Art and personalities

Last year, my older son took his GCSEs and this year, his little brother is sitting for exams.

It is interesting that my sons’ personalities are very different although they came from the same parents and raised in the same environment. When they create something, the differences are quite apparent.

A few years ago, they were told to make a cushion cover in textile class. Boys have to know how to sew and cook of course.

My older son is a high achiever and a perfectionist. He tries very hard in all his subjects and has been doing very well in his grades. He made this one.

The front is made with a fabric with simple design.
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It is compulsory to make the other side with a patchwork. His fabric pieces are carefully arranged and stitched together very carefully.
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He got an A on this.

On the other hand, his brother went for a bit more wild in style.
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I see the Japanese national bird, a crane in front of the Yin and Yang design.

And the other side is made with colourful pieces.
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He got a B on this.

Ok, I see his stitches are not so perfect. But I love his fun design. It is more avant-garde and I like that boldness.

For the art GCSE exam, students are told to produce a painting in three days. They spend 8 hours in the art room each day. “Ready, steady, paint!” (and they miss all the other classes during the course)

The students have had learned still life, pop art and portraiture. They can pick any topic they like.

My older son likes portraiture. He have had made plans for his final piece, practiced and even timed the procedures so that he was confident he could finish it in time.
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Three self-portraits. A delicate and a little troubled teenage boy, perhaps? It is carefully done with fine black lines showing different angles of his face. The paintings are added interesting effects, and I think they are very well done.

And his brother? He couldn’t be bothered less. He took a photo with his mobile phone on the day and just painted. He moaned and groaned about the exam being so boring but he managed to produce this.

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Maybe because I am his mum, but I absolutely love this painting. I think he did very well. He painted a tin of curry powder produced in Japan.
It is a bit Andy Warhol, it is hip with Japanese writing on it.

My mum used to say that she did not like her children’s (me and my brother, that is) art work graded. “They are all A stars for me!” she said.

Now I can relate to that very much.

Feeling Nautilus

In the next issue of Knit Now magazine, you will find two designs of mine.

One of them is this:Seagull and a lifesaving ring.

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I am quite fond of this project. You can hang it on a door or a wall. It may not be much of a toy and is more like a room decoration, but I would like to create something like this a lot more, something cute and stylish for your home. I think adding the gold bell worked nicely. This project measures about 12 cm long + the string and is not too small or fiddly.

Another design is this one: Sailor bunny and penguin

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I love the sailor outfit. Although it is the Navy uniform, it looks sweet and somewhat feminine. In fact, it is favoured as a secondary school uniform for girls in Japan.

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My secondary school’s uniform was the sailor outfit like these with navy blue ribbon. I was so so excited and happy to wear it on the first day school.
I didn’t know where the design originally came from so that when I saw the Navy sailors wearing these on television, I thought it was very odd.

For the Sea life book due out next year, I decided to squeeze in this set; my favorite sailor and a seagull.
So, this one is not be in the magazine, but will be included in the book. I just had to make a sailor.

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This seagull is tiny. I knitted it with 4-ply.

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Cute?
I am making tutorials for the magazine projects which will be shared in a post next week. I hope many will enjoy them this summer.

Gnome inspiration

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I have been enjoying knitting my own little fantasy world lately. I have put aside the issue of proportion to some degree and creating whatever comes to my mind. The very first project was the one above; gnome and their toadstool house.

This house is much bigger than the one I made for the woodland book. I am making gnomes with seasons’ themes and this one is for spring.

I love making gnomes and I know I am not the only one who enjoy making little people.

I have a fantastic book on gnomes and I have gotten lots of inspirations form it. It is “Gnomes and Gardens” written by Nigel Suckling and illustrated by Wayne Anderson.
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I bought this book at National Trust bookshop many years ago. I still enjoy looking at pictures time to time.

The illustrations are amazing and the writing is very interesting. The book discusses their origins, occupations and hobbies, their homes, gardens, and their technology. It even has recipes enjoyed by gnomes.

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Some may think it is downright silly, but I absolutely love this book. I am a great fan of the illustrator. He has done lots of fantasy drawings and his work is utterly amazing.

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I love his sense of humour. His gnomes are all so quirky, very charming and full of characters.

And here is one of my favorite. He has cleverly drawn a safety pin at the tip of the fishing line. There is our ecological footprint here and you can see its impact on environment. I feel a pang of guilt whenever I look at this picture.

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I knitted my gnome inspired by his drawing.
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Mine is a young boy gnome and has no beard. I wanted to create an adventurous little one.

I am not too good at knitting frogs. I have had many trials and errors, more errors than successes, but I think I did all right with this one.

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I would love to do a book on gnomes someday. There are lots of folktales universally. We have some gnome tales in Japan, too. Maybe I should do a research on gnomes and write some stories alongside the knitting patterns.

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This frog turn out a little too fat. See, I am not too good at making frogs…..

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Tasty Asian vegetable, lotus roots

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My younger son is a very fussy eater. He is the most fussy eater I have ever known.

He doesn’t consider fruits and vegetables are his food in general. I make extra effort to chop vegetables very fine, but quite often he manages to pick them all out of his plate. His chopstick skill is amazing.

I know I shouldn’t, but I cannot help myself starting an argument over food sometimes. More effort you put into your cooking, larger disappointment you get when your effort goes to waste.

But he likes some of the Asian vegetables. His favorite are Daikon radish and Renkon lotus roots. I went to a Chinese supermarket last week and got them both.

Lotus is an amazing plant. The flowers, seeds, young leaves, and roots are all edible. In Asia, the petals are sometimes used for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food. The lotus root is a long, woody object that attaches to the bottom of the pad and can stretch up to 4 feet. They can be washed, sliced, and prepared. It is considered to be a good luck food in Japan and often served for New Years Day.

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It doesn’t have strong smell or flavour, but it has pleasant texture similar to water chestnuts. The root is a good source of Vitamin C, B complex, and provides healthy amounts of some important minerals like copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese.

At Asian food supermarkets, they are sold in vacuum packs.
Like this
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You peel the outer skin with a vegetable peeler and immediately soak them in a large bowl of water with a dash of vinegar. This is to prevent it from darkening.

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There are lots of fantastic recipes using lotus roots. One of our favorite is the Kinpira. Kinpira is a Japanese cooking style that can be summarized as a technique of “sauté and simmer”. The dish features the use of soy sauce and mirin, as well as often slivered chili peppers.

Ingredients
3/4 lb renkon (lotus root), peeled and sliced into thin rounds or thin half rounds
1 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seeds
chili powder or dried, slivered chili pepper if you wish

Prepare Renkon slices as shown in above. Drain and dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet. Stir-fry renkon slices for a few minutes on medium heat. Add sake, soy sauce and sugar and stir-fry until the liquid is gone. Stop the heat and sprinkle sesame seeds at last.
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So if you ever come across lotus roots at Asian market, you know what to do.

Kinpira is very easy and handy when you want to add a vegetable side dish to your plate. You can use the same method to cook other vegetables such as carrot, burdock root, parsnip, potato or beansprout.

They are healthy and yummy!

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More bunnies!

We had a wet and rather disappointing Good Friday. I hope the weather improves this weekend.

I made up some designs for Easter at the very last minutes.

One of them is this: tiny bunny dangler charm.

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I know, I know it is tiny and may be a bit fiddly, but look at the bright side, it is a super quick project. You can make one in less than 30 minutes and you only need very small quantity of yarn and stuffing.

Tiny bunny pattern
Materials
*small amount of white DK (8-ply)
*small amount of 4-ply (fingering) dark brown and pink (you can take 2 strands from DK)
*Yarn or thread for the dangler string
*small bell
*stuffing

Equipment
A pair of 2.75mm (US 2) knitting needles
A sewing needle with large eye and fairly sharp point

St/st: stocking stitch
St: stitch
K: knit
P: purl
Kf/b: k one through the front then through the back (same stitch)
K2tog: knit two together

Body
Cast on 4 sts with white DK
Row1: p
Row2: (kf/b) to end (8)
Row3: p
Row4: (k1, kf/b) to end (12)
Rows5-9: st/st
Row10: shape neck; (k1, k2tog) to end (8)
Row11: start working on the head; p
Row12: k1, (kf/b)six times k1 (14)
Rows13-15: st/st
Row16: shape eye line; k3, (k2tog, k1) two times, k2tog, k3 (11)
Rows17-19: st/st
Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Ears: make two
With white DK, cast on 2 sts and st/st 4 rows. Fasten off. Hide the fasten-off end yarn inside the ear.

To make up
With the fasten-off end yarn, sew the head, stopping at the neck. With the cast-on end yarn, work a gathering thread along the cast-on edge and pull tightly. Stuff the head and body, avoiding stuffing in neck area. Close the seam. Work a gathering thread along the neck and pull tightly to shape. Work a gathering thread in front of the face over the decreasing row of row16 if you wish. Attach ears. With dark brown yarn, French knot the eyes and embroider the nose and mouth with straight short back stitches. Tie pink yarn around the neck, make a bow and secure with a few stitches. Attach a string and a little bell if you would like.

Happy Easter!
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Sakura cherry blossoms

I think I can safely say that the cherry blossoms are the most popular flowers in Japan. We have lots and lots of sakura cherry trees in our country and we absolutely love them.

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I heard that they are in full bloom now. My sister in Tokyo has sent us a photo. You get to see cherry blossoms even in the middle of Tokyo.

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Many of us enjoy “hanami”, literally meaning flower viewing and is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, “flower” in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (“sakura”) . Hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. We spread out picnic blankets and enjoy eating and drinking, sometimes singing and even dancing.

I cannot stop thinking about cherry blossoms this time of year. It brings me sweet memories of my childhood.
Each cherry flower is small, delicate and pretty, but in full bloom, you can sense the strong power of the Mother Nature.

You can dye pink with cherry tree barks. What is the most fascinating about this dye is that you can achieve this pink colour only when the tree is in bloom. The power within the tree to become pink can dye fabric pink. How amazing.

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We also enjoy salted, pickled sakura cherry blossom preserve. They can be bought or made at home.
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These flowers are used mostly for decorating cookies, chiffon cake of jelly. You can use them for savory dishes, too. My favorite is just to let them float on green tea or better, Japanese rice wine, Sake.
You can buy them online:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Salt-Pickled-Sakura-Cherry-Blossoms/dp/B00A3ANO0U

We have a cherry tree in front of our house. It isn’t showing any sign of flower yet, but it blooms in late May and bears fruit in summer. I may have a go at making preserve with the flower this year.

My Miss Cherry blossom
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Easter knits!

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I thought we just had a half-term, but Easter holiday is already here. It is hard to believe four months have already gone since the New Year.

I believe Easter holiday is everyone’s favorite. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up. We have so much to look forward to. A few months ago, warm, sunny and dry weather was unthinkable, but spring always comes around.

This is what I made for this year’s Easter. I made lots of children enjoying egg hunt.

Like this.
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We all love egg hunt. Never mind your age, I would be very happy to search for chocolate eggs!

In this set, I have children in three sizes; these older ones (8cm tall),

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a little younger ones (7cm tall or so),

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and tiny one you have seen in the first photo. I added a little rabbit, too (about 3cm).
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Every Easter, I think of the egg hunt my younger son went when he was just about 5 years old. He gave the only chocolate egg he managed to find to a crying boy. He is 16 now and could be rebellious sometimes, but I know he has a kind heart. I am very proud of him.

I hope we will have fine weather for egg hunts this year.