REVISIONIST SAMOSAS

When I was living in Pune, India, I posted about my attempt to make samosas there.  They turned out quite nicely with a good flavor, although my clumsy shaping ensured they were clearly not “desi” by birth.  I used some ingredients there that are sort-of, but not quite parallel to what I can find in US supermarkets here in the US.

For example – flour.  Wheat flour in Northern India is a huge staple.  Many people buy grain in bulk and grind it themselves, or bring it to a mill to grind.  Even the Western style supermarket I frequented offered bulk wheat purchase, with in-store milling to the fineness desired.  But I generally bought pre-milled bagged flour, of two types – attah and maida.  Maida is white flour; attah is whole wheat.  Both are much higher protein than US all purpose flour, and attah especially is often augmented by other grains or vitamin enrichment.

Another example are potatoes.  Here we are blessed with many kinds.  In India the potatoes were halfway between flaky white Idaho or Maine style potatoes, and the Yukon Gold yellow or waxy red russet types favored for boiling rather than baking.  They cooked up a bit firmer than whites, but were not as fine textured as the yellows or reds. I take advantage of US abundance and use a combo, relying on the yellows for texture and the whites for the substrate of the filling.  If you use just one type, an all purpose white potato will serve.

Spices.  There is no comparison, so I have tried to punch up the US version to reach the flavor levels of what we found in India.  There I was lucky enough to have received jars of “family masala” from our friends as gifts.  Every one was different, fiercely tasty, and oh, so good.  Pre-made garam masala here in the US is quite anemic by comparison.  The best of them that I’ve found was at Atlantic Spice in Truro.  Penzey’s is ok, but bland.  Kashmiri mirch (hot chili powder) is heavenly – fruity and complex.  Cayenne is hot but not as nuanced.  Some New Mexico style powdered chilis are too heavily smoked for this recipe. Try to find a less-smoked, fruity yet chili pepper powder use here.

Over the past weekend I had an occasion to make samosas again, making substitutions specific to what’s on hand here.  For example, I’ve tried to make the roti style flatbreads I used to make in Pune, but with equivocal success.  I suspected the flour.  Especially the white flour, which is too soft.  So I have made some changes to the types and proportions of flour, to get a better result.  Apologies for not having pix of the finished samosas, post frying.   They were too delicious, and did not survive long enough for photography.

Note that if you are shopping in a specialty grocery that caters to expat Indians, you will probably want to follow my original posting, and not the directions below.

One American Chick’s Sort-of-Samosas
Revised for a US kitchen

Makes 32 large snack-sized filled fried pastries
(makes filling for twice that many – extra may be frozen and used later)

Outside pastry:

1/2 cup white all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white bread flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour  or whole wheat bread flour

2 1/2 Tbsp stick butter or clarified butter – MUST BE SOLID, NOT MELTED

3/4 cup water

1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp baking powder

Oil for deep-frying

Filling:

2 medium size yellow onions, diced (roughly 2 cups)

2 Tbsp oil or clarified butter for sautéing.

8 cloves garlic, minced fine

2 cups frozen peas

2-3 fist-size white potatoes, peeled

2-3 fist-size yellow potatoes, peeled

2 Tbs whole mustard seeds, preferably black

3 Tbs garam masala spice mix (or other spices to your taste).  Note that US-sold garam masala is usually quite weak.  If you have a fresh home-made blend or an imported blend from an import store, use less.

2-3 Tbs hot red pepper powder.  Kashmiri mirch is best, but if you can’t find import, choose a fruity and hot dried pepper rather than a heavily smoked paprika.  Use less if you don’t like fiery foods.

1/2 tsp dried coriander (I added this because the US masala was weak).

1/2 tsp dried oregano (I added this because the US masala was weak).

1 Tbs cumin powder (I added this because the US masala was weak).

1 tsp tumeric powder

3 Tbs clarified butter or stick butter for flavor

Fresh cilantro leaves  – about a big handful, de-stemmed and washed free of sand, then chopped roughly

3 Tbsp salt

Dipping sauce

1/2 small, sweet onion, like a Vidalia

1 clove of garlic

Large bunch of fresh cilantro leaves (the remainder of the bunch) de-stemmed and washed free of sand.

Salt to taste

1/2 Roma tomato or 6 or so cherry or grape tomatoes, seeded.

Instructions

1. Peel both kinds of potatoes, chunk them into two or three pieces and set them to boil until tender.  Drain the potatoes and salt them.

2. While the potatoes are cooking you’ll have some time.  Mix the two flours, the salt and baking powder together.  If lumpy, sift.  Work the hard clarified butter or stick butter into the flour mix with your fingertips or a fork, as if you were making scones or pie crust, until all the butter is incorporated, and the flour looks crumbly and grainy – past the point at which you’d stop if this was pie crust.

3. Add about half of the water to the flour/butter mix and combine.  Keep adding water slowly and mixing until the dough can be gathered up and briefly worked into a smooth mass.   Do not over-knead or the shells will be hard as rocks.  Set the dough aside under a damp cloth or in a plastic box.  The dough needs to rest and evenly hydrate for at least an hour before use.

4.  Take the cooked yellow potatoes and dice them into small chunks, about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch).  Precision isn’t important, you just want them to be small but noticeable bits in the stuffing.  Rough mash the white potatoes with the back of a fork or large slotted spoon.

5. In a VERY large frying pan, start a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium heat.  Throw in the mustard seeds and listen/watch for them to begin popping, like mini popcorn.  When they pop, sauté the onions in the oil until light golden.  Add the minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown.  Sprinkle all the dried spices, salt, and dried herbs onto the onions and sauté for another minute or two, until everything is very uniform and paste like spice coats the onion bits, smelling wonderful.  Toss in the potato cubes and let them get coated with the oily spicy oniony garlicky mix.  Then toss in the mashed potatoes and the remaining butter and stir all together to distribute the butter as it melts.  When incorporated, stir in the peas.  Taste it and add more salt if needed.  Let the stuffing heat on low for another ten minutes for the peas to thaw and cook, and for the flavors to meld.  Stir occasionally to scrape up any yummy bits from the bottom back into the filling, and to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom.  Fold in the fresh coriander leaves.  This fully cooked filling can be made way ahead and fridged until needed, although I suggest taking it out and letting it warm up before stuffing and frying the samosas, to ensure that the centers don’t remain cold.

6.  To assemble – have your filling ready.  Have a small rolling-pin ready.  Take the rested dough and divide it into 16 equal parts.  Put the parts back under the damp cloth towel or back into the plastic box until needed.   Take the first lump of dough.  Finger-flatten it into a fat pancake and pat it into some loose flour.  Roll it out into a circle, as large and as thin as you can (mine was about 6 inches around, and about an eighth of an inch thick).  Take a knife and cut the circle into two halves.  Each half will make one samosa.

7.  Try to follow this video’s folding logic.  Moisten the straight edge of the half circle with water, then pat it into a cone.  Hold the cone in one hand and fill it with the other hand, patting the filling in to make sure there are no air holes.  Moisten the top edge, then pinch the top of the samosa closed in the center (where the cone’s seam is), then pinch the seam shut left and right of that point.  Finally, fold the left and right corners of the newly formed seam together and pinch them, too.  The professional samosa chef does this by plopping the thing down on the counter and using the side of his hand to make the second seal, at the same time giving his pastry a nice, flat, triangular bottom.  Mine were more free-form, looking sort of like the back end of a fleeing chicken.  In spite of the laughably unorthodox shape, mine did stay closed while cooking, which is what counts.

rolling moistening the edge filling sealing

crimping and shaping  ready-to-fryfrying

8. As the samosas are done, place them on a plate or rack, making sure that they do not DO NOT touch each other.  If you are forming them ahead of time and intend to refrigerate before frying, this is an absolute necessity.   You can stack them in a large plastic box, but if you do, make sure each one is separated from the others, and waxed paper or plastic wrap between layers is highly advised.

9.  When the samosas are all formed they can be either baked or deep-fried three at a time in a small, deep saucepan.  The oil should be quite hot, but not smoking, and the samosas should take only a minute or two each to get golden brown.  I suggest letting them drain on a baking rack rather than on paper towels so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.

10.  To make the dipping sauce, use a small blender, the chopping box attachment on a stick blender, or a full size food processor to buzz the onion and garlic to mush.  Toss in the tomato, making sure to remove as much of the inner moisture as possible before doing so, and buzz to incorporate.  Then add the cilantro leaves.  Process until everything is evenly textured.  Add salt to taste.  You may want to pour off some excess liquid before serving – it depends on how juicy the vegetables were.

Serve the samosas hot with the dipping sauce, or cold.  They are best when still crispy, but also good after they’ve cooled.

All pix courtesy of Elder Daughter, who knows her way around a camera better than I.  The belan and chakla (rolling pin and platform) were hand made for me by family friend Rupesh Rocade’s father, and as you can see – are much used and appreciated!

BACK TO TRIFLES

As usual, I have several projects going at once.  Right now these include the giant green sampler, the pullover I am knitting with a friend (now awaiting total rip-back and restart after An Inadvertently Destructive Incident), and the Trifles sampler I am working up for Younger Daughter.  Although I do not intend to leave my co-knitting pal in the lurch, the last one is the only one with a hard deadline.

I’ve been road-blocked on Trifles for a while.  I wasn’t sure how I would edge it, and what would define the interior space.  I knew I wanted to do inhabited blackwork cogs for the filling, but the one I hand-drew wasn’t working out very nicely; plus getting many different sizes of gears to mesh properly was proving problematic.  So I set the thing aside to ponder.

I’m now done pondering.  My solutions are:

  1. Work a narrow edging around the entire piece, in slightly heavier stitching than the infillings, in order to define the field.
  2. Cheat.  Use a commercial stencil to achieve the gear shapes.  Not only does the stencil present a nice, large field of meshing cogs, it is also calculated to tile properly.

Trifles-4 trifles-5

I found the stencil on line. It’s plastic, and much more durable than any downloaded/paper printed solution.  I  liked the clear differentiation among the shapes on this one, with very little overlap that would require hand-drawing the missing teeth.  Although it wasn’t inexpensive, it will save me an infinite amount of grief.  I will modify the individual gear shapes on the fly – stitching some with full interior detail as presented on the shapes, and some without, making more solid gears.  I also have a little packet of brass Steampunk watch gear shapes, if I decide to add them as an added embellishment.

The narrow edging is yet another design from my forthcoming book, but worked in two colors.  And I will be picking out the beginning of the filled gear underneath the letter “T.”  Once I have the outer edging finished, I will trace the field using the stencil.  Then I will stitch up the gears using fillings from Ensamplario Atlantio, with their edges defined crisply using either back stitch or chain stitch (experimentation will ensue).

On working a symmetrical counted edging without drafting up the entire thing ahead of time – it’s easy on a simple geometrical one like this.  Begin at a corner.  I improvised a corner treatment, where north/south and east/west meet.  Then at the center of the piece (conveniently marked ahead of time by a line of basting), I improvised a symmetrical join, then mirrored the completed stitching previously done.  Eighteen pattern repeats later, I mirrored the improvised corner.  I will continue my march north until I get to the basted center line.  There I will make another decision on how to treat the center and soldier on to complete that edge.  I work that same kludge on the left hand edge.  Since the centers will match top/bottom and side to side (even if they are different) – no one will notice them, and every corner will be crisp. 

As to the thread – I am using the art silk stranded floss I found in India.  I am not loving it.  It’s rayon, and very slippery.  Surprisingly, its tensile strength is less than that of cotton, no where near the mighty nature of real silk.  It shreds, and must be used in short lengths.  In addition, the plies separate and “walk” against each other. I have to use a laying tool to get even these short stitches to look nice.  I would not recommend the stuff, and am glad that I will be using up pretty much my entire stock on this project. 

IT’S GETTING CLOSER!

Don’t look behind you and duck, I’m only talking about The Second Carolingian Modelbook.  Here’s the tentative cover

book-cover

It’s getting closer to publication.  I am NOT ready yet to take pre-orders, but when I am, I’ll post here.

What it will have:

  • 180 or so pages, including 75 plates of graphs – 50 line unit, 25 block unit.
  • Over 250 individual patterns, with museum citation sources, degree of fidelity to the source, and (when available) date and provenance, plus height and repeat width stitch counts.
  • Articles on stitching methods, commonly used names for the styles, etc.
  • Index, source bibliography, research bibliography
  • Photo illustrations of some of the patterns, worked.

To chivy myself along towards completion I post my to-do list:

  • Finish the description and how-to photos of the meshy stitch, so often used as background in historical voided pieces

green_17

  • Finish the last few entries in the index
  • Correct some of the earliest drafted pages, updating a typo in the background frame

Once these things are done I can do final prep for electronic publication, and finish up the legal/infrastructure needs of setting up the business end of the offering.

I know everyone has been VERY patient.  I promise the thing will be worth the wait.

SURFACING

It’s been lonely here at String.  So few posts over such a long period of time.  I apologize for that.  Life has been hectic, with work deadlines, the close of Younger Daughter’s school year, and house projects just getting under way.

For a start, here’s Younger Daughter, decked out for Junior Prom.

IMG_2375

No copycat column dress for her, she took inspiration from decades past, and found a bargain repro-1950s dress on line. Much child/parent conspiring took place to round out the outfit. The rhinestones for example are excavated from my jewelry box, and ultimately belonged to my grandmother and great-aunt. Younger Daughter looked great, and had a wonderful time.   And not a bit of envy for dance-able comfort from some of her more elaborately dressed peers.

On the Trifles sampler, I ran into a roadblock.  I tried drafting and tracing meshed gears, which I intend to use as a background, filling each one with a different counted blackwork-style filling.  But I wasn’t finding a great amount of success.  So I caved in and bought a plastic stencil.  I’ll use selected bits of it, tracing the precision cut cams onto the cloth and tiling the thing where needed (it’s calculated to do that!).  More on this once I get going.

I’m also working on a two-person knit-along with Friend Kim – a mesh-knit three-quarter sleeve pullover from a Kate Bellando pattern.  I think we’re both at about the same mid-sleeve point:

meshy-Knit-2

For the record, we’re both using SMC Select Reflect, a light DK/heavy sport yarn in rayon/cotton blend.  I can say that both of us have had extreme problems making gauge and have had to adjust needle size and move down in selected garment size to compensate.

And I’ve done a ton of socks as I noodled out the various problems and challenges, above.  This pair was knit up from a hand-painted sock blank – Plymouth Happy Choices, in the Fiesta color. 

sox-new

In essence, a sock blank is a long scarf-like machine knitted strip that a dyer then paints with her or his chosen colors.  When the scarf is unraveled for use, its patterns knit up in unexpected ways.  I knit mine straight from the blank rather than re-winding, working my standard figure-8 toe, short-rowed heel sock.  The crinkle made no difference in the finished product, and the convenience of working from something that wouldn’t escape and skitter down six rows was perfect for airplane knitting.  The lace pattern on the ankle is from Walker’s fourth treasury.

And on larger, family projects – we start to consider redoing our kitchen.  The floor tiles are worn past their surface color, the cabinets and countertops are sagging beyond simple repair or re-use, and the layout/look is inefficient and dated.  The room was spruced up around 1980, as a peace offering between the warring couple that sold the house to us.  I have detested the shell pink/mint green/faux Colonial cabinet combo from the day we moved in.  Before pix in next post, for sure. Ten years is enough, and it’s time!

NIECE, SLIGHTLY DAMAGED

As happens to so many, my gymnast niece Veronica had a disagreement with gravity, momentum, torque, and a body part; and has landed in cast.  She’s on the mend, but disappointed to miss out on the remaining Spring competitions, and (living in Buffalo) regrets her now chilly, exposed toes.

11169825_10205730170566154_3830224742290337388_n

Knitting to the rescue!

To cheer her up and warm those toes, I whipped up a quick set of tie-on toe socks.  I used worsted weight washable acrylic or superwash wool blends, all leftovers from prior projects, and US #5 needles, playing with simple stranding, eyelet patterns, or no design at all, as whimsy manifested.  I think that the pale blue is in fact left over from a Fishy Hat I knit for Veronica years ago…

11188496_10205775677983811_4255171951813124161_n 11144949_10205775678383821_2453126069393554364_n

The toe is my standard Figure-8 no-sew toe cast-on, but rendered wide enough to go over the end of the cast.  After that I worked about three inches of foot, and ended with 20 rows of ribbing.  I made crocheted strings to tie the things on.  Apparently I didn’t make them long enough (being several hundred miles from the recipient), and they are not quite adequate to tie behind the heel.  The directions below are modified to add the extra, needed tie-string length.

BASIC TIE-ON TOE SOCKIES FOR THE CAST-BOUND

Washable worsted weight yarn with native gauge of 5 stitches = 1 inch.  I recommend an acrylic or a washable wool.

Set of five US #5 double pointed needles (can also be done Magic Loop or two-circ style)

US size G crochet hook for ties (ties can also be done using I-cord, braiding, or any other method you desire)

Tapestry needle for ending off ends.

Gauge

Roughly 5.25 stitches = 1 inch.  You want these socks knit tightly for warmth and durability.

Directions

No-Sew Toe Cast-On

Take two of the needles and wrap the yarn around them, figure-eight style. The yarn should loop around the bottom needle and cross to the opposite side of the top needle. Loop over it and then return between the two. The result should look something like this:

loops

Continue wrapping the yarn this way until you have 12 loops on each needle. Let the end dangle free with no knots or other securings – you’ll need to work looseness in the first row out towards the end later. Knots will interfere with this in-flight adjustment. Take a third dpn and knit across the top needle. Take the fourth dpn and knit across the bottom needle. Be careful not to twist stitches – one needle’s loops will be “backward” with the leading edge of the loop on the rear side of the needle. Make sure you knit into the rear side of these “backward” loops. You now have a very narrow and slightly awkward strip of knitting suspended between two needles. There should be 12 stitches on each needle. Don’t worry if the stitches running down the center are loose, in a couple of rows you can tighten them up by carefully working the excess down towards the dangling tail end.

Toe Shaping

Row 1: k1, M1, k5. Using another dpn, k5, M1, k1. Using a third dpn, k1, M1, K5. Using the fourth dpn – K5, M1, K1. You should now have 4 live needles in your work, each with 7 stitches on it.

Row 2: Knit all stitches

Row 3: *k1, M1, k6  [Note – this is the end of first needle, remainder on second needle] K6, M1, K1* repeat

Row 4: Knit all stitches

Row 5 and subsequent odd rows: Continue adding one stitch after the first stitch of the first and third needles, and one stitch just before the last stitch of the second and fourth needles.

Row 6 and subsequent even rows: Knit. When you have 14 stitches on each needle (56 stitches total) the toe is done.

Foot

The foot is just a cylinder worked on all 56 stitches, for about 3 inches after completion of the toe.  You can work this in plain stockinette, or go wild here, working simple stranding or eyelet lace patterning. Repeats of 4, 7, 8, 14 or 28 stitches are all possible.  For example, my wide eyelet ladder is

Row 1: *K2tog YO2, SSK*

Row 2:  *K1, K1P1 into double YO, K1*

Ribbing

When the foot part is complete, it’s time for 20 rows of ribbing.  I tend to use K2, P2 ribbing because it pulls in more than K1P1 ribbing, but feel free to use anything that’s comfortable for you.  Bind off and darn in all ends.

Ties

I crocheted my tie strings for speed.  I located the “side welts” – the stitch column that corresponded to the beginning of needle #1 and the end of needle #4, and the stitch column that corresponded to the end of needle #2 and the beginning of needle #3.  It will be very visible on the side of your toe.  I walked those points up to the ribbing for my designated side attachment points – one on each side of the sockie.

Using the crochet hook and my yarn, I worked a two-stitch column of single crochet.

Row 1: Single crochet 2, chain 1 (this is the turning chain)
Row 2 and subsequent rows: Skip turning chain, single crochet 2.

I made my strings about a foot long, but I strongly suggest making yours about 18 inches long.  Darn in ends, and you are finished.

I report that the sockies work, mostly (they need longer ties), and the recipient is warmer and happier.  Heal quick, Veronica!  We all want to see you dancing (and tumbling) real soon.

FLYING HIGH

Regular readers here know I rarely post anything work-related. Today however, I make an exception.

The team here at CyPhy Works has launched a kickstarter for a new photography drone – the CyPhy Worsk LVL 1 – a hex-copter simple enough for anyone to fly. LVL 1 is the first drone for absolutely everybody.

photo-original

Click on the photo above for a cool video, or here for the full Kickstarter page.  I’m enthused about the thing because I’m really proud of and impressed by the men and women here who invented it.

LVL 1 is controlled with a simple Smart Phone app. It employs a novel flight technology, so photos and videos stay steady and true. There’s a whole raft of tech features including geo-fencing –the ability to pace off a flight arena, to keep the thing corralled in a manageable area, and the ability to post your pix and vids to your social networking platform of choice in real-time. It’s a ton of fun to fly, and even has practical uses beyond hobby, nature, and family photography. For example, it can be used to check out roof damage after a storm, or to inspect solar panels, gutters, or other inaccessible home or business areas.

Plus, as Helen our Fearless Leader says – “Robots are cool!”

VISIO KNITTING SYMBOL STENCILS, YET AGAIN

I’ve written about how I use Visio to graph my knitting charts before.  Back in 2009 I reposted my original symbol set for what was then the latest version of Microsoft Visio.  My original note about using Visio for graphing knitting dates back to 2005, although I was doing it for a quite a while before I wrote about it.

Microsoft Visio has evolved over the years.  MS would tell us that this has been for our own good, and they’ve closed some pretty severe security holes in their Visio document formats that allowed entry of malicious code.  That surgery has been so severe that the latest version of the program – part of the Microsoft Office 2013 suite – no longer accepts older file format stencils.  But my graphing system, used to produce all of the knitting charts on this site was stuck in this older file format.

So.  How to use the older stencils with the latest version of the program?

If you Google something like “Visio won’t open older file formats” you’ll find all sorts of advice.  Some of it includes the intimidating step of editing your registry to bypass the security override.

I’ve done the work for you.  Here is a ZIP file containing brand new stencils manufactured for Visio, MS Office 2013. It will work with the latest version, but not with older ones. The old-post links above will take you to pages where you can download the now-obsolete, earlier formats.

If you are lucky enough to have access to MS Visio (which is unconscionably expensive, but often available if you are a student, or have use of it via work) – you can now use my “tinkertoy” block building system to make charts like this:

visio-knit-screen

For those of you who have other trusted stencils they need to resurrect and re-use with the latest version of the program, here’s what I did to rescue mine.

I found my original *.vss format files.  I knew they were safe, containing no malicious macros. 

Under the File tab, I clicked on “Options” in the blue bar at the left.  On the pop-up Options menu, I clicked on “Trust Center” in the left hand menu bar. This opened a window with various privacy and security statements.  In the main text area of that window, I clicked on the button “Trust Center Settings.”

This brought up  yet another menu screen.  I selected “Trusted Locations” and clicked on the “Add New Location” button at the bottom of that screen.  I noted the default location Microsoft specified as the place where it first stores templates, and used that.  I clicked “OK” to set trusted-status for that location, then kept clicking OK on the nested options windows to close them until I was back out at my main Visio window.

I copied my ancient *.vss stencils into the now trusted location that I had written down.

Visio could now open them, and I could use them, but I could not edit them, and saving the document could prompt dialog boxes keyed to the ancient stencil’s status.  So I re-saved all of the stencil contents to the new *.vssx files you will find contained in the *.zip file above.

To do that, I used a drag-selection box to select all of the symbols in the available shapes sidebar, then right-clicked and chose “Add to My Shapes” from the pop-up action window.  That pulled up yet another action dialog that gave me the option to save the selected shapes to a new stencil.

Yes, this is a long and overly technical post, but I do know there are a few folks who used my old Visio-based knitting notation system, who may have faced this problem.  Now they have a work-around.

AN ACTUAL FINISHED PRODUCT

Yes, I do have lots of small ones, but I don’t make a lot of adult size sweaters, and even fewer for me. And even fewer of those are from commercial patterns. But this one is done:

sweater2-small sweater1-small

This one ended up being an extremely quick knit.  I used Sarah James’ Entrelac Pullover pattern.  This is the second piece of hers I’ve knit up. The first was her Ribbed Leaf Pullover – a challenging bit entirely predicated on twisted stitches.  Lots of twisted stitches.

This one was equally fun, but far easier.  In essence, you knit four Entrelac panels; two small ones for the top of each sleeve, then one for the front and back of the sweater.  Only the one in the front bears any shaping at the neck.  A seed stitch panel is picked up along the long side of the sleeve panel, and knit longitudinally, using short-rows to add width at the top of the sleeve.  That panel is joined to the other side of the sleeve Entrelac panel using a pick-up-and-knit-together technique, eliminating hand-seaming (although you could do it that way if you were timid).

The front and back fancy panels are joined at the shoulders, and a seed stitch panel is added right  and left to bring the piece out to shoulder width and provide the desired total body size.  Once those panels are done, the sleeves are sewn in and the side seams are done.  Then cuffs, necklines and hem ribbing are added.

Because the piece is so square and boxy, adding extra width to the top size of 46” was easy.  First, I used a slightly heavier yarn than indicated.  My tiny bit bigger gauge gave me about an inch across the Entrelac.  Then a couple of additional rows to the seed stitch panels made short work of the rest of the size adaptations.

My other change was the treatment of the ribbing.  The pattern original advocates using the same variegated yarn as the body.  Instead I chose solid black, as a framing element.

I am pleased by the the color play of Noro Taiyo – the yarn I used.  However I strongly caution that this is not a good yarn for an inexperienced knitter, or for someone who doesn’t have the patience or inclination to tame it.  Taiyo is a fluffy, multi-fiber single.  It relies on over-spin for structural integrity.  That means that the yarn kinks back on itself, twisting and tangling as one works.  It also denatures quite easily.  If you rip back and re-knit this yarn, you’ll have to re-introduce some of that twist, otherwise the strand will shred and break.  Sewing up with it also introduces the counter-spin that shreds the strand.  If you use this, spare yourself and find another yarn for seaming.  In my case, I used Valley Yarns Berkshire for seaming and for all of the ribbing.  Berkshire is a wool/alpaca blend single, roughly comparable in weight to Taiyo.

All in all, I am quite happy with the finished product.  And even though it’s a very warm pullover, we still have lots of cold weather left in which to wear it.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AND OLD AND NEW AGAIN

Sometimes we forget that not everything we do is original, unique or never-before done.  Here’s a case in point from the world of needlework research, presented as an example that we are not unique, and as a mildly cautionary tale.

There are hundreds of folks out there delving into the historical needle arts – some to research and re-create the techniques, some to make investigation into the aesthetic, artistic, or symbolic aspects, and some to profile the creation and use of artifacts within their social and cultural context.

We are not the first to do this.  I have stumbled across an article from June 1909, written by Kathrine Sanger Brinley, published in The Craftsman magazine – a product of the Gustav Stickley Arts and Crafts movement (and his commercial empire).  That issue of The Craftsman is available on-line as part of the Digital Library for Decorative Arts and Material Culture, maintained by the University of Wisconsin.

The article is entitled “Needlework Designs from Old Paintings,” and describes Brinley’s observations on a tablecloth edging that appears in daVinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper.”

Her description is rather florid, although it is in keeping with the philosophical bent of The Craftsman. She concentrates on the embroidery on the tablecloth, and provides a black and white photo that appears to reveal slightly different detail of those panels than do modern photos.  On the left is a snippet from her photo, on the right, a snippet of the original daVinci, as found on Wikipedia.

tablecloth tablecloth-2

Brinley discusses a copy of the work, done by d’Oggiono, in the collection of the Louvre, but does not directly identify that copy as her source. D’Ogginio is considered to be one of daVinci’s personal pupils.  I do not see a copy attributed to him listed in on-line sites detailing the original painting, nor do Louvre on-line searches turn it up, so I do not know if current scholarship still recognizes the piece.

Whether or not this piece has been discredited or lost, I can’t determine.  I am no art historian, so I can’t say when in history Jesus’ feet were replaced by a door lintel.  I can only observe that there are many more differences between the two than the presence of feet.  In just this little snippet, the side figural band appears to  have migrated from one side of the bread roll to the other.  The modern photo also indicates the presence of a few more bands of patterning than does hers.

Brinley plunges full ahead with the assumption that the tablecloth’s patterning is embroidered, not woven, and attempts a reproduction of the design.  Now to my eye, it’s more probable that the cloth shown was inspired by Perugia style weaving, and that it was not a depiction or conjecture of an embroidered textile.  But let’s set that aside, too.

She posits a counted thread technique for the bands, due to their linear character (also an artifact of weaving), and cites the prevalence of cross stitch in Italian embroidery history.  She concludes that the piece was originally worked in cross stitch, stroke stitch (aka double running), and point Lance (short, straight stitches); also double Italian cross stitch (which she calls out as double-sided cross stitch).

She gives a drawn diagram for the design, and displays her own flat frame, with its in-process snippet.

image image

Interestingly enough, while she cites the work as being counted, her own renditions are not.  They’re penciled onto the ground cloth and stitched free of count.

Having graphed over a hundred patterns of this type myself, I can say that if in fact the original was embroidered, Brinley’s chart is a probably a vast simplification of what the original design might have been.  Even if the original was woven, how it is shown in the painting is not a photographic depiction.  It is another victim of the fidelity and resolution that results when a fine stitched or woven piece is rendered in paint – especially when that detail is not central to the composition’s central subject.

So.

What we’ve got is a historical-historical embroiderer, bent on re-creating a pattern from what she believed to be a period artifact, and making an assumption that the original was stitched and not woven; and that the fidelity of the source painting was true.  She went on to suppose that the piece was produced using methods contemporary with modern stitchery (informed by some historical examples).  She created an eyeballed redaction inspired by the artifact and presented it as accurate; then rendered it using her own methods.

Is her chart faithful to daVinci’s original? I can’t say.  Obviously, I am leaning towards a Perugia-style tablecloth and not a stitched one. I’m also not inclined to accept her design version as accurate.  But I can say that I feel for her efforts, respect her attempt, and hope to avoid her pitfalls in my own redactions of other works.

GADGETS – THE HUMBLE BREAD TAG

I haven’t  made a knitting gadget post in a long time. Here’s a frugal crafting tip, echoing something I posted in 2004.

Save those little, rectangular plastic clips that seal up bags of commercial bread, pizza dough, bulk food purchases, and other groceries.  They are very handy for knitting and crochet. Here are some uses.

Stitch markers.  Very obvious.  All of the standard and exotic stitch marker tricks can be done with these, marking repeats, separating design panels, using them to delineate a group of stitches that will be added or decreased away, using them as an in line abacus to keep track of row or pattern repeat counts.

Progress tags.  Like fancier plastic clip style closeable markers, tags can be fastened onto in-progress knitting to mark spots of interest, like centers of pieces to be matched together later while seaming.  Because tags are larger than commercial clips, and disposable (in my house, a renewing resource like wire hangers), they can be written on with a Sharpie marker, for one-use notation.

Seam basters.  Use the jaws of the tags to hold pieces together when seaming instead of pins.

And here you see another use:  pick-up tracking. I have a lot of stitches to pick up along the edges of my current project’s center entrelac panel.  The desired number works out to ten stitches per edge triangle. It’s very easy to lose track, an annoying to constantly repeat the count. But if I clip a tag onto the needle, pick up ten stitches after the tag, then I clip it and repeat, the process is relatively painless.

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