Spinning some art

When I first got interested in spinning the first book I got was Lexi Boeger's Intertwined. I hadn't even got a spindle yet but the yarns in this book were so cool and unusual that the book was great just as a coffee table book. I checked out the art yarn spinners group (RavLink) on Ravelry and loved everything I saw there. People like Studioloo, Insubordiknit and Velma Like Velvet have made some really inspiring stuff.

Since I'm getting better at normal spinning I thought I might have enough skill to attempt an art yarn without it turning out looking like something the cat got at.

I got a lovely batt from Rockpoolcandy for my birthday but was too scared to spin it in case i made a mess of it. I finally decided to core spin it, this involves drafting the yarn sideways and wrapping it a core yarn. Ask The Bellwether has a great tutorial about how to do this. It turned out well for a first go, the batt was really lovely and I hope I did it justice.

I loved the results of the core spun wool I decided to try out another technique from Intertwined this time supercoils. Having loads of alpaca fleece to play with is handy for trying out things like this. I had this green merino which was too green for me so I carded some of that in with the alpaca. Mixed with white alpaca it turned a pleasing minty green colour. I also used pieces of lilac merino for the coil parts.

Supercoils are fun and look fantastic when the yarn is done but they take ages to do. The yarn also has a normal part to it as well. When I finished the coil part I navajo plied the remaining single. I'll knit it up into a scarf so there will be normal fabric then all the mad supercoiled parts.

Here's some more spinning. This time normal stuff. It's this merino I got from Scottish Fibres, it's lovely and soft but I wasn't so keen on the colour of the roving. Magically when spun up and navajo plied the colours mixed and I now like it. I think this yarn would make a nice pair of mittens or a hat. It's worsted weight and there's about 84 metres of it.

More photos here.

One of my crochet projects and I have broken up. The seasilk shawl and I just weren't getting on. I wasn't sure if we were compatible for the long term partnership needed to finish it. If we could just get through a couple more pattern repeats then my doubts over whether the yarn suited the pattern would go away. My feelings about the drape not showing off the silk well enough weren't real were they? There were too many doubts, I wasn't sure. I started looking at other patterns, ones with more drape, ones written especially for seasilk. So we split. It was for the best. The shawl was frogged before I was too far in, too committed to it to turn back. The yarn is now being turned into Montego Bay Scarf.

Blog News:
The lack of blogging recently was caused by me needing to upgrade my picasa account so I could have more pictures. I'm also hoping to upgrade the template and make it all look a bit prettier in the near future.

Brewing Little and Large

First brewing large. Last Saturday I went over to my friend Ed's house to help him out with his first all grain brew day. Ed's been brewing for a while. His wedding present to us was a fridge stocked with bottles of tasty beers in loads of different styles. They went down a treat at our after wedding party. A little too well maybe since Ed ended up promising my uncle he'd brew him beer and the uncle promising Ed fields of barley. He recently did a few extract brews but he thought if he was going to buy extra kit he might as well go the whole hog and go all grain. He'll need the kit if the uncle carries out the threat and lands a bag of grain up to him.

We had a lovely day brewing in the sunshine in Ed's back garden. I have kettle envy now, Ed's boiler is a huge 10 gallon one with two powerful elements in it. It heats up very quickly and boils easily. It makes the brew day so much faster, I may have to think about getting one as it takes my gas ring a good while to bring my wort to a boil. We sprinkle sparged the mash which worked really well. At the end we ended up with 23 litres of wort all flavoured with lovely Nelson Sauvin and Cascade hops. Ed's full recipe is here.

Now for the brewing little. One of things I like about brewing is how varied it is. You can have a big 10 gallon set up like Ed's or a stainless steel automatic micro brewery like some of the guys on Irish Craft Brewer or you can do like me and make tiny batches of beer on your cooker with a minimum of fuss. I have some hops and grain I want to use up before they go out of date and I had just enough extract to make a small brew. I checked my stocks after this brew and I have very little specialty grain or hops left so I will need to do an order soon.
I wrote an article about small scale brewing which goes into the other reasons to brew small batches.

For this brew I wanted to use up some golding and fuggles hops that I had for ages. I decided a mild ale might be nice. But I can never leave things alone and so I put in some crystal malt, chocolate malt and oatmeal to steep before the extract. So I think that sort of makes this a porter. At the end of the boil I put in a cup of nice strong espresso. I've had a few coffee stouts and they're always nice but I think the coffee should add something to the porter. I think I like porter better than stout, I'm not keen on the dry roasty flavour of stout and the sweet ones I find too cloying. Anyway here's the recipe.

Westley's Breakfast Porter

Boil volume: 10L
End volume:8-9L

680g Light dried malt extract
Steeped grains, steeped at 66 deg C for 30 minutes
60g Crystal malt
20g Chocolate malt
20g Oatmeal

60 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
30 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
15 mins: Fuggles and Goldings
End: Fuggles and Goldings
Cup of strong espresso

Hop amounts: My accurate scale's batteries died but there's about 5-7g of each hop in each addition. It looked like a lot of hops but they've been there a while so they might be starting to loose flavour anyway.

Yeast: Danstar Nottingham

OG: 1.045

It should yield about eight 500ml bottles. I'll just bottle it straight from the primary better bottle in a bout three weeks time. Thanks to The Beer Nut for his suggestion that this should be a breakfast beer. I think it will be a nice one to sup when the trees start to change colour and thoughts and nights turn that little bit darker.

Bag Lady

So just in case you guys think I don't knit anymore here's a finished object. It's the Kemp Handbag (Ravelry Link) in Noro Blossom yarn. I saw this pattern in a magazine, fell in love and bought the actual yarn suggested which I rarely do. For this bag it would look quite plain if it wasn't for the lovely Noro with it's great colours. It was a really easy quick knit.

However it languished in the back of the wardrobe because I couldn't work up the enthusiasm to make a lining for it. Now that I have a sewing machine sewing things up isn't an onerous task anymore. I made a lining from a chocolate brown fabric my Mum had lying around. Just to explain, my Mum works in a fabric and furnishing shop so she has a lot more fabric lying around than most other mothers. In fact she wouldn't have difficulty opening her own fabric shop. I even went fancy and put a big pocket and a mobile phone pocket on the inside. I then hand stitched the lining inside the bag. The handles were ones Dave had bought for me.

It was finished and it was nice but then I decided I should really make a flap to cover the opening. When out and about using a bag it's handy to be able to close it so nobody can sneak into it and rob your wallet. So I knitted a flap and used two handmade buttons that I got in Ginger Knits, Morar, Scotland. I looked ok before the flap but I think the flap and buttons really lifts the look of the bag. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

Beer Jelly - The Session #30

This month the session hosted over at Beer47 is on the subject of beer deserts. I decided to take it literally and make a desert from beer trying out a recipe I'd been wanting to make for a while. It's from Appetite for Ale by Will Beckett and Fiona Beckett. I love this book, it's like a manual on how to match food and beer with recipes as a bonus.

I made the beer jelly recipe from the book. I used Liefmann's Kriek since the off license didn't have any Floris. I'll probably use Floris in a future version of this recipe since it's pretty sweet and comes in lots of different flavours which you can match to the fruit used in the jelly. Since I was using kriek beer I used preserved cherries from the local Polish shop, these are one of the few things you find preserved in jars from Poland that are actually nice. I also put in some fresh raspberries. Leaf gelatine and some sugar completed the ingredients.

I never knew making real jelly was so easy. I always used stuff from packets but now I've used the gelatine I'll be on the look out for new jelly recipes. A few hours in the fridge and it was all set.

We had some friends over for dinner and they tested out the jelly. We topped it with some vanilla ice cream. It was really good. I didn't sweeten up the beer too much so there was a lovely lambic tartness to the jelly which worked really well as jelly is usually too sticky sweet for me. I paired it with some Rodenbach Grand Cru. I love this beer but I do think it's one of those love or hate it affairs. It's fruity and sour and a bit complicated. I think it went well with the jelly for me. If you have a sweet tooth I think something a bit sweeter would go better with it. Or you could just drink the beer that the jelly was made from. In this case Liefmann's kriek was too expensive to buy a few of so I just used it to make the jelly.

I'll definitely make beer jelly again so thanks to the session for giving me the push to try it out.

Great British Beer Festival, Knitting flash mobs and the bearded lady, 4 August 2009

This year I made the trip to Earl's Court in London to the Great British Beer Festival hosted by CAMRA. It's a huge festival which is held every year with hundreds of beers from all over the UK and an international section with beers from all over the world. Obviously if you love beer this is the place to be at the start of august. A few of us from the Irish Craft Brewer website made the trip over.

We got to Earl's Court just as it opened and we staked out a table for the day. There were a bewildering array of beers on offer in the huge hall and I only got to try a small selection of the ones I wanted to. They sell beer in pints, half and third pints at the festival. Third pints are great if you're trying out lots of beers. I also nabbed a few small plastic glasses which were handy for sharing out tastes to people. So with that and some water at the end of the day I was fairly sober when I got home. Not so good was the lack of water fonts around the venue.

On to some of the beer highlights. Stone's very wonderful IPA has lots of hops, mostly flavour and aroma ones. I really liked this as it was bitter but not too bitter. Some American IPA's have a really harsh, oily very bitter character. I don't like those beers that much, it's not hard to go mad putting loads of hops in but you do have to balance them and make sure it tastes nice at the end and that is difficult. This beer is massively dry hopped and it shows. It's really fresh and grassy and wonderful, sort of like sticking your head in a bag of hops. Fabulous freshness you can't get in a bottle but if someone starts bringing Stone beers into Ireland I will buy them. I also sampled Stone's Levitation pale ale which again had a huge amount of flavour packed into a smaller ABV.

Next up was another cracker of a beer Allagash Interlude, I really liked this one. The man serving me warned me it was a bit lambic tasting and quite sour and was about to ask if that was ok when he saw my Cantillon t-shirt. I swear that t-shirt is like some sort of secret beer code. He smiled and said 'well then you'll love this'. It's brewed with saison yeast and Brettanomyces then part of it is aged in french oak barrels. It's smells like lambic but is sweeter in character. I thought it was sort of like Orval. Not as good as Orval but in that territory which is really no bad thing at all. I think American brewers are getting more interested in the weird and wonderful way they brew in Belgium. They also have the advantage of not being constrained by tradition the way like Belgians are. They can brew different versions of the traditional styles. It's an exciting development and hopefully more interesting beers like this are on their way.

I've heard a lot about Thornbridge brewery and how wonderful their beers are especially Jaipur. I didn't get to try Jaipur but had some Kipling which their website says is a south pacific pale ale. I tasted some of Kev's and we both struggling to see why people rave about it so much. It was a bit thin and the only hops I tasted were on the finish. It probably needs more carbonation than you get in cask type beer. Galway Hooker is a muted shadow of itself on cask, I think lots of hops especially the citrus ones need a bit of sparkle to really bring them out. I know people think everything must be better on cask but that's not the case for all beers.

Other American offerings I liked were the dark chocolate and cigar smoke Alaskan smoked porter and the bright, fresh, citrus of Opa Opa's dry hopped with centennial pale ale. I also had Dogfish Head's Midas Touch but that's for another post.
From Holland De Molen brewery's Tsarina Esra was a viscous complex thing that was unlike any beer I've ever had. I didn't like their Bloed, Zweet & Tranen so much as it had this plasticine taste that you get with some wood aged beers. I also had a taste of Cantillon's bright pink Lou Pepe which was tart with more sweet fruit than their kriek. From the UK I had some Elgood's Mad Dog as I like their other offering Black Dog. It was fairly thin but was improved so much when I drank it with a Cornish pasty, a case of food and beer going really well together.

Of course it wasn't all just about drinking, through beer blogging and Irish Craft Brewer I've met lots of great people. And we really had a great time at the festival though anyone passing our table must have been mystified as to what was going on. I finally meet the lovely Ally aka Impy Malting for real. I decided to make her a beer related knitted present. A flurry of knitting ensued and the beer sweater was the result. You can see him in the picture above, he spent the day keeping a lot of very fancy beer at the correct temperature. Apologies to the poor person I spent ages explaining the thermal properties of wool to. Wool is a good insulator so it keeps hot things hot and cold things cold but I don't think I was putting it that succinctly at the time. Thankfully Ally didn't think I was mad and really liked the beer jumper, he now has a good home adorning a bottle of her home brew.

Ally had brought along some knitting needles for me since Dublin airport has added them to the list of dangerous items you're not allowed bring on a plane. We did a spot of knitting and drinking. Boak from Boak and Bailey, claims not to be able to knit when drinking, she has a point it's far too easy to make mistakes. It was great to meet other beer bloggers like Mark from Pencil and Spoon. He popped in during the day with enthusiastic reports and tips on which beers were good.

We had a good laugh when Sarah won a Good Beard Guide with a fake beard in one of the pub games, being mad as a brush she wore it around for the rest of the day. She did get some free beer and a t-shirt out of it!

Later on in the day we wandered over to say hello to Pete Brown. I don't know what he thought when two ladies with some knitting, a beer bottle in a jumper and another lady with a beard came over for a chat. I got a postcard signed to put in the front of my Hops and Glory, the book itself was too heavy to cart around for the day. He happened to remember my twitter picture of his book posing on a beach so the dedication thanks me for taking the book out and showing it a good time. We also chatted to Pete's very lovely wife, she crochets as well. It really was turning into quite a knitty beery day. People always think I'm odd for liking both but now I know there's quite a few ladies who like both knitting and beer.

I didn't get to taste that many beers but that was a good thing the next day. The craic, the Irish Craft Brewer crowd, meeting other beer bloggers and some fantastic new beers made this into a great day out. I think I'll have to go again.

The rest of my photos of the day are here.

Boyle Arts Festival, July 31st 2009

On a yet another wet summers morning I set off to Boyle, Roscommon to take part in the Boyle Arts Festival crafts past and present exhibition. Deirdre O'Reilly organized the exhibition and did a really great job getting lots of crafters together in the local hall. I was there to demonstrate spinning but really it was a good excuse for a lovely day out meeting lots of people and other crafts people.

I did a good bit of spinning and I also got lots of my alpaca carded up with some green merino. People were keen to see how you went from fleece to stuff you could spin. Kids seem to be especially fascinated with the whole thing. I had quite a few people tell me that spinning on the drop spindle looked like magic. I taught a few of the kids how to spin on the spindle. Kids are great they're not afraid of messing up like adults, they just get stuck in there and they did a great job of it.

There were two other spinners there. It was great to chat to ladies who know so much about spinning. They both span alpaca. The lady in photo had the softest most snuggly crochet shawl she had made from alpaca. I must make one.

There were many crafts represented, knitting, crochet, bobbin lace making, ceramics, sewing, basket making and lots of others. There was one man who was making traditional baskets and hen coups from straw.

The bobbin lace is amazing, it's so detailed and beautiful when it's finished. The process for making it looks very complicated. The lady doing it said it's not that hard but I don't believe her. A lot of crafts people downplay their talents and say it's nothing, it easy, not true. And definitely not true in this case, lace complicated, intricate detailed stuff and it takes skill to make it. It's not popular today as I don't think us young people have the attention span and patience to make it.

There was also some fantastic Irish Crochet Lace. It's so intricate and the thread is so tiny. I don't know how the ladies who do it see the stitches and most of them don't use magnifying glasses.

I met the lovely Sara from Kittiwake Design who is selling her lovely sewn designs. I got a lovely heart from her. Have a look at her mobiles, I really like the felt mushroom one.

Full set of photographs here.

The above photo shows the most amazing piece of craft work I've ever seen. It's a large bedspread of knitted lace squares all joined together. It's beautiful and detailed. The most amazing thing about it? The lady in the corner of the picture knitted it, she started it when she was 80, she recently completed it just after she turned 100. Isn't that amazing? What a fantastic heirloom piece for her family to have when she passes it down to them.

With craft being trendy again lots of people and publishers of books are keen to point out how hip and cool craft is and how it's 'not your grandmothers' knitting, crochet etc. Which is stupid, it really is. I love talking to the older generation of people and learning from them. It's sometimes hard to talk to older people as different generations assume they won't have things in common. I've found craft is a great way to get talking to older people, it doesn't matter what age you are you can still talk knitting or crochet as it's always the same.

So crafts are a great way of bringing generations together. And here the cool new craft people are telling older people that this new craft generation is not for them, not for grandmothers in an attempt to get young people interested. An opportunity lost, craft used to be all about passing down skills from one generation to the next. Your grandmother would teach you knitting when they minded you while your parents worked. The assumption that what your granny makes is not great is a lie too. Some of it might not be to your young persons taste but people should be allowed make what they like.

The bedspread above is beautiful no matter what generation you're from, to dismiss it as 'grannies knitting' is to dismiss the work, dedication and advanced skill that went into it's making. Younger knitters would shy away from this kind of complicated lace knitting, most younger knitters (and I include myself in all this, very much so) would not take on a project that might take us twenty years to complete. And younger knitters don't even have obstacles like failing sight and arthritic hands to take into account. To finish a project like this in your 100th year is amazing. Not your grandmother's knitting? No not all, most of us will never do something as rocking as this.