My best loaf yet…I hope

I’ve called this post ‘my best loaf yet… I hope’, because I haven’t sliced this sourdough loaf yet.

Sprinkled with a little stardust… Specially for the ‘ear’

Typically this was rather thrown together on a hot day day.and baked in a hurry, straight from the fridge, before I went out this morning. I used the same Sourly recipe as my last loaf, with 50g of the bread flour swapped for 50g Spelt. As I suspected I was allowing my shaped dough you over-prove, I put it straight in the fridge after shaping – without leaving it out for the 80 minutes that is suggested. I think in the winter it will probably need this, but the temperatures at the moment here in the UK are in the 30s so it works best without.

The starter is still my original one made from raisin-water yeast that I started in January 2020. I feed it with plain flour and occasionally with spelt or rye – just to give it a bit of a different flavour. I feed the starter with 100 g of flour and 100g of water to 100g of starter so I think this makes it 100% hydrated? Not sure.

As with my own recipe the bread dough comes out as about 70 – 72% hydrated after mixing. The main difference between the recipes is that Sourly’s uses 130g starter, and I was using 94g. I prefer using 130g as there is less starter to discard each time. Then it’s just a matter of less flour and less water to manorial the ‘baker’s percentage’. You can read more about the ‘baker’s perecentage’ in my post here.

Update – crumb is as good as the crust!

Open crumb loaf sourced open

Possibly my first sourdough ‘ear’

This is the first time I’ve got an ear on my sourdough loaf!

Flap of dough lifted up on a cooked sourdough loaf. Black sesame seed topping

The loaf was prepared using Sourly’s recipe which only really varies for my own in that it’s got honey in it but otherwise is about 70% hydration I think. This has always seemed to work normally ok for me.

I made a double quantity and a round and rectangular shape but was a bit disappointed in the round loaf. The dough just spread out and made out of blob not a nice boule shape. I’m sure it will taste nice it just looks a bit burnt to be honest. The boule was scored and then baked open on a baking stone – with steam – in the oven.

The rectangular was open cooked for 5 minutes, scored then covered in the cloche with a good water spray.

Sourdough boule with flax seed topping

I think my oven temperature is probably too high – it’s so hot today day maybe I could have done with the lower temperature?

I’ve come to the conclusion that my problem is that I over prove the dough. So although I retarded this in the fridge overnight I followed Sally’s suggestion to sit outside for 80 minutes before putting in the fridge. I think it was this in the hot weather that has caused yet another over- proof.

To be honest I used to get much nicer looking loads with a lower hydration somewhere between 60 and 65% but a nicer, holey crumb with the 72%. So more experimentation still needed on one day I might get it right.

Brother KH710 knitting machine refurbishment

I have purchased one of these older machines and it’s not in too bad nick. The main problems are one sticking button and rusty needles. I’ve just removed the needles and some are quite badly rusted. After a wipe with alcohol to remove oily residue they have been put into a jar of 10% citric acid to see if I can shift the rust. I plan to leave them there for about an hour and take a look.

I have a fond memories of these machines; Jones KH588 machines were the first ones I used at college when I started my degree.


I’ve just made up a new sponge bar using a kit from Xena Knits. https://www.xenaknits.com/product-category/sponge-bar-kits/

These not only save money, but it’s environmentally preferable to reuse the old bar.

It’s quite easy to replace the sponge on an old bar.

Sourdough bread-baking update

I’ve purchased some new tools for my bread making. The first was a bread cloche (well my version of this). More recently I indulged in a bannetton basket with liner and a plasterer’s spatula. These are not only useful, but fun to use and experiment with. I’ve written a bit more about using these, and how they have aided my sourdough baking in my page Getting a Great Crust on Sourdough Bread.

If purchasing a plasterer’s spatula, make sure it has a stainless steel blade.

Still practising scoring…

Ergonomic knitting machine table upgrade

I’ve been having back problems and unable to use my knitting machine for several months which had been frustrating. Especially as I am coming towards the end of writing my latest book and wanted to knit some of the final samples. The same was of course true of trying to sit down to write the text of the book, or do any work at the computer.

I had seen sit-stand desks, and fancied one for computer work when I first looked at the start of the panedemic in the UK, but they were terribly expensive. My son acquired one for his work as a computer programmer and it looked an interesting solution for spending a long time writing at the computer. I tried putting my computer on a static raised desk, which was great for teaching as I could move about, but then I couldn’t sit down to do the accompanying admin and ended up with real back problems. After the best part of two years struggling with WFH teaching online, (actually we were all trying to do most things online weren’t we) as well as writing a book, my back finally gave up with an acute bout of sciatica

Several months down the line I am still plagued by this problem, and have invested in a sit-stand desk converter. So far this is proving to be a solution for computer work, (along with a timer telling me to take a walk). I chose a converter because I didn’t want to lose the lovely desk my husband had built for me.

Back to the knitting machine. Yes I know this is a round about way of telling the story, but I’m getting there.

The physiotherapist from whom I am receiving treatment for my back problem suggested putting the knitting machine on a high table to improve the ergonomics of working on it. I have long wanted to do this so that I could stand whilst working on it – as if it was a Dubied – but I also sometimes want it lower, for example with or without ribber. The practicalities of moving machines from high table to low table, let alone the space I would need to do this made a static high table a poor solution. Recently, whilst investigating sit-stand converters it dawned on me that I might be able to solve both of these ‘wants’ by using a sit-stand desk as the table for my knitting machine. Having been put off by the price when I had looked before, I did a fresh internet trawl and found the price first these desks has become almost sensible – lots of demand I guess – so I decided to research a combination that would work.

The max load for the lower priced, single motor ones seemed to be 70kilos, and my machine plus ribber comes within that. Next questions were, ‘would it overbalance? and ‘would there be room for the clamps?’ I bought the powered version, frame only and we fitted a separate top so that it could be positioned to address these issues. In fact the frame is pretty sturdy, and the feet quite deep, so the balance works OK and the top overlaps at front and back sufficiently to allow room for clamps. Another advantage of fitting our own top was that the controller could be fixed to the side so it isn’t obscured by the ribber. Cable management was next, and not to arduous and then my machine was ready to zoom up and down – well not too fast!

Price-wise this solution cost probably five or six times that of a standard machine table, but I hope it will mean I can use my machine comfortably both now and in the future. So far its going well, and I am very pleased with the result. The top is wide enough for two single bed machines back to back instead of the double bed if I want to do this at some point in the future. Let’s hope it lasts long enough for me to test this arrangement!

Here is the machine on the desk, with a little demo of it rising up. The motor is a bit noisy, but nothing like as loud as the machine!

Googling myself again!

I took a quick look at the Amazon page for my book Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting and thought I would share some reviews.

I notice that subscribe wishes to express their annoyance because the price has been reduced. I fully appreciate how annoying this can be, and wonder if retailers understand how this upsets customers. I felt similarly annoyed when I bought a new drawing tablet only to see it was reduced by £40 in the Black Friday sale two weeks later! They wasn’t much I could do but accept that I’d had two week’s use of the tablet already, (working on my next book). So although this is beyond my control, my apologies to anyone to whom this has happened.

So moving on from issues of frustrated shoppers, here are some of the very nice things said about the book.

JayBards from the US writes, ‘5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Coverage of Topics, Great Photos and Illustrations’, and finishes the review with, ‘The text is really well-written, very clearly presented, easy on the eyes, and a pleasure to read. This book will become an important part of my extensive library on knitting. In short, I LOVE this book! Congratulations to Dr. Haffenden on an excellent book that should become a classic.’

Thank you JayBard for your feedback and review.

Meceo from Canada writes, ‘This is one of the best books I’ve purchased covering the hand knit patterns converting to knitting machines. It is beautifully done with lots of photos and information to help anyone interested in this type of knitting.’

Sharon Sullivan from the US writes. ‘Very well written book. Haven’t had the book very long, but the time I’ve spent going through it so far, it’s an A+ book. Content is excellent. Photography is excellent. Easy to understand. Definitely worth the cost. I don’t usually do reviews, but think everyone should know that this book will help a machine knitter immensely.’

Its so helpful as an author to get feedback, and positive criticism, (suggesting improvements rather than just pointing out what you don’t like) is the most helpful.

So thanks to all who have taken time to review my book and help others decide if it is right for them.

Top-down knitting resumed

Back problems have meant I need to avoid computers and knitting machines for a while, so I wanted a hand knit project to work on. Digging around on shelves, ( I can’t get at my stash boxes at the moment) I found a bag of knitting I had forgotten about. Inside was the first few rows of a top-down sweater. I remembered how long it took to work out the pattern, (yes I did it myself) and how carefully I chose the yarn. The notes with the pattern are dated 2013, which says volumes about my engagement with larger hand knit projects!

Luckily the moth had stayed away, thanks to ziploc bags, and I haven’t used the balance of the yarn for something else. This seemed a perfect opportunity to get on with my long-lost dream jumper.

I knitted a top-down jumper last winter with good results. Although it has dropped quite considerably due to the stitch I used, do is more a dress than a number. I like the method because you can check the shoulder fit, which is so important, and adjust it before embarking on the larger areas. Monte Stanley wrote about top-down knitting and as I am interested in integral knitting, I find the technique intriguing

I had obviously found fault with the stored knitting because there is an separate neck and shoulder be sample threaded into waste yarn in the bag. On reflection I seem to remember it was discarded because of the shaping finish rather than size. I will unravel it if I need the yarn later on, but at the moment it is useful for reference.

It’s knitted in DK alpaca/wool/silk blend yarn on a very pretty warm stone colour.

I’m using a 4mm circular needle from the KnitPro convertible system. These are very versatile so am using these for this project where they are separate ‘tubes’ to work on. Being able to change the length of the cable means it’s easy to work narrower sleeves as well as the larger circumference of the body.

The design is a raglan sleeve, generous fit jumper with cable panels running up front and back. Shaping is worked fully fashioned along the raglan ‘seam’ lines using lifted left and right increases. My initial sample was not fully fashioned, and clearly the fully fashioning makes a much nicer finish.

I’ve just finished one sleeve, (stocking stitch) with fully fashioned decreases along the underarm ‘seam’, and the fit seems good so far.

Part way down the first sleeve. As you can see, I love stitch markers!

Working out the pattern was quite complicated even though I used Designaknit for the basic silhouette. It was easy enough to invert the shapes, but then I had to combine them in-the-round. Some maths later I had a picture in my head, and the numbers to match it on paper. I worked out the positioning of the cable panels manually because it was important to have plain stocking stitch for the raglan shaping.

If I get the next sleeve done I might even got to finish the cable front and back before 2025!

Update : OK, it’s now the end of December and I have completed both sleeves and am part way down the body. So far I’ve used one bag of yarn, (500g) and anticipate using another 200g, making the jumper quite heavy!

The body is slightly flared, just enough so that it’s not a straight tube shape. The increases are worked down where the side seam would be, and at the outer edge of the outer cables every 11th row.

The sleeves folded towards the front cables. The cuffs are knitted as rolled edges on 3.5mm needles for 8 rows.

Update January 2022

The jumper is now complete! First blocking fine, now test-wearing before sewing in the ends. Then I shall wash so that it matches the revision swatch and the stitches even out a bit more. Something I noticed whilst knitting was that although this is a lovely yarn it has a tendency to leave fine fibres on the needle so the stitches catch. At first I unpicked and reknitted some stitches, thinking I had miss-knitted the stitches and it took me a while to realise what was happening. Gentle tugging releases the fibres and opened the stitches, but from the tension swatch I can see that washing will even the knit out.

The neckband is a single rib with a rolled edge. The neck band was picked it up into the neckline so is integrally knitted which has a tendency to stretch on top-down sweaters. In the past I have sewn take along the back neck to stabilise the neckline, but Roxanne Richardson on her YouTube channel suggests making a line of crochet slip stitch along the back neck instead. She also suggests using this solution along raglan seams.

Because it’s knitted top down, seamless I’m going to watch the raglan ‘seams’ to make sure they doesn’t drop. If the jumper does start to drop I will also work a crochet slip stitch in the back of the seams to stabilise them.

I’m just hoping the weather stays cool so I can continue to wear my new jumper.

Suint bath and lovely locks

I’ve been running a suint bath for washing fleeces this summer. Whilst the temperatures are reasonably good the suint has worked well. I’ve actually finished washing all the fleeces now so we’ll probably use the diluted suint bath as fertilizer.

Suint is explained it chemical terms by other people far better than me, but basically it means that the fleece soaks in a liquor composed of the sweat and dirt and developing microbes. The bath is built up from other fleeces. I use the dirtiest fleece first as that made the best base for the suint and have worked through 5 fleeces weighing about 1-2 kg each before going into the bath. I skirt and sort the fleece first because I don’t see the point in washing really dirty stuff that’s never going to come clean, but I equally try to preserve as much of the fleece as possible. I’ve got a bucket of the really unsalvageable stuff soaking so that I can use that liquid as a fertiliser as well.

I didn’t take a photograph of the locks of this Scoth Mule fleece before the suint bath so can’t make a comparison but it has come up beautifully clean.

My process was as follows. I laid The fleece out on a mesh grid cleaned as much of the dirt out as I could by shaking it and then skirted it. Next I sorted it into qualities, picked out as much vegetable matter as I could. Each quality was put into several smallish mesh laundry bags and then into the suint in manageable quantities. The suint bath really stinks, which I think must be caused by ammonia, as it makes my eyes water!

I left the fleece in the suint for 5 to 7-days then using rubber gloves and, with a peg on my nose, I removed it and left it to drain. Once it was drained, I rinsed it in a couple of changes of clean, cold water. Because I didn’t want to put the stinky mess in spin dryer I swung and it around to remove excess water.

Next I washed the fleece in batches in hot water with Eurolana wool wash. This is good as it cleans well without loads of suds so rinses out easily. The smell was slowly fading, but even after two rinses it lingered.

A final spin and then the fleece was emptied out of the mesh bags into a two-tiered flat mesh dryer. This goes outside and by the time the fleeces are dry the smell has gone. Phew.

One of the clean and gorgeous locks