Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for September, 2014

Needle Review: Signature Needle Arts

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I will carry on reviewing needles from time to time, even though we have now reached my favourite brand:  Signature Needle Arts.

Single Point Needles

This American company has created a range of needles which, for me, covers almost all the areas that matter: incredible functionality, precision, and beauty.

The website is interactive, so you actually build your own needle, using a range of choice options, which include gauge, style (e.g. single tip, DPN etc), length, tip profile, and decorative end feature (for the single tip needles).  The colour of the needle is determined by the gauge, for example, 2.25 mm needles are green, as are 4 mm needles. The other colours are hot pink, blue, purple, red and gold.

DPNs Size 2.5mm (Purple)

So you choose a set of 4 mm single point needles.  Then you are asked to choose the length of the needle – three options.  7, 10 or 14 inches.  Then, and for me this is the best part, the profile of the tip:  stiletto, midi or blunt.  All mine are stiletto, which is a long, tapered tip, always sharply precise and in the smaller gauges, very sharp indeed.  I can only afford one set of the sizes I like and use most so the luxury of choosing midi or blunt tips was always academic, but I just can’t see where they’d be better than stiletto tips, to be honest, which work for all knitting and yarns.

Then finally you choose your end feature: bell, tear-drop or spiral.  (Describing these decorative ends to a class once did get me into a bit of a myther, and caused Millington to snort tea and stare fixedly out of the window for some minutes as we fought to regain self-control.  Just read them back and add the word ‘end’ to each one…)

I have a few pairs/sets.  Most years I ask Mark to buy me a pair for Christmas, which means I have to go on the website and choose – not a hardship!  I have the single points in 10 and 14 inch lengths, in a range of my usual, preferred sizes; and I also have 4 sets of DPNs, which are just lovely.  One the clever features is that you can buy the DPNs singly, or in sets of 4, or 5 needles.

I have 2 fixed circulars too.  These have now been discontinued, and replaced with interchangeables.  I wish I had bought more of the fixed cables now, because I don’t use interchangeables – nor could I afford a full set of tips I use and cable lengths.  I think these are incredibly expensive, and I just don’t think I could justify it even if I thought I’d use them.

Knitting with them is an absolute joy.  I knit a lot of smallish items, so the small lengths of single point needles are ideal.  I also love the way they look.  The colours are jewel-bright and really pretty.  If the same precision-engineered tool was available to me in say, grey metal (think Pony), I know the knitting would be the same, but it actually wouldn’t feel as enjoyable.  We knit a lot, don’t we?  It’s good then to use tools that please and work so well.

They are the result of a brain-wave idea.  The woman who founded the company was also the President of a precision engineering company, and her hobby was knitting. Wanting a sharper needle tip, she had a pair made and polished – the first stiletto tips.  Now, these could have been made in grey, but the range has evolved into a thing of beauty as well.

They are aluminium.  So they do not flex much.  They are cool to the handle, and the tips are super-finely transitioned into the main shaft of the needle.  The main part of the needle is the part that is coloured and this has just enough ‘grip’ on the yarn to not be lethally slippery – though they have less ‘grab’ than carbon or wood; they have a lot more than plain steel needles.

Best bits:

  • amazing tools for the job; they make knitting even more of a pleasure
  • beautiful to look at
  • extremely well made
  • attention to detail – the range of size and length options, for example, and the laser-cut size that is added to each needle
  • choosing them is great fun – very addictive!
  • clear, clean website
  • life-time guarantee against manufacturing defects

Not so good:

  • they are really quite expensive.  A pair of single point 4 mm needles, in the mid-length, stiletto tip and spiral end is $34 plus postage.  I do not begrudge this cost.  I think they are worth this money, and I expect to have to pay for great craftsmanship.  It just means I have a limited number and will never have a full set!
  • there are very few UK-based retailers, and I can see why because the whole point is that YOU build the needle and then they assemble and ship it.  But this means that you are highly likely to be importing them direct from the US manufacturing site, which adds a lot of time and postage cost
  • be aware that they attract import tax
  • the longer single points I find very heavy, possibly due to the decorative ends.  They can make my hands ache after an hour or so, which is unusual for me.  The way round this is to use circs – but as I have said, the fixed option has been discontinued



Post – About Post

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

My interest in – obsession, fortunately, is something I am almost never troubled with – becoming a post-woman started when I was about ten.  We lived in Wellingborough, on a road called The Pyghtle, pronounced Pitle, rhymes with title.  This suburban road is a hill, and our house was right at the top.  If you cycled away from our house in either direction, you first went down a thrilling hill, but of course, you had to climb back up later.

My aunt in Manchester was making me a dress.  Aunty Doreen was a talented dress and coat maker, I had sketched a dress that I wished for, and she had agreed to make it. It was going to be green, with puffed sleeves.  This is because I was, and still am, Ann of Green Gables.

But the dress making had to be fitted in between her other sewing work, and I didn’t know when it would arrive.  However, I did know it would come by post.  It was rare for me to get any post, let alone a parcel.  My Aunty Florence posted things quite often, usually to my parents, but including once, for me, a gourd or squash from her garden which she had varnished as an ornament.  I had a sulky and intermittent pen-pal in France, but that was about it for me.  

This was in December, the school holidays.  If I stood in the bay window of my parents’ bedroom (and in order to do this I had to first squeeze into the space behind the dressing table and mirror) – and leaned forwards, I could see the postman once he was about one quarter of the way up The Pyghtle.  A small figure appearing and re-appearing.  There is a cul-de-sac about half way up the hill and he would vanish into this bit of The Pyghtle for ages.  Once out of the cul-de-sac, he was really only about thirty houses away, and I could see him quite clearly.

In this era, and during the winter – post-codes were in their final phases of introduction, I time all my notable life-events according to Royal Mail developments at that time, for example:

UK postcodes finalised

– it was cold in our house, unless you were in bed, in the bath, or in the sitting room where the fire was lit, in which case, your front was warm.  In the front bedroom, it was often intensely cold. So the window pane misted up, causing me to rub it clear and sometimes draw and write on it to pass the cul-de-sac time.  Mum asked me to stop doing that as it then needed cleaning, but by and large she was happy for me to pop on my duffle coat every morning after breakfast and resume my vigil in her bedroom window.

Often, he did call at our house, but I knew within moments of his getting into plain sight, if it was going to be Dress Day, because if he had The Dress, he would have a parcel and usually he had only letters.  Brown ones.  Sometimes, about every third day or so, we had no post and he just walked past us and went to Mrs Thompson’s next door.

During this time, I thought a lot about his job.  Not in a systematic way.  I didn’t think at all about the merits of the Royal Mail pension scheme, or the state of the vans and bicycles.  After all, I was only at junior school, as it was then called. But I thought about what he was carrying.  In my imagination, and despite my experience with impenetrable letters from my boring French pen-friend and the varnished gourd, he brought only nice things.

It never once occurred to me that he might have sad news, bad news, hard-to-pay bills or just a heap of circulars.  I didn’t think about letters that might herald tears or anger or fear.  I thought about how happy it must make him, to be the bearer of happy news, birthday cards, maybe love letters – and puffed-sleeved dresses.  It is fair to say he didn’t look all that happy, but he did begin to notice me, and sometimes, he’d almost smile.

One day, and even now, my stomach lurches when I remember this, and I feel happy and nervous, it was clear that he did have a brown paper parcel.  The parcel did not go to Mr and Mrs Pentenny’s house, or to the man next door whose grandson was called – very modern! – Tod, and to whom we were not allowed to talk because he (not Tod) kept two very large Alsatian dogs and had inadequate fencing, said my mother.  It came to us.  I skidded down the stairs, in my knitted pixie-hood/duffle coat combo and with wet, cold hands, I answered the door myself.

The Dress was absolutely perfect. Puffed sleeves, with a ruched bit at the elbow so there were two sections of puff.  Soft, green, with a lovely full-skirt. Not a shirt-waister, the usual design of hand-made dress for which I was, probably very obviously, a bit ungrateful.  It was a proper dress.

Oddly, the arrival of The Dress left a bit of a void in my morning routine, and for the next few days, I trailed back up to the front bedroom and watched the postman anyway – but it wasn’t the same.  I think we both knew it was over.  And then I suppose it was Christmas, and then it was back to the place I hated most on earth, Victoria Junior School.

From this period on, I became very keen on being a post-women myself.  Despite a serious problem with number dyslexia (I am sure it has its own name), absolutely no sense of direction, and a dread of the cold and wet, in many ways I think I’d be ideal.  I  simply love dogs, and I decided I’d be the sort of postie who keeps dog biscuits in her pockets.  I really like older people and I think that, for them maybe, the postie can be a sort of friend.  Being outdoors (though, see earlier remarks regarding cold and wet) is something I love.  Cycling is my main hobby.  And finally I think it would be amazing to be the person with all that life-changing stuff in her hands, just before it plops through the letter box – that and the thousands of Domino Pizza voucher brochures.

And I very nearly did it.  Much to the amusement or horror, depending on the friend, of most of my friends.  I am, however, sort-of glad that I didn’t realise this dream, because maybe the Royal Mail pension scheme would have become more important to me than delivering dresses.


Halloween Workshop, 25 October 2014 – One Place Available!

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

I have had a cancellation for the 2014 Halloween Workshop and there is one space now available.

2015 may be fully booked – but you can some this year instead – or as well!

Book here.

Court Cottage Workshop Gift Vouchers

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

You can buy a place at one of my events as a gift for a friend.  Once you buy them a place, I will send you (or them) a hand-written invitation to choose an event, and once they let me know, I will book their place for them.

The place can be used at any time; I still have very good availability for many of my 2015 workshops.

New Courses for 2015

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The 2015 Court Cottage courses are now live on my website.  You can view and book here.

To help you (and also because it is, apparently, impossible to design a website which can order pages for you.  Sigh.  So the 2015 events are in random order), here is the complete list:

  • 31 Jan – Full-Moon Shawl
  • 7 Feb – The Bump Bag
  • 21 Feb – intermediate crochet with Donna Jones
  • 7 March – Frill Seeker (a super-frilly boa!)
  • 18 & 19 April – Design Weekend
  • 16 May – beaded, colourwash Fairisle in the round (Kidsilk Haze)
  • 13 June – Summer Florals: stoles, cushions and throws to knit and (maybe) crochet
  • 19 Sept – repeat of the Fairisle day
  • 3 October – repeat of the Frill Seeker day
  • 17 October – Halloween at Court Cottage
  • 14 November – Christmas at Court Cottage (full)
  • 21 November – Christmas at Court Cottage (repeat of 14 November)

New for 2015 are the Frill Seeker, the Fairisle, and the Floral Summer events.  But all the events feature new designs, except Bump Bag which is repeated due to over-spill demand.

Two topics are repeated, to allow greater attendance.  But if a course gets filled up, and you want to come, do please email me as I will possibly get cancellations and can pop you in, or I will arrange a new date if I have enough demand, as has happened with three events this year, thus allowing an extra 20+ knitters to attend.

Design weekend will be slightly different this year, so if you have been before, there will be a new ‘design brief’ to suit you.

Millington and I can’t wait for a great year of knitting with you.

I really would love to welcome you, whether you have been before, or are new to Court Cottage, so please book your place and we will look forward to seeing you.


Frilly Boas a-go-go at Spin-a-Yarn! Thursday 18 September 2014

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

One of the events I am teaching next year is my Boa Road-Show.  OK, it’s not a road-show, it’s just me with two boas.  However, I am previewing this at an exclusive Spin-a-Yarn, Devon event next week and the delightful spinners tell me that there are, shockingly, two places now available.

Why don’t you come along?  It’s Thursday 18 September 2014, 10 – 4.

This is what you will be learning to make:

Prepare to be ‘frilled’…!

You can talk to Spin-a-Yarn by using this link.  It would be really lovely to see you there.