Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The kindness of Knitters

I don't visit Twitter much these days* but today I took a quick peek and my eye was immediately caught by a story from the BBC and Medicins Sans Frontiers, a touching human story of a baby being born on a rescue ship in the middle of the Mediterranean.  And the baby was wearing a hand-knitted hat - oh how I love the world wide sorority of knitters!  Little acts of kindness contributing to the huge effort put in by charities such as MSF and (some) governments.  There are so many examples of knitterly generosity but this one, today, touched  my heart

At the weekend I joined in another lovely example of knitters kindness, not to mention enthusiasm and stash enhancement. Saturday was the day of the annual Great London Yarn Crawl, a charity fundraising event organised by the clever partnership which is Yarn in the City.

Team Intarsia assembles for coffee and cake before our first shop visit

Each Year teams of up to twelve participants travel around London on Bus, tube, and train, with a little walking thrown in, visiting three or four yarn shops.  I was one of the guides for Team Intarsia.  This year there were more shops and included fabric and haberdashery shops; because we are crafters are we not? many of us crochet, embroider, and make our own clothes as well as knit.

Inside Fringe in Muswell Hill, Team Intarsia's first stop

All this excitement is in aid of the charity Refuge, this year raising more than £800 (the final count has not been done yet).  The work of this charity is specially relevant to those who, like me, listen to The Archers on BBC Radio 4. The program has a long running story line, which came to a (temporary) conclusion this week with a jury finding a woman not guilty of attempted murder after she stabbed her abusive husband as she attempted to leave him.

Second stop Ray-Stitch in Islington where I treated myself to a metre or so of some lovely Liberty Tana Lawn

Our third shop was Fabrications, situated on Broadway market.  Added bonus, the market is foodie heaven.  Three of us hardly noticed Saturday's rain as we sheltered under a market stall awning eating, Ravioli, a scallop and bacon sandwich, a (this was me) pulled pork and apple sauce

Barley Massey, Fabrication's creator, makes wonderful things by up cycling clothing, these cushions made of shirts & ties

And there is another charity supported by the knitters of the Yarn Crawl, Knit for Peace.  Each year we participants bring knitted items, hats, gloves, scarves, and baby clothes to the after party (where we drop footsore into a suitably located pub for liquid refreshment, pub food, and to ooh and aah over each others purchases of the day). And I was wondering did this tiny baby hat come from Knit for Peace? And will someone in the future be kept warm by an item donated by one of the yarn crawlers?

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself and forgetting our last stop at Stag & Bow in Forrest Hill, a shop that sells all sorts of loveliness, vintage clothes, trimmings, yarn...

It's hard to encapsulate Stag & Bow in one photograph, there is so much to see (and buy) this is my best effort, art, craft and decoration all in one
... and this

maybe it was impossible to describe Stag & Bow in one photo!

Would you like to join next years yarn crawl?  Save the date, it will be announced on the Yarn in the City website soon.



* if you have just clicked over from Twitter you may be puzzled, my apologies I have taken the lazy way of posting there - from Instagram

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Am I still a blogger?

Well I guess I am. Although this year marks an all time low in terms of posts it actually reflects a high amount of activity and a bit of diversification.

even moving away from fabric, yarn and fibre

But first a question... I have not blogged since 18th May and until recently my weekly hit stats were going down week by week.  Generally when I am a busy blogger they are at about 300-500 a week but quite understandably the numbers were heading into single figures by mid July.  Then. WHAM. suddenly they began to climb until today, as I write they are at 1,016!  How can that be?  The focus of attention seems to be this post about knitting buttons into a cardigan as you go.  The post was featured in the Knitty blog soon after but otherwise I can see no reason why it should be so popular.  I have scrutinised my stats, the hits seem to come from the East. This happened once before, at that time a scurrilous tabloid columnist with a similar name to me was hitting the headlines but this time???  I have no idea.  Do any of you (particularly if you use the Blogger platform) have an idea?

Still Knitting, this is the Reyna shawl, knitted entirely from stash (yarn chicken was played)

SO! To the real business, getting back to blogging and some diversification. When I retired I believed that it would enable me to spend more time with all things crafty. More sewing, more spinning and above all more knitting. Then I got a bit stuck, too much stash acquisition for a start. My attempts last year to buy less yarn were only replaced with buying books, equipment relating to knitting and building up my fabric stash. Epic fail.  

Far less stash acquisition this year but this is a recent purchase to finish a very old WIP (see below)

Then there was that sudden realisation that I no longer felt I had a role in society.  My life, by spending more and more time on my fairly solitary hobbies, had moved to the margins, away from the mainstream

It was time to get a grip. So I took on a couple of volunteering things, one at our local Citizens Advice and the occasional day helping out in a local school.

Cleaning sinks in the art department can be creative when you spot hints of Jackson Pollock

When you can't photograph a class in action you can still take an after shot (featuring Teacher's Pet)

And there has been some diversification in my crafting too.  It's true I have always sewn some of my own clothes as well as knitted but these past few months I've not only made clothes for myself

Merchant & Mills Camber Dress (Ikat fabric from John Lewis)

Detail of my standard shift dress (heavily modified Simplicity pattern)

but embarked on a big patchwork project

Mostly hand sewn quilt but I always enjoy hand hemming the binding (am I odd?)

Finished 50s style from Quilting Modern

Then something totally new - watercolour painting.  I have played with it for some time but last year my friend Vandy encouraged me to take a short course with her (it's on again this year and I going again) and I was off! Even producing some fairly pleasing results

Watery Greek Island olive tree 

Passion flowers in my garden

 Finally I picked up a crochet project that I began over five years ago (I'm aiming to get this finished this August)
Beach Blanket

And all (or nearly all) of this makery is from materials I have in stock.  Yes indeed I am making great inroads into the multiple stashes <<smug face>>



All this activity, it's all so exhausting

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Could knitting be bad for you (or can you have too much of a goodthing?)

A short while ago a friend posted a link on Facebook to a blog post about fighting depression.  Now some of my lovely regulars will know that this is an interest of mine.  From time to time I succumb to an attack by the black dog and most recently I wrote on here that it had been particularly bad this winter past and that the dog had brought along the grey donkey of futility.

Getting out more on the Helford river (thank goodness spring is here at last)

Before I dig deep into my view of this blog post, a little word about 'fighting illness'. Generally I don't like the term as it can carry with it the suggestion that all illness is potentially beatable, and almost single handedly to boot, by the person under attack.  True a positive attitude goes a long way, as well as eating healthily, getting enough sleep and excercise along with persuading your doctor to treat you as a partner in your treatment. But it is my belief that we should not suggest to someone that they alone are fighting the illness.  For surely it is cruel to imply that chronic illness or worse, a terminal stage is because they did not fight hard enough.  Nor would I ever suggest to a doctor that many hours googling my condition plus regular bouts of positive thinking replaces his or her seven years in medical school and another  seven post graduate training

But there is a lot we can do and one thing I have learned is that while I was working at an intellectually challenging job involving writing, campaigning, lobbying and the occasional public speaking, knitting was my panacea for almost all my ills.  However, once I was retired and free to knit all day I believe it was threatening to be the cause of a prolonged visit from the black dog, a feeling of uselessness and even agoraphobia.

Soon after writing this post I took stock and decided that rather than sit around waiting for things to happen, for people to ask me to do things that would make me feel  more useful, I would get out and just DO SOMETHING.  I applied to be a volunteer at a local charity and local school. It couldn't do any harm to be more busy could it? To have to fit my selfish life into someone else's time table? Now I'm not saying everything is now brilliant, that I have not looked back since I returned to the world of work (albeit unpaid) but it has helped me not to dwell so much.

St Michaels Mount at Marazion always lifts the spirits

So I ask myself, while there are plenty of articles out there telling us how knitting helped people get over bereavement, a stress related illness or even lowered blood pressure can we actually have too much of a good thing, in fact can knitting be bad for you?

We all know the physical risks, hours of knitting with the same size needles and yarn can risk RSI in the hands and neck problems but what about the psychological?  I'm certainly not saying we should give up knitting but, something that is pretty much true in most aspects of our lives,  I needed to get the balance right.

Taking a break from work for a few weeks just to sit and knit worked well for me in short bursts but hibernating and knitting for days on end was turning me into a recluse.  While not an actual hermit style recluse I had begun to resent anything that took me away from my sofa and my latest project.

Of course I haven't given up knitting totally, while I am now committed two days a week to volunteering (in addition to a couple of forays out to an exercise class) I still have the odd afternoon and many evenings to knit and now I look forward to that time as a treat, not a time when I sit and plough through a project while dwelling on the futility of life.

I have still finished quite a few things in the last couple of months, here are some of them...

A little red, white, and blue hat for Glori to wear to a birthday party for the Queen (pattern coming soon)

The Lattice shawl, a KAL at my local knitting group

Sweet William knitted (and steeked!!) as a cardigan for Isabella to wear at her first birthday party

Vanilla socks using up all my Islington by Kettle yarns leftovers

What do others think?  I would love to know



PS I have been sewing a bit lately but more of that later

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sock making is a thing...

Did you know that? It's definitely a thing.  If you knit socks you can talk sock.  But can you knit the perfectly fitting sock? And do you have a sock knitting party piece?  Well I do now, thanks to a class I attended last weekend

we got notebooks specially for the class (I may have bought Kate's book too)

A master class from THE SOCK EXPERT Kate Atherley at Purlescence.  Purlescence is a wonderful on-line yarn shop with premises in the Berkshire countryside.  It has a fabulous selection of yarns (including Sweet Georgia and Indigodragonfly), loads of needles (ChiaoGoo and Lantern Moon to name a couple), and other knitting notions.  But it also feels like my local yarn shop.  That is not just because it is based only about 30 mins drive from where I live, but also because Sarah and Jonathan the proprietors are so lovely, friendly and helpful.  They don't just sell fabulous stuff though, they also enthusiastically knit with the yarn they sell and try out the needles and notions.  And they have open days and classes...

Taking measurements and swatch knitting

The Morning's session was on how to knit a sock that fits perfectly.  We all have differently proportioned feet - right? In any combination of length and width, height of instep and lumps and bumps. So it is logical that when we have the chance to make our own socks that they should fit properly

When measuring my foot circumference, just above the 'toe cleavage' (a new expression learned on Saturday!) one foot was a whole inch bigger than the other, then I remembered the toe operation I had last November and put it down to that.  On the whole I have long broadish feet with a circumference that is nearly as big as my length - basically I could knit flat squares and seam them up the back, although that would not be very comfortable and this class was all about making a comfortable fitting sock.

After measuring came the maths (quite easy really)

Kate is a mathematician by education but the number crunching we had to do in her class was not complicated and was reproduced in the hand-out (and in Kate's book) It's all there to read off a table once you have your gauge and a few simple foot measurements

gage knitted in the round because socks are knitted in the round

In the afternoon we learned to knit a pair of socks in the manner of Anna Makarovna. Anna Makarovna appears briefly in the epilogue to War and Peace amazing the children with her ability to knit two socks at a time, revealing the second only at the moment she closes the toe.  Google her name and you will find out a little more about the socks and more information in an early discussion  here in Knitty and a pattern here on Ravelry

What the two socks should look like after knitting ribbing separately and sorting the stitches for the stocking stitch leg

Once you get the hang of it it is fairly straight forward but I recommend reading all through the instructions first, or, better still look out for one of Kate's classes next time she is on a teaching tour. In my photograph above I am knitting socks in different colours to help see which stitches are which. Of course that means that while I shall avoid second sock syndrome, something the method is designed to avoid, I have given myself 3rd and 4th sock syndrome!!!

All while we were listening to Kate and knitting our swatches we could gaze at the yarn displayed around the walls of the lovely light work room where the class took place

Sweet Georgia loveliness 

There was lots of good coffee and cake, and lunch, too.  Purlescence is just North of Newbury, not far from the M4 and very easy to find in a little cluster of barns on the edge of a farm in rolling Berkshire countryside.

There will be more courses and an endless supply of yarn, just keep an eye on their website



Wednesday, 2 March 2016

oooh! LOOK! a new book

It's a yarn crawl in a book, brought to you by the people who have organised The Great London Yarn Crawl for the last three years.  And it's all you need to organise your very own London yarn fondling and buying adventure (there are hints for fabric and haberdashery buying and some lovely out of London adventures too)

it's pretty, the photography lovely and at around A5 size it fits in your bag 

Perhaps, like me, you just don't need any more yarn enabling in your life but a book like London Craft Guide provides many sorts of delights. Certainly it is THE go to hand-book for yarn buying but it is much more

It is a thing of beauty.  Flick through the softly coloured pages, admire the photography, take note of good places to pause for coffee and cake, perhaps lunch, in between the yarn yearning

check out the coloured boxes for other nearby attractions including refreshment stops

Fill your dreams with new projects (the book contains nine in all) that justify buying that single skein, bought simply because it is soooo pretty

This gorgeous shawl, designed by the lovely Anniken Allis really does take only one skein of lace weight

Travel in your daydreams around London or further afield, picking out one or two crafty shops as you visit the main sights

Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are amongst the towns and cities mentioned

You can even satisfy your conscience when you are going cold sheep by yarn related purchases that are not actually yarn, there are fabric shops and places to buy ribbons and buttons too...

The book also takes you slightly off piste in more ways than one as it tempts you to wander off the main drag of Oxford Street and fondle the fabrics in the shops in Brewick Street. Nearly all the shops in this street are crafty related, but although you can find every sort of haberdashery there is no yarn.  

Not the only place described in the book for fabric and haberdashery but much to please in one street

The book is published by my clever friends, Alli and Rachel, who together are Yarn in the City (I may have mentioned them before) and can be bought from their website, Or, if you are going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Rachel will bw there with her gorgeously coloured spinning fibre (Porpoisefur) and will also be selling the book.


PS there are also a couple of sewing projects, this is a sneak peak of the one I designed, a tool roll for all your notions

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Getting a little attention

I am making a very serious bid to reduce my stocks of yarn and fibre this year.  Stock sounds so much more business-like than stash, don't you think?  I have begun by listing my entire collection on Ravelry. But I'm not avoiding yarn buying opportunities altogether and last weekend was my local knitters event Unravel (sorry it's over now but it will be back again next year).  I know I have been associating with the people of the knitting world for a while when I go to such an event and the first thing I do when I arrive is to go looking for friends amongst both buyers and sellers. 

This year I also had a couple of sweaters to show off to some yarn and fibre sellers and pattern designers.  I wore one...

Angelus Novus

and carried the second (the handspun I blogged about last time) in my bag.  

My 'Very Green' cardigan is from a pattern by Renee Callahan of East London Knits called Angelus Novus  The only mods were to work out where to place the colour changes as I wanted to use a set of fabulous yarns I had bought a little while ago from Caerthan Wrack of Triskelion Yarn and Fibre

I was childishly excited to be showing off my cardigan to Renee and Caerthan (and my hand spun to Rachel of Porpoise Fur who was not only exhibiting her wonderfully coloured fibre but also one of the event speakers) but I did not expect to be stopped by so many people and asked the name of the pattern and where I got the yarn - of course I was glad to oblige!  

I have to pause for a moment to say how happy it made me feel to have so many fellow knitters say nice things about my work. Then again how could one fail to make something gorgeous from these colours

Triskelion Idris DK

wound and ready
I achieved a gentle colour transition between the greens by using a simple gradient technique 

The pattern construction is so so clever, beginning at the centre back hem with a garter tab, continuing as for a triangular shawl till the point meets the neckline - then... well you need to read the pattern, its really clever and totally seamless (by that I mean no actual sewing up)

I have quite a lot of the two darker, petrel shades left so last weekend I added one skein of red to my stash and I am spending a lot of time dreaming about what I shall make.  I need to do some maths but I might just have enough for a second very special cardigan.

there's aprox 800m here, that's enough for something, surely...
On other things I have just had time to run up a hat for my daughter Ez.  Its a fairly simple shape with a fancy cable design and a furry pom pom from Toft Alpaca.  You can buy the pattern from my Ravelry shop, it's going to be chilly at the weekend, but the hat is in Aran weight so there would still be time to make it.

In the end I came home from unravel with a little more yarn (only a very small amount!) and a few other lovely things.  More about those in a later post



Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Scene shifting

The tectonic plates of my life have shifted. I seem to no longer to be a part of things but a spectator.  Sure my life is full of busy, I attend classes, of the sort other retired people attend to learn something new, when in reality who am I kidding? I have begun to volunteer, at a local school and as an advisor at the citizens advice bureau. I see the occasional friend for coffee or lunch, even have people over for supper but I seem not to be engaged as others are but an onlooker, and generally only occasionally included in things by others out of habit.

Despite all this I am still spinning, sewing and knitting

Spun fibre, skeined, soaked, and wound ready for knitting (Death to MRSA and Broad Bean)

But while others have moved on (or simply kept moving) I can only watch and clutch at friends' and family's coat tails as they fly by living their busy lives.  One dear friend is even about to move even closer to the centre and I already feel the sadness of loosing her back to the life we once both enjoyed.  I was going to say happy, not busy, lives but I know this is not the way it is.  Everyone's life (if they are lucky) is filled with good and bad but it's stuff they feel, both the anxiety and the joy, the laughter and the sadness. Somehow it all just runs past my eyes these days like a reel of silent film.

Perhaps I'm turing into a Miss Marple type of woman (without the crime solving) an onlooker sitting in a corner, knitting.  My latest finished object is this sweater, my own work from fabulous fluff to jolly jersey, begun during the Tour de Fleece and finally finished a week ago

I can already see that that neckline is a little too wide

When the Off The Shoulder shape stretched and became a little more Down The Arm I had to pull a thread and add a bit more on top!

Thread pulled just below the knitted hem, two inches added and re hemmed, the neck now sits at my collar-bone

Is it possible to regain that sense of involvement once it's gone? Once one has retired from the salaried world, children grown, parents died and the buffer zone lost? There was a time I felt involved, present at people's tables, in the conversation of their lives because I was as essential as the person I sat next to. I shared my thoughts, feelings and opinions as much as that other person. Now I have moved to the margins of the lives of people I love, in danger of growing invisible, going out or taken out, literally or figuratively when it is thought I have not been included for a while then returned to my box. Like so many pictures in an art collector's basement, still notionally valuable but just not enough space for us all at once.

In all this I still make plans. This beautiful skein of brightly cashmere and alpaca sits on a side table as I consider what it will be

400 metres of heavenly softness - a big squishy cowl perhaps?
I accuse no one of unkindness but I just don't feel needed very much any more. I wonder if other women feel like this?  Did our mothers? I seem to have followed mine in taking up spinning, it's very time consuming, it it displacement activity?

Although I am still not sure that it will be worth continuing to spin some chocolate brown fleece from a small local flock of black Welsh mountain sheep. 

Perhaps I should stick to the glorious colours of porpoisefur fluff

Dark Lady on BFL

But what shall I do? I think these thoughts but have nowhere to express them (except on here). I fear that to do more than hint to family and friends will just burden them, perhaps lead some to consider whether they feel the same and be the cause of spoiling their peace too. Or do I flatter myself? Do I already bore and worse depress others, are they already holding me at arms length? Is it possible, not just to fill the time but to feel life again and perhaps make a new life without loosing the old? And yet, I have husband, children grand children, home, a few friends, more acquaintances, it's not that. I just need to find my place, I've lost it somehow

Will it pass I wonder?

I just don't know