Thursday, 27 March 2014

Books I Read - I

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Looking for good fiction ?
Quick reads for that lazy afternoon ?
A different perspective ? 

Here are a couple of books that I enjoyed. Both cater to different moods, but are love stories with a difference !
As chance would have it, at the beginning of 2013 as well as 2014, I happened to read two wonderful books, both with a Pakistani connection. Nothing deliberate, but a happy coincidence !

1.  “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

This book had been on my to-read list for some time, based on some review & I finally bought it in early 2013.

It is a pleasurable read, reminiscent of Wodehousian language & humour.
Set in a small village in UK, it exudes an old-world English charm. The simple flow, witticisms, subtle humor, English manners & etiquette, Asian customs, etc. have all been interwoven in simple language.
Love blossoming between two elderly, lonely individuals from very different cultures, but with their own sensibilities & ideals.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story; one can breeze through it. Yet, for all its lightness, there is room for thought. A perspective into the needs & travails of senior citizens.
A feel-good book that I can go back to again !

2.  “In The Orchard, the Swallows” by Peter Hobbs

As Dec of 2013 came to a close, I bought this book at a flea market for just Rs 50/- (that’s less than 1 USD !!!). The title & very simple cover captivated my attention at first glance. Boy, was this book totally worth the read !

An exquisite story about love & power & the Power of Love.
It is a very short book, with equally short & succinct chapters. Even with my snail’s pace, I could’ve finished it in one sitting. But there was something so binding in its languid narration that I just could Not read more than a few chapters at a time. The shortness & slow pace of writing are in keeping with the narrator’s own traumatic experience & I simply could not bring myself to force the pace. To do so would be a betrayal to all that the unnamed narrator had undergone & felt. One needed to imbibe it within oneself.
Yet, it is not a depressing tale, in that it does not dwell on the harsh & unjust imprisonment. Instead it is a story of how love sustained hope & life.

But the blurb says it best.
"This is a beautiful & tragic story that so delicately charts, with profound & devastating effects, the parallels that exist between love and power. It is rooted in the present yet has the timeless quality of a myth; like a jewel, it contains more light than seems possible." - Hisham Matar
"Not only has Peter Hobbs produced a timely study or regional transition & its human cost, he has written a terrifically fierce love story. Rarely do contemporary novels possess such refractive power & emotional sincerity. What an acute, brave book this is." - Sarah Hall

Blurb of "In the Orchard, the Swallows" by Peter Hobbs

Happy Reading !

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Tatting A Doily - II

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Renulek’s 2014 Spring Napkin/Doily Tat-along : 
My Experiences & Learnings 

Renulek started posting the her pattern for the 2014 Spring Napkin/doily from February 10 onward. I got to know of it a few days later. After my very first fun tat-along experience with Jane's 2014 TIAS ( Learning Is Fun &  Learning Was Fun), I was very eager to join along in this beautiful pattern.  
( For pictures of Each round, check out my previous post )

My 'Chrysanthemum' version of Renulek 2014 Spring Doily Rounds 1-8

Threads Used :
Anchor Mercerized Crochet Cotton Size 20 in the following shades ---
Brown (Br) : 0355 
Yellow (Ylw) : 0293
Peach (Pch) : 0302
Green (Gr) : 0241
Dark Green (Dk Gr) :  0245

My experience, tabulated : 
I've tabulated each round (linked to respective pattern on Renulek's site) with details & remarks. This will be a concise, ready-reference for the future.

Remarks / Tips / Lessons learned

I like the brown blips showing as radiating spokes (pistil parts?)
Wish picots were longer still.
In retrospect, could’ve used Brown Only for the single larger ring & peach around. But possible only if 2 shuttles were used. Wish I could’ve made the picots longer.

Partially through the round, I finally figured out how to hide the blips. Totally blip-free from then on, using the SLT !

Most unsatisfactory Rnd. Since I wanted all rings yellow (leaves) & chain green (vine/stem), I encountered a floppy central ring & lots of SLTs !

If planned ahead, I could’ve done Rnds 4 & 5 in One Pass. Lesson learned.

Dk Gr
Dk Gr
Started with Brown but it looked out of place; hence cut it off & ‘graded’ the transition with Dark Green. Easiest round with no SLTs, etc.

Another easy round using 2 shuttles.

A bit cumbersome round. Needed careful attention but still missed a couple of picot-joins & twisted chain in one place. Wanted more petalled -effect hence peach used in more elements. Also required ironing after finish.

Pattern continues : Rnd 9 Rnd 10 , Rnd 11 , Rnd 12 , Rnd 13 (last round)

This was a thoroughly enjoyable & exciting project. I enjoyed tatting along with so many other InTatters members. Each used their own imagination & color combinations to create beautifully unique pieces from the Same Pattern !!!

It was a learning experience too. I figured out how to avoid color blips , became accustomed to the SLTs , frontside/backside tatting.

I thought it was just me, but many tatters faced problems with Round 4 if they wanted to make all the rings in one color, as discussed in this InTatters thread (pages 21-23) ! This is one round that works best & most easily when either using only one color, or having the rings in 2 colors.

Wish I could’ve made picots in the peach ‘petals’ even longer. I hit some kind of mental block  or finger / tatting plateau when it came to picot lengths. I managed to overcome this only slightly in Round 8.

In Round 8 , I started in the wrong direction. This came as an opportunity to try out frontside/backside tatting for the chains. It worked fine, but I could’ve avoided the added cumbersomeness & complexity that required increased monitoring.

TIP : For relative beginners, it is best to go the traditional way by using Only one color throughout or atleast one color per round. It will be much easier. 
And if one wonders how many colors one can use, & what better example than Frivole's gorgeous & bold statement !!!

Related Posts Staring the Spring Doily

Tatting a Doily - I

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      Renulek's 2014 Spring Doily/Napkin - My Work

Renulek started posting her pattern for the 2014 Spring Napkin/doily from February 10 onward. I got to know of it a week later & when I saw the photo with 3 rounds, I immediately liked the pattern & decided to follow along. 

My Interpretation / Conceptualization :

The major hurdle starts right at the beginning !!! What colors to use , where, when, ... which elements/rounds to highlight, which should go into relief.... Yeah, the traditionalists had it easy - with single white/ecru tatting all over :-))) Anyway, so all this went into how I chose & applied colors. To me, Rnds 2 & 3 looked like little flowers or petals going all around a central circlet of stigma & anthers. Hence the napkin began taking the form of a large Pink Chrysanthemum (read 'Peach') , intertwined with leaves, vines, stems .... I hope that has come through ...

Threads used, with Shade number

NoteRound 3, here, is circular. But one of the popular pins on my pinterest board, has the very same pattern (I haven't checked the stitch count yet) as a  Straight Edging / Bookmark  !!!


TIP : I'd like to share a great tip I got on InTatters (Comments #94 & 94) about why it is better to "tat the rings as true rings with the same thread used to tat the chains.... to keep the nice chain arches it works best if the core thread is a continuous uninterrupted thread that slips in the chain to adjust the tension. If it is rerouted up into the ring you loose that ability and it also breaks the continuous chain..." .     

I stopped at Round 8 for the present.
Reasons : 
1. Totally ran out of the peach color & this color is out of stock in the e-stores I checked. And if the official Shade Card is updated, then this shade is no longer being produced :-(
2. Didn’t know what to do with the doily. The size thus far, is something that can be sewn on to fabric, used as a table centerpiece, (or gifted) … & I can always continue in future.
3. I learned my lessons in these 8 rounds & wanted to get back to learning & familiarizing myself with tons of other techniques & tutorials

However, the doily, till Round 12 (& just one last round to go) looks so beautiful that I Am itching to continue….

I have tabulated my entire experience, with remarks & jottings, links to pattern for each round, etc. etc. in my previous post . It will be a kind of ready-reference for the future, just in case.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Crunchy Dry-Roasted Nuts Without Extra Oil !!!

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Faced with hunger pangs & snack cravings between meals ?
Looking for healthy snack options ?
What can be healthier than dry fruits/nuts ?!

Roasted dry fruits/nuts offer a crunchy, tasty, high-fiber, healthy, easy-to-digest option to nibble on without any guilt. And one can avoid additional calories by Dry-roasting the nuts ie. without any additional fat/oil, while retaining all their natural flavors.

Here's how to :
Cooking time : 2-4 minutes (per 100-150 gm)  Estimated time.  
Standing time : 20-60 mins (depending on ambient temperatures)

All you need :
Nuts such as peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts.
I used 125 gm shelled peanuts in one bowl & 150 gm shelled almonds in another bowl.
Microwave-proof bowl(s). (I used Borosil bowls.)
Any spatula / spoon / fork to shuffle the nuts
Seasoning & Dried Herbs (optional)

Put nuts in a microwave-proof bowl.  Place bowl in microwave oven.
Microwave at High/100% for about 2 minutes.
Remove bowl, shuffle the nuts a bit (for even roasting) & return to oven.
Nuke at 100% for another minute or so.
In case of almonds & peanuts, one can hear crackling sounds. That is the time to stop.
Remove, let cool completely. Add seasoning, spices, dried herbs.
Voila! Crunchy, all-natural, healthy nuts are ready to munch :-) 
Store in air-tight jars. These last for weeks & months.

Important Notes & Tips :

  • Always roast each type of nut in a separate bowl as roasting time for each varies (cashewnuts & walnuts usually take lesser time than almonds & peanuts.)
  • Avoid nuking for more than 2 minutes at one go, since roasting can cause smoke build-up in oven. Hence it is always a good idea to nuke in short spurts of 2 minutes for 1st round & 1 or less in subsequent stages.
  • Total time required to roast may vary with size & type of oven, water content in nuts, quantity of nuts, etc.
  • While roasting, the nuts do not become crisp after 2-3 minutes. However, since they Retain a huge amount of heat, the slow cooking/roasting Continues even After the bowl is removed from oven.
  • Standing time is extremely crucial since the tasting / cooking / crisping carries on well after the bowl has been removed from the oven. Ambient temperature will determine the standing time. If , after some time, you feel that the nuts are still not as crunchy, simply transfer the bowl back to the oven & nuke some more. 
  • It is a good idea to use a broad-rimmed bowl or container to microwave, since it has a larger surface area for the nuts to be roasted evenly. This, however, can be countered to an extent, by mixing/stirring/shuffling at intervals to bring the lower nuts to the surface ... 
  • No oil or butter is required. Nuts already have their own natural fat which is sufficient for roasting. However, if you like a little sheen or glossy coating, add a teeny tsp of olive oil by all means.
TIP : Sprinkle pepper before roasting for a stronger smoky pepper flavor.

One can season & flavor with choice dried herbs if required. I prefer without any salt, to savour the natural nutty, mildly sweet flavors.

TIP: Roasting nuts in batches in one go can save a lot of time & repeated effort of roasting handfuls. Then, after completely cool, store in air-tight containers or mason jars – they keep for a long time.
I store each nut in a different mason jar, to be used as desired. This gives me the option to mix a different combo of nuts or to use any choice of roasted nut as garnish in other dishes immediately.

Store dry roasted nuts in air-tight containers

TIP: After all nuts have cooled, one can mix in a few raisins, black currants, etc. too. Raisins can be dry-roasted in the oven as well. But do it on medium ~70% microwave setting. Keep a close eye on them. As soon as they start to bloat up, remove from oven. They will shrink back & crisp while cooling.

Yes, that’s all there is to it.
Now you will always have healthy crunchy munchies to snack on !

Monday, 17 March 2014

Vintage Embroidery Patterns I

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Abstract Floral Motifs 

Over the decades, I've collected a number of embroidery patterns from various sources & people. Some of these probably date back to the 19th century or very early 20th century ! I have a magazine page cutting dating back to 1934!  Hence, I trust there will be no copyright issues. I will provide the Exact source wherever possible, and will willingly include sources, if anyone can direct me to them.

At the turn of the millennium, I painstakingly carbon-copied each pattern on to notebooks/pads with grids. Then I went over the carbon lines with gel pen. I used a grid background in order to be able to enlarge a pattern easily. However, now technology has made it so much easier & quicker :-)

Here's sharing my first pattern sheet, along with my own embroidery samples ....

Circle o' Blooms

Pattern A from Plate #4 (scroll down to end of page)
Thread used : Silk thread 
Number of strands used : Single / one strand.
Hand embroidery stitches used
Buttonhole stitch for flowers ; 
a tiny Daisy stitch in black for center.
I added a few single satin stitches in between some buttonhole stitches wherever there was a larger gap.

This pattern is hand-embroidered on a handkerchief corner.
I machine-hemmed the hanky with decorative zig-zag in orange.

TIP : Making the blanket stitch lines of 'uneven' length, creates a nice, more 'naturalized' effect, besides filling up the area.


Pattern E from Plate #4 (pattern below)
Thread used : Anchor Embroidery thread
Number of strands used : Single / one strand.
Hand embroidery stitches used :
Romanian embroidery stitch for petals ;
Satin stitch filling for center ;
Stem stitch for stems & vines ;
Fishbone stitch for leaves .

This is also a handkerchief corner, with zigzag machine hemming in purple.

Pattern Chart # 4

Abstract Floral Motifs 

These 6 vintage motif patterns are ideal for decorating corners for handkerchiefs, napkins, pillow cases, towels, etc.
One can also use them in bunches or spread in repetition to cover a large fabric.
Another use is in decorating quilt blocks.

I've embroidered patterns C, D, & F each, on corners of a table napkin set. No longer with me...

Vintage Floral Motifs

Have a nice day :-)
For more patterns, check out my pinterest board

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Learning was Fun with TIAS !

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Lessons Learned from Jane’s TIAS 2014

I wrote about starting my Jane's TIAS 2014 journey in a previous post where I also gave reasons on how & why it was Fun learning from a Tat It And See project ! I included Days 1-8 there. Here are the rest of the photos - images from Days 9-16, along with some jottings about the techniques I learned along the way. At the end, I've listed a few links to tutorials that came in handy.

CTM - Continuous Thread Method                     

Flowers in an open box !

I got the lengths right Only once ;-/ . I had a tendency to use slightly longer thread than that called for, in fear that the exact measurement Might prove short for me.
Anyways, longer is better than shorter ….

How to make SRs - Split Rings

Oh, Jane gave us huge practice with SRs ! And all fear of SRs vanished.

The main & probably Only point to remember is : Keep the core thread Taut when working the second half of SR. If thread remains taut, the stitches will Automatically remain Unflipped !

More than just learning this technique, I gradually came to see
how they’ve been applied, how & where they can be used,
how to avoid tie & cuts after each round/row, & so on.
The possibilities are endless !
And now I go about de-constructing all patterns much more easily
than I could previously.  


How to join the 2nd half of SR

This wasn’t very difficult once I got to managing how to handle the SR. After all, the concept is essentially the same. It is fun to kind of 'hear/feel' the stitch go "pop", thus confirming that it is now free to slide over the core thread.
Initially, I had to check each time to confirm that the core thread moved freely, but soon this check was not required.

SCMR – Self Closing Mock Ring

Another first for me. I had huge fun doing this. Pretty simple actually. I noticed that I didn’t really need to attach a pin/clip or hold the loop with my little finger – once I’d made the first ds carefully, I could leave the loop ‘hanging’and continue with the mock ring without fear of the loop closing !
Piece of cake this one !

Could make a broad border !

CWJ – Catherine Wheel Join

Now this was tricky at first. Had to unravel many times. Even when I got it right, it was like a stroke of luck, without any clue as to how it really turned out fine. That was when I decided to start a 2nd piece alongside so that I could practice more.
After a few trials, I understood the concept & then it was easier &
I got along without constant referencing to diagrams.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks, I now have to refer
back to the diagrams again.

LJ – Lock Join

This is nothing to write home about. Very easy. I’d been doing this for ages without knowing that it had a ‘name’.

How to avoid Color Blips

Okay, I’d never been bothered about color blips before.
But as I completed the last part (mast), the blips
glared out accusingly ! However, there were also some blip-free joins. That got me thinking & experimenting … and I discovered (too late to save my TIAS pieces) that it was very much possible to avoid all blips !!! I will share my simple technique in a subsequent post, along with pictures.


Correct version, except for color blips

Mistake in mast, hence added a flag to compensate

Some Useful Tutorial Links :

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Muskaan's Knit Top 2014

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My Knit Top 2014

Bored of the same old Rib Borders ?!
Wish to try some Patterned border for neck & arms ?
Read on …

Finally !!! My lone knit project for 2013-14 winter season is finally over ! This was a truly lean season as far as knitting went. And tatting is to blame ;-)) Anyways, with this project out of the way, & winters just on the verge of ending, I can take up tatting full-time, without any guilt !

I created this design as a combination of 2 different patterns that kept alternating in strips :
Broad strip : Pattern Chart #192 from The New Knitting Stitch Library by Lesley Stanfield
( 23 stitch & 6 row repeat )
Narrow strip : Pucker Cable stitch  ( 5+3 stitch & 4 row repeat )

Yarn : Vardhman Little Angel (baby wool)
White : Shade # LAL065
Blue : Shade # LAB026

Needles :
UK #12 for waist border (rib stitch) 
UK #10 for main body And neck & arm borders.

I tried out some new techniques which I’m listing for all my future projects since one cannot rely fully on one’s memory ;-))

1. Slip Stitch at beginning of Each Row.
I’d always had trouble imagining How one could keep slipping a stitch Without knitting it. But, this time, I gave it a go & boy was I amazed & hooked at the result !
Loved the smooth, even, neat edge that this created !
And so very easy to sew the panels together because each stitch is distinct.
Invaluable for knit blankets, etc. even if one does not want a separate edging… If only I’d known then !

2. Hiding the yarn ends.
This time I tried out a new method for hiding the tails. I can’t find the exact source (will add link when I come across it again). Instead of going in a U formation through stitches from the back, I sewed the tail, in sinusoidal fashion, along each half of a knit stitch – for a distance of 1-2 inches.
This technique is especially useful for Lacy patterns such as this where there are spaces in between.

3. Pattern Borders for Neck & Arms.
As the main knitting came to an end, I couldn’t bring myself to add the usual Rib stitch borders to neck & arms. Instead I tried something new by using the Pucker Cable stitch pattern as border.
I added 1 more stitch, thus casting on 9 stitches instead of 8. This extra stitch served as a smooth straight & even outer edging (selvedge?). Again, 1st stitch of each row was slipped.
After trying out the patterned border with both #12 & #10 needles, I decided to go along with the latter & adjust the tension while sewing.

TIP : The extra stitch for selvedge needs to be on Opposite sides for respective arms : On the right/starting end for right arm border & on the left/last end for the left arm border.

4. Separate Strips for Neck & Arms.
I have always picked up stitches (or included the ones left on holders) along the neck & arm line. This time, since I went in for the patterned border, I had to knit each strip separately to required length & then sew them on to the sweater edge.
I used just the slightest bit of tension while sewing the strips since these were also knit with #10 needles as the rest of the sweater.
Since I wasn’t very sure of the exact length ( I’m Always bungling there ), I began sewing Before the strip reached it’s final length, so that I had enough play to add the rows required before casting off.

5. Color Coordinated Border for Arms.
I doubt an all white strip would’ve looked good with the blue part at lower ends of each arm. Using an all-blue strip would’ve been nice for a younger person. But at my age, I wanted a bit more staidness ;-). Hence I had to make the arm strips using Both colors along the respective lengths.

One thing I did Not do, which I should have :
Mitered Corners for the Square Neck !
I was in too much of a hurry to just complete this project – it has been a WIP almost the entire season. So, not having done a mitered corner ever before, And having to deal with a pattern to boot, I developed cold feet at the prospect of learning & applying mitering to the neckline border strip.
I settled for ‘mitering’ while sewing on the strip ! It obviously added a triangular bulk inside, but who’s gonna see ;-)))

Task for next season : Learn to miter the corners, especially as my next project is going to be Quilt/Afghan #4 !!!

Just one last point. The use of 2 colors brought out the natural waviness of the pattern, creating a sinusoidal yoke naturally , instead of a boring old straight yoke.  Here is another picture of the full blouse (yes, I wear it with a sari !) - the back view.

My Knit top/blouse 2014

The New Knitting Stitch Library by Lesley Stanfield 

My favorite go-to book for knitting patterns !
There are over 250 Charted patterns, categorized into knit & purl, Cables, Laces, etc. etc. 

Adieu to knitting till next winter :-)