Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for May, 2011

What would Doris do? and a bit of mid-summer musing

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Yes, my new default question:  what would Doris do?  In tricky, stressful or funny moments, I’m finding this is a comforting question because the answer is so ridiculous and it’s highly (but not wholly, be warned) improbable that I’d do it, since that answer is of course:  sing!  That’s right, she’d break into a song, possibly accompanied by a dance.  My workshop participants last Saturday were probably fairly grateful that I did not give way to either of these temptations, despite the slight swatch mal-function, happily resolved by Drs Donna and Sarah. 

As a keen, ardent, even possibly obsessive swatcher, I am baffled about how they can go wrong, even if tested many, many times and not just by me.  As a designer and teacher, I know – and teach – that knitting is logical, it’s based on maths and there is always a reason why stuff works or not.  And yet…and yet, for me, at least, it’s more than that, which is annoying.  But also, I think it explains why my designing is different.  I have no actual rules, so I can’t break them.  Dr Donna, pattern checker and writer to the confused (me amongst others, though I like to think I represent her most challenging cases), is a designer and a number-cruncher – the complete package.  I am a pure designer.  I then force the concept into some semblance of a logical (or at least do-able) earthly form, and finally, I write the pattern based on my notes.  Later it goes to others to re-knit, to test and then to Donna.   I love, but also slightly fear, watching her work.  She makes a series of hieroglyphic-style sketches, strings of numbers, symbols and words flow from her pencil and her lips.  It’s at least as magical as the actual design process.  I wish I had both halves of the magic.  On my own, I am like a horse, or a pony, but with Donna, I am a Unicorn!

Ahem.  Sorry.


It’s almost mid-summer.  Which may explain the above.  I love this magical time of year.  Partly because it is my birthday season, as I was born just after mid-night on Mid-Summer Day.  And this year, I am promised a dress from Deadly is the Female in Frome:

Deadly Is The Female

The little dog in the cartoon really does live in the shop by the way or at least he attends with his mistress who I assume is the owner and designer.  He sits in regal splendour, on a velvet chair right in the middle of the shop, amid the frills, corsets, Vivienne Westwood shoes and the gorgeous dresses.  I may have to get thone of these:



































What would Doris do?

Which one shall I pick (subject to them being acceptable once ‘on’)?

I digress, as ever.  Back to mid-summer.  It’s my best time of the year, much as I love all the seasons.  There is the amazing lightness.  Not today, to be fair but May, June and July with their especially long days and short nights are so full of life and energy.  The garden is at its fizzing, explosive best in May and June, well, mine is.  I have never quite mastered the continuous succession planting thing, loving as I do roses, alliums, aquilegia, fox gloves and poppies, all of which have a passionate few weeks and then retire to the garden equivalent of a chaise-lounge for a lie-down with a cool flannel pressed to their brows.  Oh, I also have a resurgence in autumn with my absolute favourite flower:  white wind-flowers, or Japanese Anemones, of which I have many bordering the long front path.  How they light up the fading light with the pale glowing blossom that tries – ultimately they fail, but they almost succeed and they try very hard – to ward off the closing down of the year, when October yields to November. Oh!  But no, let’s not even think of that now!  I’m sorry!

Once, on my birthday, Mark and I cycled to Glastonbury.  Mid-summer Solstice is a very important date for many faith or belief groups such as druids, witches and wizards, and people like me, with complex belief systems and a foot in several camps (I do realise the physical obstacles associated with having three or more camps, if feet need to be in them, but please, let’s draw a veil…) Or, just because it’s my birthday.  My plan, which Mark sweetly but sleepily joined in with, was to cycle across the moors of the Somerset levels where we live, to be climbing the Tor in Glastonbury at dawn.  However, this was impractical due to it being dark, so we left at dawn and, true to my imagination of how it would be, it was fine, cool, still and clear and yes!  there were swans in flight, there were deserted lanes and paths – best of all, there was mist, through which the Tor became evident.  It was really magical. 

Climbing the Tor, we were crossed by straggling groups of Tor-revellers coming down, as dawn had passed two hours earlier though it was still very early.  Wrapped in blankets, shawls, each other, some carrying things like bowls, drums, cushions and small children.  But at the top of the Tor, there were still a lot of people.  Small groups sat facing the dawn, some sat alone.  Some chanted, several chimed finger-bells, others had fire in stone or metal bowls.  A small herd of bullocks had been released onto the Tor (I assume a small agricultural joke by the farmer, for there are rarely beast on the Tor in my experience).  But, and yet…at the very top, a group of very drunk people – not the ‘hippy’ types – were engaged in a heated argument with a man who did look like a hippy, but a sort of corporate hippy, certainly, no orange or purple in his outfit and his hair was tied beneath a neat round grey hat.  He wasn’t drunk and he spoke for his ‘tribe’ who sat or stood behind him, while the drunk people yelled and jeered.  Well, it did take the shine off it a bit, as you can imagine.  In the midst of all this, a real hippy-looking young man was wandering about collecting all the litter, humming and smiling.  On the side of the Tor looking west (the wrong way, surely?) a couple with a fire bowl between them discussed DIY.  It was all a bit disjointed and surreal.  But that’s Glasto for you!  My Mecca, I adore it. 

We hung about a bit then walked back down, had our picnic on the benches in the High Street and cycled home.  The rest of the day was very ‘spacey’ – possibly a consquence of such an early and fairly long ride, and also of the air of oddness that the Tor on Mid-Summer Day had cast.  Oh, or it might have been the champagne!

This year, I think I might climb Brent Knoll.  The Tor’s little sister.








Nutcracker (and also, is it odd to feel a bit Christmassy in May…?)

Friday, May 27th, 2011

You know I was MAD to see this in London:

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker.

Well, it’s only on in Cardiff too, in late November – not officially The Christmas Season which starts, as you know, on 1 December.  However, a bit of pre-festive prep is also good.

So I’m not going to lust after tickets (at £60 each) at Saddlers Wells, I’m going to try and go to Cardiff instead.  I adore Cardiff by the way.  There is a lovely running shop called Run and Become, right by the station, and of course, Cardiff is now a shopping Mecca.  Shopping – my one  weakness.  After ballet.

Doris Day, I love you!

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I do love Doris, don’t you?

And I am slowly transforming into Doris (apart from the maturity issue, yes, yes, but let’s not be picky.  Or mean).  For example, I’m blond.  Yes I am.

I sing all the time.  This may or may not be annoying.

I know all her songs and films off my heart. 

And now, I have succumbed to yellow gingham:

my new Doris Day dress!


I haven’t worn gingham since I was at Wellingborough Technical Grammar School.  It was (in those days) the sort of school that had items such as ‘money belts’ and real satchels on the uniform list.  Until the third year (not sure what that is in today’s currency, I have striven – successfully – to avoid absorbing any information about my daughters’ schools) girls were not allowed to wear tights, only ankle or knee socks depending on the season.  Anyway, it was also the sort of school that had a summer dress which the mothers – it would be mothers, not fathers – or a paid seamstress had to make.  Yes, off one went, to the local fabric and haberdashers, bought the prescribed pattern, choice being limited to one, and then chose the fabric from a very limited palette of gingham.  I remember one year we went floral and came over all Karen Carpenter…Imagine asking parents to make their child’s uniform today!  I had pink, naturally and also yellow.  I hated that dress and have never worn yellow gingham since.  Actually, reading that last sentence back it is possibly one of the most improbable I have presented you with:  ‘…and I have never worn yellow gingham since’ could be the closing line to so many stories, shall we make some up?  As in:  ‘I was wearing that dress on the night dear Papa dined at the Club dressed as Queen Victoria…and I have never worn yellow gingham since.’  Over to you!

Anyway, I saw this yellow gingham dress this week and just fell back in love with it.  It’s nothing like the school summer uniform, in fact Dr Walker and Mrs Paine would have had a fit.  Mrs Paine was the Deputy Head Mistress, and also the Head of Sewing, hence, I assume the Dickensian habit of making parents sew dresses.  I was the worst textile student they ever had, by the way.  I know this because they said so.  They said it every Friday morning.  When I, for many long years, toiled on my first project:  a nightdress case.  Oy.

But the dress.  I saw it and Doris just called to me.  She also called me to another pale pink and black number but that looked shocking on so she’s not always right.  But this one, I adore.  You probably won’t have noticed this but dressing up is my one weakness and I intend to weaken daily.

Two new knits – and resistance

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I’ve finished two new knits, both show-casing this Saturday at Lazy Luxury Lace.

First up is Bubble Pop Electric.  This is a comforter length neck wrap, using Kidsilk Haze and Pure Wool 4 Ply, knitted together and then finished with both used singly.  It’s fun to knit (if by fun you mean purling 5 stitches together now and again…no, it really is fun, watching the bubbles pop up!)

Here is a closer view of the bubbly surface:

And here is Storm:

This is knitted with two shades of Kidsilk Haze, which in places I held together.  It’s also beaded.  It’s not out of focus by the way but the triple impact of colour-blending, stitch mixing and the palette I have used, tricks the eye and casts a misty pall over the garment.

Neither is terribly hard, both are interesting enough to pique your imagination but not over-tax the knitting enjoyment.  And, as a bonus, each can be knitted fairly fast as they are both on 5mm needles.

If you’re not coming to Lazy Lace, but think you like these designs, they will be kits, here (I promise!), in June.


In other news I am doing something I usually don’t bother with.  Resisting something.  I find resistance very dull, it annoys me, and I suspect ardent resisters of missing out on the good fun.  I mean, I would resist the urge to shove someone into a freezer cabinet in Sainsbury’s, even if they were intensely irritating with their 7 strong phalanx of kids, two trolleys, and inability to speak, only to bellow across the pizza selections…ahem.  Yes, I hate supermarkets, it was a bad day.  Sorry.  Where was I?  Ah yes, I’d resist that sort of base (if well-founded) impulse.  But as rule, if I fancy something and it does no real harm, well, I tend to give in.

I am not a hair-shirt sort of girl.  That is not to say I have madly extravagant tastes, I don’t.  But I like to enjoy life and the good things in it.  Resistance is fine in moderation, after that, it ought to be resisted.

Now I am very tempted by 2 front first circle tickets to see Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker at Sadlers Wells in December.  But – it’s £120 just for the tickets!  Yikes.  That’s a lot of knitting.  Plus, train fares, somewhere to stay.  But oh!  the temptation is killing me!  Check back later this week to see if I a) survive;  b) give in;  c) hold out but become low-level grumpy as a result.

Fashion show with Martin Storey, 20 October

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

In a rare outbreak of knitting-related posting – this being a knitting blog, after all, despite evidence to the contrary – I share with you some exciting news.  I’m doing a joint fashion show with Martin Storey on the evening of Thursday 20 October at the Guild in Bovey Tracey.   I have attended these and they’re such fun – knitting fashion parade, delicious supper, glass of wine – perfect!  Do come.

This is Martin’s recent and smash-hit Nordic Knits book, and this:

is my absolute favourite book of designs for men.  Check the socks, I loved knitting them.  Martin is also the lead designer on Rowan’s lovely seasonal brochures and I adore his style of design, for both men and women. 

So the lovely people at Spin-a-Yarn have asked me to collaborate and show-case my accessories, using items from the books and also fresh knits from the kits.  I think our designs will go really well together.  Keep an eye on the Spin-a-Yarn site and newsletter for details and tickets.


More knitting news:  this is a new design, Bubble Pop Electric Lace:

This will be on offer this Saturday at my Lazy Luxury Lace workshop, here at Court Cottage.  It’s Kidsilk Haze (soft green) and Pure Wool 4 Ply (soft grey) together and the ends will have a bubbly cascade of KSH as an embellishment.  It’s a satisfying and fairly easy pattern to knit, little bit of a challenge on 2 rows, knitting and purling on the other 6 in the repeat.  And it is lacy, just quite modern lace, lace with a twist, which is what I like. Soon it will also be a kit on this site.

There will be another lace and beaded scarf and some lace cuffs too as alternative options.  I’m also planning the cake-offering – a giant cup-cake for afternoon tea might make an appearance.

Still dreaming of the ballet…

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Cinderella by Matthew Bourne was amazing.  I am still filled with the visions it conjured up.  We go to the theatre quite a lot, and about half our theatre going is to see ballet and dance, but I have never seen a production like this one.  It’s very dark, incredibly fresh and just brimming with atmosphere, menace, macabre images and beauty.  Not beauty in the ‘pretty dresses and sparkly shoes’ sense – though there was a pair of sparkly shoes that I want to own.  The beauty was in the dark costumes, the clever, clever sets, and use of news reel footage and Pathe News clips.  And mainly of course, the incredible dancing and acting. 

The second act, set in the Cafe de Paris, London, was the most visually stunning.  The set was ‘wrecked’ when this act opened, showing the post-bombing carnage:

And then reconstructed to show the dancers as they revelled in the hours before the air raid:

And then deconstructed again before the curtain on act 2.  So clever and very moving.

Happy ending?  Well, you know the story, and Matthew Bourne doesn’t quite take that away, though right up to the end, I anticipated that the Fairy God Father would deny Cinderella and her ‘Prince’ their happiness.  But not quite, a bitter-sweet ending, very satisfactory indeed. 

To be able to take such a well known tale, such iconic music, such familiar ‘traditional’ ballet choreography and turn the entire thing on its head is what I admire so much.  He simply doesn’t seem cluttered up with what went before, it all gets swept away in order to re-invent this ballet.  There is no prince, the prince is an airman, on leave in London during the blitz.  He is injured, and also in shock.  There is no royal ball, the invitations are to a night of manic, desperate dancing and dining at the Cafe de Paris.  There is no Fairy God Mother, instead we have a man, whose presence is not sweet but sinister.  He is a ghost – or an Angel – or both:

 Cinderella is drab, her costume dull, her hair and makeup dowdy, almost ugly.  Though her ball gown is really beautiful, we do get some light and glitter there.  And there are odd, sharp, spikes of humour.  Nothing is taboo,  prostitution, crime, mental illness, attempted murder and gay love all get a romp-on, romp-off role too.

Now I am longing to see it again.  But it’s too late, they are dancing in Sheffield this coming week then the company goes abroad and that appears to be that.  I am just so thankful that I did see it.  If you can get to Sheffield next week, it’s on at The Lyceum Theatre and I really urge you to try and get a ticket and go, let it cast its dark spell on you.

I did sit alone, up in the gods.  I did cry a bit in Act 3.  But I was happy to be there, with a fantastic view from up high of the whole stunning set.  I’m sorry Mark didn’t see it because he would have adored it, too.

Finished Object – but not by me

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Cuffs, by Nicola, modelled by Nicola!


Behold.  Gorgeous, sparkly, slightly lacy cuffs, knitted by a participant in the last Court Cottage workshop which was all about cuffs and mittens.   I love the shades Nicola chose along with enough bling to satisfy even me yet remain very chic as well.  And look at the work!  I am proud of  her. 

When someone knits a design you have created, and they like it, love it even, wear it, make more to give away and so on, it is an amazing honour.  As is teaching our craft. Thank you, Nicola for coming to an event here and letting me see and use your lovely pictures.


In other news I am going to the ballet, right now in fact.  I am going to see the Matthew Bourne production of Cinderella, in Bristol.  Two friends are also going and they said if I could get a ticket, we’d go together.   I did get a ticket!  I now feel like Cinders for I ought to be gardening and knitting. Instead, I am out for an afternoon of pure pleasure.  I cannot wait to see this ballet, it’s set in Blitz-stricken London during the war.  

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

The ugly sisters…

…and here I am dancing with my Prince.

Thing is, I am not going to be sitting with my friends, I am sitting in ‘the gods’ – on my own.  Well, literally the place will be packed so not alone but not with anyone of myown, as it were.  I have never done this!  Not even at the pictures.  I chose a seat (front row) that had 2 empty seats beside it.  So I won’t be ‘cheek by jowl’ with my neighbours.  Do you think people will assume I have been stood up by my boyfriend? I am too old to look as if I have boyfriends, so no, probably not.  One friend suggests that I remove my wedding ring and sob quietly but pitifully into a 1940s style hanky throughout, to engender a atmosphere of tragedy.  I won’t, don’t fret.  That would be annoying and probably very trying to maintain. 

Anyway, I have dressed up (as much as one reasonably can for a matinee, and also we have to go to M&S afterwards for food shopping so mustn’t over-do).  But I have selected a sort of 1940s – but I’ve gone for post-war – style dress, with a wide sash and a little bit of sticky-out net in the full skirt.  It’s summery, despite the weather and the dark appearance of the Bourne Cinderella treatment.  I hope I don’t feel embarrassed about sitting alone, with a poignantly empty seat beside me (this will be quite useful for my knitting bag though).  If anyone speaks to me, I will attempt to convey an air of sweet, slight, sadness…wish me luck.   (I do know, by the way, roughly where the fine line between reality and What Happens In My Head lies, so don’t worry too much, I won’t let you down!)

But first and much more prosaically, I must eat 2 boiled eggs and toast soldiers for lunch!

Here I am, setting off on honeymoon with Prince Charming:

A room of one’s own – and camping

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

This eccentric building is The Shack.  It is located in the grounds of Mottistone Manor, on the Isle of Wight.  If you go to the island, there are some ‘must do’ things, such as marvel at the shopping opportunities at The Needles, scented candles or shell-mouse-models on a slate, anyone?  And visiting this garden is one of them, chiefly because of The Shack.  The grounds are lovely too and very quiet.

It was used as an office by two architects, Seeley and Paget.  How, one wonders, did they manage to have such an office in this lovely Elizabethan manor garden?  Well, Seeley was the son of the then Lord Mottistone…

It’s an amzing space, and really fascinating inside, with desks, chairs, easy chairs, a kitchen area and even two small bunk beds.  Inside it feels like a cross between a really smart bird-watching hide, a fancy beach hut and a tree house:

I think (assuming I had another such space next door for my yarn and books) that I could live in this room.

Having a room of one’s own – not a bedroom, or a room that has identity issues and is also a dining room – is such a luxury and I haven’t quite achieved it.  I have a very small office/yarn room, aka a tiny ‘spare’ bedroom, where my knitting-related things, chiefly yarn and resources such as books all live as does my computer, hidden in a linen-cupboard when not in use.  But it’s not a great workroom.  I have a small summer house, just big enough for a sofa and two chairs, some book cases and camping table.  This ‘room’ is a retreat place, a space that is filled with many odd collections of ornaments, pictures, ‘finds’ such as stones that I like – oh and my gardening books.  But again, aside from a bit of recreational living, it’s not a workroom.  Far too small. I aspire to a ‘room of my own’ one day.  It need not be in the house.  It could be in the garden, in fact, so much the better.

I also think a workroom/creative space – whatever – has to have a 19th century style French day bed… 

The Shack also felt a bit like camping.  Or what I imagine camping might feel like.  Amongst the many things I have never done (aside from the improbable such as tiger wrangling or space travel) – is camping.  I have also never seen a Star Wars film by the way, read a book by Terry Pratchett or watched J Kyle.  I have seen J Kyle with the sound off whilst on the gym treadmill, but I looked away, so repellent was it, even soundless, so that doesn’t count.  Have you ever watched it?  Ought I to?  It seems to be a procession of hideous (sorry, no offence!) people with very bad teeth, arguing and pointing, and the sub-titles say things like:  I have no idea which of these 4 men is the father of my triplets.  The real question, surely, is:  how on earth did the conception even happen?  Sorry, as ever, I digress.

Camping.  I was once supposed to go but it didn’t happen, probably just as well since the weather that week turned wintry, as it can in August, in Pembrokeshire.  I am a fairly even natured creature (the mocking laughter from my dear family echoes in my ears, but I’m ignoring them).  But, if I get wet and cold, I can tend to be a bit subdued, even sulky, unless allowed to instantly get warm and dry again, be given chardonnay, steak and chips and soft bed.  So, perhaps it was for the best. 

However, a friend of mine has suggested a little camping trip and she is an expert tent person.  I believe it’s quite a high-tech business now.  Certainly, our local garden centre has a huge tent exhibition on almost all the time and it looks very impressive.  I need to learn camping from an expert if I am to thrive.  All my knowledge about it is gleaned from reading Famous Five books, so I know I need lashings of ginger beer – but what about ground sheets, pegs and fires?  I love making fires, are they allowed nowadays and if not, how am I to cook sausages for me and my chums?

Another friend throws cold water onto my plans by laughing in a drain-like manner as the mere idea of me being parted from my plug-sockets (hair drier, you see).  She is a scout leader, or possibly cubs and is the most experienced camper I know.  I’d like to try it with her, but I’m afraid if I get scared, wet, cold or bitten, I’ll cry and the cubs will pity me…

Mark believes that if one can afford a hotel room, camping is silly and if one can’t, staying at home is preferable.  Nevertheless he has researched some possibilities for me.

This led us in turn to research other exciting things (that we can’t afford) such as yurts:

yurt at night, with moon

Yurts are amazing!  I am a bit put off by the notes given regarding erecting one:  it takes 2 experienced people about half a day to put one up.  In other words:  abandon hope all ye who enter here.  But isn’t it beautiful?  They do small ones too.  This is, once I save up, the solution to both my current obsessions:  camping and a room of my own all one romantic package.

Tomorrow:  some actual knitting news.  Probably.

Body clock, early mornings and flowers

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

One of the things I love about winter time is how it affects my body clock.  When it gets dark early and stays dark late, I can sleep.  In the summer, not so much.  I have been like this for many years and in fact I can remember it as a child:  waking up as soon as the sky slightly lightened and the dawn chorus kicked off. 

And sometimes I’d go out, either down to the bottom of our garden and into the orchard that bordered it, owned by (I think) an Italian man who kept chickens and sometimes sheep in it.  Or I’d get out my bike and cycle around the town.  Wellingborough was a small market town back then and I used to like to cycle down the ‘posh’ streets and stare at the houses while no-one was up.  But best of all was deciding to strike out into the countryside, in reality cycling about 5 miles to the nearest villages but, when you’re only ten, that seems like an adventure.  I think that my parents were fully aware of this dawn activity, but it strikes me now as admirable that they didn’t try to stop me or lock the house so I couldn’t go out.  If, when Lily was 10 (she is now just 15) I had woken to find her and her bike missing at 5.30 am, I think I might have been a bit anxious…

In summertime I still get up early.  Not as in farming terms, but often between 5 and 6 o’clock.  On the one hand, it’s a nuisance because actually I get quite tired.  On the other hand, it’s a blessing because I can get a lot done.  When I had a paid job, the one I had until October last year…

…I used to work very long and very odd hours.  Not so much in the last 2 years because, frankly, it was a horrible place to be by then and so all they got was 100%.  No, before that time, when it was actually a great place or so I thought.  And because I was home-based with a super-fast computer link to the ‘Head Office’ (lol) I could get up and start work whenever I wanted to.  I used my daylight alarm to great effect, churning out masses of work before the real working day started.  Mind you, I was a bit rubbish after 3pm!

Now I have a ‘job’ that allows me to knit, write, design and teach (I do have other jobs, non-knitting, but more of these another time, perhaps), I aim to use my summer time body clock by doing my creative stuff early and the less-creative tasks can occupy the 3pm slump.

I no longer need this:

…though my former co-workers might, but it made me laugh so much that there is a fab site dedicated to Happy Workers stuff – you can buy action figures too!  I may send the link to the survivors…


One of the advantages of getting up early today was a little wander round the garden, mug of tea in hand, and for once it isn’t howling a gale so my poor battered flowers got a chance to show off:

Look and wonder at this perfect starry circle.  I notice that I have lost about half of my alliums.  I’m not sure if this is due to the very hard winter or they just aren’t that long-lived.  Either way, a serious allium planting date is set for the autumn.

We are not short of foxgloves though:

I planted the tall double aquilegia here about 3 years ago.  I planted three, but they are merrily breeding with all the other (many) aquilegia in the garden so while I have some that are still white plus my original plants, some of the self-seedlings are pink and purple.  Lovely.  The foxgloves are ‘white’ but with amazing, splashy-purple throats:

(there is a small bee in one of these! and peeping out on the left is one of the perfect white, double aquilegia flowers, it looks green-cream in the dappled shade and in fact they are, quite).

Foxgloves are mandatory for me, because they are so stately and lovely and also they remind me very sharply of my father, who loved foxgloves and always grew some.  You only need to buy seed about once every 5 years or if you see a new sort that takes your fancy.  They set seed very readily, just don’t be too quick to dead-head or pull up the plants.  Let them be for a few weeks, then either allow the seeds to thrive where they fall or tip some into an envelope and sew where you want them.  I do the former and then lift the seedlings I want and dot them into next year’s places, hoe-ing up the rest.  These ‘white’ foxgloves have set white seeds in some cases and this plant will be a self-seeded off-spring of the originals, but in a very short time, all the set plants they cast will revert to purple.  Purple foxgloves in the veggie garden, by the way, are also a legal requirement.

Finally, a picture of one of the little paths in the veggie garden, more of a flower and fruit garden at the moment:

Aquilegia again, something so magical about this flower and its many incarnations.  Also, mint and rhubarb (which I am striving to love). I grew all of these aquilegia from a pack of ‘mixed’ seeds about 6 years ago and the results, some years on as they mingle and breed is fascinating.  I’m not planting/sowing much in the way of veg at the moment because I am currently in the midst of one of my periodic ‘shall we get some chickens?’ spells…if we did, the top veg bed – to the right in this pic – would be their main home.  I often muse about keeping a few hens, then I decide I really can’t be responsible for one more single solitary thing!  We’ll see.

Teaching dates at Spin-a-Yarn, Devon

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

I’m teaching three new classes at Spin-a-Yarn, Bovey Tracey, Devon in the autumn and winter.

On the 15 September I am teaching Little Luxury Knits, in which we learn to love Kidsilk Haze, add the techniques it needs to make it really happy and along the way, knit a pair of frivolous cuffs.

On 27 October, I am teaching a project based day when we will learn to knit Smudge:

This scarf is knitted in two shades of Kidsilk Haze and quite heavily beaded.  The design gives a 3-D effect.  It’s an original AC-S design and has not been published anywhere as yet, though may be destined to become a kit.

On the 17 November I am teaching how to knit the Judith Bell-Ruffle Boa:

Three balls of Kidsilk Haze is all it takes to create this opulent boa, destined to turn heads and make you sort of swish about…

Contact Joyce at for more information or to book a place.

Workshop news – last places for 2011 and general excitement

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

There is one final place remaining for Lazy Luxury Lace, on 28 May – the event for lace virgins or the simply lace-shy.

There is one final place remaining for Luxury Christmas Gift Knits on 8 October – a choice of little (2 balls-ish) but luxurious knitted gifts will be offered to you, you choose one, knit several, et voila, Christmas gifts for your special friends sorted.

Floral Knits (table-runner) is full.

There are several places available on A Knitted Christmas, 5 November, where we light the fire, listen to winter music, eat comfort food – oh, yes – and knit.  We will be knitting small sparkly decorations and trinkets, plus tiny table-gifts.  There will be sequins…(speaking of sequins, as I often am – and I’m sure you are the same – I have taken delivery of a very exciting consignment of uber-sequins.  They are huge and, in even more exciting news they have their holes at the top!  I know, me too).

I am also about to book several new courses at Spin-a-Yarn in Bovey Tracey, Devon;  dates for my classes there in the autumn/winter will be available in the next two weeks.  The course I am teaching there next month (when we knit the ‘Glow’ scarf from my new book) is full but contact Spin-a-Yarn if you’d like to go on the reserve list or get advance information on the courses in the autumn.

These pics are just a small taste of the amazement that is Spin-a-Yarn.  the words ‘cave’ and ‘Alladin’ spring to mind.

The lovely Marmalade People are thinking of getting together a charabanc trip here from Frome, also in the autumn, probably on a Sunday, bringing themselves and up to 6 customers for a special ‘Marmalade Yarns Goes On Tour To Alison’s Gaff’ workshop, the subject of which and the date has yet to be agreed.  Watch this space and also for details on that great bit of excitement and jollity!  I adore the idea of a shop coming here for a tailor-made day! 

Happy Kidsilk Haze Knitters

this appears to be me, teaching a happy class at Marmalade Yarns!  I look a bit over-excited.  Not like me at all.

And finally, I am currently putting together details on the Court Cottage 2012 workshop list.  I agree, being only May 2011 it seems early but this will give us all plenty of time to plan and enjoy.  I think we will once again feature lazy lace, plus Christmas Gifts and add some new glamour with entirely new project-based events as well.   

As in 2011, I will limit the dates to about 5 or 6 and the numbers too. Teaching here is still new, and this month I will teach my third Court Cottage event.  I can honestly say (after being very nervous at first, which is odd given that I have taught hundreds of gigs) I really love it!  Mind you, when I taught at Holmfirth for Rowan Yarns, on the special weekend events, it seemed to make no difference whatsoever that I had done it before, that it seemed to go quite well and we all had a lovely time, I was always almost literally sick with nerves every single time.  It was utterly boring in the end, because 5 minutes into the weekend, I was fine.

Having knitters come here feels very special and adds a new dimension to my teaching as the Court Cottage events are unique:  they are not taught in any stores or other venues, only here.  I feel that if I taught classes here that I offer to my special list of independent yarn retailers I’d be undermining that relationship with them.  This way, there is no cross-over and the events compliment each other rather than compete.  The smaller numbers make it feel very relaxed.  Also, it fulfills my natural instinct to feed people!  Oy.

It would be lovely to see you here at an event.

One of ‘those’ faces…and more Maugham

Friday, May 13th, 2011

I think I have one of ‘those’ faces.  The sort of face that says:  talk to me!  I love talking to strangers about all sorts of randomness, so let’s have a bizarre chat!  Actually, I sometimes do, but not always, and not if it’s alarming.  This week I attended the temple that is known as the hair-dresser.  I cycled.  This habit, by the way, drives my hairdresser wild even if I don’t, for once, ride with my helmet.  Anyway, I am pushing my bike along the pavement in Burnham-on-Sea, and an elderly lady leaps out and grabs my arm and says:  Oh!  I think the sound of your cycling shoes tapping on the pavement is rather nice, because you have them under control, BUT when a lot of cyclists walk about making all that noise, I want to…to…simply…go home!

Alright then. 

Yesterday, I taught in a shrine to knitting, Spin-a-Yarn in Bovey Tracey, Devon.  Bovey is a lovely place, quaint, independent and I suspect, seething beneath the Exmoor Park surface, with Joanna Trollope-style intrigue.  As I park my car and buy a ticket, a lady approaches me, brandishing a parking ticket.  With no attempt at introduction, and looking rather wild about the eyes, she stumps up in front of me and says:  I have lost an hour!  where can it be?

My first reaction is, of course, to send up a fervent prayer that she isn’t about to participate in my knitting course.  But she was quite anxious so I said:  it’s 9.30, does that help? 

No!  it’s 10.30!  look at my ticket (shoves ticket into my face) it says 10.30, therefore I have lost an hour – and what’s more I paid for that hour.

OK so you can see where this is going.  But just for a moment then and all the way home, my mind spun with the amazing possibilities this scenario offered:  I could be a time-finder super-hero, recovering lost hours, days, years, even, and returning them to their rightful owners.   Imagine, being given some time you lost.  Not as in time-travel, that would be silly.  But say, a week you kind of overlooked or that melted past you, some years ago and suddenly, it’s back!  You can have it over again.   

I retrieved this lost hour by explaining the way pay-and-display tickets work, urged her to spend no longer than an hour in Bovey, thanked the Lord that she wasn’t a workshop lady, and schlepped my stuff up the hill to Spin-a-Yarn, leaving the lady still muttering, but more cheerfully now. 

The workshop was really lovely.  The shop is not actually small but it’s so filled with gorgeous-ness, when you also pack in eight knitting participants, me and my improbably huge quantity of workshop goodies, it feels so snug.  We had a very happy and creative day.  I can, and happily do, provide a significant portion of energy and enthusiasm whenever I teach, because I love doing it.  However, when you add the combined energy and commitment of all the participants, as happened at both the classes I taught this week, it’s really uplifting and magical.  As so often, I am thankful to my craft and fellow-crafters.


In other news, I have to report that I re-watched ‘Love on a Branch Line’ after a 17 year break, with Mark, while on the IoW and it was charming, but I had mis-remembered it completely.  It’s also a major male-fantasy, but anyway, it was fun.

I also bought a very old copy of The Letter by W Somerset Maugham, for my brother in law, and I intend to post it to him, but it is a volume of plays including two I haven’t read, (or can’t remember) Sheppey, and The Breadwinner, so before it goes, I’m going to read those.

I love the old cover, it’s a Pan book and it was 2’6 (two and six, two shillings and sixpence!):

And this afternoon, after the garden has had a good deal of attention, I am going to cast-on a lace front, beaded toe-up luxury bedsock in Kidsilk Haze…

Socks and Workshops

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

The first toe-up Miss Millington sock is done:

It has the seamless toe-first ‘figure of 8’ cast on that Sarah showed me, a tailored toe section, so much easier than with the cuff-down sort of socks;  a heart-lace panel runs up the front of the sock, a crisp twisted 1X1 rib and a sewn cast-off.

I did have a few attempts at the toe end because a) I needed to change the stitch count / tension; also my feet are narrow (despite the evidence of this fat-foot photo) and arch-y and I have the correct toe structure, ie, sloping, so I wanted the toe to match!

The heel.  Without Sarah, I had a bit of a time of it with the heel because I couldn’t make any sense of my notes – I was on the IoW, too, trapped in its time vortex.  However, after making full use of the life-lines, I did turn the heel, and added a lace eyelet feature…I will only be able to stick to my story that it was on purpose if I can re-create it on the other sock.

I am now going to knit the second sock and then another pair, in Kidsilk Haze which will be luxury lace bed-socks, with the addition of a few beads.  These will probably be one of the options at the Court Cottage Lazy Luxury Lace workshop, here, on 28 May.

Tomorrow I am off to Marmalade Yarns in Frome to teach Twist scarf and a few other Shibori tricks.  And on Thursday, I am teaching a class on Kidsilk Haze at Spin-a-Yarn, Bovey Tracey.

Island Life

Friday, May 6th, 2011

It was, on reflection, unreasonable of me to expect the Isle of Wight to have remained suspended in time, re-living its 1950s glory and never moving on, just waiting for me to pitch up in 2011.  And indeed, that is not what it did.  Why should it?  It’s not a theme park (or at least, it’s not a 1950s theme park), it’s a real, modern 21st century place, with all the attendant modern living pros and cons.  Much like anywhere else, such as, say, Taunton, or Coventry.  Only with the sea all around it.

There were parts that were simply stunning, such as the sweep of coast as you cycle west towards Freshwater Bay and The Needles, and the gardens at Osborne House:

We arrived on the island on the day of the Royal wedding, and in fact I think the Isle of Wight ferry was the only wedding-free zone in the world.  Once on the IoW, wedding fever was even more torrid than on the mainland, probably because of its association with the Royal family during Queen Victoria’s reign, and Osborne House, the ‘family holiday home’.

The day we visited, it was quiet, being the day after the wedding.  And the gardens, set against a perfect, blue, early summer sky, were simply beautiful, especially the walled garden.  It is just so professionally tended, tidy but not anal, informed but not festooned with labels and signs.  What fascinated me most were the structural details – the corners of Victorian glass houses, the cold-frames and the shelving, for example:

Osborne House glass house, high shelf


peeling cold frames at Osborne House in the walled garden: perfect, because it wasn't, if you see what I mean


So, the island is exactly like the mainland, except for the bits round the edge.  No-one wore nippy dresses and hats.  That’s fine.  I’m so happy we went, that it has a Waitrose, that it was sunny every day (if cold and windy).

I’m happy that the house we rented was lovely, that the girls and the dogs were with us for the first three days. 

It’s a shame, this being a cycling holiday, that cycling on the IoW is not a great experience, due to the very busy roads, with understandably busy residents trying to get from A to B on roads that clearly aren’t up to the local traffic, let alone the holiday traffic.  Add bikes into that mix and frankly, it’s a scary place to ride.  So we really didn’t.  However, there is always knitting!

But mainly, I’m happy about this:

Ali, Mark, shadow on gravel