When I was a child the only way to learn stuff was to go to school, visit the library or watch Tomorrow's World on a Thursday evening. Playing out led to experimentation and everybody was world-class at building a den from a deckchair, a couple of bamboo canes and an old sheet. Living near to a brook ensured that all the local kids developed valuable skills in dam-building and how to get mud onto every available item of clothing. Fast forward to the teenage years and magazines became the go-to sources of wisdom for everything - which lipstick is The Best Buy, How to Get That Boy You Fancy and Covering School Exercise Books On A Budget. I look back on those days with a certain amount of nostalgia - for the innocence of not knowing, the enjoyment of choosing library books, reading the classified ads in the paper trying to find a crazy mistake.
Owning a cellphone was my first step into the computer age. In my pocket I carried a device that I could use anywhere, anytime, to contact people I wanted to talk to. Better still, by the magic of technology, I could type out a mini message and send it to them. Wow. I still hadn't discovered the magic of the Web, but it wouldn't be too far away.
I finally got online around eight years ago. There's a lot of bad material out there on the internet, but for me the good far outweighs any of the terrible stuff. Every day I happen across something new or interesting, and I have learnt many wondrous and exciting things. Social media has given me a window onto the wider world, and through it I interact with some wonderful people who share their knowledge and quirky news items with me. Whenever I feel a bit isolated or lonely just knowing that there are other people out there is an instant mood-lifter. Interacting with and being able to correspond with people from all over the world enriches my life in ways that I would never have thought possible in my pre-internet days, and on a couple of occasions I have met my cyber-buddies in real life which is pretty damn awesome.
The wealth of material for study is seemingly unlimited. For my college work I can search for information and inspiration and along the way I have found hundreds of things that have pleased me, some connected to fashion and textiles, others less so. Recently I have discovered the joys of digital art (makes my Photoshop efforts look a bit crap), how to register multi-coloured screenprint designs (not as easy as it would first appear) and how to make Bismuth crystals in the comfort of my own home (looks a bit dangerous to me - I'll leave it to the experts). I have seen crap taxidermy and terrible jokes that have made me laugh heartily. YouTube has reminded me of some great music that I had forgotten about, along with some that I wish I could forget. I can sell my knitting patterns online with great ease, and the buyer gets an immediate copy in their inbox without having to leave the house, and they can also contact me for help if they get stuck.
However wonderful it all seems, it's important to have a degree of cynicism as well. Those 'facts' on Wikipedia are not always as accurate as one might assume, so using them as the basis for an essay could well backfire. Not everyone online is genuine so it's wise to exercise a degree of caution and not give out too much information about oneself. Maintain an air of mystery at all times - and if they do inbox you on Facebook with a rude proposition give them the bum's rush and block them.
The upshot of all this is I am hopelessly, irredeemably in love with the World Wide Web and all the many gems it contains. I had a good childhood which made me curious for knowledge and hungry for information, and now I can indulge myself daily with the things I find on the internet.
Messing about in the brook and building dams out of mud was brilliant at the time, but you can't beat the thrill of daily discovery that the Internet brings to millions of people every day. I have to go now - there's some microscopic images of fruit fly eyes for me to peruse and a couple of badly-stuffed dead voles demanding my attention.
The end of term hand-in dates are looming and it's a race to the finish. The brief for this project is 'Ethereal' and I've designed and made a dress. Those last five words sum up the term, but don't really convey the amount of research, planning, experimentation, sampling, head-scratching, writing, analysing, puzzling and thinking that go into the design process.
This is a picture of the experimental embroidery on the bodice, made from layers of sheer and delicate fabrics which have been cut away to reveal what's underneath. After cutting, more machine embroidery has been worked and a scattering of beads sewn on. I'm an enthusiast for techno fibres, so a few of them made it onto the piece - holographic Lurex and UV Reactive (or glow in the dark) for a final flourish.
My apologies for not updating this blog more frequently. The last few months have been busy, filled with experimentation and creating, so there's little time for the fun things in life. However, spring is here, there's a promise of sunshine and happiness so I wish you joy. And lots of beads and shiny things.
The College organised a Christmas Decorations competition. Students and staff were invited to create a 'red and gold' themed decoration to go on the tree in the foyer, and as expected for an art college there were a lot of very creative and beautiful entries. I was lucky enough to win a prize for my efforts, and I am now the proud owner of a fancy Christmas cake, made and decorated by Belinda who is the go-to lady behind the desk.
The good news doesn't stop there. On Thursday I took my driving test and passed! I was so surprised I hugged the examiner (with his permission!) and then hugged my instructor Nick (whether he wanted me to or not, he had no choice). He has the utmost patience and is perfectly suited to a job that must require nerves of steel.
The years leading up to this momentous day have been long and arduous. I started taking lessons in 1989 (yes, really) with another eternally patient man, Eric, who had a marvellous moustache and a neat line in 1970s cop-show leather jackets. After many, many lessons I took, and failed twice, my test. By this stage my money, confidence and will to carry on had vanished so I resigned myself to spending my life as a passenger.
In June this year I had a revelation. Why not have another go? Surely it can't be that hard? I knew Nick via a friend, so I called and booked my first lesson. The only things I could remember after a 25 year hiatus were where the pedals were and don't cross your hands when you're steering. Apart from that I was an absolute beginner again.
With all the zeal of a new hobbyist I took lessons twice, sometimes three times a week and slowly (very slowly) started to get the hang of it. I bought a CD-ROM to revise for the theory test (so many endless questions about towing a caravan!!) which I passed on a damp day in September. Then Nick suggested I book my practical test.
All fine and dandy, I now had about 8 weeks to hone my skills. About three weeks before my test I suddenly turned into a motoring moron and made every mistake going as I drove around Nuneaton. Wrong lane position? Too fast? Not fast enough? Wrong gear? Stalling at every stop? Farting about? Not using mirrors? Oh yes, I covered the lot.
Privately, a minor panic set in and I could see myself taking test after test after test. Then, as if Paul Daniels himself had worked a trick things suddenly clicked into place and I felt like a proper driver. I could do this, I told myself, whilst mentally buying a shiny yellow car and setting off for somewhere exciting like Leicester or Mablethorpe.
Finally the day dawned. The lesson before the test was terrible. Really, really bad. Hit the kerb on both attempts at reversing round a corner. Did a really crap emergency stop and hit the gas and the brake at the same time (WTF?). Stalled the engine (twice - or was it four times?). Got myself into a right flap. Nick decided I needed a break before my test, and that fried egg cob and milky tea certainly hit the mark.
I can't actually remember a lot about the test itself. I remember the three point turn and the immense relief of realising I wouldn't have to reverse round a corner, the manouvre which had always been my bete noir. Heading towards the Griff Roundabout with a sinking feeling, only to turn left into much less scary roads. Arriving back and being told I've passed.
Nick said afterwards that based on the lesson that morning he doubted I would pass, so it was a pleasant surprise for him when I did. I'll be seeing him again soon to do my Pass Plus course and I can't wait to get a car of my own and get mobile.
So now I'm on the lookout for a motor. Ideally something small, cheap to run, cheap to insure and preferably yellow. I realise I will probably have to make a compromise on the last part, but after taking 25 years from start to finish and finally passing my test a few more years waiting won't make a lot of difference. My perfect Custard Car will present itself one day.
Last month I went back to college to start my HND in Design for Fashion and Textiles. It's been a busy few weeks, with lots of new things to get my head around and exciting things to try. At the moment I'm neck-deep in homework, fortunately it's all good stuff so I'm not bored by it.
Our major brief at the moment is 'Wear a Chair'. Not literally, but looking at chairs as inspiration for clothing designs - fabrics, shapes and styles in furniture offer a wealth of ideas that can be translated to garments. Having said that, my brother wore a picnic chair once when the fabric seat split and he went right through it.
It's the cross-pollination of design ideas and techniques that I find so absorbing with this project. Many art disciplines have areas that overlap, but if you dig a little deeper into any field of design you will find nuggets that can be used in other projects.
I have no final design in mind just yet, but there's still a while to go and in the meantime I'm enjoying messing about with different fabrics and resources, making samples and finding out what looks good (and, in some cases, what looks crap). I'll keep you posted.
My first year at college is drawing to an end. In all honesty I am feeling a little bit sad and rather flat after all the pressure/deadlines/fun/excitement. The work has all been handed in and my entry in the Exhibition is ready for the grand opening next week. I am displaying my burlesque costume, along with some related bits and pieces. As I prepared my display I got to take a look at some of the other work being shown and there's some really top-class artwork there. Mine feels rather amateur in comparison.
Anyway, there's nothing I can do about it now. Hopefully I will get a good final grade and then I can look forward to September when I will be starting a two-year HND in Design for Fashion and Textiles. Onwards and upwards!
The end of the academic year is in sight and I am plodding away on my Final Major Project. It's a 'freestyle' project in that the student is allowed to choose their own subject and run with it, so I am looking at Dance costumes with a view to making one for me to wear.
There's an irony in this somewhere. I am not a dancer. I don't have the build of a dancer. It's many years since I shook my tail feathers on a dancefloor. However, deep inside there's a longing to be led around a ballroom by a handsome man as the band plays a jaunty quickstep. For the past few weeks I've been looking at all sorts of dancewear from ballet to modern via ballroom, latin and burlesque. After all that research I'm ready to start making my outfit, details of which will be kept securely under wraps until it's all finished.
As you contemplate what on earth I am planning, there are a few things you can be sure of. It will be sparkly, flamboyant and FABULOUS!!!!!!
The good thing about college is that I'm always learning something new. Today we learnt some basic bookbinding techniques and whiled away the morning making a little notebook. It was a lot of fun and very inspiring....the only drawback is that it's another thing to devote more time to! The tutor gave us lots of ideas for experimenting with different materials and now I want to go off and make ALL the books. Oh dear. I need to live for a very long time if I'm going to fit in all the things I want to make.
Last week I took a holiday. I spent five days in London and managed to cram in an awful lot of things so being back home doing normal activities seems a little mundane.
Artwise I visited the David Bailey 'Stardust' exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I wouldn't say that photography is one of my strongest areas but I can appreciate a good picture and there were certainly a lot of those on display. In particular I was intrigued with a set of photographs which had been taken for the 1985 film 'Revolution' which had been manipulated during the processing and printing stages to create some interesting results. This was in the days before Photoshop so ageing and deterioration effects on photos had to be done manually. The exhibition guide states To give the degraded effect, Bailey transferred the Polaroid images to 10 x 8 x-ray film and printed them under water to give the appearance of being taken through an imperfect lens. This type of tinkering about appeals to me, and I would like to have a go myself although I don't think that Mr Bailey needs to panic just yet.
Another highlight of my holiday was visiting The Shard, western Europe's tallest building. Two lifts take you very quickly up to the top which is 70 floors above ground, and if you stand very still you can detect a slight sway in the building......ooooh! Our first attempt to gain entry was thwarted because they were up to capacity. We went back a little later which turned out to be most fortuitous! It was dusk and watching London light up was magical. I took some photos but my little point and shoot found the light levels and reflections on the glass walls a little challenging, but here's one to give you a flavour of what I saw.
Because I'm one of those arty-farty types I faffed about with another photo I took and made something a little more abstract.
There are many more London tales to tell, but that's enough for one day.
Tomorrow is the first day back at college after the Christmas holidays. The decorations have been carefully packed away (apart from the fake mistletoe because a. I need a stepladder to reach it and b. I live in hope) and the pile of festive edibles is getting ever smaller. In order to soften the blow a little (I'll miss those lie-ins) I have a nice new shiny oxblood-red leather satchel to lug my gear about in. I also have a new pencil case. It's one of those zip-top clear plastic cases that Christmas toiletries come in so I can immediately find my ink pen, graphite stick or rubber without having to tip everything out on the desk.
Being away from college doesn't mean I've been idle as I've managed to finish off a few assignments and bring the rest of my sketchbooks up to date. My main fear at the moment is my Animation brief, I know what I want to do but it's a big scary project and I don't know if I'm capable......AAAAAARRRGGH!!!!
By way of of New Year Treat and to show you what a fabulous artist I am (ha) here's a picture I did earlier with a Sharpie pen. If you've ever wondered what those headshots in the local newspaper look like with a body, this will enlighten you. You can do your own if you have a pen and a discarded newspaper.
Have a good New Year, may all your wishes come true blah blah etc etc.
Oh yes, that's me alright. I can't seem to go anywhere near an art class without getting myself smeared with something that's hard to scrub off. Today I got green oil paint on my cardi, most annoying as I was being Ever So Careful. Luckily my tutor came to the rescue with an industrial-sized jerrycan of white spirits, so disaster was averted on this occasion. Oil paint is a strange beast, full of depth and mystery and exotic smells. In common with it's mark-making counterparts it appears to have an uncanny desire to attach itself to my hands and clothing and cling on for dear life. In addition to paint my knuckles were further adorned today with inked 'Knit' and 'Purl' letters. The tutor offered to fetch some Indian ink, but I declined and insisted on using a fineliner pen. A fellow student was roped in to do the inkwork and he did a sterling job - the finished result was rather pretty in an aggressive sort of way. It's for an art project I'm working on involving criminal and gang tattoos but so far my research hasn't revealed any prisoners sporting knitting-related ink on their fingers. Other classes can be equally grubby, so for my Ceramics class I wear a rather fetching blue checked overall which makes me look like a dinnerlady but keeps me clean. Maybe I should take it to every class, just in case there's a possibility of handling anything messy.
Tomorrow is the last day in College before finishing for Christmas, so it's my final chance to get dirty before the new year. Otherwise I will just have to make a mess and get grubby in the comfort of my own home. Ho ho ho!!!
It's assessment time at college. I adore being a student, but after thirty years away from learning some of it has been a challenge to say the least. Yesterday my Glass was under scrutiny, and I had to take everything I have done, lay it out on a desk, then have questioned fired at me as the tutor went through my sketchbook in minute detail. I got immediate feedback so at least I don't have to wait three months to find out that I'm on the right track and assuming I keep up the same level of work I'll pass. Phew. However, no time to relax - that was just one subject and next Monday my work for the other subjects will be looked at and graded.
I need to include a little more primary research (ie stuff I have seen in person rather than in books/internet/tv). Fortunately I have a nice collection of Carnival glass so a few photos and notes about it will fit the bill. Here's a picture of some frilly, frivolous Marigold Carnival pieces to brighten your day.
It's easy to get a photo of Carnival glass since it doesn't move about and it needs no fancy lighting effects. On the other hand my decision to to also include information about Uranium glass is starting to lose it's appeal. It's another type of pressed glass, green in colour, and when seen in the dark and exposed to UV light IT GLOWS!!!!!! Unfortunately taking a picture with flash didn't work (it didn't highlight the glow effect), and with the flash off it didn't highlight anything much at all. My Nikon Coolpix is a fabulous little automatic camera that gives great results but taking pictures in the dark was just a little bit too much for it to cope with.
So that's it for today's college update. I'll keep chipping away at the rockface of art and design and when I unearth any gems you'll be the first to find out.
This self-portrait is the nearest you'll get to seeing me in the nuddy. I keep my fatass well and truly under wraps.
One of the joys of being a Mature Student at art school is trying out new techniques and media. I've discovered that I adore drawing ink, sketchy drawings are a good thing and black chalk used in conjunction with charcoal is a bugger to wash off your fingers. This week was my first attempt at drawing a Real Live Nude Lady. The class knew that this was imminent but personally I was a little surprised to walk into the classroom and find a woman in a fleecy robe perched on a table at the front of the class. After we had faffed about getting paper and pencils ready our ever-patient teacher, Alan, introduced us to our model and she disrobed. Alan likes to talk us through techniques whilst we are working so I spent the first part listening to him intently as he explained how to work out proportions of figures and where to begin. This helped a great deal as I started to see beyond the bare flesh and approached the task in a methodical way, recording the shapes and angles with a 5H pencil as the model sat there patiently. After a while we had a break so the model could move about a bit and we could appraise each other's work. The second part of the session began, and Alan helped out where needed - I was having real trouble with the head and feet. At the end of the session we thanked our model (who, incidentally, was very friendly and helped to put us all at ease) and had another look at what we had all achieved.
I must admit that after the initial embarrassment had worn off (surprisingly quickly) I enjoyed the session immensely and went home to look at nude portraits on the internet. I might add this was via respectable art websites, not those 'special adult interest'sites! The human body is a truly awe-inspiring thing, and it would be fabulous if one day I could love all my curves and lumpy bits, and feel confident enough to allow someone to draw me naked.
They'll have to bring a sizeable piece of paper.
I've been to Norfolk.
Since I started college I have done all manner of exciting things. I'm still looking for the wild parties, drugs, drink and casual sex with unsuitable men but there's time for that later. This week's exciting thing was a three-day residential trip to Norfolk in order to hone our photography skills. Previously my knowledge of this field involved popping a 110 film cassette into a slimline camera, snapping away then posting the finished film off to Truprint and waiting four weeks for some fuzzy pictures to plop through the letterbox. This was 1980. Fast forward ten years and I progressed to a 35mm idiot camera (so simple even an idiot can't get it wrong) although the developing process had speeded up a bit by then and the fuzzy pictures arrived within two weeks, or five days if I was feeling flush and took the film into Boots. During the Noughties I got my first camera phone and have been clogging up my computer memory with fuzzy pictures ever since.
A few weeks ago I was let loose with a Real Actual Digital SLR camera, on loan for a weekend from the nice man in the college tech store. NASA have sent men into space with less technology and I was dazzled by the knobs and buttons. By the time it was returned I had managed to film a time-lapse sequence but hadn't taken any actual pictures so the trip to Norfolk was my baptism of fire.
A handful of students turned out to be 'proper' photographers who carried kit that wouldn't look out of place in a professional studio but fortunately several of my contemporaries confessed to be as inept as myself. We were turfed out of the minibus and made our way to the beach at Wells-Next-The-Sea. The weather was fabulous, with late afternoon sun, and we all managed to take some great photos. Having no idea what I was doing meant that my first batch of pictures were ever-so-slightly out of focus but a patient tutor showed me how to adjust the viewfinder to suit my spectacles. After that I snapped merrily away, and I have selected a few pictures from the trip to give you a flavour of what I got up to.
This is the beach at Wells. One day I will have a beach hut. One day......
Where's Lawrence of Arabia when you need him?
Train men at Sheringham.
Hotel de Paris, Cromer. Now that would be a good place for casual sex with unsuitable men.
Holkham beach. Fifty Shades of Grey Sky.
A Load of Old Anchors And Balls.
I don't think I'll win any awards for photography just yet, but there's another trip (to France) taking place next April so by then my skills may have improved. If I can take a picture that isn't fuzzy and I won't have to wait four weeks for it to plop through the letterbox I'll be happy.
I've been following Banksy's month-long residency in New York with great interest. Every day for the month of October he has been creating new artworks, some of which are his trademark graffiti spray style whilst others are installations. He is an artist that definitely polarises opinion, with some people revering him and going to great lengths to procure bits of wall with his marks on. At the opposite end of the spectrum he is called a vandal, criminal and con artist. Whilst I would not necessarily want some of his works on display at home I have great admiration for what he does. Nobody knows where he will strike next. Speculation is rife about his identity, if indeed it is a man. Could be a woman. There's a possibility that there's a whole group of people, a conglomerate, a collective, a highly efficient business. Scratch a little deeper and it's obvious that his New York pieces are not the work of a random chancer but have been planned carefully to blend into their respective sites, so somebody has done extensive research and checked out the local architecture and existing street scenes. The stencils would have been cut in a studio, shed or spare room and tested out to make sure they work. Each one had to be transported to it's location from the point of origin, so were they mailed to New York in advance rather than attracting the interest of Customs personnel at JFK? Maybe they were transferred via e-mail from Banksy HQ and a local agent oversaw the production of the actual stencils? Is the guy in the One Day Spray Art Sale a patsy or is it Bansky himself, proving the old saying that the best place to hide is in plain sight? The whole exercise has raised more questions than provided answers.
Take a look at Better Out Than In, the website that documents the residency, at http://www.banksyny.com/
The NYPD are looking for Banksy in order to arrest him for criminal damage. He might not even be in New York, but safely pottering about at home in an old dressing gown, drinking tea and keeping an eye on events via the internet. He might even be a she.
She might be me.
Since going to college I have discovered that Art is not quite so scary after all. I had always thought that Fine Art meant being able to paint like Rembrandt but my lecturers have persuaded me that it's okay to make a mess and it's also more than okay to create something that isn't an exact copy of the subject (if I want to do that I can always take a photograph). So I've been making a mess with paint, wax, graphite, charcoal, ink, applying it to paper with sticks, cardboard, fingers, twigs, and staining my fingers on most, if not all, occasions.
My lecturers are all very patient and encouraging (for which I am eternally grateful) and I am starting to believe that I Can Do It. It's a great feeling, and hopefully it will last for a very long time!
I've gently closed the door on my old life and embarked on another. The past few years have been very traumatic at times, but I've survived and it's time to move on.
'They' always say that you should only regret the things you don't do, not the things you do. My biggest regret had always been missing out on higher education, so with this in mind I have become a Mature Student. I spend my days at the local college with like-minded people on an Access to Higher Education in Art And Design course. Eventually this will lead to my getting a degree in something arty, probably textiles or fashion but who knows, I might find I'm brilliant at ceramics or life drawing.
It's like getting a second shot at life, another bite of the cherry, another go. The first week was incredibly scary, all these assignments being thrown at me in subjects I knew absolutely nothing about and finding myself amongst a group of strangers. Week Three has finished and I'm still there. Finally things are slotting into space, the panic has subsided (a little bit) and I'm starting to enjoy the work. There's a lot more of it than I ever thought possible, and I'm spending at least a couple of hours a day at home doing research, planning, sketching ideas and so on. However I now feel as if I've hit the ground running, I'm organised (most of the time) and most important of all I feel that I've done the right thing. On reflection this probably wouldn't have worked very well for me at 18 since I would have been more interested in parties, boys and booze but as a 40+ singleton I am more focussed and even with the added extras of running a household I can fully immerse myself in studying.
I have mortified my sons by telling them on a regular basis that I've become a mature student for the wild parties, drugs and casual sex with unsuitable men. My life might have changed beyond recognition, but at heart I'm still the same old embarrassing mum. No amount of education will ever change that.
I've been rather quiet of late on the blog front. However, there's been all sorts of excitement going on behind the scenes, so to speak.......more of which to follow at a later date. In the meantime, rest assured I haven't forgotten you, I'm still crafting and I'm okay. Until then - have fun!
Recently I had a hankering to make a traditional patchwork bed quilt. The first time I did any patchwork was when I was at high school, around 13 years old, and a few of us had a fad of sewing together fiddly fabric hexagons. With great optimism my bedcover was started but as with so many things that teenagers try it was soon consigned to the back of the wardrobe. This time around to avoid mid-project abandonment I planned to eschew hand sewing altogether and join everything together with my trust Bernina. Because I am a) a tightwad and b) wanted a faded, aged feel to my quilt the local charity shop beckoned and I soon found a ready supply of old pillowcases and tablecloths. Historically, quilts were made from left-over scraps of fabric and worn out clothing so this was another good reason for recycling some unwanted textiles. I worked out that 625 ten centimetre squares would make a double bed-sized quilt so each pillowcase was unpicked, ironed and cut to shape. Being a novice I didn't want to do anything too involved design-wise, and a simple diamond pattern seemed appropriate. The squares were sewn together in strips, the seams pressed open then each strip was joined to form the quilt top.
For the backing I used an old duvet cover, cut into wide strips and sewn into a stripe pattern. To keep down costs, rather than buying wadding an Ebay search revealed a supply of summer-weight duvets, polycotton cover, slight seconds for around £8 including postage. On arrival it was an M&S duvet, and the only fault I could find was a slight thickening of the filling in one corner.
That bit about 'no hand sewing' was not strictly accurate, since I tacked the reverse onto the duvet first, using lines about 10cm apart. The top went on next, pinned first then tacked into place around the squares which would eventually be machine stitched. The whole hand stitching part took around 8 hours in total and resulted in a slightly sore finger!
The quilting was done in a diamond pattern following every third square, which resulted in the areas between each line forming a pleasing pouffy zig-zag effect. Quilting something this size on my sewing machine felt, at times, like wrestling with a big floppy fabric beast. Finally, some of the leftover fabric from the duvet cover was used to bind the edges and unite the front and back of the quilt. Before placing it on the bed the quilt had an adventure in the washing machine to freshen everything up.
I had enough leftover squares to make a cushion cover and I am quietly proud of my finished bedspread. Best of all, it has the Cat Seal Of Approval and the two gingers spend a lot of time covering it in their zeds!
My sewing frenzy coincided with The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC2. I watched this with great interest because anything that gets people making things has to be a good thing. The biggest disappointment to me was the competitiveness of it all. I was reminded of school sewing classes where there would be whispered remarks made about pattern choices, and there was always one girl who used a superior fabric and made sure everybody knew about it. I kept my head down and got on with it but I was always secretly pleased to come out top in every test. There was one incredibly competitive girl in the class - captain of the hockey team, winner in every sport, you know the type - and she would get really cross with me and try her hardest to beat me and get a higher mark.......she never did! This element of trying to be top dog was never my style, and that's why, even though a few people have said I should try for the next series, I will stick to being a viewer.
I would love to see a programme devoted to teaching techniques so that people are inspired to create their own clothes and soft furnishings without it being against the clock and competitive. I know my sewing skills are good - there's no need for me to go head to head with anyone else to prove it. Daytime TV used to have 'housewife programmes' which covered crafts, sewing, knitting etc but these slowly disappeared from the schedules which is a great shame since I was greatly inspired by 'Betty Foster's Adapting to Fashion' series which I watched avidly during school holidays. I still have a couple of her books. After the success of 'Sewing Bee' we just need to convince the TV bosses that there would be an audience for more shows like this. I will be a presenter if they ask me nicely. I'll even bring my own scissors.
A while ago I designed a pattern for a preemie-sized wrapover cardigan. I didn't anticipate quite how popular this would be, and I've been delighted with the response and the lovely messages that people have sent along with pictures of very cute babies wearing their cardis. I had several requests, so I have re-written the pattern to include two larger sizes to fit up to 16"/41cm chests. To get a copy of the pattern, go to http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/baby-kimono-9 and you can download a copy totally free of charge!
Which brings me to the second, less savoury part of my news. A while ago I was alerted to the fact that somebody was selling some of my free patterns on Ebay. Although it is flattering that they like my designs it is a blatant disregard of the law to take a pattern and sell copies for profit. Apart from the legalities I was offended that they were taking something for free and thinking it was acceptable to sell. Fortunately Ebay ordered the seller to stop, and they removed all the patterns from their selection along with many from other designers.
Although a lot of my patterns are pay-for-download they are competitively priced, and I like to offer the occasional freebie as a thankyou to those people who have bought from me in the past and also as a showcase for my designs. Sadly there are an awful lot of poorly-written patterns available, both free and paid for, but I like to think that anything I publish is easy to follow, clearly written and good value. To this end I ask that you exercise caution if shopping for patterns online - if it's a paid for item, does the money go directly to the designer or is it an illegal download? Buying from a reputable site such as www.ravelry.com is risk-free and the designers see the benefit rather than the bootleggers. Back to Ebay - if you are purchasing an original, for example a printed pattern leaflet or magazine (or original pages taken from a magazine), that is perfectly legal but anything photocopied, scanned or otherwise copied is not legal. Likewise, be wary of any sellers that state 'the pattern has been re-formatted' as this usually means they shouldn't be selling it either! All of this legal information applies to the UK, and it may differ in other countries.
Please don't be deterred from buying patterns via the internet - the vast majority of sellers are perfectly genuine and there are some amazing designs out there. Use your discretion, shop wisely and most of all enjoy your knitting!
It's been a while, I must confess. However I plan to write soon so in the meantime here's a little message to let you know I'm still around and well. Until my next post, here's wishing you a Happy New Year!
I have a thing for interesting objets d'art and an eye for the unusual (some uncharitable types might say it's an addiction to old tat) and this is obviously rubbing off on my children. Last week my teenage sons went to a local auction with their uncle and came back with a shiny red 1960’s Sparklet Soda Siphon. Immediately I visualised myself in a glamorous evening ensemble, entertaining guests with my sparkling wit as a suave, tuxedo-clad gentleman companion mixed cocktails for the chi-chi crowd. So often reality rarely lives up to these high expectations, but with my usual optimism I bought a pack of CO2 bulbs . After downloading some instructions from the internet my sons and I assembled in the kitchen, thrilled with the anticipation of a glass of lovely fizzy water. The gas bulb was loaded into the holder, screwed into place, and as the instructions had predicted we could hear gurgling as the gas transferred to the siphon. Things were going swimmingly until a spurt of pressurised water suddenly shot out from the side of the siphon, soaking my son, the kitchen floor, the worktop! I grabbed it and held it over the sink until the pressure had dropped and all the water had come out. Thankfully we saw the funny side but there was a hint of regret that our special moment hadn't been caught on camera. 'You've Been Framed' would have readily sent us £250 for our clip. After wiping up the mess we studied the offending item, and on closer inspection saw that a small hole had been blown out in the side of the siphon. There must have been a weakness there and I like to think that it had been dropped or damaged during a wild wife-swapping party in the 1970's. It now lives in the kitchen, useless as a soda siphon but priceless as a talking point.
As my dreams of tuxedos, tiaras and hip parties faded into the background I came to some conclusions. 1) Always keep a mop handy. 2) Stick to buying fizzy water from the supermarket as it's less likely turn the kitchen into a water feature. 3) Clearing up water whilst wearing a slinky black satin cocktail gown, high heels and two kilos of assorted diamante jewellery is a job best left to the professionals.
10th October is World Mental Health Day. Regular readers may remember I wrote about it this time last year, and they will also know that I'm not in the habit of discussing my health issues in a public place. If you're looking for a 'sickness confessional' you've come to the wrong website and I suggest you search elsewhere - there are plenty of 'ooh I'm poorly' bloggers out there.
To summarise last year's post I discussed my own mental health issues and also asked for tolerance and understanding for the one in four people who will at some time in their lives suffer, to a greater or lesser degree, poor mental health.
Just a few weeks after writing I had a major mental breakdown. I was a wreck. I won't go into details but it was terrifying and of all the dark places my mind has taken me to this had to be the worst. Being the private type of person that I am I told very few people and somehow managed to muddle along. A change of meds helped me on the path to a better place, but I found out exactly who my friends were.
The sense of abandonment was overwhelming. People whom I had previously considered kind and caring vanished into the ether, never to be heard of again. Those same people who joined the knitting group I started, happily came along to the social events and outings I arranged, freely took copies of my pattern designs that I made available to them (without charge I might add) were nowhere to be seen. To be fair I have had regular contact from three of my knit ladies who have been amazing. The group knew about my breakdown because my friends had told them, but I guess they just didn't know what to say, how to handle it. In fact I was in town with a friend one day when we saw one of the knit group ladies. She hugged my friend and had an animated chat but hardly bothered to acknowledge me. Later in the day my friend phoned me to see how I was feeling, and after I told her how hurt the earlier incident had left me she told me that several knit group members were uncomfortable with how to deal with it and didn't know how to approach the subject.
After being referred by my GP for counselling (and being on the waiting list for over six months) I was offered a series of sessions with Mind. Unfortunately if I wished to continue after the initial six weeks I would have to pay which I wasn't in a position to afford so I had to be re-referred by my GP and go back on the waiting list.
My counsellor was brilliant and helped me to clarify a lot of issues in my life and make some changes. With her support I made the momentous decision to 'come out'. I'm from a large family and telling my siblings about my life was very hard, but after I had told them I could begin to move on. Because I've spent most of my adult life hiding behind a cheerful, positive persona it's like a new me has been born and I finally feel comfortable about admitting to being a bit on the nutty side. I don't hide it any more - in fact I was at a meeting today and I was quite frank about it. Previously I would have kept quiet and said nothing.
During the summer I moved house, a stressful event for those in a good frame of mind and a huge trial for anyone with off-kilter mental health. For the past few months my depression has been deepening again to the extent that my creativity has slumped to an all-time low, hence the lack of blog posts detailing what I've been up to. The anniversary of my breakdown is fast approaching so my mind is churning over with thoughts about what has happened during the last 12 months and how far I have come.
If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me. As a little treat I've put together a few hints and tips for mental health sufferers, and also a few ideas that can be put into practice by friends and family.
1. There's no shame in it. It's an illness of the brain, and many great people have been cursed with it - Churchill, Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax to name but three. They have all gone on to lead fulfilling lives, and so can you.
2. If people suddenly vanish, never to be seen again when you are brave enough to admit to your mental illness IT'S THEIR PROBLEM, NOT YOURS. Shame on them for being ignorant and ill-informed. Put it down to experience, cherish the friends who have stuck by you and move on. In the long run it's their loss and hopefully one day they will realise what idiots they have been.
3. Don't plan too far ahead. Concentrate on getting through the next hour, the next evening, the next day. Take each new day as it comes and don't get overwhelmed with planning for imaginary future catastrophes that might never happen.
4. When you need help, ask for it and take it. Friends and family will be more than happy to lend a hand if things get too much to cope with, and they will gladly sit for an hour or two so you're not on your own. They may even bring cakes or biscuits with them.
5. If you have a supportive GP that's brilliant, if not find one who is more understanding. Don't be dismissive of taking medication - modern anti-depressants can be a great help. Personally speaking they haven't offered me a complete cure for my poorly brain but they've certainly helped me get through the darkest times. After a while a drug may become less effective, so see your GP regularly and if necessary he/she can prescribe something different.
6. Treat yourself gently and don't beat yourself up about it. It's a sickness like any other, you didn't ask to be mentally ill. Don't take on more than you can cope with, and learn to say 'no' if people try to pressure you into something you're not comfortable with.
7. Finally, if you've never had the misfortune to have poor mental health you are very lucky indeed! Unless you've been there it's impossible to know what sufferers go through, so don't be judgemental and be as supportive and kind as you can. Personally speaking I like visitors to bring a little bit of normality with them, so after a brief chat about how I'm doing I like to hear about their lives and what they've been up to. It's good to get a snapshot of life in the 'real' world, especially if you have a more reclusive lifestyle.
So that's it for World Mental Health Day 2012. When I next write it will be back to my normal, eclectic blather about nothing in particular so if you're looking for an update on my sanity (or lack of) you'll have to wait another year. Until we meet again may I wish you clarity and stability of mind, and the strength to battle your inner demons. Good Mental Health for all!
We're heading towards the end of summer at a rapidly-increasing pace, and yet again I find myself mourning the loss of what might have been. Another dreary, damp, miserable season limps towards the finishing line as I stare out at more rain and wonder why the past few years have been so dismal. One of my favourite summer activities is sitting in the garden with a mug of tea, knitting and cats to hand, enjoying the sound of the birds and watching the clouds drift across a blue sky. Sadly I have done precious little sky-gazing of late, and the parasol must think I have fallen out with it because it has seldom been opened recently.
Real life has curtailed my activities to a great extent in the past few months, and I've found it difficult to find the time to squeeze in any knitting. I finally cast off the hem of my seamless top-down short-sleeved cardi last week, but my enthusiasm for this project had been somewhat limited due to the lack of demand for an ivory-coloured flimsy garment. When I started knitting I visualised myself wearing it teamed with a floaty dress and strappy sandals, lounging in the garden drinking Earl Grey on a hot afternoon. Heavy clouds and persistent rain put paid to such musings and the part-knitted item lay untouched in a carrier bag for several weeks. The London Olympics gave me a perfect excuse to sit in front of the TV, and a spot of light knitting meant that I didn't feel guilty about watching all those lovely toned young men running about - after all I was doing something productive at the same time.
A while ago I knitted a frilly-fronted long waistcoat which I rarely wore, but the yarn is gorgeous so I unravelled it in order to make a second short-sleeved cardi. This one will be fuchsia pink with a silver Lurex thread, and there will be beads too. Lots of them. The finished garment will resemble one of those brightly-coloured nebulas sprinkled with twinkling stars that NASA take such lovely pictures of. And with any luck, 2013 will produce a 'proper' summer and I can wear it, sparkles and all, with a floaty dress as I lounge in the garden sipping Earl Grey.
What with one thing or another real life has kept me away from my blog. I'm still knitting, still designing, still gardening (weather permitting) so my life goes on! Thought I would just post a swift note to let everyone know that I haven't disappeared in a puff of smoke - or maybe that should be a wisp of mohair!
There was a report in the local 'paper yesterday about the last nightclub in town. Due to falling numbers they have decided to close for good, and when I read this a little part of me went into mourning. It's over 20 years since I last set foot in the place, but it was like a second home to me during the 1980's.
There has been a dancehall in that location for at least 60 years, maybe longer. In the Market Place is an old pub - another boarded-up and neglected building - that was called, many years ago, The George. Around the back was The George Ballroom where the young folk of Hinckley would spend their Saturday nights doing 'proper' dancing to a live orchestra. My late father worked there and would tell me stories of the different bands that visited - the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Animals. Eric Burdon once bought a drink for my Dad, and he was 'bouncing' on the night that Bob Monkhouse appeared and he had to hold back crowds of screaming girls who were desperate to get close to their idol. Lulu performed when her single 'Shout' was at the top of the charts, having been booked months before by Arthur Kimbrell who was Hinckley's very own 'Mr Showbiz'. He lived near to my grandma and the front window of his house was draped in silver lame, with posters on display advertising forthcoming events. I thought this was all terribly glamorous and couldn't wait until I was old enough to go these places. There's a blue plaque above the nightclub door commemorating Mr Kimbrell who brought many big names to the town.
The George Ballroom eventually became Tiffany's and live bands were replaced by records. I was very small when I went there to see Larry Grayson - I can't even remember the occasion, except that it was a Saturday afternoon - but I can remember the fake palm trees! There were a lot of hosiery and knitwear factories in town and many of them held their staff Christmas parties at Tiffany's, and the Hinckley Times would duly report about these events and publish pictures.
After Tiffany's it became Bubbles. That's where my affection and memories belong. I was fourteen, it was Sunday 1st November 1981, and my friends and I went to the Sunday Night Under 18s Disco. Oh wow. The place was decorated for Halloween with dead leaves and twigs on the floor, assorted fake cobwebs and various other props lying around. It was hard to see what the place was really like because of the smoke and dry ice which was kept at a high level all evening to add to the spooky effect. I thought it was absolutely thrilling and became a regular visitor there with my friends, looking forward to Sunday all week. After Halloween's detritus had been cleared away, the following week amazed me with the flashing lights, dry ice and loud music! There was a sprung dancefloor which was put to good use by me and my friends, and there was also an upstairs bar area that was rarely open for 'Baby Bubbles' as we called the under 18s sessions. Obviously there was no alcohol on sale but there were plenty of smokers adding to the general fug of too-much-aftershave-and-Impulse-Body-Spray. There was a little hatch that sold chips, and the bar offered a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails. My favourite involved coconut, pineapple and some unidentifiable flavours and each glass was topped with a little plastic animal. I gathered quite an impressive collection of these. Being full of teenagers there was a lot of 'my-mate-fancies-your-mate' going on and my first ever kiss happened at Bubbles.....I was 15 and I think he did it for a bet because I wasn't exactly the most fanciable girl in town.
There were two DJs, Tony Allen and Leigh Clarke, and they played all types of music so there really was something for everyone. They introduced me to lots of new music and a taste for listening to it at high volume! I was explaining to my son a while ago that the only way to listen to Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' is at a disco, full blast with the bass making the floor shake. As I got older I started to go to Bubbles on a Saturday night, which was always packed out with people looking for a good time. The upstairs bar would be open, and you could kneel on the banquette seats and watch the dancefloor through some rather grubby windows. I was doing just that when the most almighty fight broke out downstairs - chairs and tables flying, screaming, people running about - and the music was stopped whilst the bouncers waded in to sort out the troublemakers. Very scary at the time, and more so at a later date when I was standing near the door and narrowly missed getting caught up in a similar scrum.
Lots of people met their partners at The George, Tiffany's and Bubbles and I was no exception. I had known my husband for a while (actually I had dated one of his friends) but we actually got together on December 27, 1984 at Bubbles. After that we went there together most weekends, staying until chucking-out time at 2am. We also went to the regular 'Alternative' night every Thursday, a place for goths, punks and so on to go and listen to the music we liked and dance like fury until hometime. I occasionally (well, ok, quite frequently) didn't make it into work on a Friday due to extreme tiredness or a fierce hangover.
Underneath the building was a kind of loading bay/car park and a builder's skip caught fire, spreading to the upstairs and causing a lot of damage. We were devastated that our weekend haunt was forced to close, although it was refurbushed and re-opened a few months later. This is where my memory is a little hazy - after Bubbles the name was changed to Ritzy but I can't recall if this was after the fire and subsequent refit or before. The name also changed again after that (Zoo?) but by this time my nightclubbing days were more or less done. Years of going out dancing and drinking until the wee small hours every weekend was wearing a little thin and eventually I stopped going there altogether in the early 1990's.
The last incarnation of the place was called Elements. I walked by there a few weeks ago and paused to look at the posters outside advertising various promotions and forthcoming attractions. Little did I know that it would soon be closed for good. It's a great shame that the clubbers will now have to travel out of town to enjoy a night out, and the next generation will have to go elsewhere to meet their partners. RIP Hinckley nightlife. I loved you dearly, and you gave me and many others some happy memories that will last a lifetime.
Most knitters love making baby clothes. They are cute, small and quick to knit and there are some beautiful designs available. Recently I knitted some really teeny cardis for a baby that was born 8 weeks early and weighed in at around 3lbs. 'Preemie' baby clothes can be hard to track down, and they can also be rather pricey, so I knitted 5 little cardis for the newborn. I found a sweet pattern for a raglan-style cardi with the front opening to one side, so I made one as the pattern directed and a second one with a centre-front opening. The self-striping yarn adds interest to a simple design.
For the third cardi I selected one of my favourite baby patterns, a vintage one which I have knitted up many times before. I did a couple of modifications - instead of rib I worked the hem, cuffs and yoke in garter stitch. It will be a little too big for baby at the moment, but he will soon grow into it.
For the next cardi I knitted a side-to-side cardi with a crossover front and two-button fastening. I designed it so that the buttons could be placed on either side to suit a boy or girl, and being preemie-sized it's a speedy knit. The first one was knitted with a garter stitch edging, and the second with moss stitch for a little variation.
If you would like to knit your own preemie cardigan, suitable for early arrivals, the pattern is available as a free download via the following link. http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/baby-kimono-9 If you're not already a Ravelry member, why not join and post some pictures of your finished Baby Kimono cardigan?
I fancied doing a spot of Dyeing so I sent off for a basic starter kit of acid dyes from Ebay. It contained four bottles, each holding a small amount of coloured powder, a set of instructions and a pair of latex gloves. All I had to supply was water, vinegar and a cooking vessel. At my disposal I had red, yellow, blue and black dyes and a few hundred grams of plain yarn to transform into something pretty. To prepare the dyes I simply had to add warm water to each bottle and give it a good shake.
The instructions with the kit were for microwave dyeing, but as I don't own a microwave oven I did a little internet research and found out that my acid dyes would work just as well in the oven or on the hob. For my first attempt, I used some 90% merino/10% cashmere laceweight yarn that was a pale beige colour to begin with. I wanted to achieve a gently graduating effect so I fashioned some tinfoil into a curvy channel shape and laid it in the bottom of an old roasting tin, the idea being that one end of the channel would have most of the dye and it would fade as it went along. This worked reasonably well, and for a first attempt I am quite pleased with the outcome. It's not as red as I expected but I suspect that's because I used a beige yarn to start with.
Keen to have another try I wound a cone of 100% Shetland 4 ply into a skein and tried a different method. This time I mixed red and blue for a rich purple colour, and after soaking the skein in warm water/vinegar mix I draped about a quarter of it into the dyebath. After 5 minutes I added 2 pints of water to dilute the colour and dropped another few centimetres of the yarn into the bath. I repeated the dilute and drop steps until the yarn was totally immersed, and that magical moment happened - the dye 'exhausts' and leaves the water clear, so no more pigment will be taken up into the yarn. I like the results of this one very much.
The greens were next. I had more of the merino/cashmere yarn so I divided it into two skeins this time, and followed the same dilute and drop method as for the purple. However the exhaust came early, so I had to mix a little more green dye and add it, bit by bit, to the dyebath until I got just the right shade of pale green to finish the skeins. This left me with half a cupful of green dye which I didn't want to waste, so I found some 100% merino lambswool in a peach colour which I could overdye. This made a lovely khaki green, and because I had tied the loops around the skein a little too tightly there are regular speckles of pale khaki/peach running along this yarn.
I still have some dye left, and I took delivery of a cone of undyed wool and a skein of wool/silk yarn to play with so when I've turned them from white to who-knows-what colours I shall report back.
I usually do the ironing on a Sunday morning. Have done for years. It's good thinking time - a couple of hours to iron out the creases in the clothes and in my head.
I've been pondering the decline in quality of common household items of late. I have three laundry baskets - one is over 20 years old and was bought when I left home, and the other two are more recent additions. Yes, I know most people get by with one but I like one for clean washing, one for dirty and the third as an extra. The oldest one is made of nice, thick, chunky plastic and will probably last me forever. The other two are a lot more flimsy, and the handle on one of them has a big split in it. The plastic is easy to bend on the newer ones, but the older one is solid. No movement there at all.
Coat hangers are another item I've been studying. Some have been in my possession since my teens, and they are the sturdy ones, nice solid plastic and easily wide enough to accommodate the shoulders on a man-size shirt. More recent purchases are not quite so sturdy, and a few weeks ago a brand-new pack of hangers that were supposed to be adult-sized turned out to be barely wide enough to go halfway across the shoulder yokes on my teenage son's school shirts, and they were so flimsy that my cat could have snapped them (had he been so inclined).
This general decline in quality goes beyond clothes care items into the broader scope of household goods. I can't buy a can opener that doesn't give up the ghost after a few months (indeed, the last one I bought opened one tin and died) and the top of the bathroom soap dispenser I bought last Spring is showing signs of wear.
It saddens me that quality has been compromised in order to keep things cheap. I would rather buy a pack of coat hangers that costs a pound or two more, knowing they will last me for years, rather than a cheaper version that is not even the right size for the job (or maybe adult shoulders really are narrower than they were 30 years ago). Will the TV that was bought a year ago still be working in 30 years time? I know my iron/kettle/toaster won't be because they seem to be designed to pack up just after the guarantee runs out. Talking of kettles, mine has this rather charming feature - just before boiling point the lid pops up, so unless someone is there to close it the water carries on merrily boiling until the whole kitchen resembles a Turkish bath. I refuse to buy a new one because it still does what it's supposed to, but it means I can't switch it on then leave the room to do something more interesting whilst it performs it's function. Another item that has failed is the catch that keeps my rotary washing line up - hang anything more weighty than a tea towel on it and the whole top section glides gracefully towards the ground. It's only a couple of years old so I don't feel inclined to buy another just yet, and it's surprising how effective a home-made rig of brass curtain hooks and strong plastic twine can keep the washing airborne rather than lying on the grass.
This whole topic is making me feel rather miserable, so I think I shall spend the rest of Sunday doing some knitting which will be done to the best of my ability using some top-notch cotton/rayon/silk yarn and lovely wooden needles. At least there are some things that I can control the quality of.
I try to follow a rule of start/knit/finish with projects, and on the whole this system works pretty well. I sometimes have a few things on the go at once so I can swap and change around as the mood takes me, but my quick turnaround method means nothing gets left half-done for very long.
There's always an exception to every rule, and languishing at the bottom of my knitting tote is a fine wool shawl which I started many moons ago and is most likely to end up being unravelled and used for something else. Keeping it company is a cropped cardi which has been lying there since last summer. Anyone with a memory for weather will recall that the Summer of 2011 never really took off so my optimistic casting-on of a cotton/viscose/silk cardi was a Poor Idea. The fronts and back were knitted and sewn together, and the cabled edging was started before I realised it was never going to be clement enough to wear the finished garment so it was left in the knitting tote, slowly dropping nearer to the bottom as other projects came and went on top of it.
As I'm 'between projects' (or more accurately I can't decide what to make next) I rescued my-half done cardi from the bottom of the tote and carried on with the cabled edging. After a few hours of furious knitting it is now nearly long enough to go all the way around the hem, front edges and neckline so with any luck I'll be sewing it in place before long. The sleeves will be a cinch - short for the summer and a cable border on each one to echo the edging on the body. Then I'll be all set for the fine weather when it finally arrives here.
It will be a good summer this year, won't it? It had better be because I want to wear my new cardi!
You may recall a previous entry regarding a lost sequinned purse containing the headphones for my cellphone. Hooray, today it turned up! It was in the bottom of a box, buried under assorted 'useful' items, and I found it when emptying said box. You can stop looking for it now.
Regular readers may recall a recent prayer I offered to St Antony for the safe return of my lost purse/earphones. They have still yet to materialise, but today I'm making another visit to the subject of saints. I am a regular Tweeter and a few days ago one of my followees, The Rev Richard Coles, mentioned that 3rd February is the Feast of St Blaize who is of great interest to knitters. Amongst other things he is reputed to have shown the people of Jersey how to prepare and comb wool in preparation for spinning, so he is the adopted saint of carders. This was just a small part of his skills because he is also the patron saint of wild animals (he once talked a wolf out of releasing a small pig) and he is also known for curing throat maladies, having saved a child with a fishbone stuck in his throat from imminent death. Some websites refer to him as St Blaise, but I quite like the 'z'. Maybe he should be the patron saint of firefighters too?
To save you the bother I did a little research about knitting-related saints. I remember when 'research' meant going to the library, pestering the man at the counter for information and plodding through hefty encyclopedias whilst being glared at by the resident tramp. Now I can 'research' by typing a few words into a search engine and all sorts of useful (and sadly, useless) information appears before me. My favourite saint-related site has to be Catholic Online because it not only has in-depth details about hundreds of saints, it also has links to sites selling religious tat of all types that wouldn't look out of place on Father Ted's mantelpiece.
My search for 'knitters' at Catholic Online resulted in zero results, so I refined my search and came up with these.
St Catherine of Siena The 25th child of a wool dyer. That's a lot of siblings. However her saintliness is not connected to wool, but to fire prevention. Having said that wool is naturally flame resistant so she qualifies, albeit it tangentially, as a knitting-related saint and her feast day is April 29th.
St Catherine of Alexandria The one who was sentenced to death on a spiked wheel, who lends her name to the spinning firework. She's a busy girl, being patron saint of craftspeople who work with a wheel (including spinners and potters) as well as unmarried girls, archivists, dying people, educators, girls, jurists,
St Lydia Purpuraria Has a very brief mention in the saint's database, but is of interest because she was born in Thyatira (Asia Minor) which is known for it's dyeworks and her name means Purple Seller. Her feast day is August 3rd.
St Julian the Hospitaler and St Gennadius are both listed as patron saints of shepherds. They are of definite interest to knitters, because if they don't look after the sheep properly what we will have to knit with?
If you have a spare half-hour or so it's a fine way to pass the time, and I'm sure there must be many other saints who are connected with knitting. Have a great St Blaize Day however you choose to celebrate - I'll be doing a row or two of knitting in his honour.
For the past 70 years there has been a radio programme of such simplicity that people have clamoured to be invited as a guest. Desert Island Discs is based on the premise that a person is marooned on a desert island, with just 8 records, three books and a luxury item for company. Two of the books are already provided - The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible (or the chosen Holy book of the castaway). Each guest is interviewed about their record choices and there have been some surprising revelations in many programmes.
I doubt that I will ever make it onto the actual Radio 4 programme, but I had a blast drawing up my list. It would be impossible for me to rank one above another so the list is in alphabetical order. I hope you enjoy reading about my selections, and I've included a YouTube link for each song so you can listen in.
After checking out my musical choices, why not draw up your own list of Desert Island favourites?
I wonder why we are not walking and fighting and asking for favours
Meeting at midnight and avoiding all the neighbours
Time is a distnace that you can't retract by miles
If I saw you again I'd smile
Don't Call Me Baby - Voice of the Beehive
Everytime I hear this song it reminds of Torquay. I holidayed there a few times in the 1980's and it was such a beautiful town - lots of interesting streets and a seafront too. It was always sunny and there were lots of bars and discos to visit. On one occasion I was in a nightclub and Jason Donovan was supposed to be making a guest appearance. It was at the height of his fame and the place was packed with young women eager to see their heart-throb in the flesh, although I wasn't a fan and couldn't have cared less if he turned up or not. Anyway it got later and later and the DJ announced that he was on his way, then after a while he said he was lost in traffic, and after this the excuses for his non-appearance were coming thick and fast. Evidently some of his fans were getting a little cross, and as it was now almost chucking-out time and he still hadn't turned up they had to do something to prevent a riot so the DJ announced a Free Bar! As luck would have it I was standing by the bar at the time so I managed to get a couple of freebies inside me. I don't think Jason Donovan was really booked for an appearance at all but it was just a crafty marketing ploy to get the customers in.
This song seemed to be playing in all the bars and clubs I visited in Torquay. Whether it was, or it's just a trick of my memory, I can't be sure but it's still an excellent tune and perfect for a singing-into-a-hairbrush moment.
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me
Dream A Little Dream Of Me -Mama Cass Elliot
I can't remember when I first heard this song. It seems to have been in my head forever, and it's one of those songs that is so beautifully simple that anyone can sing it but not necessarily as well as Mama Cass sang it. When my eldest son was tiny one of our favourite bedtime rituals was to climb into my bed for cuddles and songs before he got into his own bed for the night. We had a wide repetoire and our particular favourites all had a night-time motif of some sort, so before settling down we would sing Mr Sandman, Catch a Falling Star, Fly Me To The Moon, Blue Moon, Moon River and Dream A Little Dream Of Me. My son would go to bed happy and I would be contented too.
Along came Son No.2, and one day when he was very small I was feeding him and this song came on the radio. I found myself in floods of tears, partly because of post-natal hormones, partly because of Mama Cass's gorgeous vocals but mainly because I was worried that our special bedtime ritual would never be the same now there was another baby in the house. As it turned out Son No.2 loved bedtime songs just as much as his brother - although his top tune was Mr Sandman.
Now they are bigger than me and the chances of ever snuggling together as we sing 'Moon and Stars' songs are zero, but this will always remind me of those special baby days. And Mama Cass can still bring a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.
So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good times
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it's worth, it was worth all the while
Good Riddance (Time of your Life) - Green Day
I never tire of hearing this song. It reminds me of a time when my two boys were small and we would dance and laugh and sing together. Time really does 'grab you by the wrists, directs you where to go' and before you know it those small boys are taller than you and turning into young adults.
There are several Green Day songs that made it on the shortlist, including American Idiot, Basket Case and the sublimely wonderful Redundant which proves that even rock bands can have a soft side. In the end I chose this because although the lyrics are few they say so much.
This is my funeral song. I want the mourners to be shocked that my choice of song is called Good Riddance - but when they listen to the lyrics they'll realise it's really about making the most of what life throws at you and remembering the good times. After all, it's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right, I hope you had the time of your life.
Found guilty of no crime
They were the best years of our lives
I'll turn the last card down
Let Me Go - Heaven 17
One of my favourite 1980's groups was Heaven 17, and I was an avid collector of their records. Glenn Gregory was my teenage popstar crush and he stared down from my bedroom wall, a hundred different pictures culled from Smash Hits. Others may have come and gone but Glenn was there all the way. He was the last pin-up left on the back of my bedroom door when I had outgrown sticking popstar pictures onto my wall. I had to think long and hard about which Heaven 17 track to select for the Desert Island, but in the end I settled for this because it's a great song which barely bothered the charts (peaking at no.41 if I remember correctly) and was the last single they released before 'Temptation' threw them into the Top 3. It also brings back bittersweet memories of another type of longing. When I went to upper school, I noticed an amazing lad - I'll call him N. He was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and I instantly wanted to go out with him. As with all the classic stories the course of true love didn't run smoothly, and needless to say he never dated me. There was an under-18's disco at the local nitespot - Bubbles - and on one particular evening the DJ played 'Let Me Go' and as I danced, the clouds of dry ice parted and across the floor I could see N with his mates, looking lovely as ever in his navy-blue battledress jacket and peg-top trousers. There was a fashion fad at the time for wearing military clothing and we would all hop on the train to Leicester and visit 'The Irish', a large men's clothing store which sold army surplus, but us mere mortals could only ever get hold of khaki jackets. Somehow N had acquired a navy one, which made him that little bit more desirable to me. As a side note, my friend had relatives working for The Post Office and she got hold of an ex-PO greatcoat which was rather fabulous and we all coveted it. Anyway, every time I hear this song I am instantly whisked back to Bubbles Niteclub in 1983, the smell of stale fags and dry ice and the vision of unattainable loveliness that was N.
The time is right, your perfume fills my head
The starts get red and oh, the night's so blue
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like 'I Love You'
Something Stupid - Frank and Nancy Sinatra
I'm the youngest of seven children and grew up in a house filled with music of all types. Various brothers and sisters were into The Beatles, Bowie and Blondie amongst others and I attribute this to my wide-ranging musical tastes. My parents were brought up in a more sedate age so into the pop music mix were added the likes of Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. 'Ol' Blue Eyes' was frequently singing in our house and I still love to hear him to this day. Choosing a favourite is very hard - I nearly went for Summer Wind because he sings it with such emotion that you can practically feel the yearning for his lost love with every word, but in the end I went for Something Stupid, his duet with daughter Nancy who was one of the coolest people in the world in the sixties. I used to sing this song to my boys at bedtime, although I must confess to doing the Frank part since I find the Nancy part rather difficult! Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams brought out a version one Christmas which dismayed me somewhat - it had always been 'my' song and I didn't want to share it with anyone, let alone a crowd of carousing festive drunks. So may I present Something Stupid - you can sing as Frank or Nancy, I don't mind which.
From Westwood to Hollywood the one thing that's understood
Is that you can't buy time, but you can sell your soul
And the closest thing to Heaven is to rock and roll
Somewhere in my Heart - Aztec Camera
I've been a fan of Roddy Frame ever since I owned a crackly cassette copy of High Land, Hard Rain in the early 1980's. There's something about his wistful vocals that I find hard to resist. This particular track makes it onto the Desert Island playlist because it marks a special time in my life when I had no worries - I still lived with my parents so all my income was disposable and I could buy new shoes, go out for meals and on holiday without having to think about paying electricity bills or council tax. I gave my Dad a cheque every month for 'board' but apart from that I was carefree and could party every weekend.
My wedding was planned for September 1990, so in 1989 I started work on my dress. I had always been an avid dressmaker and my first self-designed dress was made in 1982, so I had plenty of experience of fabric wrangling. My wedding fabric was a beautiful heavyweight Duchesse satin which was purchased from a shop near to the Rag Market in Birmingham and lugged home on the train. It's surprising how heavy 10 metres of fabric weights, especially when there's a quantity of finer satin for the lining added to the roll! I had worked out my design, cut out the pattern and tested it for fit with some plain cotton fabric but when it was all pinned out onto the Duchesse satin I lost my nerve and didn't start to cut for a while, fearful of making some terrible mistake! After I reassured myself that it would all work out I started to cut and all went well, and I spent many hours in the spare bedroom stitching away whilst listening to records and the radio. A particular favourite of mine was Phillip Schofield's Request Show on Radio 1 every Thursday evening. Some listeners would send in their requests on unusual items, so I figured that to stand a chance of having my song played I would need to do the same. Since I spent most Thursdays sewing as I listened, I wrote my request on a peice of fabric which had been used as sample for the Celtic knotwork which was decorating my dress. It was duly sent off, and a week or two later Philip played my song - Somewhere in my Heart.
I finished my dress, got married, and after many years of lying in a box in the wardrobe I donated my outfit to the Leicestershire Museums Service. They were happy to accept an example of contemporary dress and I'm happy in the knowledge that it will be properly and carefully cared for.
We should take a bus to somewhere else, to something new
Thank God we’re alive and bite off more than we can chew
Do the things that just don’t matter
Laugh while others look in anger
Stumble over four-leaf clovers
And say goodbye to lonely banners
'Thinking of You' - The Colourfield
The Sixth Form. Ahhhh yes, a time when young people spend two years with their heads buried in books, deep in study......or they're partying like it's 1999 and doing as little work as possible. I definitely belonged to the second category. My 'A' level years were a whirl of parties, pubs and discos with a little bit of work slotted in the gaps. There was a lot of what was referred to as 'free study' time which basically meant students could skive off for a few hours. I would frequently sign in for the day, go to the first lesson then make my way home, get changed and get on the train for an outing to Leicester, usually with a few friends for company. It's a miracle any of us passed any exams at all.
My circle of friends at the time included a mixture of girls and boys, and we would go to the pub together, dance at the local discos and generally mess about in the way that only teenagers do. One Saturday night we were all invited to a friend's house - her parents were going out so it meant we could hang around for a few hours in her living room. Before long, people had partnered up for a snog, and I was left alone with, ooooh, let's call him E. After the usual pleasantries had been exchanged I joined him in the last remaining easy chair, and after an awkward cuddle we kissed. It was lovely. Afterwards he walked me home and kissed me again. What a delight!
A week or so later he turned up at my house to ask me out on a date. I agreed to go to the cinema the following week, but after a few days I began to have second thoughts. However I didn't want to let him down so on the evening of the date he turned up on his bike which he left at my house, then we went to see 'Police Academy'. Afterwards I rushed home, conducted myself in a generally disagreeable way and he cycled off into the distance.
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. I could have just told him that I wasn't ready for the committment of a regular boyfriend, but instead my boorish behaviour is the memory he probably has of me. He was (and probably still is) a sweet, polite, funny and very gentlemanly person and I deeply regret being so unkind to him. So E, if you're reading this please accept my apologies for being such an idiot, and if you ever think of me, I'll be thinking of you.
I once lived in Paradise when the love light shone in your eyes
Oh baby, what can I do when I still love you?
What can I say when I still want you?
What can I do? What can I say?
You'll never know this way.
'What' by Judy Street
This song takes me back to my teenage years, and in particular the Monday night disco at Ashby Road Sports Club. It cost 30p to get in, pop and crisps were readily available and it was packed out every week. Just about every under 18 in town was there and a good time was had by all. The music was supplied by Purple Shadow Mobile Disco, he played an eclectic selection and there was something for every musical taste. This all took place in the early 1980's and there were a lot of youth tribes around - New Romantics, Mods, Rockers, a few left-over Punks etc etc. It was considered cool to stick to one style, but I secretly liked music of all types. The DJ would usually play three or four records of one type, then as the genre changed there was a mass changeover on the dancefloor as one group moved away and another took to the floor. There were the usual flashing lights but best of all was the mirrorball above the dancfloor which made hundreds of swirling patterns on the floor as it's rays of light punctured the smoky air.
I was too young and I missed the heyday of the Northern Soul scene but I'm pretty certain that had I been old enough I would have gone to the Wigan Casino, Twisted Wheel, The Torch and Blackpool Mecca for an all-nighter of these amazing tunes played back-to-back until the next morning. The Purple Shadow DJ always played a selection of records, including What by Judy Street, Nine Times Out of Ten by Muriel Day and Out On The Floor by Dobie Gray as well as some classic Motown for good measure. Whenever I hear these songs I am instantly transported back to that magical, innocent time of dancing, pop and crisps, and maybe a good snog in a dark corner. Ashby Road Sports Club is still there, but the Monday Night Under 18's Disco is a distant, but happy memory.
Every castaway automatically gets a copy of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, plus one other book of their choice. I've read many good books, a number of mediocre ones and started a few that I've never finished. There's a small, select number of titles that I've read and re-read several times over and would bear repeat readings with much enjoyment. Should I choose Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre? A little romance on a lonely island may offer some comfort to a lonely woman. Perhaps I should go for the glamour of the Roaring Twenties and select F Scott Fitgerald's The Great Gatsby?
None of the above. I have chosen Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. It's a book that had been on my 'to read' list for a long when I found a battered copy in a charity shop. I've read it several times over and every time I enjoy it just that little bit more. To summarise, it tells the story of a wartime captain who's had enough of flying dangerous bombing raids and he wants to go home. I've always resisted watching the film version because my image of Captain John Yossarian would doubtless bear little resemblance to his movie portrayal. My Yossarian is tall, handsome, with dark hair and broad shoulders, a confident air about him and an upright way of carrying himself. I don't want to ruin my vision by watching somebody else's portrayal in a film.
So that would be my Desert Island book selection. Do read it yourself if you get the opportunity but be warned - it's not an easy, straightforward story, mainly because the action jumps around and doesn't follow the timeline in a linear fashion. Different characters are introduced throughout the story and it can be hard to keep track of who did what, but after a while the seemingly remote events are tied together and it all makes sense. It's well worth it in the end.
Every castaway on the fictional island is allowed to take a luxury item. Mine would be a herd of alpaca. Strictly speaking that would be more than one luxury item, but as they prefer to live in a group it would be cruel to have an only beast. They would keep me company and give me something to care for. I would be able to use the fleece for warmth if it turns chilly, and by foraging around the island I'm sure I could find some materials to make a rudimentary spindle and teach myself to spin. I would search out some fairly straight twigs so that I could strip the bark then shape the ends by rubbing against a stone, and Bob's your uncle l'll have some knitting needles. They might not be Knit Pros but they'll do in a pinch.
Addendum I later found out, via the Radio 4 website, that animate objects are not allowed as luxury items, so I'll change my choice from a herd of alpaca to a tonne of alpaca fleece. That should keep me warm and busy for a long time.
I've lost two things this week. The first was a pair of leather gloves (does a pair count as one lost item or two?) but they were only lost for a matter of minutes before I remembered where they were. However, I won't be able to get them back until next week, so does this still count as a lost item/items until I actually get them back in my possesion?
The second, and more annoying lost item/items is a little satin purse decorated with sequins. I have had this for many years, and inside I keep the headphones for my mobile phone. Recently I watched a programme about 1970's music and they mentioned 'I Feel Love' by Donna Summer which made me feel all nostalgic, and I went on to explain to my 14 year old son that it's a record best appreciated by being played at a very high volume, extra bass, with flashing lights etc in a disco. Or a nightclub. Or whatever trendy young types like to call an after-hours drink/dance/copping-off establishment these days. This led to my purchasing a CD of Donna Summer's 'The Dance Collection' CD from Amazon (other mail-order websites are available) and waiting in excitement for it to arrive. When it did I rushed to the computer to transfer it onto my Walkman phone so that I could listen to it at high volume, extra bass and imagine the whole disco experience from the comfort of my own sofa. This is where I hit a snag. My headphones had gone AWOL. I did that whole 'think of when you last used them' routine but I couldn't remember - after all, I am now 45, the age at which my brain power will start to decline according to recent scientific discoveries. I checked in the kitchen by the radio and behind the bread bin, in the fruit bowl, on my bedside table, under the bed, in my handbag, in every handbag I've used in the last three months, in all my knitting bags (of which there are several) and even stuck my hand down the back of the sofas (and I didn't even find any loose change). Since my headphones appear to be winning this little game of Hide and Seek I gave in and bought myself a new pair in town today. When I returned home I listened to 'I Feel Love' very loud, extra bass, and transported myself back to Bubbles, the best nitespot in town when I was a youngster. Aaah, happy days.
I know where my gloves are, I have some replacement earphones and a new Donna Summer album to listen to. Sadly I can't replace my little satin purse, so that's where St Antony is involved. He's the patron saint of lost things, so I offered up a prayer that he helps me find my purse. Originally he was the patron saint of lost souls but his remit has been expanded to cover all sorts of lost things. I hope he's listening. I'll let you know if it turns up, but in the meantime I have a more pressing matter to attend to - I need to learn all the lyrics to No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) so I can pretend to be Barbra Streisand.
He may be yours, Mr Demis Roussos, but he's certainly no friend of mine. Last night we were sitting snugly in the living room, enjoying a spot of family TV time together when there was a strange, low rumbling sound outside the house. We all looked at each other, then it happened again. Being the nosy sort I got up to have a look, and I was relieved to see it was just an empty upside-down recycling crate being blown along the pavement. Thank goodness for that - I though there was some kind of primeval beast on the prowl.
Later on I was lying in bed, listening to the wind whooshing past the window when a tin can danced a lively jig along the pavement before hurling itself against the iron railings outside my house. This made a loud clang which I'm sure woke the neighbours if they weren't already awake. I can imagine a whole streetful of people, lying in bed, listening to the assorted sounds of a windy night and wondering if they would ever get to sleep.
When we first moved into this house, over 20 years ago, the windows were single-glazed wood and they were very draughty. We also had a temperamental wooden back door that would only close properly with the encouragement of a sharp kick on the bottom edge, despite several planing sessions with the local chippy. One dark and stormy night, we were woken by the most evil, blood-curdling wailing coming from downstairs. At the very least we thought there was a murder going on in the kitchen, but it turned out to be the ill-fitting back door complaining because the wind had changed direction. Every time the wind blew from the North the door would protest in this creepy way. Eventually we got rid of it (mainly because it refused to open during damp weather without a fight) and went in for a modern plastic door. This is much better because a) it opens and closes without the need for any heft and b) the glass is clear so I can look out at the plants in the back yard. A part of me mourns the passing of the wailing banshee sound effects, but in some small way this is compensated for by the low-level continuous fart noise that the bedroom window makes when the back door is opened on a windy day.
I am deeply grateful that my old house has escaped damage during the recent high winds, and I wish speedy repairs on anyone who has lost a roof slate, or indeed a whole roof.
I've never been a maker of New Year resolutions. I prefer to create my mini-challenges throughout the year as and when the need arises, so if you've come along to read a list of my impossible goals for January then you'll be sorely disappointed.
I use this time of year to look back on the previous 12 months, to see how I have progressed and what I've achieved that might have seemed impossible a year ago. Last March I went to London to give a couple of talks about knitting which was a pretty big deal to me - I'm not what you might call a seasoned traveller, let alone a confident raconteur yet I accomplished both tasks and passed with flying colours. Also in March a friend in America sent me some gorgeous, 4-ply knitting yarn which was desperate to be made into a lacy shawl. However I have a long, unhappy history with lace knitting. When my sister was expecting her child, over 20 years ago, I decided to knit the sweetest little lacy cardi in mint green ready for the new arrival. I attacked the pattern with gusto, several times in fact, but I just couldn't get it right.....in the end the whole project was abandoned and my niece, now in her twenties, had to survive her babyhood without the use of a mint green lacy cardi. This traumatic experience left me with deep psychological scars and I never again attempted anything more lacy than the occasional picot edging.
When I opened the parcel with the purple variegated yarn inside I admired it greatly, and passed it around my knitting friends who in unison told me it would make the most marvellous lacy shawl. I had to attack my lace knitting fears head on, so I set forth and designed a whole shawl from scratch. With lace all over it. The finished design will be published in Simply Knitting at a later date, so I managed to prove to myself that not only can I knit lace, I can also design the pattern and get it published too! That was a major triumph of last year, and now the winter weather is with us I wear my shawl on a regular basis. I even went on to design a lacy stole and scarf later in the year.
So what would I like to achieve in 2012? Colorwork knitting, using two yarns and stranding one across the back of the work has always been a challenge to me. I am fine with intarsia (I did a lot of knitting in the 1980's - 'nuff said) but the mysteries of Fair Isle have always eluded me. I had a go on a small piece during the Christmas season and found out that it wasn't quite as terrifying as I first thought, so I plan to build on this and get better at it, and who knows, maybe design a pattern or two using the technique?
I still hanker after writing a knitting book, and I have a few ideas in my head so maybe this will be the year when I finally get that elusive book deal. I know I could self-publish, but I want to be able to walk into a bookshop and see my title on the shelves which is something that can only happen with a 'real' publisher. I dream of sitting at a little table in W H Smith and signing copies of my books as I chat to fellow knitters. Check this space in 12 months' time to see if my dream has become reality.
May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a peaceful New Year, and whatever you dream of in 2012 I hope it becomes a reality.
Yesterday I mentioned on Twitter that I'm fed up of seeing all these 'Keep Calm and......' slogans on everything. It must have struck a chord because my comment was re-tweeted many times, and I even had replies from a handful of people who agreed with me.
I don't want to Keep Calm. Everytime I see yet another mug, teatowel, notebook, T-shirt or any one of a seemingly limitless number of products urging me to Carry On I want to shriek loudly GET A NEW, ORIGINAL SLOGAN!!!! It reminds me of those endless 1980's T-shirts with the big writing that bossed us around - FRANKIE SAYS RELAX, CHOOSE LIFE and a thousand other cut-price, cheap market stall imitations. Fortunately that fad died a death quite swiftly, so I'm hoping that this current fashion will too.
In the meantime, a few words of advice......Hang On In There, It Will Soon Be Over!
Oh joy! The Christmas gifts have all been bought (the last one arrived this morning) and the cards have all been written. Every surface has something festive on it and I've made several dozen mince pies. However I haven't eaten any because I can't stand mincemeat, or indeed anything containing dried fruit. Whilst everyone else is tucking into Christmas Pudding I indulge myself with some delicious fancy-pants ice-cream instead, preferably involving strawberries and/or raspberries.
The local Scouts are doing a local card delivery scheme so I called into my local parish church to avail myself of their services. For 20p per card they are sorting and delivering to most of the local villages, which is a marvellous way for them to raise funds and it saves people having to queue in the Post Office. Which I had to do anyway because I had a parcel to post. Also five of my cards were going farther afield, and I don't think the local Scouts deliver as far away as Essex. As expected on a Monday morning there was a lengthy queue snaking it's way around the barriers, and as usual I found myself next to the muttering misery who kept cursing and swearing about having to wait. Thankfully he gave up and wandered off before I reprimanded him for his foul language and lack of patience. I have never actually had the courage to say anything like that to a stranger for fear of getting a slap in the face, but in my head I've said my piece, made the rude person look silly and received a round of applause from everyone else in the queue, along with a few 'Hear Hear's and nods of appreciation.
Whilst in town I bought the final piece of festive trimming for the house, a holly wreath for the front door. It is made of extra-prickly holly, some plain and some variegated, and by the time I got it home there were lots of holes in the bag where it had tried to escape. The poor man on the market stall will have shredded fingers by the end of the day, as will I after summoning up the courage to tie it onto the door knocker.........maybe I should have bought a spruce wreath instead.
I hope all your festive preparations are going well. May your pies be full of mincemeat and your holly full of prickles!
It has been said that time speeds up as one gets older, and I can certainly testify to that - where has 2011 gone? Almost at the end of November already and Christmas is heading ever nearer. What I like to call Christmas Creep seems to start earlier every year too, with a lone local charity shop shyly displaying a few packs of cards at the tail end of August, just testing the waters to see if the others follow suit. Of course they do and by the time September is half over they are all blatantly displaying their wares like hookers in Amsterdam windows. October sees a rash of Tinselitis breaking out in chainstores and pound shops across the land and by early November whole sections of retail establishments are devoted to things that glitter, twinkle, shine, light up, play electronic tunes and generally lend an air of good cheer to any shopping expedition.
It never used to be like this. I had a Saturday job in a supermarket back in the Dark Ages and the Christmas wares rarely came out before the end of November. That's when the occasional tin of Quality Street or pack of Ready-Made Mince Pies would glide elegantly along the conveyor for us checkout girls to find the price ticket and enter the amount into the cash register - there were no barcodes then and it was no job for a cissy. The background music, which for eleven months of the year consisted of 'sounds like' tribute acts mimicking the latest Top 40 hits (something to do with performing rights meant they couldn't broadcast the proper songs) would be replaced by an eight-track cassette of seasonal tunes on December 1st. By December 3rd we would all be heartily sick of it, especially as it played the same dozen or so songs Over. And. Over. Again. In. A. Continuous. Loop.
Christmas was crammed into the last month of the year, which somehow made it seem more special, more fun, and a lot less drawn out than it is now. People never used to put up decorations in November but it seems commonplace now, however my house is never trimmed until two weeks before Christmas Day. Some might say that I'm leaving it late, but not that long ago it was the custom to tree-trim on Christmas Eve then un-decorate on Twelfth Night. I still un-decorate on January 6th, and usually my window is one of the few with fairy lights still twinkling. Everybody else has packed up long before then and I fend off comments along the lines of 'oooh, you still have your tree up!'
There's just over a week to go until December which will fly by and before I know it I'm hanging up a new calendar and thinking about Spring. If time really does speed up as one gets older the years will soon blur into one another. Hey, you at the back - less of the 'old fart' jibes please!
PS. My spellchecker doesn't recognise 'December' but offered 'dismembered' as an alternative. I know the festive season can make people angry but surely that's going a little too far!
I visited Alexandra Palace a couple of weeks ago for the Knitting and Stitching Show. I had a great day out with my friends and I got to go on the Underground too - always a bonus for a hick like me!
My Knit and Knatter Group had been busily knitting squares for the Refuge Comfort Blanket Appeal, so after spending a few days sewing them together I carefully folded the finished blanket in order to deliver it to the Simply Knitting stand at the show. There was already a big pile of finished blankets and it was a joy to add ours to the collection. Members of the Simply Knitting group on www.Ravelry.com also contributed squares for this collaboration. We decided to use natural, neutral colours and they all go together beautifully. There's a mixture of textured and plain stitches, some multi-coloured squares and even some appliqued ones.
http://refuge.org.uk/ work with women who are suffering domestic abuse, offering a safe haven, often at short notice to those who are fleeing violence. The blanket appeal was launched so that women and their children entering safe accomodation could be given something to keep that would provide comfort at a difficult time in their lives. It's good to know that somebody in a desperate situation will feel the love and care that has gone into making their blanket.
After I had dropped off the blanket and admired the others that had been donated I wandered around the rest of the show. I always enjoy looking at the work of others, and in particular the Graduate Showcase was wonderfully inspiring. I talked to a lady who makes the most amazing jewellery from resin mouldings and embroidery, and I was particularly taken with the work of a young man who created large, coral-reef-esque pieces from squeezy silicon and assorted beauty items. He uses false eyelashes and fingernails, glitter and sparkle and finds his inspiration from the glamorous world of drag queens. A truly remarkable display of work by a friendly and engaging person. He will go far.
As well as things to delight the eye there was a large selection things to panic the purse! All restraint goes out of the window at the these places and I found my bag filling up rapidly with covetable yarns and shiny stuff. I bought a hank of Baby Camel knitting yarn from http://www.shilasdair-yarns.co.uk/ which is hand-dyed and feels amazing. It's earmarked for a pair of fingerless mittens which will be lovely to knit and lovely to wear too. I also bought some yarn from http://www.houseofhemp.co.uk/hempfp.html which has an interesting, almost 'crunchy' feel to it. That will one day be magically transformed into a shawl. I also bought some red alpaca yarn, hand-dyed merino, green variegated alpaca/acrylic mix. http://www.aartij.com/Default.aspx tempted me, yet again, with their huge range of glittery Indian trimmings and I purchased several metres of fancy ribbons and an embroidered peacock motif. This will be used in conjunction with the pink and purple chenilles and viscose ribbons from http://www.texere-yarns.co.uk/ to make something flamboyant. I also bought some new wooden Suri knitting needles, six red buttons for a raincoat I recently dyed and a Kumihimo disk. All in all a good haul, and I even treated myself to a programme - mainly because one of my designs featured in a full-page advert for Simply Knitting.
So that's my shopping spree over, but there's plenty of material there to keep me busy for a while. It's a good job that these shows only come along once in a while or my bank account would be in a terrible state!
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. Every year I stop to reflect on my own mental health and to say a prayer or two for others around the world who are suffering in their own private worlds.
Some people, and everybody knows at least one, always make a big deal out of their health and feel the need to report every sneeze and pimple to elicit a sympathetic response. I am not one of those people. I shall try to explain my illness with clarity and truthfulness, not because I want pity or special treatment but because there's a part of me that has been long hidden away. However it's highly unlikely I'll mention again so make the most of it. It's very hard to write this because it makes me feel very exposed and vulnerable.
When I was a teenager, about 13 or 14, I was at the theatre during our annual family holiday. Sitting in the dark, watching the on-stage antics, I was suddenly hit but the strangest, most terrifying feeling. It was as if a heavy, dark burden had descended on to me from nowhere - fear, sadness, pain all intermingled in a deep black cloud hanging heavily above me. Naturally I was scared, but being rather an insular child as far as feelings were concerned I kept it to myself. This feeling lasted for a few weeks then gradually lifted until I felt 'normal' again. Looking back on this it was the first episode of depression in my life, and being at the beck and call of pubescent hormones was the likeliest explanation. The teenage years are a rollercoaster ride of emotions anyway and I spent the next few years, like many of my friends I suspect, vacillating between extreme excitement and happiness (boys/clothes/music) and abject misery (boys/exams/school). In my later teens I was hellbent on getting drunk every weekend so my early working years were punctuated with regular hangovers. Drink and good mental health are not happy bedfellows, and I have been a non-drinker now for many years.
During my twenties I got married and routine suited me. I liked the security of my situation, although I was still prone to depression and changed jobs often because deep down I was unable to cope with them for assorted reasons. At the age of 27 I suffered a huge mental episode - not what I would call a breakdown but to the casual observer they might consider it one. I was unable to face going to work and for the first time I was prescribed anti-depressants. I had always resisted then in the past - I was terrified of addiction - but this time I was in such a terrible, dark place they seemed like the only way I could even begin to get better. However my fears of addiction were too great, and after a week I stopped taking them. The only solution was to resign from my job and seek a new one. I signed on at a temp agency and was offered a job at a local company, where I ended up being taken on as a permanent employee and stayed there for almost 2 years. This was one of the happiest and most mentally settled times of my pre-baby life.
At 30 I had my first child. Post-natal depression is one of the hardest things that a new mother has to cope with. I felt out of control, I considered myself unable to care for my baby and absolutely terrifed that my child would be taken into care because I was an unfit mother. Of course I coped and he thrived but every mother who has had PND will say they felt exactly the same way. I finally admitted I needed help when my child was 5 months old. My husband and me had gone for a walk, and sitting on a park bench I just started to weep. My GP was very sympathetic and with medication and help I eventually started to feel like a 'normal' person again.
When I fell pregnant again my fears returned - how would I be able to care for a baby and a toddler if PND struck again? Fortunately this time was the polar opposite and I spent those baby days happy and content. My theory is that my hormones were somehow jolted back into 'normality' by this pregnancy and for a while afterwards I reaped the benefits of good mental health.
Whilst it was wonderful at the time there was always a little nagging feeling in my mind that it wouldn't last. And it didn't. Eventually my moods began to darken as I slipped down the slope into my personal pit, and I had to see my GP for medication. I've been taking anti-depressants now, more or less continuously, for around 10 years or so. I'm rather vague with dates, something that I do on purpose because I don't want to mark time with something so negative.
The hardest thing for me was accepting that I'll probably never be 'cured'. There is no magical treatment that will make my brain sunny and cheerful. The meds just take the edge off it and give me a certain serenity that would otherwise be missing. Sometimes I get angry that mental health sufferers are by and large the forgotten people of the world - if I had any other illness people would send me flowers, buy me chocolates, visit regularly and make me cute little Get Well cards. As it is we are swept under the carpet, the unmentionables who should never be asked how we are for fear of crying or making others miserable. It takes a great deal courage to tell someone that you have a long-term mental illness, and it has saddened me in the past when I have done just that and the friendship has withered because the other person is prejudiced in some way. From past experience I have learned to just keep my trap shut and now I only tell people whom I trust completely.
One thing that does anger me is people casually using words like 'crazy', 'nutter', 'loony' etc in relation to sufferers. The title of this blog post may suggest otherwise but as a mentally-ill person I feel qualified to call myself a nutcase but woe betide anyone else who does so! I am also angered that so many people tell us to 'pull yourself together', 'it's your imagination' and so many other put-downs that belittle us. Likewise confusing 'sadness' with 'depression'. It's a lot more complex than that.
Some days are spent relatively calmly, but on other days I want to weep uncontrollably or even, it has to be said, put an end to this miserable life. Being a big wuss I doubt this will ever happen but those thoughts are incredibly scary when they come along. All I can hope for is a reasonable level of contentedness, and those rare spikes of true happiness are something to savour and enjoy when they happen.
The biggest misconception is that mental health sufferes are incapable of leading a normal life. The vast majority of us hold down jobs, raise families, study, create and go about their normal business without anybody being any the wiser to their state of mind. We're not a danger to others. We won't cause a scene in a supermarket. Our children are loved and cared for. We are loyal and hardworking employees. We contribute greatly to society and it's worth remembering that many of our most-loved entertainers and artists have battled with their inner demons - people like Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Van Gogh and Nick Drake amongst others.
It is said that one in three people has a mental illness of some kind, so hold that thought next time you're in a shop, on the bus, in a meeting or at the sports centre. One third of the people there will be struggling to a greater or lesser degree with a long-term mental problem. World Mental Health Day takes place every year on October 10th, so whatever you're doing, wherever you are say a silent prayer, or if you're not the praying type send some good thoughts to the millions of people around the world who are held hostage by their own uncontrollable feelings.
I wish you all good mental health, and if you are a fellow sufferer I hope you can find a certain level of peace and serenity in your day-to-day life.
A long time ago, before I became a mother, the spare room was devoted to my dressmaking activities. I could nip up to my attic room for an hour or two, sew for a bit then leave it all out until the next session. When the boys came along and the space was needed I packed everything away, only fetching it out when I had some urgent repair job or a fancy-dress outfit to make. It's such a faff to get out the machine and all the other paraphenalia entailed with dressmaking, only to have to clear it all away again in order to use the table for a meal.
From time to time I get the urge to do some sewing, and I decided that I would like to make a fancy tote bag. Some time ago I bought a lightweight taffetta curtain panel to cut up for a knitted bag lining, and across the top there was an embroidered and sequinned strip which I carefully folded up for later use. Which brings me on to Today's Top Tip - check out homewares departments for cut-price and reduced curtains and bedding which can be used for sewing purposes. You can get a large piece of fabric this way for less than the cost of buying it by the metre.
Lightweight taffetta isn't the sturdiest of fabrics for a tote, so I bought half a metre of purple corduroy and half a metre of purple crushed velvet from the local market. I also visited the haberdashery stall for some wide velvet ribbon and narrow satin ribbon as well as a reel of thread. Later when I returned home the fabrics were cut to size, pinned and sewn together with the ribbons forming part of the design. As a finishing touch I hand-sewed on a sparkly peacock motif I had bought at the Stitch and Craft Show last March. I knew he would come in handy sooner or later!
So here's the finished bag which will be accompanying me to London tomorrow for the Knitting and Stitching Show. I'll be using it to carry the blanket for Refuge which was knitted as a group project at my Knit and Knatter group (more of that in another post) and with any luck it will contain some nice yarny stuff on the way home.
I would like to apologise to my regular readers for the rather innuendo-laden tone I've adopted for the title of this piece. For any new readers, a warm welcome awaits you but if you happened across my blog whilst searching for something of a more 'specialist' nature then I'm afraid you're going to be very disappointed.
I've done a few craft fairs in the past and it's always a challenge to display my wares (ooh missus!) effectively on a 6" tabletop. Some of my props include assorted baskets, a couple of small tables to raise the height at the back and a pair of polystyrene heads. These were very plain and dazzling white when I bought them so they were made to look more arty-farty by covering them in squares of torn brown paper for a papier-mache effect. I also have a false leg similarly covered, and it looks very effective. I wrote about the trials and tribulations of my search for such a limb some time ago on this very blog.
My next acquisition was going to be a mannequin in order for me to drape shawls artfully in the hope of attracting buyers. An internet search revealed that such an item would be costly with new models costing anything from the best part of £100 upwards, depending on whether they had a head or not and what position (ooh, behave!) they were in. Second-hand versions were also more than I wanted to pay so I had to have a rethink. Shopfitting suppliers sell all sorts of marvellous items and I found some hollow plastic bodies, front only, hip to neck, with a hanger at the top which are designed for hanging from a hook or rail. Ideal! And even better, they cost less than £10. I ordered a body and she arrived the next day. Yesterday I set to work with the brown paper squares and PVA glue/water mix and gave her a full coat of paper, and today I started work on the second coat.
When she arrived there was a crack in the plastic in the lower corner, so the suppliers offered to send me a second model, free of charge. Even better - I can now have two ladies on display (ooh, you are awful!) to show off my creations. So this morning I was happily spreading glue across my first model, smoothing out the paper with my fingers, when the door knocks. It's the delivery driver with the second body, tightly wrapped in plastic so it's blatantly obvious what it is, and I open the door with glue all over my hands. Oh dear. I apologised for being unable to sign his electronic thingy (ooh, what a beauty!) on account of being all sticky and gluey so now there's a white van man wondering what the hell I get up to with glue and plastic bodies. I stopped short of telling him I was spreading glue all over my model's breasts and belly, which is where I was up to when the door knocked.
I shall take a some pictures of the finished ladies to demonstrate what they look like, but fear not, they will be tastefully draped in stylish knitwear to cover their modesty. And for much less than the cost of a full-bodied model I have a couple of stunners to show off (ooh, saucy!) at the craft fair in November.
Time to sign off now. All this Carry-On talk has made me want to go in the garden, throw my arms wide and make my bra twang off. On second thoughts, I'd better not - all that elastic might send it into orbit and do some damage to the International Space Station.
This is Sam.
I've known him for a very long time. When I was very small, probably no older than three, my sister bought him for me at a school jumble sale one lunchtime and when she gave him to me he became my constant companion. I adored Sam, who was named after a radio presenter. We had a huge valve radio at the time, the type in a big wooden cabinet with a glowing orange dial on the front and fabric-covered speakers. There were some slots in the cabinet which I could peer through and look at the glass valves and inhale that strange fuzzy smell that came out as they warmed up. I was very attached this radio, from the exotic names on the dial (Luxembourg, Hilversum and Helsinki) to the rich, warm voice of Sam Costa. Naturally I had to name my zebra after my favourite DJ! He went everywhere with me, and had the honour of the best spot in the bed with me. That explains why he's such a flat zebra after many years of being rolled on each night. Being loved so much took its toll on his woolly body, and he has had several replacement tails throughout his lifetime. The side of his head bears a scar - a large darn shows where my Mum performed vital repair surgery when a hole threatened to grow bigger, and on his thigh he bears a scorch mark from sitting too close to the gas fire.
As I grew older and began to appreciate knitted items, I often wondered who had made him and what had caused him to end up at the jumble sale. I had never seen a pattern that resembled him and from time to time these thoughts would cross my mind.
My regular readers will know about my liking for a bargain, and recently on Ebay I spotted a 1973 Odhams Knitting Encyclopedia which I liked the look of to add to my collection of old craft books. I bid for and bought it, and when it arrived I was casually browsing when I SAW SAM!!!! Not only Sam, but his Mum too.
The only thing that didn't make sense was the date - in 1973 I was at school myself, and my sister was at a different school by then so I looked at the front of the book and it was a reprint, with the original being published in 1968. However, had the knitter used this version of the pattern this would mean they had sent him to the jumble sale almost immediately and by all accounts he was already showing signs of being pre-loved. I checked out the Wikipedia entry for Odhams http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odhams_Press and as I suspected they published magazines as well as books. I would hazard a guess that the knitting pattern for Sam may well have appeared in a magazine some time before being published in a book.
At least I now know a little more about Sam's lineage although I'm no nearer finding out who actually knitted him. When I told a friend this story she asked if I would knit a companion for Sam, but I had already decided not to. I could never replace my stripy friend and even though he's on his fourth (or fifth, or sixth) tail, his facial embroidery is wearing a little thin and his mane is not quite as magnificent as it once was it would be impossible to create another with as much character as the original. With his war wounds, scorch marks and flat profile he's a true one-of-a-kind.
Keep Calm and Cast On - Good Advice for Knitters by Erica Knight
Published November 2011 - Hardback - £4.99
Those lovely people at Quadrille Books kindly sent me a review copy of their new book by Erika Knight, so I have cast my critical eye over it in order to present you with my opinion.
The cover is delightfully retro, with a lilac fabric-covered hardcover with toning purple endpapers. There's also a ribbon bookmark attached to the spine, a thoughtful addition for anybody that likes to mark their page without resorting to using an old receipt or folding over a corner. Inside there's a wealth of useful information and tips, ranging from how to deal with untidy joins whilst circular knitting to the best type of ruler for measuring your work. There's also a generous sprinkling of quotes from knitting experts including Jared Flood, Meg Swansen and Brandon Mably - as well as literary refences to works by, amongst others, Charles Dickens and Ruth Rendell. There's almost 200 pages of bite-sized nuggets of information and entertainment which can be dipped into as required.
It's a neat little pocket-sized package that would make an ideal gift for a knitting friend. Keep a copy in your project bag for instant inspiration and to provide a talking-point at your next Knit and Knatter meeting. At £4.99 it's a lot of entertainment for less than the cost of a ball of luxury yarn.
Many years ago I took a course in woodwork at the local Tech College (as we called it in the olden days). The tutor pressed on our group of Viscount Linley wannabees the importance of taking accurate measurements, double checking them, and only then taking saw to timber. We all found out sooner or later that this rule is very important for both the sanity of the woodwork tutor and the general outcome of the finished piece. A coffee table can end up considerably nearer to the floor than intended if the legs aren't equal and need a bit more taking off.
The 'measure twice' rule translates well to other applications. Dressmaking, quilting, fabric crafts of all kinds as well as knitting all benefit from care and accuracy at the measuring stage. This was demonstrated to me last week when I was working on a design for a cushion cover. It involved shiny yarn and beads, and the front was a joy to knit - it featured an interesting pattern repeat with glass seed beads added at regular intervals, so it was no effort at all to get it finished. The back was going to be in two halves, each plain stocking stitch with a button band across the centre so the cushion pad could be easily inserted and removed as required. I measured the front, calculated how large the back pieces needed to be, cast on and got knitting. TV is a good companion for plain knitting, and I happily clicked away until well past my bedtime as I was engrossed in a forgettable film about a flamboyant hairdresser travelling to take part in an international competition in America. It wasn't a great film, but that's the trouble with watching the first bit. It's always tempting to sit up and watch the rest 'just to find out what happens'.
The next day I finished the second back section and proceeded to join front to back using my method of choice, mattress stitch. It made no sense to me when I found the back sections didn't meet by a good 10cm, let alone overlap to accommodate the buttons! This was insanity! I was sure I had measured accurately! I had measured twice and written it down!!! I unravelled the ribbing on one back section, and knitted another portion so that the ends overlapped properly. The fastening would be off-centre, but it was the back and nobody would ever know. The new section was finished, the seams joined and that was that. Or so I thought.
Later on, still trying to work out where I had gone wrong, I laid the cover on the table. The front looked fabulous. The back looked rather baggy and big. Then it occurred to me exactly what had happened. I had measured correctly. The two back pieces were right the first time. However I hadn't taken into consideration that the tension of the front was different to the back because of the pattern! Therefore, although the pieces measured the same and looked the same, they had different row counts so mattress stitch would never work. Yet again I unpicked the re-knitted back piece and unravelled it, then re-ribbed it to the original specification. Mattress stitch was still used to join the seams, but with an occasional 2:1 ratio to make sure the cover lay flat and looked correct. I finally sewed on the buttons, inserted the cushion pad and admired my handiwork. Despite all the problems I'm very happy with the outcome and it looks just right on the easy chair in the dining room.
From this little episode I learned that it's better to lay out the pieces on the table before you sew them rather than doing it on your lap whilst sitting on the sofa, if you think your calculations were correct the first time you're probably right, and cats are always happy to sleep on the newest cushion in the house. Oh, and I still can't remember the name of the film about the hairdresser.
Some folks are dog people and others are cat people. I'm definitely one of the latter. I've had a cat or two around ever since I was small and I've loved them all. My first was a huge black tomcat with fur so sleek it shone like glass and a purr like a supercharged motorbike. His name was Flash and when he came home he was a teeny scrap of a kitten and the total opposite to the large beast he would grow into. I was about eight or nine at the time, and my older sister took me to fetch him from a schoolfriend's house. On the way we stopped off at the local Co-Op and picked up a cardboard box to carry him home in. When we couldn't decide what to call our new playmate it was suggested we call him Flash after the name on the side of the box. It could have been much worse - he might have ended up being known as Vim, Stork or Tampax. After a very short time he became the love of my life and I spent many happy hours playing with him, petting him and as I grew into a teenager sharing the secrets of my schoolgirl crushes with him. He was always willing to lend a listening ear and give me a consoling purr when I was sad. Larger than life and with a character to match I was heartbroken when he made his final journey to the vets. A growth in his stomach was preventing him from eating, and even though I knew it was the kindest thing to do I sobbed uncontrollably as he lay in my arms, his loud purring getting softer as the drugs took effect and he slipped off to The Rainbow Bridge. I was so distressed I couldn't face going to work for three days afterwards.
My next cat was a sweet little tortie called Penny. Just before I got married me and Hubby heard about a litter of kittens so we went to choose one - or rather she chose us. The owner agreed to keep her until we returned from our honeymoon so it was with great excitement when we went to fetch her. She was always a dainty animal, with pretty markings and a cute caramel-coloured smudge on her face which made me think she'd been eating butterscotch Angel Delight on the sly. One of her habits was to stand in the kitchen and extend her left back leg whilst she was waiting to be fed. A very odd, but endearing habit. When she was 13 she was hit by a car, and I will always remember the cruelty of the man who knocked on the front door and said 'have you got a shovel? There's a dead cat on the pavement'. The boys had friends round at the time and everyone was in panic as I picked up Penny and lay her on her soft bed, hoping and praying that she could be saved. Unfortunately by the time she got to the vets it was too late, and she too had gone to The Rainbow Bridge where there are no cars to injure and kill animals.
I am a firm believer that there is a Heaven for animals. An RE teacher at school managed to upset the whole class once by insisting that animals do NOT go to Heaven, they have NO souls so there is no place for them there. Obviously he had never felt the love and companionship that a pet brings, but had missed out on that special bond.
After Penny died there was a gap in the family. It was endured for a few weeks, then we went to the RSPCA to select ONE new cat. Hubby was most insistent that we get ONE only, even though there would be pens containing many animals to choose from and we would want all of them. So it was agreed that we would get just ONE cat.
It goes without saying that we brought home TWO cats. Every one of the kitties deserved a good home, but it was Hubby who spotted a cute little ginger that he liked the look of. The lady told us he had come in with his sister, so if we took him we had to have the sister too because they wouldn't split up animals that came in together. So that is how we came to be owned by Teazle and Peter. When we adopted them they were thought to be about six months old so we chose them a birthdate which is celebrated every year with Tuna and extra fuss. Eight years later they are still an important part of the family and it always delights me when Miss Teazy snuggles next to me at night, keeping my feet warm, or Petie lays next to me on the sofa and rumbles happily away as he curls up and drifts off to sleep.
Teazle is named after those prickly plants that grow on waste ground. She isn't at all prickly, but has the softest fur I've ever felt on a cat. It is matched by her quiet, soft purr and the smallest miaow a cat has ever uttered. In the picture she is doing 'that cute paw thing' where she lifts her left foot to look supremely sweet and charm me into giving her food, fuss, or opening the door. It's hard work being general factotum to a cat.
When we adopted The Fuzzybutts my youngest son was going through a Spiderman phase, and that is he what he wanted to call the other cat. We persuaded him that a cat might not appreciate being called Spidey, so we compromised with Peter Parker. His fur is sleek, his purr is loud and his miaow can be heard from afar. He likes to 'sing' when he thinks nobody's listening. He also likes to help when I'm trying to read the newspaper.
I was inspired to write this piece after reading a blog post by my Twitter friend @PME200, another Peter who wrote about his dog. You can follow me on Twitter @BettyKnitter, and Miss Teazy has her own account too @QueenTeazle.
Today I was expecting an email which didn't arrive. To cut a long story short I have three email addresses, and the mail fetcher on the one I use most hadn't been collecting messages from one of my other accounts. When I realised this, panic set in, and when I retrieved the lost emails they included several requests for pattern clarifications, a couple of charities asking permission to use my patterns to make fundraising items and some orders dating back several months. I was horrified. I always like to keep abreast of my correspondence, so I spent a good few hours replying to all these people who must have thought I was at best an ignorant pig or at worst some dodgy character selling goods that don't exist. At least a third of the inbox comprised circulars, newsletters and adverts so they were deleted straight away. Feeling rather pessimistic I didn't expect a great deal of replies, so I was delighted when half a dozen people replied to me within half an hour. One lady even offered sympathy for my plight, after which I felt a whole lot better and set about preparing the various orders for dispatch.
This made me think about my reliance on modern technology. Emails and computers are wonderful and I wouldn't want to be without them - take away my ability to shop online and I would be very unhappy. My complete trust in the mysterious workings of these amazing tools has been shaken today, so rather then relying on the mail fetcher of my most-used account I will be checking all my accounts myself for a little while. At least until they convince me that nothing has been tucked behind the mantlepiece clock and forgotten about.
Tomorrow is the August Bank Holiday so I am resigned to the fact that we are unlikely to have a 'proper' summer this year. There have been several days of sitting in the garden, but no prolonged periods of warm, dry, sunny weather to enjoy. So I am resigned to the fact that my summer dresses might get one, or at most two more wears before they are ironed and returned to the wardrobe until next year.
I like this time of year. The nights start to draw in, and I can cuddle up on the sofa with knitting, a kitty and a nice mug of tea without that nagging feeling that I should be doing Something Outdoorsy. As much as I love my little garden after almost 5 months of daily plant-pot watering (in my tiny plot I grow most of my plants in containers) it's nice to ease off a little and enjoy looking at the overblown begonias without having to jump up and give them a drink all the time.
My creativity seems to enjoy an Autumnal boost too, and I have several new designs ready to become reality. I've spent the past few weeks knitting up projects for Simply Knitting magazine, including a couple of Christmas items, a shawl and of course more bags - possibly my favourite accessories.
Perhaps it's the darker evenings, or the cooler temperatures - whatever it is I'm ready for a new season of woolliness. Enjoy your Autumn projects, and keep a look out for my patterns in Simply Knitting.
Everyone loves a bargain. I'm fond of the bargains to be found on Ebay and yesterday I stumbled across a direct-from-the-manufacturer seller of knitting yarns. I ordered a pack of green mohair-rich yarn with added sequins, and the grand total for 8 balls plus postage from Turkey came to just over £10. An absolute snip. I have in mind a scarf pattern which will be perfect for this yarn when a) it arrives and b) I can find time to design and make it.
Anyway today I was idly browsing the Knitting Yarns and Wools section on Ebay and I found two balls of pink and shiny viscose for £1.99, and only 8 minutes to go........I placed a bid and they were mine. Add the postage and they worked out at just under £2 per ball. They are the same make as my sequinned green mohair from yesterday, so WHY didn't I check out their website and get 8 balls for around £10, including postage? Oh dear. I am such a fool for the 'ending in a few minutes' auctions. And I'm a fool for pink and shiny. I am telling myself it will be MARVELLOUS when it arrives.
At least the seller has made a couple of pounds.
The season might be summer but outside it's more like late autumn - the wind is blowing like fury and the rain is coming down in sheets. The optimist in me is hoping for some sun, but it is the start of the school holidays so rain is more likely.
My new babies are here in the form of Greeting Cards for Knitters. Each card has a photo of the item on the front, and on the inside cover is a pattern. The facing page is left blank for the sender to write their own message. I like to think it will be something along the lines of Get Well Soon, Have A Great Birthday or Thinking Of You rather than You Stink or Your Cooking Is Awful. Unfortunately I have no control over what other people write after they've purchased a card, so if you receive an offensive message it's out of my hands.
I will be adding new designs to the range in due course, so you can either collect them to keep for yourself or give to friends. They would make a thoughtful present if accompanied by a skein of lovely yarn to make the item. The largest design, the Mireille Shawlette, uses less than 100gr so why not treat your friend to a luxury yarn to make a truly special gift? Each card comes with an envelope and is in a protective cellophane cover.
You can see the full range available, with details of how to order, on the Greeting Cards page (click on the tab at the left of the screen). Here's a little taster to whet your appetite.
There's an awful lot of choice when it comes to greetings cards. Whenever I need to buy one I am overwhelmed by the choice - funny, arty, cute, twee, rude, and so on. Some are well worth keeping forever and I've been guilty on many occasions of buying something because I like the picture and I have no intention of ever giving it away. At a recent craft fair I attended I came home with a stash of beautiful greetings cards for me to keep.
When I was small the ones I liked best had an activity inside, for instance a dot-to-dot puzzle, a spot-the-difference or even a colouring-in picture. With this in mind I have been working on a series of greetings cards to appeal to knitters with the added extra of a knitting pattern! On the front is a picture of a knitted item, and on the inside is the pattern to make it. Each card is blank so a suitable message can be added by the sender and an envelope is included. A card, along with some nice yarn, would make a thoughtful gift for a knitting friend.
I anticipate that the cards will be ready for launch in the next couple of weeks. For more details, either watch this space, or better still add your details to my Mailing List and I'll let you know when the cards are available.
Yet again I am guilty of neglecting my blog. I must confess it has been over two weeks since my last entry, and it's not for want of interesting subjects to write about.
Today I had a table at an Arts and Crafts event where I managed to sell knitting kits, paterns and some felted delights to the general public. It's a two-day fair, so I left everything set up and I'll be back there again tomorrow for another session. It takes place in a fabulous building which used to be an old hosiery factory. There's a long history of knitwear production in my home town, and this particular building is reputed to be the home of the longest-running company in the world, or the first to set up, or some fact along these lines. I apologise for the sketchiness of my information in this respect. With the decline in the local industry, due in part to cheaper imports and also because some manufacturers found it more cost-effective to transfer their operations overseas, one by one the great factories began to close down or go into liquidation. At it's peak there were scores of manufacturers in the town ranging from large factories employing hundreds to smaller operations with just a handful of employees and I'd like to bet that as recently as 20 years ago every woman in the land would have worn Hinckley-made hosiery at one time or another.
The Atkins factory had a long and illustrious presence in the town, and when the company finally shut down several years ago the building was granted listed status and the slow task of refurbishment started. Some parts have been modernised in a manner that's sympathetic to the original architecture, and everywhere there are reminders of it's former life as a busy factory. The following link has some details about the refurbishment of the building. http://www.creativehinckley.co.uk/atkins-building
Today as I was walking through a stairwell I could smell the old factory. Over the years that distinctive aroma must have permeated the very fabric of the building - a mixture of nylon, cotton, elastic, fluff, lubricants from the machinery and the smell of a hot factory floor. Even though the building has been altered with modern lighting, state-of-the-art toilets and frosted glass entrance doors it's soul is whispering 'don't forget me......my long and noble history must be never be forgotten'.
The machines are silent now, dismantled and shipped abroad to Far Easten factories. The knitting machine mechanics, takatori operators and overlockers, flat-bed gussetters and toe seamers have re-trained as call-centre operatives and retail assistants. No more lorries deliver cones of yarn or collect bundles of stockings to take to the local dyehouses. At night the building is dark and quiet, no longer a hive of activity as the night shift keeps the work flowing through the flourescent-lit factory floors.
No matter what happens in the future, precious buildings like this will always be powerful reminders of our industrial heritage, and they should be preserved for the enjoyment for visitors for now and in the future.
Everybody likes something for nothing. Unfortunately some folks like EVERYTHING for nothing, including their knitting patterns. Since I've been designing and writing patterns I've met a number of people who think they should get them for free, reasoning that they've already paid for the yarn so why pay for the pattern too?
I've given a lot of thought to this over the years, so here's my summary of things to consider next time you expect a knitting pattern to be provided for free.
1. These Things Take Time In some cases, a great deal of time. For example, I recently finished creating a lacy shawl pattern. It took many hours of work from start to finish, which included thinking up the design, test knitting it, writing out the pattern, typing up and proof-reading the pattern. All told I must have spent at least 100 hours on this shawl. How many other industries have people working on something for that amount of time for no financial reward?
2. A Little Knowledge I know what I'm doing. A lot of knitters find it difficult, if nigh on impossible, to alter a pattern let alone write one completely from scratch, so paying for a pattern means you are paying for the designer's expertise. If an electrician comes to your house to perform a simple task, for instance changing a light fitting, the actual materials used may only cost a few pounds but his bill for £50 includes his training and knowledge. It also includes a little bit of danger money because I for one wouldn't want to play around with anything involving 240 volts. At this point I feel obliged to add that my patterns don't include danger money, mainly because the only hazard I might happen across whilst designing is sitting on a knitting needle.
3. Support Your Local Designer Many independent, freelance designers are reliant on the income they gain from pattern sales. A couple of pounds might seem like a lot of cash for a knitting pattern, but if you take into account points 1 and 2 above it starts to look very reasonable. And after all, you wouldn't approach an indie yarn dyer and demand their product for free. If you did I like to think you would get a dusty answer.
4. So Much Pleasure, So Little Cost Take a look at this pattern - http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/infinity-bag It's one of my most popular designs, and I've had the pleasure of seeing it knitted up in many different yarns and colours. For the modest fee of just £2 you have the fun of knitting and felting your own unique bag, plus the hours of use and enjoyment you get from the finished item. What else can you buy for £2 that provides so much entertainment? Chocolate is soon eaten (well it is in my house), and at the cinema £2 would pay for less than an hour of film.
This concludes my list of reasons to pay for knitting patterns. I'm not an extortionist, and I price my patterns fairly based on how long I've worked on the design and the amount of skill involved. Just in case after reading this you think I'm a money-grabbing old crone, I would like to mention that I add free-of-charge patterns to my portfolio from time to time. You can check out the patterns I have currently available here http://www.ravelry.com/designers/elizabeth-jarvis, although this is not an exhaustive list and I have many more awaiting publication and in the development stage.
Have fun with your knitting!
Knitting is a very scientific pastime. Not only does it rely on numbers, counting and sequences there's also the chemistry behind man-made fibres, the biology of wool-producing animals and the physics of why one ball of wool is a different colour to another. (It's something to do with Professor Brian Cox and his wavelengths.)
With this in mind it seems pertinent for an explanation of the current theories surrounding this subject. If you find some of the theories mentioned here a little alarming, or even in some cases quite shocking, rest assured that it all makes sense when you pick up yarn and needles.
The Shawl Paradox
This was first mentioned in a letter from Miss Sarah Mulligan to her mother in 1909. She was a very keen lace knitter, and had much experience of the paradox every time she knitted a shawl. Miss Mulligan noticed that whenever she reached the mid-point of the pattern, no matter how much knitting she did the shawl didn't grow any larger, or her ball of wool any smaller. After much experimentation she discovered that if the knitting was put into a bag and left alone for a period of at least 3 days, the paradox would right itself and the shawl could be finished, although she was no closer to being able to explain why.
Later research by the Baines sisters throughout the 1950's and into the early 1960's showed that when the mid-point of pattern is reached, the knitted and un-knitted yarn form an equilibrium, and no amount of work can alter this state. Like Miss Mulligan they discovered that the only way to get past this problem was to place the work in a bag, (experimentation found that cotton fabric is the best because it allows the paradox to seep out easily) leave it for a minimum of three days and then continue knitting. By this time the paradox will have leaked out from the wool, escaped through the cotton and dissipated into the atmosphere quite safely.
James Crabtree was the first person to write about this phenomenon in 1949, and although it had been observed by many knitters prior to this he was the first to undertake any serious study. Mr Crabtree conducted many experiments, involving knitters from all over the country, and he carefully selected each one individually based on their youth and pretty looks. To fit his strict criteria each knitter had to have at least five years experience, be over 21 and under 30, and single.
Each of his subjects was allotted one ball of wool and a simple pattern of his own devising. In each case, there was never quite enough wool to finish the end of the pattern, and it was carefully calculated to run out in the middle of a row. His theory was that his young ladies would near the end of the wool and start to speed up their stitch rate in order to get to the end of the last row and thus make the wool go a little bit further.
Unfortunately Mr Crabtree's findings were never officially verified, mainly because he was sent to prison on account of being a dirty old man and eight counts of bigamy. No further credible research has been undertaken.
The first verified mention of this was in a letter to 'The Daily Telegraph' in June 1909 from a Mr T Sutton. It appears that his wife was a keen knitter and unable to resist the lure of the wool shop, so much so that Mr Sutton was in a state of perplexity. He was unable to understand why every corner of his wardrobe was filling up with balls of wool, and he often opened the sideboard to find more wool had been squirrelled away there as well. His theory was that the wool 'has somehow acquired a life of its own, and can multiply in ways never before considered feasible to mankind'. He devoted much of his free time to studying the wool in great detail, but despite his failing eyesight, caused by squinting into a microscope on dim evenings, he was unable to find any rational explanation for the ever-expanding collection of wool and the diminishing figure of his bank balance. His meticulously-kept journals mentioned 'his total lack of understanding of this Woollen Creep that infects my house'. Upon his death Mrs Sutton was heard to remark 'well at least I didn't spend it all on gin and bingo'.
The rather outdated term 'Woollen Creep' has now been superceded by the more modern term 'Stash Creep' in an effort to acknowledge the important contribution that man-made fibres have made in this area.
Barkin's Stitch Count Theory
Stella Barkin was the first to publish her findings on counting stitches in 1972. She summarised thus:
The number of stitches on the needle is in direct proportion to the number of times they are counted
She gave several examples to support her findings, the first being that if you have cast on 400 stitches you will count them four times, getting four different answers. Cast on 20 stitches and you only have to count them once. Mrs Barkin conducted a number of controlled experiments and published her findings in The Journal of British Numerical Engineers. Although much revered in academic knitting circles, she had an unhappy home life which eventually led to her emigrating to America to study why people have two stitches left over at the end of the row. Her ex-husband, a much respected Numerical Engineer, tried to publicly denounce her findings but she retorted by saying 'well he can only count to twenty-three and that's if he hasn't got any pants on'.
Keep an eye out for more Science and Knitting articles on my blog soon. There are many more where these came from!
When I was 11 I started 'proper' dressmaking. Using a sewing machine was natural to me - I could choose fabric and turn it into something that I could wear without looking exactly like all the other girls at school. After a little while I began to experiment with design and before long I was drafting my own patterns and making all sorts of outfits. I was certainly different to the other girls by now - by the time I was 15 practically all my garments were self-made and although it didn't bother me I came in for some stick, and no small amount of bullying, from certain people at school. If you've ever seen the film 'Pretty in Pink' it echoes my story (except that I never managed to date any good-looking rich kids). Anyway, I carried on regardless, flying the flag for individuality and honing my sewing, knitting and design skills. There was one girl in particular - a so-called 'friend' who was forever making sly digs at my clothes and trying to undermine me - but in retrospect I can see there was some envy there. All of her clothes were chosen by her mum from chain stores, and she could barely sew on a button without it coming off.
A favourite Friday night activity for me and my sewing chums was a trip to the local jumble sale to see what we could find to cut up and re-model. It was a fine way to make our pocket money stretch and no doubt our parents were pleased that we weren't demanding cash to spend in the local fashionable boutiques. I've never been one for keeping old clothes but I still have some pieces of costume jewellery that I bought in charity shops and at jumble sales for a few pennies. This was in the early 1980's, before the fashion tide turned and everybody went upmarket and wouldn't be seen dead in Oxfam Chic. Dressmaking started to fall out favour and I was left alone with my sewing machine as my contemporaries drifted off to frequent Next and River Island.
It's said that if you wait long enough things eventually come back into fashion. I'm delighted by this upturn in interest in crafting and the sudden realisation that it's possible to enjoy the process of making something as much as using it. Thank goodness for people like Gok Wan who encourage people to look beyond the ready-mades and try making something unique.
Today I raise a glass to all those people who plough their own furrow. Continue to create, try new ideas and most of all have a great time doing it. While you're at it, check out what Mama Cass has to say about it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEQxEJ5_5zA&feature=related
It's been a few weeks since my last post. I've been busy working on new stuff and enjoying the fabulous Spring weather we've been blessed with this year. How lovely to sit in the garden, soaking up some warmth and knitting away peacefully. Early sunshine always seems a little strange to me - the trees are barely in leaf, and much of the garden is still asleep yet it's pleasant enough to wear short sleeves and even, I regret to say, get a little sunburnt by underestimating the power of the April sun.
The garden furniture had a wipe down, the parasol came out from its plastic cover and I've enjoyed eating outdoors. I've also drank many, many cups of tea whilst staring at the plants and watching them slowly re-awaken after their winter hibernation.
In case you haven't checked out my Knit Kits, here's a perfect design for summer knitting. It's a kit to make a set of cotton beaded doyleys. Here's the clever bit - they are cunningly designed with a hole in the middle so they can be used with tiered cakestands. The inspiration came about because I have a couple of china cakestands, but the only doyley patterns I could find were mostly in crochet, and they had no hole in the centre. After some design work these little beaded beauties made their debut and they certainly add a touch of class to tea in the garden. For more details, click on the 'Knit Kits' button to the left of the screen.
I hope you're having a pleasant Spring, and enjoying the sun as much as I am.
I've been knitting since I was about 6 or 7 which is a Very Long Time so it sometime surprises people to find out that there are things I've never done with yarn and needles. For example, I've never tried that loopy stitch that goes around the edge of baby bonnets, and knitting with double-pointed needles is another thing on my 'not yet tried list'. I'm also new to shawl knitting.
To say I've never made a shawl would be totally untrue because I spent the whole of my nine months pregnancy with number two child knitting a large, acrylic, 2 ply lacy christening shawl that was used once on his baptism day then carefully folded away and stowed at the bottom of the wardrobe. However it was a simple all-over pattern with a border added on afterwards. What I'm new to is knitting one of those fancy shawlette jobbies that seem to be around the necks of every stylish knitter the world over. The ladies at my Knit and Knatter have created many of these delightful, wispy little shawls in assorted colours and patterns so I decided it was high time for me to join them. A while ago I received a gift of 200g merino/silk hand-dyed fine yarn in the most gorgeous shades of pink which was crying out to be made into a peice of delicate neckwear so I started on some research. I had in mind a design so I asked some experienced shawl knitters for advice. I found out that most patterns start with few stitches and increase up to many so that if you run out of yarn you can stop wherever you like and the shawl will still work.
What I had in mind would be knitted the other way - start with many stitches and decrease down until they've all gone. I personally prefer to work in this way so that I get the longest rows out of the way first and towards the end when there are less stitches it seems to grow faster. So that's what I'm doing.
So far I have the edging and two rows. The edging was made from many smaller sections which have been joined together, and each row has 385 stitches. However the next row is when I start to decrease so theoretically it will take slightly less time than the other two........I hope to be at least halfway finished by this time next week.
I shall report back to let you know how it goes. Onwards and upwards!
My latest Ebay purchase arrived this morning, a musical pendant locket. I've never seen one before so I was both intrigued and delighted when I unwrapped it. On the front is a ceramic flower picture, and when it's opened up a tiny clockwork musical box plays 'Somewhere My Love'. Inside there's a picture frame with a photo of an unknown man and judging by the clothes and hairstyle it was taken during the 1950's or 60's.
My sons wanted to inspect this latest piece of tat, and without a moment's hesitation the eldest asked why there was a picture of Rick Astley inside. This led to much hilarity in our house (we're easily entertained) and some wiseguy suggested the musical box should be playing 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. Considering Rick himself wasn't born until 1966 (according to Wikipedia so it must be true) the picture must be of his dad.
Now I am happy in the knowledge that I own the only Rick Astley's Dad Muscial Pendant in the world. I wonder what the Antiques Roadshow would make of it?
Just when I thought I had it under control I suddenly find myself with a pile of started projects..........
1. Sideways waistcoat
2. Cabled bag
3. 'Dark into Light' colourwork experiment
4. Felted hats (several)
5. Cat toys (more than three)
OH WHERE WILL IT ALL END??????
....is where I was at the weekend. There's something exciting about having cash and a whole load of places to spend it, so I went a little crazy and bought some fine, 4-ply silk (love the colour), four skeins of multi-coloured sari silk (love the texture), a considerable amount of sew-on jewels (must have the shiny) and some new 4mm knitting needles (just in case I lose/break the many other pairs I own). A bejewelled, gold-embroidered peacock motif also found his way into my bag as well as a copy of the Knitted Royal Wedding book.
The main reason I was at Olympia was not shopping, but to do a couple of talks about Colour and Texture Mixology. It's always a joy to meet other enthusiasts, and this weekend didn't disappoint. I chatted to some lovely people from all over the UK who shared their knitting tales with me, and hopefully in return they took home a little bit of my encouragement and inspiration. I find that talking with others, finding out what makes them tick and the type of projects they do always fills me with lots of new ideas and thoughts about projects that will keep me busy for a good while.
I left home on Saturday morning to catch the train to London St Pancras, accompanied by a large holdall. My overnight gear and change of clothes fitted into a small zipped pocket on the side, and the rest of it was stuffed to bursting with knitted samples and yarns for my Show and Tell sessions as well as a folder full of crisply-laminated photographs. Mid-day on Saturday is probably not the best of times to travel by Tube when accompanied by a bulging holdall on wheels, especially when a lot of my fellow passengers were similarly burdened with oversized rucksacks, luggage and paper carriers from fashionable shops. Fortunately when I emerged into daylight my hotel was only a two-minute walk from Earl's Court station and I could abandon my cumbersome load and enjoy a welcome cup of tea.
Staying in a hotel as a lone traveller is a strange, albeit interesting experience. I examined all the drawers (shoeshine pad, headed notepaper, dry-cleaning order form but no Gideon Bible) and checked out the bathroom. Three rolls of toilet paper (for one night! Maybe they have a lot of guests with overactive bowels) and those dinky little tubes of shampoo and shower gel. Unwrapping the mini bar of soap was a little treat, rather like tearing the paper off an unexpected gift, and it turned washing my hands into a dainty little ritual. I spent some time pondering over those small paper bags for 'Sanitary Disposal'. They always feature a picture of a crinoline lady wearing an oversized hat, and a less likely covergirl for feminine products is harder to imagine. Trying to use the toilet whilst wearing a cumbersome skirt the size and weight of a small igloo must be a challenge to say the least without the added burden of placing your used sanitary item into a little paper bag for tidy disposal. It's time for the printers to choose a new image for these bags - may I suggest a lady on rollerskates, hair flowing, listening to music on her Walkman - a retro reference to those 1980's 'Whooaaaaaa, Bodyform' adverts?
After watching Harry Hill's TV Burp I wandered down to the bar for my evening meal. After ordering chilli con carne with rice I chose a leather-effect tub chair to sit in. However, the accompanying table was not designed with the diner in mind, and it was a surreal experience to be eating from a plate that was at knee-level. Had I been at home I would have picked up the plate and held it with one hand, base balanced on my bosom, and eaten the food with the fork in my other hand. I didn't want to give the other people the impression that I was a total slob so I persevered with the low-slung table arrangement. I could have eaten in my room, but that cost £2 extra - money that would be better spent on something else. Like some rather pleasant handmade chocolates, for instance.
Watching Saturday night TV without my family was quite sad really, although I got to lie on the bed and choose what I wanted to watch. I selected a drama about Christopher Isherwood starring Matt Smith, which was excellent but the polar opposite of him playing Dr Who. I doubt that The Cybermen ever saw The Doctor getting up to those kinds of bedroom gymnastics.
The Breakfast Buffet was a help-yourself affair, so I took advantage of this and had toast, croissant, yoghurt, cereal, fruit juice, a pot of tea and a hard-boiled egg. I would have had more toast just so I could have another go with the toaster - a large brushed steel affair with a ramp where the bread was slipped down onto a wire conveyor, which slowly moved along between two heating elements before the finished toast was dropped down a chute to bring it back to the front of the machine where it presented itself ready for buttering - but I was already full.
After breakfast my bulging holdall was taken on another Tube ride to Olympia where I arranged my assorted yarns and knitted items on the stage of the Simply Knitting theatre. I got to wear one of those headset microphone thingies which is something I've been desperate to do for ages. At one time this longing almost made me want to work in a call centre. Everybody was very polite as I blathered on about colour, texture, knitting, trying new things etc etc and several people hung around afterwards to ask questions and take a closer look at my work. I'm a 'hands on' exhibitor (ooh, that sounds a bit pervy......) and I like people to touch my work. After all, the tactile qualities of yarn are what makes knitting so enjoyable. After two talks, another wander round and some 'knit and knatter' time where I chatted with some lovely people it was time to squeeze everything back into the holdall and head for home. Two Tubes and a train journey later I was back in Leicester on home turf and ready for a nice sit down with a mug of lovely tea.
What happened to the overstuffed holdall, I hear you ask? After it had seemingly increased in weight after being dragged along Underground stations, up escalators and around the seemingly never-ending walkways of St Pancras I was delighted to abandon it in my dining room with a heartfelt wish of never seeing it again. It's now being slowly relieved of its contents as they find their way back to their home quarters, and when empty it will return to it's hibernation spot underneath the bed.
I had a great time in London, and I hope to be invited along again to do more talks, meet more people and take my trusty holdall stuffed with woolly things on another adventure.
I've been knitting lots of little things just lately. A few small bags, a couple of wee felted projects, that sort of thing. I finally finished off a waistcoat that was started last summer so now I'm ready to start on a larger project.
Small projects are fun and interesting but like snacking between meals they somehow don't contribute much to that 'full-belly' feeling. I have some very pretty pink yarn with a hint of Lurex that would make a most becoming summer top, and because I already have a cupboard full of cardis I'm leaning toward a waistcoat. With any luck it won't sit languishing at the bottom of my knitting basket for six months waiting for me to sort out the buttons. Having said that, the yarn has been hanging around in the cupboard for almost two years so a few weeks more won't harm it.
Maybe I will start this new project tomorrow. In the meantime I shall go to bed and hopefully get a good long sleep, not tiny little bite-sized itty bitty naps interrupted by wakefulness. Night night.
My friends all know of my penchant for anything sparkly, so it won't come as much of a surprise to them that I've been collecting brooches since I was a teenager. Most of my pieces have been bought from charity shops, some were given as gifts and a few recent acquisitions came from Ebay.
Recently I finished making a bag in some wonderful handspun, hand-dyed yarn from www.babylonglegs.co.uk. I've made this design several times before, and each time the front has been decorated with little rosettes made on a flower loom. There wasn't enough yarn left over to make embellishments for this latest creation, so instead I added a brooch which I had recently bought from Ebay. The picture isn't very clear, but the colours match perfectly.
Here's some bags I made a few years ago which were also decorated with brooches. One of the great things about costume jewellery is it's affordable and can be changed easily to suit the occasion.
Keep a look out for brooches, scarf clips and even interesting old earrings to add a touch of glamour to your knitted bags.
I realise I haven't written for several weeks. I've been busy working on some new designs, knitting them up and writing the patterns as well as making some samples for a magazine so writing hasn't been at the forefront of my mind.
I find it hard to get inspiration during the early months of the year. The sparkle of Christmas has been packed away and seems like a distant memory, and the weather has been rather grey so I've been staying at home in a state of semi-hibernation waiting for the Spring to arrive. Yesterday the sun came out and made everywhere look a lot more cheerful which always raises the spirit and makes the better weather seem a little nearer. Evenings are lighter too and it makes a pleasant change to cook the evening meal and be able to see things outside the window rather than just peering into the blackness.
March is fast approaching and I'm looking forward to the day when I can go outside without a coat, sit on the bench and watch the plants start to re-awaken. Last Autumn I planted some bulbs so it will be fun to look out for them as they poke their little shoots through the soil. However I can't remember what they were......not the usual daffodils and tulips, but there were definitely some alliums and some trumpety-shaped flowers whose name escapes me. With any luck I'll remember by the time they come into flower.
Spring is just around the corner, so I'll bide my time and wait patiently for the sun to bring it's warmth, joy and hopefully renewed inspiration.
When I turned 40 a few years ago I decided to mark this momentous occasion by doing something memorable. It had to be something I hadn't done before, impressive, possibly life-changing and certainly a talking point for the future. Options available included having an affair (not with my looks and figure), going for a tattoo (like a big girl's blouse I chickened out) or writing a book. I opted for the book.
I don't have the imagination or storytelling skills for a novel, so I wrote about what I know - knitting. I spent many hours designing and writing patterns, taking pictures, making infantile sketches (drawing never was my strongest skill) and writing all the added extras that make up a knitting manual. This comprised an introduction, 'how to' instructions and drawings (that's where the childish pictures come in) and a liberal sprinkling of Betty Knitter Wit and Wisdom.
When everything was done I jiggled it around on the computer until it looked nice, and after taking advice from a friend who worked in technical publishing I prepared my proposal. It was submitted to several publishers who all made encouraging noises, but unfortunately nobody snapped off my hand. Either their lists were full, or they weren't doing knitting books for the forseeable future, or it didn't quite fit into what they were looking for.
So for the past couple of years my Magnus Opus has sat on a shelf gathering dust, waiting to be sent off again. I guess anybody trying to have a book published during the worst recession since the last one is on a hiding to nothing, but that little spark is still burning inside me. You see, dear reader, my book is all about making beautiful knitted accessories using leftovers, odd balls and charity shop finds. Just the thing for cash-strapped knitters in the current economic climate.
Ever the optimist, I am starting on a new book. Pattern number one is written. I will plod on, ever hopeful, and should a publisher materialise they have one completed book already and another on the way.
Watch this space........
The last gifts have been stowed away and the decorations have been carefully packed into their boxes so it must be January. Cold, grey, miserable January. Even the trees in the park look fed up, as if they can't wait for their buds to burst forth. The sky is heavy with grey clouds and it's one of those days that seems to barely get light before it's dusk again.
All in all a perfect day to plan ahead a little and look forward to some pleasures, however tiny, in the coming months. I've already signed up for a couple of swaps on www.ravelry.com in the Holiday Ornaments Swap Group. The first one is for Chinese New Year so I'm making a set of pretty decorations featuring lots of cheery red and gold. Next up is the Valentines swap, so again lots of red will be involved to add some warmth to February. In March I'm planning to visit The Stitch and Craft Show in London www.stitchandcraft.co.uk which should be good fun, and by April we should be enjoying longer, lighter days which will hopefully be a little warmer as well.
So that's a few things to put on my new calendar. This year I would also like to find a publisher for my already written first book, as well as my second which is in the planning stages. It's all there in my head, I just need to write down all the words and knit all the patterns! That last sentence makes it sound soooooo easy, but I'm sure that having a publisher to jolly me along would help the process no-end.
As I'm starting the year with lots of good things to do and look forward to, may I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful and contented New Year. May all your dreams come true in 2011.
During the past week I've been indulging my creative side by decorating the house with baubles and glitter. This year we have a bigger tree so the ornaments don't look quite so squashed together, and it means I could buy some new ones and know they would fit perfectly. A while ago I found a box of old hand-painted glass baubles in a charity shop, and they've been hung on silver ribbons from the living room light fitting. The edges of the shelves have bead garlands, mini glitterballs and sparkly snowflakes hanging from them and the mantelpiece is home to three polarbears.
In the dining room the mantelpiece has been covered with imitation greenery, little white lights and assorted fake fruits. There's also a robin and a fox, with more mini glitterballs hanging from the top of the mirror. Even the kitchen has a string of multi-coloured lights which lend a festive air to the most mundane of cookery tasks.
Today I wrapped some presents. The first few are always pristine, with neatly-creased edges and carefully positioned stickytape. Towards the end things got a bit slapdash, but hey, they'll only be unwrapped anyway.
The cards are posted, the gifts are wrapped, so officially I'm Ready for Christmas. By the time the calendar rolls around to the 18th of December I always think the days fly by and before you know it you're waking up on the 25th and all those weeks of planning and shopping are all worthwhile.
So, dear readers, thankyou for sticking with me throughout 2010. May you have a wonderful Christmas, and a peaceful New Year. Do drop by in 2011when I'll be sharing more of my thoughts with you.
It's snowing! Proper white fluffy stuff! It's nice to just sit by the window and watch as it slowly falls from the sky. The north of England and Scotland have been under many inches of snow for a few days now but as usual our little corner of Midlands has stayed largely untouched. The boys have been full of fury when the news reports tell of school closures - 'Not fair! We want the day off!' - and they're longing to get outdoors to fling snow around and build a snowman. Perfect knitting weather. Mug of hot tea, maybe a biscuit or two (or even a whole pack for the energy) and a selection of warm and fuzzy yarns to play with.
Ask me again in a week's time when the novelty of staying in has worn off and I've run out of knitting inspiration. I'll probably be desperate for Spring sunshine.
I like to visualise the great diarists sitting at their desks, quill in hand and inkpot to one side, opening up large leather-bound volumes and carefully writing down their thoughts and observations. My last attempts at keeping a journal were over half a lifetime ago in the early 1980's, and those slim volumes were so full of woe about 'why doesn't he fancy me?' and 'nobody understands me' that they were consigned to the bin a short while later.
Although I don't keep a diary in the traditional sense my entries on www.ravelry.com, and indeed these blog entries serve as a reminder of what I've been up to. My design notes also form a nebulous archive, albeit a scribbled and unregimented one. I have several spiral-bound A5 notebooks which I write my patterns into as I work on them, and each book has added bits of paper, sketches and even old envelopes with sums and drawings on the back. I don't have a particular system and sometimes I have several notebooks on the go at once, but at least each pattern is dated. I like to think that in the future some poor unfortunate archivist may be cursing my organisational abilities whilst simultaneously praising my design skills. I tried an A4 notebook once (Hello Kitty) but it just felt wrong. I also tried a slightly smaller than A5 (Lego Land Windsor) but that was only used for a couple of designs and the rest is blank. Earlier this week I started a new notebook covered in drawings of stylised peacocks. Still spiral bound, still A5. I like consistency.
My finished patterns are the total opposite of my handwritten notes. I type out each one, add photos, save it to a memory stick and print out a hard copy to file alphabetically. That same archivist who was cursing me earlier will be delighted when they get to the finished product files, each containing pristine printouts housed in little plastic sleeves to keep them neat.
All this has, in a roundabout way, explained my organisational methods. When I'm knitting I've always used paper and pen to jot down notes as I go and until I was confident in my counting every row would be marked off in five-bar gates on a piece of paper, or most often an old envelope. I have several row counters in different designs in my arsenal but rarely use any of them, preferring the paper and pen method. Some habits are very hard to break.
Today I was in my favourite charity shop and I found a rather wonderful old metal row counter. A quick entry on Ravelry and someone came to my rescue with a Wikipedia article, and there was my counter in the picture! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Row_counter_%28hand_knitting%29 It dates from 1936 and I'd love to know who it belonged to and how many rows it has tallied over the years. I shall keep it safely with my other knitting bits and pieces and next time I need to do some row counting I shall use it. At last I can update my back of an old envelope system!
I don't think I've been so excited about Christmas for years. Somehow the promise of glass baubles, glitter and fairy lights is filling me with cheer even though there's still 37 days to go (according to Ebay's handy countdown clock). I'm not quite as keen as Matt on the Radio 2 Drivetime Show who has a wreath on his door already, but I am full of anticipation for the Grand Decorating Day. By tradition we put our family tree up no earlier than the second weekend before Christmas and I certainly don't do it by halves. Every year we visit a local garden centre and buy a few (or maybe fifteen) new baubles for the tree, so after 20 years of marriage you can imagine we have quite a collection by now. I don't do stylish, toning decorations - there are balls of every shape, size and colour on the tree, complemented by assorted shiny things hanging from shelves and dado rails. Out comes the old faithful tree, looking a little scruffy but like a good friend I can't just cast him out into the cold, cruel December weather. Anyway once he is covered in lights and baubles he looks a million dollars. The fireplaces are trimmed up too. The one in the dining room is topped with garlands and greenery (the closest I ever get to tasteful holiday decorations) and the open fire in the living room is home to polar bears and pine cones.
I love opening up the storage boxes and carefully unwrapping every precious glass globe, re-acquainting myself with those I'd forgotten and greeting my favourites like cherished uncles who only visit once a year. Some of the best ones are handmade, and I sometimes get a little wistful when I remember how proudly my boys brought them back from playgroup and infant school, dripping with slightly-wet glue and glitter. A couple of years ago I joined a Holiday Ornament swap on www.ravelry.com and I've received some beautiful handmade items which I treasure. I'm doing it again this year, and I'm almost ready to mail out my package to America. I wonder what my partner is making for me?
Knitwise I've started on a couple of designs in preparation for next year. I recently had four patterns published in the Simply Knitting Irresistible Christmas Gifts to Knit supplement, and it's hard to believe I was working on them last May. I've had some good feedback about the designs, so hopefully next year's will be popular as well.
Now's a good time to think about making a little something for your tree, or maybe someone else's tree. It will be treasured by the recipient and they will think of you every year when they unpack their decorations. So have a go, and spread a little festive joy of your own. Cheers!
I love getting mail. Even boring things like bank statements mean that the outside world hasn't forgotten me, and it's a real thrill to hear the squeak of the front gate, the twang of the letterbox and the plop of envelopes landing on the floor.
If letters excite me, then parcels make me delirious. Now November is here I feel the time is right to start Christmas shopping, and this year I've done the bulk of it already via that modern miracle, our friend The Internet. Previously I have spent many a miserable hour wandering around the shops looking for suitable gifts only to give up and do exactly the same a week later but in a different location, hoping against hope that the shops in a neighbouring town will offer a better selection. Of course they never do - Boots and Burtons stock exactly the same merchandise in all their shops from Bannockburn to Brighton.
This way I get to search for what I want, compare prices, place my order and wait for the postie to bring everything to me. No wet feet. No carrying heavy bags and wishing I'd brought my shopping trolley along (a flowery pink one, in case you were wondering). Even better, this year my boys have written precise wishlists so that I know exactly which Xbox games and DVDs they would like without any guesswork on my part.
The parcels have already started to arrive, and every one is a mini treat for me to unwrap and see what's inside. There's only one downside, and that's the eternal one which has dogged parents since the giving of gifts at Christmas began. Hiding the Presents. I still need to squeeze my purchases into the wardrobe, under the bed or at the back of the airing cupboard. Wise mothers wrap as they buy, so that every gift is hidden under a layer of paper in order to foil prying eyes, but I'm not that organised. I prefer a wrap-everything-in-one-go session, taking over the dining table with rolls of paper and sticky tape accompanied by a festive CD and a large mug of tea. Maybe a biscuit or two as well to help the process along. Or a whole pack if things get a little fraught.
Being a crafty type I also make a number of gifts. Of course I can't divulge what this year's selection includes, just in case the recipients happen across this post and spoil their own surprises.
I still have a few people left to buy for, so I am still looking forward to getting more parcels. How I love getting them (I think I might have mentioned this already). Although I would love to shop locally, unfortunately my small town doesn't stock the sort of gifts I need to buy (although I always buy my Christmas cards from the local charity shops). However, as a seasoned internet shopper I am definitely keeping my postie in a job not to mention the Royal Mail staff and assorted courier companies. Hooray for Parcels!
I've never had a stall at a craft fair before, so when I was invited to take part in one I thought about it and said yes. Thing is, that was way back in the summer and now it's just over a week away. I've been steadily beavering away making things to sell but I've had a sudden, last-minute panic. What if I've got too much stuff? Or not enough? Will my stall look attractive and wow potential purchasers or will it look a mess? And I thought it would be simple.
I've chosen to take a selection of gifts (felted bowls and bespoke handbags), my latest Knit Kits (hope there's going to be some knitters there) and some fabric project bags, stitchmarkers and handmade buttons. I'm also hoping to sell copies of my most popular patterns and with this in mind I've prepared some samples so that people will see what a great pastime knitting is, immediately buy a pattern and rush home to make their own hat, bag or cardigan.
In the midst of all the preparation frenzy my printer gave up the ghost two days ago. Oh what perfect timing. Like a spurned lover hellbent on revenge it had left me with a long list of patterns waiting to be printed. Even more frustrating was the fact that I had fed it four brand-new ink cartridges just moments before it threw a sulk. Had I known this was going to happen I would have kept the cartridges in their sealed packs, taken them back to the shop and exchanged them for something more exciting like a pack of A4 paper or a new mouse mat.
Luckily my local Argos had a suitable model in stock, so I reserved the last one and my father-in-law kindly collected it for me. So that hurdle has been crossed, but now I have to sell more stuff to pay for the new printer. AAAARRGGHH!!
Searching for a false leg also proved fruitless. An empty legwarmer doesn't look very appealing so in order to make it look fabulous I needed a leg. I had in mind the type that were used in department stores to display stockings, so I set out to research the internet. I found a few false limbs that were rather costly, and I also happened across a website run by a nice lady called Sue who offered, for £10 a month, to send me photos of her legs. Not quite what I had in mind when I Googled 'hosiery display legs'. On to Plan B which was to call local dress shops to see if they had an odd leg in the store room that I could beg or borrow. No luck, in fact on reflection they probably thought I was some kind of nutter/pervert/weirdo.
Plan C was the DIY route. I cut a leg from cardboard and covered it with many layers of glue and paper. My papier mache leg might be flat but it has lots of character, and the final layer of brown paper gives it a beautiful tanned appearance. I was so pleased with it I went on to make a pair of hands to display fingerless mitts, and I covered my polystyrene heads with a layer of brown papier mache too. All my display items are co-ordinated now although I'm not expecting to be head-hunted by any window dressers anytime soon.
So all I need to do now is price and pack everything, turn up on the day and sell, sell, sell. If it's a success I will definitely do it again. If it's not, a lifesize thigh-length heeled leg silhouette will be up for grabs on Ebay.
I've signed up to Twitter. Within a couple of minutes I had gained a follower, which surprised me somewhat since I hadn't even entered any details about myself. Maybe I'm a household name and don't realise it!
I am still avoiding Facebook. From what people have told me it can be a huge sink-hole that eats time, and I already while away many happy hours on www.ravelry.com when I should really be knitting. I read that Twitter can be a useful business tool, so that's my excuse for joining.
If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, my username is BettyKnitter.
I'm a country hick at heart so a trip to London is a Big Event for me. I didn't sleep well the night before (I think I was subconciously afraid the alarm wouldn't go off) so when I arose at 5am in the dark it felt very strange. The coach left at 6.45 (still dark) and we watched it get lighter as we travelled.
Alexandra Palace is a huge place atop a hill, and I had forgotten that the first BBC TV programmes were broadcast from there in 1936. A blue plaque commemorates this, and the huge antenna is unmissable. Not sure if it's the original or not, but it impressed me all the same.
Inside was a wealth of stuff for textile enthusiasts of all kinds. All kinds of crafts were represented, including knitting (of course), sewing, weaving, spinning, bobbin lacemaking, embroidery of all kinds, beadwork....the list is endless. I managed to spend a decent amount of cash (!) but I brought home some wonderful yarns, needles and buttons as well as several other bits and pieces. I was particularly taken with an American man who explained all about buffalo fibres and told some wonderful anecdotes about his herd. They are huge beasts and would be impossible to shear, so at moulting time they are provided with large, sturdy 'car wash' style brushes which the animals like to rub against, thus shedding their unwanted hair which can be easily removed from the bristles and sent for processing. I wouldn't like to shear a sheep, so I can image their reluctance to shear a beast the size of a shed with sharp horns at the front. I bought a hank of buffalo/cashmere/silk yarn which will, in time, be knitted into a pair of fingerless mittens.
Another area in which I could have spent more time was the exhibition. This showcased textiles and art and it was lovely to meet the makers who were patient and gracious with their time and answered all my questions. The one thing that struck a sour note for me was the amount of exhibitors and stalls who displayed 'No Photography' signs. If someone wanted to take a picture of my work I would feel flattered and delighted that they liked it enough to keep a visual record of it. I can understand the copyright issue but if someone is that keen to steal another's ideas they will study it closely and commit it to memory without the need for a photo.
Before I knew it the day was over and we got back onto the bus. The journey home was fun with 40 people taking part in a mobile 'show and tell' session, and it brought home to me exactly how big the event was because there were areas that I hadn't even been aware of that others had seen. I returned home in the dark and spent a few minutes showing my purchases to my hubby and boys (general opinion - buffalo yarn interesting, everything else meh) then eating a plate of chilli con carne and rice. I certainly slept well last night.
Would I go again? In a heartbeat. Would I take more cash? Definitely. Was it a tremendous day out? Oh yes.
Betty goes off to re-live her happy outing and decide what to make with 50gr of Buffalo yarn.
......are here! After a few months spent knitting samples, sourcing yarn and notions, typing, printing, organising and finding space for everything I am pleased to announce the arrival of my first selection of Knit Kits.
Inside the re-useable fabric tote bag is a pattern, yarn, and all the notions needed to make your own knitted creation. The collection includes a scarf, bag, baby bib, cute kitty and my particular favourite, a set of doyleys which are designed to fit on a tiered cake stand. Anything that encourages cake eating is always an excellent idea as far as I'm concerned.
My dream turned into reality when the large parcels started arriving. For once I could browse the internet for yarn without feeling guilty because this wasn't for me, it was for my kits. One package arrived when I was out so a kind neighbour took it in for me. When I went to fetch it, he offered to carry it for me and I'm glad he did - it was so heavy I could barely lift it! Another delivery came in a huge box, and everything was on cones. It was a beautiful sight, opening the lid and finding perfect coloured circles, like big eyes, looking happily upwards. Winding off all those cones took ages but it was fun to watch the stacks of yarn cakes grow bigger and fill the table.
The reaction at Knit and Knatter was positive and I've already had some orders. It's always a worry to try something new, but those initial reactions pleased me immensely. Great oaks from little acorns grow and I'm hoping this venture will prove successful. If not, I've got an awful lot of yarn to work my way through.
The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember? In September in the rain. The sun went out just like a dying ember, remember? That September in the rain.
Tomorrow is the last day of September. The trees are still mostly green, although there's a slight hint of Autumnal colour starting to creep in. The only exception is the stagshorn sumach in the garden which is a fabulous flaming red. The seasons seem to be shifting slightly out of sync these last few years. Not so long ago the trees were practically bare by mid-October, but now they seem to hang on to their leaves well into October and even November. The only thing that Dinah Washington would recognise is the rain, and we have plenty of that today.
I'm a huge fan of Autumn. The colours are beautiful, and there's a certain indefinable smell in the air that marks the end of summer. Dry leaves on the ground are wonderful for swishing and kicking - find yourself a pile and crunch away. It's a great mood-lifter and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face as well as any onlookers who will wonder exactly what you're doing because you're obviously older than six. If you can take a child for an Autumn walk, so much the better. Make sure to have a bag with you for collecting acorns, conkers and a big pile of interesting leaves. However, don't stow this bag under a bed and forget about it as my child once did or you'll find yourself having to dispose of a collection of smelly, soggy conkers that have lost all their shiny and gone furry.
My absolute, number-one, favourite, best-ever Autumn leaf has to be from the Russian Vine. There's a house near me that is covered in this plant and for eleven months of the year I barely notice it. However, come Autumn every leaf turns to scarlet and falls off, filling the street with large, dinosaur footprint shaped leaves. It's always a treat to open my front door and find a few of these skittering around the step.
Have yourself a great Autumn, seek inspiration and joy from the colours and shapes, and make the most of the dark evenings by snuggling up by the fire with a mug of hot tea, some knitting and a cat or two. And don't forget to dispose of any conkers before they grow beards.
My friend came round today and brought me a lovely big pile of fabric pieces. She's having a clearout and thought I could make good use of them. I'm also halfway (and half-heartedly) having a clearout and already have two bags of clothes for the charity shop, as well as a few other things earmarked for donating.
Although recycling has become more commonplace nowadays, especially now that local authorities have got involved and issued every household with assorted boxes and bags, it's something that's always gone on albeit in a more informal fashion. I was a teenager in the 1980's and DIY clothing was all the rage, so myself and my friends went to jumble sales regularly to look for cheap garments that we could butcher and re-model into something else. My best-ever purchase was a 60's camel coat for 50p. One of the bitchy girls from school argued with me, claiming that she'd spotted it first. Why didn't she buy it then? Ha, underdog one, bully nil. There were only two charity shops in town then - Oxfam and The Children's Society - and both were shambolic wonderlands piled high with unwanted clothes, hats and costume jewellery that could be bought for pennies. This was in the good old days when their profits went to the needy rather than being spent on fancy shopfittings. I'm not sentimental so I haven't kept any of my clothes from this time, but I still have some pieces of costume jewellery that I adore, especially the shiny, diamante necklaces and brooches.
As an even younger child a lot of swapping and passing round went out. Most kids in my area rarely had a brand-new bike, because as one was outgrown someone else would be finishing with their bike, and the one that was too small would be given to someone else. I was the proud owner of a coach-built Silver Cross doll's pram with twin hoods and when I had exhausted its play possibilities it went to another neighbourhood child. Large transactions like this were cariied out by my parents, but there was a thriving swap scene amongst children too. I swapped my toy garage and a huge box of cars for a doll's house. Fair exchange really is no robbery and I was delighted with my miniature world complete with tiny furniture.
I'm pleased that more people are thinking about what happens to things when they've finished with them and using charity shops, Freecycle websites and giving unwanted items to their friends. It's as if the world has caught up with a good system that some of us have known about for years. Recycling and re-using is a way of life for a lot of people now, myself included.
I like to think I'm doing my little bit to help others and the planet. It also helps that I'm a bit of a tightwad.
The last time I wore legwarmers was in the early part of the 80's. Everyone had them, not just fitness fanatics and dancers. For my 16th birthday my then-boyfriend gave me two pairs in pastel pink and blue (I suspect it's because his mum worked in the factory that made them) which were worn scrunched up around the ankles. Not particularly flattering, but when you're 16 and trying to look cool these considerations go flying out the window.
For some unknown reason I recently started to hanker after another pair of legwarmers, only this time a more 'grown up' version. They won't be crumpled around my ankles, Nora Batty style, but will fit like a snug knee-length sock without the foot. I'll be wearing them slightly longer too, so they cover the back of my shoes.
In my head I'll feel like Darcey Bussell. In real life I'll look like a middle-aged fart trying to re-live her glory days by wearing retro fashions. If you see me wearing them you may well hide a smile, have a silent chuckle or suppress a guffaw but I'll know exactly what you're thinking. And I can guarantee you'll be wearing something similar a week later and pretending to be Irene Cara.
I've been busy working on some ideas for knitting kits. Each one will include a pattern, yarns, and any extra bits and pieces that might be needed to complete the project such as beads, ribbons and so on. As an added bonus each kit will be supplied in it's own recycled fabric project tote. The knitter will only need to supply their own favourite needles to get started.
If you would like to receive details of my kits as soon as they're available, add your name to the mailing list and I'll get back to you within the next few weeks. Kits include scarves, bags, table mats and even knitted kitties so there's something for everyone!
I've just returned from a week's holiday in Lincolnshire. Myself, Hubby and The Boys rented a little cottage on a farm just a few miles from the coast. We had the best of both worlds - outside our door was open countryside with big skies and friendly chickens, or a short car journey took us to the seafront. Being a landlocked town-dweller the idea of spending a week in the country with access to the ocean as well is a double delight.
Every year during the second half of August I start to sniff the air, testing it for that indefinable scent that marks the end of Summer and the onset of Autumn. I've never been able to successfully describe it, but it's a faint smell of mown hay ready for baling, mixed with a little bit of warmth, a hint of tomato plant and a generous dollop of dry, slightly musty air. I usually experience this in my own back garden but this year I caught a whiff, ever so slightly, whlist I was at the coast. Obviously sea air can't suppress this gentle aroma. When I've shared my thoughts with other people they've agreed that there's a definite, detectable late Summer smell.
My other end-of-season markers include Japanese anemones. When these delicate, pale pink flowers start to bloom I know it won't be long before the cardis come out again. Soon after the sedum bursts forth with a dazzling show of tiny, pin-prick pink flowers which excite the bees into flurries of activity. They must know that it will soon be back to the hive and rest until next Spring. And even if you don't notice the change of the seasons by watching the garden, the shorter days are a signal to everybody to pack away the garden furniture for another year, buy a bag or two of coal for the open fire, book a place on an evening class and get ready for the colder months ahead.
However before going into total hibernation I'm hoping for a few more summery days. There haven't been very many this year in England so I'm ready for some 'bonus' days. Failing that I shall carry on knitting, a guranteed soul-warmer!
Every knitter has made a mistake or two along the way. Whether it's a dropped stitch, casting off a neckline so tightly that it would struggle to fit over a cucumber or making a total cock-up of decreasing the front edge of a cardigan at the same time as shaping the armhole edge, we all have woeful tales of where we went wrong.
I came a cropper in spectacular fashion earlier this week. I've done a lot of felting, bags and bowls and Christmas baubles, so I had no reason to expect that a felted heart would cause me any problems. The yarn was 100% wool which I've felted successfully before, so I knitted two heart shapes, stuffed them with some wool fleece (again, this had been tried-and-tested), sewed up the gap and headed for the kitchen.
I'm a big fan of using the washing machine for felting and have always had great results with this method. However it seemed a little excessive to run a cycle just for a Happy Heart, so I filled the sink with ooh-that's-hot water and detergent, and the half-sink held the cold water. I started the cycle of *dunk in hot water, squeeze, dunk in cold water, squeeze, repeat from * until boredom sets in or item is felted. Bordeom set in extremely quickly, mainly because my patience is always in short supply during this activity and I just can't wait to see what the finished item is going to look like. (I've been known to sit next to washing machine, watching the suds and fabrics slooshing round, urging it to get a move on when there's something felting inside.) Suddenly I remembered reading about someone who used the tumble-dryer for felting, so I rinsed out my heart, gave it a good squeeze to remove most of the moisture and put it in the dryer. How long to tumble for? I wasn't sure, so I set the dial to 40 minutes, and made a mental note to check on progress every 10 minutes.
Naturally the moment I walked away all thoughts of felting left my mind so it was a good hour before I returned. When I opened the door, this sad little face was looking at me. His expression told me all I needed to know about the ordeal he had suffered in the tumble-dryer.
My little heart was now an Unhappy Heart. However I hope he takes solace from the fact that he taught me a few useful lessons.
1. Hand-felting may take a while and be unkind on your fingers, but it's well worth the effort.
2. Don't leave the tumble dryer unattended. Had I gone back earlier, my little friend may well have been a Happy Heart for the rest of his life.
3. Even mistakes can have a positive side. He could have turned out just like all those perfect little hearts with their pretty needle-felted sentiments and hand embroidery, but Unhappy Heart is a true one-of-a-kind and I will treasure him and his worried little visage for a long time.
Ooooooh I had a fun time this afternoon. There's a wooden chest in my office/workroom full of yarn, but because space is tight there's usually several boxes, baskets and other assorted items on top of the chest. I rarely look in it, mainly because I can't be bothered with the faff of taking everything off the top then putting it all back on again.
Inside is yarn for felting, from woolly 4-plys up to thick fuzzy mohairs. I'm having a stand at a craft fair in November so I thought it might be a good idea to make up a few items now instead of leaving it until October. It's been so long since I looked in the chest I'd forgotten what a wealth of textures and colours were in there. I passed a happy half-hour rummaging through my forgotten gems and chose a bagful to make some things with.
So for one day in it's mundane life, my humble, battered and much-used box was transformed into a real Treasure Chest.
I was doing the ironing at the weekend. One of the garments was my son's T-shirt with an 'Ironman' logo on the front. "I could use IronMan around here", I thought, "he could probably steam through a basket of ironing in no time whilst I got on with some knitting. Maybe he would even put away all the freshly-pressed clothes and stow the ironing board back in the cupboard. What a Hero!"
This led me to consider the possibilties of other domestic superheroes. I personally have no use for BatMan, but Creepy-CrawlyMan would be of great assitance when there's a spider or moth to be evicted from the house. Plantman would be a boon to the busy gardener who has little time for weeding, and his sidekick WaterMan could be booked for keeping your garden nicely hosed whilst you're on holiday.
ShopMan's special powers would enable him to whizz around the supermarket, select all the necessary groceries, take them through the checkout, pack the bags properly (he knows what he's doing - no potatoes on top of the eggs with ShopMan, madam) and load everything into the car whilst you sat in the cafe enjoying an All-Day Breakfast, Coffee Included for £2.95.
Have you ever been shopping with a friend who is less than frank when asked for an honest opinion? You've arrived home to find that the outfit she said made you look like Lily Allen actually makes you look like Lily Savage. HonestyWoman would never do that. She tells it like it is, so you're guaranteed to never make another fashion mistake again. Along with her partner NoWayIt'sOverYourBudgetWoman they make sure that shopping is sensible. However, sometimes it's nice to splash out on something totally unsuitable but a lot of fun, so if you're planning to make that kind of purchase be sure to take FrivolityWoman instead.
I'm just about to go off to prepare the evening meal. If I'm lucky there'll be a loud swooshing sound, followed by a flash of light and clatter of sharp knives as ChefMan arrives to peel the potatoes, slice the carrots and prepare the runner beans whilst I get on with something more interesting. If he brings his sidekick BusBoy that would make the evening perfect.
In the meantime, while I'm waiting for their arrival, I'll start preparing the veg. They can take over when they get here.
For most people an aroma, place name, trinket or song can transport them back in time and stir up some wonderful memories. In my case, it was some 1970's orange Tupperware that took me back to childhood. I had spotted it on Ebay - a set of two cylindrical orange canisters with sunray lids and a small stylised flower motif - and was delighted to find I was the only bidder. My canisters (which I'm pretty sure have never been used) arrived today and are currently sitting on the kitchen worktop whilst I decide what to use them for.
Back in the days when it never rained, the summer holidays went on forever and it was ok to eat sweets I spent a lot of time at the next door neighbour's house. There were three sisters of a similar age to myself so we played together, fell out together and made up together. Their mother, Mrs Ridley, was a wonderful woman who was always welcoming and would often include me on their outings to local parks. She had a motorcycle with a big, covered sidecar and we would all squeeze in and off we'd go, bouncing around as she drove along at top speed. Sometimes if it was raining she would squash us into the sidecar and take us to school instead of us having to walk and get wet. Mrs Ridley's family owned a bakery, and many times I would visit there with the three girls and inhale the wonderful, warm aromas and look at the huge mixing bowls and sacks of flour.
Anyway, Mrs Ridley was a Tupperware Lady so whenever I went to visit there was always a lot of it around. The girls had lots of Tuppertoys to play with, and one that I recall fondly was a set of alphabet blocks. Each block could be split into two and contained a small plastic animal. There were lots of bowls and containers too, and on the back of the pantry door was a contraption that held circular lids starting with tiny ones at the front, working upwards to the biggest ones at the back. I liked to look at all the different things and Mrs Ridley was kind and patient enough to show me. To see her in action at a 'real' Tupperware party was a sight to behold and I'm sure she could have sold coals to Newcastle.
My new canisters remided me of the good times I had playing with the girls next door and what a wonderful mother they had. I hope they're good for keeping food as fresh as memories!
I don't know what to knit. I really have no idea. My waistcoat is practically finished and only needs buttons, my blanket is an ongoing project to do when I need something that doesn't take a lot of thought, and that's it. I have a whole world of yarn in my spare room and the other day I went foraging through it looking for inspiration and found none.
Personally, I find it's either feast or famine when it comes to ideas. A couple of months ago I was so busy that designs were coming to me at a furious rate and I could barely knit fast enough to keep up. Now the torrent has dried up to trickle and I'm left scratching my head and wondering when the next good thought will percolate through my brain.
No worries. It's happened before, many times, so during these quiet times I do a spot of gardening, reading or general recharging of batteries. Before long I will be off again, knitting like a demon and scribbling down my patterns as I go. It only takes a magazine article, piece of artwork, or a beautiful colour combination of garden flowers to fire my imagination and start the design process once more. Until then I'll enjoy the summer, watch the plants grow and mentally prepare myself for my next creative period.
Have a great Summer, enjoy your holidays and take inspiration from the world around you. Happy Knitting!
I spend a lot of time in my little garden, either knitting, pottering about or just sitting and looking at the plants. I have passed many hours in contemplation, and decided that one of my borders was in need of a re-vamp. Calling it a border is somewhat misleading - it's more a collection of little holes dug along the side of the wall with plants in them. Over the past few weeks I've been mentally visualising what different configurations might look like, and in the end decided that a gentle curve would be most pleasing. The edge of the lawn (anothing misleading name for what is actually a patch of uneven grass) is defined with some very attractive old blue bricks. I used a hosepipe to mark the shape of the new lawn, then lifted the blue bricks and placed them along the hosepipe. When I was satisfied with the shape I called my assistant gardener.
Over the years I've spent many hours planting, tending and watering the plants whilst Hubby has been called upon to do tasks requiring a little more heft. He cuts the hedge, lugs heavy pots around and today I asked him to help with the new border. He dug out the turf (which was piled carefully to make compost) then helped to level the soil where the blue bricks would go. I also instructed him where to put the plants. I think he secretly likes being bossed around, that way he doesn't have to decide where things gets planted so I can't blame him if they don't look right or refuse to grow.
There's a couple of gaps to fill so I have a fine excuse to go to the garden centre for some ground cover plants. I'm sure that the kitties, who were carefully supervising what we were doing, will help to fill the bare soil with a few deposits of their own before long. Next time we'll be making a curved edge on the opposite side of the garden, but instead of a border it's going to be slabbed so that I can put the bench there and surround it with big plant pots.
Ahh bliss. Sitting in the garden. Enjoying the sight of so many different shades of green, the fragrance of the lavender and the gentle sound of the breeze as it rustles the bamboo. Just add a bag of knitting, a pot of tea and a couple of ginger cats for company and I'm content.
Aromas have the power to conjure up memories from years ago. For some people the smell of baking reminds them of home-made cakes piled high on a plate after school, for others a whiff of perfume brings back thoughts of teenage romance and snogging behind the bike sheds.
Earlier today I was using some fabric glue and the smell transported me straight back to childhood. Bostik All-Purpose was my adhesive of choice back then, mainly because I liked the smell and the way it made long stretchy strands which could be peeled off my fingers. If I wasn't gluing I was using sticky tape, and my family named me 'The Sellotape Queen'. At school there was a very odd product called Gloy which came in a tub and had the consistency and colour of lard. It was okay for thin paper, but anything heavier than newsprint would cause it to give up and dry into a big lump. There was also some strange, runny brown stuff in metal tubes that was supposed to have fabulous sticking power but the best it could do was slip down the outside of every loo-roll sculpture and create an interesting puddle on the desk. Marvin Medium came in big, five litre containers and was guaranteed to gloop all over the place when it was being dispensed into smaller, child-friendly dishes. I liked the name of it very much - it sounded sophisticated and high class - but it was just the brand name of a PVA adhesive. It also dried into a clear film which could be pulled off the desk, gluepot or spreader in a most pleasing manner. UHU was popular at the time although I always found it too runny and it made paper go all crinkly. Back at home I also favoured Copydex, which had some great advantages over other glues, the chief one being the brush that was fastened inside the lid so it could Never Be Lost. It was (and still is) the best fabric glue around. On the downside it smelled like wee, and had the infuriating property of turning into big rubbery bogey-like lumps that prevented the top being screwed on properly unless they were pulled off. Bleurgh.
As I grew older and progressed from cereal packet modelling to fabric fanaticism I was introduced to some new sticky substances. At high school we did 'proper' art and learned about things like perspective and drawing techniques as well as attempting to paint. I tried and failed miserably. I was good at stretching paper though. This involved choosing a piece of plywood, soaking a sheet of paper and laying it flat on the board, them smoothing it out. This was held in place with strips of brown adhesive tape which had to be torn to length, wetted and stuck around the edges of the paper. The whole lot was placed in a cupboard to dry and the following week it would be ready to paint on unless some sneaky git had stolen it because they couldn't be bothered to do their own.
Upper school introduced me to the greatest glue of all. Cow Gum. This amazing substance came in a red and white tin, the type that has to be opened by levering off the lid with a screwdriver. One of the projects I had to do for 'A' level Textiles and Dress involved making many samples of decorative techniques which were all described in detail, then glued into a fat folder with Cow Gum. I got through several tins of this golden, gloopy gum in the early 1980's, but I haven't seen any on sale since. I hope they still make it and someone, somewhere is having a great time pasting bits of embroidered fabric into a folder. When I found my project files in a cupboard some years later, sadly the Cow Gum had gone brittle and yellow and many of my lovingly-stitched samples had been ruined. (On reflection, I hope that the someone, somewhere is using a glue that won't deteriorate with time.)
As this little nostalgia trip comes to an end I am thinking about my modern arsenal of adhesives. A tube of superglue always comes in handy for little jobs like glueing arms back onto action figures. Bostik All-Purpose rescued my leather flip-flop a couple of weeks ago when the sole parted company with its top deck. Just a few hours ago I was gluing felt circles onto the back of some knitted corsages using Copydex. And if you were wondering, yes I did have to pull a big rubbery glue bogey off the screw top before I could put the lid back on. It's good to know that some things never change.
There are some things that a person wants to keep quiet about. It could be something mildly embarrasing, such as owning all of Donny Osmond's LPs (and one of them is actually signed!!) or watching 'This Morning' every day because you find Philip Schofield sexually attractive. This type of thing is totally harmless and the worst that could come of it is some gentle teasing from your mates, who really have no right to be taking the piss because they fancy Adrian Chiles. At the other end of the scale are things that could cause major humilation if people were to find out, for instance a liking for nude gardening (you need very tall fences if this is your preferred way to pass the time outdoors) or knitting with man-made fibres.
I'll gleefully admit to the latter. I have many balls of man-mades in my collection and I'm not afraid to shout about it. The knitting world has gone terribly 'posh' in the past few years, and there's a definate one-upmanship about the yarns one chooses to work with.
Once upon a time there were wool shops. Small, independent stores with matronly ladies dispensing patterns for matinee coats, steel knitting needles and ounces of wool. It was all called wool, no matter what it was made of. Be it grown on a sheep's back or made from a cocktail of chemicals it was all known by the same name. Nobody minded if you made your sweater out of nylon or mohair, balls of wool were chosen mainly by colour or price, and the fibre content was of secondary importance.
Then along came The Internet. Suddenly a whole new world of shopping was available. Knitters were spoiled for choice and could buy yarns (by then it wasn't totally acceptable to call it all 'wool') from every corner of the globe, made from fibres that sounded exotic and unusual. Alpaca! Camel! Bamboo! Milk Protein! Soya! Go-ahead knitters were trying all these, and more besides, and having a great time in the process.
Newton's Third Law states that 'for every action there has to be an opposite and equal reaction'. So as the popularity of these Johnny-come-lately yarns rose, the man-mades became less popular. Yarn Snobbery was born. The typical yarn snob will need a lie down in a dark room if they come into contact with anything containing acrylic, and should they be unfortunate enough to be within ten metres of eyelash yarn they get the vapours and need two days off work. They can also be annoyingly vocal when it comes to proclaiming their superior taste in yarn and are always delighted to tell everyone exactly how expensive their latest purchase was.
Don't get me wrong. I love a luxury yarn as much as the next person. Just last week I knitted a cashmere scarf sample for a pattern which will be published in a knitting magazine, and it was so soft and delicious that it was a wrench to parcel it up and take it to the post office. One of my number-one knits of all time was in an alpaca/silk mix. But I also have a great liking for the Cinderella yarns, the lowly budget ranges and the outrageous novelty yarns. It's totally acceptable to like fibres from all parts of the yarn spectrum.
Remember those matronly wool-shop ladies, dispensing good advice along with buttons and tape measures? Doctor Betty prescribes an open mind, an ounce or two of fibre every day (natural or synthetic) and a sunny outlook on life. And most importantly of all, a dose of tolerance for other people's tastes.
A couple of weeks ago a friend had to miss our weekly Knit and Knatter because she was waiting in for a parcel to be delivered. The item was not even for her - out of total unselfishness on her part she was staying in to take delivery of a package for her Beloved.
I suggested that knitters should have a scale of charges for their partners to adhere to at times like these. A minor inconvenience might incur a fee of 50gr wool/acrylic mix whereas a major put-yourself-out-big-time could cost as much as a whopping 600gr cashmere for a cardigan.
I have drawn up the following Scale of Charges. It's totally flexible, so if your other half has annoyed you to a greater or lesser extent feel free to adjust the payment accordingly. You may, if you are patient, keep a running total to save up for a larger payment although this can cause palpitations in some cases. It's wise to warn your partner in advance if this is the case since most people don't keep enough cash in the house for a impromptu visit to the Noro supplier for a blanket's worth of Silk Garden. Although I have used the words 'he, him, his' this can equally apply to lady partners too - they can be just as idle and demanding as men sometimes.
Minor Inconveniences This covers small wastes-of-time, usually involving having to leave the sofa to direct your partner to some lost keys, pointing out where the new pack of teabags is because he really can't see it in the cupboard or answering the door to let his mates in because he can't be arsed to get off the Xbox and do it himself. Payment One ball of standard yarn is totally reasonable, 50gr - 100gr dependent on fibre content. Should be enough to make a pair of fingerless mittens to wear around the house. Because the fingers are exposed, they're perfect for prodding a lazy partner into action to find his own keys, etc etc.
Medium Annoyances We're moving up a notch here. This would involve 'popping' into the Post Office to pay for Car Tax on the last day of the month so the queue goes all around the zig-zig barriers. However, you are entitled to charge extra if you have to stand next to someone with epic B.O for the whole of your waiting time. Having to go and fetch extra milk from the corner shop because your Life Partner 'forgot' is also a Medium Annoyance, as is having to fend off door-to-door salespeople because he doesn't like having to be a little bit impolite to get rid of them. Payment Since this section usually involves having to leave the house, or at least stand in a draughty doorway talking to a tedious person who wants you to sign on the dotted line, you need some protection againt the elements. Around 200gr - 300gr of a nice, warm tactile yarn will make a hat and scarf set so next time you have to go to the supermarket at 9.30pm because he didn't buy poor Kitty any cat food at least you'll be warm and stylish.
Large Scale Put-Yourself-Outs Having to miss your Knit and Knatter group to stay in and wait for the FedEx man comes under this category (although if the FedEx guy looks like David Tennant this might not be such a chore after all, but don't let The Hubby know this). Driving (yet again) on a night out so you can soberly watch him get more and more drunk, or having to purchase an item of kitchen equipment that The King of Clumsy broke but hasn't bothered to replace (he was going to, honest, he just hadn't got round to it yet). You've been to the same holiday hotel now for three years in a row and you're ready to try somewhere new. He insists on going to the same place yet again, and it's fair to say that if you have spend another two weeks in the sun listening to that boring couple from Bristol you're going to go beserk. Payment All of these scenarios use up your precious time, money or patience (indeed, sometimes all three at once) so it is totally reasonable to ask for enough yarn to knit a sweater or cardigan. Remember to take all the tiny details into consideration so if it's raining on that night out when you're driving, you can upgrade from superwash wool and go straight to alpaca. For a huge, time consuming incident (that pair from Bristol again) you would be well within your rights to demand enough pure cashmere for a natty 1950's inspired twinset.
If you plan your campaign well, you may find that you need never purchase any yarn ever again. Even though you will have to put up with a lifetime of exasperation your partner will buy it all for you.
I've never been one to deny myself the pleasures of yarn buying, but there came a time when I realised that I had more yarn than I could ever hope to use up in several lifetimes. I consciously made an effort to use more stash and buy less new yarn, and up to a point it's been working very well. However, sometimes I have to give in to temptation and Buy Something. I don't know if it's the thrill of acquiring something new, the irrational need to spend money or because I can't resist a bargain but I found myself last week plodding through the 'Knitting Yarns' section of Ebay. A twin-pack of coned yarn, in two very attractive shades of raspberry pink, slipped onto my laptop screen and that was it. I gave in to temptation and placed a bid. Two hours later the yarn was MINE, all MINE! I've bought some excellent yarns from Ebay over the years. Not only does it satisfy my yarn yearnings it also means I get to receive parcels, which is always exciting (as you can probably guess, I'm easily pleased). On the downside I have a motley collection of odds and sods, all attractive in their own way, that I have absolutely no idea what to do with. This impulse buying used to bother me a little bit, but I've learnt to live with it. It's not life-threatening, I keep within my budget and it makes me happy. Anyway cupboards are there to be filled, aren't they?
In my humble opinion, there's no better cupboard filler than a big pile of lovely, colourful, squishy. soft, tactile, useful and happiness-inducing yarn!
Not really - it's actually been quite delightful. Sun and blue skies for most of the week, although today has been overcast and a little drizzly which was as good a reason as any to go to the cinema and look at Russell Crowe in 'Robin Hood' this afternoon.
I've been thinking of all things festive this week, hence the Christmas lyrics in the title. I'm not so organised that I've done any shopping, writing cards or planning what to eat on Boxing Day (it is only May for Pete's sake) but I have been trying to get into some sort of seasonal mood. This has been rather hard considering that my clothing this week has included suntops and flipflops, the world and his dog are talking about summer holidays and it stays light until almost 10pm. The reason for the incredibly early Christmas chez Betty is knitting, of course. I was asked to design some festive patterns for a magazine so my thoughts this week have turned to snowmen, baubles, holly and tinsel. Anyone who knows me can vouch for my enthusiasm for all things shiny so it's not taken much effort to turn my full attention to projects that involve lurex, sequins and shimmer.
When everything is cast off, the last loose end has been darned in and the patterns are typed up and posted off I can turn my attention back to 'normal' knitting. Whatever that is!!
This is a game for one or more players. Usually it will involve naming a person of the opposite sex (or same sex if you prefer) and deciding whether you would snog, marry or shove them off a cliff. Just for the record I would snog David Tennant, marry James May, and shove Russell Brand of a cliff.
It occured to me that this game is fully transferable to other things, such as food, TV programmes, fashion clothing, flowers and so on. It's probably more appropriate to rename it Like It, Love It To Bits or Send It To Hell because I for one don't like the idea of marrying lasagne or snogging daffodils. Obviously this is a knitting-related website, so my primary concern here is which yarns I prefer to knit with.
Pure wool, cotton, silk, mohair, smooth textures, fuzzy textures, interesting manmades
Love It To Bits
Bamboo, alpaca, own-brand merino from my LYS, anything shiny, Sirdar Escape, King Cole Mirage, chenille, anything with viscose
Send It To Hell
Pom-pom yarns, knobbly linen, Snowflake (invented by Satan himself), anything black (too dark to see where I've gone wrong)
A little frisson of mild controversy is an important part of LI,LITB,SITH. The choices I send to Knitting Hell might be just the things that make another knitter go into a delighted frenzy. Have fun thinking up your own loves and hates, but always be respectful of other people's choices (even if privately you think they must be the worst kind of moron to be knitting with YakTail Chunky). Join in, over on the forum, when you feel confident enough.
I used to be a one-project-only woman, focused on the job in hand from cast on to sewing in those final loose ends. Over the past couple of years I've found myself straying away from this project monogamy and I must admit to becoming a Knitting Tart. I've become strangely addicted to the rush of excitement that a new project brings and want to spend all my time with my latest love. However this heady feeling rarely last long before I am tempted by another good-looking pattern or attractive yarn, and the first project gets left, half finished, in my second-best knitting bag. The hardest part is facing up to the fact that occasionally a knitting relationship has come to an end, and there's nothing else to do but unravel and start again.
Knitting Tarts of the world unite! We may be fickle but we always have some knitting for company, and as the saying goes 'variety is the spice of life'. It's just that some of us like it spicier than others.
Yesterday I returned to a bag pattern that I designed a couple of years ago. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with it, in fact I was rather pleased with the shape, but it somehow didn't feel finished. At the time I remember thinking of what to do to add the final flourish and I pondered this for many days, on and off, until eventually it quietly slipped to the back of my mind where it has rested ever since.
Anyway I decided to have another bash at it so I chose some nice summery yarn from my stash and cast on. This morning I had my Eureka moment and now I know exactly what I'm going to do to transform it from a so-so bag into a So Fabulous bag. All it took was a browse through a gardening catalogue to prod my brain into action and now I'm on track for the big reveal of my latest baby.
I'm a perfectionist and like all my designs to be just right, so that's why they sometimes have a long incubation period. I have a stack of half-finished ideas that have been abandoned because something isn't totally to my satisfaction, but you never know - I may return to them at a later date, tweak them a a little and be happy with the outcome.
Knitting has given me so many things, the most important of which is patience. As Geri says in Toy Story 2, 'you can't rush art'. Remember that everything you make is a work of art so enjoy the process, be patient and in the end you will have your very own work of art to wear, use or gaze at in admiration.
There's a theory currently going around the Interwebs that knitting in cars can be fatal. Obviously if you're knitting and driving at the same time there's going to be some risk involved, but the theory goes that if a passenger is knitting in the front seat and the airbag goes off they will be stabbed in the chest and suffer a nasty death. This got me thinking about just how dangerous crafting can be. As an example, some years ago I managed to stab myself in the finger with a pair of very sharp, stork-shaped needlework scissors. The pointy end went into my skin for about 1.5cm, which doesn't sound a lot but it sure smarted and left a nasty mark. I've also managed to draw blood on many occasions with pins and needles, both whilst sewing with them and inadvertantly losing them in the carpet. What the eye fails to detect can be reliably found at a later date with a bare foot. There was a girl at school who managed to sew through her finger with a sewing machine (ow) and who can forget the stern warnings of their woodwork teacher on the importance of always tying back long hair? Was there really a scalped teenager in town or was this just a gruesome urban myth designed to terrify design students?
Anyway I quite like a spot of knitting on a long car journey. I can watch the world go by as I click away, and when I get there I've completed a few more centimetres on my latest project. I would be interested to find out if any solid, conclusive research has been done on the death-by-knitting-in-cars subject. I'm happy to offer my services as Knitting Consultant to the BBC Top Gear programme if they would like to look further into the matter. Perhaps they could send that nice James May along to investigate, although I can't guarantee to send him back.
For a short while after reading the airbag theory I was a little wary, but I came to the conclusion that there are much worse ways to end your life. At least it would be memorable and I would go down in family history. Remember Great Aunt Betty who was stabbed to death by her own knitting needles? They were so deeply embedded that she went to meet her maker with half a cardi still attached to them. I believe it was dusky pink bamboo yarn and 4mm straight needles.
Dear Father Christmas
I know it's only April but I wanted to catch you early, before the rush later in the year. When you're bogged down with requests for Barbies and Scalextric sets my letter might get overlooked, so make yourself a nice mug of tea and settle down to read my requests.
First on my list, dear Santa, is TIME. More please. There isn't enough of it to go round and when it eventually finds it's way to me it's usually ran out or there's very little left. An extra hour a day (or even two if you can manage it) would be most welcome.
After time, my next request is SPACE. I know I'm lucky enough to have a spare room to call my own, but the cupboard is full to bursting and I can't seem to find the sofabed any more. I think it must be buried under those packs of yarn. The computer table takes up another big chunk of space and the cat has to curl up in a little ball when she wants to sleep because there's no room to stretch out. Please, Santa, can you make my room three times as big? That nice Dr. Who has a Tardis that's a lot bigger on the inside so I know it's possible.
My final item is ORGANISATION. Maybe if I were more organised the TIME and SPACE issues would sort themselves out and I would find myself with greater quantities of all three.
Well there you go Santa, my wish list for Christmas. I'm not a greedy girl, so if you can only manage one I will still be happy. Thanking you in anticipation.
Oh, how wonderful it sounds. A sunny day, a free afternoon and a chance to get a lot of knitting done. That was my plan, but I didn't get quite as much done as I expected.
I arrived back from meeting a friend in town around mid-day. The washer had finished its cycle, so I hung out the clean towels to dry, then wrestled with the parasol. Back indoors to make lunch (corned beef cob, cheese and onion crisps), and a pleasant fifteen minutes passed sitting on the garden bench, eating my meal and listening to the birds.
Knitting time! I fetched my almost-done right mitten, sat down and cast off. Botheration - my scissors were indoors so off I went to fetch my little tin. Back outside I cut the yarn, and finished the mitten.
'A pot of tea would be nice' I thought, so off inside again to boil the kettle and gather together the things I needed to cast on for a new project. I took outside yarn, needles and notebook, then returned to the kitchen to fetch the teapot, milk jug and mug which were waiting on their little tray.
Settling down on the shady bench I cast on and was soon joined by my two cats. Peter Parker in particular finds it unsettling when I sit outside in 'his' territory and he sat on the patio throwing quizzical looks my way, as if he were saying 'Why are you out here? Normally you're in the house. This is my area. Go back indoors.' His sister Teazle was also wandering up and down the garden and I wasted many minutes watching my ginger kitties when I could have been double moss stitching.
After two mugs of tea (Twinings Assam, in case you were wondering), making a phone call and having a natter with the neighbours I did a few more rows. There was one slightly scary moment when my ball of Rowan RYC Classic Bamboo Soft rolled off the bench and onto the floor, but I acted quickly and retrieved it.
By the time I had unpegged and folded the dry towels and had another chat with the neighbours it was time to fetch the boys from school.
I can summarise this afternoon as follows. Total Time Spent Knitting: Approx. 40 minutes. Total Time Spent going in and out of the house to fetch things I'd forgotten, daydreaming, looking at cats, waiting for the kettle to boil, sorting out laundry, chatting, manhandling a stubborn parasol, wandering round the garden looking at bees, feeding cats in the hope they might leave me in peace for a little while, going inside to look for a cardi because it wasn't quite as warm as it looked: Approx. 2 hours 40 minutes.
The moral of this story is that when you think you're going to get a lot of knitting done, you probably won't. You'd be better off staying indoors and watching Sixty Minute Makeover which guarantees a full hour of non-stop knitting. And you get some handy decorating tips at the same time.
I've had my Bernina sewing machine since 1985. We've gone through a lot together - suits, curtains, blouses, cushion covers, wedding clothes and alterations to name but a few.
My lifelong love affair with the Bernina brand started at school, age 11. My first ever self-made skirt, a circular number in white cotton printed with tiny squares, was sewn on a school machine. After taking off and re-applying the waistband three times because the teacher said it was wrong (then taking it home and mum saying it's not wrong) it's a miracle that I persevered with dressmaking, but by then I was hooked. At home my mum had an old-fashioned treadle machine which was great fun to use and I passed many happy hours pedalling furiously away. My older sister had a Brother machine which she would let me use if I asked nicely. However good these sewing machines were I still longed for a Bernina.
When I changed to upper school I chose 'Fashion and Fabrics' as an 'O' level subject. By this stage I was making practically all my own clothes and branching out into designing them too. My part-time supermarket job helped to pay for fabric and there was a good choice of shops and market stalls in town, and Leicester, with even more retailers, was only a train ride away. Those machines at school became even more covetable and I promised myself that one day I would buy one for myself. I then went on to study 'Textiles and Dress' at 'A' level, and I was delighted to find out that the school had bought a brand new, top-of-the range Bernina sewing machine for the exclusive use of sixth formers! I was one of the few who were allowed to use this all singing, all dancing, all stitching piece of Swiss engineering and I loved every minute of it. At home I was using a second-hand Necchi machine which dad bought for me when I passed my 'O' levels and although it sewed a satisfactory seam I still yearned for a Bernina.
I started full-time work in August 1985. I saved like fury until finally I had enough cash to buy my coveted machine. It cost well over £300, almost 2 months salary at the time, but it was worth every last penny. I still have it and will be using it later today to repair a hole in my son's joggers and shorten some new trousers (if I was taller this would never happen). I'm also making linings for three knitted bags.
As Bernina and me celebrate our silver anniversary, I wonder exactly how many millions of stitches we have made together and how many miles of fabric have passed under the presser foot. I'm also looking forward to our next 25 years of trouble-free, smooth and happy sewing.
Oh dear. Fingerless mittens. I've made many a pair of gloves over the years, but I don't think I've ever had to unravel one four times. It's a new design I'm working on, and I keep making silly mistakes - a dropped stitch here, a mis-calculation there. Maybe I should just quietly put them back in the bag and walk away for a few days.
By the time I get them finished it will be too warm to wear them (I hope).
Today I went to an Open Studio Event. Babylonglegs http://babylonglegs.blogspot.com/ has a wonderful dye studio not far from me so it was a good excuse to go and see what she does and how she does it. It must be wonderful to have a dedicated space to turn blank yarn into fabulous colours, and I was inspired by all the lovely hues that she magically makes. I was particularly taken with a one-off, hand-spun yarn in a mixture of blues and greens called 'Celebrity Masterchef II' which was whispering, ever so softly, asking to be taken home and knitted into a bag. How could I refuse? Out came my purse and this lovely yarn became mine!
I recently designed a fan-shaped bag which is knitted from side to side, and although I've made a couple in plainer yarns I was keen to find something self-striping that would be suitable. My latest purchase fits the bill perfectly, so as soon as I've finished faffing around with my current project I'll be ready to cast on. In the meantime I shall admire its good looks and tactile qualities as it sits atop my knitting bag.
There were so many colours to choose from at the studio that I was spoilt for choice. Like a lot of knitters I often play it safe with tried and tested colours when I'm making a new cardi, but after seeing the yarns on offer today it made me want to knit garments in every colour, regardless of whether or not they would go with my existing clothes. I would just have to go out and buy new trousers, tops, shoes.........maybe that's not such a bad idea after all!
As Blackadder once said 'I'm quite happy to wear cotton, but don't know how it works'. Anyway, after chatting with Babylonglegs I have some insight into the work that goes into dyeing and spinning yarns for us to knit into fabulous fabrics. So after today I am happy to wear wool, and I understand a little bit more about how it works.
After a few weeks of being unable to think about topics to write about, I'm back in the saddle at last. I like to keep my writing muscles well exercised, but sometimes I have to admit defeat and go away until inspiration strikes.
And how it has struck! Spring is well, springing, the sap is rising and my grey matter is swirling with new ideas. On the knitting front I have a bunch of ideas for new patterns which I am steadily working my way through, and this morning I received a parcel of lovely yarns to make into samples. I've had a few thoughts about offering a 'Knitting with Beads' workshop for a while, and my ideas are now turning into reality.
I could just do a demonstration, hand out some beads and yarn and wave goodbye but that will hardly inspire people. I'm working on some samples for beaded projects that could be started during a workshop, then the attendees can take them home and finish them at their leisure. I'm hoping to offer four, possibly five designs so that each person will get copies of all the patterns and enough yarn and beads to complete their chosen item. I have some yarns in mind, and next on my shopping list is beads.
I adore beads! The colours! The shapes! The shiny! I have many beads in my collection, ranging from tiny glass seed beads right up to big chunky acrylics, and I love them all. I am looking forward to choosing the right ones for my designs, and finding a supplier that can offer me what I want in the right quantities. Internet bead shopping is fun, but there's nothing quite like seeing them in real life to appreciate how pretty they are.
Anyway, as soon as I log off I'm going to look through my collection for some blue beads to adorn a bag I'm working on. If I can't find any at least I have a good excuse to go bead shopping!
If you would like further details about my workshops, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to send you information and dates.
My late father was The Original Recycler and it's his genes that are responsible for my 'waste not, want not' mentality. His shed was stacked from floor to ceiling with all sorts of useful things - jars of screws and nails, lengths of metal, car parts, unidentifiable tools and most interesting of all (to a child anyway) an old-fashioned wooden football rattle. He could probably have built a car using all the bits and pieces in the shed, with enough left over for a couple of atom bombs and a small block of flats.
One of his favourite activites was a trip to The Tip. He would take a token bag of rubbish and usually come back with something 'interesting' much to my mother's annoyance. In those days The Tip was basically a big heap of rubbish in a field, supervised by a man in a hut. People could drive in, add their rubbish to the pile and have a look to see what everyone else had dumped. Dad became friendly with the man in the hut so he would save toys for me, and once I got a Lego train set which I adored. Sometimes I would go along with him and I can still remember that strange, musty, damp smell of all the rubbish. Once we went in the pouring rain, and when we got there the gate was locked. Much to my dismay I could see an unwanted, unloved teddy bear on the other side of the gate so after my shedding copious amounts of tears for this poor abandoned toy, Dad climbed over the gate to rescue him. When we got home Mum cleaned Teddy, sewed on some new buttons for his eyes and knitted him some trousers and a jumper. After many years of being my companion, I gave him to a lady who restored old teddies who would be able to replace his wood-shaving stuffing and repair his bald patches. I'm sure he's very happy in his new home.
Nowadays The Tip has changed beyond all recognition. Cars are directed to the appropriate area depending on what is being dumped, and items are thrown over a wall into large containers. Much of what is dumped is sent for recycling, so there are areas for wood, garden waste, metals, old TVs and white goods as well as the usual plastics and cardboard. No sorting. No man in a hut saving toys for his friends' children. Anything useable is put aside and sent to a weekly county auction. It would break my Dad's heart to see the new system and be unable to have a good rummage for some potential treasure.
Dad always firmly believed that one day he would find his 'priceless manuscript'. My browsing takes me around the local charity shops rather than The Tip, but I live in hope that one day I will find my own personal treasure.
When I do, I'm sure Dad will be watching me with delight.
When I wrote about 'my' empty building in February there had been no signs of life there for years. This week, scaffolding was erected all around and workmen have started to strip the roof. Being such a tall building it's hard to see exactly what they're up to, but it looks as if the tiles have been carefully stacked on the scaffold boards so they can be re-used.
I feel very pleased that this wonderful place is coming back to life and I shall watch with great interest as the work continues. Let's hope that should it re-open as a shop, it's a good one that's worthy of such a beautiful building.
I can't resist a bargain. My spare room/office/stash warehouse is full of yarns that were bought in sales and rescued from bargain bins. Some of these yarns are odd balls from charity shops and leftovers from previous projects but there are also many full packs, ready to be converted into cardis.
My wardrobe is already fit to burst with cardis in various styles and colours, but I always seem to need just one more. I used to be a jumper person, but that changed a few years ago when I was looking through my pattern collection and happened across a booklet from the mid 1980's. It was a supplement, free with a magazine, and I had worked my way through and knitted practically every design, some of them twice or three times. Anyhow, I decided that I would knit one again - a large, cabled jumper with saddle sleeves and a high neckline.
What a mistake that turned out to be. In the mid 1980's I was a skinny slip of a thing, and photographic evidence shows that sweaters hung off me in that oversized, baggy way that was fashionable at the time. In the mid noughties I was considerably larger, and a figure-hugging ribbed hem was the last thing I needed to emphasise the belly that stuck out above it. Added to the fact that chunky jumpers make a person look even chunkier - well I was on a hiding to nothing here. Eventually the jumper was unravelled (ginger coloured pure wool) in readiness to be converted into another cardi.
Since then I have avoided jumpers and stuck to cardis. They're easier to get on and off if we're having a typical British summer - hot one minute, cold the next - and they don't muss up my hairstyle.
The moral of this story is that what looked good at 18 won't necessarily look so good at 40, and unless you have a bum like Kylie's don't wear hot pants. Or baggy cabled jumpers.
I'm off to look through my yarns to decide what to knit next. Unsurprisingly, it will be another cardi.
The Winter Olympics. Hours of TV coverage filled with lithe, Lycra-clad athletes doing exciting, fast and sometimes downright dangerous things on snow and ice in the hope of winning Gold, Silver or Bronze. Then afterwards they pack up the thermals and all go home to prepare for the next time.
I'm not in the least bit sporty. There's not enough Lycra in England to go around my butt but still I dream of one day being able to whizz down an icy tube on a teatray at 90 miles an hour, or grab some air as I shoot vertically out of a half-pipe. My personal Olympics are of a more sedate, but no less challenging type.
www.ravelry.com is hosting the Ravelympics, a challenge for knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers and dyers. The basic premise is that whatever challenge you accept it must be started and finished during the timeframe of the Vancouver Olympics. There are lots of categories to choose from, and the Ravthlete can choose from such varied disciplines as Hat Halfpipe, Flying Camel Spin, Cable Cross Country, Lace Luge and many others. I signed up for the Designer Biathlon which involves the design process from swatching to having the finished pattern published, all in 17 days.
Many participants start their challenge during the Opening Ceremony. Not me - it was at 2am UK time and I was asleep. However there are Ravthletes from all over the world (over 9,000 at last count) who began their projects as the torch was lit. It's a big commitment and a bit scary too - although I was 'only' designing a scarf and hat I still had to work out a cable pattern that made sense, get the patterns typed up, checked and re-checked as well as actually make the items ready to be photographed.
I'm pleased to say I did it. Every Ravthlete who finishes their event gets a virtual medal to proudly display, as well as the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
The finished patterns are available to purchase, so everyone can knit themselves a little bit of Olympic magic.
Slalom Scarf Knitting Pattern, price £1.50, click on the following link buy now
Slalom Hat Knitting Pattern, price £2.00, click on the following link buy now
One of my previous blog posts (20 January 2010) described my adventures with knitted spirals, and I'm pleased to say that the instructions are now available as a downloadable pdf file so you can make one too.
Click on http://www.ravelry.com/purchase/elizabeth-jarvis-designs/30106 and you will be directed to www.ravelry.com where you can purchase your pattern, cost £1.50, and take a look at my other designs as well.
Today I made a cake. Not a fabulous one, but it's edible. I have been trying for years, on and off, to bake a good cake and I can't seem to get it right. I follow the recipe, measure the ingredients carefully, set the oven to the correct temperature and still the cake comes out mediocre at best.
Anyway, my friend visited today so I asked her opinion and she suggested that next time I bake it for less time and at a slightly lower temperature. My friend - I'll call her M - is a Baking Genius. Her chocolate brownies taste divine, her cookies are amazing and she also makes the most melt-in-the-mouth-marvellous fudge. A few years ago she baked a cake for my mum's birthday - it was scattered with little sparkly stars that were actually edible, and it was a truly magical treat. Many decorated cakes hold a lot of promise but the inside rarely lives up to the outside, with a centre that has the texture and flavour of loft insulation. However M's cakes are as delicious to eat as they are gorgeous to look at, so whenever I suffer with cake failure she's the person I always turn to.
Whilst I was covering the kitchen with a fine coating of flour my thoughts wandered to knitting, and how creating a garment has a lot of parallels with baking. You need to choose your pattern/recipe, carefully select your yarn/ingredients, and follow the instructions. A lot of the time you make familiar designs/dishes but then along comes a new designer/TV chef with an eye-catching/mouthwatering garment/dessert that you just HAVE to try out. Suddenly all the shops have sold out of Blended Siberian Yak and Silk/Imperial Jamboree Berries, and the scarcity just fuels the desire that everyone has for this new trend/taste. Before you know it, the fad is over and everyone is tired of The Latest Thing. People wander happily back to their old familiar patterns and recipes, and settle down for a little normality.
That's it for me and baking, at least for a little while. Sooner or later I will get the urge again and out will come the scales and cake tins. Until then I'll stick to what I know best and keep on turning balls of yarn into cardis and bags, or maybe even some knitted cakes. At least they won't be overcooked.
There's an empty shop in town that I'm rather fond of. It's an old building, dating from the early to mid nineteenth century, and is of very pleasing proportions.
When I was very small, this shop was occupied by Noons the Haberdashery Shop. The doorway had a mosaic floor featuring the local coat of arms and 'NOON' in large letters. Walking in was like entering a wonderland of buttons, ribbons, fabrics and embroidery supplies, and to the left of the shop through an archway was the 'Ladies Undergarment' section . I don't remember ever going in that part. The main shop had huge glass counters with wooden drawers in a stepped arrangement in order to see the goods easily, and the assitant would pull out whichever drawer the shopper wanted to inspect and put it on the countertop. I still have my first embroidery hoop, bought from Noons, cost 52p, written in ink on the outside.
Eventually Noons closed down and a newsagent moved in. The mosaic entrance was kept in place, but the large windows were covered with ugly metal grilles - not the sort that roll up discreetly out of the way when the shop is open, but they were padlocked in place permanently. The room to the left through the arch was where the greetings cards were kept, so I used to go in there to buy a birthday card and a newspaper or sometimes a magazine.
After a while the newsagent packed up and went, and the building has sat empty and unloved ever since. The mosaic doorway is still there, and through the rusty grilles a discarded ladder can be seen along with evidence of a half-hearted attempt to do a little interior demolition. What was once a stylish, beautiful house has turned into an almost invisible building - one that many hundreds of people pass every week but never give a second glance to.
Except me. I love this house. I love what it could become - the promise of resurrection, of breathing life into a dormant building, of bringing something back from near-death. I would keep the mosaic and the handsome curved window of the room to the left. That would be my coffee shop, where people would drop in and sit on my comfy leather sofas, enjoy a warm drink and some friendly company. The main room would be my wool shop. I would bring back some of those old-fashioned glass counters, and what fun my customers would have as we hunted through a drawer for the stitch holders or row counters. My yarns would be arranged in diamond-shaped pigeonholes along one wall, and there would be a large table with chairs so that customers could sit and browse through the pattern books without having to stand at an old rickety lectern. There's a smaller room at the back of the shop, raised a little higher, and that's where I would keep all the different types of knitting needles, as well as larger pieces of kit such as yarn swifts and spinning wheels. The front window would be stylishly arranged to showcase beautiful knitted items as well as the latest yarns and accessories.
It's a big three-storey building, so upstairs I would offer workshops and classes with visiting experts, as well as talks and get-togethers. All of my staff would be friendly and knowledgeable and whether you wanted to call in to buy some yarn or just felt lonely and needed to hear a cheerful voice, we would welcome everyone with open arms.
There are two major downsides to this plan. Firstly, the building has been empty for many years now and would need an incredible amount of work spending on it to make it useable, and its' listed building status means that even a seemingly simple task would involve lots of paperwork and liaison with the local council and English Heritage.
Secondly, I would need a Great Amount of Cash. Which I don't have and am unlikely to have anytime soon. Hey ho, back to the daydreaming.
But as Captain Sensible once said 'You've got to have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?'
A few years ago I knitted myself a long waiscoat. The yarn was beautiful: pure wool in earthy tones with an uneven twist which gave the finished fabric a lovely texture.
I should have known better. I'm a big lass, and chunky yarns on a chunky body just make the wearer look even more, well, chunky. I wore the waistcoat a few times,decided it made my bum look like a bouncy castle, then it was folded carefully and went to live at the dark end of the wardrobe.
Last week I was in my favourite charity shop and on the 'reduced to £1' rail was a hand-knitted tank top in the same mottled shades as my waiscoat. I examined the tank top, and it looked unworn so I quickly paid up and took it home. It's way too small to fit me, but after a therapeutic session of unravelling I will have some yarn to play with! I don't know what the fibre is - if I'm very lucky it will be wool and I can use it for felting. If not it's still pretty and I will definately find a use for it. A while ago a knitting friend bought a woolen cardi from a charity shop, unravelled it and made a wonderful felted tote bag for less than a fiver. How I covet that bag!
Recycling and re-using are not new concepts. Generations of knitters have been unravelling discarded cardis and outgrown jumpers so that the yarns can be used for something else. I have fond childhood memories of Mum winding the wool into balls as Dad gently pulled it from an ever-shrinking piece of knitting.
Anyway my bargain tank top purchase reminded me of my forgotten waistcoat, so I went to the dark end of the wardrobe and liberated it. In more ways than one. The seams were carefully unpicked, and the yarn was unravelled in readiness for re-use. My unflattering garment will find a new lease of life as a pair of felted slippers.
That's what I love about knitting. If you make a mistake, you can just undo it and start again, and the ugly frog really can turn into a handsome prince.
I was watching my son and his friend playing on the Xbox 360 the other day. They have a preference for noisy, messy wargames which usually involve bumping off as many computer-animated characters as possible. I asked them why there aren't any nice console games featuring flowers, bunnies, knitting and chocolate. I got a dusty answer, which I guess I should have seen coming.
In order to rectify this definite gap in the market, I have written a proposal for a new, user-friendly, compelling and challenging console game. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft take note.
Knit Challenge 3000
Your mission is to choose a design, purchase sufficient yarn, make your garment and finally take part in the prestigious Catwalk Show. Along the way there are various pitfalls and mistakes to avoid, as well as some exciting bonus levels to be found and unlocked as you go.
Level 1 - Let's Go Shopping Knittyville has four yarn shops, as well as two department stores, all scattered around the city centre. Starting at the bus station, you need to find your way around the shops, visiting all six retailers in order to build up Shopping Credits. You can easily lose credits by being tempted by a bun shop, busker or boutique.
Level 2 - Pattern Selecta Time to spend some of those credits! This time you are searching through six online pattern retailers, and you can choose from many categories, ranging from Easy Scarves and Intermediate Sweaters all the way up to Advanced Expert Lace Shawls. Don't forget to save some credits for the next level.....
Level 3 - Shopping for Yarn It's back to Knittyville again, and you need to visit the yarn retailers to select your yarn and needles. Shop wisely though - if you spend all your credits now and find you need a little extra later in the game you're in trouble! Look out for the hidden Special Deals and Clearance Bargains, but don't be persuaded by pushy sales assistants. Those accessories look good too, but remember they're there to tempt you! There is a hidden haberdashery shop in this level, and if you manage to find it you can choose from their impressive selection of buttons, beads and trimmings to adorn your garment. The stakes are a lot higher in this level - the cake shops are displaying their finest wares to entice you in. Stay strong. You know you can do it.
Level 4 - The Knitty Gritty Now you have to create your masterpiece. Each piece of your chosen garment has been hidden in the Woolly Warehouse, and you have to navigate your way through an exciting platform level full of adventure and danger in equal measure. Banish The Clothes Moths by throwing big balls at them, avoid The Big Kitty who's just after a nice ball of your wool to play with, and use your needles and skill to outwit Miss Calculation who is always trying to catch you out. You can earn extra credits by collecting stitches as you go - but you can also drop them so beware!
Level 5 - The Catwalk Show Phew! Your garment has been assembled and finished, your chosen embellishments have been attached and it's time for The Big One. You have to negotiate your way along The Catwalk (not easy in those towering Christian Louboutins) and impress the judges.
NB. Knit Challenge 3000 may be habit-forming. If you find yourself spending more hours pressing buttons on a handset rather than doing any actual knitting, you have a problem. Unfortunately, I won't be able to help you with it - you're on your own now, pal.
There's a well-known urban legend amongst knitters regarding The Boyfriend Sweater. Many have laboured for countless hours, out of devotion to their beloved, only to have their carefully-crafted garment consigned to the bottom of the wardrobe, never to be seen again. After a few enquiries along the lines of 'have you worn it yet?' but no actual sightings of it on his body, the knitter quietly resolves to never waste their precious knitting hours on HIM again. In some cases, it even leads to the end of the relationship altogether as the knitter realises they would be better off finding a soulmate who loved both them and their creations.
I fell into this trap once. He loves me, so therefore he'll love something I make for him. How wrong a girl can be!
It was 1986, or maybe ‘87. I decided to knit The Boyfriend a Jumper (I know, hindsight really is a marvellous thing) so I bought some brushed chunky in black. Very fuzzy. Very black. And the jumper ended up very large, which at the time was rather fashionable anyway (well, that was my excuse). I presented the finished garment to The Boyfriend, who tried it on, and that was the last time it ever got to adorn a body.
I never forgot this poor, sad, neglected jumper. However, resurrection was just around the corner. We were going to a fancy-dress party as Frankenstein (him) and Bride of Frankenstein (me). I had sewed my dress, Frankie had his clothing sorted out but we needed to get him a bigger, squarer head than the one he was born with. I fashioned a head from a cardboard box but we needed some hair……..
So my labour-of-misguided-youthful-love jumper was unravelled, cut into little pieces and glued onto Frankenstein’s cardboard head. The Boyfriend was very impressed with the result, then I told him where all that black hair had come from. Even though he had never worn that jumper, he still mourned it. Sadly there is no photographic evidence of either the jumper or the head. It's probably for the best.
To this day I have never knitted The Boyfriend (now The Husband) another jumper. I knitted him a cardigan in the early 90's but I soon nabbed that one for myself when I realised it would look better on me. Last Christmas when I made scarves for other, more appreciative menfolk he made little yearning noises but I only had to say 'Frankenstein's Head' and he got the message.
So my warning to all star-struck lovers is be wary of whom you knit for. Unless you have a fancy-dress party coming up in the future that might require an unravelled jumper as part of your costume.
I've been intrigued recently by the North Pacific Gyre. It's an area of the Pacific Ocean where currents meet, collecting debris and swirling it round in a never-ending collection of trash. There are smaller ones in other oceans, but the North Pacific is the biggest. http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/patch.html This link has more information, written by proper scientists.
I wanted to make my own gyre-inspired piece of knitting, so I set to work. Like the ocean gyres, mine would be made of leftovers so I raided my stash for suitable yarns.
Circular blankets usually start with a tiny number of stitches in the centre, and increases are worked on each round as the circle gets bigger until eventually there are several hundred stitches on one circular needle. I didn't want to do this so I did a little experimentation. My aim was to create a spiral from one long strip, starting in the centre and curling round until either the blanket was big enough or I was bored with the project. So I started out with one stitch, and with the aid of increases and much short-row shaping I made a curl. As it started to grow, I joined the strip as I went by picking up a stitch on the edge of the circle and knitting it together with the 'live' knitting. To keep the curve correct and the circle flat I used short-row shaping at intervals. The strip is only 10 stitches wide, so I don't have to worry about having hundreds of stitches on the go at once. This is now an official 'work in progress' and it's about 30cm across.
The North Pacific Gyre is a lot bigger than my blanket, so I have a lot of catching up to do. My solution to marine pollution would be to sift out all the plastics (which comprises the bulk of it as far as I understand), melt them down and make recycled yarn to knit circular blankets with. Now there's an idea.
I found the Perfect Buttons for my cardi. http://www.buttoncompany.co.uk/ is a marvellous online shop selling buttons, buckles, beads, threads and kits. I love their 'Lucky Dip' bags and colour assortments, and I found my Perfect Three in a 'Girls Night Out' selection pack. This particular pack was full of pink and purple buttons, and I enjoyed sorting through them to see what I got. A while ago I ordered a 'Pearly Kings and Queens' pack which was full of the prettiest buttons imaginable.
If you're starting a stash, like the excitement of mystery packs, or are looking for The Perfect Button I can highly recommend The Button Company.
I went on a little trip round my local charity shops today. I didn't find any yarn, but I bought a purple chain belt to dismantle for the beads (£1.95), a pair of bamboo bag handles (20p), two pairs of chunky clip-on earrings (£2.00) and a little inlaid wooden box (50p). All that fun for less than a fiver, and I had a good chinwag with one of the volunteers in the Mind shop as well.
I don't wear clip-on earrings. I tried it once when I borrowed some fabulous diamante jewellery from my sister but after that lobe-numbing experience I stuck to pierced earrings only. So, dear reader, you may be wondering what exactly I have in mind for the clip-ons I bought today. In a flash of inspiration I decided they would make fantastic bag decorations, so although I have nothing they can adorn at the moment it will inspire me to make something that I can use them for.
The big drawback with earrings is that they only come in pairs. There's a design theory along the lines of odd numbers which says that when using embellishments, an odd number is always better than an even number. For instance, my latest cardi has three buttons. I have three candle holders in a little group on the mantelpiece. Gardeners are told to plant in threes, fives and sevens. Painters and photographers divide their compositions into thirds. A dado rail is placed at one-third the height of the room. I could go on..........but I won't. You get the idea.
Obviously this rule can't apply to everything (spectacles with three lenses and three-cup bras would be plain weird) and because my earrings are in pairs they will have to be used that way. Unless I separate and use them singly, which would satisfy the 'odd number' rule, but then I would be breaking up a partnership. I never thought that buying bargain earrings would lead to such anguish and difficult decisions.
Maybe I should have left them in the charity shop after all, to be purchased by someone who has a thing for big 1980's jewellery and no nerve endings in their earlobes.
My short-sleeved cardi is finished now and is in need of fastenings, so my first stop was, as always, my Button Tin. I passed a pleasant half-hour or so sorting through the delights within, but this time I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. The lid went back on, and it got me thinking about buttons and fastenings in general. After much deliberation and thought I am pleased to offer my definitive guide to the perils of finding that elusive Perfect Button.
1. The Button Tin promises so much, but delivers so little. However much I enjoy having a casual browse through the many hundreds of buttons, press-studs, old currency and curtain rings contained within, when push comes to shove and I need a button for an actual project I rarely find anything suitable.
2. Sorry Madam, I only have five of that style. I've lost count of the number of times I've tipped out the entire contents of The Tin, spread them all over the table, sorted through them and put the rejects back in The Tin, then found out there's only five of The Perfect Button. And I need six.
3. The Button Tin has a secret portal into another dimension. I know there were more of those little green oval buttons. There were at least seven - I remember counting them and thinking they'd be perfect for a cardi. So why can I only find four? Doe the Button Tin secretly transport them to another planet for research purposes?
4. Never mind the style, look at the quantity. The Button Tin has many, many complete sets of buttons. Some styles come in sets of twelve or more! Unfortunately they are guaranteed to not be the ones you want for your project, or are ever likely to want for any project ever.
5. Shirt Buttons are our Speciality. Sometimes a shirt is so worn that it's not even good enough to send to the charity shop, so it's ultimate fate is to be dismembered and used for cleaning the car. Often these shirts are relieved of their buttons which inevitably find their way to The Button Tin. They will never, ever be attached to a garment again because every shirt has a spare button sewn inside which matches the others perfectly. If you melted down all the recycled shirt buttons in the world there would be enough plastic to make one huge button the size of the Pacific Ocean. Probably.
6. The History Channel. It's easy to become sidetracked when you go rummaging through The Button Tin. Ooh look, here's a button from that dress you made when you were 17. Ah yes, remember that coat? Don't be embarrased, everyone had one so you didn't look any sillier than anyone else. These historical buttons will never, ever leave the safety of The Button Tin but will provide nostalgia and embarrasment in equal measure every time you take off the lid.
7. Know Your Limits. Sometimes you just have to face facts. The Button Tin can't deliver every time. On these occasions you just have to take your completed garment and hotfoot it to your local yarn shop, haberdashery or department store and buy some buttons. And while you're there, don't forget to buy an extra one to put in The Button Tin, just in case. Which leads us nicely onto......
8. Just In Case. Every time I buy buttons I get an extra one, 'just in case'. So my Button Tin has lots of odd unused buttons. Maybe I should be proud that my button sewing skills are such that I never need the spare, but I still buy one. Well, you never know.
9. Oooh, Shiny! It's incredibly easy to be sidetracked when button buying. In my Button Tin I have several buckles, a very elaborate iridescent clasp, a selection of odd beads and some metal cowboy collar-tips. These will probably still be in The Tin when I'm beyond caring, but I still bought them. Why? WHY?
Anyway, I still haven't got any buttons for my short-sleeved cardi. I shall have to forsake The Button Tin on this occasion and go to The Shops instead. Reader, I shall let you know how I get on.
It looks terribly pretty outside with all that snow. It's a real winter wonderland, and it's nice for the kiddies to finally have enough of the white stuff to build a snowman, go for a slide around or just sling it at each other, get wet and cold and come inside complaining that they're wet and cold.
I like to look at snow, but I much prefer to see it through a window. I can think of no better reason to stay inside with a bag full of wool and needles and a head full of ideas for what to knit next to keep the chills at bay.
Currently I'm working on a no-sew, sideways cardi with cap sleeves. It seemed like such a good idea when I started it but now those mini-sleeves are looking rather inadequate in the face of such chilliness.
I have a bag of lovely, squishy superwash merino to knit a hat with. It's a new design and after being complemented on mine I will be starting work on the 'official' one to give to a friend. After being worn to death for the past few weeks mine is looking a little flabby ( it was made in super-cheap stash yarn to see if the idea worked). I like to photograph projects as newborns so they're looking brand new, pristine and unused for their official portraits.