ever had and it was a revelation of sour, salty spiciness.

But I think my most favourite is tom ka gai - soup with coconut and chicken. It's fresh and tangy with an easily adjusted level of heat and I've never served it to anyone who hasn't liked it. Plus it's dead easy and quick to prepare. Its an all round winner.

As with all Thai food, a bit of variation in your ingredients keeps things interesting - but the quality of the final dish is all about the balance of the flavours - sweet, sour, salty, spicy. Add flavourings in increments and taste often.

Tom Ka Gai - soup with coconut and chicken
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
3 stalks of lemongrass cut into 4cm lengths and bruised
40gm fresh galangal, sliced (if fresh is a problem, frozen is better than dried)
Handful of fresh baby corn cut into 3cm lengths - if you can't get fresh skip the corn because tinned is an abomination
1 medium white onion, cut in bite size pieces (say, eighths)
100gms mushrooms (ideally straw, but next best is oyster then thin sliced button)
3 or 4 kaffir lime leaves torn into quarters
1 medium tomato cut into bite size pieces
200gms thin sliced chicken breast
1 cup coconut cream
2 plus tbsp fish sauce
2 plus tbsp lime juice
1 or more green chillies*
Handful of coriander leaves

Heat coconut milk and stock in a large pot until just boiling.
Add lemongrass, galangal, corn and onion. Let heat for a few minutes.
Add mushrooms and lime leaves and heat for a few more minutes.
Add chicken and tomato and heat until chicken is cooked.
Add coconut cream and just bring to the boil and remove from heat.
Add fish sauce, lime juice and chillies and serve with coriander leaves.

*The degree of heat released by the chillies depends on how much they are cut or bruised. They can be sliced for maximum heat, just steeped for minimum heat or bashed a bit with the back of the spoon for something in between. In general, the smaller the chillies are, the more intense the heat - use tiny 'mouse shit' chillies for power heat, or larger milder ones for a softer flavour. If you have kids or chillie haters, serve them first then add the chillies after.

Friday, 17 June 2011


One of the things I've surmised about teaching sewing is that often what students need to learn is less about how to sew than it is about how to fit garments. How to take a reasonably well sewn garment from something that doesn't look great because it doesn't really fit them into something that really sings.

In chatting with the lady of the bottomless skills we thought perhaps a workshop focused solely on modifying patterns and garments to really fit well would be a good thing. Nay an excellent thing.

I'm very excited about teaching it because my experience of going from off the rack (be it pattern or garment) to made just for me is revelatory. I've seen it in classes, I've seen it at craft camp, and I've experienced it myself. That feeling of wearing something you know is comfortable, flattering and elegantly tailored. Makes anyone feel like a million bucks.

It's a very hard thing to achieve alone - you need someone else with the pins while you stand straight and a few pairs of eyes looking at you from all angles to get it really right, so a workshop setting is perfect. There's me and my experience, but there's also a room full of other people who know what looks good and what doesn't, enough views to get a good discussion going and a lot of fun and excitement to be had.

So if you are in the Melbourne area and might be interested, pop on over to Nikki's site and check out the full monty of info.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Could the no knead bread be any more awesome?

Why yes, just add beer.

Will never look back.

Now that I'm too fat on bread to turn around.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I realised this morning that the blog post about craft camp was only in my head. A small oversight.
Perhaps because I neglected to take any photos aside from this little fellow the blog post didn't stay on the radar, and by the time I photographed even some of the goodies I brought back it already seemed like a dream.

Anyhow it was, as always, a wonderful trip. All the good things were in the mix, the making, the relaxing, the laughing, the food and the enormous amounts of inspiration and creative high.

I was enormously pleased with the haul - a couple of big jobs out of the way, some fairly mundane sewing accomplished and a couple of unexpectedly exciting things popped out.

I love love love the quilt. LOVE IT. It is for my little brother and his new wife - because a new life together should always start with bedding I say.

I dyed quite a few of the fabrics, and I'm stupidly in love with the little title strip which is hand stamped on linen twill tape.

There was a new handbag, since the last one literally fell to bits. Pretty much identical to the last 3 or more I've made because this design really meets my needs. Making them out of regular fabric keeps the cost and time of making them down, so I'm OK with the regular replacement time frame. These fabrics are from Cloth and I'm loving them.

It was great to finally have a sew with the new Ink and Spindle jersey range. The kids got a T each and both love them. I note with sadness that this is surely the last time I can squeeze a T for Amy from a half meter piece.

The dress was a complete surprise, an experiment gone right, and way better in real life than photo. I love it! There is also a cardi and wrap I haven't photographed.

And as I generally note, a word of gratitude to the fellow campers who go on sharing this belief in the value of crafting community. I say it often, but it's not to be underestimated how fragile communities are, how deeply they rely on a collective agreement to park individual wants outside the door for the sake of everyone getting along. It doesn't take much to shatter that, and it can be easy to lose sight of why you would bother to compromise on a whole range of preferences, to put up with other people's foibles and ways for the sake of a shared space. So to everyone who holds a tongue, who decides they don't mind so much, who is happy to pitch in above and beyond what they must, who gives of things material and ephemeral I thank you.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


The machine is on fire and I'm following in its wake.
This one couldn't have been easier or faster - about 2 hours! 225gms of rowan 4ply wool in apple.
The girl couldn't have been happier.  Or posier.
Stiff competition for cute from the boy child too.
The other apple of my eye.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


I will confess that as much as I love my knitting machine, in recent times I've been feeling a bit, well, deflated.

When I started with the machine, a happy accident in itself, I said if all I got out of it was some scarves and large rectangles I'd feel pretty happy. And almost as soon as it was up and running I produced knitting of the kind I would never dream of attempting by hand, large featherweight scarves and stoles with pretty tuck stitching.

But perhaps inevitably, pretty soon I was looking to move on. I mean how many scarves can a girl use? How many can I give as gifts? When the capacity for production is so great the products start to feel less special.

And at the same time my hand knitting has been progressing well and giving me a lot of joy. Lots of projects coming together, some really great yarns getting bought and used. Lots of otherwise empty time spent waiting and blobbing and commuting used for meditative stitching. Lots of sharing and show and tell and communing with knitting buddies. All very satisfying.

But the promise of the machine beckons. So I started some lessons, and I started some garments and while there have been some perfectly usable outcomes, the honest truth was that I felt quite underwhelmed. The process is mechanical, the results unpredictable, there's a lot of waste and frustration and many many limitations. Aside from the occasional returns to lovely rectangles of beautiful yarn I just wasn't getting excited in the way I fully expected to.

So I can't tell you how deeply gratifying it was to make my first one piece garment. While the sample had many imperfections it's the first thing I've made right from the I wonder if you could do this, through the small scale model to the fully fledged garment. And in a display of the forces for good, I decided to bypass the whole swatch and calculation phase, the reliance on the numbers and the plan phase and just knit using my best intuitive guesses for size and proportion.

I did that not just because it's boring and complicated and a frustrating delay in the journey towards the actual knitting, but also because one of the things I've decided I don't much like about the machine knitting process when you are making a garment is that once you are underway you just have to keep going till the end, fingers crossed it will all come good in the wash. But I don't sew like that, and I don't even hand knit like that. I cut and modify and undo and redo, and while some of that is a calculated process, a good portion of it is just guess work and instinct.

And really, when I think about it, it's the development of those instincts that I really value. I like that through many many iterations of making I've come to a point where I often just have a sense - a sense that curve should be a little flatter, that those stitches should be a little wider, that this sleeve is just never going to fit that armhole. And where the machine seemed to be working against me was where I was trying to bypass those instincts, not only because they weren't there yet, but by working in a way that cut them out entirely.

So like I say, I was darned pleased with the sample, and even more so with the second version - better yarn, fewer mistakes (though still plenty!). My joy then magnified on discovering the garment can be worn many more ways than I had imagined. I think maybe I'm beginning to get a feel for how I might make the machine work with me after all.