You go home and you cry and you want to dye

Apologies but I think every post about dyeing from now on will involve some appalling Smiths pun. In Jamaica I bought a load of kool-aid, a disgusting substance which can be used to make a drink. No right minded person actually drinks this stuff do they? Kool-aid can be used to dye yarn and that's why I wanted it. There are lots of great tutorials about how to dye with kool-aid so I won't repeat them. It's fun, cheap and easy. The colours are limited so it's not really a solution if you want to do lots of dyeing but it's fun if you want to give dyeing a try without spending lots. I dyed a small skein of alpaca yarn I spun, some blue faced leicester fibre and some silk hankies. I used pretty much the same dye on each of them but they all turned out a bit different due to the different fibres.

Here's how the BFL fibre and the alpaca yarn turned out. They didn't felt and the colours came out well so that's good I suppose. The only problem is I don't really like the colour so much. It reminds me of a Wibbly Wobbly Wonder Ice Cream. Maybe in spring I'll get an attack of the pastels and make something from them but usually I'm not a pastels person. The alpaca might make a cute crochet flower though so maybe it will get used. I'm really pleased with my new photography set-up though. The colours of the yarn come out really well with it.
When I first started spinning I bought 100g of silk hankies. I didn't get round to spinning them as I didn't have a light spindle and I always had half a notion that I'd dye them so they wouldn't be so boring to spin. I find spinning something that is all one color harder work than spinning something coloured. I dyed some of the silk hankies as part of my kool-aid experiment and they turned out well as silk takes up dye really well. As it turns out spinning silk hankies is really easy. You draft them out before you spin them.

The very pretty spindle you see there is part of my christmas present. It's a stone whorl spindle from Zebisis Designs, it's small and light weighing only 23g. The stone is beautiful Botswana agate. It spins really quickly and so it's perfect for spinning silk which likes lots of twist. The silk hankies are really easy to spin, the yarn comes out soft and shiny.

I ordered two spindles from Zebisis but when I opened my package there were three spindles inside. I thought there was a mistake for a minute but it turns out the third was a bonus christmas present. So thanks a million to Zebisis for that. The first one pictured below is Amazonite and weighs 36g. The second one is orange turquoise and weighs 33g. The stone whorls are really pretty and match well with the carved wooden shafts. Very pretty.
The fibre that the spindles are reclining on are batts from Laura Hogan's Etsy shop. These beauties made up the rest of my christmas present. I think batts are my very favourite type of fibre, they're lovely to look at, have great colours and blends of fibre and spin up really well. Laura Hogan is an Irish etsy seller and her order arrived at light speed. Her batts are fabulous, she obviously has a great eye for colour. The one is the first picture is a halloween themed batt called trick or treat, I love the fun colours in this. The one in the second photo is Betsy Doodles a gorgeous blue/grey mix of merino and shetland wool.  


It never ceases to amaze me how great the members of Ravelry are and as if to prove my point many of the groups there are fund raising for the people of Haiti. Lots of designers have also decided to donate a portion of their profits from pattern sales (Rav Link) to charities helping in Haiti. I bought some patterns I'd been meaning to buy, it's a win win, I get a pattern I wanted and money goes to Haiti. Irish designers (that I know of) donating include Aoibhe of Thread Bear and Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches. I got Centrique from Stolen Stitches and Rasta Kitty and Oxidise from Thread Bear. I also got Whimsical little knits 2 and Ishbel by Ysolda, both of which I had been meaning to get for ages. I hope people don't think I'm being preachy here or anything. You don't have to donate or anything, I just thought I'd mention it as it's a very good cause.

Polar Beer

It's been mighty cold in Dublin recently. Our normally boring looking estate turned into a winter wonderland carpeted with snow. While snowed in writing the crafty plans post I had just put in an order with The Home Brew Company, well the order arrived despite all the ice and snow. I got some free samples of odds and ends of various malts to try out with the order. Excellent stuff. With all the cold weather I decided to take advantage and brew an alt beer.
Alt style beer is made in Düsseldorf using a top fermenting ale yeast and the beer is then lagered at a cold temperature. Traditionally it was probably made in winter when the brewers could take advantage of the cold weather to lager the beer which would mellow out the fruity flavours normally created by ale yeast. My copy of Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher tells me that it should taste of toffee malt but it should be crisp with a blast of fresh herbal noble hops. Luckily The Beer Nut was off doing some field research on alt beer with Barry in Düsseldorf so that was useful for formulating the recipe.

I used lager malt and added a touch of wheat malt to give a good head. The caramunch and munich malt were tossed in with the hope they will give the beer some complexity and a nice toffee taste without being too sweet. I know what I'd like this beer to taste like but really I have no idea if this grain bill will achieve that. Part of the fun of brewing is finding out. I went with german Perle hops for bittering and Hallertau for aroma as they're a classic german hop. Hopefully the hops will balance the malt nicely.  

Grain Bill:
2.5kg Lager malt
Wheat malt: 500g
Munich malt: 500g
Caramunch: 500g
Dark Crystal: 60g

60 Minutes: Perle 7.1%AA 40g
15 Minutes: Hallertau Hersbrucker 3%AA 10g
Aroma: Hallertau Hersbrucker 3%AA 25g

Yeast: Safale S04

OG: 1.046

Mashed at 68 deg C for an hour.

There were no big problems with the brewday. I'm still dreaming of how things will be easier when I build myself a boiler, I could see on the day where having one could save me time and effort. The OG came out pretty much where I wanted it for a session strength beer between four and five percent alcohol. Since there was still snow outside I decided to try cooling the wort using the snow. I have read with envy about American home brewers who can dunk the pot in a snow drift to cool it. So we built a snow drift and cooled the pot outdoors. Unfortunately the temperature was taking ages to drop and I wanted to finish the day and clean up so I cheated and finished cooling using the wort chiller. 
I used Safale S04 as it will work at the colder end of the temperature range for ale yeast and it ferments quite cleanly. The beer is finishing the first week of fermentation in my cold downstairs room now. I'll move it out to my shed for a few weeks of lagering. Hopefully during that time the temperature will stay nice and cold. Who knows maybe we'll have more frost and snow to help it along. Though if it drops to minus ten again I might end up making eis beer

Nante kouun nano - How lucky!

I'm sure someone who knows Japanese like my friend Rebecca will correct me and say that nante kouun nano doesn't actually mean how lucky. For the moment I am willing to believe what google tells me. I have been lucky and won a competition over at DMaxi's Under Me Oxter blog. It was a ban-zai competition where you had to write a haiku to win a wonderful Japanese themed prize.

Luckily skill at writing haiku had nothing to do with winning as the winner was drawn at random. For what it's worth here is my sock knitting themed haiku.
Click of dpn
Knitters defence
Against cold feet

You should hop over to the blog and look at the other entries though as there are some really clever and funny ones. Anyway despite my lame haiku the luck of the random draw was with me and the postman arrived with this fantastic prize.

The photo shows the lovely haul of goodies. The photo was taken in my new light box studio which I'm hoping will help me take better photos of my yarn and projects. It's so dark at this time of year that a light box is needed to get photos of projects.  The book is lovely and I really liked the lovely photography of all the projects. Let's see if it inspires some zen sock knitting. I hope so since my last attempt at sock knitting inspired some rage that a calm zen master wouldn't at all approve of. The book had a nice surprise of some beautiful origami paper lurking in the origami sock pattern page.

There was also a ball of Japanese Noro sock yarn featuring my favourite colour purple. I think this is probably too lovely to be made into socks and will likely see a future life as a scarf or little shawl, maybe the famous Ishbel. The sushi sock roll is so much fun! Apparently you're supposed to rip out the rectangle of knitted material as you knit the sock. That might keep me interested long enough that I finish the socks. As if that wasn't enough the prize also had a lovely silk needle roll, a load of colourful stitch markers and a row counter. I don't actually have a row counter so this handy gadget might save me some heartache when I lose the bit of paper I had been writing down what row I was on.  Which happens a lot round here.

So I'm well pleased with my prize win. Thanks a million Under Me Oxter! Oh and if anyone is wondering under me oxter is a blog so named for how the blog owner knits, with the knitting needles tucked under her armpit.

Crafty Plans for 2010

I had a great witty title for this post but Impy Malting beat me to it with her new beers resolutions. I'm hoping to do a bit more brewing this year. I was looking at my blog and home brew bottle stocks and I realised I hadn't made anything since my heather ale back in September. My excuse is I went back to college all of a sudden, a green technology course came up and I jumped at the opportunity. The next while was taken up with lectures and projects. Then for the first time in years I had exams which went well but I didn't get to do much of anything in December but study. I had been hoping to make a repeat of the spicy Westley's winter warmer. Now that the excuses are done with here are some brewing plans for the next while.

It's been really cold in Dublin and there's been lots of snow. I've been holed up in the AranBrew layer knitting, scheming, making plans and writing blog posts. I did a stock take of my home brew ingredients and discovered I have no specialty grains and only some Perle and Pioneer hops left. From the comfort of my warm armchair I ordered lots of stuff from the Home Brew Company. Since it's so cold I decided that I should make an alt beer, kolsh or some other style of beer that will be helped by maturing in the chilly temperatures. I got caramunch, carapils, special b and munich malt. I also stocked up on Saaz and Halltertau hops so a lager type beer is definitely in my future. Unfortunately they were out of lager yeast but I reckon an ale yeast safale US05 fermented cold will do the job. If the order manages to make it through the snow I'll brew this weekend.

I ordered a 33 litre fermentation bucket and am going to have a go at making my own boiler using this tutorial thread on Irish craft brewer. Basically you put two kettle elements and a tap onto the bucket to make a cheap boiler. My large pot on the gas hob in the kitchen is fine for extract brewing but when mashing I have to use the pot to collect the wort. That means I have to heat the mashing water in a load of other pots. I'm also unable to lift the heavy pot of hot wort up onto the hob. I'm hoping a boiler will make things easier and quicker.

I'm also hoping to brew more seasonally this year. A dark Belgian trappist ale for the dark month of February. A bock for March and April. An IPA's and a saisson for the summer. A German Helles for October. A porter for november. A winter warmer in December. We'll see how that turns out.

Now for the knitting aims for the year list. This came from a post Aileen made in the Irish Knitters Group on Ravelry. It's a 10 for 2010 list and here's mine.

  1. Knit a hat and mittens for Dave
  2. Knit a clapotis/coin lace shawl
  3. Crochet for the crochet coral reef
  4. Card and spin aran weight alpaca, dye it and knit a colannade shawl
  5. Do more yarn and fiber dyeing
  6. Make a hackle so I can blend fiber with it
  7. Start making more art yarn
  8. Knit a pair of fancy colour work mittens
  9. Get the hang of knitting lace with charts
  10. Conquer my fear of sock knitting

Montego Bay Soon Come

I finished my Montego Bay Scarf just before christmas and brought it to Jamaica with me. I wore it on the plane and it was lovely, warm and soft. I even managed to get some nice photos of it relaxing by the beach in the sun.
Travel is an amazing thing, we left Dublin on a chilly snowy morning and arrived in Kingston to hot sun. I presume most of you aren't amazed but this was only my second trip across the Atlantic so the complete season change on landing is still amazing to me.

We saw blue skies, crocodiles on the Black River, flowers, listened to christmas reggae music and snorkeled to see a coral reef which was beautiful. I'm sure it will inspire me to make some crochet coral for the Irish Crochet Coral Reef. More photos here.

I visited the Appleton Rum distillery which was a fun trip. I've never been to a distillery before so it was interesting to see how rum is made. Unlike many producers Appleton actually let you in to see the distilling room and the barrel aging room. Rum is made from sugar cane and nowadays it's a very efficient process with almost all of the juice being extracted from the cane and the waste fibre used to power the plant. The juice from the sugar cane is boiled to reduce it to molasses. It's then fermented and after that distilled to produce a pure clear spirit. Appleton uses mostly pot stills combined with continuous column stills. Even though it is mostly pure some flavour compounds remain from the fermentation and the still to give the spirit it's taste. This spirit is white rum and at 60% it's rocket fuel, drink carefully!  

In Jamaica it's traditional to drink white rum with sorrel, sugar and ginger as a christmas drink. We had this on christmas day and it really fits the season with it's lovely red colour, it's sweet and spicy and pretty refreshing on a hot christmas day. 

The real magic of rum happens when it's aged in oak barrels. The spirit extracts different flavours from the wood. It is aged for varying lengths of time. In the Caribbean rum ages quickly in the warm climate. A portion of the rum is lost to evaporation and this is called the Angel's share. Again due to the climate a lot of rum can be lost to evaporation especially when the rum is aged for many years. They say a rum aged for one year here is equivalent to a rum aged for 3 elsewhere. The barrel room feels cold due to all the alcohol in the air evaporating on your skin and cooling it. Our guide told us staff are only allowed in the room for a certain length of time as they would eventually get drunk from the fumes.  I tasted the Appleton 12 year old rum and it was somewhat like a whiskey, rich and dark. 

I also tasted El Doardo 15 year old rum from Guyana which my sister in law assured me was the best rum in the world. It's pretty powerful stuff but I don't really know how to describe it. I think it may have been a bit lost on me I'm afraid. I'm much more of a beer girl than a spirits lady.

Speaking of beer I discovered Red Stripe had just launched a new beer called Bold. When big beer brands release something new it tends be a thin light imitation of their original so I was expecting another new beer along the lines of Red Stripe light. Red Stripe light is great in the hot climate as it's 3.5% so you can drink it and not get too tipsy. Red Stripe Bold is surprising in that it's a stronger, darker, sweeter, hoppier version of the original Red Stripe. It's quite nice, a little too sweet for me though. It's pretty strong so care is needed in the heat when it's tempting to drink lots of them to keep cool.

We had a great christmas in Jamaica, that injection of sun will help with the long cold dark days of january. It been really cold here with snow and ice that just isn't melting. Maybe it's time I took out the brewing gear and made a lager, kolsch or alt beer. I'll also have news of my exciting win over at undermeoxter. With all the snow I'm inside knitting a lot so there will be many new finished projects coming up. This post is a mixed bag of all my interests, let me know if you guys like it.