Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for October, 2011

Shameless Dachshund post; free pattern; workshop news

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Wow, I’ve been away from AC-S Land for far too long and therefore a huge back-log of news to share with you has piled up in the linen cupboard.  This is why the title of this post is not so much snappy, more a shopping list…

But first, here is Arthur being amazingly, almost sickeningly, cute:

I’d been in the garden with Lily, who was taking a picture of me and the boa – that is your new free pattern, by the way, keep reading, we’ll get there in the end – when Arthur emerged from the Big Border, with a juicy, wormy little red apple:

Too late, he saw me and Lily by the front door, tried to leg it with his apple but we caught him and took loads of pictures.  He was afraid we’d take the apple from him, as the dogs are very greedy and I often do attempt to wrestle dog-saliva soaked apples from their locked jaws, never with any success if it’s Rupert, but we let him keep this one as a reward for his super-model cuteness.

And speaking of super-models, I had a VIP (Very Important Puppy) here last week.  Bronte, the most adorable mini-Dach ever (except Rupert and Arthur…just in case they’ve grown opposable thumbs, got an Apple Mac – oh lol, go on – learned to read and had a look at my blog…).  Bronte came to my Knit a Christmas Gift workshop last Saturday with her mum, who is my friend, Jackie.  Bronte is a micro-mini, so petite and just so beautiful and angelically good.  Who was it in literature – the sort of book girls like me read when they are 14 – who said it would be hard to choose between being stunningly beautiful, amazingly clever or angelically good?  I think it was Anne Shirley.  Actually, that’s a no-brainer of a question, since really, who’s going to choose angelically good as an option?  Not me.  Luckily for Bronte, she doesn’t have to choose, as she is all three!

Here we are, at the end of the workshop, hence me a bit red in the face, to match my dress and somewhat shiny…

And look! we both wore red, and we hadn’t even planned it!

(Do I look like a Russian spy, by the way?  I ask because in my next picture I really do!)

I think Bronte and Arthur look a lot alike, though he is of course, as you can see from his pictures, bigger, being a rugged boy (ahem) but not that much bigger.  Rupert looks like a Doberman beside Bronte, not that I let them meet as he is a bit too grumpy for that.  But next time Bronte comes, I might let Arthur say hello…

Bronte, by the way, has been on a lot of workshops with really famous knitters such as Debbie Abrahams and Jane Crowfoot, so I am thinking of booking her for one here next year – she’s very good at colour work.

Right, let’s move on to the free pattern.  Now brace yourselves.  It’s crochet!  I know! I don’t even like crochet and can only do it by contorting my body, face and especially my left hand into disturbing inhuman shapes, poking out my tongue and emitting little squeaking noises now and again.  Imagine that flight to and from Spain a couple of years ago, when I got away with crocheting on the plane, in lieu of banned knitting!  Oh it was such fun, especially for the girls who find my public displays of crafting mortifyingly embarrassing at the best of times;  honestly, you’d think I knitted naked the fuss they make, I don’t of course, ‘cos the pattern slides off your legs…

So this is a free pattern for a super-fat and super-long crochet boa.  If like me you are crochet-phobic, trust me, this is easy and worth while.  I was ‘taught’ to crochet by a long line of failed teachers, none of whom really made my intensely knitting-focused brain accept the crochet.  Then one day, as I think I have told you before, I had a lesson from Dr Donna, pattern checker to the confused and an amazing teacher.  Donna explains things in a really good way for someone like me who learns physically – and slowly.  Donna taught me to crochet a basic twisted scarf.  I then of course multiplied this by about eleventy plus I added KSH.  The pattern – I could do it, but did not know what the various stitches were – was written for me by a customer at the yummy Marmalade Yarns, when I confessed that I’d like to write down what I’d done but could not.  So she did a forensic examination of the boa – for it is a boa, not a scarf – and here it is!  Mine is very very fat and long, so maybe you’d like yours a bit more manageable?  But I have to say, this has drama.  Here is the download. 

Twirl Crochet Boa

I am sorry that I look like an inscrutable Russian spy in this shot, I think it was the fault of the sun in my eyes/the photographer/the many George Smiley spying books I have become hopelessly addicted to.  In real life I’m a lot less narrow-eyed/tense jawed.  In fact, it might be best to just not have any images of me, and stick to the dachshunds!  But you see how long it is, here I am wearing it folded in half and doubled over and threaded through the gap, as it were…

Here you can see the construction:  the main part is the now discontinued and lovely Rowan Tapestry – much mourned;  this was a lustrous silk-like DK yarn, so any DK will do, Rowan Pure Wool DK would be an economical alternative, or go for a luxury silk blend, but choose a smooth, sleek, calm yarn.  I say this because the icing on the cake is of course the enormous last layer I added – Kidsilk Haze.  Crochet takes a lot of yarn by the way, I used simply masses.  Oh but it’s worth it, it’s so opulent, dramatic and warm!  I defy you to wear this and not feel like a Hollywood diva, I did, even in the garden, in my black tee-shirt and tartan PJ bottoms, carefully out of shot…

Once I wore it to a Rowan ‘do’ where one had, as a Rowan person, to wear a Rowan ‘garment’ – I decided that since this boa used more yarn than a cardigan, I’d wear this, strictly speaking not allowed, but time was ever short.  Anyway, I wore it over a black number for the ‘champagne’ reception on the evening preceding the workshop that was to follow all weekend.  Rain of the Biblical variety that Yorkshire and Somerset do so well, had kept about half the guests away, but some struggled in.  Including – wait for this:  The Glitter Knitter!  yes, The Glitter Knitter is a lovely celebrity (male) yarn store owner in America – it’s either Minneapolis or Minnesota – and he’d come over to the UK for a knitting tour with his Posse of Glitter Knitters.  Well, he literally cantered across the almost empty gallery, skidded to an elegant halt in front of me and gathered hand-fulls of my boa – I was still wearing it –  to his manly breast (which was in turn adorned with three layers of hand-knit metallic yarn vests…).  Oh!  he crooned, I adore your boa!  Startled, I may have taken a step back and made the UK-wide gesture that indicates:  ‘personal space’.  I can’t help it, I want to be all continental but I’m so English, I think I really ought to get a grant and a guide to show people round me.  I mention this encounter in order to prepare you for the reaction your boa may provoke, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Hope you enjoy it.

Finally, next Saturday I am teaching here at Court Cottage, a workshop dedicated to Christmas decorations, favours and tiny gifts.  It’s been full for weeks but now someone has, for very understandable reasons, sadly dropped out so there is one space.  If you want to come and knit sparkly gift-bags, icicles dripping with sequins in the shape of snow-flakes and other delicious little trinkets, eat dark chocolate cake and generally play with us, book your place here.

Here are some of the little trinkets I am designing:

A little starry stitch bag with a sprinkling of beads that look like the silver balls your aunt and Nigella Lawson put on trifles, the former because one always does and the latter ‘cos it’s retro chic.  I have chosen a monochrome colourway.  The idea however, is that each knitter chooses a colour scheme and sequins and beads, naturally and makes a few decorations here with me, then takes the pattern sheets and yarns home to make a lot more!

Workshop news

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I have 3 Court Cottage workshops already available for 2012, in January (fully booked), March and April.  I have now added a fourth – and I think, final 2012 workshop – for 20 October 2012, here.

I really love teaching here and this first year has been amazing, busy and so enjoyable.  It adds a very new dimension to my ‘normal’ teaching which I do in indi yarn shops, local to me, i.e., in the south west of England.  I’d like to say a huge thank-you to the lovely participants who have come here and who are coming to the next few Court Cottage workshops this month, next month and in 2012.  The October 2012 event may well be the last one I offer for next year, but in case others do pop up, keep an eye on the courses page and the blog!


Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

That’s what I feel when someone knits who didn’t knit before I taught them, or someone improves who mightn’t have done so before.  Or when someone moves a little out of their comfort zone and achieves something that pleases them and makes them proud. 

Wait.  We’re talking about knitting here, right?  Not medical research or Olympic gold?  Yes, it’s *only* knitting, but yet it’s much more than that.  Because knitting is – or was, it’s not now so much – a solitary activity that women, mainly, carried out at the end of a busy day of domestic labour, in order to produce practical, economical and warm clothing for their families, knitting wasn’t really valued.  As you can see from my knitting, issues of practicality and thrift are not at the top of my ‘essential qualities’ list when designing.  What is M&S for?  Yes, that’s right, M&S is for undies, posh ready meals and practical knits that would bore you to weeping if you had to knit it, but yet you still need sweaters and jackets like that.  Go to M&S! 

So, I don’t need to knit bottle green pixie-hoods for my daughter to wear at school, as my mother did (though the amusement value of making one and then attempting to get Lily to wear it with her pony-tail threaded through a pony-tail hole at the top of the pixie-peak was almost overwhelming;  did anyone else ever have these knitted for them?  I actually loved mine, aside from the itchy feeling you got under your chin due to the woollen knitted strap, because I could swish my pony-tail about as I cantered off to school pretending to be a horse on the telly programme – White Horses!  remember that?  Downside was that to get the pony tail high enough up your scalp to reach the hole in the hood, your mum had to brush your hair really hard for 10 minutes dragging it incrementally higher with each sweep, until your face was distorted and pulled so tight it looked like a thousand face-lifts had been performed and you could scarcely blink or quite close your mouth.  Also, a pony tail that comes out of a hole in your hat is far more swishy than a naked pony tail.  I wonder why?  Discuss).

Sorry, minor diversion…So now I knit, as do most of the people I know who knit, because I love the process and I like the feeling that I have knitted something that I couldn’t have bought.  I know you can buy a pair of mass produced mitts from Primarni, but you and I also know they will actually squeak when in use, crafted from pure acrylic as they are, and that if you attempted to wash them, they’d turn into a little ball of slime.  Nice.  So we knit things that we enjoy making and wearing.  Enjoying the making is crucial.  I have never been someone who longs for a project to be over, other than for reasons of vanity, because I want to wear it.  I actually enjoy the process of spending time on the knitting.  Once the adrenaline rush of buying the pattern and the yarn has passed, once the excitement of casting on – that most addictive of all the stages in knitting – is past, I like actually knitting away steadily at my work and I know I’m not alone.  Now, read that last sentence again and imagine a non-knitter reading it and their reaction – adrenaline?  excitement?  But here, it’s just you and me, and we get it.

Someone who has bought a knitting kit from me, and then very sweetly blogged about it, mentioned that she enjoyed the making.  That’s it!  That’s exactly it!  Of course, I sometimes, as you do, wish a bit of knitting was over, think:  my goodness, this picot cast-off is a lot of Miss Marples episodes on Sky +… that sort of thing.  But actually, I like knitting.  If I was on a very, very tight knitting budget I’d knit in 4 ply wool and 4 ply cotton because you can get really good quality 4 ply at a bargain price – and it lasts for ages.  I love finishing things – obviously as I now seem to knit mainly swatches, this is less frequent – but mainly I love the process, repetitive though it is.  In fact, that’s what I love the most.  Repetitive, soothing work with my hands, mind free (other than the tricky bits) for some audio-book or just thoughts.  This is why so many of my designs feature ‘action’ rows and then a fair few ‘resting’ rows.  That’s the rhythm.

Last week I went away with some knitting chums for 3 days in Dorset.  There were 6 of us, and we stayed at the foot of Golden Cap.  It was, and I am not exaggerating, heaven.  We laughed, talked non-stop, 2 of us did some epic running – slow but mighty, UP to the top of Golden Cap – and we knitted.  And I am really proud of all their knitting, on their behalf, though I can take no credit for it.  Like any group, this one features knitters at different stages in their knitting, ranging from very prolific through to occasional.  But all the knitting was beautiful and (aside maybe from the picot cast-offs!) it was enjoyable and fun.  No, in fact that’s not entirely true.  I was attempting to knit a sparkly Christmas bauble, knitted in the round, around a polystyrene ball.  That was not super-fun.  I re-named this piece, but I can’t publish its new name as it’s rude, if accurate.

There is one knitter amongst us who doesn’t knit a lot.  Yet she finished a really lovely scarf, beaded, felted and frilled.  That’s a lot of activity for a novice knitter to embrace.  I am so proud of her!  As someone who has little time to knit and no knitting pals close by to help and encourage, it would have been so easy for her to pack it away and never complete it.  But no, she has worked away at this scarf and the work is lovely, as is the final result.  Oh, I’m not saying there weren’t a few curses along the way, because I witnessed some of them.  But still, she (mainly) enjoyed the process, slow though it was, and she made a lovely, unique thing.   Didn’t matter if it was slow, did it?  It’s gorgeous.  Here is the work when it was in progress:

In other news I am knitting sparkly things for Christmas, for the workshop on 5 November.  At this event we will knit many decorations and favours, including tiny sparkly gift-bags for the tree or table, and icicles with snow-flake sequins!  My glitter gene is in over-drive, can you imagine?


22 October Knitted Christmas Gift course – a place is now available

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Just a quick post to say that a very late drop-out on the course on 22 October has freed up a space which I’d love to fill with a happy, laid-back knitter seeking same.  It’s like a knitting dating agency here.  You can book here.

This is a repeat of the day on 8 October which was also sold out, and we had an awesome day, knitting swatches, learning the skills for the projects and casting on a real-life project in the afternoon.  Yes, there were beads and sequins, we’re not barbarians!  Oh and there was Chocolate and Guinness cake… as there will be next time!


In other news, I am now away on a knitting retreat in Dorset.  No doubt I will have some news for you on this when I get back.  My luggage:  1 pair of jeans;  1 pair of black trousers;  1 set of running gear;  3 tee-shirts;  1 pair of shoes;  eleventy-million balls of yarn!

Random musings; and dachshund matters

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

I have 2 mini-Dachshunds as regular readers might know.  Rupert, Senor (senior) Dachshund, who is almost 8;  and Arthur, his little half-brother who is almost 3.  Dachshunds are odd little dogs.  I also think they are quite addictive, charming and, at times, incredibly exasperating.  To be fair this is just Rupert.

Rupert is clever.  Well, he’s smarter than Arthur.  Arthur, bless him, does not have the smarts, but he was right at the front of the ‘good looking’ queue.  Rupert is in fact less clever, more cunning.  Despite some serious health issues and several bouts of surgery, he can, when food is the goal, achieve athletic feats that ordinarily he’d refuse and anyway, I would never permit.  Rupert, remember, is the dog who scaled a bean-bag and a book case, in a sealed room, to steal, eat and then be separated from, later at the vets, a chocolate Easter egg.  This is the dog who now the apples are falling – and boy have they fallen this year, a bumper crop from all 4 massive trees – sprints out each morning to snaffle a juicy apple and scoff it down before I can catch him.  So every day, I schlep eleventy-hundred apples off the lawn and borders, to try and stop this gluttony.  Yet, he knows that come the dawn, more will have fallen…it’s an unequal battle.

Last week, I made some pie-filling and left it to cool, on what I assumed was a Rupert-proof spot.  I took a phone call in the hall, about 2 meters from the kitchen.  In that instant, Rupert was off his bed, onto a chair, onto a table and from there, a dresser.  To reach the food.  I came back in, only to see Arthur innocent but still anxious, because he knows this is bad and he fears he may be implicated, scuttling away, while Rupert, Senor Dach, just glances at me and only accelerates his speed of eating in order to neck down as much as possible before I snatch it away, scoop him up, scold and ground him.  He looks at me sideways, with a sly and knowing face.  He is thinking:  why? why take it from me when you know that what is left must now be thrown away?  Why not just give it to me, eh? 

When I scold him, and despite family legend that I don’t, I do scold him, he sulks.  He actually turns away from me, not just his face but his whole body.  Some hours later, when my wrath has cooled, I end up apologising to him.  Hmmm.  When Arthur, puppy-gorgeous and tiny, arrived, Rupert being then 5 years old, Rupert did not speak to me or scarcely even look at me, for several weeks.  In  my office, Arthur would roll about on the huge double Dach-bed I prepared and gaze with love and longing at his brother, while Rupert would lie with his nose pressed right into the crack of the closed door, in what must have been a very uncomfortable pose, with his back-side firmly pointed at me.  Calling, cuddling, petting, fussing – all only made him more implacable.

He did come round, but my, it did take weeks. 

They are also stubborn and vocal.  However, they are such loving dogs, so loyal and funny, as they bustle about, a metaphorical clip board under a metaphorical arm, pencil behind ear, checking everything is as it should be.  In the mornings, they patrol the boundaries of the garden.  It’s a big garden and to a Dachshund, legs 6 inches long at best, it’s mahoosive.  Rupert leads, Arthur ever the follower, like elephants they scoot along the paths, monitor the gates, venture through tall grasses and flower beds (eat apples), until they are satisfied that, for now, all is well.  Our garden is at above-pavement level.  The lawn and borders mainly end at about shoulder-height to the pedestrians outside.  Concealed behind a thick hedge, 2 Dachshunds can cause grown men to leap into the road, small children to shriek and weep, and other dogs to perform hysterical acrobatics, when my boys unleash a volley of sharp yapping right into the ears of the passers by, at head height.  I have been forced, for my sanity and that of the village, to install tall fences in the worst areas of the garden.  I’m not joking. 

Anyway, here are some gratutitous Dachshund shots:

This is Rupert, dozing in my arms, on the evening of the pie-filling incident.  And this is the pair of them:

Roo in the front, saying:  yeah?  wanna make something of it?  With Arthur behind, saying:  love me!  please love me!  I do, I love them both.

Other musings.  You know you live in rural Somerset when there is a van that lives in your village bearing the legend:  Elver Nets Made To Order.

And finally, this made me laugh so much (or it would have, had I had any breath to laugh at the time).  At the recent Sportive in the New Forest, we cycled slowly, for it was a lengthy hill, past a chap who was competing in the ‘Fun Cycle Race’ – still 40 miles long – with his 2 teenage daughters.  One was stoically grinding her way up, the other needed some encouragement.  Dad circles back to her and says, in a good natured way:  come on love, get it into the middle ring (a gearing reference).  Daughter, with no raised voice or much bitterness and more to herself than him:  I could be at home.  I could be watching telly…I could be at home.  I could be watching telly…

Little Wooden Hill Baby Blanket kit now available; and other kit news

Monday, October 10th, 2011

There is a new kit available, it is the Little Wooden Hill Baby Blanket, a small but perfectly formed moses basket or pram blanket.  You can view the details here.

I really like this sort of knitting.  Fairly easy but not boring, because there is something happening most of the time.  Happily, this activity quickly becomes really obvious.  The finished blanket is lovely and drapey, very pretty and actually very practical, as both the yarn – Rowan Handknit DK Cotton – and the beads, can be machine washed at 40 degrees.

An item of feedback from a customer has flooded in.  She makes the very good point that none of the kits on the site is really, really easy, and that she’d like to maybe buy kits for knitters she knows who are learning, just past the knit/purl point but not confident about beads, cables etc.

However, I feel that a kit that just says:  here’s some wool, cast on and do garter stitch (or something) is maybe not that attractive, yet I also think she is right in her assessment.  So I am working on a 3-part kit, called Three Easy Pieces, which comes with 3 patterns, all unisex scarves, using Cocoon and Kidsilk Haze.  Pattern 1 is really, really easy with a tiny bit of design and lots of easy knitting.  Pattern 2 is easy, with a tiny bit more ‘content’.  And Pattern 3 is still easy but with a little more technique added.  The kit will include enough Cocoon and KSH to do one of the scarves, but the knitter then has all the patterns and can move on to the next and so on.  What do you think?  I love getting feedback by the way, direct on this blog or via email.  Designing is something I’ve done for some years now – but selling kits is new, so please tell me your thoughts.

Embrace the inner nerd

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Hello, my name is Alison and I’m a nerd.

Well, I feel better already!  Nerds.  Come on, if you’re a nerd or you think you might be, or you live with one, let’s get together and embrace our nerdiness.  I have always been on the nerdy end of the cool spectrum.  At school, a plump, eager, keen-bean.  I remember – and this makes even me with my fairly high levels of cringe tolerance feel my toes curl – I remember petitioning the Head of Music because pupils weren’t allowed to be in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society until the Third Year, and I was in the First Year.  (This by the way, for the benefit of less-fossilised readers was the way we used to attend secondary school, your first year being the originally titled First Year and the last being known as the Upper Sixth).  Once admitted to the G&S Club, I was a very enthusiastic sister, cousin or aunt, a fairy, a pirate’s lass, a bridesmaid…I painted sets too, and sold tickets, attended every single rehearsal and went into a theatrical decline after the shows were over.

I auditioned for every school play and threw myself into the roles of middle aged wife (When We Were Married) or spoiled daughter (Hobson’s Choice) and so on.  I sang in the choirs, played hockey even when it wasn’t compulsory, formed clubs where one was needed, along with my other nerdy pals, such as The Tramping Club.  Oh lol, as The Young say nowadays.  Lol indeed.  The Tramping Club was a club dedicated to walking, or ‘going for a tramp’ as our founder called it, a girl who was in the year above me and whose name I now forget but who made me look apathetic, so vibrant was her enthusiasm for simply everything!

I attended Barn Dances, along with a friend of mine who may be reading, and I loved those too, despite there being no or few boys to dance with.  I wore long dresses that my mother made.  When I tell my daughters this, they roar, because you see it makes it sound like a Jane Austin novel, but really, it was just great fun.  I could no more make them a long dress than they’d consent to wear it and I can see they pity me for this past of cringing nerdiness.  I also went to ‘discos’, I wasn’t a complete loser and in my rebellious phase, I even started going to the Rock Street Youth Club and fell in love with soul music (even this archaic reference makes Florence and Lily roll their eyes and sigh).  I was so nerdy, I just collected whatever genre of fashion, music, activity and so on attracted me at that time but I never dropped any of my old ones. 

I loved school, I just loved everything about it.  Until the A levels.  But I’m going to gloss over that though because by then the school was different and yes, I know geoggers was a mistake as my third choice, OK?

Happily, my youngest daughter has inherited my nerdiness.  Her school blazer is so festooned with badges (Prefect, Head’s Team Leader, Ambassador, House Captain, SoS Team, Hockey, Netball…), all worn on the right lapel, she lists…I’m very proud.

Current examples of my nerdiness abound, here are a few.  First – and now I am typing this to you, fair and reasonable reader – I feel foolish, but here it is anyway: it’s recycling.  Oh dear, nerdy and mad, I hear you sigh as you switch to the Facebook screen and leave me.  But the things is, recycling has assumed disproportionate -um – proportions in my routine.  Each week, we have to sort, sift, rinse, separate, scrutinise, co-ordinate, schedule-check, schlep and generally interact more with our rubbish than seems quite healthy.  We’ve always composted, done cardboard, paper, glass and so on.  But now, now we have the neo-Fascistic recycling system of a petty tin-pot  (you have separated that tin from the pot, right?) business, for a business is what it is, with us as its unpaid recycling fools.  While I resent having to spend so long with my packaging, peering at microscopic writing or worse, symbols, to perceive if the Waste Partnership chaps will consent to take it away, once I have washed, dried and polished it, I also recognised this new regime as a nerding opportunity. 

Yes, the recycling offers some great opportunities for my inner nerd to break out.  There are the boxes to be labelled:  Brown for cooked food waste, which is clearly gross but anyway…, black box for plastic, tins and card, green box for glass, paper and tin foil, and the large black bin with wheels for anything that is not the above or garden waste.  Then there is the timetable to be tackled, which weeks do they take it all, which only some of it?  Clearly what we needed was a series of training sessions, with notes, for the family. I’m not joking.  It went quite well although we have had to re-visit the ‘what is tin and what is foil?’ area with 2 remedial sessions. 

I’m also a swatch nerd.  I think I probably knit at least 2 swatches most days, days when I don’t being workshop days or days when I do my other jobs.  Here is my latest batch:

Texture is usually my favourite area of exploration.  Texture, yarn-blending and colour.  Not colour in the intarsia or Fair-isle sense because I don’t enjoy that sort of knitting and so I don’t design any.  I like to mix and oppose colours.  Above, from L to R is the large cream sample which is a swatch knitted in Kidsilk Haze and Cocoon, 2 very different yarns.  I have used the puff-ball stitch from Bubble Pop Electric and then sections of lightly beaded KSH, all knitted on the large (7mm) needles that Cocoon is knitted with.

Top left is a small section of Kidsilk Haze knitted with Fine lace and embellished with droplets of bronze beads at the cast-on edge.  Here is further detail:

This is knitted on a bigger gauge than I think I will eventually use but anyway, the interesting section of this larger swatch is the tweedy section where the 2 yarns – KSH and Fine Lace – are mixed.  This is achieved by swapping yarns and wrapping, which in practice just means moving the working yarn to the front or the back.  It’s easy and rather fun.  I have also changed this stitch to convert it to be knitted in the round and this works really well apart from the ‘jog’ at the beginning and end of the rounds.  Because of the yarn-switching and wrapping, the ‘jog’ is really obvious.  A solution may be to make a feature of it, with an eyelet worked on each side, or I could introduce 2 or 3 plain panels in one shade, like vertically running stripes, I suppose.  I wish to make mittens with a fully fitted thumb.  Any advice welcome. 

In the far LH bottom corner you can also see a curved swatch.  This is a section of the Cloud stitch that I have designed for a little pair of mitts, only I wanted to see if I could make it work in the round.  I can!  I know!  This of course opens up a whole new world of applications. 

Here are some tiny swatches I knitted prior to this weekend’s workshop here.  This was yesterday and it was lovely.  The knitters got to choose one gift-knit pattern, and the day was based on knitting a detailed swatch – a snap-shot of the design, with all its featured packed into what amounts to about half a day of knitting per swatch.  Mastered, they then choose their real yarns and cast on the project for real, or, they can elect to knit another swatch so they master 2 designs in 1 day.  You can see tiny fragments of Le Marais cuffs and Cloud Mitts.

And finally my new obsession, a puffed stitch (the brown KSH) framed in this piece by creamy Fine Lace.  Unusually for me I neglected to write the whole thing down so later, I’ll be swatching it again.  I’d like a scarf or comforter along these lines. 

All my swatches are noted in my book, and I often knit 2 or 3 of the same one only varying the yarns, gauge, shades and so on.  If a swatch is ‘bad’ I know at once and I throw it away but I keep the notes.  The rest are all stapled into one of my note books and the notes kept.  I am now on Book 5 by the way and the rate of book usage has jumped markedly since last October when the previous occupants of the linen cupboard moved out and I moved in all by myself.  I then type the notes and file them on my computer, but I reckon only about 25% of the designs in the books make it that far.  Still, they’re all there, waiting, should I need them.

Nerdy?  Yes, and proud!

Back from the forest

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I adore the New Forest.  It’s just so lovely there, busy I grant you, but still big enough to seem un-cluttered.  And on a weekend such as the one we just had, it was actually perfect:

This is taken from the footpath to Bucklers Hard, which is a tiny village that once built ocean-going sailing ships. 

We were in Hampshire for another cycling Sportive, this time, 66 miles of very lovely cycling all over the New Forest, and in perfect conditions.  It was very hot, but when you’re cycling, you generate your own chill-factor as you (theoretically) zoom along at a great speed.  Once we stopped, which we did 3 times, twice for the feed-stations and once for a puncture, we realised how scorching it had become.  And the sense of elation when we completed the ride was immense.  I never, in my wildest dreams, believed that I’d be able to cycle that far in one go.  I’ve always cycled but in a sit-up-and-beg sort of way.  When the girls were small, I’d cycle round Burnham-on-Sea where we lived with them in the  kiddy seat on the back and I’d often cycle on my own for ‘fun’, maybe going 5 or 6 miles.  Then some years back, I got very keen and started cycling quite a long way on my (then) mountain bike.  I had a series of rides varying in length from 8 miles to 20 miles that I’d do depending on how I felt and the time I had available.  Mark joined me, and the real turning point was switching to road bikes – the ones with skinny tyres and drop handle-bars.  Honestly, if you like cycling but have never tried a road bike, have a go on one – you can borrow mine for a spin – ‘cos they are like magic carpets, compared to mountain bikes.

When I look back on going from a bicycle potterer to cycling a Sportive, I recognise a significant factor.  I am ready to admit that I have the sort of personality that can obsessively fix on an activity I enjoy and really pursue it.  Knitting, for example.  When I started (I should say re-started) knitting many years ago, tutored and encouraged by an expert knitting friend of mine, I knew almost at once that I was going to become obsessed with this activity.  When I went on my first Rowan weekend workshop, in Holmfirth, I knew then that it would become more than a ‘hobby’.  I had no idea how this would take place, indeed I am not sure if  it was even as conscious as I have indicated by using the word ‘knew’.  I can only describe it as a feeling in my tummy accompanied by a babble of ideas and thoughts in my brain, which I am aware sounds a bit vague.  I think my friend also realised that, in re-introducing me to knitting and especially to Rowan yarns, she had unleashed something of a force.  Or, as she once put it, when apologising to Mark for the arrival at Crowther-Smith Towers of yet another vast consignment of yarn:  I’ve created a monster.

So with the cycling, I got it fixed in my mind, about a year ago, that we should take part in an organised ‘race’, and Sportives are perfect if, like us, you are not in a cycling club, and aren’t really competitive with anything other than the course and the times you can cycle it in.  In a Sportive, you usually get to choose the length of the course – and we were riding the ‘standard’ course at 66 miles, the ‘epic’ course was 100 miles long – and then you get started in groups of about 20 riders.  A timing chip on your helmet triggers your start and finish time, so you’re not racing the pack, you’re racing the course.  This is ideal for me as this way, I can stay calm as the packs literally stream past me even though they clearly started minutes after. 

The race topped off a perfect weekend – our anniversary weekend – in which we stayed in a really lovely B&B, evidence of its perfection is here:

The hooks in the bathroom!  Anyone who has these has also a great B&B.  You just know.  It was simply lovely, a 2 storey stable, which gives you complete privacy, with a ‘den’ sitting room on the ground floor and the en-suite bedroom and kitchenette upstairs.  Compare and contrast this experience with our last stay in the Inn From Hell.  This time, kind and happy hosts, breakfast, even a very early one on the Sunday – an essential element in a B&B especially before a big race, yet lacking last time – and a refuge for a fantastic weekend away from it all.  If you want the name, contact me.  I’m not broadcasting it, it’s mine, precious is all mine…ahem, sorry.

I’m afraid I’ve got post-Sportive blues.  After training hard and actually dreading it, I now find I want to do another one!  Happily this weekend I am teaching a workshop here at Court Cottage, so that will re-focus me nicely.  To prepare for this, I have been slowly mucking out the workshop room (dining room, work-room) and I have unearthed more evidence of my obsessive ways:  The Swatches.  Oh my, it really is an obsession, I now swatch every day!  This may explain the slow output, but I love experimenting and playing about with the ideas that are yelling at the tops of their voices in my head, partly because this yields the best results for me and also because I have to get them out of there and quell the din!

Oh and I’ve been listening to John le Carre novels, read by Michael Jayston.  I love them.  However, please stand by for my next few drops (posts) to be peppered with the language of the spooks (spy).