Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for March, 2011

Story Board Fever

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Story Board fever strikes again.  I’m story-boarding for a couple of new projects, and it’s a very interesting process.

The concept is, as you imagine, to present the premise of the project – in this case, new books – on one large canvass.  Since these are knitting books, they have to convey the way you think the items will look, what shades and yarns you might choose and equally importantly, what the overall ‘feel’ of the book will be. 

For me, it’s a fascinating process, that in itself, seems to have a life of its own.  I start with a list of project ideas that I think I’d like to design.  Then I move on to thinking in some detail about colour and form.  To help me with this, I literally cut up dozens of magazines, cards, wall papers, catalogues…and I start with a huge pile of images, plus my shade charts:

the first symptoms of story board fever - all the shade charts are out


Then I start to play with the images and also select things that I think convey my mood on the board:

And I knit tiny swatches, each a little bit of the DNA that will, I hope, later become the individual projects in the books:

What really interests me is the way that the ideas continue to evolve.  The very process of forcing all the concepts into the discipline of one board – not easy for 20 ideas – is constraining, because you have to be succinct;  and at the same time, very liberating, because you have a pure, clear, creative process ahead of you.

When I do a story board, I feel as if I am retreating into a very private world, in which time feels suspended.  I wish it was – the deadline is upon me!


Let’s Twist again…

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

I have re-designed Twist:

I originally knitted this is in Rowan Scottish Tweed 4 Ply, holding 2 ends together.  That yarn has now been discontinued so I have re-worked it in Rowan Felted Tweed DK.

It’s a little softer than the original, but it worked very well.  I have also had to adjust the felting temperature.

I’m tempted to go on and make some more modifications, such as making it longer and also maybe doing a Felted Tweed aran version, still beaded, so it’s a plumper scarf.  I think the DK version is light and soft, very pretty and decorative but the aran version (once I get it knitted!) will be a good, chunkier option.

I love that the crystal beads still work really well in the softly felted surface of this highly structured piece:

DK and aran versions available as kits soon, on this site.

New Workshop Date & Venue

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I have been asked to teach a workshop at The Cornwall Yarnshop, Launceston, Cornwall – I’m delighted as I love any excuse to go to Cornwall and it’s a new venue for me.  The website seems to indicate that it’s our sort of place:  lovely yarns, lots of events and a knit club!

So on Friday 30 September, (my wedding anniversary, too) I will be teaching the ‘Star-Crossed Scarf’ workshop, 10.30 – c4.00.

This is Star-Crossed:

It’s a fascinating stitch – quite straight forward once you’ve got the hang of it.  Here’s a close up:

I used two classic Rowan yarns, Pure Wool DK and Kidsilk Haze.  The Kidsilk Haze does the hard work, leaving the Pure Wool DK to bind the design together.

On the day, we will spend the morning parcticing the pattern using spare yarns, knitting a small swatch together.  Then, you choose and buy your yarns for the real thing, and we knit the design together in the afternoon.  Perfect!

Along the way, we can also do a bit of extra work, maybe experimenting with beads or corsages.

Contact Rebecca at Cornwall Yarns for further details.

Flower Scarf Knit Kit

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

I saw an on-line tutorial (via Marta McCall, thank you Marta) showing how to make chiffon flowers.  The concept is very easy:  cut circles of chiffon in varying sizes and hold the fabric about 2 inches or so above a flame from a candle or tea-light (ensuring that a jug of water is at hand, just in case…) The delicate fabric quickly crinkles and the raw edges are ‘sealed’ by the heat.  The petals curl inwards so that when you stack them into a corsage shape, they form a water-lily effect.  They then simply need sewing onto a scarf (as I plan to do) or any item you wish to embellish.  I think I will sew mine with a small cluster of beads.

Here is my first flower harvest, assembled but not sewn on:

Note the glass of wine:  my reward for staying in by the fire on a Saturday night to make chiffon flowers (actually, I can’t think of anything better).

I am now officially addicted to this process, what luck that I don’t have an obsessive personality or I might have to buy several more meters of chiffon in many different colours…

I haven’t sewn these on because the scarf base I knitted is just not the right shade for the delphinium blues plus cream of my flowers.  Thus, I need to re-knit the base in cream AND buy new chiffon, maybe in moss-green and dusty pink – for this scarf, which is grey, looks grey on the shade chart but once knitted is distinctly olive green.  Odd how that happens.

This kit will be easy and fun: it will include the yarn and simple pattern to knit the base scarf;  plus two or three shades of chiffon and the beads to make a huge bunch of flowers!  I love combining crafts and I think this simple trick is just such a great ‘find’.

In other news, I am finally going to see ‘The King’s Speech’ tonight and also eat my favourite meal:  Nandos!  Oh yes, I am a Nandos addict.  I suspect they put something highly addictive in the sauce because if I go longer than a month between ‘fixes’ I start to crave a visit.

I think my husband looks like Colin Firth by the way:

Me and Colin Firth...

Kidsilk Haze nest

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

I just bought this from the butcher in our village:

It’s a fresh goose egg, isn’t it lovely?  The lady in the butcher’s weighed it and it’s 1/2 a pound!  I was in love with the milky blue-whiteness and also the sheer scale of it.  She agreed with me that it was a thing of beauty, though the butcher spoiled the moment with a rather coarse remark – I am sure you can guess his line of thought.


I also thought it looked very pretty snuggled up on this Kidsilk Haze swatch.

The lady said they make lovely quiches, and someone else says they used to have them in omelettes.  But I have friends over to supper tonight so I am making a bramble and apple sponge for pudding, using my beautiful goose egg for the sponge.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

New Kit On The Block

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Here is Star Crossed scarf:

Star Crossed scarf


It’s a zingy homage to spring.  I have knitted it in apple green Rowan Pure Wool DK and Jelly Kidsilk Haze.  I love this brightness with the lemony primroses.

Close up, you can see the way the two yarns work so well with – and against – each other:

The overall effect is of texture and glowing colour. It’s dead flat too, light but warm and actually surprisingly easy once you get the first repeat out of the way. 

Available as a kit here on this site from April.

Pancakes? I may give them up for Lent

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I don’t really like pancakes.  And yet, every year on Shrove Tuesday, I make them.  I think I do this because my mother did it – she also rarely ate any though, but my father was very greedy, surprising for a rather thin, wiry man, and he ate maybe a dozen in a sitting.  Impressive.  How I shudder to think of their reaction to Nutella pancakes, treacle, cream, chocolate batter….Oh no, it had to be fresh lemon juice and crunchy, coarse white sugar.  I am the same. 

Here is my pancake batter, ‘resting’ for the obligatory hour (why?  other than my mother said so?) before I made them.

I ate two last night, a record.  This was due to the fact that I was short of supper, having elected for ‘left-overs’ but then found there weren’t really enough, oops.  And I was very tired, so the pancakes, which usually I dislike a bit or at least can’t be bothered with, seemed rather comforting.  Nursery food?

I am not a fussy eater.  I don’t like liver, but grew up in Manchester, happily – unknowingly – eating all sorts of things that I thought delicious and normal, but which I found, upon relocating to the achingly cool East Midlands, were considered disgusting.  Trotters, brawn made of sheep and pig head, tripe steamed with milk and onions, served with mashed potatoes, thus creating an unnervingly, uniformly white meal.  My Grandmother, with whom I spent a lot of time as a small child, was a real Mancunian cook.  I used to love going to the fish shop (for ‘yellow fish’ which she steamed and smothered in cheap, salty butter and pepper);  or the butchers, where in my memory, we never bought a whole chicken or a joint of meat but rather bought stewing cuts, tripe, mince, ox-tail….

Back home in her tiny (really tiny, a curtain behind a large sideboard divided the room into ‘sitting room’ and ‘bedroom’), her fold-down kitchen unit and ancient gas stove – plus her no-nonsense magic – transformed the food into really lovely meals.  We’d sit at the table, the same old oak table that I now have in my kitchen, and happily eat our ‘tea’ looking out on ‘the park’, in reality a sooty space edged with sickly privet and several more identical blocks of flats. 

I’d eat that food again today, but I don’t really know how, or indeed where to buy tripe. (My other grandmother, incidentally was even more ‘street’ than the grandma I grew up with, because she ate raw tripe, for breakfast, with pepper and vinegar on it.  I remember her once coming to stay with us in Wellingborough and my mother anxiously tracking down some tripe and then serving this up, at 7.30, at our red Formica kitchen table.  I – and my brother, who watched as if he was taking part in a horror film – were perfectly sure that Grandma Turner would be appalled and refuse to eat the tripe, possibly there would be a scene like in Coronation Street.  But no, to our horror, especially Duncan’s who was very fussy and squeamish at the best of times, Grandma Turner calmly applied malt vinegar and white pepper to the slab of raw tripe and silently ate it all.  Duncan watched from the crack between the kitchen door and the hall, a la Dr Who. I enjoy telling this story to my soft, southern daughters).

The food my parents cooked often took a long time to prepare.  For one thing, it was a bus ride to the market where the ribs were sold by a particular butcher.  Many times, there were distinct phases in the preparation process, such as soaking (overnight, say);  boiling and skimming;  simmering, straining, sifting, chilling, pressing.  It wasn’t fast food.  Now I am in danger of romanticising this, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t cook like that and if I did, no-one in this house would thank me for it, but I miss it, all the same.

I’m not really giving up pancakes for Lent.  That would be cheating.  Instead, I’m going to take something up for Lent, an altogether more positive approach I feel.  I’m going to make a daily habit of speaking to someone in my village (I am morbidly shy.  Yes, it’s true!), even if it’s just a quick ‘hello’ before  scuttling off into the post office.  And I’m going to knit more.

Kit names

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

A friend of mine has suggested that I name my kits after films.  Some of them seem to have names already so I may leave them, but I really like this idea.  I love films, especially old British and Hollywood films.  Tonight, for example, after a pretty hectic week and two busy – but lovely – weekends, I’m planning to watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Mark and I think Florence and Lily will watch it too. 

Have you ever seen that film?  It is very atmospheric and has the most beautiful wall paper in their apartment!  And of course, the haunting music of the theme tune.

When I was a child, my mother – who was very glamourous in her younger days – would usually reserve Saturday afternoons for watching an old film on the TV.  On BBC2 there would often be a old Hollywood musical, if we were lucky, a Fred and Ginger, or Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly movie.  Or a moody film noir with Humphrey B. 

With the curtains closed, the fire lit, mum’s cigarettes on the coffee table, we’d lie on the sofa (or, mum lay on the sofa, I lay on the rug, elbows under chin, back aching after an hour of arching up to stare at the screen) and get completely lost in a gorgeous sparkly world where in our hearts we both felt we belonged.  Mum’s cigaratte smoke made the hot, dark room seem like the speak-easy joints or nightclubs we were watching.  Looking back, I do not know how I stood the smoke, but then, I thought it was normal and since mum never gardened, her nails, usually painted peach or orange, and long fingers, plus the red lipstick, made it seem very glamourous indeed.

Hence, I am a Hollywood and British film know-it-all as long as the films are from the 1930s – 1960s.  After that era, as a rule, I rejected them as not pretty, dark, gorgeous or fantastic enough.

Anyway, I’m going to review all the kits and see if any film names come to mind.  Any suggestions?

In the meantime, here is a swatch for a new design:

Ruched, beaded swatch


It’s going to be (I hope) a rather elegant and delicate shrug.  This shot is a bit blurry, and I think the shade (Trance) needs to change (to Majestic).  I will then use this simple technique to make a scarf, mitts, a hat and maybe a lined bag.  What then shall I call the shrug?  I think it will have a summer holiday evening feel – maybe Roman Holiday.

Little Wooden Hill Blanket – all done

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Finally, after three ‘goes’, the LWHB is finished. 

Little Wooden Hill


The first time I cast on, I got to about 2.5 balls knitted and then frogged.  The second time, it got all the way – and then frogged.  This time, having made the changes it needed, I’m happy.  It’s for my friend’s first Grandson, and I’ve now handed it over, I do hope they like it.  Now it’s being re-knitted and will be a kit on this site next month.

Actually, it’s an easier knit than it looks.  The lace hearts are very easy and once the squares and cables are ‘established’ it’s really straight forward.  It takes 5 balls of HKDK and 1 bag of beads, so quite economical too.

Little Wooden Hill up close


There is something so satisfying about knitting baby and nursery things.  M&S is great for the fleecy baby-grows and pretty dresses, but a modern heirloom knit needs someone to make it.  Half the point, is the process.

So much knitting

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I’m right in between two perfect weekends:  last weekend I had a group of friends here, knitting;  and this weekend – more knitting at Court Cottage.

Last weekend, we knitted a variety of projects, and held a mini-workshop, basically:

L - R: Tessa, Janet, me


Basically, a typical day’s knitting with some lovely people!  We knitted a bit of lace, some samples for felting, practiced some new stitches and techniques, ate chocolate brownies thanks to Lily.  All in all, it was fabulous.

Me and Tessa, counting....


Note the litter of tea cups!  we had already eaten the cake.

As a bonus, I also finished the Frost Flower Mitts, modelled here by Watty:

Frost Flower Mitts


KSH + Shimmer = frosty, glam mitts.  Available as a kit on this site from April.