28 November 2011

Slow Progress


Just checking in to let you all know I'm still around!  It may appear that there's not much making going on but rest assured I've been very busy indeed.  Lots of Christmas presents are being crafted whenever I get a moment and of course I will share these with you after the big day - obviously I don't want to be giving the game away to any potential recipients who might be reading  ;)

Of course aside from the festive makings The Kitchen is taking priority at the moment and although progress is slow things are coming along.  I'm learning lots of new skills in the process and so far haven't had any disasters or discovered anything really shocking lurking behind the old units (aside from several layers of assorted 70s wall paper, mostly brown and floral).  Over the weekend I had a go with some expanding foam filling up a gap round the window frame where the tiles were removed from (when new windows were put in a couple of years ago new uPVC frames were very unhelpfully put in over the top of the tiles so removal of the tiles uncovered a 10 mm gap to the brick work which was letting in a draught.  So that's filled up now and ready for some silicone sealant after the surrounding plaster has been skimmed over.  
There was also a large space behind one of the tiles which had been placed over an electrical socket box.  I'm not retiling so I needed to fill this in ready for re-plastering.  I've had the electrics checked and have filled in the vacant space with foam so it's now ready for plastering/skimming.  
Being a thrifty devil and also always being up for learning new skills my next step is to try my hand at some plaster patching and skimming.  Quite a bold step I know but I thought the worst that can happen is it goes wrong and I have to pay someone to do it anyway.  However if it works out OK I'll have saved myself a whole bunch of money and have the self-satisfaction of achievement to boot.  I've got some safe test areas to do which will eventually be hidden behind wall units so I can practice without causing major problems.  After a bit of research I've sealed the damaged plaster with a couple of coats of diluted PVA glue and selected my plaster products of choice so tonight I'm going to give it my first try.  Below is the before pic.  I'll be back in touch shortly so you can see how I got on.  Wish me luck! 

20 November 2011

Mitten and Makings Goes Large

There hasn't been much woolly work going on in the Mitten and Makings household of late.  I have been totally preoccupied with a rather large and frankly quite terrifying project.  After several weeks of planning, to-ing and fro-ing between various companies, quotes and measurements I have taken the plunge and am having a new kitchen.  Here it is before I started to attack it.
Seeing it in these pictures it doesn't actually look that bad but I assure you close up it's not so great. 

This is really quite an undertaking and was one of those things that just sort of escalated and snow-balled from a few small tweaks to me now doing the whole lot.  Initially I thought I would just replace the cupboard doors.  Then I decided to go for a new work top too as mine was pretty tatty and worn in places.  I got a quote from a company that specialises in kitchen 'facelifts' who would do just the doors and worktops, which almost gave me a heart attack.  I don't doubt they would have done a good job as it was a bespoke service but I didn't want to spend that much money and still have grotty old cabinets and ugly tiling hidden behind a nice new (and very expensive) exterior.   There's only so much polishing of the proverbial one can realisitically get away with.
So I started to think that for that much cash I really could (and should) rip the whole lot out and start again.  The present units I'm pretty sure were from MFI and from the date written on these pieces of info that are still attached to the inside of some of the doors it looks like they were purchased in 1990. 
Since then the doors have been 'updated' by someone adding some shiny new handles and giving them a coat of pain.  The effect not being wonderful as the doors still have the original cut-out handles.  All in all the whole kitchen has seen better days. 
There really is no going back now either.  I have done all the designing and took the plunge and ordered the new units.  These will be arriving in a couple of weeks so I have made a start at removing the horrid old tiles (after a trip to Clas Ohlson to buy myself a few basic tools).  I found it rather satisfying chiseling away and getting rid of the old, especially as the first section came away wonderfully leaving the plaster completely in tact.  Sadly it went down hill from there and the next section pulled away lots of plaster making lots of nice mess.  And this is where I have got to so far.
I am generally a pretty tidy person so I know having the chaos and dust for the next couple of months may well drive me crazy but I shall be very happy to have my nice new kitchen and can't wait for it all to be finished.  I shall no doubt be keeping you updated with the progress.  Seeing all the plastering that needs doing I'm already wondering if I've made a huge mistake but there's no going back now so wish me luck! 

13 November 2011

Quick and Easy Sweet Treats

Way back in the spring of this year I went to my first ever Pampered Chef party.  As tends to happen at these sorts of gatherings I was sucked into the hype and treated myself to a mini muffin tin and wooden tart shaper, or 'dobber' as I prefer to call it.  I think the fact I got to have a go with the dobber on the night, which was actually surprisingly satisfying, and then eat the tasty chocolate treats, added to the eventual decision that my life would not be complete without my very own mini muffin tin and tart dobber.  I think in total I had to pay a rather hefty £25 but as one tends to do I tried to convince myself that it would be well worth it as I could make all manner of sweet and savoury treats and nibbles in no time at all and would use it all the time and get my money's worth. Yeah right.

Fast forward to November and I have to admit I had not used my rather expensive tin and dobber.  Not once.  I don't doubt it's a good quality piece of kit but I have a perfectly good 12 hole muffin tin I got from TK Maxx for in the region of £6.99, the construction of which looks and feels just like my mini muffin tin.  

Anyway, I decided it was about time I put my tin to use so I stocked up on lots of convenience goods consisting of shortcrust pastry (kindly made by Jus-Rol), a jar of Nutella, some Rolos (thanks Nestle), a bag of white chocolate buttons and a bag of butterscotch nibbles (thanks Sainsbury's) and a couple of bananas.  
The pastry was cut into 48 pieces and I made two batches of mini treats: banoffee tartlets made by using a slice of banana, a Rolo and a white chocolate button, and chocolate-hazelnut tartlets made using Nutella and the butterscotch nibbles. 
They have a definite homemade look (i.e. wonky, scruffy and non-uniform) but they were so easy to make and only took a few minutes so they would be handy if wanting to make someting in a hurry and I do think I will make them again.  Actually I shall make more very shortly as I completely over-estimated how much I needed to buy and actually have enough to make another batch of each type so I may treat my colleagues to some this week.

11 November 2011

Boot Liner Leg Warmers

I ave a confession: I had a growing craving to have some legwarmers.  Maybe it's my 80s childhood coming back to haunt me.  Maybe it's my unwillingness to accept I am a grown up.  Maybe it's the hours I have spent doing Jane Fonda work out videos.  I knew I shouldn't go there.  But I couldn't resist.
Armed with my recently acquired circular knitting capabilities I figured I could make some rather innocuous 'boot liners',  i.e. legwarmers that I will disguise by wearing under boots until if/when I feel brave enough to flaunt my leg warmers with pride.  Ahh no one with suspect a thing...
So essentially they're just chunky socks without the foot bit which will keep the draughts away from my ankles.  I had some brown yarn in my stash which worked OK with my brown boots so there was no stopping me.  I felt like a naughty school girl.  

So there you have it, my first pair of leg warmers.  And I am ashamed to say they are not going to be my last, indeed I have pair number two well under way.  Oops.  I seem to have fallen into some sort of legwarmer obsession.  But at least I'll have warm ankles.  And if I can't bring myself to wear them out I shall be slouching about the house in them with pride.  I'm sure Mitten doesn't mind. 

7 November 2011

I Enter the Realm of Circular Knitting

It was high time I broke my circular knitting virginity.  Having come across lots of patterns recently that involve knitting in-the-round I decided I really needed to teach myself how to do it.  Thankfully as usual when venturing into unchartered waters it really was not as difficult or as scary as I had expected. 

For my first go I thought I'd use a circular needle and make a neck warmer.  I'd found a nice pattern on Ravely called Spiral Cowl by Keri McKiernan of Knitty Gritty Thoughts which seemed a good place to start. 

Casting on went fine.  I struggled a bit joining the round initially and doing the first row but once I got going it was fine and was just a case of continuoulsy knitting and forming a tall spiral. There was a picot hem at each end of the piece too which was also something I'd never done in knitting before. It finishes off the piece neatly and gives a nice exrta detail. 
I enjoyed the continuity of knitting with circular needles, and the fact that once it gets going it's really simple and only knit stitches are needed to create stocking stitch.  The downside of course is that the circular needles I have are a fixed length and can only really be used for larger circumference items like this cowl.  For anything smaller, e.g. hats, socks, etc. I would either need a smaller circular needle, or a larger one and do the magic loop method - something I've read about but not seen in action - or would have to venture into another realm, that of circular knitting on double pointed needles (or dpns). 

I decided to give it a go using the pattern for my ear warmer for my last post but work in the round rather in rows as I had previously.  It involves having the stitches shared out across three needles and using a fourth one to knit with.
I found it rather tricky getting the corners to join neatly and as you can see in the next picture it's really quite obvious where one of the corners was.
As I was getting towards the end of the piece I decided to experiment with knitting two stitches onto the previous needle before knitting onto the spare needle to make the 'corners' move around the piece and help make them tighter.  I only had a few rows left to do (at the bottom of the piece in the above picture) by the time I started doing it this way but it definitely did make the corners neater and less obvious so I decided I would use this method on my next creation.  

So although it was not an entirely successful first attempt at circular knitting on dpns I know where I was going wrong and am glad I've finally tried it out and conquered my fear of the unknown world of circular knitting.