Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for February, 2012

Going underground

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Right, I’m going to bore you with my new hobby. Caving.  What I am going to say will possibly make experienced cavers smile and I am aware that my little victories are indeed small, but this is my perspective from the view point of a very recent and very inexperienced convert.  Before you read on (if you do), let me show you this:

These are cave pearls. 

A recent addition to Things I Can Get Obsessive About has arrived in the dark and painful form of caving.  My older daughter, at university in Exeter, is an avid caver having joined the caving society at uni.  Recently, she and a friend who is a cave-leader (I know! But no, it’s not Barney Rubble.  Nor am I am Thelma), invited me and a friend of mine to try an introductory caving trip in Devon.  This we enthusiastically did, spending about 2.5 hours underground, wriggling, crawling, squeezing, climbing and getting more muddy and wet than I could have believed possible. 

Now bear in mind that this was an introductory cave – as Barney calls it, a ‘sacrificial cave’ – the sort of cave that freshers, scouts and school trips might try, although we went further and longer than these trips would.  This is Very Hard Work.  It’s about as far from a tour-guide of the caves at Cheddar or Wookey Hole as you can get.  From the moment you enter the cave, you’re on your belly simply in order to get into the cave-mouth.  None of us is claustrophobic, because if you are even a bit, caving is obviously not going to work. 

Much later, I emerged blinking into the daylight of a frosty, snowy February Devon day and, like Toad, sitting in the road and staring after the dust of a passing motor-car, I knew I was hooked.  Cold, wet to my skin despite the cave suit, shaky, starving – but hooked.  This was moderated somewhat the next day when I found:  a)  eleventy-hundred bruises;  b) extreme difficulty in walking/moving, due to the penetrating all-over muscle ache.  I am a sports enthusiast.  I love running and cycling, I love attending classes at the gym, especially those based on weights and marshall/fighting arts.  The more energetic the better for me.  Yoga and I are on a (permanent) break.  Don’t mention this to yoga if you bump into him, I will tell him but just not right now.  I’ve been called a sports junkie and  I think it’s true, although I choose to accept it as a statement reflective of the facts, rather than the criticism that is often intended.  So to spend 2.5 hours underground in admittedly alien conditions, and using my body in ways it’s not accustomed to was something I knew would be a stretch but I didn’t expect it to floor me.  But as Barney says:  you’re fit, but you’re not cave-fit.

I’m also more mature than the typical caving recruit. My body is less accommodating and slower to recover than it was when I was 22.  This plus the caution that comes with the passing years, makes me a more reflective caver than they are.  Or to put it another way, I can’t afford to break a hip.  But still, my body will run 10 miles or more without a stop if I command it to, assuming I do my bit by tending, feeding, resting, stretching and training it.  My body will (with bad grace, I admit) cycle 70 miles in a day if I ask this of it, the same terms and conditions applying of course.  What I am asking of it in a cave is slightly different.  I don’t bounce, I can’t sprint along tiny boulder-strewn passages bent double, I am an un-confident climber unlike my goat-like friend who amazes me with her speed and courage, and I’m an even more scaredy-cat descender.  I gravitate to crevices and then have to wrench my bits and pieces out, I note that I have a default setting:  can I do this on my bum?  And I swear, a bit, but only to myself.  But I’m learning to try a new kind of adventure, one in which you enter this semi-secret world and ask your body – and perhaps more especially, your mind – to just let you go a bit further, do a bit more than you both thought possible.

Yesterday we went caving again to a much bigger cave system (although we only tried a fairly small part of it due to the time it takes – me, that is).  This was a step up from the first cave.  Quite a big step for me.  This one, rather than the cartoon-perfect cave-mouth of the first, involves a descent of about 200m on 2 ladders down a shaft to reach the first passage.  Daunting, especially when you bear in mind that you need enough reserves to climb back up after your trip.  Down in  this cave, the chambers are bigger and there are more of them, but the passages are smaller and there was a lot of sliding down and climbing back up.  At one stage (OK, about 10 times) I may have said to Barney:  I think we have to stop now as I will not be able to get back up this bit.  This might be at, say, a section where I have descended for a while, with my legs on one ‘wall’, and my back on the other, sliding and wriggling side-ways.  Barney always said:  you’ll be fine.  Of course, I didn’t believe him.  I believed that he believed, or at least hoped it was true, but I knew it wasn’t.  I only carried on, at least twice, because of the others and because I didn’t really seem to have any other option. 

He was right.  With help in places (but caving really is a team activity) I did make it over, under and through the physical challenges that I was sure would stop me.  I think there are 2 elements to this:  1 is what Barney calls cave-fitness and awareness;  and 2nd is attitude.  I am more confident now.  I am very impressed by how patient The Young People are with us, especially with me as the Senorita Caver.  And despite their youth they instill in us a sense of trust that, were it missing, would make even trying a baby cave impossible for me.  There are 3 more caves planned in the next 2 – 3 months.  A cave a month is probably enough for me.  For now…isn’t it lucky that I do not have an obsessive/addictive personality type…?

Why am I doing this?  I asked this question of myself several times yesterday.  If I’m honest, it’s partly because at the moment I can, but in maybe 10 years, I possibly couldn’t or simply wouldn’t.  But the thing is, if you enjoy cycling, say, and you’ve cycled for many years, it’s highly likely that in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, you will still be cycling.  But, if you decided to take up cycling for the first time in your 70s, it’s going to be much harder.  So my attitude is:  start now!  Don’t wait.  Mind you, I’m like this with everything, I never save things for ‘best’.  If I get a new dress, I wear it.  If there is something on my plate that I like a lot, I eat it first.  If I get a new yarn, I cast it on.  I do not want the first time I wear that ‘special’ outfit to be the day when I’m buried in it.

That I can cave at all, after a fashion, is appealing.  I absolutely love learning and doing new things.  It’s also really beautiful, underground.  And mysterious.  Yesterday we saw a nest of cave pearls, much smaller and simpler than the picture above.  I expect this is not unusual, but to me it was amazing.  There was a small circular scoop – a ‘nest’ – that had been worn away by dripping water on a plane of  gently  sloping rock.  In this ‘nest’ were several dozen very small smooth, pearl-like stones, all being jostled and moved about every time the drops of water landed in the middle of the nest.  Two had bounced right out and were lying beside the nest, but we didn’t touch them or put them back because you are not supposed to make any impact on the caves.  They are not stones.  Like real pearls, they are formed around another object – a grain of stone, or something tiny.  Then a layer of calcite forms around it, as it is moved about by the dripping water in the little pool or nest, layer after layer, with the constant movement smoothing and polishing the ‘pearl’. If a cave pearl is removed from its place, and taken outside and dried out, it will degrade and ‘die’.  How terrible, to ‘kill’ a cave pearl that had been decades in the making.

So whilst I am enjoying the physical and mental challenges, if not the bruises, I think for me caving will be far more about wonderment and awe. Everywhere you look, you see amazing things that I do not think I would ever take for granted no matter how many caves I might do.  We have 3 more caves planned into the spring and early summer when we plan to start exploring the Mendip caves that are after all, almost on my doorstep.  Whilst I will never be a true dare-devil, I am conquering some fears, learning a huge amount and enjoying this privilege while I can.  Plus, it’s just such amazing fun! Major down-side:  as this trip was planned round some other activities (seeing a group of friends, shopping, eating, drinking etc) and then I kind of ‘owed’ Mark a cycling day once I got back, I did not knit a stitch in 3 days!  I have however now had my nails re-done (note to prospective cavers, real cavers can look away now:  one can cave in Marigolds!  totally works, I recommend the more expensive soft-lined kind) and tonight I will be resuming knitting frilly loveliness.  I like that juxtaposition of activities.

Crochet at Court Cottage, 22 September 2012

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Hands up those who fear the crochet?  Crochet phobia is a hidden syndrome for many knitters, who may hide their phobic feelings or even express them in aggressive ways, such as crochet-harming and hook abuse.  I know, because I was once a crochet-phobic knitter.  Which was awkward when I was a Rowan Design Consultant as we were kind of supposed to be able to do crochet.  I had, before my Rowan time, even signed up for a couple of local workshops during which I learned almost nothing that stuck.  This was not really the tutor’s fault, I just don’t have a crochet mind.  I have a knitting mind.  Oh, I learned how to do some pretty basic stuff, looking on-line, perching books on my lap while I contorted my face, hands and body into crocheting-style positions.  These, for me, are disturbing, awkward claw-like hand shapes, accompanied by grotesque shoulder-hunching and facial expressions that suggest I might be trying not to detonate a bomb that I am holding in my right hand, while defusing it with my left.  Fear.  With added tongue-poking.

These attributes may not make me the natural first choice to teach crochet.  It’s OK, I won’t be teaching, I have secured the guest-tutoring skills of Donna Jones, Dr Donna, pattern checker to the confused, awesome creative and epic crocheter.  Donna taught me to crochet.  After the first few awkward moments, when I somehow got stitches on my hook (I have no idea), kept trying to knit, kept putting the yarn in the wrong place…I finally listened to what Dr had to say and lo, it was good.  One of the things I appreciated most was that Donna never once openly laughed at my torment and also, detecting my resistance to conventional teaching strategies, she kept on with others until the penny dropped and I stopped rocking and mumbling. 

This will be an introductory event, suitable for someone who has never crocheted or who has done it but has forgotten most of it, or who is self-video-YouTube-taught and wants to get a firm grip on the basics.  So the day will start with Donna showing us how to crochet right from the very start – making a chain, and then learning all the basic stitches.  What I think can often go wrong with crochet is keeping the numbers correct.  I think this because I have made quite a few weirdly slopey bits of so-called square or oblong crochet in my time , partly because I just didn’t recognise the stitches or know how to count them.  De-mystifying this aspect will happen fairly early on in the day, followed by increasing skills (on purpose) and then a bit of fancy edging learning, on the very easy side of the crochet spectrum. 

After that, you get to choose your project yarns and make a twirly crochet scarf in Rowan Pure Wool DK edged in Kidsilk Haze, with a scallopy fancy-shmanchy edge!  All of which will be practised before you depart. 

I do not think I will ever be more keen or even as keen, on the crochet as I am on the knitting.  But it’s a great skill to have in your repertoire and if nothing else, you may get to glimpse me, hunched and drooling in a corner as I make my own twirly scarf.  You can secure your opportunity to see this by booking here.

Gershwin and the ballet

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Last night we went to see English National Ballet dance Strictly Gershwin.  Really, with that music, a fabulous band – on stage – and some gorgeous dresses, you can’t go wrong.

 The best part, without a doubt, was the orchestra, seen above behind the dancers and led by the most energetic conductor I have ever seen.  He had his own little dance routines! 

It was a bit disjointed, with neither the sense of  ‘story’ that you get in a conventional ballet – even if, as with Matthew Bourne, it’s unconventionally staged – or the sense of an entirely un-linked series of 3 short ballets, as often staged by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  There was also 4 vocalists, who were not bad and 1 of the women had a lovely second-soprano voice; and, though it seemed bizarre at first, we had 2 tap dancers 1 of whom also sang, very well, ‘A Foggy Day’, which I did not know was Gershwin! But then, when you think of Hollywood musicals and Fred and Ginger, you can’t leave out tap dancing, can you?  It was better once they took off the silver and black striped jackets and just danced in the matching waistcoats, shirts, ties and trousers.  It was still murmuring: marrow;  or maybe humbug, but it was better.  

I felt, here and there, as if they had assessed the chief touring company opposition (New Adventures, I’d have thought) and gone:  OK, Matthew does awfully well with kitsch, gay and quirky, let’s try that!  But they didn’t abandon en pointe, as he does, or quite ‘let go’.  Which is fine, they aren’t Matthew Bourne, they are ENB and they’re fab.  The only time I have seen real elegance teamed with abandon, doom and grit, is in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella and you’d have to go a long way to top that.

Both acts flew by and you did lose yourself, lots of handbags were tapped and toes politely wiggled.  No-one is going to book this under the illusion that it will be testing or dark.  It was light, sparkly, frothy and fun.  I call that a good Valentine’s night out.

And next time I go to the theatre it will be to see The King’s Speech in Bath next week;  and after that it’s Spamalot, I think!

Love: it’s Dachshund shaped!

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Me: OK February, we meet again. 


Me: so, is it fourth time lucky?


Me: like, every year, you come around and Rupert has to have surgery. It’s as regular as, um, a calender. Wait, that does make sense, since you’re a calendar month…OK, what I mean is, every year with the surgery, give us a break?


See, that’s what you get when you try and talk to February.  Nada, zilch. Nothing. February doesn’t even have the common decency to reply to this imaginary conversation.

(New Readers:  it’s OK, sometimes she writes about books.  Or knitting).

Rupert, seen here in his study:

is the Senior Dachshund (Senor Dach, as he is known to the staff).  He is also not a well dog, having inherited a very bad dose of what I call the Devil’s Back, a degenerative spinal condition sometimes afflicting shorter-legged and long-backed dogs, but which has been largely bred out of miniature varieties nowadays.  This is one reason why you see so few standard Dachshunds now.  Sadly, despite much research on our part and also a lot of careful handling, Roo appears to be a throw-back. 

4 years ago this month, we first saw the terrible signs of it.  He had surgery.  And there followed a good year, after a long and difficult re-coup.  Almost 12 months to the day, it was back, more surgery, better this time, a very fast recovery and a good year.  Last year, hello February my old friend – yep, bang on, another crisis and an even bigger op this time (all these take place at Langford, Bristol, that place where they filmed the telly programme about vets in training.  It’s an amazing place).  They did an op to not only treat the most recent disc problem but take surgical steps to try and head off further incidents.  And he positively bounced back from that one, no time off his legs, no pain, he totally breezed it.  That’s my boy!

So, you can imagine how I approach February.  I kind of come at it sideways, crab-like, trying not to make eye-contact, for yes, February, she is a cruel month.  Cold, hard, cutting, pale grey and mercifully short.  If I could, I’d approach February from the back – that would of course mean I’d have to time-warp forwards into March, so maybe I’ll just leave that idea there, on the side-board and step away. 

Well, he’s not off his back legs.  However, true to form it’s clear that all is far from well.  The pain is well controlled and he’s comfy.  Family vet, lovely and calm (like me! yes, I AM calm) has been consulted, who in turn has consulted the main Dachshund guy at Langford (yes, I do believe they have 1, isn’t that cool?).  Further surgery hasn’t been ruled out but it’s not a high probability given the scale of the last operation.  I could opt for further tests, chiefly 2 MRI scans, which he’s had before, the first to establish exactly what has happened now and the second MRI 8 weeks later to double check.  The intervening 8 weeks have to be spent cage-resting.  But each MRI involves sedation and a very stressful trip for Rupert.  (Oh, by the way, it’s not the money, thanks be the great god Pet-Plan, boy did they ever back a loser the day they accepted Rupert onto their books!)

So I have decided to cage rest him anyway, and see where we are in 4 weeks, then, if he’s no better at all, get the MRI done.  If he is better, continue with the cage rest.

Now, I have been told to my face and had it hinted at several times, that cage-rest is cruel.  So if that’s your opinion, that’s fine (OK, it’s not really fine but whatever), but I am sure it’s not, if done well and for a specific purpose.  Also, as a young lady he met when he was still a puppy pointed out:  he’s a very lazy dog.  Oh, she was so right.  He is.  They all are, really, lazy, burrowing, snuggling, snoring bed-dwellers.  I know what makes Rupert happy.  I know what makes him sad, mad, anxious, relaxed and cheerful.  It is so simple.  It is this:  love, lack of pain, warmth, softness, food and me.  That’s it.  Sniffing other dogs’ bottoms is of course, a bonus.  And hey!  that’s what Arthur’s bottom is for!  Yes, he’s in a (large, cushioned, with water on-demand) cage.  But he’s also on my lap a lot, or another volunteer lap and he gets carted round like a Chinese Prince-ling.  He can walk this time, but the idea is to minimise this. 

Me: So anyway, February, you can take all that and stuff it up your frozen, heartless spout, because I’m happy to stand on your frosty lawns and help Roo get out for a wee (in other words, try and stop him sprinting after Medlar, whom I suspect of being February’s dark-hearted hand-maiden). 


See?  How rude!

The Paris Wife

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

If you have loved the books of Ernest Hemingway and been fascinated by his life (I have), then you too might enjoy The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. 

Image Detail

It is a novel, but really it serves as an autobiography by proxy as it tells the story in first person of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife – the first of the 4 wives that he got through.  Hadley was also probably the most down-to-earth of his women and it is to her that he owed much of the freedom, strength and opportunity to keep at his writing career in its formative years.

I’m listening to this as an audio book and the recording is good, though the voice of Hemingway is a little forced, since the reader is a woman and she is determined to make him very growly.  I bet her throat really ached after recording this.  What I love best is the background, for most of this, as the title suggests, is set during their years in Paris.  Then Hemingway was basically a jobbing journo, who wrote fiction – stories, poems, novels or outlines – when he had the money to stop writing for papers.  The city, in the early to mid-1920s, comes vividly alive. Post-war European poverty and squalor mingled with the art set with whom the Hemingways socialised. 

I think Hadley was very brave and though she did clearly place his work – his art – way above all else, she loved him very deeply and supported him in every way.  Her life (I also quickly read a proper biography to get the facts straight!) was literally all about him, and when he had an affair and they parted, she was broken.  However, the strength she found to go with him to Europe in the first place, to live as they did and to nurture his career got her through and she went on to marry again, move back to the  States and live to the early 1970s.   I was very happy to learn that the divorce settlement for her was the royalties for The Sun Also Rises, which was fortunate for her.  She also got the film royalties.  Seems only fair.  She kept him for years, on the proceeds of a small trust fund and also paid for their initial move to Paris.

He committed suicide, you know.  As did his father, Hadley’s father and 2 of Hemingway’s siblings.  His final years were horrid, really.  Despite his vile adoration for – addiction to, really – bull fighting, and his immense egotism, I do love some of his novels and have ever since I first read them, when I was about 16 or 17.  I haven’t grown out of them, as you do so often with the things you love as a teenager.  I wish he’d had a happier life, maybe I wish he had stayed with Hadley; but I am sure he wouldn’t have written as he eventually did were it not for her – and also, were it not for leaving her when he did.


As I am listening, I am knitting mittens of course and soon I will have pictures of the final version of the twirl mitts, the 2nd being almost done, which I am making with KSH in bronze, a new and very lovely shade and soft gold Fine Lace, also new and ideal  for blending with other shades and yarns. The twist is picked out with tiny golden beads and simple lace.  So they are a fine knit and slow-ish.  The twirl feature continues to occupy my mind and I have a plan for a small and delicate shoulder-cape, simple but with a swirl and bead feature running all across it.


Recently, as a change from my usual 2 ‘real’ books by the bed and an audio book on the iPod, I am reading at night as I used to when knitting first ‘bit’ me:  old stitch directories, vintage pattern books and piles of old house-keeping, needle-craft and home-maker pamphlets.  It relaxes my mind by letting it fly away with so many possibilities that I know I can’t capture them all, so I don’t even worry about making notes and it soothes me to sleep.

That Woman

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

I am obsessed with a new biography:  That Woman by Anne Sebba. That Woman is of course Wallis Simpson.

That Woman - The Life Of Wallis Simpson, Duchess Of Windsor - 9780297858966

It’s so good.  Really pacey and full of fascinating details.  For example, while Wallis and Edward were apart but in exile after his abdication and awaiting the final stage of her divorce, he knitted her a sweater.  He was, briefly, the King and yet while he fretted and pined in his German castle, he knitted for Mrs S.  I am willing to bet she never wore it.

They are not given a sympathetic treatment nor are they demonised.  Sebba doesn’t need to do that because the facts just sprint right up to the battlements of Windsor Castle all on their own and yell:  ‘we were both so selfish, greedy and possibly insane, it was just as well we married each other!’  Geez she comes across as a real piece of work and he seems to have been mentally unstable, weak and just very, very strange. 

All this is conveyed with simple if sometimes uncomfortable facts, using source contributions from both sympathisers and detractors – and it does seem balanced.  I wonder if a biographer initially likes his or her subject or maybe comes to like or sympathise with them?  This does not seem to have been the case here, nor does Sebba seem to dislike Wallis.  I really appreciated that neutrality.  But, you can’t escape what happened and it’s the details that make it so compelling.  OK, the headline:  ‘monarch gives it all up for woman he loves’ is pretty compelling, but get this for an example of fascinating detail:  WS, after her first divorce, and while still living in the USA,  just walked right into the home of a former friend, while that friend was in hospital, and moved in on her husband, Mr Simpson, later cuckolded by HRH of course – but Wallis also took this other woman’s clothes! 

The shattering impact the abdication had on the Royal Family is there in passing, who emerge as furious but dignified, quite an achievement really, as on the odd occasion when fury overtakes me, dignity, accompanied by coherent speech, hurries off on an urgent errand.  Also fascinating are the various political and diplomatic results.  Really, world-scale stuff, given the political turmoil that was fermenting at that time. 

All that said, I think they were really totally unprepared for the misery that dogged the rest of their lives.  However bright the sunshine, however posed the happy snaps, the life that followed was very unhappy.  She was about ten times more intelligent that he was – mind you, so is my cat.  I think they both felt trapped, bored, lonely and sad.  Puzzled.  It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way, was it Wallis?

There is an odd and recurrent reference throughout the book – that cannot be more than a theory as Sebba provides no actual evidence for it – to Wallis having possibly been born with both male and female sexual characteristics, and she does  go on at some length about this.  Was the fact that she didn’t have children, had ‘large hands’ and a deep (ish) rather gravelly voice all part of this?  I seriously doubt it.  Mainly because there is, as far we know, no real proof.  None is provided in the book anyway.  But also, they smoked like kippers and drank like camels on a rare pit-stop, so that may have had something to do with it.  Or maybe she just didn’t want to have children.  Whatever, this theme was for me the weakest element. I’d also have liked a bit more detail on the many years of Wallis’s life after the death of Edward.  These long years are shunted into a very small space.  It seems they were empty years, like many of those that preceded them only these were spent by Wallis alone. 

She did have an odd childhood and he certainly did.  Her obsessions were security (by which she meant money and posessions); notoriety at literally any cost; and fashion.  And that was basically it.  Two sad lives, friendless in the real sense of that word save for each other, and that is open to some dabate since he was certainly morbidly and unhealthily dependent upon her and she was I felt, usually angry with him; bitter and baffled.

I do really commend this book to you, Royalist or not.  (I’m not, by the way, but I am ardently interested in them and how their hand has guided our journey). The thing is, if you or I wrote this story and sent it off to a publisher, they’d laugh it out of the office as ludicrously far-fetched. What amazes me is how it ever came to pass.

Mitts and socks: design process broken down

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

(all together now to the tune of heads, shoulders, knees and toes:  ‘hats, mufflers, socks and mitts – socks and mitts’… and so on.  With any luck you know that tune and it is now lodged in your brain for the rest of the day.  My work here is done).

As you know I am an accessories girl and recently I have been obsessed – even more than usual, yes – with socks and mitts.  The reasons are many but basically I love that they are quick, can be knitted in the round, they are instantly useful, make great gifts and they each represent a blank canvas on which you and I can create our own design features. Let’s take the toe-up sock for example:

I have been knitting toe-ups for a few days (weeks, maybe, on and off) and every time I have an idea, I swatch it.  Here is a group-hug of just some of the mini-sock swatches I did plus 1 and a bit of the actual sock pairs that emerged. I wanted a beaded lace heart motif but it wanted it to be slim and also not the same as the beaded heart I use on my Little Wooden Hill blanket. First stage is to plot it on knitting graph paper (assuming you know the number of stitches you have in which to place it, and approximate gauge, which I did). Second stage is to knit the motif on its own, flat, which I did. Third stage is to place the motif on an actual sock and see if you like it knitted in the round.  I did, but because I didn’t want my mini-socks to be huge, I left off the beads. It’s not a fab picture but you can see the un-beaded heart design clearly on the gold/brown mini-sock.

I then went on and knitted the socks for real, first, with the motif being more or less continually repeated and in a larger foot size, to estimate likely maximum yarn usage:

Here you see the motif runs all the way up the front, plus the heel turn technique I settled on, the twisted rib top and easy-tension lace and picot cast-off, to which I added eyelets and ribbon as these are bed socks.

Another major bonus is that you can try on as you go, thus making sure you knit to exactly fit your foot:

I had also been experimenting with different yarn combinations.  The cream socks are 1 strand of KSH and 1 strand of Fine Lace;  I also knitted mini-versions in Fine Lace only (2 ends), and KSH only (2 ends, but here there is also the excitement of colour combining of course). Each mini-sock was an opportunity to do this and at the same time, turn the heel in different ways – single wrap and turn, double wrap, and my personal preference, turn, no wrap. No holes though, take a look at the heel on the cream pair – perfect.  This took several goes as unless you pick up the stitches that replace the K/P2tog that goes with this move in exactly the right way, you can get a gap.  If I get a gap I want it to be on purpose, ie, a lace eyelet feature and not an accident. 

So, then I knitted a pair with the same motif but placed fewer times, and this time I went for dusty mauve plus copper beads and 2 ends of Fine Lace:

The toes also offer options. You can get a toe that has no seam whatsoever and if your tension is bang on, it just looks like continuous stocking stitch. If your tension isn’t bang on or you fancy a tailoring detail you can vary the way you knit the first 2 rows (rounds, really) and get a neat little arrow-head effect.  I did both, and then some.  These are arrow-head.

The beauty of these is that there is no seam anywhere, no heel flap – though you do get a full-fashioned turned heel – and no finishing.  I like the simplicity with which anyone can make design changes – wider, different shaped toes, wider/more narrow heel-backs and mainly, the front.  The front is where you can place your design. It is your palette.

I am now going through a similar process with mitts. For ages now, spiral images have interested me and because knitting in the round is knitting a spiral, this is where I am now. I designed a spiral lace shrug for my last book and have long used short-row shaping to knit this shape if I’m knitting ‘flat’.  Then I knitted a pair of sturdy mitts in Tapestry (RIP, I miss you), with a beaded spiral:

Close, but no cigar.  I mean, I like them, a lot, and I wear them but the placing isn’t right.  Here is a second effort but this time, a shorter cuff to allow more spiral space on the actual hand, and the spiral, which is moved round, also has an eyelet feature on both sides of it:

I am also working on slightly bigger needles (I’m on DPNs now but could easily be 2 circs) and have added a strand of KSH in Majestic to the Heather Tapestry. When I have this right, I will re-knit them in a current Rowan quality, probably Pure Wool DK with and without the KSH.  The pattern behind is one of my original toe-up sock patts, not mitts by the way.

So, spirals continue to interest me (if by interest, you mean obsess me as I run, work, garden etc). Here is a mini-mitt, and I know it looks vile and as if I have tortured it. I have:

That’s a normal sized safety pin by the way so you see how tiny this swatch is. The line that revolves round is my guide-line, just working a purl stitch and moving along one each round, to enable me to pick up and knit a spiral later:

I agree that this is not a thing of beauty. But, it works.  The frill here is the same size as it will be on a grown up mitt, thus again distorting how we view this. The point of all this is to establish principles of new design ideas, and avoid hours of pointless labour, by expending a bit of time now. These – or at least a version of this – will make an amazing template for other ideas that will drive this simple concept forward – long-arm opera fingerless gloves, full mittens, flippens, shrugs, leg-warmers (oh, OK then, go ahead and snigger but you’ll be sorry when you see me on SCD, warming up in the studio with Anton next season, both of us wearing our beaded, frilled, lace eye-let spiral leg-warmers).

These processes are the real reason I love to knit. If you are coming on the Design Day workshop in March this is the sort of process you will be going through.  That’s why the numbers for that event are limited to 5 and it is fully booked. It’s intense and it’s also free-style. I won’t be giving you a pattern and choice of colours. I’ll be helping you to sketch, ponder, swatch, gnash, chuck away, start again, and write a pattern, based on your ideas. My real hope is that you love this process as much as I do. If it goes as well as I hope I may repeat that day and even consider extending it to cover 2 days so you can actually knit the item or a good part of it, rather than just swatch and pattern write.