Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for March, 2013

Workshop Up-Date

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Shall we just abandon all hope of spring and summer right now, skip straight to September and sort out our winter knitting?  Plan?

The autumn/winter workshops are booking briskly, there are now only 2 places left for Shibori Felt:  The Bump Bag, 1 in September and 1 in October so if you fancy this, best book now.

There are 4 places left for Christmas knitting in November.

I teach away from home a fair bit in spring and early summer and this is when the courses here tend to pick up most of their bookings.

There won’t be any other workshops here this year but soon I will be looking ahead to early 2014 and I plan to hold 3 events in January, March and April again.  There will possibly be 2 Moebius Days – 1 for people who haven’t knitted these before and who would like to learn how to make the lovely and simple Moebius Cowl such as this one that Sue knitted:

Then there will be a later Moebius Day for people who have learned the technique and who want to move on and knit either a rib, or lace, or colour-wash Moebius with me (and maybe enjoy a cast-on refresher too).  If you attend this course, you can either knit a practice mini-Moebius in the morning or you can get right on with your actual item.

An option for a Design Course that I am considering is a day when participants will effectively be ‘commissioned’ by me to design an accessory, with me providing a choice of design briefs.  This is how most designs such as those for a magazine, a website, another designer or a store, are generated and it’s a great design discipline for anyone who thinks they’d like to design something but who prefers a specific brief or who fancies trying this approach.  This might be 1 or 2 days, we haven’t decided yet, but we are having a meeting* to discuss this item later.

*We’re going to Nandos.

I am also planning 2 events on new techniques, for which there will be brand new designs.

If you have any event requests, please let me know.  I usually email people who have attended events with me before as soon as I put new events on the site and if you’d like to be added to this list, again, please let me know.


Star Signs: I predict a crabby post

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Warning:  if you like and/or believe in star-signage and may be offended by me neither liking nor believing in it, and saying so, best not to proceed with this post.

You know how some things just make a little, hopefully private, alarm bell go off in your head?  These would include someone – a near-stranger – asking me what birth or star sign I am.

Seriously?  Why would you want to know that?  If you want to know my birthday – it’s 21 June – just ask me.  By knowing my star sign, you can only know approximately when I was born.  No other information will be revealed by knowing my sign.  Nothing.

You will not know, for example, what sort of character I have, or what the future holds for me.  You might know this by reading my blog, or by knowing me in real life, but knowing I’m a Cancerian won’t mean a thing, I promise you.

I was told that because I am a Cancerian, I am a home-lover and *cute smile, side-ways tilt of head* I can be a tiny bit crabby *pinches thumb and forefinger together to indicate a crab claw* and I like to retreat into my shell.

Really?  This is a literal translation of star signs, is it?  Awesome.  Crabs nip, they also have shells.  Well, I am a home-lover, I can be a bit nippy and I do retreat into my shell sometimes.  This makes me normal, not Cancerian.  It has nothing to do with the date of my birth.  Someone has arbitrarily assigned me to this sign and it makes no more sense than if I invented a sign for people born on 21 June and called it Biscuit Tin.

‘Ah, yes, you are born under the sign Biscuit Tin…this tells me that you like to keep a lid on things – yet you also have a sweet heart and a pretty retro painting of a garden on your head. That will be 20 quid please.’

Come on.  Bulls are rampant and angry, scorpios are even worse than crabs as they are not so much nippy as potentially fatal, libras are balanced, pisces…?  Maybe they just smell. No offence intended, fish-people, hey I’m a crab-girl, we sea-dwellers need to stick together.

I also discovered, much against my will, that as someone born on 21 June and near the ‘cusp’ as I believe these people call it, with another sign, Gemini, I am split in my personality.  Furthermore *anxious head-tilt combined with fixed stare* because the sign I am split with is in itself split (Gemini, twins, see?) I have multiple personality… um…facets.  She meant disorders, but because she didn’t actually know me at all, aside from the penetrating insight into the very depths of my character that knowing my birthday bestowed on her, she felt too polite to say that.  But with my paranoid facet, I guessed.

Being cornered by someone whose belief system is so at variance with mine is not ideal, but what makes it worse is that it’s not OK to snort out your coffee as you laugh out-loud.  Apparently.  Because that would be rude and also, compound the view that, yes, definitely a crab, that one.  So you get embroiled deeper into the morass:

What star sign is your husband?

I have no idea…

When is his birthday?

Um…5th May – why?

Ah!  interesting!

(This is the moment when you consider, and really want to adopt, absolute silence as the only fair response to this statement.  About ten seconds of silence after which you just walk off.  However.  In real life…)


Yes!  Oh, yes, very, it’s rare for these two signs to get along.

Oh!  that’s OK, we don’t get along, we detest each other, we only stay together ‘cos we can’t agree who has to keep the kids and the bloody dogs…does that help…? *attempts cute tilt of head* *nips finger and thumb together*



New Times For Workshops

Monday, March 18th, 2013

From the end of April 2013, all workshops here at Court Cottage will run from 10.30 – 4.30, instead of 10.00 – 4.00.

This is because it’s easier for people driving some distance, which many of my participants do, to get here for 10.30.

The next course – 20 April, Moebius Day – will run at the advertised time of 10.00 – 4.00 so if you are coming on that one, it’s unaffected by this change. But the next courses – June, September, October and November – will all run at the new time.



Design Weekend

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Design weekend is about to kick off here at Court Cottage.  Millington and I are beyond excited.  Yes, the salt-caramel choc brownies are cooling…!

We are also very excited about welcoming six potential designers to the event.  We ran a design day last year and good though it was, it was clear that one day is only enough for a taster of what it really is to design something yourself.  By 2PM, I don’t want to be seeing:  ‘OMG only 2 hours left and I’m still swatching…’ kind of anxiety on faces.

So this time it’s two full days and only six students admitted.

In preparing for the weekend, but also just in general because it’s on my mind all the time, I think about:  what is design?  I’m limiting this to knitting design.

I guess for most of us it comes from seeing something really inspiring and then wishing to somehow create an essence of that thing in your knitting.  It may also spring from wanting an item and not being able to either buy it or find a pattern.

This sort of designing is self-starting and possibly the most satisfying.  It is the reason I started designing, for example, I wanted a hand-knitted knitting bag and I didn’t want to sew it, so I used a sewing pattern idea and the Shibori knitted felt bump-bag was the end result.  This led me on an amazing design journey, because design is also organic and one idea leads to another.

Need or desire is also the reason I design so many shrugs.  I wanted a shrug that was also a scarf and having knitted one, I got used to wearing shrugs and I wanted more so I had to make them.

Another route to design is the commissioned item, and I’ve done a fair few of these in my time.  I really love these, because someone else starts the framing process and it’s an amazing discipline. For example, a retailer may dictate the item, the yarns and maybe other parameters such as degree of difficulty, length of knitting time, and use of other materials.  This is a bit like the knitting version of the game where you’re given a bag of random ingredients and have to create a meal.  Your job then is to think alongside the commissioner – and to add your own stamp, to focus on what is possible and to deliver a pattern that meets all their needs.  To do this, you have to think more about who the commissioner is aiming it at, for example, his or her customers in a yarn shop;  or magazine readers.

Here at Court Cottage this weekend, my students have free-reign albeit that my area of design expertise, such as it is, is more in the accessory field.  Some weeks ago, I asked them to begin gathering and ordering their design ideas and thoughts;  to begin collecting inspiring images, fabrics and items;  and to start letting their minds wander about in the area of our brains that life, work, routine and lack of use can leave stale or unsure of itself.

Is there a designer in all of us?  I really think there is.  My mind, should you be able to inhabit it, is not going to be like yours.  I’d like, for example, to inhabit the mind of someone really logical and with great spacial awareness, just to see if that feels as nice as I think it must be.  If that’s you, you can occupy my mind for a day in return, deal? – it’s madness in here, so while you’re being me for a day, could you also have a sort-out and a tidy-ooop?  Thanks.  But whatever our mind-set, I believe everyone has creativity of one sort or another.  Finding it, should you want to, is mostly about being allowed to – being given permission to experiment, try things – perhaps most importantly of all, to make mistakes.

I also think that this does not have be The Big Thing.  To add design to your knitting, you don’t need to design a mahoosive garment-project.  You know, awesome if you do, but I am just as content with someone tinkering with a design that someone else may have designed but which the knitter thinks will look better on her if she adds cuffs, or changes some things.  I have seen lots of my designs that have been ‘re-designed’ by the knitters – and I love that.  Moebius day is a great example, images of Moebiuses that are not like the one I taught them to knit are coming in to me now (I am like a Moebius-plague-carrier.  Also, I told you my mind was an odd place).  That is design, just as surely as designing an intarsia dressing gown using 37 balls of Yak-Down is design (my latest project, the Giant Yak-Down Dressing Gown, betcha can’t wait for that one, can you?).

I can’t redesign the new cardigan with an extra sleeve – (sends up fervent prayer that this isn’t the concept on the minds of any of my students this weekend…)  If I need a glove it’s still going to have to go over my hand.  I may even need two… Socks still need heels.  The designing of the basic wardrobe, driven largely by the inlets and peninsulas of the human body, is done.

What’s left is the exciting part.  Making it different in terms of texture, handle, shade, embellishment.  That and swatching, swatching, swatching…! Team-swatching starts at 10.00 tomorrow and I anticipate that six students will reel out of the door on Sunday afternoon, clutching a bag of yarn and a hand-written pattern, wondering where the last 48 hours went.  It’ll be hectic, tiring but most of all, creative fun.

Let’s see how this goes but if it goes well, next year I am thinking of running a weekend in which I ‘commission’ the designs for the participants, which would be a new experience again. Let me know if you might be interested.




Being me

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Recently, I have been following a very interesting discussion kicked off by Karina Westermann about identity and specifically about the on-line persona and ‘branding’  of artists, makers, crafters.  Karina being a knit-wear designer, the focus was on knitters, but it would also be true of other artists.  This is one of the posts, read this and then go ahead and maybe read the rest.

Well, you read this blog, I assume and so through this blog, you kind of know me.  If you know me in ‘real life’ I guess you will see other facets of my character, because so far, I have not shared all of me here.  I say ‘share’ as if that’s a good thing, like slicing a pie and handing pieces round, whereas really, sharing isn’t always good.  For example, I am not going to share my obsession with candlewick fabric – doh! too late.

In part, the discussion has looked at projecting ourselves, ourselves being people who knit, for example, and also blog or ‘broadcast’ themselves via websites and other media. ‘We knit, therefore we are happy.  Discuss’. Or, ‘I am a knitter and I am my own brand’.  Yes, I knit, in fact knitting forms part of my portfolio of paid activities.  (Diversion:  get me!  Portfolio).  I am also happy, sometimes.  More often than not in fact.  But I’m not a smile-freak, in fact I can veer to the acidic side of the humour spectrum, even when I’m not actively annoyed.  I do filter my blog, as I have told you before, but this is because even I don’t want to write about toothache, the damp in the back hall or the urgent need to paint the fence.  Let alone inflict it on you.  That is what diaries – or maybe just a ‘to do’ list – are for.

I can’t be a brand though, partly because I have too many other, widely divergent ‘jobs’.  I also can’t be a brand because I don’t really know what that would entail.

One little piece of information about who we really are, that I am going to share, so assume the brace position, concerns teaching.  I love teaching.  I started teaching knitting when I worked for Rowan Yarns and I gradually taught more and more.  Once I left the comfort zone of my own store (by my own store, I do not mean to imply that I owned or thought in a deluded sort of way that I owned John Lewis’s Cribbs Causeway branch, I just worked there two days a week), I grew slowly more and more anxious about teaching.

When I was asked to teach in Holmfirth at Rowan’s UK HQ, ‘The Mill’, which is an amazing place to teach and was a real honour, this anxiety reached new levels.  Even now, just thinking about doing it makes me feel a bit odd.  Try as I might, I could not hit upon a strategy to overcome it.  ‘It’.  I’m still not sure what it was, or is.  It was just a semi-paralysing fear I suppose.

Let’s be rational, Alison, fear of what?  I am not afraid of catered buffets, yarn, or even of Yorkshire.  It must therefore be fear of letting people down, knowing how much store knitters set on coming to The Mill, how much they may have anticipated the weekend, created the time and space for this weekend.

I countered this by obsessive preparation and to an extent, this did soothe the panic.  However, it wasn’t enough.  In the end, I couldn’t keep doing it.

You would think – at least, I did – that the more you do a thing and that thing doesn’t go horribly wrong, that this would in itself be enough to solve the problem.  The trouble was, each time I taught a big gig like that, and it was fine, my mind just ferreted about in the back room of my psyche and pulled out another dusty packing case full of potential fear.  What if the food doesn’t come?  Oy, for God’s sake, you’re not in charge of the food.  What if the yarn isn’t right?  What if it snows and I am snowed into the hotel? What if my car breaks down…?  All just excuses really, to worry, when what I was really worried about was, I think, this:  when they come, and they meet me – what if that’s not good enough?

I know the food will come, I know the yarn will be OK (I know this because I obsessively wound it all – on a winder, so it was perfect). I know I have prepped the designs, refined the teaching plan…what I don’t know is if I can see it through – and be good enough.

One thing that got me through the doors and made me face the fear was a simple and possibly trite tactic of pretending to be someone else.  Much as I would have liked to be Audrey Hepburn or Doris Day, I used to pretend to be Amelia.  Amelia is the ex-colleague with whom I worked for many years.  Amelia and I were made redundant together, one day about  two and a half years ago, in my linen cupboard.  But prior to being made redundant by an alien, who I believe has scales instead of skin, under his clothes (I have no proof; also I am over it, just in case you were wondering), Amelia and I shared many funny, stressful, painful, often very successful but mainly really happy work experiences.  As teams of two go, we were pretty good.  I am a ‘starter’ but not a finisher.  Amelia is a do-er, and a completer.  I generate a lot of ideas, some with no home or purpose.  Amelia is good at distilling the good parts out of this mess.  I am anxious to the point of stopping still in my tracks – literally, at times.  Amelia is brim full of confidence.  And when she’s not – she hides it.

So, I would pretend to be her.  Our work together had nothing to do with knitting, or craft or art – quite the reverse, it had to do with accountancy, actually.  But we sometimes did have to manage large numbers of people in a technical training environment. While I would obsess and check and run about, Amelia would say:  it’ll be fine! Sit down, stop moving.  It was, I did.

If I taught you at The Mill, the first person you met was Amelia.  After that, after the first few moments – it was me.  It really was me, I only needed Amelia to inhabit for a moment, then she’d slip away – and I’d be fine.  Until the next time.

I am aware that I am way off-topic concerning the discussion on Karina’s blog that sparked this stream of consciousness in me.  Her posts on it and the subsequent responses, are much more coherent, and I think form part of a key debate, about how we project ourselves via media such as blogs, websites, Twitter and so on.  They are not about my identity theft, that’s just where it led me, today.  But it does touch on the points raised.  When I taught at The Mill – and more widely generally than I do now – I didn’t have a website or a blog.  Now that I do, I feel more confident in a way because, if you read the blog, you do know me quite well, so you also probably know what you might get, if we meet.  I am just a person who also knits, just as this blog is by a person who knits but often, it’s not about knitting.  I feel less likely to let you down.

I think that it wouldn’t happen to me now because, in a weird way that perhaps doesn’t apply to everyone, having a blog has made me feel more confident.  It hasn’t made me a better knitter or teacher, but it may have conveyed something of me so that the reality – of which the blog and site is a part – will be OK.  Probably.

Slightly more on-topic to the debate that I referred to, several contributors describe themselves as quite or very shy.  I know that if you have been taught by me, you might not believe me when I say that I too am shy, with a shyness that at times has almost closed me down, socially.  The kind of shy that makes me think up lists of conversation-generating questions if I am going to have to meet a stranger or strangers or people I have not seen for a while; or that keeps me in my chair at parties when everyone else is moving about.  I think the combination of shyness and having to move about, say, in a room full of people who are socialising – this is known as ‘circulating ‘ I believe – is just terrible.  It’s bad, I wish I wasn’t like this.  I am usually fine in my knitting comfort zone though, I mean, I’m far less shy with and around knitters, or at least I am more able to crush it down.  Also, if I am knitting, I can talk more easily, more freely.  It’s not that knitting gives you courage, but it does deliver comfort.  Seriously, if you have had the misfortune to sit next to me at a ‘work’ dinner or even worse, a ‘do’ at the golf club (work, Mark’s not mine but still…) I am sorry.  I am sorry for being so dull, and so quiet and for only bursting briefly into greedy animation when the cheese arrived.

Amelia is aware that I borrowed her confidence and poise from time to time, by the way.  She is cool with that, having been blessed with both mine and hers at birth.


‘Dear Ali, It’s All Your Fault!’

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

I love emails that go: Dear Ali, it’s all your fault! I am now addicted to knitting with beads and with Kidsilk Haze…please help me.’

I received such an email this morning and it has very much brightened my day.

Of course, I apologised but in fact as we well know, I am not in the least bit sorry, in fact I am horribly gleeful at the thought of spreading a little more glitter-love.  I openly admit to being a pusher.

What I have yet to tell my new addict is that the cure has yet to be found and research has been abandoned.

I am aware that not all knitters succumb to the glitter-gene virus.  One of my dearest friends refers to Kidsilk Haze as ‘the yarn of the devil’.  But that’s good, it wouldn’t do if we were all alike would it?  For my part, I am currently in a sort of DK with a bit of Aran phase – which is an unusual state of affairs for me, my usual MO being in the lace and super-fine ghettos.

And I was beginning to think I had exhausted all possible converts in the South West of England, for surely there cannot be many knitters whom I have not now infected enthused?  But then, lo! in comes this morning’s email, laying the ‘blame’ for a new outbreak firmly at my door.  I am happy to report that my newest victim student is coming to Spin-a-Yarn on 28 March to knit a new beaded lace scarf design with me.  I do not think there are any places left but it’s worth contacting the shop to see, if you fancy it?