Author Archives: gillianknitter

My new challenge….

This week, I won the competition to be the new shoemaker at Upper Canada Village.

Image from

This was Peter. We started together at the village 15 years ago. Funnily enough, we had also worked together the summer that he was 18 and I was 17 at another tourist site. I was a waitress at the Mount Airy Hotel in Ivy Lea (it has since burned down) and he was a deck hand on the 1000 island tour boats that left from the hotel dock. He made morning announcement fun, his wit was as quick as a bunny and he never failed interject with a quick joke. I had told him I wanted to be the next shoemaker and he said it would be a few years to retirement. I told him this was fine…it was going to take me a good while to get ready. I was expecting that I might have a chance to replace him in another couple of years when he retired, but sadly his wife came from work one day in the fall and he had died. This is definitely not how I wanted to become shoemaker, but it is the way it is, I guess.

To try to prepare myself to make make shoes, I went to the Art and Sole Academy in Toronto for a few courses starting three years ago.

I made two pairs of shoes in two separate courses. I am not sure why I never posted about this at the time. I did put them on other social media.

Another part of the job will be harness making and repair. To do this, I took the Leather Tooling workshop. The book cover is sewn together in the same manner as horse harnesses.

Rampant LIon

I am hoping to visit the Shoemaker at Old Sturbridge Village before our village opens to get some tips before I start, if my supervisor can arrange it with them. I am looking forward to my new position with equal parts of excitement and trepidation.

Lace…it will be the end of me Barbara

60,000 stitches, 75 grams/1050 meters of lace weight yarn, 3 weeks of relatively concerted effort… probably 100 hours of knitting. I am in the lace chapter aka knit forever chapter. I was so scared of this chapter that I did not knit at all for over 6 months between the shiny scarf and this one. For all this effort… two, count em… two and only two stitches. I have decided to start showing pictures of the stitches graphed out for people who don’t own the book. I have to do it anyway if the stitches are on different pages so I don’t have to flip back and forth. With the hats I mostly did one stitch on the brim and one or two on the body of the hat, so I didn’t bother graphing unless it was complicated.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave

Oh, well, at least it makes a nice scarf at the end. But make a mistake and it will set you back hours and hours. My knitting looked like this several times. To fix a mistake you cannot live with, first you have to pull back each row until you get below the mistake. My first time, I took it off the needles. Mistakeyboo…It took forever to put it back on and by the time I did I had lost a whole day or more of knitting. I found that taking just one whole repeat of the pattern back was the best. This way you had all the stitches that were involved with each other, and it was easy to tell where you were. You knit back up, one row at a time, being careful to take the bottom thread each time and hooking it over your finger, European style to knit back up. Tension can be an issue if you are not careful, so I became careful. It is not all that bad once you get the hang of it. I was down to an hour or so to fix this kind of mistake by the end of the shawl.

I say shawl because it would be a shawl if I blocked it. I actually finished it a couple of weeks ago and hemmed and hawed about blocking it, which is why I am only posting it now. I have decided not to block it at least for now. I love the liveliness of it. Blocking would show the stitches more but it would flatten the life out of it. It is made with Austermann Merino Lace yarn which is supposedly superwash. It is soft and bouncy, light and warm. I am not sure how much finer a yarn they would knit with in Shetland, but even this scared me at first because seemed that a bit of a tug and it could break. I got better by the end. I had to. It was that or quit, and I cannot quit. I share an obsessive personality with my late father and most of my siblings. I rarely give up on anything. Which is why this week I passed level 3000 on candy crush. I am not sure if I should be proud of this or ashamed at how much time I waste on it…

A shiny scarf Barbara

I have been knitting for over fifty years and my mum over eighty years. She turned 90 yesterday and we had a nice party. A few months ago she gave me some of her stash yarn because she pretty much sticks to dishcloths now. With eight children, fifteen grandchildren and a new generation starting, there are no end of takers for her products.
She recently had a heart operation and has been going for rehab. The whole thing is funded by donations, so she has been organising a silent auction. Fundraising has long been a speciality of hers. She won senior citizen of the year for our home town a couple of years ago because of her efforts. I knit her this scarf for the auction from her stash yarn. It is being modelled by my niece, Laura. Mum bought the yarn (Erdal) in Turkey when she and my eldest sister Jane went there a couple of years ago.
It is slippery as all get out, but surprisingly soft for the glitzyness of it. It’s no merino, but hey. I realize that using variegated yarn to knit lace is a no-no, so I chose a lace pattern that I thought could stand up. I used Frost Flowers from page 204. I cast on 57 stitches which gave me one and a half pattern repeats plus 3 on each edge which I did garter stitch on. I cast on using a picot cast on from the book Cast On Bind Off by Lesley Ann Bestor. I did 4 rows of garter stitch before starting the pattern, then at the other end I did four rows of garter stitch and used a picot bind off.

A whirlwind trip… totality and back

My brother Charles got wind of the fact that I had Sunday and Monday off work. Just enough time to drive to the eclipse in Sweetwater Tennessee and back. He really wanted to go, and total eclipse was on my bucket list. It took me three asks to persuade Alan to come with us, but he caved. We checked the weather forecast on Sunday morning to make sure we weren’t heading for total cloud cover and headed off from Ottawa at about 10.30. We picked up Charles and left Mum’s by about noon.
Mum had packed us sandwiches and bananas so we didn’t need food until suppertime. Of course we stopped at a Crackerbarrel once it went dark. Charles had never been so we got a new convert. I picked up a road atlas in the gift shop because we had only managed to find maps of NY and PA before we left. Not that it was hard up to that point…cross the bridge and stay on the I-81. We got back in the car and drove till midnight when we stopped at a Motel 6. we were back on the road by 6 and stopped for breakfast at 8 at a McDonalds for the wifi. This was critical because we had to decide at this point if we were heading to South Carolina or Tennessee. The weather forecast looked much better for Tennessee, so back in the car and south we went.
Knoxville gave us pause and at one point I thought we were going to spend the eclipse in a giant traffic jam just north of the totality zone. How depressing would that have been? We did eventually crawl through Knoxville and on to Sweetwater. We pulled into the last space in the parking lot of a Burger King with an hour to spare and the moon already starting to cross the sun. It turned out to be a perfect location. We bought lunch from a very harried staff and sat down to watch eclipse coverage on CNN. Every few minutes or so we went to check the moons progress with our eclipse glasses left over from our Transit of Venus viewing in 2012. We left the restaurant for good about 20 minutes before totality and joined the legions of peaple with their lawn chairs in the parking lot.
Totality only lasted 2 1/2 minutes but I can say that it was worth driving 3000 km for. The crowd cheered, the crickets started chirping up a storm and the sun looked like the pictures (the ones taken with real cameras…not mine taken from my phone!). Someone let off fireworks a few hundred meters to the north west. I am not sure it was a good use of their totality watching time, but their choice I guess. The diamond ring effect happened, I got the men into the car and we booked it home. We only stopped for gas and subway sandwiches which we ate on the road. We got back to Mum’s in time for me to have a shower and head straight to work.
Road trips…gotta love em/

My one and only Raspberry Tart (till next year)

I managed to collect just enough raspberries this year for one pie. The bushes gave up their last raspberries on Friday, so I decided I better get baking or I would not be able to interpret the fact that I actually had raspberries for a pie.

Mary Eaton. 1823. The Cook and Housekeepers Complete and Universal Dictionary

This excerpt shows the two basic kinds of raspberry tarts of the time. I decided to go with the second option, a straight up raspberry tart with a lattice crust. I used my standard pie crust recipe. This was my first ever lattice crust and it probably shows. I had not realised before that a lattice crust takes exactly the same amount of crust as a regular top crust, just in a different configuration. I suppose if I had thought about it, I may have twigged. I think I will do smaller bars next time as it looks a bit clunky to me. I put the bake kettle on my favourite spot on the hearth, but as this pie shows, there is a high spot on one side and the filling spilled over on part of the pie. My guests were too polite to notice, I am sure.

My Raspberry Tart

3/4 cup lard
2 cups flour
1 egg
enough cold water to make 3/4 cup

Cut lard into flour with two knives until things are not getting smaller. Rub quickly and lightly to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Beat the egg add water to make up to 3/4 cup. Use enough of the egg/water to make a rollable dough (usually about half).

5 cups raspberries
1/2 cup of sugar

Put in 1/2 of the raspberries into a bottom crust, add sugar, then the rest of the raspberries. Make a lattice top by slitting the top crust, then lay every other slat in place on top of the raspberries. Fold back every other slat and put the cross piece on, fold the slats back in place. Fold up the other slats and put the next piece on, etc.

Rumples…they are the best food

When my son was two, one day we asked him what he would like to eat. “Rumples”, he said, “they are the best food”. We asked what rumples were, all we got was “they have holes, they are the best food”. Eventually we realized he was asking for crumpets. I attempted crumpets this week using the griddle in conjunction with tin muffin rings. There are recipes for crumpets cooked in various ways in many historic cookbooks from our time period (1866) and before. Here is a description from the divine Mrs B. (Isabella Beeton, author of Beeton’s Book of Household Management…the Joy of Cooking of the 1860’s)
I am not sure Jacob would have thought my first attempt at crumpets produced the best food, but there you go. I think my batter may have been too thick, and maybe the muffin rings were too small in diameter and too tall to cook them properly. I think I may ask the blacksmith if he can make me iron ones which are shorter and larger in circumference for another go. Mrs. Beeton does call for iron rings, but we only had these ones, made by our tinsmith, on hand.

Crumpet Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
3 tsp dry active yeast
1 1/2 cups warm milk
1 tsp sugar (n.b. not in Beeton…added to help the yeast)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp salt

Combine flour, yeast, milk and sugar. Beat for 3-4 minutes to develop the holes in the batter. Let sit covered in a warm place for 20 minutes to an hour until doubled. Stir the salt into the water, then stir both into the batter. Add more warm water if necessary to make a thick batter. Let rest in a warm place again for 20 minutes. Bake in rings on a hot griddle for 5-7 minutes per side.

How about a Singin’ Hinny for afternoon tea?

As you can probably guess, I am a sucker for a strange name. This recipe caught my eye in one of my new favourite books, Cakes Regional and Traditional by Julie Duff. This book contains a lot of recipes for griddle cakes, something I need to expand my repertoire of for the Tenant Farm at work. She has done a lot of historical research, so it is often easy to tell if they date back far enough (1866) for my purposes. If I think they do, I can go into the historic cookbooks and search for the refeence.
This page from the periodical, Notes and Queries, shows that the name Singing Hinny existed in February, 1866. Gotta love Google books and having a husband who is a trained librarian and can navigate his way through!

Singin’ Hinny Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
3/8 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup currants or raisins

Sift dry ingredients together. Rub in butter. Stir in currants or raisins. Add milk and stir till just combined. Form into one large hinnie. Cook 7 minutes per side on griddle or until golden brown on each side.

I also made Sugar Biscuits this week with some time travellers, the overnight campers at the village who come for 5 nights at a time. Each morning pairs of them visit stations in the village for 1 1\2 hours to get a taste of what children their age (9-14) may have done in the 1860’s.