Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for November, 2012

‘Inspiring’ Quote, Alison? No Thanks

Friday, November 30th, 2012

In the spirit of the impending festive season…

Here is something that I simply do not ‘get’ – yes, I know I am fluffy and sparkly but come on, we all know that I am still a fluffy, sparkly grouch.  Sometimes.  Which is possibly the best sort of grouch.  I suppose.  Anyway.

One of the things that really eludes me is the Inspirational Quote (or IQ as we will now know it).  OK, sometimes I see an Inspirational Quote and I think:  yes, that is true.  It is patently true that if you never try anything new, for example since this seems to be a perennial favourite IQ, you will never, um, experience something new.  I once tried intarsia.  It was new.  I experienced it.  I once tried squid.  Bleugh.

But I have never seen an Inspirational Quote and been actually inspired by it.  The best I can hope for is a neutral admission that I may agree with the statement, probably because it’s completely obvious. ‘Every journey starts with a single step’.  Oh please. For one thing though this may be literally truthful, as well as glaringly obvious, most journeys start with an agonising knitting-packing dilemma, swiftly followed by a First Great Western balls-up.

I know these things and somehow I knew them before Face Book told me.  Furthermore, I know lots of other things and yet (so far) have never felt compelled to commit them to a post-card sized notice, adorned with a flickering candle or ruddy sunset, in order to convey this to others.

Worse, even, than the Inspirational Quote is the Inspirational Picture/Quote Combo.  I just do not get this at all.  I seriously never want to wake to an image of an adorable kitten curled up in a china tea-cup. It can’t just be me, confronted with a kitten-in-a-tea-cup, that veers between unreasonable and silent fury, and a wild thought about how awful it would be if someone didn’t see the kitten – possibly like me, they are still all blurry with sleep – and they poured a cup of tea without first checking for slumbering felines…

Nor do I react positively to a picture of a woman, laughing, as she (highly improbably) sits in the basket of an old-fashioned bicycle as her boyish yet manly friend, also laughing, pedals them along a dusty track, low sun-beams shafting through the autumnal woods beside them, a cosy shack-style residence just visible, top right.

However, I can see that, as with another great mystery – yes, YOGA, I’m talking about you – some people do like the IQs and sometimes they like them even better with pictures.  So, I appear to be out of step.  Again.  I am dealing with it by staying away from its most frequented habitat:  Face Book.


The Killing: there is no knitting

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I am a late adopter.  It was years before I got an iPhone and I still don’t have a lap-top.

So when I heard, sometime after it was over, about a cult Danish TV programme called The Killing, I was still really only alerted to it by picking up comments about the knit-wear.  The female detective who is the main character likes and wears Fairisle hand-knits. The Radio Times even featured a knitting pattern.

But the series was well into it’s third round, when I decided to listen to the audio book of the first series.  I was at least 4 chapters in when I started to wonder when there would be some knitting.  I consulted the Gods of Twitter.  There is no knitting!  So if you were, as I was, expecting to hear about her knitting being ‘woven’ into the (really gruesome) plot, don’t bother, she buys her sweaters ready made.

I feel really let down now.


Gratutitous Dog Picture

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Rupert has so few possessions.  His chief prize is his hand-knitted felted sleeping bag.  I know a lot of dogs don’t have many ‘things’ – a bed, a blanket, a few toys maybe.  I do know a very handsome dog who does have a lot of possessions, but I think this is exceptional, as is the dog in question.  He is not my dog by the way.  Much as I wish he was.

When he is happy to see me, which is every time unless it’s bath-time, he tries to bring me one of his few things, usually a blanket.

He is most happy when I give him the gift of food.  However, as Dachshunds have a tendency to be both greedy and lazy (not Bronte, she is neither, but they usually are) and they can have bad backs, too much food-love is cruel, really.  So when a large pot of Greek yogurt is empty, I give it to him.  He then has a happy half-hour with his muzzle inside as he tries to get every last lick, or he carries it round in his teeth, very delicately as if he is carrying a baby bird, or he lies down with it and scratches at it with his paws.  Once he is satisfied that it’s all gone, Arthur wanders over to see what that was all about and then he washes Rupert’s yogurt-y face.

Happiness all round.

‘Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you.’

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

This post isn’t about knitting by the way, it is about the literature of World War Two.

I have just finished ‘Nella Last’s War’.

Nella Last was a housewife who lived in Barrow during WW2.  She was one of about 500 civilians who kept ‘mass observation diaries’ during the war, a record for the nation of how ordinary people lived, worked and coped.  Nella was certainly one of the most prolific.  You may have heard of, or seen the Victoria Wood film, ‘Housewife, 49′ on the TV some years ago, which was based on Nella’s diaries.  What many did was present accounts of how life was lived.  What Nella did was to present us with all that, but also with her highly personal thoughts and reactions through these years.  Sadly a key section is missing, lost when the archives were moved.

I am very interested in British social history during and after the Second World War and I have read many books, diaries and papers on it.  I am interested chiefly in the impact of such a monumentally terrifying and lengthy ordeal, on the lives of women and families.  I am also interested in the role of Government on peoples’ lives – including the parts played by ‘agencies’ of Government at that time such as the BBC, Pathe, the film industry in general.  In addition, I read a lot of British and sometimes American fiction set in or just after this time, for the same reasons.

The way ‘ordinary’ people managed their day-to-day lives and how they felt throughout this time, fascinate me.  I try to imagine how I would have coped, if I could have shown the resilience of  so many of the people I have read about.  The smallest details, such as making meals from rationed food, mending and saving every scrap of clothing, the relentless toll taken by fear, sleeplessness and exhaustion, are probably brought most brightly alive in Nella Last’s story.

Another very good account is to be found in the WW2 diaries of Clara Milburn, a housewife in Warwickshire.  Clara lived a rather more middle-class life than Nella and is perhaps not quite such an effusive writer, but still it is a compelling read, not least because they lived near Coventry and saw at close hand the devastation of that city.

One obsessive diarist, whose many volumes include the war years, is Frances Partridge.  A long-standing member of the Bloomsbury set, Frances wrote volumes and volumes of diaries covering every aspect of her long life – she lived to be 104.  However, her war-years diary:  ‘A Pacifists War’, is uncomfortable and compares poorly to Nella Last’s account.  Graceful though her writing is, the key feature of this volume, as may be evident from the title, is her and her husband’s objection to war on the ground of conscience and thus of course to WW2 specifically.  They took no part in it.  It’s so hard to really judge why people behaved as they did, so long ago.  However, Frances and her husband lived a war of privilege and plenty, in relative safety, the curtailing of their usual frequent visits to London because of the blitz, travel disruption and so on, being more or less the extent of their deprivation.

I think Nella would have been frankly ashamed of Frances.  And astonished.  The Frances Partridge book is self-indulgent, complaining and distasteful to the point of being repelling, though it is fascinating in its own way.

One of the many things that I love about Persephone Books is the rich seam they offer to someone who wishes to mine for WW2 literature.  Here is their section of books about, or of that time, most of which I have read.  To this I would add ‘A Woman’s Place’ by Ruth Adam, because it spans a century of social history and how it impacted on women, including WW2.  And from Persephone fiction, I’d include ‘Mariana‘ by Monica Dickens – her first novel in fact – for it’s last section chiefly, though the entire book is fantastic.

As other reading, if you’re interested, I urge you to look at ‘Henrietta’s War’ by Joyce Dennys, not least because quite near the beginning, it contains the line:  ‘Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you.’   But chiefly because this book, based on fictional letters, and which was written during the war, not as a book but as a series of features, is really funny, a tongue-in-cheek morale-booster.  It also, by the way, touches upon an aspect of domestic life in the war that I have often thought about:  pets and the way people cared for and tried to protect them, or even feed them.  This matter arises now and again in Nella Last’s book too and was the only part that really made me a bit teary.

If I have in any way whetted your appetite I also suggest the Monica Dickens ‘One Pair of Hands’ and ‘One Pair of Feet’ books.  Short, very funny and especially in the case of the one set in hospital, very moving.

Finally, E M Delafield’s Provincial Lady series.  It’s the last ‘volume’ which really concerns the war but anyway, read them all, in order if you can.

Back to Barrow.  Nella literally comes to life in the war.  Terrified though she often was, mainly on account of fear for her soldier son and her other son, who was in Manchester and later, Northern Ireland in a reserved occupation, she rose to every challenge.  She asserts herself, finds tiring but hugely rewarding work in Barrow running canteens and a Red Cross shop, as well as running her own home like a CEO.  She describes herself, before the war, as placid, timid even, and lacking in assertion, especially with her husband and it is true that she had a very bad nervous breakdown in the late 1930s.  It’s quite hard to believe that she was as retiring and pacific as she makes out, however, for there is no trace of this whatsoever from the moment she starts to write. Quite the reverse. I think she would have been a ‘tower of strength’ – yet it did take its toll on her and her health was at times fragile.

She is very thoughtful about the way the war is affecting women, especially those who are married.  Her own marriage seems to have been if not unhappy, then not satisfactory to Nella.  She is evidently very fond of him, in fact, I suppose she loves him, though she never says this.  Certainly she cares for him, never failing to produce wholesome and tasty meals for him (he is nameless) and trying to make the house and table ‘gay’ at all times.  (The correct use of the word gay, by the way, is one of the main delights of this book for me.  Nella has gay frocks, flowers and table linen; they have gay times, parties, music and trips out.  I reclaim gay.  It is not a word of condemnation, scorn or sexual orientation.  It is a fine word and I want it back).  Yet she muses often about how it will be after the war for women and their families.  Ironic that she wrote, in 1945, about how in her view marriages of the future would have to evolve into real partnerships, and I listened to this in the same week, in 2012 as the C of E voted against the appointment of women Bishops.

On the surface and in many ways, deep down, Nella was a conforming example of her ‘type’.  Yet really, she was a rebel.  She was also keenly clever and a very good writer.  I think she knew that much of her public persona was an act – and that she was, probably, far cleverer than her husband, to whose will she felt she had to bend.  But in fact, what she bent to was the force of society’s expectations then, not to him, for she seems to have been at least his equal in expressing herself.  Little wonder she often felt trapped and stifled.

I’m not sure I’d have been like Nella was, or that we’d have been friends – in fact she had few close friends, her focus being entirely on her sons and her war work.  But had I been compelled to live through that time, Nella would have been my first choice as a neighbour, work-mate and advisor.  She was stoical, probably because she just had to be.  Frequently, some sad or horrifying piece of news will be broken to us by Nella and her sadness or horror is palpable.  And the very next line will be something like:  ‘I laid the table and we had pilchards mashed onto hot buttered whole-meal toast, and some apple pudding I kept back from Sunday.’


The gift of knitting

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

If someone you know – or you, even – lives within striking distance of TA7 8BE (Puriton, Somerset) and they or you might like some private knitting tuition, I am now offering one-to-one sessions, here at Court Cottage.

The options are for four one hour lessons or two lessons of two hours.  This can be tailored to whatever needs to be covered – from learn to knit, through the whole range of knitting options.

These packages make lovely gifts.  The recipient will get a card from me (sent to you if you prefer to give it yourself) and then I will contact you or them to arrange the dates and times, and discuss what they want to learn.

I will provide the all the materials for the tuition and full advice on what they might need to buy later, such as needles and yarns.

This one-to-one tuition is less costly than you might think and is a great option for someone who’s keen to start knitting or wants to add to their skills in a quiet, personal environment.  If you’re interested, contact me for costs and further details.

Here’s a fun game: top things you don’t want to hear at a workshop

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Top things you don’t want to hear at a workshop from your teacher, as a participant:

1) Well, I’ve never knitted this let alone taught it, I have no idea why you’d want to knit it, but I have photocopied some instructions out of a book – let’s all have a go together, shall we?

2) My Doctor says I *probably* shouldn’t be using sharp objects at the moment.  Anyway, here are your/my stiletto point DPNs…

3) No-one else turned up.  It’s just you and me… 🙂

4) I am not going to teach that (related skill) to you because that (related skill) is part of another course, which you will have to book.

Top things you (well, that would be me, other teachers may vary) don’t want to hear as a teacher:

Points 2 & 3, above.


1)  Someone bought me this as a surprise. (Lengthy pause).  I thought I was going to Paris for the weekend.

2)  I am allergic to mohair.  And silk.

3) I hate all sparkly objects.  Beads are the work of the devil.

4) I teach advanced knitwear design and knitting techniques to post-grad fashion students in New York.

5) I’d rather use these needles to poke out my own eyes than knit this ever again.

Now, here is the fun part.  Guess which of these I have actually heard/experienced?

Clue:  I didn’t make any of them up.  Though they *may* have been embellished slightly or varied to protect the guilty.

But one of them was new this week.


If someone doesn’t know if they’re going to like, say, knitting with Kidsilk Haze or beads but they come along to see if they can get on with it – that’s fine.  I do see my role here partly as evangelising on behalf of the sparkle, and I have many converts in my flock.  I am happy if someone expresses – um, concern about the fineness of the yarns or the fiddly nature of knitting with beads, because, you know, the yarns I prefer are fine and like most skills, knitting with beads (or in the round, or with colour, the list is quite long) is fiddly until you do it a few times after which it starts to feel intuitive.

It’s also really fine if someone just doesn’t like a design.  That’s allowed. There are loads of designs I don’t like.  So I don’t knit them.

One of my happiest, most rewarding customers is a lady who shall remain nameless but I have had the pleasure of teaching her about four or five times now.  She was new to knitting when we first met and her first course involved knitting with fine yarns and beads, her next course, ‘Intro to Knitting’ having been booked for the following day.  She is someone who never gives up trying, and who, in the face of challenges, just cheerfully keeps on trying – and of course, this makes her successful and also a joy in class.  She quests for skills and is steadily acquiring them.

People attend workshops for many different reasons, the main ones being to learn something new or knit a new project design.  Close behind this, and they are not mutually exclusive, comes having a nice day, doing something you love, with like-minded people in a safe environment.  A safe environment?  OK, it’s not a padded cell or a bug-out bunker.  It’s a lovely yarn shop or my house.  It is safe because the whole point is to learn, make the mistakes while I am there to help sort it out, practice and reinforce the learning with some repetition. Repetition is a luxury we often, being busy and maybe stressed, deny ourselves.  I know that most of my students will struggle to find the time to repeatedly practice a new skill at home, and if they unexpectedly got the gift of a spare afternoon, they’d possibly struggle to ‘spend’ it on themselves and their knitting because of the call of duty – work, domestic duty – life.

So a day with me and any teacher worth his or her salt, which is by far and away the majority, is a day plucked out of the torrent of your life, to spend on yourself.  I never, ever ‘judge’ people – how they knit, how they hold the needles and yarn, how fast they knit – I don’t judge.  If a student makes a mistake – I use the word mistake, but what I mean is goes through a learning process that has a few moments of challenge – I help them to sort it out, if I can.  What I love to hear is:  I have gone wrong – and I know what I did and where I went wrong!  This can only come with time and practice.

However, I no longer attend workshops, only because of time commitments, because I used to adore Rowan and lots of other indi events – in fact – 2013 resolution:  go on some knitting workshops and learn something new!

And I am pretty resilient;   I no longer shake with actual fear before teaching and sometimes I manage to eat my breakfast, which has been a major bonus.

The funniest – um – I’m going to call it ‘feedback’ – I ever received was some years back, from someone who wasn’t attending my event, but who, after hearing of it, in her local yarn shop, in a pretty sea-side town, came by as it was ending, especially to say:

‘Are YOU Alison Crowther-Smith?’

I admitted that I was.  The class attempted to move en masse into the loo, which was awkward as there was only the one.

She continued:  ‘Well!  Let me tell YOU, Alison Crowther-Smith, after knitting your Gathering Scarf design, your name was mud in our house!’  There followed a painful description of her many almost-to-the-death struggles with this little scarf.

I am always, unfailingly, calm at workshops.  True fact, right Millington?  I remained calm and only murmured that I felt the deepest sympathy for her family during what must have been a very difficult time.  And indeed, that they had my sympathy all the time.  I may have stalked slightly as I hefted my Ikea bag onto my back and swept out a little later, with all the dignity that someone hefting an Ikea bag can reasonably muster.  But I did not flounce.  In fact, I got back to my car and had a little smile as I imagined the long winter nights she must have spent with her latest ‘Gathering’ smouldering on the ashes in the hearth.

Anyway, the main point of this is to celebrate honest feedback – and to share it with you, dear blogees.  Seriously, a few years ago, had someone said to me that they’d rather poke out their own eyes with the needles than knit the project de jour – oops I may have inadvertently let slip what the new one is – I’d have shrivelled, but only inwardly, obvs ‘cos I’m not an alien; and possibly I’d have cancelled all my teaching engagements for, like, EVAH.  Now, I come home, have a cuppa and tell you!


Two Years of Blogging

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

It’s been two years since I started this blog.  I can’t believe it.  This means it is also two years since I was released back into the wild from The Public-Sector Financial Organisation That Shall Be Nameless.  Two years isn’t very long, but it feels like another person lived that life.

So, blogging.  I started the blog because George told me to.  He is wise.  I do as he says.  At first, I didn’t enjoy it because I think I was struggling to find my voice (as an editor might say).  It’s a knitting website, therefore it ought to be a knitting blog.  However, this is where I have struggled because of course I am a knitter, making a slow and often tentative pathway with knitting as my job.  I mean my main job.  But if I just blogged about knitting, I’d blog about once a month at the very most.  And hey, then you wouldn’t know about stuff like my flannel collection, my past life as a sausage linker, my personal battle with recycling and all its dark hand-maidens;  you wouldn’t know about my often heart-wrenching B&B choices, my cave-woman melt-downs or the super-powers I have acquired.

Sometimes I blog a lot, sometimes I have a break – usually if I’ve been unwell or I’ve been doing one of my other free-lancing gigs.  George once told me how to look at the ‘numbers’ on my blog – not who you are, don’t panic, that I cannot know so you may rest assured that I won’t be popping round with a set of DPNs and a handful of sequins; but there is a way to see if anyone reads this stuff, how many of you there are, so on.  But I never, ever do this analysis because I forgot how to for one thing, but mainly because I don’t mind who you are, where you came from or how often you drop by.  Which is not the same as saying I don’t care, because I do care who you are.  What if there are only the two of us?  Just you and me?  Would I keep on blogging?  So I just, figuratively speaking, draw a veil over this sort of data.  And anyway.  Data, data…I have enough data in the rest of my life, this blog is a data-free zone.

This blog has got me into hot water once or twice.  And I did think long and hard then about not bothering anymore with it.  But in the end I just thought:  I will stop if and when I want to stop.   My blog has made me a bit bolder, a bit more assertive.  Given my assertion-levels have been quite low, this is not to say I’d survive The Apprentice, because we both know I’d just cry, but still it’s progress.  Things I might have shied away from in the past – let’s just say I don’t do shying away anymore.  In real life.  It’s very good indeed.

It’s not a diary, this blog.  It’s not always an accurate reflection of real-life, because banal though my descriptions of my food addictions and trips to the tip might be, I wouldn’t subject you to the utter tedium of accompanying me on my daily round of  domestic life.  So I can assure you that when I regale you with a blog post about sweeping up leaves or sorting cans from foil, that was the highlight.

And sometimes, for the entertainment of you, my bloggees, I may egg the pudding, I might exaggerate, slightly, just for the sake of humour or maybe because excess is my middle name.  True fact.  Alison Excess Crowther-Smith.  Many people think the ‘E’ stands for Edith but it doesn’t.   So, for example, once I blogged about swatching.  I was mightily proud of myself too, as this was of course a rare knitting reference.  I do swatch a lot.  This is a crucial part of the design process.  I happen, luckily to like swatching but even if I didn’t, as a designer, with no swatching there is no design process, or at least there is a significant risk of design-disaster.  Someone read this post – and I am pretty sure, only that post – and said in their blog that I was a ‘bizarre’ knitter because I swatch simply for the purpose of creating swatches.  Well, I am a bizarre knitter, that is happily true – but not for that reason.

But the blog is all true, or at least it is a slice of the truth.  I do knit a lot, I do design a lot.  I do love sparkly things, bikes, running, gardening, books, caves…the lovely dachshunds, the evil cat.

It’s my little blog and I like it here.  So, two years we’ve been here, man and boy.  Thanks for stopping by now and then, whoever you are.




Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Remembrance Sunday always reminds me of my father.  He was a soldier in WW2, and as a very young man, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, who held him captive in a POW camp.  Dad’s life after he was liberated was ‘normal’.  He married a gorgeous Lana Turner lookalike, my mother, he became a teacher and a college lecturer, he had a family.  Yet there were deep shadows cast by his horrific suffering at the hands of his captors and by the things he witnessed.

When a shadow is cast, there is also light.  This light was the chief characteristic of my father’s legacy, left to him by his war years.  He didn’t live in the shadows of horror and the remembered fear. He lived in the blissful, grateful light of his survival and liberation.  Having been liberated by the Americans, he had a life-long devotion to the USA and its people.  He and his fellow POWs, starved, emaciated, ill and terrified, were in admiring awe of the well-fed US soldiers and sailors, who seemed to them to be tall, broad-shouldered heroes.  This in turn led to a life-long greed for donuts and coffee, an ambrosial delicacy with which the US military sought to feed up the British and other POWs on their long cruise home via San Fransisco.

I can never know what my father really thought and felt about his war.  He did talk to me about it, and he did write down his experiences.  But he was a calm and deeply reserved man, limiting his dialogue about being a POW to the facts, rather than his emotions.  Knowing him so well, I knew that in the darkness, the demons of this part of his past stalked his dreams.  And behind his lovely, always slightly anxious eyes, there was a constant fear and a sadness.  Certainly, he lived with impressive levels of anxiety, a blessing he has passed to me, by the way.

The scar on his mind was only really evident, when in the last years of his life, he developed dementia and in a cruel twist, the decades fell away and he lived, all day, every day, in the terror and suffering of that camp, as reality disappeared and memory took its place.  Nurses were guards.  I was a fellow POW.  Beds became bunks in barrack-prison huts.  The enemy was everywhere.

Yet until the last years, I am sure that the key to dad’s happiness, because he was a quietly but profoundly happy man, lay in his ability to look into the shadows behind him and be so grateful – gleeful  – that he was living in the light.  To dad, eating ice-cream wasn’t just a pleasure.  It was a pleasure that he had dreamed of in prison camp and never thought to experience again.  So when he did eat ice-cream, every single time he ate ice-cream, it was a pure joy that never faded.  Just as if that Cornetto was the first taste of ice-cream he’d had since being liberated by the US army.  Every cup of fresh coffee he brewed, every bite of donut – they were new to him because he drank and ate with such deep gratitude and amazement in his heart.  To walk to college and back as he always did, was never a chore.  That bouncy on-his-toes walk expressed in every single step how happy he was to be able to walk through the drizzle of March or the warmth of June, out of an English semi-detached post-war house in Wellingborough, Northants – and go to his work.

I’m not glamourising anything.  I know only too well how deep his suffering was.  And yet it is true that in contrast, the rest of his life, save for the bitter end, was illuminated with his passion for the smallest of pleasures.

He became old. He still  wanted to attend Remembrance parades, so we’d go.  Dad was an emotional man insomuch as he felt things very deeply but strove at all times to contain his emotions so they showed few physical clues.  In extremis, he’d grind his teeth silently, the working of his jaw being the only clue to significant emotions being marshalled and suppressed.  Less trying circumstances manifested themselves in finger-drumming and change-jingling.  But at these Remembrance Sunday parades, he couldn’t win over his emotions.  I could hardly bear to look at his lovely old face as he lost his annual battle not to cry, standing there in cold grey mornings, far too chilly and dangerous for a man his age.  He cried.  Not for his war, but for the war of the lads he had left behind in the Far East, dead in that POW camp;  but to dad, they were still alive, still comrades.

I can’t attend these parades nowadays.  I mark my deep gratitude to, and love for, dad and all the service people and civilians to whom we owe so much, in my own way.  But I am not as emotionally contained and controlled as dad. (This, by the way, is possibly the understatement of the decade). When I attended parade with him, I did weep but I struggled mightily to remain in control and often succeeded, thanks to the tight, dry, warm pressure of his strong hand round mine.  Without dad there, I am sure I’d lose in a epic melting-down way that dad would have been rather alarmed by.  Not ashamed.  But there would certainly have been a:  ‘Now then, Al, that’ll do love, here’s my hanky’ moment.  I can’t do it on my own.

Thanks, dad.


Books; and the book club. RIP.

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I have been knitting a lot for some up-coming events and for kits.  Kits.  I’m having a re-think about kits on the site, by the way.  I think there may be a better way.  I’m a slow thinker, stand by.

Anyway, knitting for me means a) idea;  b) think (see notes above re speed of thinking);  c) swatch;  d) swatch again;  e) write pattern and knit;  f) get pattern knitted by someone else, someone amazing who takes no mental short-cuts and sees All;  g) knit it again, obsessively, myself.  This all takes time.  To pass the time productively, I have to be sitting at my workshop table, with good light and peace and quiet.  Peace and quiet is a scarce commodity in our house nowadays, in many ways a good thing, I know, but still…

I also need audio books.  Recently, I have listened to some excellent books.  First, Pure, by Andrew Miller.

The novel is set against the true story of the wholesale excavation of the burial grounds in the heart of Paris and the removal of the bones to a place outside the city.  I loved this book for its language – spare, mostly yet also sometimes unexpectedly embellished and poetic.

I also listened to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, shockingly a book I have not actually read.  This was a real treat, beautifully read too.  So clever and deep, but easy.

One of my (self-imposed) rules about audio books is that now and then I will select a book I’d never read and that I think may be improving for my mind or address a gap in my literary knowledge.  With this in mind, when Audible rewarded me with a free download, I chose Ulysses by James Joyce.  It’s days and days long.  I have started it but I’m approaching it in stages as I do not think I will finish it if I just plough right through it.  I did that once with a (far inferior) very long novel and ended up almost resenting the author.  So far, Ulysses is a mysterious book for me.  I adore the narration and his interpretation is making the book ‘easier’ I feel.  And yet, often I am baffled.  Sometimes I am slightly bored.  Sometimes my mind wanders and I find I’ve been thinking of something else for a while so I have to go back.  Sometimes I am enthralled.  And sometimes, I feel I am being utterly spell-bound – I may not understand what it happening but it’s beautiful anyway.  Such a complex book.

I have also listened to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a very popular download I believe.

It was OK, not great.  As with many books that have a formula as their base – it did get repetitious, because, being a book about walking, every day Harold, not unreasonably, set off walking.  Every day.  I enjoyed the narration by Jim Broadbent but was surprised that I didn’t like the book more.  It’s annoying that I was annoyed by things like Harold’s not buying walking boots but insisting on walking in deck-shoes.  That’s just silly.  I also *think* we were supposed to like Harold but not his wife.  In spite of them both being obviously maddened, literally, by events in their past together, I didn’t like Harold and I did like his wife, a far more sympathetic character I felt.

In October we had a cycling holiday so we listened to The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton.  This is a long expose of the scandal surrounding pro-cycling and the Lance Armstrong affair, doping, cheating, blood transfusions, drug use and so on.  It was gripping, but I very much doubt if it would be unless you love cycling and are fascinated by the revelations about past Tour doping scandals.  It is really shocking to the cycling community, yet apparently it was ‘OK’ because almost everyone did it.  That’s OK then.  Not.  I also bought but can’t bear to go on with Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder.  Terrible.

In real book reading I have embarked on some new (to me) Ann Patchett novels.  She wrote the amazing The Magician’s Assistant.  I have high hopes of the new books I have bought.  And I am also reading a fascinating book about primal eating/living by Mark Sisson.  This is very interesting.  I was introduced to this concept for eating and indeed, living, by a friend of mine.  She has a reassuring science background and is, I feel, a no-nonsense sort of girl who would call a spade a shovel if she thought the content was dodgy.  Do not be put off by the frankly rather startling author pic on the front cover:

Mark looks terrifyingly happy, blond and stare-y, but he writes really well.  I am interested in this because I am very keen cyclist and runner, and would-be caver but I do get very tired, shaky and hungry.  I think maybe I no longer thrive on the ‘healthy’ carbs I have been living on.  Anyway, I’m browsing the plains and forests of our ancient ancestors.  If I find any evidence of knitting, I’ll let you know.

I also adored the lengthy and bonkers true story of The Popes by John Julius Norwich.

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You couldn’t make this stuff up.  Starting with the first Pope, right up to the current Vicar of Christ, it swept me away on a tidal wave of insane, Machiavellian, twisted, living history, in which we encountered truly devout men, truly driven men, truly pious, kindly and wise men, truly terrible men, married men…and (possibly) a woman Pope.  Fantastic.

And now, some very sad news.  The book club of which I was a founder member is dead.  RIP.  You lived a short life.  The last meeting was due to take place about 3 months ago and was to discuss my choice, Regeneration by Pat Barker, possibly the best modern writer I can think of.  To be fair, I know at least three club members read it and enjoyed it.  The others didn’t.  Why?  Why not I mean?  It’s an accessible, beautiful, moving book.

Anyway, due to lack of interest in Regeneration that meeting didn’t happen.  In the whole time, there were only really three or four new books I enjoyed.  I think the club may have folded.

Two lessons emerge.  One:  maybe I am not cut out for a book club at all, because of the tenderness with which I regard my own books.  And two, if I was to be in a book club in future, I’d need to be pretty sure that my fellow members enjoyed reading and, even if we didn’t agree, would potentially lead me down fruitful reading avenues.

New Workshops in 2013

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

The first 3 workshops of 2013 are all full so I have just added 3 new dates for later in the year.  There is a Shibori Knitted Felt day, making the ‘Bump Bag’, on 28 September and also 19 October 2013, the latter being a repeat date.

Then on 9 November, a Knitted Christmas workshop.

The places can get booked up quite fast, so please visit the courses page if you think you might like to come along.

A Sparkly Wreath

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Today we had a Christmas workshop here at Court Cottage, the last workshop of the year at home, though I have four to teach elsewhere before I shut up shop for Christmas.  It was a full house, we had the best fun and everyone knitted some sparkly decorations.

For the event, I also made a knitter’s Christmas wreath:


This was very easy and such fun.  It’s far from an original idea, there are many such wreaths out there, but this one is extra-sparkly.  Here is the tutorial:

You will need:

  • A base-wreath;  mine was a twiggy one, unpainted and it is small
  • Polystyrene balls – small and medium, available from most habi or craft stores – I used 11, mixed sizes
  • Some flexible but sturdy garden wire – mine was green, plastic coated
  • Cheap DK woollen or acrylic yarn, white
  • A pair of knitting needles you are prepared to sacrifice
  • Length of ribbon to hang the wreath
  • A can of silver craft spray paint
  • Loose silver glitter.

Step 1:  wrap the balls with yarn.  I secured the yarn to start with a small ‘U’ shaped piece of wire dug into the ball, trapping the end of yarn.  Secure the other end in the same way once the ball is covered

Step 2:  if the wreath is polystyrene, wrap it with yarn and/or ribbon to completely cover it

Step 3:  secure the balls to the wreath as you like them arranged, using the garden wire

Step 4:  stick the needles through a ball, crossed

Step 5:  secure your hanging ribbon

Step 6:  go outside, put on an old coat and spray the wreath, making sure you disguise any wires and get effective coverage of the balls, the needles and the wreath.

Step 7:  while the spray is wet, sprinkle on the glitter.  Once it is all dry, bring it back inside.  Voila!  A Knitter’s Christmas!