Happy St George’s Day

This is my knits to celebrate St. George’s Day.
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It is interesting that we both have dragons, East and West. Asian dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles and fish, but they are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. They do not have wings but still flies in the air. They have horns and long whiskers.

Here is my dragon from Chinese zodiac animal series.
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Asian dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. The dragons are benevolent creatures.

European dragons are not so good guys.

In Western folklore, dragons are usually portrayed as evil. The European dragon is typically depicted as fire-breathing, scaly, horned, lizard-like creature; the creature with bat-like wings and four legs.

First, I thought of making the dragon big and make more than one soldier. Little St Georges climbing on top of a big dragon may be cute. But I saw some classic paintings of St. George and found that the dragon wasn’t actually that big.

I ended up making the hero a companion.
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Happy St George’s Day!

Fun icebox cookies

Have you ever tried making icebox cookies?
They are also called refrigerator cookies. The cookie dough is rolled into a log shape, chilled in the refrigerator or freezer until firm, then sliced and baked.
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The common icebox cookies are pin wheels and two-by-two check pattern like English Batternberg cake. These are fairly easy to make. But I give a little twist.

I Like making ones with animal faces and cute patterns. I need to plan well for these and it is a little complicated task, but it is a lot of fun!
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First, you make coloured dough. I use cocoa powder for brown and green tea powder for green.

You make all the parts, layer them and roll it like a sushi roll. Chill in the fridge to harden a little. Slice the dough and bake in the oven.
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Slicing the first piece is always so exciting! I get a little nervous, too.
I tried a few new designs including bunnies.

They are ready to go into the oven.
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Cute, no?

These are perfect for casual gifts for your friends. You can make many people smile with these cookies!

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Easter craft

My son weaved this basket in school when he was about 9 years old.
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I remember he told me it was a painstakingly long process. But he thought I would appreciate something like this and gave it to me as a present.

I absolutely love it. I still treasure this basket.

I knitted mini eggs. It is my another Easter decoration.

There are many Easter craft you can enjoy with your children. I found some origami bunnies online and tried the pattern.
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Origami is fun and much less complicated than you think. It is a good way to exercise your brain. We practice origami in kindergartens, hospitals and nursing homes in Japan. Having no TV or computer games, my children used to entertain themselves with origami a lot when they were little. It is a bit like solving puzzles. We only had patterns written in Japanese, but my sons could follow the instructions without reading the texts.

You can find the above bunnies patterns here.
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I made some origami bunny baskets I saw on YouTube.

And here they are.
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Happy Easter!

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.
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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?