Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trying out Ravelry

At Lana's suggestion, I finally decided to set up a Ravelry account, and man, my head hurts. I feel I've been given a military fighter jet to travel 2 blocks to the grocery store, and I'm sitting in cockpit staring at the controls going, "Okay, what do I do now?"

I can theoretically see why some people would need all those features (Lana, how does your stash fit in your house?) but I'm as basic as basic gets. My entire yarn stash fits into a single plastic shopping bag, I don't plan projects far in advance, I don't have a pile of works-in-progress, and I don't collect patterns for future use. My entire process consists of picking up some discount-bin yarn, going "I think I'll make a hat this week", Googling around a bit, and then pretty much winging it.

It's going to take me a while to figure out how this works.

I've managed to upload a picture and details of one project so far, and am trying to figure how to submit patterns. (Apparently it takes a couple of weeks to get approved). Guess I'll be hogging Boyfriend's digicam for the next couple of days, documenting my past projects. I lost most of my old photos in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2008. At least this time I'll get to take pictures in daylight, and it'll be an opportunity to photograph some really old items that didn't seem worth blogging about because they were old news.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The perfect sponge cake

After years of trial and error, I have perfected my sponge cake! And now I shall cackle like a mad scientist. Bwaahahahahahaha! It's ALIIIIIIIIVE!

No, I didn't make it up from scratch. I originally got it out of a microwave cookbook my aunt gave me years ago, memorized it, lost the original recipe, forgot it, half-remembered and half-improvised it, tweaked it, substituted plain flour for cake flour, took out some baking powder, fudged the oil-to-milk ratio, put back some baking powder, found a better way of mixing it, and finally I'm happy with it.

It doesn't taste of baking powder, it rises a good amount, it doesn't collapse into a pancake on the bottom, it isn't dry, and it isn't lumpy.

It is so smooth and so fluffy and so moist. Just like the cupcakes you get from Chinese bakeries. I suppose it's not even a true sponge cake because it contains egg yolk and oil, but it sure tastes like one. Any food scientist care to explain why the addition of fat doesn't seem to collapse the air out of it?



3 eggs - separate the whites and yolks, keep the yolks
1/2 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract)

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius
2. Whisk egg whites and sugar together until stiff peaks form
3. In separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
4. Add milk, vegetable oil, egg yolks, and vanilla essence to the flour and mix well.
5. Fold the flour mixture into the egg whites
6. Pour into ungreased 5" X 9" loaf pan/cake tin, and bake for 40 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool upside-down. (Balancing the corners of the cake tin on the rim of a saucepan is a good strategy). Pry from edges of cake tin with knife, and tip it out.

Fleeced: This is the Scarf That Never Ends...

I managed to buy half a metre of black fleece on sale, and used it to line my curling stockinette scarf. Thanks to MooCow for the tip on TechKnitting - the instructions for sewing knitting to fleece were great. It came out a bit wobbly, but still good.

It took foreeeeeever. I mean, Hole E. Cow. I made that scarf way too long - when I wrap it round my neck it dangles almost to my knees. I've learned my lesson. Never will I knit a scarf in stockinette again. Especially not one longer than my bed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cloudy Cardigan - completed

It's not a very good photo because I had to use my laptop's webcam - didn't want to wake Boyfriend up to borrow his digital camera and card reader - but you're not missing much. It's not like there's any intricate detail on this one.

The fastening is a hair bobble tie that I picked up in Mong Kok for pocket change. I originally wanted to use one of those gigantic goofy-looking safety pins, but I couldn't find one.

I'm actually quite pleased with the way I fit the sleeves. The last time I tried to improvise a sweater (several years ago), I got the armhole and sleeve shaping a bit off and the material bulged out a bit strangely from the shoulder. This attempt turned out much better.

If anyone's interested I'll be happy to post the pattern, if I can remember what the hell it was I did.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cloudy Improvised Cardigan

I managed to get to Fa Yuen Street market to buy some giant balls of discount yarn. For HK$15, you can get a ball of yarn almost as big as your head, yielding 2-3 times as much as a normal skein. The yarn merchants only come out in the winter - in warmer months, they switch to selling costume jewelry - and you'll probably never find the same colour twice, so you've got to load up while the getting's good.

Two giant balls of blue, white and grey variegated was just enough to make me a cardigan. For once, I managed to take a picture of while it was still a work in progress, so here's the back and part of one side. It's finished now, I just don't have a picture yet.

I'm not that happy with the colour, which puts me in mind of the Microsoft wallpaper background circa 1995 (there weren't many choices), but it was an opportunity to practice designing my own garment on the cheap. You wouldn't believe how many times I've had to rip it out and start all over again.

You see, I've imposed something of a dilemma on myself. I have so little patience with patterns that it's rare that I'd follow instructions from beginning to end for anything bigger than a hat. I don't want to make someone else's idea. I want to make my own. But since I won't follow instructions, I've limited my options for learning new techniques, so for years I've been basically stuck on "knit" and "purl".

To try to get myself past that, I bought a basic stitch dictionary. It lets me cobble together various stitches so that I can at least pretend that I'm innovating, which prevents me from getting bored. It's also useful for learning the basic principles behind knitting, which are never really explained in whole-garment patterns. So that's how I put my cardigan together.

Add to all this my aversion to careful measuring and math, and what you get is a lot of trial end error, mostly error. I had to figure it out as I went along. I learned how to make a stockinette stitch folded hem. I learned that the vast majority of lace patterns (and I must've tried five or six before settling on rows of simple eyelets) look terrible in a knobbly, variegated yarn. I learned that my arms are a lot thicker than I think they are, and that sleeves contain a lot more material than you'd think they would. I learned how to make button holes (much more straightforward in crochet than knitting!). I learned how to shape an armhole, and a sleeve top (tricky). I learned how many rows of half double crochet are needed to stabilize stockinette stitch edge curl (five). And I learned how to sew an invisible seam.

I figure with all the frogging I did, I must've knitted two backs, three sleeves, and 1.5 fronts, just to make 1 sweater. You wouldn't want to subject expensive yarn to all that frogging.

I'll try to get a picture of the finished product up soon - it's in the wash due to an unfortunate parrot-related incident.


Winter seems to have come and gone early this year. It was hot through November, freezing in December, miserable through January, and then unexpectedly warm and muggy in February. Now the cold seems to be making a final comeback before we launch full on into rainy season, and it's only the beginning of March.

So I never got around to blogging about my knitting projects because I thought winter would last a bit longer. In fact, by the time I got anything made it had already started to get warm. Here are two scarves I made to replace my favourite fuzzy brown scarf I lost on the train, but by the time they were done, I didn't need to wear them anymore.

This is the stripy scarf I made out of various leftover scrap balls of yarn. I didn't think apple green and maroon would ever look good together, but spaced out with the grey, the combination isn't bad. Unfortunately, I made the classic rookie mistake of knitting in stockinette stitch, and now it's got a fearsome curl that even steam-pressing won't eliminate. I'm thinking I'll have to sew a backing on to straighten it out, but haven't decided what to use. Fleece might be too heavy (and expensive!) and I don't fancy the thought of knitting another piece that long in plain garter. I do have a mile of maroon T-shirt material in my closet that was given to me by my mom's friend who owns an underwear factory in Shenzhen. Might look hideous though.

And here's my bamboo scarf. I bought three rolls of bamboo yarn from Spotlight, the giganto-Australian craft store that opened a branch in Kowloon Bay last year. It's a bit pricey by my standards, so I can't make anything much bigger than a scarf, which is really too bad. It would make such an amazing long cardigan or tunic. Bamboo is a surprisingly soft, silky, drapey fibre, and I can't help getting mental images of assembly lines manned by pandas chewing through the stuff. The only drawbacks are that the yarn splits easily (not a big deal) and that it must be delicately washed and can't be tumble dried.

I did a simple slip stitch pattern to show off the length of the yarn, but now that I look at it, there's a bit too much garter stitch going on and not enough slipping.

Guess that's what happens when you hate frogging even more than you hate following patterns.