Tuesday 29 November 2011

Henderson's Relish

Last week, my sister was visiting and we went to Sheffield, our home town, to do some shopping, including a trip to the headquarters of Henderson's Relish to buy an apron.  Henderson's Relish is a Sheffield speciality - a spicy sauce based on vinegar and tamarind, amongst other things.  I remember it from my childhood when a favourite meal was hash with relish.  (Those were simpler days when 'hash' just meant 'stew'.)


The headquarters  is in an old house, now surrounded by university buildings. The 'shop', which sells aprons and similar merchandise,  is just a corner of the office, next to a display of old relish bottles - I think most of the sales are over the internet and they don't really expect people to arrive on the doorstep.   (You have to ring the doorbell to be let in, for one thing.)  

Henderson's Relish marginally appeared in the national press a few years ago when The Guardian recommended it as a vegetarian substitute for Worcestershire sauce (which contains anchovies).  Even so, most people who don't come from Sheffield have never heard of it.  So a Henderson's Relish apron tells people in the know that you have Sheffield connections.

A table decoration in a Sheffield bar

Sunday 27 November 2011

Magic and Surprisingly Stretchy

I have finished my second pair of toe-up socks - this time they are intended to be bed-socks, and the yarn is a soft, slightly fluffy yarn with a good proportion of wool and alpaca with acrylic (Wendy Osprey).   It is an aran-weight yarn and I used 4 mm needles to give quite a dense fabric. I have 30g left out of the 100g that I bought, so almost enough for another sock.

I have changed my sock-knitting technique a little bit.  At the dyeing workshop two weeks ago, someone told me about Judy's magic cast-on. It really is an amazing method - you cast on the number of stitches that you need for the narrowest part of the toe, and then start knitting in rounds straightaway, increasing at both sides of the toe until you have the number of stitches you need for the main part of the sock. And the most amazing part is that the casting on is invisible - there is no detectable break in the knitting over the end of the toe.  Magic!

This is a lot easier, to my mind, than the short-row method I used for my first pair of toe-up socks, which started with a provisional cast-on and used short rows to shape the toe-cap. Unpicking the provisional cast-on is a bit fiddly, and there is the slight disadvantage that you end up with one fewer stitch than you cast on in the first place. 

By the time I had got the the end of the first sock, someone else told me about Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off (cast-off in British English). Another really useful invention.  I had been intending to use a sewn cast-off for these socks, to keep the top stretchy, but thought it might be tricky given such a fluffy yarn. Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off is a variation on the usual cast-off method with two needles.  It is very easy, and indeed surprisingly stretchy.

 Next.... another pair of toe-up socks with the skein of sock yarn I dyed at the workshop.

Monday 21 November 2011

"The Killing" Jumper

Knit Your Own Sarah Lund Jumper!

On Saturday, the BBC started broadcasting The Killing II, the second series of the Danish crime thriller. This week's Radio Times has a feature on the series, including an interview with Sofie Grabol (or Gråbøl) who plays Sarah Lund, the main character.  And a knitting pattern.  It's a 'tribute' to the jumper worn by Sarah Lund that also seems to play a major role in this series. 

I have not yet seen the first series - I missed the first few episodes and never managed to catch up.  But I have of course heard about The Jumper.  That is, the Faroese one that Sarah Lund wore that became so popular.    It was written about extensively in the newspapers, for instance here, so that even if you were not watching the series and not particularly interested in a jumper that you hadn't seen, it was hard to miss.

The second series jumper is also Faroese, plain red with a textured yoke. You can find the Radio Times pattern on-line here.  I don't plan to knit it, although it looks good on Sofie Gråbøl.  But I do intend to watch the programmes this time.  And I will knit something while I'm watching - an uncomplicated pattern so that I can read the subtitles.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Dyeing Workshop

On Saturday, I went to a dyeing workshop at Spun, my local yarn shop.  The tutor was Debbie Tomkies, of DT Craft and Design.  It was huge fun - an opportunity to play with colours and messy liquids, with a practical result at the end of it.  I was surprised at how easy and quick the dyes are to use - the only dyeing I have done before involved heating pans of dye on the hob, but on Saturday, we only needed  to microwave the yarn once it had been soaked in the cold dye.    

There were 6 students in the workshop and it was fascinating to see the different ranges of colours that we liked.  I kept to greens, blues and purples, but others used very bright colours, yellows and reds.
Our finished results

I came home with three small skeins of lace-weight wool and a 100g skein of merino and nylon sock yarn.

I dyed one of the lace-weight skeins in a mixture of greens.  I laid out the wet skein on a J-cloth, with a plastic sheet underneath, and squirted the dye directly onto the yarn using a syringe - a satisfyingly reckless process.  Then you pat each section of yarn gently so that the adjacent colours mingle and there are no undyed sections. 

I dyed the other skeins by putting beakers of mixed dye into a big plastic tub. Then you drape the wet yarn over the beakers, so that as much yarn as possible is immersed in dye - the yarn loops into one beaker, then over into the next beaker and so on. [Why didn't I take a photo?]

I dyed  the remaining two lace-weight skeins in purples, blues and greens. I used the same beakers of dye twice, because when the first skein had been dyed, there was still quite a lot of the dye left.  I like the more pastel effect a lot  - I think another time I would use a weaker dye solution in the first place.      

Finally, I dyed the sock yarn using the beaker method with mixtures of red and turquoise dyes, in varying proportions to give a range of purples.   Being a very inexpert dyer, it didn't come out quite as I intended.  I made the dye solution stronger than I intended, again.  And there are some small patches between the different colours where the yarn is sometimes hardly dyed at all, and also some small areas which are pure turquoise with no red at all - maybe I didn't mix the dye thoroughly enough.  But I think that the lighter patches are in the end a good thing - otherwise the overall effect would be too dark.

Even if I envisaged a different end-result, I really like how it has turned out in my knitted sample.  And the yarn is beautifully soft.  I plan to knit a pair of socks with it, and fingerless mittens for me if there is enough left.  

It was a really good day - I had fun and learnt a lot. I'll buy some dye from Debbie and try it at home some time (only when I have reduced my stack of half-finished knitting, though).

Sunday 6 November 2011

Toe-up Socks

I have been knitting a cardigan for months now, and it is not turning out well.  I have knitted most of the body twice, and I'm still not happy with it - it's all very disheartening.  So I decided to knit a pair of socks for my daughter - she likes to wear fancy socks and  I don't particularly.

I have only knitted one pair of socks before and they were not a great success (as described here), but only because they were knitted in bamboo yarn and so went very baggy as soon as I wore them.  The actual knitting was satisfying -  the construction is so clever.  This time I wanted to knit them toe-up, because I find casting on for the ankle very fiddly and prone to disasters (like getting a twist into the knitting when you join it up, or dropping a stitch on the first round).

The basic pattern is by Wendy Johnson, free through Ravelry or from her web site (follow the links to "Free Patterns" and then it's the Detailed Toe-up Sock Pattern).  Her pattern produces a plain pair of socks - the idea is just to demonstrate the techniques of toe-up socks with a short-row toe and heel.  So I used a stitch pattern from Barbara Walker's Treasury to add some texture and interest on the instep and ankle.  It's the Vandyke Check pattern (mostly chosen because it has an 8-stitch pattern repeat and I had 64 stitches in total, but it has turned out very well).  It is made up of blocks of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch, so it doesn't add any bulk.   The yarn is 4-ply 75% wool and 25% polyamide from Cygnet, in olive green.    

The socks fit very well and my daughter is very pleased with them.  (I can tell because she said "You can knit me lots more of these!") 

Friday 4 November 2011

Woman's Weekly Centenary

 It is the centenary of  Woman's Weekly magazine this month (in fact, this very day) and a special centenary issue is on sale now, with a .reproduction of the first issue from 1911 - a splendid idea.  It is fascinating to see what concerned women in 1911 - there are features on "Removal of Over-Fat" and "How I enlarged my bust",  as well as less alarming articles on fashions and "How to become a nurse".   

Woman's Weekly is surprisingly successful. In the 1980s, it was the best-selling weekly magazine for women in the U.K., with a circulation of 1.3 million in 1987. Since then, the woman’s magazine market has contracted, and changed radically.  Now, the top-selling weekly magazines are ‘celebrity’ and ‘reality’ titles, but Woman’s Weekly is still the best-selling of the more traditional woman’s magazines, with a circulation of almost 340,000 in the first half of this year.

I always thought Woman's Weekly rather old-fashioned - I associate it with my Grandma who read it regularly when I was a little girl.  But I have bought several copies in recent months to research an article on the centenary for Slipknot, the journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, and I must say that I found them quite interesting.   The magazine's target market is older women whose children have left home, and the editors have been very clever in focussing on that market while at the same time adapting to the changing tastes of each successive generation of women. Evidently, I am now old enough to find  Woman's Weekly relevant to me.  

The first issue included crochet patterns and a crochet tutorial for beginners, but nothing on knitting.  But by the late 1920s, as far as I can tell from the issues from that era in the Knitting and Crochet Guild collection, knitting was a regular feature. And in the 1970s, the front cover proclaimed "Famed for its knitting".  While several other long-established women’s magazines (for instance Woman and Woman's Own) no longer cover knitting regularly, Woman’s Weekly still publishes a knitting pattern every week, often by a well-known designer such as Sasha Kagan or Marion Foale. With a circulation of 340,000, that's a lot of knitting patterns.

Happy Birthday, Woman's Weekly!
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