Festive I-Cord and Winter Tea

For us, Christmas is not about presents. Our big gift-giving moment is on December 5th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. For us, this time of the year is about celebrating togetherness, darkness and light, and good food. And for me, it is also a time to reflect, rest, read and knit.

Still, there is always someone who could do with a small present – a host, someone who has moved house, or ‘just’ a dear friend. For such occasions I have made some warming Winter Tea, with orange zest and spices. I’ve written the recipe down and included it further on in this blog post.

Making the tea is really nice, cutting and drying the zingy orange zest, crushing the spices, and mixing the fragrant blend. But what is even nicer, is knitting the cords to decorate the jars. It would be much quicker to use string, raffia or ribbon, of course. But knitting this cord is so much fun and brings a quirky, personal touch.

I-cord

This type of knitted cord is usually called I-cord. Why? Something to do with iPhones and iPads perhaps? No, as it turns out, the ‘I’ stands for ‘idiot’. This cord is so easy to knit that every idiot can make it. I-cord was made famous by the innovative knitting teacher Elizabeth Zimmermann, and can be used in many different ways – along the edges of knitted fabrics or separately, like I used it here.

For a cord like this you’ll need some scraps of fingering-weight (sock) yarn in two colours and two double-pointed knitting needles (I used 2.5 mm).

Knitting the I-cord:

  1. Cast on 1 stitch
  2. Knit into the front, the back and the front of the stitch (= 3 stitches)
  3. DO NOT TURN! Move the needle from your right to your left hand and slide the stitches to the right tip of the needle.
  4. Knit the 3 stitches, pulling the yarn firmly (but not too tight) at the first stitch.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 to the desired length. (I knit to about 70 cm/28 inches).

To cast off slip the first stitch, knit the next two stitches together, pass the slipped stitch over this stitch, cut the thread and pull it through the last stitch. Weave in ends.

For the cord on the left in the photo above I knit 2 rows red and 2 rows natural white. For the cord on the right I alternated 3 rows natural white with 1 row red.

And then I played some more with the yarn:

It’s amazing what you can do with just 3 stitches and 2 colours of yarn. The hardest thing about I-cord is keeping an even tension. Don’t worry too much about that, though. Nobody will notice. As you can see from the photo above, my tension is not all that even. But do you notice that looking at the I-cords on the jars? Not really.

Winter Tea Recipe

You’ll need:

  • Dried zest of 1 orange (see below)
  • 100 grs black tea (e.g. Ceylon)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (depending on size)
  • 15 cardamom pods
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • 2 teaspoons dried ginger

To dry the orange zest, preheat the oven to 100 °C / 210° F / 90 °C fan. Peel the orange thinly using a potato peeler. Cut the zest into tiny strips. Spread the strips of zest out on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 1 hour, until completely dried out and brittle. Leave to cool.

Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Crush the spices (not the orange zest!) using a pestle and mortar. Use some force, but not too much. The spices should still be recognizable and not pounded to a powder.

Mix the spices with the tea and the dried orange zest and fill into jars. (This quantity is enough to fill two 240 ml jars.)

Make a nice gift tag and fasten it with your I-cord.

The tea is even better served with a slice of fresh orange.

Last but not least

Remember to take some time to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down, sip and relax.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday season and look forward to seeing you again (in real life or here) in the New Year!

Buachaille Bunnet & Cowl

Mid-November our first spell of cold weather arrived. One Sunday morning we woke to a wonderfully quiet, frozen world. We often spend our Sundays (or at least part of them) walking or cycling. On this Sunday we couldn’t wait to get outside, and we set out for a walk straight after breakfast.

The thermometer indicated zero degrees Celsius. The fallen leaves were white with frost, the air was crisp and the sky was a clear, pale blue. During the night a thin film of ice had formed on the pools.

Aaahhh, bliss! I love this kind of weather. It makes me feel happy and energized. And what made me doubly happy on this morning was that I finally, finally got to wear the hat and cowl that I’d finished knitting in spring. Here’s the hat:

The hat

For the hat, I used a pattern called ‘Bunnet’ by Kate Davies, a writer and designer living along the West Highland Way in Scotland. Kate tells us that bunnet is ‘a colloquial Scots term for a hat’, and in particular ‘the headgear of an ordinary working man.’

To my mind, Kate’s bunnet is ideal for an ordinary walking woman, too, as it is the only hat I’ve ever owned that actually stays put. I think that’s largely due to the multi-coloured corrugated ribbing in the brim.

Apart from a colourful brim, the hat has a lovely star shape on the crown.

The yarn

I knit the hat in Kate’s own Buachaille, a wonderful warm, woolly yarn. Buachaille. It takes quite a bit of courage to choose a name that is so difficult to pronounce and remember for a yarn. But for me, as an ex-translator, it is an extra attraction. I love the shapes and sounds of words, and immediately delved into this one. It turns out that Buachaille is pronounced something like boo-chal-ya and means herdsman or shepherd. The yarn comes in 11 colours, with lovely names like Moonlicht Nicht (the deep blue main colour of my hat), Ptarmigan (natural white) and Between Weathers (sky blue).

The cowl

When I’d finished the hat, I decided that I would like a matching cowl. So I looked closely at Kate’s pattern and came up with this:

I also photographed the cowl flat, so that you can see the pattern more clearly.

I started and ended with the same corrugated ribbing as in my Bunnet. In the middle I used the pattern from the crown, with diamonds inserted between the ‘arrows’ and the entire pattern turned upside down for the second half.

For a little extra interest I knit one half with dark blue Moonlicht Nicht as the background colour, and the other half with raspberry red Macallum.

You can find more details about the hat and the cowl as well as some extra photos on Ravelry.

For anyone who’d like to make their own Bunnet, the  pattern is from Buachaille: At home in the Highlands, a book with twelve knitting patterns, several Scottish recipes and a route for a walk in the West Highlands.

Walking on

After taking pictures of the hat and cowl we continued our walk. First the path led us through a wood…

Then along a stand of birches, with the bright sunlight accenting the white of their trunks.

On past a majestic pine tree.

And finally across some heathland, where we stumbled on these beauties:

One of our local flocks of sheep. We had an interesting chat with one of the shepherds, but this blog post is long enough as it is, so I’ll keep that for some other time.

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way. I write about things I like just because I like them.

Taking the Plunge

Hello, and welcome to my very first ever blog post! I am really excited about starting this blog, because there is so much inside of me that wants to get out. At the same time it feels pretty scary too, to be honest. It’s a big step from being totally invisible on the internet and social media to showing myself here. But I take courage from the quote on this bag I recently bought from a charity supporting vulnerable children:

‘I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.’

The quote is attributed to Pippi Longstocking. Funnily enough, it is not something Astrid Lindgren ever wrote, as I discovered when I tried to find out where exactly it came from. Well, never mind. It is a heartening phrase, whoever said it.

On the needles

On my About page you can read that I love knitting, as well as a bit more about who I am. There’s no need to repeat that here. So let’s just dive straight in and look at what’s inside my new knitting bag.

I always have several knitting projects on the needles at the same time. Usually one big project, one pair of socks for mindless knitting, and one or two other projects that require a little more attention. 

Willapa

My big project at the moment is a cardigan for myself. The pattern I am using is Willapa by Annie Rowden. Willapa is a simple, slightly longer cardi in stocking stitch with garter trims, knit from the neck down. The yarn I am knitting with is Lamana Como Tweed, a very soft 100% wool yarn.

I chose the pattern because I could do with a warm-but-not-too-warm cardigan. And also because I wanted to knit something that I could knit on for hours and hours without paying too much attention. I fell for Willapa because of its simplicity, slim fit, pockets and shawl collar. So far, it has been a very enjoyable knit.

The sleeves looked rather narrow. But after trying the half-finished cardi on, I decided that I could live with them and knit on as per pattern. I’m now on to the front band, for which I need to pick up 386 stitches and knit in garter stitch on fairly thin needles for almost 8 cm (3 inches). I’m really looking forward to that. (Honestly! I love knitting long stretches of simple stitches.)

Socks

The next project in my bag is a pair of socks. I always have a pair of socks on the needles for those moments when I need something really simple and comforting to do.

I am using my own tried-and-tested basic sock pattern and a sturdy Regia sock yarn.

Secrets

And then there are some secret things on my needles. Presents that I can’t show you yet because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Now, what’s so interesting about all this knitting stuff that I want to share it here? That’s really hard to explain. If you are a knitter, you’ll probably understand. For me, it’s about working with materials that I am instinctively drawn to, making something beautiful that is useful at the same time and the endless possibilities of combining colours and stitch patterns. Apart from making stuff, I like looking at and reading about what other knitters make. And I hope that others will enjoy looking at and reading about what I’m making in turn.

Thank you

Phew, I did it! I wrote my first blog post. Thank you so much for keeping me company!

Today was all about knitting in progress. Next time I’ll show you a colourful finished project based on a pattern by a wonderful Scottish designer. Plus some photos of our lovely surroundings. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Afterthought

Here’s something about courage that Astrid Lindgren really did write (in The Brothers Lionheart):

‘Jonathan told me how there are things you have to do, even if they are dangerous.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because if you don’t you are not a human being, you’re nothing but a little louse,” Jonathan replied.’

That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Nothing childish about it, although it was written for children.

I found this quote and the information about the misquote on the official Astrid Lindgren website. It is really worth a visit if you like her books.