Blogstars

Last weekend I was in West Yorkshire at the invitation of Stylecraft. The occasion was the inaugural meeting of their ‘Blogstars‘ programme, in which a dozen of us yarny bloggers/designers get the chance to work closely with Stylecraft and hear whispers about new yarns that are on their way. (Clue: there are some very interesting and unexpected developments afoot.)

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They kindly asked me to take part. ‘Would you like to come up to the picturesque valleys of West Yorkshire, tour our old woollen mill, stay in a luxurious hotel with fabulous food/wine, talk yarn with fellow designer-bloggers, and attend a meeting that’s all about yarn and at which you’re allowed, nay encouraged to knit throughout, at the end of which we’ll give you a giant sack of Stylecraft and KnitPro freebies?’

“Hmm,” I said, frowning. “I’ll need to take some time to think about that.”

Approximately one fortieth of a nanosecond later, I squealed “YES PLEASE!”

So I set off in the grimy ol’ Stinkwagon, its ancient axels grumbling under the weight of enough knits-in-progress to keep me going if I accidentally got stranded in Yorkshire for three months… even though I was heading for a woollen mill which could reasonably be expected to supply some knitting materials if Armageddon happened and we had a lock-in. The journey was slow. I suspect that knitters and crocheters are the only people who like traffic jams (proper ones where you have to completely stop and you may as well turn off your engine for the next half hour), but sadly there were no traffic jams, so I didn’t get to knit en route.

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Four hours later, I was in Slaithwaite. The first treat was the mill tour that I described in my last post, and then there was a muchly fun evening with some of my fellow Blogstars and a couple of Stylecraft folk at the hotel. When I came down to the bar and saw one of the group knitting, I knew that I’d found my people. See these folk? They’re all thoroughly lovely (except me):-

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart blog, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo's House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and - knitting! - Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft).

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and – knitting! – Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft)

The views from the hotel weren’t too shabby. I took this shot from the hotel’s helipad: fortunately I managed not to get squished by any incoming helicopters.

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The views were charming, especially as the day faded…

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…to near-darkness:-

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Anyway, back to the yarn. The main event was scheduled for the following day, back at the Stylecraft mill in Slaithwaite. This was where we got to meet up not just with folk from the previous night, but also with the rest of the Blogstars (excluding a couple of people who couldn’t make it this time). Here we are:-

Here we are. Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. :-) ) Left to right, back row: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia Marsh (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo's House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. 🙂 ) Back row, left to right: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo’s House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

I’d met Lucy (Attic 24) before when we co-judged the Stylecraft yarn competition at the mill last year, but I’d never met the other bloggers, so it was fabulous to chat to fellow people who like to do stuff with yarn and then talk about it online. There was frustratingly little time, though, so I hardly got to speak to some of them at all.

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Another shot of the view from the hotel.

So we got down to the heady business of yarn. There really are some very exciting developments coming soon from this ‘ere mill, so I’ll devote a whole post to telling you about them next time. Trust me, you’ll like them. 🙂

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To The Mill!

Evenin’. We all here? Good, good. Do have a seat… NO, NOT THAT ONE! Sorry, didn’t mean to shout, but that’s the chair the twinnage have booby-trapped. What’s that you say? Oh, um, trust me, you don’t want to know, but… you’re not scared of worms, I hope?

Help yourself to some wine. You’ve brought yarn? Ha, silly question: of course you’ve brought yarn.

Speaking of yarn, would you like to see round an old woollen mill? It’s just that a few of us knit/crochet bloggers* were invited to Yorkshire at the weekend by the fine fibrous folk at Stylecraft for the inaugural meeting of the Blogstars programme. (More on that over the next few posts, including a giveaway, and some rather exciting insider gossip about future yarny developments…) So I loaded up the ol’ Stinkwagon with knitting paraphernalia, a toothbrush, and a change of socks, and headed up to Slaithwaite. Look!

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The first thing we did on arrival was tour the mill with Richard Brown, owner of Spectrum Yarns (which produces Stylecraft, Yarn Stories, and some luxury merino clothing treats). Want to see? The mill is oldish – 1907. Spinning skills in this area run deep amongst local families, so it’s no accident that Spectrum’s spinning happens here, whereas its knitting operations are over in Derbyshire. (Their acrylic is made under licence in Turkey, just in case you were wondering.)

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Considerably more than fifty shades of grey.

If you’ve ever knitted with Yarn Stories yarn (as I have), it was spun here.

See this stuff in the picture below? It’s ‘tops’ – undyed, untwisted, sheep fluff. Yes it does feel as nice as it looks.

Mmmmmmmm......

Mmmmmmmm……

The yarns produced here are worsted-spun, i.e. comprising tightly twisted, neatly parallel, same-length fibres, producing a smooth, dense, hard-wearing yarn. (Stop me if you know this already, but the alternative is woollen-spun, in which fibres are all over the place prior to spinning – making a fluffier, wilder, warmer, but less hard-wearing product.) I remember reading all about the two processes in this book, but it was interesting to see worsted spinning in action.

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So yeah. The machines here can combine up to ten feeds of tops, mixing light with dark shades as required. By the way, some of the tops is sent off for dyeing as soon as it arrives, and the rest is dyed as yarn.

Richard Brown explains.

Richard Brown explains.

Next, the spinning frame draws the fibre out to its correct width, and applies twist. So by this stage we’re dealing with something resembling yarn, rather than just a hairy bucket o’fluff. Progress!

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The exact width and quality of the product is monitored electronically. Also, there’s a whole lab dedicated to micro-assessing of the quality of yarn.

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They take their work seriously in the lab:-

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If I had a job there, I’d demand to see a lot of yarn samples:-

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Or I might just sit and drool at the display on their wall:-

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Anyway, back to the shop floor. After spinning, the yarn is twisty – a little too twisty, to be frank. If you hold up a length of yarn, it fights you to ravel itself into a spirally knot. So the next stage of the process is to pop it in a steam oven to persuade it to calm the heck down.

The steam oven.

The steam oven.

The result is a lot calmer and more biddable.

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I could look at this yarn all day.

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On one floor of the mill are boxes (and boxes) of yarn, ready for dispatch. I tried to linger behind the group as they left, hoping to get locked in with more yarn than I could conceivably knit in a lifetime, but unfortunately somebody noticed.

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Oh, and d’you see that lovely wooden floor there? Richard had a tale to tell about that. The six-floor building was originally constructed as a cotton mill. Cotton dust (‘fly’) is a notorious risk for explosion, so in order to prevent any irritating infernos and loss of life, the floors were made of beautiful solid maple, which carried a low risk of sparking.

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Meanwhile workers at the time wore iron-soled clogs, and over the decades, their footsteps wore two deep dips in the sandstone staircase:-

Look, d'you see how those steps have worn?

Look, d’you see how those steps have worn?

So that, my friend, is the basics of the process. More soon on the Blogstars programme, and a giveaway!

 

∗ Lucy from Attic24, Julia from Hand Knitted Things, Sandra from Cherry Heart, Sue at Susan Pinner, Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, Helen from The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty, Heather from The Patchwork Heart… and present in spirit if not in person, Jane Crowfoot, Angela from Get Knotted, and Emma Varnam.

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And Then Suddenly, Dinner Was Ready.

Gosh, thank you for your kind words on the crocheted garden. I’d best get on with the next section, then…

Meanwhile, let’s talk about food. Way back in April, I promised you dinner. Yeah, yeah, you’ve probably worked up quite some appetite by now: sorry for the delay. Well the good news is that dinner has finally finished growing, muchly helped by this mad sun-rain-sun-hail-sun-apocalypse-sun weather we’ve been a-having. Even the clouds have been a little crazy. Here’s a few I snapped during my run the other day:-

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Forgive me: you’re hungry. Let’s get back to the food. We’ve reached that splendid time of year when all those stroppy, diva-like plants at the allotment actually begin producing dinner. But you know what it’s like with allotments: you wait all year for a runner bean and then eleventy billion come along at once, thus ensuring that you properly hate runner beans by the end of the season. I mean, there’s only so many ways with runner beans before you get sick of them boiled, fried, on toast, and steamed under the light of a full moon with dill. Actually, the runner beans are some way off being ready, but we have an insane abundance of broad beans at the moment, here being shelled by the Stoic Spouse. We have so many that I suspect our neighbours are starting to deliberately not answer the door when we knock.

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And the potatoes! I love digging up potatoes – it’s like finding buried treasure. Of course the twinnage enjoy helping.

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If you’re short on space and skill (that’ll be me, then), rocket is the easiest, tastiest thing in the world to grow. Oh, and courgettes (that’s zucchini to you folk over there). Peas are fab, too, because they’re easy and kinda vertical, so you don’t need much space. There’s nothing nicer than wandering into the garden/allotment to collect what you need for dinner:-

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So with this luscious haul, I think it might just be time to get cooking. Do help yourself to some of that wine. This is going to be one of those dishes that just sort of designs itself as you cook it. Onions and garlic… (OK, I didn’t grow the garlic.)

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Some chicken. OK, I didn’t grow the chicken. Diced courgette.

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Oregano leaves from the garden.

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Shell those peas. Try not eat all of them before they hit the pot. Almost fail. Pop a few broad beans from the allotment in there, too, and hope nobody notices that this is the squillionth meal in a row with broad beans in it.

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Some wine. And some stock.

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And some luscious Pommery mustard.

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Puy lentils. You can’t go wrong with puy lentils. Well you probably can, if you serve them with chocolate or something, but in this type of dish, puy lentils are heaven.

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And right at the end, the rocket.

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Let’s have a stir…

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Bit of black pepper, and I reckon we’re done. Enjoy.

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Whaddya mean, you don’t like it?! Are you one of my sons or summat?

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Garden Variety Crochet

In case you thought my promises of completing that insane project were sounding more hollow with each passing week year, I decided to show you some progress on the garden portion… which happens to be the final section. For those of you who haven’t been reading The Yarn since it was hand-copied on parchment by medieval serfs, this project is large, bonkers, furniture-related, mostly crochet, and I’m very excited about showing you what it’s eventually going to be. Not long now, my fine fibrous friends… And I mean it this time.

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(‘I mean it this time,’ is a phrase so over-used in this house-full-of-children that it may yet be etched on my gravestone. Actually that’d be quite a cool thing to have on a gravestone. And I sincerely hope that someone will yarn-bomb my gravestone, too. May as well have some fun whilst you’re dead.)

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Woah, two paragraphs in and already we’re wildly off-topic. Let’s get back to the crochet. Would you like a just-out-of-the-oven cookie and some green tea?

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It was necessary to do some weeding to make room for all the new growth. Yes, that’s the depressing truth: even a crochet garden sometimes needs weeding. In the yarn garden as well as in the real garden, the precious seedlings you nurture from germination with love and bedtime stories end up misshapen and withered, whereas the weeds resist your every murderous attempt with a will to survive that is awe-inspiring.

Witness the slime-mould-like abomination that got out of hand. I swear that despite it being made of yarn, it was actually growing when my back was turned. I’ve ripped it out, but there are still a few hairy roots lying semi-dormant. I predict trouble. You think I’m joking? I’m not joking.

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And planting my little fibrous plants is a lot like planting real plants. With needle and yarn, I try to settle them deeply into the yarny earth. The simplest plants to make are the fancy grasses. After planting, I separate the eight plies in every strand and cut them each to a slightly different length.

making grass

Leafy bushes and flowers take more work. This is valerian. (Yes I had to look up what it was called, too. But you didn’t come here for horticultural advice, did you? Oh, you did? Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place. Try the third blog along on the left…)

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And hostas. I know nowt about hostas, except that they have big showy leaves, so they’re fun to hook. (Leaf pattern is based on my pattern.) Yes, that’s a bit of twin in the background of the photo.

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Oh, and d’you see this?

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This is to be a squat little conifer-like bush. 101 frondy bits. (I aimed for 100, but got distracted and overshot.) Pattern (if you can call it that) for frondy bits at the bottom of this blog post, just in case you should ever find yourself in need of such a ridiculous thing. And here it is, all sewn into place:-

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If you leave such things lying around here, some small portion of twinnage is bound to come along and spot opportunities for imaginative play. Apparently, the grass needs mowing:-

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And as life imitates art (I use the word art very loosely here, don’t worry. I use the word life pretty loosely, too), I spotted some borders of annuals at the village pub that bear more than a passing resemblance to the ring of begonias in the crochet garden:-

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Right, ’tis time to put the camera down and carry on hooking. Thank you for visiting, and happy knitting/hooking.

Oh, and don’t try this at home, folks. (Really, don’t.)

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Pattern for frondy coniferous thingy:-

US crochet terms. I know this will bother some people – sorry.

Chain 3. Work 5 sc into middle chain – these will form the actual leaf. Then work a pair of slip stitches around the neck of the leaf to pinch and hold its stem to make a neat round leaf. Then chain 4. Work 5sc into the penultimate of those chains as the beginning of your next leaf. And so on… and on…

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Book Review: Crochet Therapy by Betsan Corkhill

Now this has been an interesting one, this book review. It involves a rare crossover between two major areas of my life: yarn and clinical psychology. Yes, really. Please allow me to explain.

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The book is Crochet Therapy by Betsan Corkhill, to be published on July 7th in the UK (eg Amazon.co.uk) and slightly later elsewhere (e.g. the North American edition will be available from Amazon.com on 6th September). But I have a copy, right here in my hands – hurrah! Know-ye that I didn’t pay for this book, but the folk at Apple Press sent it to me for review. (Did I mention how tough the yarn-related portion of my life is? It’s really tough.)

The idea of this book is that you work on one of twenty suggested projects whilst employing mindfulness-based meditative exercises. Projects and exercises are paired for different outcomes that you might wish to achieve (calmness, energization, relaxation, focus, refreshment, perseverance, and even for celebrating friendship by crocheting with others). So the soothing round-and-round of blue-toned mini-mandalas is matched with a visualisation exercise to engender a sense of calm, after which you’re encouraged to carry a finished mandala around with you to trigger the feelings with which it’s associated. Meanwhile, if you want some energy, you’re encouraged to get busy with some zingy orange – and slightly larger – mandalas.

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In case you’re not familiar with mindfulness, it’s an approach that has grown from traditional meditation, and was originally largely the work of Jon Kabat-Zin. (True story: years ago, I went on an eight-day mindfulness workshop led by Kabat-Zin and others: it was sometimes quite difficult to focus on what he was saying because I was distracted mightily by the fact that in person, he looks freakily identical to George W. Bush.) Anyway, at the heart of mindfulness is an emphasis on being ‘in the moment’, consciously experiencing everything around you right now and appreciating it, instead of losing yourself in worry about future or past.

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The idea of bringing meditation to crochet (or crochet to meditation) makes sense. There’s decent-quality evidence on the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies for a variety of problems (for example reducing relapse rates in recurrent depression), so they’re widely offered in the NHS here in the UK. That said, with my psychologist hat on, I’m not sure whether you can crochet/meditate (crochetate?) your way into things like perseverance, which is one of the areas covered by the book. But ignore me, cos I’m a sceptical ol’ sod who spent several training years having it beaten into me that you shouldn’t as much as breathe unless it’s evidence-based. (Don’t worry – there’s clear evidence that breathing is a perfectly fine idea. Do carry on doing it.) OK, they didn’t actually beat us, but a single withering look when you got your essays back from marking could have a similar effect.

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Anyway, so far, so good. And I’m sure most of you have heard mention of the emotional/cognitive benefits of knitting/crochet. As for marrying crochet with meditation? Sounds like a plan. The repetitive, small, physical motions of crochet are a good match for the mental energy of the visualisation exercises in this book. The approach would probably work best for experienced hookers, as the frustration, swearing, and flinging-across-the-room that are sometimes experienced by beginners wouldn’t really help you achieve success, unless your goal was to crochetate yourself into a state of murderous rage.

So let’s take a look at the crochet projects. There’s a good variety (of mostly household objects), with a few refreshingly original makes, such as small beaded bracelets that I’d be trying right now if I wasn’t already embroiled in several other projects.

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And I do like the design of the flowers in the Friendship Quilt.

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There are stress-balls and a shawl, coasters and blankets, as well as basic mandalas. The patterns are clear and well laid-out, and are written using UK crochet terms, though presumably that won’t apply to the US edition. Visually, the book is appealing, with its fresh, bright, layout and the playful hand-drawn doodles amongst the photographs. Can’t fault the design team.

Crochet Therapy was written by a physio-turned-wellbeing-coach, who’s made a mission of bringing the holistic benefits of yarnery to a wide audience. As a physio, she’s well-placed to understand the effects of the small physical movements involved in knitting/crochet, and she set up Stitchlinks, an organisation founded to bring the therapeutic and wellbeing benefits of yarn-craft to as many people as possible.

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As for the meditation exercises, the instructions are clear (although as Corkhill suggests, you may wish to record them on your phone so that you don’t have to keep pausing to read the next part). Some rely primarily on visualisation (eg of a relaxing beach scene) to be undertaken whilst you hook, whereas others – that I prefer – incorporate the process of moving hook and yarn through your fingers into the meditation itself. I confess at this point that any form of meditation is not my ‘thing’, but if I was to use these exercises regularly, it would be the latter ones involving meditation on the process of stitching that would appeal to me the most.

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So all in all, you’ll like this book if:-

  • Imagery-based exercises appeal to you.
  • You like to focus on the process of crocheting, not just the outcome.
  • You’re not a complete beginner, and can happily stitch away without pausing to growl at your mistakes and rip back twenty rounds.
  • You’re interested in using craft to enhance your mood and have the opportunity to practise these exercises.
  • You’re happy to try all sorts of different and fairly simple projects.

You’ll be marginally less keen if:-

  • Meditation and imagery just aren’t your preferred ‘thing’.
  • Your idea of a good evening’s crochet involves reinventing the most complex stitch combinations known to humankind, with the need to pay meticulous attention to where you’re up to in the pattern. Also swearing. And wine. (Welcome to my world.)
  • You have a near-phobia of anything that sounds to you as though it might be a little bit ‘woo’.

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After The Sun, The Rain

See that cloud up there? Yup that’s right, the big hairy∗ grey one. Well as I walked the twinnage to school, it snuck up behind us and dumped a ton of rain on our heads. The twinnage think we should go by car when there’s a downpour; I think we should be fearlessly rugged and outdoorsy and brave all manner of elements to get there on foot. I (mostly) have custody of the keys to the Stinkwagon, so I win. One day soon, it’ll occur to the twinnage how ridiculous I’m being and they’ll mutter, “For goodness sake Mother, it’s the village High Street, not the north face of the Eiger”, but in the meantime, we walk. And now the sun is coming out.

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We’ve had that kind of month so far: when leaving the house, it’s important to wear suncream, waterproofs, flipflops, sunglasses, and a woolly hand-knitted scarf. You may look weird, but you’ll thank me later.

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Still, for colour-lovers like all of us here, the aftermath of each downpour does provide good photo-snapping opportunities. Look!

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How jewel-like are those raindrops?*

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I’ve been trying to carve out a tiny bit of time to concentrate on taking pictures, rather than just snapping shots rapidly and thoughtlessly with small children around my ankles. Let’s just say that it’s a work in progress, the time thing. In particular, I really need to start using the tripod rather than relying on my shaky hands. Tomorrow. I’ll definitely start bothering with the tripod tomorrow

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Last week, I went on a photography walk around Streatley (a nearby village), as part of the Gap Festival, with a friend (sorry, I mean arch enemy). I’m so glad that she suggested it, because it was awesome. And I say that as someone who very rarely falls victim to the temptation to use the word awesome. The event was run by two pros, and I took hardly any shots because I was too busy listening to their amazing advice and wisdom. OK I got a great snap of my friend lying down on a bridge to get the right angle for her photo, but I don’t have the resources to compensate her if she sues me for publishing it, so you’ll just have to imagine the scene. After the event, most of us retired to a local café and one of the course leaders got out his laptop to show us his work and to teach us so. many. things. It’s fair to say that he pretty much knows which way round the camera goes.

I didn’t dare tell them about the telephoto zoom that remained hidden in the depths of my bag.

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The event was inspiring, though, and it prompted me to go home and use my camera more mindfully and to start lusting in vain after a better camera body. I do use most of the different functions on the camera, but I need to start also using time. And thought.

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In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this watery tour of the (few) bits of the garden that I haven’t dug up yet.

Happy knitting and hooking, people.

Exciting book review coming next!!

 

∗ OK, it’s not really hairy.

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When A Knit-Lover Goes Shopping

Want to see something that’s both gorgeous and knitting-related?

This isn’t usually a blog about buying-all-the-things, but occasionally my typing finger hovers a little too persistently over the “Add to cart” button. And on this occasion I succumbed to temptation. Sorry-not-sorry. Would you like to see the contents of the little parcel that fearlessly flew the Atlantic and plopped through my letterbox the other day? Loook! (This isn’t a sponsored post – I paid full price, I have no connection with the maker, who as far as I know has no compromising photos with which to blackmail me for publicity.)

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How lovely? I’ve been wearing them most days since they arrived.

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See those grey hairs? They weren’t there before the twinnage arrived.

They were made by Jewelia Designs, and they’re perfectly splendid. Just sayin’.

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Anyway (this post is a tad bitty – I hope you don’t mind) do your laser-sharp minds recall the shark-bombed house that I mentioned a few posts ago? Well as luck would have it, it’s up for rent right now. Move your life and your work and your family to Oxford, UK, and all this could be yours! See here. And if you decide to do so, please be kind enough to invite me for dinner because I’d really like to view your shark up close (as well as share your company over dinner, obviously).

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But let’s get back to the knitting. Specifically, Simply Knitting magazine, the folks for whom I take a spatula to scrape some of the bonkersness out of the recesses of my brain for a column once a quarter. Well this month ain’t my quarter, BUT the current issue features an article on knit-blogging, with interview material and photos from me and a couple of other bloggers. You could maybe put a case to argue that I’m a tad biased, but I think that knit-blogging is a lot of fun, so if you’re tempted to try, here’s some advice. Part two next month.

Yup, that's my camera strap, leaf design, hands cutting knitting, and bag design.

Yup, that’s my camera strap design and camera, leaf design, hands cutting knitting, and bag design.

And that, my fine fibrous friends, is pretty much all for this evening. Very much more to come…

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Want A Free Pattern For Knitted Cherries?

(This may be the longest blog post ever. But I hope that it’ll make you laugh. Your patience will at the end will be rewarded with a free knitting pattern.)

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You know when you get embroiled in an epic yarn war with someone, and you’re prepared to battle to the death – nay, further even than that – to achieve knitting victory?

No?

Nor did I until a couple of weeks ago.

I have a friend. Well, actually she’s a mortal enemy right now, to the extent that our two families are doomed to mutual loathing for generations to come, but until recently she was a friend. Let’s pretend she’s called Selma. And let’s pretend she blogs beautifully about knitting and crochet and sailing and cake and rural Oxfordshire life and her Norwegian heritage at eclectichomelife.blogspot.com.

You with me so far?

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Anyway over a glass or two in the village pub, Selma and I got into one of those debates – as-yer-do – about working up a new design together for making cherries in yarn as part of a larger project, and whether it would be better for us to do so in knitting or crochet. And that’s when things went wrong. Very wrong. Maybe it was the strength of the rioja we were drinking, or maybe it was something in the air (pollen, probably – hay fever does tend to make me cantankerous), but suddenly the atmosphere changed. As our voices rose, conversation at the surrounding tables fell away. A dog that had been snoozing beside its owner’s feet opened one eye and pricked up its ears, sensing trouble. Behind the bar, the landlord narrowed his eyes.

There was a leaf, but it needs a bit of reworking...

There was a leaf, but it needs a bit of reworking…

Crochet,” hissed Selma.

Knitting,” quoth I, thumping my wine glass down so hard that a few drops of rioja sploshed onto the table. Selma and I paused to wipe up the spillage before continuing our argument.

Crochet, you fool.”

K-N-I-T-T-I-N-G.”

OK, you’ve probably grasped the gist of the argument by now. It continued in this vein for some time, the eyes of the pub flicking from one to the other of us like spectators at a tennis match. Who knows where it would have ended if the landlord, realizing that he had serious trouble on his hands, hadn’t escorted us from the premises?

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So that, my fine fibrous friends, is how the two of us found ourselves outside with our yarn and our hooks and our needles, barred from the village pub for the rest of the evening, our dispute unresolved. The only solution, we realized, was for Selma to create a design in crochet and for me to create a design in knitting, and then we could see which was best.

Let me tell you that much as I love crochet, I had no intention of losing this challenge.

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I began knitting up a simple seamless pattern using double-pointed needles, refining it with each new try. All went well. It exuded the very essence of cherry-ness. It practically smelled of cherries. Now, one of the challenges of this project that’s fermenting in our oddball imaginations is the fact that these cherries need to be tough and outdoorsy: filling them with toy stuffing wasn’t an option. (One day soon we’ll be able to show you why, but for now you’ll have to just trust me.)

But what on earth to use instead? Frankly, I was stumped. So I decided to go undercover and see how my adversary was solving the problem.

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Selma lives in a picturesque old cottage in a rival village. And she likes to work outdoors. She has no idea that one afternoon last week, an intruder scrambled awkwardly over her garden fence, landing head-first amongst the hostas, swearing quietly before righting herself and peering through the leaves. I was in luck: Selma was sitting at the garden table working with a hook and some red yarn. Cherries! As she finished making each fruit, she reached into a bowl and picked up some small round object with which she filled the crochet. But I just couldn’t see what it was. All I knew was that I had to find out what was in that bowl. After a long time (maybe it wasn’t really that long, but time drags when you’re sitting on a thistle – Selma really should weed her garden more thoroughly), she stood up and went into the kitchen. I heard the sound of a kettle being filled. This was my chance! Like the hero of an action movie (in my imagination, at least), I burst out from amongst the hostas and raced across the lawn towards the table. OK, I probably shouldn’t actually have stolen the bowl, but by the time I was back in my hosta-hide, it was too late to replace it because the back door of the house was opening again.

So what was in the bowl? Look!

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Marbles. I grudgingly concede that this was an inspired idea of hers. Still hidden in the hostas with the bowl of marbles, I saw Selma came back outside. She looked around the table, frowning, clearly noticing what was missing. Her frown deepened.

Yes my friends, it was true: Selma had lost her marbles∗.

Anyway back at home, I pondered. It wouldn’t do to steal her idea, would it? But what else could I use? What – other than an actual cherry – is perfectly cherry-sized and shaped, and is waterproof and tough?

Balls, I thought.

No, really. Balls. Children’s rubber bouncy balls:-

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And the beauty of these things is that with a sharp knife, you can cut out a little piece top and bottom to make the indents on the fruit. Ha, I could smell victory. I almost felt guilty for stealing Selma’s marbles. Almost.

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So, in the interim before the madcap final project is available, would you like the pattern for some perfect →knitted← cherries? Yes? Oh all right, then.

∗ Just had a horrible thought: what if losing one’s marbles isn’t a universally-understood metaphor? Apologies if this phrase is absent from your life and my weak joke has thus fallen flat.

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Anyway, here ye’ go:-

Yarn

I made these cherries in Patons Cotton 4-ply in Red, but that’s just because I had most of a ball left over from a previous project. Ditto the green I used for the stalks: DMC Natura Just Cotton in Pistache. Assuming that you’re substituting in your own choice of yarn, know-ye that Patons Cotton 4-ply is billed as being good for 28 stitches per 10cm/4″ with 3.25mm needles.

You’ll also need…

  • A set of 5 DPNs. I used 2.5mm needles because I wanted the stitches to be nice and small.
  • Some 27mm bouncy balls, such as these.
  • A craft knife.
  • A lockable stitch marker, or a safety pin, or a tiny stitch holder.
  • A not-too-thick, not-too-thin needle. Think very fine darning needle.

Abbreviations:-

  • kfb – Increase 1 by knitting into the front and back of the stitch.
  • kfbf – Go completely wild and increase 2 by knitting into the front, and back, and front of the stitch.
  • k2tog – C’mon, you know this one. Knit 2 stitches together to decrease by 1.
  • S1, k2tog, PSSO – Decrease 2 by slipping a stitch, knitting 2 together, then passing the slipped stitch over. (Or if you’re not in the mood for such shenanigans, you could just k3tog – I won’t tell.)

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So let’s do this thing, yeah? Let’s knit ourselves some stonkingly splendid cherries.

  1. Cast on 4.
  2. kfbf every stitch, and distribute the resulting stitches between 4 needles as you go. (12)
  3. Knit every stitch.
  4. On each needle, kfb, k, kfb. (20)
  5. On each needle, k2, kfb, k2. (24)
  6. Knit every stitch.
  7. On each needle, k3, kfb, k2. (28)
  8. Knit every stitch.
  9. Knit every stitch.
  10. Knit every stitch.
  11. On each needle, k3, k2tog, k2. (24)
  12. Knit every stitch.
  13. On each needle, k2, k2tog, k2. (20)
  14. On each needle, k2tog, k, k2tog. (12)
  15. Knit every stitch.
  16. Insert bouncy ball from which you’ve cut a small portion at top and bottom.
  17. On each needle, s1, k2tog, PSSO. (4)
  18. Cut yarn, thread needle, and pass through all stitches. Pull tight.
  19. Now you’ll understand why the needle needs to be as tough-but-fine as possible. Pass it down through the centre of the ball and out the other side, ideally in the middle of the opposite indent in the ball. And then pass it back the other way. And again, and again. Cut the yarn as close to the cherry as possible. There, you’ve got a beautiful cherry with perfect cherry dimples top and bottom. Don’t be surprised if some flakey bouncy ball detritus is now scattered on your trousers. Maybe consider wearing trousers with a bouncy ball – flake pattern on them to disguise the mess.

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Make two cherries, then use green yarn to make the stem:-

The stem is worked as an i-cord, starting slightly thicker before splitting into 2 and attaching a pair of cherries.

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  1. Using 2 of your DPNs, cast on 4 stitches. Slide the stitches to the other end of the needle and, pulling the yarn tightly behind, knit another row of stitches starting with the first stitch you cast on. Repeat this a few times, until you’ve worked approximately half a centimetre. Then put the last 2 stitches you worked on something to hold them (the world’s smallest stitch holder, maybe, or – as I did – a locking stitch marker. You could also use a safety pin.)
  2. Working with the first 2 stitches only, continue working an i-cord until it’s about 6cm long. Cast off and cut yarn.
  3. Remove the other 2 stitches from their holder, rejoin yarn, and work another i-cord of the same length, trapping the yarn end inside the cord. Cast off and cut yarn.
  4. Attach stem ends firmly to tops of cherries.
  5. Rejoice in the wonderful superiority of your creation.

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…And that’s it.

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When Your Knitting/Crochet Just Keeps Getting Smaller

Do you know that feeling when you take your knitting (or crochet) somewhere, only to return later with less of it than you had when you left home?

No? Just me, then?

Hang on, I know it’s not just me because sometimes at knit-night in the pub, a friend∗ is overheard muttering, “Aargh, I’m three stitches short again!” before yanking out her needles and ripping away three hours’-worth of intricate cabling. This definitely, definitely has nothing to do with the wine or gin that we’ve been drinking. But it’s particularly likely to happen when the rival knitting group is also in residence. The rest of us wince as we watch a pile of yarn with that distinctive unravelled curl grow beside the poor knitter. We’re not smug, because we’ve all been there and we feel her frustration. Even the members of the rival knitting group aren’t gloating. “Next week I’m bringing a garter stitch washcloth,” she sighs. We all know that this won’t happen, because knitting is like childbirth: the agony and frustration and vows of NEVER EVER AGAIN are soon forgotten, only to be replaced by thoughts of, Ooh, wouldn’t it be fun to knit one of those heirloom lace shawl thingies that’s three miles wide but fits through a wedding ring.∗∗

If we're knitting, we're sipping.

If we’re knitting, we’re sipping.

Anyway the reason that I raise the subject of diminishing knitting/crochet is because of what happened last week when the twinnage, the Stoic Spouse, and I cancelled work, loaded up the stink-wagon, and headed down south-west for four days to stay in a beautiful old cottage on the Devon coast for some serious yarn holiday-time. Since I was in charge of packing for everyone except the Stoic Spouse, we took a lot of knitting with us. (Yeah, yeah, I also threw in a few children’s toys and a change of socks, because it’s not as though I’m yarn-obsessed or anything crazy like that…) Devon was lovely, thank you for asking. The cottage had a cute courtyard that was eminently suitable for yarnery:-

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I mentioned a while back that a good friend and I are working on writing a knit/crochet book together, and I thought these few days away would be a good chance to work hard on one of the patterns for this. I apologize now for how thoroughly irritating I’m going to be in the coming months dangling hints of projects in front of you without (yet) giving you the flippin’ patterns to make them, but it’s hard to know how else to proceed, and I will try to create other new things WITH free patterns for you, too. At least I can safely show you my disasters so that you can have a good belly-laugh at my expense. I can most certainly reveal that whilst this pattern is for something small, the amount of knitting that has gone into its various prototypes is so large that I could have knitted a planet-warmer for the entire world in the same time.

Still, I got to knit (and rip out) various versions in some very pleasant settings.

Yup, that's a smidgeon of twinnage right there. May we please crowd-fund my legal fees for the future date when he sues me for this image?

Yup, that’s a smidgeon of twinnage right there. May we please crowd-fund my legal fees for the future date when he sues me for publishing a picture of him?

I knitted out at sea:-

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And the Stoic Spouse kindly agreed to do most of the driving. Result!

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This is a picture of me not driving.

Sadly, the twinnage vetoed us going on this wheel, so I can’t show you any photos of sky-high knitting:-

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And as we scrambled over rocks and hills, my geological side was rather pleased to stumble upon some fossils. These are coral, if I’m not very much mistaken:-

fossil collage

But the problem was that no matter how much I knitted (and know-ye that I knitted a lot) I never quite achieved The Final Version of the pattern. When I tinkered successfully with one part, it caused knock-on effects on another part which then needed re-knitting from scratch. Never did so much knitting achieve so little.

But I’m almost there. I’m back home, and I have a version that’s not too shabby. Even though it is rather smaller than what I started out with.

Sigh.

 

∗ Don’t worry Alice, you shall remain nameless.

∗∗ Here’s a very naughty tip: if you’re going to agree to make one of those, only do so for someone whose fingers – and thus ring size – are on the larger size. And if they’re not possessed of suitably large proportions, keep offering them doughnuts in the run-up to the wedding.

 

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Mutants! Mutants Everywhere!

I saw the weirdest thing today (whilst knitting, obviously).

There I was, flicking through a perfectly normal gardening catalogue, thus proving through one simple action that I’ve left my youth behind forever, when I came across the most spooky mutant plant thingy that I’ve ever seen.

The TomTato. And I’m not even joking. Look:-

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How spooksome is that?! You plant this oddball in a pot, and whilst above ground you get a lovely crop of cherry tomatoes, below ground the roots are busy making… potatoes∗. See? Freaky. If they could just somehow graft a live cow onto the side, you’d practically have the makings of a beef hotpot (or possibly a futuristic horror movie) right there in one tub.

Gotta be easier than the vying-for-space that goes on between the potatoes and tomatoes (and other veg) that I’m growing on the patio:-

Definitely Not Mutants

Definitely Not Mutants

I didn’t even know that this could be done, but it got my knitting head thinking – what else might be possible? Imagine if, the next time you buy a 50% wool, 50% alpaca ball of yarn, it comes from one animal? May I present… the sheepaca!

the sheepaca

the sheepaca

Actually, it has been tried (properly crossing a sheep and an alpaca, I mean), in order to breed hybrids to guard flocks of sheep. But I assume that the idea didn’t really catch on, because I can’t find a photo. And there’s a llama-alpaca hybrid called a huarizo, which sounds rather blissfully knittable. I think we need a few of those for the lawn.

In my fantasies, I’d turn our whole back garden over to a Good Life – style smallholding, chock-full of veg and fruit and yarn-producing creatures. Meanwhile, the Stoic Spouse dreams of a miniature railway paradise out there. We’re compromising by doing something that’s completely different from either of these, because surely the point of a good and fair marriage is to make certain that both parties are equal in their gloomy disillusionment?

Seriously, though, whilst the Stoic Spouse begins his annual summer campaign of repairing the bits of the house that dropped off over the winter… (any idea what this bit is and where it goes??):-

This dropped off the tower. We have no idea what it does.

This dropped off the tower. We have no idea what it does.

…I’m completely (and very slowly) redesigning the garden. Out will come all the dull overgrown shrubs, and in will come many, many, many bulbs spanning every season, and also a few fruit trees, including cherries to celebrate the cherry-growing heritage of this village. So if my rate of knitting/crochet has been slow of late, then my rate of cursing stubborn tree roots as I dig them out has been rather greater.

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So yeah. That’s about it. Time to get on with some knitting, methinks.

 

∗ Yes, I am indeed aware that tomatoes and potatoes are related, but thank you for checking, nonetheless.

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Filed under Outdoors