Thursday, February 28, 2013

Experiments II

An update on my 'Experiments' post about my fledgeling crocheted '3D' blanket, and my first foray into sourdough baking.

I've joined together the squares I've crocheted so far, and I think the blanket's looking pretty snazzy! I crocheted them together on the wrong side, which I think is slightly more fun than sewing them together.

Yarn-ends and all!

I've had moderate success with my two batches of sourdough bread - both tasted good and had a good texture, but were quite small. The second batch of dough, which I left to rise for about 24 hours, rose more than the first (which had about 16 hours rising time). So I'm going to stick to longer rising times from now on.

I also wanted to see whether using a recently-fed sourdough starter would make a noticeable improvement to the rising of the dough. My last two batches used starter that had sat in the fridge for a few days since its last 'feeding' with flour and water. This time, I made one 'control' batch of dough, 'Dough A', with starter that was last fed two days previously. I then fed the starter and left it out on the bench. After an hour or so I made the second batch of dough, 'Dough B', using this freshly-fed starter.

I put Dough A in a smaller bowl, as I expected Dough B to rise more (and need more room). Is that what happened? Nope:

Thing 1 and Thing 2 Dough A (left) and Dough B (right)

They've both risen, but Dough A is bigger. Maybe I didn't leave the starter to bubble up for long enough after I fed it, before using it to make Dough B.

After punching down the dough, kneading again, and leaving them alone for a few more hours, they're now almost the same size. I guess certain variables don't matter as much with a long rising time! Good to know. :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I woke up with this in my head this morning.

It's one of my favourite Handel arias - 'Scherza infida' from the opera Ariodante (1735), first performed by Giovanni Carestini. There's a synopsis here (although for some reason it's listed as a tenor aria). As you'd expect from a highly-emotional showpiece aria, it's wonderfully over-the-top! Here Magdalena Kožená acts it beautifully - powerfully expressive yet understated in terms of embellishments. I definitely have a bit of a vocal crush on her...

There are some free scores here, but I'm not thrilled with them. I think another trip to the State Library is in order.

Here's another take on the same aria, by Philippe Jaroussky. I love what he does with the second half! I think the key with singing this sort of music is to take things almost too far, whichever approach you choose. ;)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's alive!

My sourdough starter was very big and bubbly last Friday (right on schedule), but I had to wait till the weather cooled down a bit before trying it out in a bread recipe. Using the oven in over-30°C heat was not gonna happen. :p

We started the process on Tuesday, mixing the dough according to the recipe in extra curricular - plain white flour, wholemeal flour, water, and sourdough starter. I also 'fed' the remaining starter with more flour and water and put it back in the fridge for next time.

Yesterday, I floured the risen dough and left it folded in a clean tea towel to rise some more. Then in the evening I baked it, and we scoffed the lot with butter and honey and assorted jams, while the bread was still warm. :)

A lively starter (side-view)


The dough, well-kneaded by Willie

After 12 hours or so rising time

After flouring, and rising for another 4 hours


Much softer inside than it looked, but quite a dense bread.

I imagine the bread would have been rather brick-like if we'd left any till the next day, but it was lovely while still warm and moist inside. Next time, I want to try using 'high grade' or bread flour (if I can find any), and leave it to rise for longer. I figure that will give me a slightly lighter result.

Both the method and the flavour of sourdough bread are different from the yeasty bread I've made in the past (mostly with a no-knead method). I like the long rising times with the sourdough, because it doesn't feel like a big job to make a loaf of bread, just a few small spread-out steps. My kind of baking!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Victorian knitting in colour

Confession time! When I think of nineteenth-century knitting and crochet, I picture shawls and doilies in white, black, and neutral tones. Like so:

A lacy black 'neckerchief' from Beeton's Book of Needlework, 1870.

A crocheted nightcap from The Ladies' Work-Book.

A crocheted doily from The Ladies' Work-Book.

Yup, I was fooled by the black-and-white illustrations. As it turns out, many if not most of the old patterns call for coloured yarn or thread. For example, Isabella Beeton's 'Knitted Shawl' pattern specifies "Shetland wool, white and scarlet"; and Cornelia Mee's 'Open Diamond Pattern for the Centre of a Shawl' "looks extremely well in stripes of scarlet and white".

I decided to check my new vision of colourful 19thC crafting by sampling three readily-accessible books from that time: Beeton's Book of Needlework (1870) by Isabella Beeton, Exercises in Knitting (1846) by Cornelia Mee, and My Knitting Book (1843) by Miss Lambert. (Follow the links for the full text.)

Where a colour of yarn is specified, there is a wide range of colour schemes:
  • Black, e.g. Beeton's kerchief in the first illustration above, Mee's 'Leaf Pattern for Half-Square Shawl';
  • White, e.g. Mee's 'Beautiful Pattern for a Shetland Shawl';
  • Several shades of one colour, e.g. Mee's 'Beautiful Coral Pattern' for a chair-cover in sixteen shades of scarlet, and her 'Rose-Leaf Pattern' in fifteen shades of blue;
  • Two contrasting colours, e.g. Lambert's 'Star Pattern Shawl' in claret and blue, Beeton's 'Tobacco Pouch' in black and crimson;
  • Red/scarlet/claret/rose and white, e.g. Beeton's 'Crochet Brioche Cushion' in white plus six shades of red, Lambert's 'Very Pretty Cuffs' in red and white, and her 'Warm Half-Square Shawl' in rose and white;
  • Many colours, e.g. Mee's 'German Pattern' in claret, gold, blue, white, and scarlet; and her 'Brioche Cushion' in scarlet, white, blue, gold, lilac, and green;
  • Pink for baby items, e.g. Lambert's 'Baby's Hood' and 'Baby's Sock' (the pink/blue divide is more recent).

It's a shame that these books have no colour illustrations (and not very many black and white ones). Beeton's more famous book, Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861), did have colour illustrations. I have a poster of this one on my wall, for dessert inspiration:

To see the colours people wore, we need to turn to artworks, surviving garments and accessories, and fashion illustrations from the time. Here is a hand-tinted 'fashion plate' with fabulous colourful gowns:

From Godey's Lady's Book, November 1859

(If you're interested in historical clothing, I recommend checking out The Dreamstress' blog. This edition of her regular 'Rate the dress' feature is particularly colourful: Extremely red in 1865.)

For examples of surviving Victorian knitting and crochet, a good resource is the V&A Museum's online collection - just search for 'knitting' or 'crochet'. I found this lovely little knitted purse which looks a bit like a pineapple:

In case you're wondering, many of the patterns in nineteenth-century needlework books are quite easy for modern crafters to follow. Some have errors, and others are just plain tricky, but I've successfully followed the instructions for some of the knitting-stitch patterns in the books listed above. There are some beautiful crocheted lace pattern's in Beeton's book, too. I'm going to experiment with this one:

It should help me resist the urge to make eye-searingly-colourful lacy doilies...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I'm trying out something new: a crocheted blanket that will look cool through 3D glasses! I hope. :)

Crochet... In... Spaaaaaace!

After much drawing and pondering and tinkering with yarn, I've settled on a design that works, without being too complicated. I should have enough yarn to make a lap-blanket for the couch, with five of the large squares per side. When I lay the squares out in their grid formation (see below) and wear my 3D glasses, there's definitely a bit of 3D action happening. The centres of the small squares 'pop out' nicely.

I'm using Bendigo Woollen Mills' Classic 8ply, a basic crepe-style wool yarn. Once I'm further along with the blanket, I'll write up the pattern.

Two sizes of squares: 5" and 2.5". Yes, it's a tad fiddly...

The squares-so-far laid out in their grid

I've also been experimenting with making a sourdough 'starter' for baking bread. I got inspired by a mini article on sourdough in the extra curricular mag that Mum sent me for Christmas. I'm following the instructions on the Breadtopia website to make my starter, and it seems to be going ok as far as I can tell! Click on the pics to see the little bubbles (awww)...

The beginning: after mixing the first lot of flour with the pineapple juice

After 18 hours - a few bubbles already! I have named it Monster. :)

24 hours after adding the 2nd lot of flour and juice. More bubbles!

Tomorrow I'll be up to Step 3 (adding more flour and water). By the weekend, I should be able to try baking some bread. Go kitchen science!