Easter knits

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I like Easter. It must be my favorite holiday of all. It doesn’t involve too much partying, eating or drinking. There is no need to shop for many gifts. If you have small children, you can enjoy Easter craft and the chocolate egg hunt.

Usually with nice weather, we can enjoy the arrival of spring. It is a celebration of new life.

I have many Easter knits. Bunnies and chickens are always delightful to knit.
Easter knits

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And I tried Humpty Dumpty.
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Because he is an egg, I thought he may go well for Easter.

I learned this rhyme in English lesson in school in Japan, and I thought it was the strangest thing I ever heard. It still doesn’t make much sense to me and maybe it doesn’t make sense to many of you.

Sometimes, Humpty Dumpty has rather scary look in illustrations, but I tried to make him look as cute as possible.
My Humpty doesn’t have a great big fall. He is celebrating Easter with us.

Yarn shop day

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On Saturday 3rd May 2014, yarn shops across the UK will be celebrating Yarn Shop Day. It is a campaign launched by leading publications, Let’s Knit and Let’s Get Crafting.
I was chosen to be one of the ambassadors and will be offering workshops at Gillian Gladrags, craft shop for fibre arts in Dorking, Surrey.

Gillian is the author of felting books and the owner of the shop. She has written three books; Complete felting, Carnival of felting and felting fabulous flowers.

On Friday, I decided to pay a visit to the shop. I had never been to Dorking and was not too sure if I manage to find the shop easily. I didn’t wanted to get lost and be late on the workshop day.

Plus, it was nice and sunny. I drag my teenage son out of the house.

Dorking is a lovely town with many antique shops. And Gillian’s shop is beautiful!
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It is so hip and quirky and cute. You can see it is not just an ordinary yarn shop.

It isn’t a large shop, but packed with beautiful wool, yarn, fabric and more. It is packed with happiness.
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See all these beautiful yarns.

She has many felting bags and making kits, too.
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Ribbons, stickers, stamps, notebooks… many of her own designs.

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She has a room upstairs for courses and workshops. There was a knitting group in progress and knitters were making colourful bunting for the Yarn Shop day.

You can find more information about the day here:http://gilliangladrag.blogspot.co.uk/
And the shop’s website is here:http://www.gilliangladrag.co.uk/

The shop is conveniently located near M25, train station and the Gatwick Airport. We still have a little time to plan a trip, yes?
I will be offering workshops to make penguins from my upcoming book. I hope many will come join us.

Japanese cream bread

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I love bakeries in Japan. You see everything from English loaves and French baguettes and croissants to kashi-pan (sweet bread). Many of the kashi-pan are buns stuffed with jam, or a soft filling of chocolate cream. Light yet satisfying, they are ideal for breakfast and snacks.

My boys go crazy over Melon Pan and Cream Pan. Cream Pan (pan means “bread”) is Japanese sweet bread buns filled with a thick vanilla custard. They are delightful.

I bake them at home. Here is the recipe.

To make 10 buns
For the custard cream

2 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp flour
250 cc milk
1/2 tsp vanilla oil

for bread
300g strong bread flour
1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
8g butter
1 tsp salt
50cc milk
150cc water

To make the custard, place yolks in a medium sauce pan. Add the sugar and flour and mix well to incorporate into the egg yolks. Add milk and heat the cream mixture over medium to high heat.
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See my hand whisk? I love this one! It has a little balls inside. It is cute and does fantastic job.

Whisking the custard constantly, paying special attention to the corners of the pan, until it is steaming and has thickened. You need very thick custard for this recipe. Keep on stirring. This can take good 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add vanilla when it is still piping hot.

Tips: You are making thick cream paste rather than pouring custard so you need to cook it longer. It is runny when hot but once cooled, it should have jelly like consistency.
To avoid lumps, I stir vigorously with a hand whisk and change to a wooden spatula at the end. Continue stirring after it is taken off the heat, too. Little lumps may form during the early stage of cooling down period.
The custard will look like this when it is cooled.
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Making bread dough is same as Melon bread:http://www.knitsbysachi.com/2014/03/19/melon-bread/
and Red bean bread: http://knitsbysachi.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/baking-with-childr
(Knead 15 minutes, proof 40 minutes, release gas and divide in 10 pieces and rest them 15 minutes.)

My dough resting.
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Roll out each dough to 10cm diameter. Place the cooled custard paste in the center and fold the dough in half, encasing the paste.
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It is better to have the top fold slightly longer than the bottom and seal is hidden on the base.

Now, you do not need to do this, but for some reason, we make slits like this for traditional cream bread look. Cut the edge with a bread cutter, keeping the cream away from the edge as much as you can.
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You can shape it into any shapes of course.
Leave it for 20 minutes for the second proofing.
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Brush with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 180C (350F).
They are delicious warm or cold.
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Long draw spinning

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There was a little surprise when I walked into the spinners’ meeting last Wednesday.

I found a young man sitting in the room. A new member? A visitor? A sales person?

Currently we don’t have any male member. We hardly ever get a male visitor.

This happens only once in 3 or 4 years, I think, to see a man sitting with us.

I was even more surprised when I found out that he was the tutor of the day. He was teaching us the technique, “long draw”.

I had seen someone spin long draw but only on videos.

He showed us the yarns he had spun. They were utterly gorgeous. Nicely even and light.
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It must be delightful to knit with these yarns.
He had a rather unique looking wheel which I had never seen before. He said his wheel controls the speed much better than other wheels. He knows inside and out of the spinning principle; ratios, flyer and bobbin speed and all. Maths and science, the very masculine approach.
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Apparently with long draw, you can introduce more air into the yarn and make it soft and light. It makes yarn much faster than other method as well. After his lecture, we all had a go.
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Our guest speaker, James is currently studying in the university to become a veterinarian. He is a self taught spinner and knitter, and enjoys the craft as a hobby. He has knitted a wedding dress with his hand-spun yarn for my fellow spinner in the club. There are amazing people out there.

It is so nice to see a young person, a man, involved in fiber arts. I think the world would be much better place if there were more male spinners and knitters, wouldn’t you agree?

Knitting Feng Sui

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Throughout history, we have enjoyed close relationship with animals.

But unfortunately, we haven’t treated all animals in the same way. Some are favored or even worshiped as a god, but some are hated and looked with disgust. Very unfair.

In Buddhism, all animals are treasured. Animals are believed to possess Buddha nature and therefore potential for enlightenment.

Buddha also teaches the doctrine of rebirth. Any human could be reborn an animal, and any animal could be reborn as a human. We are all interconnected and humans and animals were part of a single family.

I do not practice Buddhism but, I like this belief very much.

Among many loved animals in Asia, there are certain lucky animals and used as charms.

I have been knitting these to bring good luck to my family. Isn’t it a lovely idea?

All animals in Chinese Zodiac calender are considered to be good luck animals. On top of these,

Owl: called “fukurou” in Japanese.The name can be written in different sets of characters. One with the meaning of Luck (福 fuku, luck; 来ku, to come ;郎 ro suffix used in boys’ names) and the other as protection from hardship (不 fu, no, 苦労 kurou suffering/hardship).

Cat: You may have seen a porcelain sitting cat with paw raised and bent. It is called “Maneki Neko”, also referred to in English as the “good fortune” or “good luck” cat. It is most often seen in businesses to draw in money.

Raccoon dog: We often see statues that look like little dogs or badgers standing outside of restaurants and shops in Japan. These statues are raccoon dogs. They are popular because their plump and happy looking appearances are believed to be symbols of good luck.

Turtle: symbolizes longevity and good luck.

So I knitted some of these lucky animals.

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In Feng Shui, good luck charms are displayed certain part of the house. For example, to display a pair of statues in your living room or bedroom will bring happy family life with good relationships.
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I am not a Feng shui expert, but I do like the idea of looking after your house to assure health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.

Feng shui knits. Isn’t it nice if you can bring luck to your home with your knitting?

Nostalgic sewing machine

The image is from my favorite drama series in Japan, “Carnation”.
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I have been enjoying watching “The Great British Sewing Bee”.

For those who live outside the Uk, The Great British Sewing Bee is a BBC Two television reality television programme in which amateur sewers compete to be named “Britain’s best home sewer”

I think Britons love competition reality shows. There are so many!

In the last week episode, I saw the sewers were having a go at traditional, non electric sewing machine. Some said they had never used one and, I felt a bit old when I heard it.

The one like this with a leather band on the side.
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My first sewing machine was my mother’s non electric one. My mum brought it with her when she got married and still uses it. It must be over 50 years old now. In year 5 in school, I learned how to use sewing machine after learning the basic hand sewing skills. I was so excited and also felt like a grown-up.

Watching Sewing Bee reminded me of my favorite television drama series in Japan which was aired in 2011.
The story is based on the life of the fashion designer Ayako Koshino in Osaka. Ayako was the mother of the internationally famous designers Hiroko Koshino, Junko Koshino, and Michiko Koshino.
Ayako (Called Itoko in the series) sees Western dresses for the first time when visiting her grandparents in Kobe. After proceeding to girl’s middle school, she gets her first glimpse of a sewing machine and becomes obsessed with working that device. Her father is stern and obstinate and objects to Western clothing,but she finally convinces him to let her leave school to pursue her dream.
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It is utterly fantastic story. The drama is very inspirational and motivational. If I had seen this drama when I was younger, I would have wanted to become a fashion designer, too.

It also shows you clearly the history of our clothing culture.

Each episode is only 15 minutes and was aired every weekday morning for good 6 months. It is a long running series contains 151 episodes and I enjoyed it so much.
You can watch it online with subtitles: http://www.gooddrama.net/japanese-drama/carnation

Sweet potato cookies

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It is fun to bake treats, sweet cupcakes and rich chocolate cakes, but I enjoy healthy baking, too.

Since my younger son is a quite fussy eater, I have been trying to invent baking recipes which include fruits and vegetables. Also, I like to feed my boys meals and snacks without wondering the ingredients and additives.

All fruits go well, but sweet potatoes and pumpkins can be a good source or natural sugar for baking. You can also simply slice them and fry them for more a more simple snack.
http://knitsbysachi.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/natural-and-simple/

I tried making cookies with sweet potato.
Recipe
150g sweet potato
200g all purpose flour, sifted
50g unsalted butter, soften at room temperature
80g light brown sugar or any sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-3 drops vanilla
2 tbsp toasted sesami seeds (optional)

1. Peel, dice and cook sweet potato until soft by steaming. You can microwave it for about 3 minutes, loosely wrapped with cling film. Mash it when it is still hot.

2. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg little by little and mix well.

3. Add rest of all the ingredients and combine. Wrap the dough with cling film and rest it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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4. Between two cling films, roll out the dough to the size about 20 cm x 15 cm. Divide it into 15 pieces and cut the length in half.

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5. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 170C (340F).

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These cookies have natural and gentle sweetness. I think pumpkin works all right for this recipe,too.