Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anyone for Continental Knitting?

It's definitely a learning curve. Using the wool in the wrong hand, holding the needles differently - its like driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car...

But, it doesn't take long to pick it up. This afternoon is the first time I have attempted left-handed knitting - even though I am a left-handed person - and after a few stumbles for an hour or so, I had it. Now I just have to keep it. That means practicing, regularly. Well, I am knitting a plain garter stitch scarf as well as the lacy one, so that will be a good opportunity to get in plenty of practice.

Oh dear, I don't seem to have any excuses not to practice...

I am quite surprised how easy continental knitting is once you get the hang of it. I'm by no means fast yet, too soon, and I still 'loose the wool' by the tension slacking off, but I'm getting the hang of it.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube of varying lengths for 'hands-on' tuition. Even with Continental knitting there are a few techniques. Some hold the wool wrapped around the little finger and over the forefinger, others double wrap the wool just around the forefinger, some hold the forefinger away from the needle when knitting the stitches, or it can be held close and 'pick' the yarn directly off the finger. These are just a few techniques, there are more.

I'm still working out which way is the best for me. Whichever way you find suits you is the right way - for you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caramelised Banana Pancrepes for Breakfast - Pure Decadence

It was one of those typical Sunday mornings - slow. A couple of cuppas, computer catchup was nicely underway - and then it came to a stop.

A request for French toast by my granddaughter for her breakfast suddenly cut through the equilibrium.

Oh dear. Amazing how one little seven year old can totally change the whole course of a Sunday morning...

Nana looked at her and, of course, received one of those 'sweet and cute' looks that are so hard for any Nana to refuse.

So, I duly complied, and the French toast was cooked. It was then requested to have it with icing sugar sprinkled on top. Hmmmm... sugar this time of the morning???? Oh well...

And seeing as I had already started, I thought I might as well carry on. Nana fancied pancakes. But, not just your ordinary pancakes - special ones. Caramelised banana pancakes to be exact, or pancrepes as we call them in this house.

The Reason? I say they are pancakes, and daughter says they are crepes so we created pancrepes. It works well alleviates any squibbles - mostly.

Anyway, I cooked the pancrepes, caramel sauce and bananas and called a very surprised daughter for breakfast. She wasn't expecting that one. We both pigged out, and Rhi managed to get through one and a half - even after her French toast; no idea where she put it, probably squished down into her toes...

Now, to any other Nana's out there who like caramel, bananas and pancakes, I totally recommend trying this for breakfast - or as an afternoon treat, or as a dessert, or as a midnight snack. Anytime is a good time...

It literally is Pure Decadence.

And on top of that, it has to come with a perfect pot of Earl Grey... which I will make sure happens next time.

Maybe I might just have to make some more - just to try that out...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Banana Cake and Nana

And it came to pass that it was said unto Nana by daughter, "Go forth and make a banana cake". With a number of over-ripe bananas in the fruit bowl it seemed like a good idea at the time. So, Nana duly went forth and proceeded to the kitchen to make the banana cake.

Now, considering that at the moment in this furnished accommodation, there is no modern contraption to use, i.e. an electric mixer, Nana has to make it all by hand.

Then it comes to technology. One microwave. Thank goodness for that! Well, at least it softens the butter enough to cream with the sugar, and saves a tremendous amount of hand work - and pure butter, not one of these mixed 'blends' with all sorts of rubbish in them. It works beautifully - just the right length of time to soften enough to add the sugar and beat to a cream - with a fork! Oh dear...

All of this hard work deserves something... Hmmmm - a coffee to accompany while mixing I think...

The rest of the process follows smoothly. Four large ripe bananas, squished. In they go. Milk and soda in next, then fold in the flour.

Coool, this is the good bit. Why? Because its nearly ready to pop into the oven. An extra couple of layers of baking paper lines the bottom of the tin - hopefully, it works. This oven tends to cook hot and burns - very good for the unwary cook, who would have no idea and think she, or he, has done something wrong.

Now for the 'in waiting' period. Aaaaah, another cuppa - what an excellent idea! Pity there's no cake to go with that.

It coming...

And when it did come - out of the oven that is - I had to fight off it being eaten while still hot - with butter!

Finally, it was cool enough to add the lemon icing, and no sooner that was done, daughter was into it.

And Nana said, "I'm on strike!" ... Your turn...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tribute to Yankee

Yankee was a friend's beautiful German Shepherd. He lived a good life and was dearly loved. I house-sat for him a few times and he was always ready to please. As he grew older, he became deaf making it hard for him to know what was happening around him.

                                      ANDACHT ALPHA YANKEE


                               28th September 1997 – 24th August 2010

Treadle Spinning Wheel V Electric Spinner

When it comes to choice of spinning wheel, there are many factors to take into consideration before you purchase. With dozens of wheels to choose from, it can be a difficult decision. The spinning wheel you choose depends on a number of factors.

What are you wanting the wheel to achieve? This will decide whether you buy a treadle wheel, upright, traditional, portable, or an electric spinner.

Do you want relaxing spinning, production spinning, or to enable the continuation of spinning with some kind of physical impairment?

Spinning wheels differ greatly in their action, some being very easy to use while others require more attention. As rule of thumb, a spinning wheel with a bigger wheel diameter is easier to treadle with less effort than a smaller wheel diameter, while the electric spinner requires no treadling at all. Wheels are no longer cheap to buy, some running to many hundreds of dollars therefore careful choice, and road-testing (where possible) is essential.

For fast or production spinning the electric spinner is at the top of the list. All one has to do is set the speed of the whorl and feed the carded wool into the orifice. It will keep turning until you switch it off. Not having to treadle, fast production will ensue though it needs careful tensioning as some electric spinners can tend to 'over spin'. The plus side is that a very even yarn can be achieved in a relatively short space of time. The speed can be increased or decreased by the twist of the button, although this will take one hand away from the drafting of the wool. A foot pedal option is available for on/off functions.

By its very nature, a treadle spinning wheel is slower than the electric spinner, even though the whorl can be travelling at the same speed. Just having to treadle will make a difference, but that can be a plus. A treadle spinning wheel can be better utilised by using your foot to dictate the speed it travels. When creating fancy yarns, it is essential to have total control of your wheel to enable the even distribution of twists to the yarn. Some of the smaller wheel diameter spinning wheels are good for spinning fine yarn, while others with larger wheel diameter are better suited to the heavier wools. Choices between the ‘upright’ wheel or a ‘traditional’ wheel are personal. If, for instance one has foot, leg or back problems, using an upright wheel is easier as one can sit evenly in front of the wheel and use either foot for treadling. A traditional wheel dictates the right foot must be used or one will sit twisted if trying to use the left foot to treadle.

I have three spinning wheels, and each spins very differently.

My Little Peggy was bought in the early 1980's when I was living in New Zealand. It is an excellent spinning wheel and spins fine yarn easily.  The treadling action is smooth, although with the smaller 14" wheel, treadling is not as easy as with a bigger 18" or 20" wheel, having to 'treadle' more to achieve the same output. It's structure is solid with excellent workmanship, well balanced and pleasant to the eye. This wheel is small enough to take with you to spinning events. For lace and fine threads, a spinning wheel with a smaller diameter is more suitable than a large one. It has a range of ratios making it very flexible.

Although Rappard is no longer producing these wheels, they are still very much sought after. Mine is safely tucked away, though in need of a little 'refurbishment' due to tropical conditions and damage to the finish.

The Ashford Traveller, although still an upright, has a much larger wheel than the little peggy. This wheel spins a good yarn but is more suited to normal to heavier yarn such as 4ply, double knit and bulky. It does not like the fine yarn plying and tends to vibrate when treadling fast, making it noisy and uncomfortable to use. My wheel has a double treadle, but its possible to use just one and not both - I spin with my left foot only due to leg damage in a car accident many years ago and it works very well. If treadling becomes too much work, the electric spinner is another option.

Because of the characteristics of vertical upright and horizontal traditional, I would have to sit twisted if using my left foot on a traditional wheel, hence my preferred use of the upright wheel.

Compare this with the electric spinner...

The Roberta is an excellent example of the electric spinner and quite popular, although at the top of the price range. It spins efficiently, evenly, is fast and easy to use. I enjoy this spinner when I don’t feel like having to treadle, but on the other hand it does need an electric outlet if I take it with me to spinning events.The finish is superb and it runs like a dream once it's 'broken in'. As this wheel has bearings it doesn't need oiling, but when new it has to be worn in through letting leaving it turned on and the flyer going for a while. And a little on the flyer does help at times. The bobbins need to be worn in, then it should not 'pull' the fibre out of your hands. If it does, something needs adjusting or out of alignment - as happened with mine. I sent it back and was told it had not been put together correctly. So, the spinner was duly re-aligned, free of charge, and now it works beautifully.

A new 'mini spinner' is now on the market and is worth a tryout. There are many brands of electric spinners and spinning wheels on the market and personal preference, as well as price, will dictate the model bought.

Treadle V Electric spinner - whichever spinner you choose, it will give many hours of pleasurable spinning.

Happy spinning!

Tour de Fleece

For those who think I have gone totally balmy talking about a 'Tour de Fleece' - no, I haven't.

The Tour de Fleece is a spinning competition that runs alongside the Tour de France, and this year started on 4th July and ending on the 25th July, with the same rest days in between. The idea of the competition is to give yourself a goal with spinning, whether it be just sitting for longer at your wheel, creating a new designer thread, spinning that kilo of fleece you've been putting off, or sitting and watching the Tour de France and spinning at the same time. Prizes were awarded in different areas of spinning at the end of the competition.

For me, to sit and spin at the same time as watching the Tour de France, it was late at night as France is a long way from Australia and the time zone is hours apart - but it was fun and it did happen...

Those who enter the Tour de Fleece, and there ended up being about two and half thousand members on that Ravelry forum, it was be an exciting three weeks. All the more so if you live in France somewhere along the tour route. Weather permitting, spinning could be undertaken on the side of the road as the cyclists pass - now That would be different and something to keep in mind should I have the opportunity to be in France at that time.

Somehow, I've ended up as team leader and as I'd never entered an event like this, or led a team before, it was a first for me and thoroughly enjoyed taking part. The Tour de Fleece has been going for a few years and seems to be growing each year. Spinning is becoming more popular and in France especially, its entered a 're-birth' as more people are again starting to spin.

It is truly an International Event in the crafting world, with some amazing results. Spinners from all parts of the globe took part, making friends, challenging themselves, and winning lots of lovely prizes.

Whether you spin on a wheel or a spindle, the fun is taking part and setting yourself your own goals for Le Tour. The colours, textures, amounts, the dyeing, the fleeces, it all adds up to one huge event. It must be the only event in the world where so many people get together and work for a common goal. Even the Olympics doesn't get this much coverage - most people cannot 'take part' in that event, only watch.

One of the best parts of this competition is the making of new friends, in all parts of the world. I am a member of quite a few groups on Ravelry, but one group in particular has caught my attention - Spinners of France. Maybe because I love that country, and its people, that I have become somewhat addicted to learning French for when I am over that way. Its a beautiful country, and now the art of spinning is in 're-birth' with hundreds of women, and probably some men, taking up the Wheel and spindle again.

Next they will need to look at their wool production, for use other than filling mattresses, creating roofing batts with the fibre or burning it as is happening with most of the fibre now. Sheep grown for their meat are the main animals and they do not create spinning fibre; their wool is coarse and no good for spinning so basically, a new industry will need to spring up for the spinners. Italy and Spain have the merino, the UK has many different breeds of sheep, and in time, France will follow suit. There are already a few small-holding farmers who tend the spinners market, and that is set to grow providing infrastructure is put into place for the industry.

For my part in Le Tour, I spun up some Shetland tops into a lace weight yarn, and when I have completed that, next will be coloured slubby tops that I also acquired at the Berry Wool Muster last weekend.

The original goal was to spin 1kg of fleece or tops into yarn in the three weeks of Le Tour de France, but it was a wee bit of wishful thinking... Other things always seem to get in the way of being able to sit and spin, i.e. eating, sleep, shopping, and other menial tasks that have to be done throughout the day. What a waste of time, when we ought to be spending it spinning!

First yarn hot off the bobbin!
To say that trying to spin, and watch Le Tour de France at the same time is challenging is an understatement - looking at two things at once is definitely different - if one looks down at the spinning, you miss anything going on along the road or seeing the magnificent countryside. If you watch the action on tv, you end up with globs of bubbly stuff that isn't meant to happen, running onto your bobbin. This is where we could do with two sets of eyes -  that would make things much easier.
The Tour will at least get me back into spinning mode, I have much to catch up on and once this is finished, will see about some fancy yarns and playing with dyes. That I have been planning to do for a while, and not quite gotten around to it. Now is as good a time as any - any time is a good time for fleece, spinning and dyeing.

Here, downunder in Australia, its dawned beautiful clear but cool days - and the spinning wheel was oiled and ready to go for the next session, which was... Start, of the mountain stage.

Handspun Lace Scarf in Merino/Silk

With a bit of a lag in activity after Le Tour de Fleece, I've managed to get myself back to 'The Blog' and put a few words on paper. Its been a busy time, completing the editing of a manuscript but that is now out of the way and I can concentrate on more important things - like my spinning and knitting.

The Shetland I spun for Le Tour has been stored for later use, I haven't decided on a project for it as yet but I'm sure something will crop up at some stage. The grey matter is already ticking over on that one. With only 250grams, its not really enough for a jumper, but might make a short sleeve summer cardigan...

Oh dear - think I just found a project for it. Whether to dye it or leave it natural white?

The yarn below is a beautiful purple Merino/Silk, which I've spun up in a medium lace weight. A pattern has been sourced and knitting has commenced.

As I have not used silk yarn as stated on the pattern, I decided on using larger needles as the yarn is not as fine, but it's still knitting up very nicely.

At the same time, I am also working on a cardigan for my daughter. The blue dyed sliver is to be blended with alpaca to spin into a fine slubby yarn.

So far, the corridale/alapca blend is spinning up beautifully with the first bobbin nearly complete.  It is a pleasure to spin.
To blend the fibres, I am using hand carders with 2/3rd sliver, 1/3 alpaca and carding until the white is fully blended, giving a 'denim' look to the yarn. One strand will have slubs of white alpaca, emulating the original yarn on the pattern as closely as possible.

In the meantime, the bath-tub has been full of fleece leftover from other projects and washed in preparation for carding.
If that isn't enough, the thought of knitting my granddaughter gloves and beanie is also on the cards...
And if there is any time left over, I will see about a bit of sleep and food here and there...

A Coat of Many Colours - Dog Rescue part 2

Millie looked a sorry sight when she was brought back to my daughter's house - her coat was very matted, hair falling into her eyes and the longest eye lashes I've even seen on a dog! She was very unsure and barked at everything. The lady that found her and looked after her brought her back from death's door, spending a lot of time to get her back to health.

After a few days in her new home she is starting to settle down, quite quickly in fact, and is already becoming part of the family.

An appointment was made for her at the Pamper Parlour to clean her up a little, so today she went in a ragamuffin and came out a fluffy little pooch. They had bathed and blow-dried her, trimmed her coat and removed all the tangles, of which it was all matted, cut back the hair on her face, and downsized the toe nails.

With the arrival of the new dog, along came the request 'can you make her a new coat?' So out come the needles and some dyed handspun yarn and I start knitting. After finding a basic pattern on the internet, I customised it by re-sizing and changing the neck shape. I decided on a simple rib to give a bit of extra warmth. It knitted up quickly, and I was surprised at how well the colours blended together. The dyeing of this skein was an experiment and I'm pleased with the result.

The dog coat is a success and looks beautiful on her. Now she is bathed and trimmed, the fluffy pooch is much happier, can see easier and is more mischievous than ever. Hopefully, she will fatten up a little with good food, plenty of love and attention, enough exercise, settle in and become part of the family for a long time to come.


One very smart little girl, all snug and warm.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dog Rescue Industry in Australia

You know when it all gets a bit too much when you cannot find even a few minutes to sit and spin. That's when something has to change. It did, though I'm not sure it will give me more time...

A couple of months ago, an eight month old puppy arrived, a rescue pup actually. Very cute and lovable, and she will become a shadow to my six year old granddaughter. This little girl puppy is a poodle/silky terrier most likely, with more poodle characteristics than silky though she has a crinkly double coat and doesn't miss a trick. Having been 'rescued' only a few months ago by a very nice lady, she is still recovering from her experiences and has a long way to go but is already settling in well and has made herself right at home.

I find it absolutely incredible the huge 'industry' that has sprung up with rescue dogs. One cannot simply visit the pound and find a dog for free or little cost anymore. Its costs around $300-$400 to bring one home. That in itself would put many families, pensioners and older people out of the loop in being able to help rescue a dog - and there are many hundreds of them around Australia. It leaves one wondering what will happen to most of these poor animals that have been deserted, abused, lost or just not cared about.

Then there are the 'foster home' carers that also charge a fortune for the 'rescue' dog. If one takes on foster dog, they do it because they want to help the dog, not because they can make some money out of it. One such case a little while ago, this 'rescue carer' had to find a home for the dog quickly, but she would not let it go to a good home for free, she still wanted $200 for it and would not budge. I expect the dog is still waiting for a new home. On the whole the people who look after these animals do an excellent job, but those who try to profiteer are the ones who will give the whole dog rescue scene a bad name. There are many people who would love to give these animals a good home but simply cannot afford the incredibly high fees that are now being charged.

Its not only rescue dogs that are being exploited. Even dogs that were once classed as 'mongrels' are now being sold for many hundreds of dollars, especially if the puppy was a mistake mating between two 'purebred' dogs. What a rip 0ff! Again, it would be a miracle if many of these dogs found homes.

And it doesn't stop there. When it comes to 'Urgent home' wanted for pets where the owner cannot keep them for whatever reason, the majority are still charging and expecting, and arm and a leg instead of giving them free to a good home.

To those who think charging hundreds of dollars and thinking it will make the prospective home a better one need to think again. Accepting a large payment for a dog does not guarantee that it goes to a good kind home, these people can also abuse the animal - and do.

A house in the neighbourhood had two purebred samoyeds, a breeding pair. These two beautiful dogs were kept in a very small backyard, never taken out of the yard, never exercised, never given any attention, come rain or shine, mud or whatever, two miserable, always barking, very dirty dogs were finally rehomed somewhere else - or at least I hope so. They left the yard and have not come back so hopefully they are happier where they are now to where they were before.

It took quite a while, but my daughter finally found 'Millie' the rescue puppy, the newest member of her household - Free to a Good Home! And what an excellent home she will have. She will be loved and cared for and she didn't cost a cent!

Production Spinning in Afghanistan

Spinning is a world-wide occupation, and still gaining momentum, either as a hobby or as employment. Women working at one yarn production company in Afghanistan are now able to spin with a spinning wheel instead of using a drop spindle. Production of spun yarn has thereby increased. With this new production equipment and the increase in yarn output more women have gained employment and the opportunity to attain a rise in their wages.

Read the full story...

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To be Obese - or Not

With 1.6billion obese people in the world, its little wonder health is deteriorating at an astronomical rate. It’s a 'wake-up' call for civilization—and it had better take notice. This is one issue needing to be addressed immediately, before people loose sight of what they are becoming and take it as ‘normal’ to be obese.

What is Obesity?
Obesity is not just being fat and over-weight, it’s much more than that. It’s also how YOU perceive yourself. If you think ‘fat’ that is what you will become. If you do not think about what you are putting into your body, you can also become obese.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.6billion adults overweight in the world. That figure is projected to increase by about 40% over the next 10 years. Not a good future. A person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese, and a BMI equal to, or more than, 25 is considered overweight.

Admittedly, some people have no control over weight gain, especially those on steroid treatments or anyone with body malfunction. But, the rest of us CAN help what we are and what we look like.

Obesity is most likely a result of the ‘modern western diet’ way of eating and living, and lack of exercise. That can be changed. A high carbohydrate diet and lack of exercise leads only to one thing – becoming overweight or even obese. By the time one has taken on board all the ads on television for bread, biscuits, chocolate, pizza, fried chicken, other fast-food commercials, rushing around grabbing the first thing that comes to hand, it’s not surprising there are so many obese people in the world today.

In the end, it all comes down to ‘diet’ – the way we eat and live. Until there is change in the way people ‘think about’ what they put into their bodies, the number of obese people will not reduce.

‘Diet’ – as in a way of eating and not a way of reducing weight, IS the be-all and end-all of common sense. The saying ‘You are what you eat’ is very true. You eat rubbish, and rubbish will cling to you – literally, in the form of fat. The high carb and ‘added’ fat diet only serves to ‘hand around’. Some of course are more susceptible than others, as is the case with everything. Anyone with a slow metabolism and/or sedentary lifestyle the high carb eating is not the way to go as the ‘deposits’ will not burn off, and hence attach themselves to the fat cells in the body.

Being obese not only affects the size of the body, it also affects the whole lifestyle. Fashion clothes are out of the question, getting around becomes very difficult creating a tendency to stay home, except for having to go to work, which in turn raises the question of social activities and making friends. This in turn affects ones self-confidence levels, thus creating a ‘comfort eating’ pattern – and the cycle continues.

What can be done about it? That depends on how you would like to be, think and feel…
The first step is to make the decision that you want to be smaller and loose the weight to become a size that is comfortable to you, be it 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 or whatever. Then look at what you have been eating. A good idea is to write down everything you eat for two weeks – and no cheating. You might get quite a surprise.

To burn off the fat, one does not continue to eat the same as that which put it on in the first place – most likely being a diet high in carbohydrates, fried foods, takeaways, sweets, and alcohol. The science of nutrition is another subject and too complex to go into here but it can be simplified. And to simplify it, cut out all of those foods, increase your protein and eat more vegetables, salads (and not just lettuce, tomato, cucumber but a variety of foods to make it fun to eat, some fruit (many fruits have a higher carb level too), and plenty of water. Another fun way to drink water is using Fruit herbal tea; they can be drunk hot or cold and iced. Both ways are delicious. Fresh vegetable juices are excellent and also health-giving at the same time.

The above is not a ‘diet’ just to loose weight, but a way of living. It’s about making changes, even small ones, to your lifestyle. The weight will come off naturally, without even thinking about it.

It pays to know what you are eating, and if you wish to learn more there are numerous books to assist and courses that can be undertaken, depending on the level of knowledge you wish to acquire.

But above all, it’s about being able to live a long, healthy life – and enjoying the way you are.

It’s about being happy with yourself.

Handspun Cable Jumper

Done! Finito! It's finally completed! Considering the time it eventually took, I'm pleased with the result. The pattern was easy to follow after sorting out the three stitch variations and working the three of them simultaneously to keep track of the  rows in each pattern.
The pattern was easy to follow, especially once I had worked out how to cope with three different patterns, all with different numbers of rows per pattern. The main cable was twenty-four rows, and luckily the other two patterns worked into that number perfectly.

How did I do it?

I used a child's Primary School exercise book with the wide and narrow lines and going between the red lines, set all the pattern out in their multiples. It worked perfectly.

The yarn was a dream to knit - very soft with plenty of spring. Once I had got into the swing of the pattern, it knitted up very quickly.

Very little that went wrong, apart from a couple of times, one when one of the single cables insisted going the opposite way,  the second was when the middle section decided to go walkabout and it too went in the opposite direction so had to be unpicked - somewhere around ten rows before it was noticed. Ouch! But it all turned out fine.

And hopefully, the proud owner of the jumper will have many years of wear - as these handspun jumpers seem to last forever...