Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for January, 2015

Full Moon Over Court Cottage Predicted for The Weekend

Friday, January 30th, 2015


On 31 January, we are starting the ‘new term’ of Court Cottage classes with the Full Moon Workshop.  I am very excited to be starting the teaching year and with a brand new subject.  This is the first time I have held this event – in fact, all the events for 2015 except Bump Bag Shibori Felting in February, are new topics and projects.

There are two designs for this Saturday.  Both are full circle shawls, though they are really different.  But first, the ways in which they are similar:  both easy; both quite ‘big’ knits (yarn usage and time); both can be beaded or plain; both are knitted flat; both can be knitted, within reason, in any yarn assuming you use the right needles.  I mean, I probably wouldn’t knit them in eye-lash yarn or fun fur, but otherwise, it will work.

The first shawl is quite traditional, being knitted from the top down and finishing with eleventy-sixteen stitches as it grows both in length and mooniness.  I love this, it is quite short, it swirls round, the stocking stitch sections ‘oppose’ one another, and it has a pretty lacy edge.

The other shawl is knitted sideways, so you never have more stitches than you began with, in fact, since it is short row shaping, it is reducing as you go.  This latter shawl is segmented though there is no sewing up, you just transition from one segment to the next.  What I really love about this one is that it is deeply swirling, very full, and has a swing-back effect.  It will stay on you (my full circle shawls have a body gap, so they do not have be knitted in the round and folded to wear them), however you wear it.

It can be draped and it will give you an elegant waterfall front effect.  Or it can be thrown over one shoulder – either way, it will not fall off, and the swing-back is the same. It is heavy, especially the beaded version, in DK yarn, so it’s cosy but not oppressive.  The length is about elbow, so it is short enough to allow you to drink a glass of champagne or knit, unimpeded by shawl-faffage.  This segmented design means it is not actually round – it’s fifty-pence-piece-shaped.

By the way, I knitted one of these in Rowan Alpaca Colour – gorgeous.

The patterns will be added to the site next week.

The course is fully booked.  However, if you think you’d like to come on full moon course here this year, email me and if I can, I will set another date.

Retailers, if you think you’d like this event at your shop, I will be teaching ‘The Roundabout’ shawl as a one-day workshop, so please contact me for details.


Workshop Left-Overs

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

These are the places left for events here in 2015.

In March there are three places for the Boa Day, when we will knit either the refined and elegant Eastwater Boa; or the exuberant and joyful Frill Seeker Boa. Both are easy and fun, great to wear or to gift.

In April  there is one space on the Design weekend (2 days).

And there is one space on the Halloween Workshop, the one on the 24th, the other one is full.

That’s all that is left for full day or two day workshops, so do be a love and book them up, it looks so much tidier…

There are plenty of spaces on the new half-day ‘skills’ events.  You can see these three events here.

Straws and Unicorns (Caving)

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Last weekend I went to the South Wales Cave Club (SWCC) and stayed at their very spacious yet cosy club house.  The main purpose of this visit was to cave, for the third time for me, in the magnificent cave: OFD ll.  I love this massive cave system, because it is so vast, there are literally dozens of potential trips, offering varying degrees of challenge, ranging from fairly novice caver to really epic trips.  It is awe-inspiring in its scale, offers lots of challenges, some of which I can do, and it also harbours formations of outstanding beauty.  Such as this, me (not the thing of beauty) in Straw Gallery:

Straw Gallery ACS in Straw Gallery

This trip, which is also part of my training to cave for long enough to make it to and through Sump 1 in Swildons some time in 2015, was planned to last for up to 5 hours.  In fact, we caved for 4.5 hours and this included some photo taking and a brief stop for a snack and water.  Our target was Straw Gallery, which is very close to the part of OFD ll that will eventually take you on into OFD lll.  We went in, as is conventional, at the main entrance, and then on to Big Chamber Near the Entrance (best cave name ever), through Gnome Passage (not real gnomes; let down), over The Mini-Traverses, down The Corkscrew* and into then straight across the streamway.  Eventually we reached Timmo’s Table (snack time) and then on, via 4 really quite nice climbs up, and, via a very pleasant series of narrow tunnels and crawls, we reached the main challenge:  The Poached Egg.

This is an awkward little climb, not that high really, but the way takes you round an inconvenient bulge of rock and mud, on which are some fairly well-worn stals, and where, once upon a time, there was a formation, small and round, hence its name of poached egg, which cavers used to loop an arm or hand round as they attempted to swing round the bulging overhang and make it across and up.  One day, with a caver attached, it relinquished its grip on the rock and the mud and they both – caver and egg – fell down about 20 feet at that point.  She was alright, but the egg was no more.  Now, there is a short metal spike at the same point in the rock and mud to aid you;  plus two bolts to which you can rig a rope or slings.  We used slings.  This means you can loop this sling, which is rigged across, around one arm; thus reassured, you tentatively reach for the only foot hold, which is not really big enough for two feet whatever Will may say, shuffle about a bit, get both feet safe, grab hold of the spike and launch onwards to the other side.  You do it in two really bold steps, basically. This is me on the way in:

Poached Egg Climb

And this is Florence in a shot I took on the way back; I am standing at the very bottom, on the same side as where she will pop out of the climb:Straw Gallery F on way back over poached egg


I had heard of this Poached Egg, and it had the potential to make me have a ‘moment’ but in fact it was relatively easy and I really enjoyed it.  Directly after this, you need to climb up again, but from a sort of small plateau of rock, up about 10 feet.  I could see now way here, so I stood on Will.  He did it by launching at it.  I think he just overcomes some climbs by pretending they are not there.  Then I think we got a bit lost, re-traced our steps, corrected the problem and were at once crawling into Straw Gallery.

It is a low, wide passage, well taped off, as the straws populate one side of the roof.  There are hundreds, probably thousands, of straws, growing from fault lines.  Some are very long, some appear white, others are amber.  From many, helectites are growing, which are gravity-defying formations which sprout horizontally or even back upwards, from walls in caves, or from other formations, such as these straws.  I have read the theories about how helectites are formed.  It may be capillary forces, drawing water against gravity; or some suggest wind in caves, which does exist, may blow the calcite-bearing droplets one way and then another.  The shapes they form are really incredible and until you see them, especially in areas where they are massed, it is very hard to imagine. And when you do see them, it is very hard to believe they are real.

Straws are, as the name suggests, hollow – in fact, they are hollow stalactites.  If the end got blocked up it would just be a stalactite.  I assume. They are incredibly delicate, and beneath the gallery, on the floor of the cave, and on the other side of the tape, lie hundreds more broken straws or parts of straws.  These are casualties of nature, not of man.  Seismic activity can break or dislodge delicate formations, or they may develop with a fault and then break off.  They are just left, on the mud floor of this chamber, where they fall.  I think (and here I am drawing on my incredible reserves of science theory, innit?) that sometimes, these straws may develop with tiny holes in the hollow structure, and water gets drawn up or sideways through these, depositing calcite into the weird shapes that some – but by no means all – of the straws exhibit, like mad crystal wigs. It’s that, or the unicorns which roam about in the caves when we leave, breathe special unicorn air onto them to make the helectites.  This theory has not been tested.

As water loaded with calcite drops to the ground, so stalagmites are formed, growing from the ground upwards, and in Straw Gallery, there are several of these, one notably bigger and much more vivid in its amber shade than the others.  It’s odd.  The straws are all so pale, often white and so slender.  Then the stalagmites are so much bigger, and rather orange.

I lay on my back, on the outside (i.e. the side you are allowed to occupy) of the tape, and you can then gaze up at the straw-strewn ceiling and marvel at this utterly amazing sight.  It was the ultimate in luxury – the luxury of time.  Because we were taking some pictures, which really only involves me in being in one or two, or holding and pressing the flash.  We were on our own, no-one was in a hurry.  No-one was exhausted, cold or hungry.  We knew all we had to do was cave back largely the same way we went in, and we had hours before our call-out time.  So I lay here, on the floor of Straw Gallery, for about 20 minutes.

Finally we left this chamber and made our way back in 1.5 hours which is pretty fast caving for me.  I was very keen to get out and have a wee, a cuppa and a shower, followed by hot food, a beer, some knitting, and a group crossword puzzle with some of the other hut-dwellers that night.  I am very proud that we cracked the puzzle in under half an hour and I demonstrated to my fellow cavers that crosswording can be a team game.  They retaliated with scrabble.  I have never played scrabble, but last weekend I witnessed it three times.  It just does not appeal to me.  Silly tiles, weird numbering rules…and a lot of squabbling about if words that (in my opinion) were clearly made-up, are real.  But then, I really hate all board games. In fact, the only group-games I do like are pictionary, which I have played twice, and Cards Against Humanity, which I played once, and it’s rude.  But very funny.

I rate the trip to Straw Gallery as my personal best cave trip to date.  This cave also involves a hefty walk of about half a mile directly up the steep hillside to where the entrance is located, and of course the walk back down, which is not easier because it hurts my shins.  So, 4.5 hours of caving (with rests) plus the hiking.  My acid test for endurance activities, mainly running and cycling, is:  how much more could I do if I had to?  I reckon, with another snack break, I could have caved on for at least another 1.5 hours, even allowing for climbing/moderate peril.  This means I am ready to try Swildons again, and attempt to get to, and through, Sump 1, which will take me very briefly (for as long as it takes to get a photo) into Swildons 2.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.  It may not be soon, but I am feeling more confident.

*when I first went into OFD ll, and that is eighteen months ago now, I sat at the top of The Corkscrew and cried.  I cried for five minutes, and I protested and begged for a further ten before being coaxed down and round it.  Needless to say, this is simply exhausting for everyone.  If I needed evidence that you CAN improve and see real progress, this is it, because this time, whilst I was still cautious, I unhesitatingly if slowly slid and climbed down this nasty little climb with no apprehension whatsoever.  This lends some weight to a theory which experienced cavers have been telling me for some time, namely that caving whilst not sobbing, and with one’s eyes open is rather easier.

Caving In a Pub Car-park: Hunters Lodge Inn Sink

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Last week, Florence and I went caving on our own.  I really admire Florence for agreeing to cave with me alone.  Respect.

We just wanted a two hour ‘bimble’ with no kit or faff, so we requested the key for Hunters Lodge Inn Sink.  This cute little cave is in the car-park of Hunters Lodge Inn, also known as the magnetic centre of the caving universe.  The publican basically owns the cave, plus another one in a nearby field, which is Hunters Hole.

It’s a slightly odd looking pub from the outside.  The windows appear to repel any light emitting from the interior, so it always looks closed, even deserted.  It does in fact keep old fashioned pub hours, so if you want to go there, you have to go at lunch time or after 6 pm.  This pub has some rules.  For example, the landlord lights the fire in the bar from October to May.  So even if May is really cold, the fire is not lit, I assume.  There is also a rule about mobile ‘phones so I leave mine in the car when I have been there, just in case the rumours of mobiles being nailed to the walls are true…

It is an amazing place though, because it supports a lot of cavers, cave rescue, and caving in general.  Years ago, when the British countryside was closed due to the foot and mouth outbreak, cavers could not access most caves, because they couldn’t walk across paths, fields and farmland.  So, the landlord of the Hunters Lodge Inn, aware that there was some cave-like evidence in his car-park, allowed cave-starved speleologists (that’s ME!) to dig it.  Thus, they dug into and found Hunters Lodge Inn Sink.  They dug the 5 meter drop, now furnished with a metal fixed ladder and then they ‘modified’ the super-tight passage that followed so it is not at all tight now – this is known as the Pub Crawl, and it’s a lengthy steeply downward sloping tube, which is big enough in places to crawl, but largely it is too narrow so you lie down and wriggle.  Much easier on the way in.  There are still digs here and there, I am not sure how active they are now, but the cave they found, and its bone deposits, make it one of the most intriguing caves, with a lovely history.

There are some moderate little climbs, one of which has been furnished with a tiny wobbly ladder, and a very handy rope, jammed under a boulder at the top.  There’s a bit where you pop over a deep hole (which, if you take the right kit, you can descend, it has the bolts all ready) and then you just carry on into areas such as The Barmaid’s Bedroom, and along the way, here and there, you do see some very nice formations.

Here I am climbing out (this was the first trip, not this one):


Next time, perhaps with Will, we will be going down the pitch, which looks awkward in terms of getting the ladder rigged and then actually getting on the ladder, but I am confident that by then, my levitating will have come on no end.

It was my second trip to HLIS, the last being about 18 months ago.  It’s an easy and interesting trip, ideal if you want a 1.5 – 3 hour mess about, depending on where you go.  It’s not taxing, except the thruching up The Pub Crawl on the way out, but I am a proper weirdo because I really like this sort of activity, along with the Cwm Dwr Crawl, boulder chokes in general, the Woggle Press in Eastwater and the like.  I even liked the seemingly endless crawl and wriggle to the Red Room in Hillers, but it’s not my favourite because it is very HOT.  HLIS (at least the bits I went into) has no tight bits, it’s just low in places so you have to lie down.  It is spectacularly muddy.

Here is a pic of me in the Pub Crawl.  It looks vertical but is in fact about 35 degrees at this point:

And here are some of the formations:

Caving in Wales this weekend! Planning a long (this is five hours for me) trip on day one, and a shorter, three hour trip on the Sunday.  I really hope it stops raining as the Sunday cave is very reactive to rainfall.


Conversations with Lily #8 and also, the final one…

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

…in which we have a conversation about ‘Conversations with Lily’.

Lily (bursting through office doorway and assuming manner of detective about to unmask a murderer): So! What is this? (pointing at iPhone in her hand).

Me:  it’s your ‘phone.

Lily (advancing, with some menace, into the room): no, THIS! (thrusting iPhone screen at me).

Me:  I can’t read it…

Lily:  well, let me read it to you. ‘Conversations with Lily…’ – hmm, shall we start with the one about parties or maybe the driving lessons…? (in increasingly ironic and irritated tone)…no wait! Let’s start with the first one, the one in which you *guarantee* that I will never read these because it’s about knitting, innit? (reaching crescendo of outrage) And I’m quoting you!

Me:  to be fair, you have never read my blog.  Until now, I assume.

Lily:  yes, that is true, and I only read it today because at college, someone asked me about your *hilarious* conversations with me, which they had found, and which I knew nothing about!

Me:  but…

Lily (rudely interrupting):  can you imagine how I felt?


Lily:  can you??

me (hesitantly):  …proud?

Lily:  not proud.

Me:  …amused?


Me: if I was you, I’d be more interested in why one of your fellow students was looking at my website.  Do they knit?

Lily:  no, mum, they don’t knit.

Me:  well it’s creepy isn’t it?

Lily:  not as creepy as your blog about our conversations!

Me:  OK.  I’ll stop.

Lily:  OK.

Yes.  Clearly I have not quite stopped.  But this will be the last one, if you or your friend is reading this, Lily.  I just thought that the last ‘Conversations With Lily’ should be the one about conversations with Lily.  Circular and all that.