Sunday, 31 March 2013

Finally finished - my gingham rug!

I just had to post a picture of my completed gingham crochet rug!  It has been quite a task getting it finished, as I had started off doing a larger version than the pattern stated - not realising the challenge in this.

I admit that I had to give myself a stern talking-to a few times, so as not to stray onto another large project and leaving it as an eternal WIP (work in progress).   I find having too many WIPs on the go a bit depressing.  However, I am glad I persevered, and have completed it before winter sets in.  I am very happy with the result!

So . . .  ta daaa!

Here is my gingham rug in its new home, amongst friends.  I do like its vintage look, and it has a rather nice density that should make it nice and warm.

As you can see, I decided to do the last row of the (dc/USsc) border in a contrasting colour.  I also did a narrower border than the pattern stated - as I had done a larger rug, it didn't seem to need such a wide border.  And OK, I was almost 'over it' by then!

So I now have two things to celebrate - a lovely finished object, and the fact that I can now permit myself to start on something new!
PS: Ravelry has been something of a revelation to me in quite a number of ways, not the least being the different names/terms for things in different parts of the English-speaking world.  Here, we use blanket and rug almost interchangeably - rugs being the sort you might use more casually, such as on the sofa, in the car or on a picnic.  However, I have suddenly realised that to others, a rug is primarily a floor covering.  There is also this mysterious term 'afghan', which we never use.  But we all pretty much seem to agree on 'blanket'!  Intriguing!

Anyway, I hope I haven't confused anyone other than myself by calling my gingham 'blanket' a 'rug'!



Monday, 25 March 2013

Good Bones

I am lucky to be enjoying a few days' leave.  As it's unseasonably warm this week - today it's 28 degrees! - I decided to Go Out today to see how our fair city and its trees are looking.  So off I went to Red Hill Lookout.

Canberra was intended to be a garden city.  Luckily, it still has some of its 'good bones' left, mainly in Old Canberra.  

Here, you can see the delightfully functional planning of the Parliamentary Triangle.

It was also nice to see a teensy bit of autumn colour (it's still a bit early for the big show).
As you can see, it's a touch hazy today - there's been a few 'fire hazard reduction' burns over the last few days.

Impulsively, I decided to venture on from Red Hill Lookout to the new Arboretum.   This is a new national institution that is all about trees.

Its inception has been somewhat controversial, because of the amount of money that was spent on it while the government was simultaneously 'crying poor' and closing schools.  Because of this, I have been a bit reluctant to give it my stamp of approval up till now.

However, today I decided that it wasn't the trees' fault that governments make bad decisions.  And besides, I was curious to see the trees.  So up I went.  

And I found it again.  Good Bones.

From Dairy Farmers Hill, I saw swathes of immature trees planted in attractively designed groves, and great views of the lake and surrounds.  These trees, I though to myself, are going to be spectacular in 20 to 50 years!  I thoroughly approve of investing in trees for future generations.

This interesting sculpture was atop a rocky outcrop on Dairy Farmers' Hill:

Dr Google tells me this is an eagle, and that the sculpture is made mainly from abandoned farm machinery.  I like it!

Further snaps from my excursion show the diversity of the plantings:

According to a helpful volunteer, the dragon trees have to be netted at this time of year to stop the white cockatoos eating all the new growth.

Informative signs are dotted around.

The dogwoods are starting to change colour!

Isn't the monkey puzzle - such a structurally interesting tree!

When I got back home, I had trees on the brain.  In an inspirational moment, I took a couple of pictures of my own gorgeous ornamental pears.

These trees are looking sensational right now - I am just loving the red and yellow mixed with the fresh green.  And after today's travels, I am particularly appreciative of the Good Bones these trees give to my own garden.  


Friday, 22 March 2013

Mmmm, home made tomato soup!

Lots of tomatoes means finding a way to use them up.

I tend to give a lot away, but if I have a backlog we can't use up quickly enough, I usually make tomato soup.

I have tried a few recipes but my favourite is this one - it looks simple but tastes awesome - particularly so if you have fresh basil, as the recipe indicates.

The recipe only takes about half an hour to make from start to finish.  I usually double the recipe if I have enough tomatoes - that way there is some to freeze in meal-size containers.

Oh Look at those tomatoes!  Yum!

Into the sautéed onions and potato they go . . .

After adding chopped basil, milk and a stock cube, the whole thing simmers for a bit - until the potato and onion is really soft - then the stick blender works its magic.

TIP:  I had forgotten, since last summer, that it helps to remove the tomato skins beforehand to save the annoyance of having to pick the skins out of the stick blender at the end.  To remove the skins, pour boiling water over the tomatoes and leave for five or 10 mins.  This makes the skins split so you can remove them easily. You can then chop them up and use them as required.

In spite of this minor setback, my tomato soup was ready just in time for lunch (and it went down very well!)


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Autumn joy

I just have to celebrate the Coming of Autumn!  Autumn is my favourite season in Canberra: the days become milder, and the very air seems fresher somehow.

And what better to herald Autumn in my garden than Sedum 'Autumn Joy'?
The bees can't get enough of it!

I also particularly love the leaves of my Japanese maple (Sango Kaku) at this time - they start 'turning' at the ends of the branches first.

Other trees in my garden are only just starting to think about turning - it has still been rather warm during the day, but with cooler overnight temperatures.  So I guess the current display is the Autumn opening number, with the main show still to come.

Some of the plants that are putting on a show at this time are the fringe flower (loropetalum) . . .

some of the pelargoniums which had been on strike during the excessive mid-summer heat . . .

this variegated liriope, which seems to thrive in its rather shady spot . . .

and the crowea, which is just a riot of lovely little pink stars.  Croweas are a small Australian native understorey shrub.  They are known to be a bit temperamental (if I had known this I would not have bought it), but this one seems happy under an ornamental pear at the edge of a retaining wall, above a daphne.  Who'd have thought?

And I do like the crab apples.  This is the first year they have borne fruit!  I hope the crab apples will hold on through winter - I love the visual impact of red berries in otherwise-stark winter landscapes.

Meanwhile, the purple beans (purple king) and tomatoes (tommy toe) are going gangbusters in the vegie patch.  The pics below were taken this morning, and I was actually surprised there were any to photograph, as we had picked heaps yesterday.  But there were!

As you can see from the tomato picture, I have totally lost control of any kind of neat staking arrangement!  Yet this tommy toe tomato doesn't seem to care, it just keeps on fruiting!  I haven't had any romas to harvest as yet, but there are a lot of green and yellowing romas.  

I will share my favourite tomato soup recipe soon, in another post.

Slightly cheesily yet sincerely, I just want to add that I totally agree with George Eliot, who so eloquently enthused:

'Delicious Autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, as if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.'


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Gingham crochet rug - how to carry yarn and join new colours

I have written previously about crocheting in a gingham pattern.

The gingham rug pattern suggests that the ends be woven in as you work, to save weaving in at the end.   This is good advice.  However, the pattern does not give any details about how to do this, nor how to secure new yarn colours.  Also, the pattern requires that you cut one colour yarn at the end of each row, and join another colour at the start of each row.  This means that you have to use a slightly different method on alternate rows to join your new yarn colour.

As I found it all a bit tricky and there were few helps available, I spent some time working out how to do these things.   Once I had it, I thought I would share my technique for carrying the yarn invisibly and joining new colours step-by-step.  It should save you some time and ensure that you end up with a lovely reversible gingham pattern.

I am using cream, light green and a darker green for my rug.  The light green is what I refer to throughout as the 'continuing colour'.  By this I mean that this is the colour that is used in every row, whereas the cream and dark green are only used on alternate rows.

In the pic below, you can see the light green on my hook with the dark green end ready for weaving in.  (More detail on cutting the yarn and finishing the row later in the post).

Joining a new colour

You now need to join a new colour to your work.  You should always join the new colour after you turn the work, at the beginning of the next row.   

You start your new row with the continuing colour every second row.  The alternate rows start with a new colour.  This difference means that you need two slightly different methods to join new yarn.  Both joining methods are simple and straightforward, it's just that they differ slightly.  

If you will be using a new colour to start the row, use the first joining method described immediately below.  This is the case in the picture above, where my first colour of the next row should be cream, not the continuing colour of light green.  

(If you will be using the continuing colour first, you will need to join the new colour slightly differently.  In that case, see 'Joining new colour - second joining method', set out later in this post).

Joining new colour - first joining method

In the picture above, look at the second row from the top.  You will notice that to keep the pattern going, I must actually start working with cream before using the light green on my hook.  I therefore must join the cream yarn before I can begin the row.  Onward, first joining method!

Make a slip stitch using cream . . .

. . . put the slip stitch on the hook with the continuing colour (light green) . . .

 and pull through.  Make it snug by pulling the continuing colour yarn gently.

Carrying unworked yarn and weaving in ends

Below, I am about to start the new row.  As you can see, there are a number of threads to 'weave in'.  The cream working yarn is pulled out to the back, and there are three other strands laid over the work - the cream end, the dark green end, and the light green I need to 'carry' until I am ready to use it.

'Weaving in' is not complicated - you just lay the unworked yarn and ends over the top of the work, and work the working colour over the top of them.

Gently pull the work snug when you have finished the worked colour.  This hides the carried yarn and ends.

Now drop the yarn you have been working (cream)

Pick up the next colour to be worked (light green) and crochet the next stitches over the remaining ends and the cream yarn you were just working.  

Continue crocheting in this way, following the pattern, until you have crocheted over all of your ends.(At the stage illustrated below, I tend to push the last bits of the ends to the back for careful snipping at the end).   

Continue crocheting over the carried yarn to the end of the row.  

This method of 'weaving in' is practical, invisible, and saves many hours of actual weaving in at the end.  

Hint: To stop getting the yarn twisted as you work, you may find it helpful to always pick up one colour at the front and the other at the back.  

Finishing the row

At the end of the row, complete the final stitch then pull both colours onto your hook at once. 

Cut the non-continuing yarn (cream in this case), leaving a tail about 8-10 cm (4-6 inches) long.  Remove your hook from both loops and separate them.  Putting your hook into the non-continuing loop, pull the cut end through completely and tighten gently to secure.  

Put your hook back into the continuing colour loop, and turn your work.  The picture below shows the cream yarn secured and the hook in the light green yarn ready for turning.

Joining new colour - second joining method

Use this joining method if you will be using the continuing colour first on your new row (if not, see 'Joining new colour - first joining method' set out above).  

Although you won't be needing the new colour straight away, you must join it at the beginning of the row and 'carry' it until needed.  This saves a messy join mid-row and unnecessary weaving in later.

Finish the row and turn as described above.  You should have the continuing colour on your hook.

Now take the end of the new colour - in this case, dark green yarn - and using your hook, pull about 
8-10 cm (4-6 inches) completely through the loop.  Put your hook back in your continuing colour loop, and arrange the end of the dark green and the ball-end of the dark green so that they are sitting across the top of the work, ready to be woven in with the end of the previous row's cut yarn.  

Begin the row with the continuing colour as normal, but remembering to work over all the ends and the dark green.  Pull the carried yarn and ends gently to make the work snug. 

Continue as above, working over the ends and the carried yarn as before.  The picture below shows where I have started to use the new joined colour, which was joined at the start of the row and carried.

If you do the above, you will have a lovely reversible rug with no 'wrong side'.  Enjoy working your gingham!  

All are welcome to use this guide - just attribute to my blog if sharing - thank you!


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Hot water bottle cover - crochet pattern

When I was doing the folding and put away this weekend, I came across this tucked at the back of the bottom shelf of the linen cupboard.

I guess it must have got put 'out of sight, out of mind' at the end of last winter, or the one before that.
We like hotties in our household.  Mostly they get covered with a pillowslip, though I do have one Harrods hot water bottle cover, which is rather velvety and nice to use.

But that leaves a couple of other 'naked' hot water bottles.  Realising that I had some yarn almost the same colour as the Harrods cover . . .

 . . . that started me thinking.  Right, I thought, I'm going to crochet a hot water bottle cover!

I decided to make a simple, rectangular 'bag' in the round (to save any annoying joining up!), and have a draw-string at the top (like my tea cosy!) to get the hottie in and out as required.

Here's what I did.  You could adjust the pattern for other yarns than the one I used.

Hot water bottle cover

Note: Instructions are in UK terms with US terms in brackets ( ).

1.  Using a 5 mm hook and 12-14 ply (chunky) yarn, chain 32, plus one extra.  Add more chains if required - be guided by the width of the hot water bottle, remembering to allow for it to be filled.

2.  Swap to a 4mm hook (or one that keeps the stitches quite dense).  Starting in the second stitch from the hook, dc (sc) back across to last st, 2dc (2sc) in last stitch.

3.  You now start to work in the round (ie don't turn, just rotate slightly and continue going anti-clockwise around the work).

2dc (2sc) in the first st on the other side, then dc (sc) across long side, putting two dc (sc) stitches in the stitches at the short edge.

4.  The next part uses half treble or htr (hdc).  This is a thick, textured, quick-to-work stitch.  I chose this stitch because its density will keep the hottie warm longer and protect users from touching the hottie through the stitches.

For clarity, htr (hdc) = yarn over and put hook thru top 'v' loops of the work, yarn over and pull thru work, then yarn over and pull thru all three loops on hook.

So, htr (hdc) in each stitch of the work, and continue around.  You do not join or turn at the end of the rounds, but just continue in the round as you would in amigurumi crochet.  This makes a nice smooth finish without obvious joins.

After three rounds of htr (hdc), your work starts to look like this.  See how it is forming into a kind of narrow dish-like shape?  If it tends to form 'inside out', push it right side out and continue working.  You will be working it from the outside.

You can see the dc base stitches below.  In the following photo, you can see how the extra stitches at the ends (increases) create the curved edge.

Continue htr (hdc) in the round until the work reaches the 'shoulders' of the hot water bottle.  At this point, the work should look like a large flat rectangular 'sock'.  Stop when the work is more or less even on both sides and you have reached an edge.  Finish off with a slip stitch, as you are now going to crochet in separate rounds.

5.  The next round creates the slots for the draw string, as follows:

Ch 3 (counts as tr (dc)), tr (dc) in same stitch, skip next stitch, [2tr (2dc) in next stitch, skip next stitch], repeat [ ] to end of round, slip stitch into 3rd chain at beginning of round to join.  This V stitch creates neat little gaps that look like this:

6.  The next rounds take you to almost to the top of the hot water bottle:

Ch 3, tr (dc) in each stitch to end, slip stitch into 3rd chain of beginning chain to join.  Complete this round three times (or more if needed, to get almost to the top).  Only one round to go . . .

7.  Final round:

Using the same yarn, or a contrasting colour, Ch 1, dc (sc) in same space, skip next stitch, [3tr (3dc) in next st, skip next stitch, dc in next stitch, skip next stitch], repeat [ ] to last two stitches, 3tr (3dc), skip one.  Slip stitch to first dc (sc).

This simple shell stitch creates a very gentle ripple on top that looks decorative and drapes well when the draw string is tightened.

8.   To make the draw-string, use the same yarn or a contrasting colour, and a large hook (I used a 6mm hook).

Double a long length of yarn and chain using the doubled yarn.  The drawstring needs to be long enough to tie up in a bow when gathered and tightened.  If children will be using the cover, make sure the ends for tying are not so long that they create a hazard.

Insert draw-string: starting in the centre of the front panel, weave draw-string in and out of the slots you created at step 5 above.  It doesn't matter whether the string ends meet from two adjacent slots, or out of the same slot.  Knot the ends of the draw-string so they stay in the cover securely.  Fill hot water bottle, put in cover and draw the draw-string securely with a bow.

And voila!

All are welcome to use the pattern (just attribute to my blog if sharing).  Enjoy!