Hexagons

I was introduced to English Paper Piecing a little while ago. For those of you who are not familiar with it, English Paper Piecing (EPP) is a quilting method that uses pre-cut pieces of paper as a template to make sure your fabric pieces are sewn together perfectly. It helps you avoid wonky edges and crooked lines.

When I first ran into it, I thought it sounded like a lot of fuss and bother, but it was rather pretty. I followed the hashtag on Instagram so I could see more beautiful pictures of this art form.

Friends, if your goal is to avoid starting a new project or hobby, following a related hashtag is not the way to keep yourself out of trouble. I resisted the lure of a new, shiny craft for quite a while, but I finally crumbled after my birthday.

I went to JoAnn’s and bought some fabric and some templates. I fussy-cut out a bunch of hexagons. I basted each bit of fabric around a template, and whip stitched them together. I was hooked.

What started as a quick project to see if I liked the craft has now become a plan for a full-blown quilt. Send help. And more templates.

Spin Together

Early this month my spinning group joined a friendly competition called Spin Together. The goal was to spin throughout the week. Some people are very competetive about these things and spend gobs of time to spin loads of yarn. I was not in a situation where I could do that (even though I am a very competetive person), so I took a more laid back approach. My goal was to spin every day and to finish some projects I had started.

I spun 5 out of the 7 days, so I didn’t quite meet my goal to spin every day. But I did finish 2 projects, and ended up with some very lovely yarn.

The first project was a handful of Jacob rolags. Deb from Merciful Hearts Farm is part of our spinning group, and she generously shared some sample fleeces with the group. Jacob is a peculiar breed: their fleeces are mottled and splotched with different colours. I had never worked with Jacob or with unwashed wool before this spin. I separated the locks by colour and carded them up into rolags.

I spun the rolags in colour order from darkest to lightest. In order to preserve the colour order in the finished yarn I chain-plied it. I have a hard time getting enough twist in my woolen singles, so they quite often break. To combat this, I started the plying stage with a simple prep step: I chained the singles around a book without adding twist. This allowed me to control the chain length and twist better, and my handling of the delicate singles was much more careful.

You can see that I used my newest toy to spin this sample: it’s the Electric Eel Wheel Nano. The Nano did a great job spinning the yarn, but the fuzzy wool caught on the yarn guides quite frequently. Also, when plying after the bobbin was about halfway filled it stopped wanting to wind on. I will need to play with the Nano more to see how these issues can be worked out.

My second Spin Together project was a skein I started back in April. I used my Majacraft Pioneer for this spin. The fiber was a blend of Targhee, Rambouillet, and Columbia wools from Apothefaery Fibers that I bought at SAFF last year. The colours reminded me of fire and of a clear Autumn morning.

I had spun the singles quite fine, and plied them end to end with a lot of extra twist. This took me about 2 months, then I went to Manila, and didn’t return to my project for over 4 months. My goal was to make a crepe yarn, so at this point I was about 2/3 of the way through the project. In late September I started spinning another singles, this time in an undyed BFL/silk blend. During the week of Spin together I finished spinning these singles, and plied the singles with the 2-ply to finish the crepe.

I knew I was pushing the boundaries of how much yarn my bobbin would hold. The original 2-ply was 4 oz, and the crepe ply was at least another 2 oz (most bobbins hold 4oz or less). In the end the yarn was finished in a very dramatic way. I had gone to our spinning group meetup, and was plying away, hoping against hope that the yarn would all fit. I got to the very end of the bobbin, and my wheel wouldn’t wind any more on. So I enlisted some help: I treadled while another friend walked the plying yarn out behind me, and another friend watched to make sure the yarn didn’t come off my bobbin and get wrapped around the drive shaft!

We worked together to finish this yarn, it all miraculously fit on the bobbin, and I was rewarded with 580 yds of a beautiful sport-weight crepe yarn. Just look at it!

If you need me in the future, I will be spinning all the crepe yarn. I love the roundness of the yarn and the very visible, unusual construction.

Baking Up a Storm!

I’m one of those people that gets interested in something, and then that’s all I do for the next month or two. Eventually a semblance of normalcy will return, but not too much (being too normal is boring). My most recent addiction is baking. Now that my sourdough starter is behaving I have been baking almost every weekend.

Last time we talked about bread, I had just made my first sourdough loaf. I loved it, but my husband wanted something less assertive, so I’ve been trying other recipes that use sourdough starter and commercial yeast together.

My first experiment was with Brioche. As in the last post, I used the recipe from Tartine Bread. If you are following along at home, I recommend that you use a half recipe when making this brioche. I made the full recipe, and it barely all fit in my Kitchenaid mixer! I had so much dough that I made 1 giant loaf, a dozen dinner rolls, and a whole passel of doughnuts!

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That’s right, I made doughnuts from scratch. Let me tell you: They were delicious!

I do need to brush up on my frying technique, though. I think the oil was not hot enough, so the doughnuts ended up slightly greasy. Still fantastc, but definitely something to improve on.

The bread has great flavor and texture with a nice, even crumb. It’s great for sandwiches and French Toast, or really anything you might use bread for.

The only thing I might change about the bread is the baking time. The bread seems a touch on the dry side, which makes me think I might have over-baked it slightly.

I am always amazed at how much there is to learn about such a seemingly simple topic as bread. Bon appetit!

Sourdough Update

Last time I talked to you about Sourdough I was having trouble with my starter. I found a lot of conflicting information online, and I was getting confused. I bought Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson to learn more about sourdough baking (I have learned so much from books. It’s my favourite way to learn new things!).

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Chad runs a bakery in California, and he is a master at sourdough bread and variations thereon. He focuses on expending minimal effort to create the best bread possible. He does this by working with the nature of the dough, and by not skipping steps. The book has quite a few variations on several basic bread recipes, and also has recipes for what to do with your bread once it’s baked. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just sandwiches! Once I started following a single method my starter began behaving well – rising very high on a predictable schedule.

20190822_205546Just after mixing the jar was only 1/3 full.

I had a small misstep where I tried to bake a loaf the day before my starter really started to rise. The loaf looked nice, but hardly rose at all and was very dense. This was a good learning opportunity for me, since now I understand better how my starter looks when it is and is not ready. I always use the float test now.

Once my starter was behaving I had to bake some bread! I used the basic sourdough recipe from Tartine Bread. I followed the recipe and the suggested timings as closely as possible, and was rewarded with 2 absolutely beautiful loaves!

I also teamed up with my husband to make a pizza with a sourdough crust. Delicious, but next time I’d like to make the crust thinner, or perhaps bake it before I add the toppings.

I never knew how rewarding it would be to bake bread. There is nothing like enjoying the delicious bread you made yourself, or sharing it with friends. In that way, it’s kind of like knitting.

Finished Skein: Berries and Chocolate

Last October I bought some fiber for my birthday. This is “Lake Huron” on Targhee by Deep Dyed Yarns.

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A few days later I bought some hand cards at SAFF.

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What’s a girl to do when she has new fiber AND new hand cards? Why card it up, that’s what!

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I had originally planned to keep the rolags in the original colour order that they came in, but then I thought of arranging them in a massive gradient, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

Since I now had a box full of beautiful rolags, I had to spin long-draw. Long-draw is a skill I am still learning, so this took me quite a while.

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Once I had finished spinning the singles, I began chain-plying the yarn to preserve the colour order I had so carefully established. My singles broke several times, so finally I ran them back through the wheel to add more twist before finishing the plying. Lesson learned: Make sure your yarn has enough twist before beginning to ply, especially for a chain-plied yarn since there isn’t another singles to provide additional structure!

The finished yarn is a glorious 464 yards of yarn. Since this is handspun and I am still refining my long-draw skills, the yarn varies from almost a laceweight to sport weight, with the majority of the yarn being in the fingering weight range.

I don’t have any definite plans for this skein yet, but it would make a lovely shawl or cowl – something that will use up all the yarn and that doesn’t come in pairs of items. I think it would make a beautiful woven scarf. Conversely, it would be gorgeous as a Lost in Time shawl.

Sourdough

I grew up in a bread family. My mom made a lot of bread, and we all gobbled it up pretty much immediately. I live far away from my mom now, so if I want homemade bread I have to make it myself. Over the last few years I’ve made a few loaves with limited success, but it is frustrating to put in a bunch of time and effort only to end up with mediocre loaves that I’m not excited to eat. Recently I decided to try making bread again. Only this time I would be making sourdough bread.

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To make sourdough bread you begin with a starter. A starter is a mixture of water and flour that ferments – this is where the wild yeast grows, and also where beneficial bacteria grow that give the bread it’s sour flavor. Starters should be easy. I had trouble with mine. I was trying to be too technical, and my starter didn’t like it. After a frustrating first week, I realized I needed to simplify. After all, people have used sourdough starter as a leavening agent for centuries, and they don’t have all the fancy gadgets (or the scientific knowledge as to why and how sourdough works) that we have today. So I stopped worrying so much about temperatures and perfect ratios, and lo and behold my starter started doing what it was supposed to do!

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At this point I had been feeding my starter for 2 weeks and I had no bread to show for it. I had read that you can add sourdough starter to any bread recipe – you just substitute the starter for an equal amount of flour and liquid. So I tried it. I made a normal white bread loaf with some starter added in, and it turned out delicious! I made several lovely sandwiches with this bread, as you can see above.

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Finally after 3 weeks my starter was rising more or less predictably. The time had come to make true sourdough bread. I mixed my starter with an appropriate amount of flour, water, and salt, folded the dough a few times, waited a lot, and came out with an incredible loaf of bread!

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I had read that the first loaf from a starter may not rise much. This bread certainly isn’t tall, but look at the crumb and the lovely open structure of the bread! It tastes just as good as it looks, too! I still have a lot to learn about Sourdough, but I am so pleased that I finally made this happen! And truthfully, it wasn’t hard to do. The biggest challenge was being patient. If you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at sourdough, I would encourage you to jump right in! The water’s warm and the bread is delicious!

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P.S. This week I celebrated my 8th blogiversary. Thanks for joining me for the ride!

Summer Travels

What a summer it has been! I have so much to tell you, so I’ll start with the biggest thing: I went to Manila! I work with a company that has offices in several places in the world, and most of my department happens to be in Manila in the Philippines. Over the last year and a half that I’ve worked in this department I’ve been emailing, messaging, and calling my team, but there is nothing quite like meeting someone in person. I feel so lucky to have been able to travel for work. I never thought I would be a jet-setting world traveler, but I suppose I’ve had a taste of that now.

My trip was 2 weeks long in the beginning of June. I packed 2 knitting projects and some spinning for good measure, but I barely touched my projects at all while I was away. Let’s dive right in with all the pictures!

The flight from the US to Manila is no joke. I had 3 flights, the longest of which was 14 hours. The total travel time including layovers was about 24 hours, so by the time I landed I was beyond exhausted. But my day wasn’t over yet. I knew if I went to sleep immediately my internal clock would be messed up all week, so I pulled myself together and went into the office long enough to say hi to everyone.

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The next few days were a blur of work and meeting new people. I ate a lot of good food every single day. If you are ever hungry in Manila, that is totally your fault because the food there is awesome!! Or as they say in Tagalog, “Masarap!”

The Philippines is on the other side of the world from the US, so our night is their day. In order to work smoothly with the US offices, the Manila office is most active at night. Working night shift long term would be a big change, but it was quite convenient not to have to change my day to day schedule. Over the weekend we had a team building activity planned during the day, so we had to switch over to day shift. This was difficult, to say the least, but it enabled me to go out and see a little of Manila.

We went all over: The Manila Hotel where the President of the Philippines holds special events, the oldest church in Manila, the National musums… And friends, I found YARN!

We got food (of course), and rode a Calesa, which is a kind of horse-drawn buggy.

The next day was our team building. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Pro tip: Filipinos love Karaoke, so if you’re traveling over there brush up on your singing!

The next day (Monday, if you’re keeping track) was time to transition back to night shift. But, this was my best option to go shopping while I was in Manila. A few of my friends took me to the mall to buy ALL THE THINGS.

I tried something called Kwek-kwek, which is hard-boiled quail eggs that are then battered and fried. Delicious, and very fatty.

The 2nd week was similar to the first, and before I knew it the time had come to leave for the airport. But wait, the team couldn’t let me live without a party!

I had such a wonderful time getting to meet my team and form personal friendships with them. I can’t wait to go back and see my friends again!