I Made A Cake!

Not just any old cake. No, this is an intentionally inedible cake.

yarn cake

Ingredients: yarn (in this case, 75% merino and 25% possum), and a nostepinne.

This is the first time I have ever made one of these, because in New Zealand, yarns are almost always sold in a balled state. I was greatly surprised when I discovered that in other parts of the world, e.g. the Americas, yarn is sold in a twisted skein, and it is the knitter’s responsibility to ball it.

Of course, back in the day when knitting wool came from a sheep you knew personally, winding the skein into a ball was the natural last step before knitting it. I am just lucky that I don’t have to start each knitting project by following a sheep around to collect the wool it sheds, as with the Soay sheep – or combing the animal’s neck, as with a cashmere goat.

gathering wool

Despite the extra work involved, I can understand why people like to buy yarn in skeins. It’s certainly more visually appealing that way, and you can wind the yarn into any shape you like (e.g. A Complete Dog’s Breakfast). The benefit of cakes as opposed to balls is that cakes have flat bottoms and don’t go rolling about while you use them.

Also you don’t have to fossick about in their insides trying to find the inner end, as you carefully ran it down the handle of the nostepinne when beginning the cake, so as to have it handy when you need it. Indeed, I think this humble piece of rimu is going to join my list of treasured old technologies.

Yarn-caking can be very relaxing – once you’ve really got the hang of it, and don’t have to keep worrying about your cake losing shape. (MacArthur Park, anyone?) I myself have not yet attained to this height of nostepinne mastery, having only made one cake to date.

skein nostepinne cake
skein + nostepinne = cake

I have started knitting from my cake, and while the actual knitting is proving more problematic than I thought (due to gauge issues and use of techniques at which I am not yet proficient), the cake is performing splendidly.

It’s fat-free, sugar-free, suitable for sharing with people who are dairy- or gluten-intolerant, and a joy to both make and consume. What more could one ask of a humble cake?

the Mathom-Party

What, I hear you ask, is a mathom? (If I hear you asking what a party is, you need to get out more.)

Day 363 - Party of One

Tolkien explains in his prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring: “…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

I am not advocating that we refuse to receive gifts – that would be churlish – but using one’s birthday as an opportunity for generosity is a) very hobbity and b) a good way of redressing the balance of items in one’s home.

Besides, gifts, as previously mentioned, are a joy to receive. Particularly if, like me, you have friends and family who support the pruning scheme and therefore give you a) consumables and/or b) things you really want. Of course, you can’t choose your family, particularly your family of origin. I got lucky. (We shall draw the veil of charity over the time they got mistaken for a troupe of Russian folk singers.)

Kelly Family 1989

Anyway, back to the hobbits. Having lately had a birthday, I decided to try out the idea of a mathom party. The general reaction was a) what is a mathom? followed by b) what a good idea! Thus encouraged, I proceeded to put aside suitable items from the purge (see what below if interested). I also invited people to bring their own mathoms along if they liked: after all, one hobbit’s mathom is another hobbit’s treasure.

The day before the party, I put ribbons and bows round the items. This serves two purposes: it makes the mathoms seem more gifty, since you can’t wrap them unless you want a lucky-mathom-dip-party; and it draws a convenient distinction between the mathoms and such possessions as you actually want to keep. (Make sure no-one you are attached to is in any way done up with a ribbon.) Have a few extra ribbons on hand if people are bringing their own mathoms.

And of course, you must have food and drink. Nothing hobbity can be done without food and drink, and, preferably, music. Our party was much improved by the concurrent baking of The World’s Best Peanut-Butter and Chocolate Cookies (both gluten-free and dairy-free, if you use suitable chocolate) – recipe in this book, though not under that well-deserved title.


As for what mathoms I pruned (did you think I had forgotten this month’s list?) there were: a duvet cover, a set of steak knives, a casserole dish, a cake-slice, a set of salad-servers, a small assortment of collectable stamps, a CD, a book of famous last words, and a box of games.

At the end of the party, any mathoms unclaimed are then donated to a charity of your choice. It may pay to tell your guests this as it can be peculiarly hard to persuade people that you really do want them to take things off you for your birthday. Promising to cart it all off to charity convinces people that you are not secretly longing to be left with the lot.

Oh, and one more hint for the success of your party: try to avoid being born during (or shortly before) exam week. Exams are very un-hobbity and may affect turnout.