Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for March, 2012

A lovely felted blanket story

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Once upon a time there was a lovely Rowan yarn called Scottish Tweed and in particular there was Scottish Tweed 4 Ply.  How the knitting elves loved this yarn!  They knitted lots of things with it and also they felted some of them as Scottish Tweed 4 Ply was a very polite yarn and made lovely soft felt even at 60 degrees.

One day, someone who lived in another land, where Scottish Tweed 4 Ply was not a vital part of day-to-day life, decided that there would be no more of this magical yarn.  Oh, how the elves wept and gnashed.  But to no avail, it was no more (although there was a bit of it left in an evil kingdom called ebay, but the elves were too scared to go there and anyway, it’s all gone now).

So the knitters who had loved this yarn started a search for another yarn that would behave in the same way.  This was a hard quest and many fell by the wayside, unable to face another swatch or washing machine loaded with 1 swatch and a bath towel.  But 2 faithful knitters carried on and they found that another, almost as magical yarn called Felted Tweed (not you, aran), was good.  Good, but moody.  60 degrees created felted tweed cardboard, 30 degrees created nothing, but 40 degrees on a synthetic wash created:  felt!  Not as soft as Scottish Tweed but still, not bad. (Note:  they started this quest and did 80% of the knitting before the Heritage Tweed arrived, too late to save many, many elves – oy).

One day, the blanket was finally all knitted.  Only 3 squares of this blanket had been saved to go ahead as sacrificial test-squares.  The first square was felted.  It was like iron.  The second square was felted. It was all ‘meh’ – not felt.  The third square was felted.  It was hopeless, neither felt nor fabric.  An elder-elf stepped forward and with remnants of Felted Tweed, she knitted a final square.  All the knitters gathered at the washing machine to see the result (as did the husband of the washing machine owner, concerned now about his electricity, water and wear-and-tear).  The last square.  It was good!

So, with the traditional ceremony that marks the passage of a hand-knitted blanket to felted-blanket (red wine and Chinese take-away), the elves committed the blanket to the washing machine, one last time.  As the last cycle began, they turned wearily away and went back to  their other labour – knitted mittens, mainly.  Only 2 elves remained that night, watching over the washing.  Finally it was done.  Hearts in mouths, they took the blanket out…yes, it had shrunk…but not too much!  Lovingly they placed this blanket in their traditional drying place (the banister at the top of the stairs) and they crept away to sleep.  Many miles away, the elf who had knitted this blanket and then left it in the care of the elders, lay in bed unable to sleep, thinking all night long about her blanket.  The elders know this because at dawn, they received a text from her saying she hoped they slept alright and wishing them luck on their run that day – but really, she was asking about her blanket.

Here is the blanket, dry, but awaiting its knitted or crocheted edge:


A thing of beauty, I believe, behold its textured landscape:

Notes on felting, AKA My Life’s Work:

  • Scottish Tweed may well have a good substitute in the new Rowan tweed yarn but I haven’t tested it yet
  • Felted Tweed felts well but hard, so you need to reduce both temp and time;  on the other hand, it claims to be machine washable at a 40 deg wool wash (and if you try that you are actually mad), so it needs 40 degrees but a longer and more robust cycle. If your machine has a 40 degree quick wash option, use that to test
  • Some non-pure yarns will felt, eg, Rowan Kid Classic;  some pure wool yarns will not felt, eg, Rowan Pure Wool DK & 4 Ply
  • If you want to test if a yarn might felt, do this by rubbing a 1 m length of it as hard as you can whilst wearing marigolds and adding very hot water (as hot as your marigolds will allow) and a drop of Fairy, for about 2 – 3 minutes;  if it starts to felt, it’s worth knitting a swatch


Leaf of the day: magnolia

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Ah ha!  I tricked you!  Of course at this stage in the year this queen of trees has no leaves, only gorgeous blossoms, just unfurling for today it is almost hot, on naked branches.  The best blossoms are those that grace a naked bough, I think.  I love this tree, I actually hug it sometimes (oh, I don’t care, no-one reads this much anyhow, it’s just us):

The leaves, when they come, are large and thick, almost fleshy.  Then I love that it gives shade in a hot part of the garden.  In autumn I love it less for its leaves fall in rushes and swamp the plants below, have the life of nuclear waste and rot down in about 10 years of solid composting.  I forgive all this for the beauty it gives me in March.  This part of the garden faces west, and the flowers lean away to the lighter, warmer aspects, like candle flames in a slight guttering draft.

While we’re here, in the front garden, let’s look at this bush, I call it, very inventively since it is beeloved (oh lol) by bees, the Bee Bush:

I don’t know its real name but this bush is huge, about 12 feet round at least and about 5 feet high and smothered all over with blossoms.  Here is a little bee, with big fat pollen-trousers, on the bush:

It has waxy leaves, is ever-green and at this time of year, a sweet and quite strong scent. There is a companion bush, much smaller, nearby that has red berries, so I think they may be in a civil partnership.  If you know what they are, please tell me as the little bush is (I’m going to whisper) dying, I think, due to being overrun by wild honeysuckle and wild passion-flower, both of which love the front garden and live in the lawn!  I do try and keep them both at bay but I fail.  So you see, I need a new partner-bush, the one that does the berry-bearing.  Thanks!


New designs pics

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

It’s a very productive time, here at Court Cottage Industries.  Golf thingies are flying onto our new website, the garden is burgeoning, and I am designing.  Have I mentioned my on-going interest* in twirls and swirls and spirals?

*interest can, for the purposes of this blog be defined as obsession.

Well, anyway, it continues to um, interest me.  And I have designed some new mitts and cuffs accordingly.  Here they are.

First, shy and understated as ever (this is after all my signature, my USP, yes?) Twirl-It Cuffs:

I’m working on a small collection of accessories inspired by costume and theatre.  The swirls on these is echoed by curving lines of beads and simple lace, all round and round the cuff.  The edges are further swirls, as is the wrist frill, not a frill at all, just a swirl.  There is a difference, yes indeed.  The whole affair makes you feel slightly giddy:

If these in any way make you think of very full Hollywood style skirts on floating evening dresses, then my work here is done.  On the wrist, they actually force the wearer to twizzle her hand around, back and forth, like a glitter-ball…I have a feeling that, like the red shoes in the film (and the fairy story) they may have the power to make you dance and dance and dance…oh, OK, just me then.

Next here are a pair of mittens with a fully fitted topless thumb.  Here the mood really is more modest, they are far more Bergman than Rogers.  In silk, mohair and fine lace, a twirl is carefully placed across the back of each hand, twisting gently away in opposite directions.  Beads – tiny and gold, and a double line of lace completes the effect.  The top is a twirl.

They have a super-soft and light feel on the hand, and the tiny beads are small enough not to impact on wear or tension, but just showy enough to draw your eye:

In a final (for now) flurry of twirling, here is the so far singleton Helter-Skelter mitten, in which the angle of the twirl is sharpened, so the twist goes right round the hand one full turn and winds back to the finger opening.  I have carefully knitted my twirl-line as I knit the mitten and then using a single strand of Kidsilk Haze, it is transformed into a short but fairly tense frill, not big enough to be in your way but enough to completely transform an otherwise simple and plain 4-ply mitten.


Last today and still on the needles, a mobuis loop, knitted in 3 shades of Kidsilk Haze to colour wash and trick the eye into a haze of colour-blending.  I have used a simple and reversible lace stitch based on garter stitch:









Birthdays and proms

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Today, Lily is 16.


Really.  How?

It seems impossible that the tiny baby who was born 16 years and 2 hours ago is now 16.  That I am about to drive into town to meet her for coffee.  That tonight we will go out for dinner.

The day she was born and many of the days after but especially that day, is so clearly etched into my memory it seems too fresh and close to be 16 years old.  How can such a vividly real memory be any older than a week or a month?

There is a big age gap between our children, 7 years.  This has been a great blessing, though at the time, when it seemed that Florence would be our only child, we didn’t think of it at all.  But because Florence had almost 7 years of Lily-free childhood, she did have an awful lot of pretty close attention and un-shared parent-time.  Then when Lily was born, Florence was a very caring and able older sister, a great help to me and a play-mate for Lily.  This closeness has inevitably been tested – 2 sisters with 7 years between them have far fewer shared interests that maybe sisters with only 18 months or 2 years to divide them.  I don’t know as I have no sister.  I wish I did, much as I love my brother.

Then when Florence was older, about 14 and above, we had a baby-sitter. We still do, it is really lovely that they can stay here together when we want to have a cycling weekend or something.  And Lily has been to stay with Florence, in Exeter.

On the other hand, we’ve been clear through the parent-cycle twice with no overlap.  But I am glad, now, that it worked out this way.

Here are the jumbled birthday candles:

Instead of cake Lily wanted a birthday trifle.  The cream was whipped stiff enough to hold the candles up for 1 rushed verse of Happy Birthday To You:


These were then popped out and the snowy cream was decorated with silver baubles.  I love the wax on the creaam.  And then Mark and Lily had a huge bowl each for breakfast.  No, not me, I have inexplicably given up sugar for Lent.  This may account for the grouchy nature of the next paragraph.

And tomorrow, we go shopping for Lily’s prom dress.  The advent of the prom in British schools is deeply regrettable in my view, with its stretch-limo images, fervent shopping, beauty rituals and strange girl-woman dress codes.  However to resist this tide is to mark your own child out as a freak.  I am told, by Lily.  It is bad enough that I am sometimes glimpsed by Lily and her school mates from this village on a morning run as they await the bus into school.  That I hash-tag on Face Book, the mark of a true loser.  That we are even friends on Face Book.  It’s all shaming.  To be denied full prom-rites would be the last straw, the final act of cruelty.  I told Lily that in my day, myself and Aunty Kay were quite happy with a barn-dance in the school hall and a bottle of Fanta.  Wearing dresses our mothers made.  Kay may have made her own, she is very good at that sort of thing, but mine were made by my mother.  Gales of derisive laughter.  Oh yes, of course, how much nicer to pile into a super-elongated ‘hummer’ (?) and spike each other’s feet with stilettos as you clamber in and out in clouds of net and hair-spray.  My big fat Bridgwater Prom…

Somehow, 16 years ago, it was so much simpler.




Design Day – and knitting nana syndrome

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Design Day happened here over the last weekend and it was really good.  Because of the restrictions I have on numbers anyway – 8 absolute maximum, 5, 6 or 7 probably ideal, and for this day we had 6 – everyone gets a real chance to discuss their ideas in depth.  Everyone had some really creative plans which ranged from lined purses and corseted mittens to scarves and cowls.  Fascinating.  I conclude however that ideally, we’d extend this to 2 days, with folk going home on the Saturday night or maybe staying in a near-by B&B.  That way, on the Sunday, we’d be able to really refine the ideas and also cast-on the real project, or maybe swatch some more.  This is a possibility for 2013.

It also dissipates (if it needed further dissipation, which it really shouldn’t) the still, sadly occasionally advanced myth that knitting and knitters are dowdy, boring, or eccentric – knitting nanas.  I think we’ve moved so far from that image in the last 10 years that it makes me wild (and you don’t want to see me wild! no sir-ee, I have been known to let my tension go all to pot when wild, or fail to do a tension square all together…) when I see phrases such as knitting nanas, knitting grannies etc on modern knitting websites.  As I did on Sunday, in all seriousness.  Gnashing and moaning ensued.  Me, that is.  Some knitters are grandparents.  That is not the issue.  All knitters are individuals, ranging from the yarn-bombing end of the spectrum to the avid knitted toy maker and literally everything in between.

We are not a herd.

I love the diversity that I encounter with knitting people.  I like knitting small, pretty accessories.  I know that I am conventional.  Do you care?  I doubt it.  You may like knitting modern classic garments, or clothes for your children, or toys for babies, or you may only knit socks.  I don’t care!  You may be a man, a woman, a child, a parent, I don’t care.  Young and old mix so well in knitting, the beauty of experience and clear fresh eyes, challenge and support.

This diversity and also the shared nature of our craft was so evident on Saturday.  As is often the case, Mark popped his head round the door when he got in from work, and said hello, before retreating to the football.  Later he said:  there is a real sense of a happy community in the workshops.  So I thought about this.  Some of the people who come here have been a few times now, but some are always new.  So it doesn’t come from their familiarity with one another.  It’s a very special thing, to knit with people who may have little else in common with you other than knitting;  and then to find how much you share beyond that – and also how interesting your differences are, too.

Maybe as someone who says:  ‘I don’t care’ so boldly (that is bold for me) about who we are, how old we are and so on, I should not care about the knitting nana thing.  But I do care about that.  I am a runner and I have been, twice, challenged about some peoples’ perceptions of runners, specifically that we are miserable, based on seeing runners out, you know, running about but not smiling.  Hmmm.  I’m smiling on the inside, OK? Imagine if I did smile when running?  That would look weird and also be possibly alarming for people.  But this is so rarely expressed – in fact it’s only happened twice.  Whereas, the jibes and insults about our craft have been many and sustained.  And isn’t it great that it’s stopping, it is almost a thing of the past?  Almost.  It’s worse somehow if I see references like that expressed by ‘trendy’ modern sources.  Worse than uninformed comment.

When I have from time to time accepted an invitation to talk about knitting to groups, I always dress up, a little.  Oh let’s face it, I dress up on the flimsiest of excuses.  I am not in the first flush of dewy youth.  My older daughter is about to graduate and my youngest is in the midst of GCSEs.  But I am not a knitting nana, even when or if I am a ‘nana’ I won’t be a knitting nana, and if kitten-heels and a big splash of Jo Malone were meant for nothing else, it would be to dash the suspicion that I might be.  Or that you might be.  See how selfless I am?  I wear my pretty shoes and favourite dresses to defend your honour, too!  Oh shucks, don’t thank me – just do the same!  (NB:  kitten-heels are not mandatory;  brothel creepers, Doc Martens and stilettos are also fine).


Star-Crossed Workshop, 28 April: 2 places available

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Wouldn’t you like to come here and spend a day knitting this:

This is Star-Crossed, a delicate scarf with a fascinating yet fairly easily picked up stitch.  You can knit it in Shimmer and Kidsilk haze, above, or opt for a sturdier version using Kidsilk Haze with Pure Wool 4 Ply.  In the morning, as well as learning the stitch, you will be able to experiment with the yarns and shades to see which you prefer, using my practice yarns.  Then you will choose your own yarns and cast on for the real scarf.  All this is interrupted by yummy baked goodies, lunch and afternoon tea.  The cost of the course includes all the yarns needed to make the scarf, the pattern and notes, plus your kit-bag, tuition, practice yarns and refreshments.

Go on, spoil yourself, it’s fun here and very relaxed.  You can book here.


Ibsen; and a visit to that London

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

File:Fruen fra havet by A. Golovin 01.jpg

I’ve just got back from 3 days in London.  It’s a great place, that London, I had forgotten how much I like it.  I think I stopped loving it sometime in the last 3 or 4 years of my so-called career with the outfit I used to work for in the linen cupboard, because I grew to associate going to London with being tortured by amazingly clever change-managers.  By the way, I do wish I was an amazingly clever change-manager, as an aside from the main point of this post which is still Ibsen.  It looks easy, being amazingly clever at change-management, they make it look easy but of course, it’s really very difficult.  It’s more difficult than, say, knitting in the round, or even more difficult than getting roast pork to be at the same time moist and not deadly.  In the case of our change managers (who weren’t real change-managers at all, because that is a special skill, but ours were people doing their ‘real’ jobs and imagining they didn’t need to hire in any experts.  Rooky error), they so nearly had it right, except that repeatedly, they’d find at the last minute of the last hour of the financial year-end, that a shed-load of money had gone missing down the back of the corporate sofa, as it were.  That’s unlucky.  Especially if you’re, for example, a financial accounting and management expert type organisation…but what do I know, other than how to knit in the round?  The roast pork thing still evades me.

So for a long time, boarding the London-Town train made me feel a bit sick. And grumpy.  However, I side-stepped this last week when I went to stay in (no, near) London with a friend – who whipped up an amazing little holiday for me, packed with treats and trips of the sort she knows I love the best – and I only felt very happy to be back in London.  One of these was a visit to the theatre, to see an Ibsen play called The lady From the Sea.  You lot probably know all about this famous playwright, but other than having heard of him, I didn’t.  I therefore decided not to research the play via the interweaves, but instead to just go and let it happen.  However, I expected it to be dark, difficult even and maybe not that up-lifting.  Wrong.  Again.  It was fantastic.  Funny, surprisingly modern in its clever themes, very over-wrought in places but of course, the more over-wrought the better as far as fiction goes for me.  (Not real-life though.  No, real-life has to be more serene and quiet, no sobbing, of which there was masses in the play).  So, I once again come to this party very late.  Now I want to see all his plays.  The cast for this was superb, starring Joely Richardson who was really excellent.  The Standard gave it 3 stars, but I disagree – being a renowned theatre critic, I am sure this is going to devastate them – and I’d have given it at least 4. 

I also visited the luschious knitting shop in Islington, Loop that’s been on my wish-list for ages and I bought a big hank of wool, silk and cashmere blend to make some cuffs and a matching neck-warmer.  And we managed a visit to the Hockney exhibition which was a) stunning and b) packed like salt-herrings in a barrel despite the timed ticket system.  How I wish I could just spend an hour thinking and seeing like he does.

Bit of a set-back on the way home, if by set-back you mean I got on the wrong train.  Seasoned traveller that I am.  This is why I rarely leave the shire.  I was at Reading, and waiting for my last train home, but possibly because I was also listening to a very weird audible book called 1Q84 – more another time if I can unravel it – I just wandered onto the very next train that arrived.  It looked just like the one I was expecting.  That is to say blue and with First Great Western written on the side.  The very worst bit is that I had a seat reservation and so I made my way along to Seat 49A, Coach C only to find it occupied by A Man.  Now I am very short-sighted and yet annoyingly I can’t walk about safely in my glasses, so though I could see his seat had a reserved ticket I couldn’t read it.  However, we compared our reservations – we both had Seat 49A, Coach C!

Well, (I said) oh dear, do you know, this is the 3rd time in the last month that FGW has muddled up my seat reservations?  and he said oh well, look, I’ll move.  And I (thank God) said oh no please don’t move, look, there are masses of unreserved seats, I’ll sit here (quite near to where I ought to have been).  And we exchanged a few friendly words in which we agreed about FGW’s seat reservation department, but mild words, not hot-criticism.  We smiled and shook our heads, not in anger but disappointment.  Oh, poor blameless FGW! I am so sorry.  And then I got out my knitting and carried on with my mobius loop and 1Q84.  Only after some time had passed and I inadvertently heard the train manager’s announcement about where the train was going, did I start to wonder.  Then I vaulted into the corridor and in the teeth of the howling gales that always infest the corridors between carriages, I interrogated my iPhone and rang Mark to break it to him that I wasn’t going to be in Taunton any time soon. 

You know that slowly-spreading hot feeling of mild panic, when An Incident is brewing, or A Mistake beocmes apparant?  Then it grows into moderate-to-acute panic and finally you’re bathed in beads of sweat?  That was me, not because I was on the wrong train though that was bad enough, but because of The Man In ‘My’ Seat.  I had somehow to get my mountain of luggage away from there without arousing his suspicion.  His well-founded suspicion that I am an air-headed idiot who dreams her way about 80% of the time and really, truly ought not to be out alone.  In the end, I just brazenly grabbed my stuff and sprinted to another carriage, with The Man only watching me with a faintly puzzled expression as I volleyed off the seats, my arms full of knitting and bags. 

Then, I located the Train Manager and his colleague and Help-Meet, The Restaurant Car Man.  Restaurant Car Man was very sweet and went and got Train Manager from First Class where he was attending to something.  I just explained, in a very dignified way, that I had inexplicably boarded the wrong train and they kindly agreed that this was so easy to do as all the trains look the same.  Then I asked about the best way to get back home (this is starting to remind me of the Wizard of Oz, sorry) and TM said:  if you like, you can come with us at X station  and if your husband can get to X instead of Taunton, and we will make sure you get the right one.  And do not worry about your ticket, that is fine, just a mistake.  This is why I am not going to name the stations we went to, in case they were supposed to make me take out a mortgage there and then to secure a new ticket.  And RCM made me a coffee.  Because I was by then not afraid anymore, only a bit shaky.  He was only sorry that all he had left was instant, no fresh that having all been sold.  Oh, weren’t they sweet?  They did get me off at the right place and on the next train, and there we parted but I will never forget their kindness.  I fear that as I seem to get only older and yet not wiser, I will increasingly have to rely upon the kindness of strangers…