Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for June, 2014

Abbotskerswell Crafting Weekend, 9 – 10 August 2014

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Just a reminder that I am teaching two workshops as part of the Abbotskerswell Summer Workshops event.

I will be teaching a day on the Cave Pearl Mittens on Saturday, 9 August.  These mittens offer a good opportunity to learn to knit in the round on 4 double pointed needles, plus associated skills such as knitting with beads and the anaotomy of a mitten.  Yes.  It has one.

Then on Sunday, it’s Shibori felting, featuring the Bump Bag.  Whilst we will be exploring the pattern for this design, and you will of course take a copy of the design away with you, this day is really just as much about learning all about felting your hand knitting, and applying exciting and adventurous Shibori techniques to it.

I know that there are a few places left, but not many now, especially for the mitts where the numbers are limited so I can devote plenty of time to anyone who has not knitted on DPNs before.

Neither of the days presents difficult or stressful knitting challenges.  You need only be able to cast on, knit, purl, cast off and have a fairly confident grasp of basics such as increasing.

I think I can promise you a great day out – or make a weekend of it, and book both my courses!  Or, come to one of mine, and go along to one of the others.  I’m not selfish, I’ll share you with the singing, drumming, sewing, drawing, floristry, basket weaving, photography, or walking/navigating classes.  I would like to do the drumming, personally.  Our new neighbour has an even more impressive collection of power tools than the outgoing neighbours had…it would serve them right if Mark, Lily, Florence, Will and I formed our own Taiko drumming group…

Needle Review: Brittany

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Brittany needles are made of birch.  The properties of wooden needles are well documented – the ‘soft’ handle, the lack of heat conductivity and so on, all make them ideal for people who have sensitive or sore hands.

I first started buying Brittany needles many years ago, when it was not so easy to get them in the UK as it is now.  I did buy some from a few UK sites, but I also imported some from the USA.  I like single point needles for small projects which many of my preferred knits are.  I also prefer to knit in the round with DPNs and I have many sets of Brittany DPNs.  Once, when he was a puppy, Rupert ate 3 of a set of 5, having first carefully removed the sock I was knitting, without dropping a single stitch…Brittany will replace broken needles – but I felt I couldn’t claim that was accidental damage so I just bought another set!

So, I have many pairs/sets.  The ends are turned and they are attractive – though many years ago, the ends of the knitting needles were more elaborate, as the Brittany crochet hooks still are.

I have them, in a stone jar, in my office.  Sadly, these days I seldom knit with them.  Gradually, I have moved away from Brittanys as my first choice, and I think this is because of two factors:  they are too blunt for me (the single points that is, the DPNs in small sizes are OK). The tips are really rounded, which is OK for big yarns with simple stitches, but not ideal for lace and fine yarns. And second, they splinter at the tips.  This is probably due to my knitting style and may not ever be an issue for you, but I have a firm, even ‘clashy’ knitting style.  These wooden needles, despite being hard wood, sometimes develop tiny ‘rough’ areas at the tip, which I cannot smooth away, and which are intensely irritating especially when knitting with Kidsilk Haze.

There are just so many more needle options since I first began collecting Brittany, and for me, as someone who knits fine yarns a lot and often lace, there are others that I now prefer.  But, that said, Brittany needles are lovely, simple crafted tools and sometimes, for old time’s sake, I will grab a pair and knit with them.  They do feel lovely in the hand.  In fact, Lily is currently knitting a scarf with some of mine, ideal because they are the short length, and it’s a narrow item, they are light – good because she is a very inexperienced knitter whose hands will tire easily until she picks up knitting stamina (yes, it is a thing), and the yarn is aran weight, so the blunt tips don’t matter.

Best bits:

  • easy to get hold of in the UK in local yarn shops or on-line
  • attractive
  • light and warm
  • traditional – I like that
  • good customer service: Brittany will replace accidentally broken/snapped needles such as one of your set of DPNs
  • length options are good

Not so good:

  • for me, the tips are too blunt and quite easy to splinter.  Once this happens, I find I cannot repair the roughness.  This is the No 1 reason why I no longer use them much
  • size options in single points limited at the small end of the range, where I mainly live
  • the size, which is sort of stamped into the needle and then stained, is often really hard to make out

Overall:  6/10, mainly because of the love I had for them all those years ago.

The Long Wet Way – Swildon’s Hole

Friday, June 20th, 2014

You know how I am about Swildon’s? (Yes, this is cave-post).  Yeah, you remember  how Swildon’s and I have this hate-hate thing going on…? No? Well, it’s The Cave You Are Supposed To Love.  I don’t love it.  I respect it, and I fear it.  I once had a little fall in this cave, exiting a round trip in the upper series via the Long Wet Way.  Here is video of some parts of this bit of Swildon’s.  It’s not me, obvs.  I was alright after the fall, I was easily able to cave out and just had a bruised hip really. I caved the next week, elsewhere.  But it did shake me up a bit.

Anyway, I had not been in Swildon’s for almost a year – since that day, in fact.  So Florence and Will decided it was time to do the trip again.  It was fine.  In via the Zig-Zags, which is really good fun, pootle along the usual Upper Series ways, Long Dry etc; had a look over the top of the old forty, back along and down the forty (which is a little waterfall, quite lively, as there had been rain for 2 days before), down to the twenty, just for a look and then back via the Long Wet Way.  This time, it also included a climb very close to the exit that I had never done – a narrow rifty climb with water showering fairly lightly down.

By the time you’ve done this route, you’re pretty wet anyway so I didn’t mind the water.  The thing I don’t really like is that climbing up into waterfalls or shower-baths makes me feel all mythery.  You know, mythered.  I like to see my foot and hand holds.  But anyway, it was OK actually.

I am glad I went back to Swildon’s.  I am still revving up to get all the way to and through Sump One.  And, with luck, back again.  Of course, this involves the dreaded twenty climb.  One day…


Needle Review: Addi Lace-Tip Circulars

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

These are my first choice for any project that needs a circ – be it for knitting in the round, or for a ‘flat’ project that has a lot of stitches.

5.0mm ADDI Lace Circular needle

I get mine from the Addi UK site.  If you need them in a hurry, bear in mind that delivery usually seems to take about a week.  I have not bought from other UK sites for a while.

There are a lot of circs out there and I use several brands, including the Addi non-lace circs.  But increasingly, I use these, because I like sharp points for everything, and these are lace-tip, so really nicely sharpened.  If I am honest, yes, the gold needle and red cable does appeal too.  So what?  Why not have pretty and practical?

I also love that the cable has little or no ‘memory’.  That is to say, if you pull it out of the packet, it isn’t still coiled into the shape it was packaged as.  Some cables are just demonic, and refuse to unwind, unbend, or in any way get in touch with their relaxed side.  These cables deserve and often get very hot water baths to relax the kinks.  I have rarely felt the need to do this to an Addi Lace Circ, and I have about a dozen or more now.

The lack of cable memory is very important to me when I am knitting a Moebius.  For this, you need a long needle, 150cm is ideal.  If this has a springy, bendy, bouncy cable, the Moebius progress is severely impeded, not to say horrid.  I knit a lot of Moebiuses.  I always use an Addi Lace Circ.  With further use, any remnants of the cable they used to be are effectively beaten out of them.  Mine are now completely flat.  Yes, I have broken their spirit.  That’s what I am looking for in a long circ.

I also use their short circs for small in the round projects that are knitted on two short needles, especially toe-up socks.  These can be used for mitts too.

The size range and cable lengths available are really exceptional.

The tips are geared for lace, and they are sharp, not lethal, but with long, tapering tips that I enjoy using for more or less any project, lace or otherwise.  The metal is smooth, with a slight grip, and the transition to the cable is also smooth.  I never use interchangeables, because I do not like the transition, or the cable-tightening peril.  With these, all of that drama is avoided.

Best bits:

  • huge range of sizes and lengths
  • pretty – and highly visible in your bag
  • smooth transition and needle
  • little or no memory cables
  • the lace tip is pointy but not super-sharp and is useful for any project
  • relatively inexpensive – a 5mm circ of any length is £5.35 plus P&P
  • easily obtained in the UK.  I prefer it if my needles of choice are not as hard to track down as the lost gold of El Dorado
  • the needle size is printed in the cable and does not wear off.

Not so good:

  • nothing, really. Well, if I was really picky, maybe the needle size print could be easier to read, but I am splitting ply there.

10/10.  The best in my experience, for use of a circular needle for either the round or flat variety of knitting.





Random Grumpiness #1

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

I’m not in a bad mood.  No, really.  I’m fine.  I’m almost always in a mood that can be defined as quite to rather good.  I’m usually such a happy person, that if my mood-o-meter only registers ‘OK’, people who know me well ask if I am sad…what’s wrong, Ali?  You seem down today…?  But in fact, I’m just marginally less happy than usual.

This makes me sound either simple, or annoying, or both.  I am simple.  I like many simple things and they make me happy.  I can be annoying.  I suppose.  Being annoying, also, makes me happy, especially to Lily.  But I am not a constant ray of sunshine.  Even when I am happy, I can be, and often am, scratchy with short spells of grouch.  ‘Sarky’, my old form teacher called me.  I was twelve.

I am therefore bringing you the first in what will probably be a very intermittent series of Things That Can Make Me A Bit Grumpy.

Here are two such things.  First (and this just about qualifies for Leaf of  the Day too) is the Beech leaf-husk. When the leaves (or it might be the tiny flowers, but I think it is the leaves) start to emerge from the bud, they first shed a fine husk, a case.  These – and there are literally millions of them – then invade the garden, house and car.  For weeks. I really think, given that the beech tree leaves are an absolute bane of  my life, and then it is sometimes infested with hairy caterpillars, which I fear the dogs will eat, thus dying or at the very least losing part/all of their tongues (I once read about this. Therefore it has become an Obsessive Thing), and it needs thinning every 3 years, or else it will up-end the cottage – that the time may have come to get rid of it.  Oh no!  cry the family.  You can’t be serious.  Oh, but I am.  Unless you, family, wish to take over operation-beech every year?

The other thing?  You want more grouch?  OK.  Gym territorialism.  You know that space, in the gym studio, where you always stand, right by the air fans but with plain sight of yourself in at least two mirrors?  It’s not yours.  Or mine.  We have membership, not ownership.

I know we all like to go to the same places/seats/spaces etc, we can’t really help it, we are programmed that way.  There’s a great ‘joke’ I heard about Methodists. I was, by the way, brought up as a Methodist, and I heard this hilarious ‘joke’ in church, so it’s OK for me to tell you.  There was a chapel in Jamaica where they worshiped with the doors open because it was hot in there.  Every Sunday, about half an hour after the start, an old dog wandered in and just flopped down in the cool shade.  They knew he was a Methodist because he always went to the same pew.  Boom Boom!  Oh yeah, we knew how to have a good time!

But anyway, gym space – the place you set up your bench, or stand before a class begins – is just a rented bit of space, for that hour.  If I move to a new space, I sometimes get mild to moderate passive-aggro from other users, such as:  you can’t stand there!  You always stand there, (pointing to a space about 2 meters away).  Or:  you!  Go stand at the front/back!  This is my space.  And they do actually mean it.

Oh dear.  It’s not your space.  Or mine.  It’s just a bit of floor, plus air and light.  I do it on purpose sometimes, not just to wind folks up, though that is of course a nice bonus.  I do it because it breaks me of that Methodist repeated pattern behaviour to which I know I could become a slave, in much the same way as I steadfastly refuse to salute magpies or throw salt over my shoulder.

Next time in grump-corner, supermarkets, newsreaders and radio ‘phone-ins.

Try Caving on 1 – 3 August in Somerset – you might like it

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

I do know how much you enjoy my posts about caving.  Despite that, I am posting another one.

My regular reader knows that I started caving (I am going to say ‘I cave’, ‘I’m a caver’ etc, though of course, I am not a real caver, but it’s too bothersome to say that each time) about 2 years ago.  I have kindly logged some of my trips and many random thoughts about my underground experiences here.  You are most welcome.

I first went caving with my friend Lou, who in spite of clearly exhibiting a natural and irritating talent for caving as she does for anything sporty, has since given it up, because she wanted to try it.  We caved in Prid and then Bakers, in Devon.  We migrated to try out two Mendip caves, and by now I think I was starting to get hooked. Then I went on a ‘Try Caving’ weekend with Florence (who was already a good caver, and is now a very good caver indeed) at the Wessex Cave Club.

Over this weekend, I did a lot of ‘firsts’.  I caved in two new caves, one of which, GB, is now my favourite cave, the other is my nemesis.  Yes, Swildon’s, that’s you.  I also climbed a very fragile-looking, swingy wire ladder on the tower at the club and then next day, amazingly and terrifyingly, did this in a cave.  Yes, Swildon’s, that is one reason why I just don’t think you and I are going to work out.

I slept in a club house.  Now, this may seem such a small thing to you, as a seasoned wilderness back-packer/youth hostel veteran/Ray Mears, as I imagine my typical reader to be. But to me, who had never stayed in a tent, a hostel, a camper-van or anywhere under 3 stars, this felt so – odd!  But it was great.  I have since stayed in several cave-huts (it’s not a hut, by the way, it’s a large detached house with extras, such as a climbing tower and bunk rooms; also heating, so if hut-dwelling is your thing, best to be honest with you from the get-go), and I enjoy this as much as the caving.

This August, my club, the Wessex, of which I am a proud if shamingly intermittent and scaredy-cat member, is holding another Try Caving weekend.  It’s on 1 – 3 August at the club HQ, which is in Priddy, Mendip-central.  I want you to think about giving it a go!  It’s £15 (and you can’t even buy 2 balls of Kidsilk Haze for that), all in.  Kit, caves, learning, bed, food, BBQ, games, slide-shows!  There were no slide-shows at my Try Caving weekend, so it’s even better this time.  I love slide-shows.  They remind me of my dad.  I hope there will be some on members’ holidays.

You do not have to be local, lots of our members are from all over the UK and even from those places across the water.  That there Europe, even.

Why do I think you should consider it?

1) The world that exists underground is always there.  It’s secret and hidden from almost everyone, because almost no-one caves.  It’s like if the National Trust had a secret garden that only you could walk round.  OK, it’s nothing like any National Trust garden I have ever visited, but their gardens do get very busy.  It’s not like that in a cave. It’s incredibly peaceful, even when the water is coursing and boiling around like it owns the place.  Also, no ice-cream or tea-rooms but you can take your own snacks.

2) It is a beautiful place.  Even caves that are not decorated with spectacular formations, and many are, are awesome.  I mean awesome in the real sense, not in the modern sense that ‘my dinner was awesome’ when in fact my dinner was very enjoyable.  I mean, I get in a cave and I am awed.  The majesty of underground spaces is something I am so glad to have experienced.  When a cave is beautifully decorated (by nature, not Lawrence Llywellyn-Bowen), it is spectacular.  GB, my favourite cave, is simply stunning.  Perhaps because it is also an ‘easy’ cave, it may sometimes be overlooked, but do try GB:  a perfect blend of majestic spaces, beautiful formations, and achievable caving  challenges.

3) Caving is fun.  Alright, in my blogs about ‘caves I have visited’, I do give you a warts-and-all account of my struggles – and also some little triumphs.  But believe me, if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it at all.  If you like a sporty challenge, there are caves for you.  I personally like a moderate challenge and some pretties.  There are also caves for me.

4) The cavers I have met are really nice. They’re not going to make you feel stupid, scared (beyond what is reasonable, because, you know, you’re in a cave), or as if you are a nuisance.  On the other hand, there may well be a healthy dose of practical and no-nonsense guidance, such as ‘Alison?  What are you doing with your feet??  Turn over and start again!’  And a little gentle ribbing (not the K1, P1 type, the ‘Alison, What are you doing with your feet??’ sort).  I have been shown immense kindness.  It must, at times, have been very trying for my companions, with my incessant  cry of:  ‘I am sure I will not be able to get back up this!’

5) We need to expand numbers in the so far quite limited knitting-meets-caving genre of cavers. I have seen two other people knitting at cave huts, one of whom was a caver too.  I know of  several others who can and do knit.  I know it’s niche, but come on – lots of you do other ‘daring’ stuff, I know, stuff I can’t do, such as swim.  Knitting after caving is even better than just knitting.  Also, I have drawn a lot of design inspiration from caves.

6) Cavers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and degrees of caving prowess.  If I can do it (sort of) so can you.  I promise.  Remember when I told you that you could totally master that Moebius cast-on/sock/mitten/sixteen stitch-marker shawl/design challenge?  I was right.  I am right now.  Also, in spite of what you may suspect, it’s perfectly possible to cave and not ruin your manicure.  Rubber gloves, doubled if needs be, are the answer.  I have never had a nail-related casualty yet.


You definitely should not try it if you know you get claustrophobic.  I knew I didn’t, and I don’t. Also, if you have an injury or a specific condition that you know of, I’d give it a miss, or ask a real caver what they think.  Cavers are, despite the obvious fact that they go underground and climb about etc, very risk averse, which is why accidents and rescues are very rare.   Aside from that, there are no barriers.

I will be there if you will, on 1 – 3 August, at The Wessex Cave Club.  I will not be leading your trips, no need to panic, but I will cave with you!  And then we can knit, afterwards. And have a BBQ, have a glass of wine, look at a slide-show about cave-related things, and watch the sun-set over the lovely Mendips.  I have booked good weather, light winds, no rain and balmy evenings.

Here is a flyer about the event.

wessex leaflet 2014

Please contact me or Maxine (details on the flyer), who is leading the organising of the event, as she did for the one I attended, and is both a great caver and thoroughly lovely person.

It won’t be as much fun without you, and seriously, fifteen quid for a whole weekend of joy/moderate peril – so – see you there…!