Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tutorial: Despicable Me Minion: Part 6: Finishing Touches

Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver Heather Gray

Each cell represents a stockinette stitch. Red stitches were made first, then the gray ones. Rounds are counted from the bottom end of the minion torso.

Friday, August 14, 2015

School Scarf, Harry Potter Style!

I had a sudden moment of inspiration a couple weeks ago for a new knitting project: a school scarf. I wanted something Harry Potter -esque--you know, with the stripes and maybe a logo. On a side note, there are so many variations of Harry Potter scarves online.

It was fate, then, that when I went to Michaels for some yarn, they had a varsity stripes set (scarf and hat) knitting pattern for free. I grabbed a skein of navy and one of gold, and headed home to design the perfect paw print (know where I go yet?).

Instagram @crafty_ccc
I used the same designing technique that I used for the birds and trees hat. I drew the design on a piece of paper, then drew a grid on top, basically making a chart. Then I open an Excel file, square up the cells, and fill the cells according to my hand-drawn chart. The hard part for me is deciding what to do with squares that are half and half. After that, it's trial and error. I knit a sample and tweak it until I have something I love. Make sure you knit the sample the way you intend to knit the real deal. For example, I stranded my samples, but then decided to use double knitting for the real thing. It ended up stretching the design so much horizontally that I had to start all over.

To design the scarf, I had to decide a few things how to deal with the color work and what pattern to use for the scarf. As I mentioned, I decided the use double knitting for the paw designs. I didn't have enough yarn to make the entire scarf in the round, and I didn't want messy stranding work to be visible. To start double knitting in sections, I added the second color (gold in this case) by holding it with the first color and treating them as one strand on a wrong side row. I made sure to pick up the strands under the other one when I got to the double knit sections. To end the double knit sections, I used p2tog on a wrong side row. I'm pretty happy with the results. For the scarf pattern, I used k2, p2 on the right side and purled the wrong side, resulting in ribbing that alternates stockinette with garter stitch. It's supposed to lie flat (I will depend upon the powers of blocking), and I think it makes a nice, neutral base for the stripes.

I'm really excited to be almost finished with this scarf!


I just tried steam blocking for the first time and it was magical. I could see the seed-stitched edges of the scarf relax and flatten before my very eyes. I can't believe I waited so long to try it! My scarf now lies flat, and the design (Ravelry pattern here) is visible when worn. Did I mention how happy I was with the result?

I've only blocked once before. I used a 100% wool yarn for the first time (my rambling thoughts on Sheep(ish) from two years ago here), and since I thought wet blocking sounded pretty simple, I decided to try it out. There wasn't anything that I was really trying to shape, so I ended up just soaking the scarf in water and laying it out to dry. The end result didn't look any different from what I started with, and I decided that day that blocking wasn't as necessary as everyone made it out to be.

Here is an old picture of the scarf drying on a trash bag (unconventional, I know). Looking at it now, I really should have straightened out the ends and squared the whole thing up... but I guess it has its own charm this way, too.


A few weeks ago, I knit a wave pattern that wasn't really visible unless you stretched the knitting out. So I knew I had to block it. I knit with Deborah Norville's Serenity Sock yarn, which is a blend of 50% merino wool, 25% bamboo, and 25% nylon. Since it was mostly wool, I decided to try wet blocking. That worked pretty well. Although the scarf shrank a bit when I unpinned it, the wave pattern is very visible now, and I managed to scallop the edges a bit.

Work in progress shot
Then, since I had nothing else to do that day and didn't feel like knitting right then, I decided to try steam blocking.

I finished a scarf three years ago (whoa I'm getting old) when I was getting back into knitting. After learning to purl and making a couple potholders, I decided to tackle a scarf with the beautiful teal Bernat Satin my sister had gotten me for Christmas. Unfortunately, she had only gotten me one skein, so the project was put on hold as I decided I wanted to finish the project, ran to all the craft stores in the area and found no teal Bernat Satin, and finally ordered it online. I was really happy with the scarf when it was done. My tension was even, the color was beautiful, and the pattern was fantastic. However, even though the stockinette-based pattern was bordered by seed stitch, the scarf curled inward on the side. I didn't mind the texture that you can see in the wip shot, but I had to carefully lay the scarf out so that the edges were visible. And no matter how hard I tried, the beautiful pattern I'd worked so hard on was never visible when the scarf was worn. What was the point? I knew that I should block it. The pattern called for it, every knitting site praised blocking. But this yarn is acrylic. Meaning I'd have to use the iron. The iron is barely used in our house. Nobody really needs it. I started using it a lot this past winter while I was working on my t-shirt quilt, though, so I felt more confident about using it.

So finally... the blocking. I brought out the ironing board and laid a towel on it. Then I laid out the scarf as neatly as I could, right side up. Which was a mistake--more on that later. Then I set up the iron and got started! I held the iron right above the surface of the knitting in sections, staying in each spot for about five seconds and moving over the entire scarf. For the edges, I peered under the iron and held it until the edge laid completely flat, about ten seconds. I loved watching the tight, wavy border relax. Blocking also helped my cast-on edge a lot, too--the corner was sticking up.

This (terrible) picture of the wrong side taken by my dying phone shows the dramatic difference blocking made for the scarf. I couldn't lay the whole thing out on the ironing board, so after I finished one half, I laid out the other half. I was worried I would mess something up by not waiting for it to dry, but it didn't seem to make a difference. The photo shows a section that is half blocked, half unblocked. Near the top of the scarf, the seed stitch edge opens out, while near the bottom, the edge curls inward. When I was done, the whole thing lay so flat.

After I was done blocking, I carefully gathered the scarf and lay it out on a trash bag to dry (I had to clear the ironing area). Again, the movement didn't seem to affect anything. 

Now, the reason I should have gone wrong side up: See those shiny areas in the picture? They're not that obvious (I hope). That's from the iron. It was leaking water from the sole plate for some reason, and though I tried to keep it off the scarf, it still got splashed. I'm not sure if the hot water actually killed the yarn, but its effects are definitely visible. Hopefully, I can fix the iron problem in the future (maybe manual steam instead of constant steam). So make sure your iron steams well!

I can't wait to block a bunch of other projects--another scarf from two or three years ago, the basketweave blanket, the new scarf I'm working on..

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer Shenanigans: Food

Since I've been at home and my sister doesn't need lunch to bring to school the next  day, my mom has felt much more adventurous with her cooking. I've had so much fun helping her make some Taiwanese favorites that we haven't had since our trip last summer. Here is some of the delicious food we've made!

Cream-filled rolls

I haven't seen these before, anywhere, but my mom found the recipe in her five-inch recipe binder. Looks like she cut it out of a magazine almost twenty years ago. These rolls are bread-like and can be reheated to out-of-the-oven goodness in the toaster oven. The filling is supposed to be a cream made of margarine, sugar, flour, and evaporated milk; but ours ended up more as a powder (for all three times we tried the recipe). It made them a little harder to roll up, but they were delicious all the same. This is the result of our first go; you can see they're slightly overcooked. These took up a lot of time; the dough had to rise (and for some reason our yeast always takes forever) and the assembly of 36 to 48 rolls is no easy task. I had so much fun with these, though. We made a little assembly line--my mom rolled out the dough, I filled it and rolled it up. The most interesting part of this recipe was the mozzarella cheese in the dough! We also tried steaming some extra dough one time, and it was delicious.


After we made the rolls, there was a lot of powder left. It reminded me of the cream in Chinese custard buns, so we decided to make buns! We filled some with the leftover powder for dessert; the rest were filled with pork and chives from our garden. I learned how to wrap up a bun, and I have to say I'm pretty happy with the results. The only problem I had was that no matter what I did, there was always a small hole at the top that I'd have to pinch closed. These were delicious, and the work involved with kneading the dough was well worth it. They rivaled the taste, though certainly not the convenience, of their frozen counterparts in the States. However, I think the fresh buns sold from stands in Taiwan probably edged out ours.

Beef and Scallion Pan-Fried Cakes

My, those pictures make me hungry. I've only had these pan-fried cakes in Taiwan, and let me tell you, those things are heaven. Ground beef infused with the fragrance of scallion is wrapped in a dough that's fried until crispy, then the whole thing is dunked in vinegar and soy sauce for a whole lot of delicious. The first time we made these we didn't have beef on hand, so we went with pork and Chinese chives from the garden. Chinese chives have flat blades and are a lot larger than the herb-like chives; they also have a much more pungent taste (like garlic and onions). My mom always planned our chive meals to be dinners after which none of us would go out. If something came up, we'd have to chew gum to get the smell out of our mouths. Neither my mom or I were very sure how to wrap these; I ended up doing a bun-like shape and then squashing the opening closed and down. Whatever works, right? Having these while States-side was a treat in and of itself, but our cake was a little tough. But when it was fresh out of the pan and crispy, there was nothing better. Downsides: burning my tongue on the delicious hot juice that had gathered inside.


You know, like in bubble tea? That's what I'm talking about here. Check out this post to see more pictures and for a brief recipe for this sweet and healthy (I think... I hope) treat.

Different kinds of sweet potato (and other starchy vegetables) provide endless combinations!

Vegetable "Snake"

This is a recipe from my grandmother. It's dough filled with a mixture of Chinese chives, egg, and tofu seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil, then steamed. The name comes from the shape--the long, skinny rolls (apparently) resemble a snake. These are rather time-consuming because the egg and tofu need to be cooked first, chopped into tiny pieces, and cooled before the filling can be made. The assembly time doesn't take a ton of time because each roll is so large, but kneading and rolling out the dough is not something we do often.

Summer Shenanigans: Knitting

Summer is here! Summer is actually almost gone. Sad. I didn't touch my t-shirt quilt; it's still sitting in my closet. I guess the prospect of finding batting and fabric for the other side was too daunting. Instead, I made a lot of food and knit quite a bit, burning through a lot of my stash and turning most of it into brioche scarves and cowls. I hosted a photo shoot the other day to feature them... here are some of my favorites!

For more pictures, check out my Facebook page :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

地瓜圆: Sweet Potato "Bubbles"

Three kinds of sweet potato
 You know the chewy texture of the tapioca bubbles in bubble tea? In Chinese, it's described as "Q." I titled this post "Sweet Potato 'Bubbles'" because 地瓜圆 (di gua yuan) have that kind of texture. They also have all the sweet deliciousness of a sweet potato. They're made from three ingredients: sweet potatoes, tapioca flour, and water. Tapioca flour can be found in some supermarkets (I've seen it at ShopRite) and Asian supermarkets.

To make these delicious bubbles, cook, peel, and mash the sweet potatoes (microwave, oven, steam, your choice), then combine in a 10:3 ratio by weight with tapioca flour. Add a tablespoonful of boiling water, and use your hands to knead the mixture into a dough. Depending on the sweet potato, you may need to add more flour or more water. The dough should be pretty easy to mold.

For the following steps, I like to work on a cutting board protected with a piece of plastic wrap. Break off pieces of dough and roll them into cylinders that are about a half-inch in diameter. Use a knife to chop the cylinders into pieces about 3/4 of an inch long. (The size really doesn't matter).
Shaved ice with bubbles and mung bean

At this point, you can freeze your sweet potato bubbles. From room temperature or the freezer, the following cooking process is the same. Boil some water, then gently drop the bubbles into the water with a spoon, stirring to prevent them from sticking to the pot. Keep the water at a simmer and stir occasionally. When the bubbles float to the surface of the water, they should be ready. Taste one just to make sure--it shouldn't taste floury.

The bubbles can be eaten hot or cold--once cooked, they can cool to room temperature without getting mushy, but I wouldn't put them in the refrigerator. I like to eat these with hot water with brown sugar dissolved in it. These are also commonly found as a topping for Taiwanese shaved ice (baobing).

Taro bubbles
You're not limited to sweet potatoes for this recipe. Also note that sweet potatoes tend to need a lot more tapioca flour. Taro, a potato-like root vegetable that's featured in both savory dishes and desserts, is another common type of bubble. I've also tried pumpkin. There are so many possibilities--so get some tapioca flour and try this out!

Monday, January 12, 2015

T-Shirt Quilt Top Realized

This winter break was extremely productive. I didn't work or study. I sewed.

One of my first posts on this blog (and one of the reasons I started it) was because I had thoughts about a t-shirt quilt whirling around my mind. Well, this break, I worked on it. And I finished the quilt top.


Considering that this was my first quilt since the week-long quilting summer camp I attended six years ago, it didn't go terribly. It didn't go great, either. But overall, I'm pleased with the results. The rest will have to wait for the next break.

I can't wait!