Friday, 5 December 2014

Advent count-down ...

I've been really busy this week ... knitting balls for my Christmas tree, shopping for pressies and waiting for the delivery man to arrive with on-line purchases.

The Christmas tree is up and looking very twinkly. We all love hanging out in our cosy little den, where it holds pride of place, as we snuggle up to the fire. The weather has finally woken up the fact that it's winter, which has helped get us all into the festive spirit. Emi's got another week of school, but he's already de-mob happy as they've done all the end-of-term assessments this week and he feels as though he's just cruising for the holidays.

He's going to be nine on 11th December, and this Saturday he's having his birthday party with one of his best friends, who also has a December birthday. We've got twenty of their chums pitching up for a Scalextric Grand Prix party. Everyone is very excited, especially Mr B, who is really enjoying this second opportunity to play with boy's toys. 

Lego-made model of the Queen Mary

They (Emi and Mr B) went to the Brick 2014 exhibition last weekend and came home so enthused about all the projects that they were going to make. Indeed Mr B spent much of his Sunday afternoon googling the best type of glue - yes, glue! - to stick their masterpieces together with, so that they would never have to be dismantled. Eeek! This is beginning to sound a little bit scary. I'd hoped we would all grow out of the Lego phase so that I could smarten the place up a bit: big boxes of Lego and half-built projects littered about don't always hit the high design notes that I might otherwise aspire to. 

Lego-made model of the space shuttle

One of the things that they talked about for ages and ages was the Cube Stormer 3, a made-entirely-out-of-Lego computer that can solve a Rubiks cube in under three and a half seconds. It all sounded a bit unlikely to me, but they had made a video of the machine in action, which they showed me to prove that it really could do what they claimed. I've actually found a better video on YouTube: Cube Stormer 3 Video, which includes an interview with the engineer who designed it and a demonstration of what it can do. It's kind of incredible that someone should spend their free time building something as complicated and eccentric as this.  Whilst my heart goes out to his wife, who appears to have lost the use of her dining room for quite some time, there's a little part of me that thinks it's really cool for someone to be so passionate about such an odd thing. It kind of epitomises the best of British eccentricity. And I can say that because I'm Irish, not British, and therefore not patting myself on the back when I make the statement ... . 

Cube Stormer 3

St. Pancras Station - in Lego

Lego City - in Lego

Whilst my boys have been busy following their Lego dreams, I've been busy doing my own thing. I've made a load of Christmas mincemeat, which will be useful for knocking out some mince pies when friends pop in over the holidays. With a bit of ready-rolled puff pastry in the fridge I'm all set for those impromptu visitors who drop in over the holidays. I can knock out sausage rolls and mince pies in a flash.

And how do you like my trio of retro-chic knitted Christmas tree balls?

The first one is a Christmas Cockerel. You can find instructions on how to make him here: Rudolf, the Christmas .... cockerel (!) He was originally supposed to have been a reindeer, but somehow the nose looked much more like a beak, so I did a bit of jiggery-pokery (technical term in knitting) and turned him into a Christmas cockerel. At a stretch we could even pretend he was the main course for the Big Day ... .

Number two was a little homage to the Union Jack. OK, maybe some imagination is called for ..., but if you'd like to make it the pattern is here: Union Jack Christmas Ball.

And, finally, number three is my Christmas Diamonds pattern.

Emi is getting so enthusiastic about all this drawing on squared paper and knitting up the picture business that he's designed a Christmas Ball of his own. It features a Churchill tank with a great big gun mounted on a turret. As a festive motif if may be limited appeal save in the case of an esoteric audience of eight, soon-to-be-nine year-old boys who play World of Tanks on line.

Anyway, wishing you all a great weekend,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Thursday, 4 December 2014

How to knit another retro-chic Rudolf, the red-nosed ... cockerel ... Christmas ball ...

OK. I'll be honest this one was originally intended to be that famous old red-nosed reindeer who saved Christmas with his luminescent nose.

But you know how things don't always finish up how you'd envisaged? Well, by the time I got past Rudolf's nose it looked more like a beak, so I did a quick change around; four legs became two, and I managed to persuade myself that what had started out as a set of antlers could pass for a rather splendid cockerel's comb.

So what do you think?

Anyway if you'd like to make it, here's the chart: 

The method is the same as for my first Union Jack Christmas Tree ball

If you're looking for inspiration you might also like my Diamond Christmas tree ballCinnamon stick tree decorations or my Dried Orange Slice Christmas tree decorations.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Creative Mondays

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to make another knitted ball Christmas tree decoration ...

Another day ... another ball for the Christmas tree ...

These could get seriously addictive. They're straightforward to make, pretty quick to knock out and I've got loads of that wool left ... so I could be going on this theme for quite some time. 

If you liked my first Christmas ball (link here: Retro-chic Christmas tree ball pattern) you might also like to make a second one to keep it company.

The method is exactly the same as last time, just substitute this chart pattern in place of the previous one: 

For more detailed instructions please refer back to my Retro-chic Christmas tree ball pattern.

It's looking lovely hanging beside my orange slices. You can find a link on how to make them here: Dried Orange Slice Christmas Tree Decorations. They look like little orange church windows.

And look who's in charge of Christmas tree ball quality control: 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

How to knit retro-chic Christmas Tree Balls ...

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas ... over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers. We've got all our Christmas decorations down from the attic, and we're busy putting them up. 

Yesterday as I was waiting for my Christmas mincemeat to cook I had a go at knitting my first Christmas ball to go on the tree. It's kind of cute and retro, don't you think? 

I'd had a vague idea of what I was going to make, and I'd gone down to Bunty's, my lovely local wool shop, and asked for some wool that would match the Christmas ribbon that I'd used to trim the dried orange slice decorations and the cinnamon stick decorations that I'd made for the tree last week. I don't want it to look too matchy matchy but I think that the ribbon will tie everything together without hitting a jarring note. 

Anyway, I found some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in colour number 340037 (which is the dark red/ burgundy) and some Peter Pan Merino Baby in colour number 3031 (which is the lovely cream colour). They both knitted up on size 3 needles. I thought they ought to work pretty well together, so I brought them home for the project. 

The ball is knitted on five needles: four active ones to carry stitches and a spare to knit each row onto. I've drawn a diagram of how it knits on each one of the four active needles: 

Each square represents a stitch. The squares that are white are knit in the cream wool and the ones that I've coloured in with pencil are knit in the red wool. You can see a line of ticks down one side where I've ticked each row off as I've knit it. 

The first thing you need to do is cast on 12 stitches, and divide them between the four active needles.

Knit the first round, joining the circle, and being careful to keep the joining stitches on each corner reasonably tight so that you have even tension. The second row is just plain knit stitches as well. On the third round you need to add one stitch at the end of each needle, by knitting into the connection loop from the previous stitch. Remember that the pattern above applies to each of your four needles. The left hand side (looking at the paper) is the start of the row on the needle, and the right hand side is the end.

Now just keep going, following the pattern above. 

When you're finished cut the wool, leaving enough to crochet a chain to fix it to the tree. Draw the wool through the remaining 12 stitches on your needles, but don't pull it tight. 

Darn the small aperture shut at the opposite end of the ball, where you started.

Turn the ball inside out, and secure and darn in any loose ends. 

Gently, using a little stuffing at a time, stuff the ball with filling. I used a soft toy filling.

When you've got enough filling in the ball to make it plump, but not too stretched, draw the wool tight through those last 12 stitches to close the opening and secure it with a few darning stitches. 

Crochet a simple chain with the wool that remains and fix it with a darning needle to make a loop that you can hang over the branch of your Christmas tree. 

I finished mine off with a bow that I thought would match the Dried Orange Slice Decorations and the Cinnamon Stick Decorations that I've already made for my tree.

And that's it! Ta-dah! You've made a Christmas ball for your tree.

All the best and happy knitting, 

Bonny x

Monday, 1 December 2014

How to make Christmas mincemeat ...

Today my kitchen smells so good I don't want to go out ... .

I'm making my Christmas mincemeat, and the smell of fruit and spices is truly wonderful. It's the very aroma of Christmas itself, and totally guaranteed to restore your Christmas mojo if you're struggling to get excited about the festive season.

If you'd like to give it a go, it's really easy, and you can keep it in preserving jars to give as gifts or to use as and when people pop around for a catch-up over the holidays. At this time of the year I keep a few packets of pre-rolled puff pastry in the fridge so that I'm all ready to go if I need to scramble and knock out some mince pies and/ or sausage rolls at short notice.

Anyway here's what you'll need if you'd like to give my mincemeat a go:


1 large navel orange
1 large lemon
1 large Bramley apple, cored and chopped into smallish cubes. There's no need to peel it.
400 g mixed dried fruit - you can chose your favourite combination. I used: 125 g of dried barberries; 200 g mixed peel; 75 g of golden jumbo raisins and 100 g of black sultanas]
175 g of soft dark brown sugar
50 g almond slivers
150g shredded suet. I like to use Trex, a low-fat vegetarian alternative.
Grated nutmeg to taste
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of mixed spice
3 tablespoonfuls of brandy

And here's what you'll need to do:

1. Mix all of the ingredients except the brandy in an oven-proof saucepan. Grate the orange zest and lemon zest and add to the mixture. Juice the lemon and the orange and add the juice to the mixture as well. It is important to have everything mixed really well.

2. Place the lid on the saucepan and cook in an oven, pre-heated to 150º C, for 3 hours. Take it out halfway through and stir well. Then return to the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.

3. When it's cooked remove from the oven and allow to cool down, stirring it regularly as it cools to ensure that the fat coats everything evenly. Don't worry if it looks like it's drowning in fat: that's normal! Add the brandy, and stir again to mix it through.

4. Bottle in sterilised jam jars sealed with wax seals.

You should sterilise your jam jars by washing them thoroughly in warm water, drying them on the outside only and placing them open end up, in an oven that's been pre-heated to 150º C for at least 20 minutes. Wash the screw top lids and place them inside side up in the oven for 20 minutes also. I explained how to do it here: Clementine and Cardamon Marmalade.

All the best for now,

Bonny x