knits by sachi

Recent publications

While I was away in Japan, some of my patterns came out in print. Most of them feature Christmas knits. It is the time to get busy with making gifts for your loved ones (and yourself).

Simply knitting magazine UK has this one: Santa, reindeer, elf and sleigh set.

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The request was to make the Santa family with miniature toys. This pattern is in the A-5 mini booklet which comes with the magazine.

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Pattern is not at all complicated, but assembly may require a bit of patience. The sleigh has a cardboard inside for sturdiness. I have added the template and instruction drawings with a help of my son. If you think the sleigh is a little challenging, you may be able to find an alternative, for example, wooden toy sleigh.

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This project is a lot of fun and very rewarding at the finish.
It looks like this with everyone together.

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I have made many Santas. This one is easy to make and is one of my favorites.

Another project is this one: Christmas ponies in Knit Now magazine.

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The pony is knitted all in one. The pattern is surprisingly simple. The blanket has a Christmassy motif, but it can be knitted without it of course. Using multi coloured sock yarn may produce an interesting effect.

And one more.
A few days ago, I received these from America: Toy knits published by Interweave.

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I was invited to submit my work in January so that this magazine has come a long way. It is more like a book than a magazine. It has been carefully planned with lots of time and care.

It contains many many projects and beautifully produced. I can assure you that you will find something you would like to try. There are book reviews and interviews included, and I was very happy to find my book in it.

I have two patterns in this issue; Knitted zeppelin and bunny in a jumper

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Cool, yes?

This is the very first time that my work appeared in a knitting magazine in the US. I hope readers will enjoy them.

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Fantastic 100 yen shops

We went to see Mum at hospital every afternoon and spent a couple of hours chatting once she started recovering. I wondered if my son was getting with this routine, but later he told me that it was his favorite part of this trip. He grew up without seeing much of his grand parents or his cousins. He likes spending time with family.

We spent mornings browsing shopping centres and supermarkets. For my son especially, these places are as interesting as museums or theme parks.

The first stop: 100 yen shop.
100 yen shops are discount shops which sell wide range of goods for 100 yen. This corresponds roughly to one US dollar or 70 p in GBP. Market leader is ‘Daiso’ which operates over two thousand stores nationwide.

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We have pound shops in the UK, but the range of products and quality 100 yen shops offer is no comparison. They sell tableware, kitchenware,DIY tools,garden tools, stationery, household goods, sweets and snacks, dry food and some leisure goods. If you look through each isle, it takes quite a while.

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100 yen shops are able to offer an amazing range of products, many of which are their own store branded goods. Some are priced below the product’s actual value. They do this mainly by purchasing products in huge quantities direct from manufacturers.

Many visitors from all over the world come to enjoy budget shopping in Japan.

I bought dry food and utensils for my son in uni. My younger son got Japanese sweets and a new pair of chop sticks. He also got almond M&Ms for his school friend.

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You can get a sushi mat for 70 p, too!

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Some products are innovative inventions. I found these ‘chair socks’ to prevent the legs of a chair or a stool scratch wooden floor. I got two sets for our kitchen.

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And me? Yarn of course!

I found 100% wool yarn. How could I resist? It is multi-coloured and I found it quite pretty.

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I had a go at making something Christmassy with it.

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And this teddy. It is very sweet and I just had to have it.

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So, if you ever go to Japan, do visit 100 yen shop before you go shopping elsewhere!

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Emergency trip to Japan

Very early work of mine still sitting in the living room of my parents’ house. I made the dolls and Mum made the outfits. It is our first and the only joint effort so far.

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The week before last, I received the most dreaded e-mail from Dad. Mum was doing very poorly and her doctor wanted me to come home.
Dad said that the intravenous antibiotic didn’t seem to be working this time and her temperature wasn’t coming down. She was suffering much more than the previous time she was in hospital. She developed coughs and her X-ray showed white cloudy area.
Her doctor said there was a possibility of interstitial pneumonia. It is one of the causes related to the deaths in leukemia patients. Leukemia! Has she developed leukemia?

Dad’s e-mail continues;
To my son: Please arrange to come home with your kids and wife.
To my daughter (me): Please fly home ASAP. If you cannot bring your children, come home alone. I will pay for the flights.

Dad had added, ‘although her condition is serious, Mum is determined to get well and come home’. This was the only positive news.

The next day before I head to the airport, I wrote on the MDS-UK Facebook timeline. I have had posted Mum’s story earlier that week and members and stuff have been very supportive. I received kind messages, valuable information and advice. I thought I should share the update.

I received many many kind messages again which made me feel brave and tearful at the same time. Many wished safe journey and keep hope. I felt that I did not have to go through this all on my own. Their messages meant so much to me.

However, I wondered if I could keep hope. The doctor had said pneumonia and leukemia in the same sentence, but can I still keep hope? It seemed to be too optimistic or downright delusional.

After fifteen odd hours of travelling, I regained composure a little. I promised myself not to burst into tears the minute I see her.

She had two needles stuck in her veins and she was breathing through tubes. She weakly smiled when she saw me, but struggled to speak because it triggered her coughs. But she said her temperature was coming down, and her latest X-ray showed the white cloud shrinking. She said she would come home.

And she might do just that.

After two days from our arrival, she started doing much better. Her temperature returned to normal and the coughs went away. She could sit up and talk with us two hours on end. Her appetite started coming back and her nutritionist suggested increasing food portions. She laughed a lot and joked a lot.

She is utterly amazing.

My brother came down with his family. Mum has brought us all together.It was charming to see my son playing with his little cousin although they do not speak the same language.

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We cooked dinner together, and on the next day, we visited a temple to pray for Mum’s recovery. I am not at all religious, but I want to believe in all gods and angels at this moment.

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This temple is in a little town my dad grew up. I haven’t had visited it for well over 30 years. I took this photo with my mobile phone! Amazing blue sky!
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There are eighty eight well known temples in Shikoku island and many people pilgrimage around the island.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku_Pilgrimage

This temple is number 23. My grand father used bring me here often. We saw pilgrims in white outfits.

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Not all on foot, but my parents visited all temples in Shikoku some years ago. They collected temples’ official seals which Mum wants in her coffin when she travel to the next life.

But that journey can be wait a bit, Mum.

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Sweet and sour pork/chicken

Harvest time

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For this dish, I received a full mark. My family said it was ‘outstanding’ and I don’t get that everyday.
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It comes from my own Subuta, sweet and sour pork recipe, using chicken instead of pork.
Sweet and Sour Pork is a popular Chinese recipe and is very common in Japan. I believe it is also very popular in North America.

There are many different versions of this dish and I find majority are a little too sweet. Quite often the sauce include ketchup and ingredients pineapple. My family does not tolerate fruits in savory dishes and prefer the sauce without too much sugar.

Here is our Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. You can get all ingredients very easily from a local supermarket.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
200-250g pork or chicken, cut into roughly 1cm thick, 2x3cm pieces
a few tablespoons cornstarch
1 large onion, cut into bite sizes
1 carrot, sliced
1 large green bell pepper, sliced

You can add any vegetable of your choice, green beans, mangetout, baby corn, mushrooms, bamboo shoots etc.

Sauce Ingredients:
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar
2 Tsp soy sauce
2 Tsp rice wine
150 cc cup chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place all sauce ingredients in a cup and stir. Set aside until the end.
2. Coat sliced pork or chicken with cornstarch. Shallow-fry until browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from the pan and drain excess oil.

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3. In a wok or large frying pan, heat a little oil and stir-fry the vegetables.
4. Give the cup of sauce ingredients another stir, then add it to the vegetables, continue stirring over medium heat until the sauce thickens.

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5. Add the cooked pork/chicken and stir to combine.

Some recipe tell you to add cornstarch to the sauce ingredients, but since the meat is cooked with cornstarch, I found it unnecessary.

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Sweet and sour flavour is universally popular. We all find the good balance of sweet, sour, salty and spiciness tasty. When I first arrived to the UK, I was very surprised to see people pouring generous amount of vinegar over chips. It is very English, I think. I didn’t see that in the States.

If you are in a hurry or want less calories in Subuta, you can cook the meat in the Wok, add vegetables and sauce. For this method, one tbsp of cornstarch dissolved in the same amount of water should be added at the end.

Stir fry is so easy and quick. You can include lots of vegetables without much effort. It is perfect for busy people like us.

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Living with MDS

Thinking of my mum, I knitted these.
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When my Dad sends me an e-mail without me writing to him first, he usually has bad news.

My mother has MDS, Myelodysplastic syndromes. MDS are a group of diseases in which the production of blood cells by the bone marrow is faulty. She was diagnosed with the illness sometime ago and has been getting blood transfusions every 10 days. It is believed that many patients develop leukemia a few years after the diagnosis although it isn’t always the case.

Together with new drug treatments, my mum has been relatively doing well.
Until this summer.

She had slight temperatures for a few days in August and was losing her strength. She ended up spending two weeks in hospital. She recovered a little but she is back in hospital again.

This time, the doctors suspect she has infections, possibly Sepsis, the blood poisoning.

I felt devastated. I was devastated the first time when I was told about her condition, but even more so this time.
For the saddest moment, I started preparations quietly. I asked Dad if I should fly to see her right away, but no, he said. I should wait for a few days until the test results come out.

Feeling restless, I started searching for charities related to her illness and I found this group; MDS UK Patients supporting group.

I filled in the membership form online and a day later, I received a very warm welcome by e-mail. I will be receiving the information pack soon but I can call them any time if I wanted to speak to them. I felt that I have found another family.

They offer regional meeting for patients and families and I would love to participate these although Mum is in Japan. Some patients may benefit from her story. She has been living with MDS almost 15 years (!).

I don’t want her suffering to go to waste and I think I can make a difference no matter how small that can be. I want support from others, but at the same time, I want to support the people in the same situation. I shouldn’t shut everyone out and cry all by myself.

I am also hoping to be able to make use of my sewing, knitting and cooking skills for fundraising. I may not be able to run a marathon or climb Kilimanjaro, but there must be something I can do for the group. I have been working as a craft designer for last few years, and it is the time to up a game and offer something more.

I have decided to book a trip to Japan for winter holidays, hoping that I will not need to travel any earlier. Five years ago when we visited her, she said it would be the last New Year’s Day that we could celebrate together. We are extremely lucky.

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Do you knit for a charity? Any good fundraising ideas? I am always interested to hear from you.

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Knits for Christmas

How early is too early to start hand making for Christmas?

I used to feel reluctant to work on Christmassy projects before November. I worried I may spoil the fun if I started too early.

However, I didn’t have much choice this year. I am not at all complaining, it is all good thing.

I needed to write texts and draw templates for Christmas felt projects book. Photograph sessions are coming up soon.

On top of that, to my pleasant surprise, I received a lot of commissions from several knitting magazines for Christmas issues.

The whole month of June, I was making Christmas ornaments, Santas, reindeer, dolls and toys!

The very first one to come out was this one; Let’s Get Crafting magazine; Christmas pixies.

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I was asked to make three elves, fairies or pixies although I have no idea what the differences are. The kit did not contain skin colour, but I think it worked fine.

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The kit has tinsel yarn. I used it a bit for the outfits and the hats. It also has ‘made with love’ labels which help you personalize your gift.

In this issue, I found my Nico cat, knitted by one of their readers!

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It is fantastic to see my original pattern knitted by someone else. It is the best compliment. She have had improvised and added her personality which is all so very nice.

The second one is this; Knit Now magazine.

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Christmas Teddy and Bunny.

I used James C. Brett Legacy DK for this project. This yarn is 100% Superwash Wool and very nice to the touch. I found it gives nice neat finish. It is inexpensive and surely, it is one of my favorite yarn.

There should be more patterns coming out next month. I am looking forward to seeing them in print with hopefully, beautiful photos.

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Japanese comfort food, Oden

It is getting chilly every day and in the cold weather, we think of comfort food.

comfort food
noun
food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.

Yes, that is right, it tends to be calorific, but it doesn’t have to be.

You can name a few Japanese comfort food; Miso soup, Okonomi-yaki, noodles and Onigiri rice balls. Many Japanese comfort foods are quite healthy. There are sweets as redbean soup and roasted sweet potatoes.

For me, the ultimate comfort food is this; Oden.

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Oden is a Japanese winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon raddish, potatoes, konnyaku yam cake, and fishcakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth. Ingredients vary according to region and between each household. Mustard is often used as a condiment.

Oden is often sold from food carts, and most Japanese convenience stores have simmering oden pots in winter. I often cook it at home.

The cooking method is super easy. You can cook it in advance, which is convenient for some occasions.

Ingredients serves 4
For broth

1200cc water
1-2 strips (4cm x 10cm) Kombu sheets
1tsp Dashi granules if you have
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice wine
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp Mirin sweet wine

Oden
4 hard boiled eggs
4-6 medium sized potatoes
6 fish balls
Mooli daikon raddish

I cannot get a variety of ingredients for the pot like I used to in Japan, but I manage with whatever available in supermarkets and Asian food shops. It is a bit unconventional, but sometimes I add carrot,shallots, mini sausages and meatballs. In Japan, we cook fried bean curd, yam cakes, octopus, beef tendons etc.

You can be creative and cook pretty much anything you fancy, but the crucial ingredients are Daikon raddish and konbu sheets which give the broth distinctive flavour.

Cooking method
1. Prepare broth.
2. Slice daikon into 1 inch pieces and remove the skin.
3.Remove the corners so that there are no sharp edges. This will prevent daikon from breaking into pieces. I also make cross incisions on both sides so that flavour penetrates.

If you prepare rice to serve with Oden, preserve the white water from cleaning rice. Put daikon and the white water in another pot and cook, uncovered, until a skewer goes through. It is believed that the rice water gets rid of bitterness from daikon.

4. Peel potatoes and place them in the broth. Start heating the pot.
5. Add boiled eggs, daikon raddish, fish cakes and other ingredients you are using. Cover and cook 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it for 2-3 hours.

When I don’t have fish cakes, I use crab sticks. Add them just before you serve since they get too soft and fall apart if you cook them too long.

This is our version.
I know we don’t get much selection, but daikon cooked in this way tastes utterly fantastic and the broth has deep Umami from kombu sheets. I always keep the left over broth and make vegetable soup or miso soup the following day.

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Oden can be prepared a day before so that all the ingredients absorb Oden broth. It actually tastes much better the following day.

Cover and re-heat when you are ready to serve. Oden is often served with Karashi (hot mustard).

Here is my little knitted chef. Happy cooking!
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Knitted Wine Gnomes for autumn

There was a project I wanted to do for some time.

Gnomes making wine. It is a timely project for autumn.

First, I thought of making little fairies or children in the forest, but alcohol and children don’t go too well. I also wanted to add a bit of humour by creating a drunken one, so, I settle with gnomes.

Gnomes are adults and they can be mischievous, yes?

I searched some images which may give me good inspirations and this was one of them. I found it on Pinterest.

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I like the naughty look on their faces!

I always search for images when I plan a project. It is great that we can find loads of photos and illustrations online. My finished work usually turn up very different from the original source, but inspirations often come from other artists’ creations.

It seems that the prints are available from one of the sellers on Etsy.

Now, my wine gnomes.

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They are rather young looking and do not have very mischievous look, but I think they are cute. You can see the resemblance to the Pinterest picture in their positioning.

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My most concern was the keg size. I needed to make it big. I had a rough idea on stitch counts, but was very nervous at the making up stage. I think it turned out fine.

My drunk gnome is sleeping by the grapes.

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And here is the full cast.

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I have a friend who owns a winery in France. After graduating uni, she went on studying wine. She passed the notoriously difficult sommelier exam, met a man in life who happened to own a winery and moved to France. Very sadly, he passed away all of a sudden a few years ago, leaving her and their young children. However, she took over the winery and now, she runs it on her own! She is utterly amazing.

Her teenage son is currently in a winemaking school (only in France?)
I would love to visit them some day.

Her winery is called Simon Bize et fils (Simon Bize and Sons) and if you are interested, the website is here:

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Mapo Tofu cooking lesson

We should have done more of these cooking lessons at home.

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My son has just started university this autumn.

We had have been told that student accommodation was completely full and had to wait until the waiting list opens.
We spent hours discussing other possibilities and looking for alternatives, but did not find a solution. We came to a conclusion of him commuting from home for a while. It is not entirely impossible to do so although the train journey takes an hour and 30 minutes one way.

Just 5 days before the school starts, the school sent him an e-mail to notify him that there was a room available.
It is three minutes away from the campus and reasonably priced. He jumped on the opportunity of course.

We went to shopping in a hurry and got him the basics to start the uni life; bed linens, toiletaries, storage boxes and underwear. We left the cooking stuff since we didn’t know how well their kitchen was equipped.

He moved in last weekend.

This week, I received a long list of kitchen essentials he said he needed. I placed orders online. They should be arriving to him in no time.

I wish I had taught him more about shopping, meal planning, food safety and cooking. He can cook a little, but his repatoire is rather limited.

Just before he took off, he had a go at cooking this dish; Mabo-doufu

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Mabo doufu or Mapo tofu is a popular Chinese dish from Sichuan province. It consists of tofu set in a spicy red chili and bean based sauce. It is very popular in Japan, too. The sauce usually cooked with minced pork meat,spring onion, ginger and garlic. It is very easy to prepare.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 packet Tofu
100g minced pork meat
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp grated ginger

sauce
300cc chicken stock
1 Tbsp miso paste
1.5 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 tsp red bean paste
1 Tbsp corn starch dissolved in 1 Tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place tofu in a sieve or colander to extract excess water. Alternatively, heat tofu in a microwave for one minute.

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2. Heat wok with 1 tbsp oil and cook ginger and garlic until fragrant. Cook meat until brown.
3. Dice tofu and add to the wok.
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4. Add sauce and cook, covered for 15 minutes.
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5. Add spring onion and cook another minute. Add corn starch and cook until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper.
Done!

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Some recipe has Douchi or black bean sauce, Chinese five spices and other ingredients. You can experiment with whatever you like. A little unconventional, but I sometimes add baby spinach leaves at the end.

If you are not at all keen on spicy food, you can omit red bean sauce entirely and cook it with miso and soy sauce only. We usually go easy on chili. You can cook it in a deep frying pan instead of a wok.

You can buy a smaller Tofu in a paper packet at a supermarket if you are cooking for 1-2 portions.

It is easy and quick. This is one of my son’s favorites and he wanted to learn how to make it. He likes serving it over steamed rice in ‘Bonburi (bowl) style’.

Happy cooking and good luck to all freshers.

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Woodland music band

I think we had a lovely summer this year in the UK. We even had a heatwave quite recently.

It isn’t too easy to let the warm and sunny weather go, but autumn is surely arriving.

We have a few phrases related to autumn in Japan and one of them is ” Geijutsu no aki “, the autumn of artistic inspiration.

So, here are my animals all ready for their music concert.

I have bear, vox and badger;

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And little ones like these;

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When I first thought about the project, I wasn’t too sure how I could make string instruments. First I tried to make the shape with increasing and decreasing stitches as I usually do, but that over complicated the pattern and the result wasn’t too neat. Then, I thought of knitting a quite simple piece and cover a cardboard cut to the shape. That worked much better. A bit cheating, but never mind.

I have made a series of many woodland animals in different sizes and styles. I do like more realistic ones as in my Mini Knitted Woodland, but I enjoyed making these guys, too.

I hope I made the right instrument choices for each animal.

Here is the full cast. There is a deer playing a drum in the back.

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I don’t have much regrets about how I raised my children. They are fit, artistic, academic and the best of all,they are nice boys. But I wish I have given them opportunities to learn a music instrument or two.

I took piano lessons for 18 years from the age of 5. I made some attempts to play quite complicated pieces of Beethoven and Chopin at some point. I guess in 70’s and 80’s, parents were very keen to educate their children to have better lives than they had themselves. My dad bought me an upright piano even before I started school. It must have cost him a fortune!

The piano still sits in my parents’ living room. It is usually forgotten, but my kids did enjoy banging on the keyboard when the were little.

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