Saturday, 31 December 2011


I confess to a morose feeling and a struggle to find some uplifting words on the last day of the year. The persistent chesty cold and asthma I've been trying to shake since late November is winning at the moment and I feel for all the world like I'm on death's door. I am sure things will improve at some stage, I'm just not sure when.

In the meantime, I will look back on the making highlights of 2011 - as always a mixed bag of successes and disappointments. Interestingly as I was putting these mosaics together I realised I have failed to photograph some of the things I've made this year - some of them my favourites. Odd.



Machine knitting

Monday, 19 December 2011

#2 and #3

I forgot to take photos - but really how many brown globs can you look at for inspiration?

A Christmas BBQ for the collected neighbours supplied me with an opportunity for another round of mousse trials and a wider test audience.

OK, so #2 was the molecular gastronomy version of chocolate mousse whipped into public consciousness by Heston, but actually captured first by Herve This. It's just chocolate and water, with the water being whisked into the chocolate to form an emulsion as the melted chocolate cools.

It was super easy to make, and for a hard core chocolate lover it has a purity to be admired. On the downside it was heavy. Maybe I didn't whisk hard enough - though the recipe does recommend you want out for over whisking rather than under whisking so who knows. Also, if you aren't a dark chocolate lover, this version might be a bit bitey. My kids found it unpalatable and to be honest, it was too much for me. I'm not clear whether the strict instruction for at least 70% cocoa solids in the chocolate is a form of taste snobbery or an actual chemical requirement - this may have more universal appeal if made with a milk chocolate?

#3 was based on Elizabeth David's perennial whole egg no cream classic recipe, except that at the last moment I added a little whipped cream to try and rescue the overly heavy result. I fully acknowledge user error here but making this version was a total nightmare.

I melted my chocolate and duly beat in my egg yolks in a thin stream but swiftly and the chocolate hardened to a solid mass instantly. I duly added my third of my egg whites to break up the mass as I believe I should have, but they were not nearly enough to break the mass up - it was still a solid lump. I added more whites but the idea I could 'fold' these in was ludicrous, and by the time I had anything like a pliable consistency, the air was fairly fully deflated from the whites. The resulting mousse was very unmousse-like and still very bittersweet, and since I am still hoping to find something both children and adults will eat I whipped a little cream and folded this in.

The resulting mouse was still too heavy and still too bittersweet - the 5 children who sampled it gave it mixed reviews - 2 couldn't get past the first mouthful or two. One of them was my son, who would happily eat dog shit if dipped in chocolate, so that's saying something. About half the adult samplers added plain cream to their mousse to try and lighten it. Again I wonder whether some milk chocolate mixed in with the dark, or more sugar or more cream would have helped. I'd also like to know if there's a better way to get from solid mass to mousse.

The adults also joined in with my musings over how low end restaurant mousse is made - several of us remarking how it tastes the same no matter where you have it (single supplier for the whole of Melbourne?) and nothing like anything anyone ever made at home. And while I don't wish to reveal myself to be any more of a bogun than many of you may think of me already - I'm not entirely adverse to the chocolate mousse we occasionally get as a freebie with our pizza delivery from the local pizzeria. It certainly feels blasphemous to say it, but so far the three trials I've run have all failed to inspire me at all to bother making it over buying what is no doubt some kind of hideous caricature of real food.

And this is so very unlike me! I am not a fan of packaged food over home made - of flavours or textures far removed from the source. [Except lolly bananas, but who could blame me there?] Members of my own foodie family have been known to have a go at me for being too heavily into 'quality'.

So what happens now? I am all out of inspiration and right now am feeling not at all kindly disposed to chocolate mousse AT ALL. Is this just my own version of Christmas overload? Performance anxiety? Reaction to so much gluttony? Am I lousy cook, do I have the wrong recipe, will this end well?

So please, please do tell me. I want an authentic French mousse. One that isn't hard to make, one that doesn't pucker my lips with bitterness, one my kids will like, one that isn't so heavy and rich that it can reasonably be eaten at then end of a full meal. Tell me what I'm doing wrong, give me the answer or the recipe, or the number of the guy that makes the stuff that all the pizza shops buy. Because time is running out!

Sunday, 11 December 2011


It's the festive season - for me not just Christmas and new year, but also a run of significant family birthdays.

Last night we had a lovely no-children-to-be-seen meal out to celebrate my mum's 78th birthday - amazing food at The Commoner in Fitzroy in an upstairs private dining room. I won't harp about the hopeless service because the food really was stunning, though seriously, if you are going to be a drinks waiter learn to pour a beer for goodness sake!

Anyway, a lovely dinner in adult company is a great excuse to get to and make a lovely frock. I am not a huge dress wearer, though I am trying to wear them more since I do think they look nice when I see other people wear them. I haven't even wore the bubble pocket linen dress I made last month but I am hoping the weather will make it perfect for one or more of the Christmas functions I have coming up.

As soon as my current edition of Ottobre had arrived I'd earmarked both the bubble pocket dress pattern and this one, called Glendora (? it must be a Finnish thing...). Like the bubble pocket dress Glendora didn't go up to my size and required other alterations - the original pattern had a straight skirt under the bodice and cuffs on the sleeves.

The fabric is from (gasp) spotlight, and I love both the print with its combination of black and blue and the fabric weight and structure. It is quite heavy, has a slight sheen and a small amount of elastine making it firm to wear, but very comfortable and it barely creases! I used a very similar fabric from Clegs to make a shirt years ago and it has held up amazingly well. I have to say when I found it at spotlight I stash 3 other prints in the same fabric. I don't like that the predominant background colour is white - I don't like wearing white at all! - but it seems to be the case with every single version of this fabric I have seen and I like the feel so much I'm just sucking it up over the white.

There are no closures at all because the elastine content creates enough give for the shimmy over the head and bust to be easy. It's not just that I don't like doing zips, introducing as they do a whole new set of possibilities for messing things up, but I really think zips change the way the fabric hangs and can ruin the line of the dress even if well installed. It also has my favourite bust dart shape - sloping down into the side seam.

So all up it was an easy dress to make and I did it in a day including tracing and modifying the pattern, whilst caring for kids and doing jobs in between. I sewed the last button on about 10 minutes before I needed to jump in the shower to get ready - oodles of time! I think after it has done party duty this season it may do well as a work dress too thanks to the business like neckline.

I'm really getting into the sewing groove now, which should serve me in good stead as I set to on the Christmas sewing list...

Friday, 9 December 2011


It's all about The Mousse Trials over here.

My family has really upped the ante for Christmas this year with an entirely French menu. I'm on baguette and mousse duty and quite frankly I'm shitting myself.

I put the call out on twitter since I'm a total ignoramus in relation to French Cuisine, and mousse in particular. Aside from the eating bit (baguette and mousse that is) and reading Julie and Julia, really all I know is they use a lot of butter, cream, cheese and odd parts of animals.

Of course when it comes to mousse there are controversies and deep divisions. There's egg, no egg, white only or yolk only. Cream or no cream. garnish or no, liqueur or no. What kind of chocolate to use and last but by no means least (oh no, definitely not least) there's Heston's molecular gastronomy version which uses just chocolate and water.

How can I decide between these all, and allay my fears that I will find myself on Christmas morning whipping whites that won't form hard peaks, curdling cream, making mouse that won't set? Why try them of course!

Trial 1 is a definite outsider, a rebel, an audacious and contentious holder of the name - the Toblerone chocolate mouse. It has egg white and cream and is heavily garnished with whipped cream and crumbled flake.

About as inauthentic French as they come. And mine is absolutely beyond the pale, since in my desperation to make passage through the supermarket in record time I failed to notice I didn't even buy proper toblerone. Instead I have some abomination called a honeycomb crisp - the bastard child of a toblerone and a violet crumble.

So it's not really fair, but it was never going to be.

In my heart of hearts I know I won't be making this for a fancy French meal. It was never going to wash. Maybe that's why I made it first. And why I skipped the garnish. And only made half quantity. It's just warm up.

My verdict?

Well it tastes bloody great in the way that many chocolate flavoured calories must - a lighter, creamier, dissolvey version of the toblerone itself. Toblerone without all the chewing work! The bits of honeycomb and nougat are a little perturbing (they are not mousse like at all) and the sweet milk chocolate doesn't bring that rich dark decadence to mind but it's most definitely chocolate and most definitely mousse and it was both fast and easy to make.

The kids adored it but I don't think it will stand the heat of the trials myself.

I figure it's all up from here!

Thursday, 8 December 2011


I can be quite petulant when I sew. If something doesn't work easily, first time, I can be tempted to simply bin it or leave it in sewing purgatory more or less indefinitely. I can be tempted, and I can give in to temptation.

But occasionally I can talk a project down off the ledge and do my very best to rescue it.

I made this T-shirt with gorgeous hand printed jersey by Bird Textiles, but when I was trying it on an observant friend spotted the unfortunate impression created by the bridge arches near the hem - undies on the outside anyone?

Fast forward nine months or so before I could face dealing with it. Of course in the end it wasn't so hard - after my initial plan of buying some plain jersey to match failed (so many different white jerseys out there let me tell you) I simply lopped the bottom off and added a band from elsewhere in the print. Very glad the pattern repeat size forced me to buy excess fabric!

I also rescued these chairs. I recovered them some time ago from their original green vinyl (it's somewhere on my blog but buggered if I can find it). And really, my choice of fabric was just plain wrong. I loved the way it looked and it hid the dirt pretty well, but the weave was too open and the seams started to give out way too quickly.

It's not a big job really to recover the seats, and the results so justified the efforts - just wish I'd done it earlier!!

Clean up and Christmas. A match made in heaven.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


As the provocation to my current cleaning spell, I thought I would share my pattern storage system. It's the star organisational system of the work room.

I used to store my hand traced and original design paper patterns in A4 folders, in plastic sleeves with sheets of paper between. On the paper I wrote the important pattern information and used dividers to organise them.

But the system began to annoy me because the folded papers, being irregular in size and shape made the folders lumpy. The bulged in the middle and sometimes some of the pages sagged. Not so tidy. It also annoyed me that when I packed for craft camp I'd have to take either the whole folders, or the slippery plastic sheets separately, which easily got crumpled and squished.

I also didn't know what to do with the few enveloped commercial patterns - they were too fat to keep in the folders but I didn't like having 2 different storage systems. I know, I'm funny like that.

So over a weekend a while back I transferred all my patterns into A5 sized envelopes. I chose these because they are easy to find and inexpensive to buy, sturdy, big enough to take even a very large pattern. They are also almost exactly the same size as commercial pattern envelopes and they fit perfectly upright in a shoe box.

Here's an example of what I write on front of the envelope - the pattern type (dress, top, pants etc) in the top left so I can quickly flick through the patterns by type, the pattern name and source (name of book or magazine, edition number and date if relevant), the size, a quick outline of the finished garment, a note about what I made from the pattern (date, fabric, occasion), and critically, any modifications I made to the pattern, either when tracing or when making up.

I tend to be a repeat pattern maker - if I find a good pattern I like I will often make it more than once, so the notes are very helpful. When I make the same thing in different fabrics this is especially so. The fit of a pair of pants for example can change a lot between fabrics, and noting what I learn helps me work out what mods I might need next time.

This system is very quick to maintain - it only takes a minute to write the info on the envelope (I always keep a good store of them at hand) and file it away for next time.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Stage 1 complete!

The photo is awful because my proper camera only has a 50mm lens and there is no where I can stand in this room and capture this bookshelf in its entirety.

Anyway, it's still solidly packed, but it has been culled, it has been tidied, it is in order. There's always more that CAN be done, but I'm OK with this as it is now.

I have in fact made substantial incidental progress in other zones too, but I've decided that I'm going to move systematically round the different parts of the room, and do my best not to get overwhelmed by the totality. I can only claim victory in sequential order.

The machine knitting zone is pretty much done - though I do need to test some equipment and put stuff up in the roof, it is at least now tidy and useable. I have in fact been machine knitting swatches to finish off the lightweight summer cardi I started at craft camp - but so far just haven't gotten the fabric I want, so no show and tell just yet.

Zone 3 - the fabric stash shelves - are in pretty good order too. There hasn't been much culling there (it just feels wrong to get rid of good fabric), but certainly some better organising and the dispelling of the crap that builds up on the shelves around the plastic tubs. It's not perfect yet but getting there.

The rest of it is still a nightmare.

But despite the work room crap explosion and my ongoing viral/asthma illness (10 days people. I'm suicidal) I managed two distinct crafting episodes today - both heavily christmas themed. I may be losing my mind seeing as how I don't even like christmas.

But the mantle piece now sports two stockings - red with white cuffs made from felted wool jumpers and personalised with wee letter beads to head off the bloodbath that may ensue at a later date. Forgive the crapper than crap photo. So crap. The photo in fact just caps off the whole trailer trash christmas craft look of it. Oh I feel sick.

Then I was struck dumb by a cute image on pintrest and immediately grabbed the button collection, some beading silk and in ten minutes made some christmas themed jewellery. Clearly. Gone. Mad.

Also in the back catalogue of the great unblogged is this hoodie I made for Wil.
I'll begin by saying Wil won't wear knitted stuff. And no, it is not an itchy wool thing. I think he has some belief that the 'needles' stay in the garment after you finish knitting them or some such freaky notion.
Anyway, while it stabs me in the heart (the gorgeous malabrigo hoodie I knit him has NEVER been worn. Sob.), I know for him there's no higher pinnacle than polar fleece.
So even though it feels like plastic bags or worse, I made him a polar fleece hoodie. The shape is actually lovely - I was very pleased with this pattern and will make it again for sure.
Another from Ottobre of course. And my young man looks great in it.
Well, actually he just looks great, the jacket is incidental really.

Friday, 2 December 2011


A product of too much time cruising Ravelry.

A pattern unavailable in English.

A pattern only sold in sizes infant-6 or adult.

A pattern you can't buy except in kit form, with yarn, in Denmark.

An online friendship is born across the seas, aided and abetted by ravelry.

Help procuring, help translating, a shared knitting journey.

One very very happy girl. Thank you so much E!