Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for May, 2015

Show and Tell: Fairisle Off the Needles; and … Workshop Query

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Earlier this month we held the first Fairisle Court Cottage Workshop.  Participant Sue has just sent me this image of the cowl she completed.  I love it.

Sue's FI Cowl

The concept is traditional Fairisle, with a colourwash and beaded twist.  You will learn the most important skills:  1) flat, even stranding and tension control.  2)  the option to hold the yarns in either one hand or both hands.  Hint:  it’s easy.  So much myth and kerfuffle is talked about FI.  I am a big fan of the easy route to great looking designs and this, I promise you, is so much easier than it may look.

I am running it again in September, but that is full.  Let me know if anyone fancies a repeat, as I do have one person on the waiting list, so it’s possible that it’d be worthwhile sorting another date.

On that note, I am running out of Saturdays.  How would Sunday events work for you?



Caves That Are Not That Much Fun, (leading to): A Conversation With Lily

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Some caves are just too hard for me and I will never go there.  Some caves are just too hard for me, but somehow I end up there anyway.  Recently I have caved in two such places.  Longwood Swallet was the first.  It was some weeks ago and it had been really wet for a while, so the cave entrance, which is horrid anyway, was very wet, with water pouring in on you all the time. Not jetting, but enough to be very unpleasant and annoying.

It is a locked cave, but we had the key from the club. And the drive there and the walk to the cave itself are deceptively lovely.  The cave begins with an entirely vertical entrance series, in which Will rigged a hand line.  THANK GOD.  I absolutely hate climbing down when I can’t see any foot or handholds and I almost took my arm off with the strangle hold I had on that rope.  Once I got to the bottom, which took about a week, I was unable to think of anything else except how the hell I was going to climb back out.  We didn’t go much further, and I can’t remember an awful lot of it very clearly but it was wet and small – ducked in fact. Nasty though that bit of cave sounds (and it was) it was so much nicer than the bloody entrance chimney.  Actually as is almost always the case, getting back up was way easier.  But I still hated it.  Will says it was my intro to Longwood, which implies a return trip.  That will not be happening.

Once out, we wandered further along the valley path to another cave nearby, Longwood Valley Sink, the site of an active dig.  Some Wessex members were there, hauling bits of ground out of the, er, ground, I suppose.  Most of them were deep inside, down what looked like a death slide.  I declined a trip but the very nice members at the top urged the willing and able-bodied (Will and Florence) to go, which they did, but they said they felt rather ‘in the way’ of the cave-digging crew so they weren’t long.  I am so glad that there are ardent cave diggers.  They do find amazing things.  I just couldn’t be one. Literally, all I’d be good for would be making tea, after.

For some reason, after this less than happy day, Will and Florence thought it’d be a treat to go to another dig, Spider Hole, which is half-way along the Cheddar Gorge and up the side of the cliff.  Again, an active dig spear-headed by the Wessex.  We had in mind a fairly quick evening trip.  I asked Lily to be our call-out, in case there was no one at the hut.  I blithely suggested that if they didn’t hear from us by 10 pm, then begin making calls – to the hut, to us, to the pub etc, before initiating a rescue.   To start a cave rescue, you ring 999, ask for the police and then tell them it’s a cave rescue and they co-ordinate the rest.  In theory. In practice, seasoned cavers, if their mates were over their call-out time – and ‘over’ varies from dead on the dot, to an hour or so after, would weigh things up.  In this time, you might try their mobiles in case they are in fact in the pub and forgot to call you; or you might call the cave hut they went from, if they did; or the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy, global nerve-centre of all Mendip cave activity, especially resue.  By then, it might be over an hour.

There is a fine line between not over-reacting, and on the other hand, not wanting to cock-up a call-out where a party might really be in trouble. But it is just so very rare.  So the next step might be to send someone to the place where the car might be parked.  If it’s gone, they’re out or they never parked there in the first place.  Anyway, it usually resolves itself with no-one having to be rescued or leave a pint to go cold in The Hunters.  However, I suspect if they knew I was involved, they’d hope for the best but fear the worst…

So. We were in Spider Hole.  We anticipated a quick trip.  This took no account whatsoever of my extreme reluctance to go down the hole, which looked like Longwood only dry.  In fact, it was much nicer than Longwood, but it still took a while.  The remainder of the cave is a weird combination of very impressive engineering executed by the epic digging team, and very impressive deathy drops of many 1,000 feet (I am guessing) down little tiny rifts between sheer rock faces.  FANTASTIC!

Perhaps you can imagine the faffing (from me).  But I did get down the wire ladders kindly rigged by Will and Florence and (as you can see) I got back up, as well.  Always a bonus.  I can report that there is a really big space at the bottom and that digging continues.  It may well be a VID (very important dig) and I stand ready to make the fruit cake to celebrate the next, um, important thing.  I was impressed – if by impressed, you mean terrified – by the tiny ledges you have to shuffle along over the holes of death, in order to get within hailing distance of the ladder; and by the work that is being done.  But (and I am not being picky, I am just saying) it’s not pretty, guys.  Is it, now? However, maybe this cave was asked the all-important question:  ‘Right-o, Cave, do you want to be beautiful, dangerous, or important? You can only choose two’.  Caves are rarely all three.  In my vast experience.  If I was a cave (stay with me on this), I’d choose pretty and dangerous; that way, my cave-pretties would be safer from many cavers.  But who’d choose dangerous and important, and totes miss out pretty??  Spider, and Longwood, that is who.  Spider is really good fun coming out.  The engineering that has been done in that blasted chimney is incredible and I didn’t use the rope!  Longwood – take note.

But it was really odd when we finally got out.  It was dark.  Darker than the 9 ish I imagined it to be.  We wandered back to the car and glanced at a phone for the time.  Holy Bat Caves!  it was 4 minutes to 10!!  I knew that with Lily in charge of our call out, there would be no 30 – 45 minutes of grace while she pondered the next step, or rang the pub, or the club.  I knew that my daughter, the most risk-averse member of our family, and also the most organised, would have put an alarm reminder on her phone and be establishing a procedural framework to go forward with the rescue scenario by about 9.30.  With 4 minutes to go, and no phone signal, we got into the car in our stinky, muddy kit, we didn’t even get changed, and drove like born-and-bred locals to the top of the Gorge, to get a sodding mobile signal.  Which we did by 10.03.

Too late.

Lily had already initiated Operation ‘Get My Bloody Mother Out Of The Bloody Cave’.  She is like an Exocet.  At 10 pm, on the stroke, she rang 999, asked for the police, got cut off, rang again, and, having explained that she needed to launch a cave rescue, then explained to the operative in the ’emergency’ call centre what a cave, and then a rescue, actually is.  They simply had no idea whatsoever for which I am eternally grateful.  I have no doubt that in a further 4 minutes, they’d have established an understanding, consulted standing orders and started a whole train of horribly embarrassing things.

This took 4 minutes, at which time, a frantic text from Florence to Lily finally bounced into her mobile, as we crested the Mendips and got a signal.  Lily stood the massed ranks of the emergency services down, even though they had never been mobilised, thankfully, apologised for her incredibly stupid family, and waited.  She waited for this conversation with me, about an hour later, when we got home.

Me (in my caving under-suit, quite damp and with mud in my hair):  I am SOOOO SORRY, but…

Lily (more disappinted than angry? not really, no):  WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT??

Me (intake of breath only, no words allowed):

Lily:  you said you’d be back by 9.30!

Me:  well, I did think we would, but it was a longer trip than I had imagined, and our call-out wasn’t until 10…

Lily:  can you even IMAGINE what I was thinking??

Me:  yes, and as I have said, I am very, VERY sorry, it must have been scary, I know but…

Lily:  I thought you’d all DIED!!  In a poxy CAVE.

(Florence, helpfully interjecting from the hall en-route to her shower):  Mum nearly did, and we nearly died of old-age waiting for her to sort herself out.

Lily (correctly ignoring this intrusion):  the police didn’t know a thing about cave rescue, by the way, Mum, they thought I was a nutter!  A bonus in my amazing night. Thanks!

Me:  well, yes I do see that it has been really traumatic. What was dad doing?  (Mark had raised a hand over the top of the Telegraph but remained in the sitting room.  There is usually cycling or golf on Sky from somewhere in the world that requires his attention).

Lily:  he was watching telly.

Me:  so…did you discuss ringing 999 with him?

Lily:  NO!! I was expecting you back at 9.30, so at 10 I just did WHAT YOU SAID!

Me:  yes, right, no, right, I totally DO see that, darling…but the thing is…

(Will, from the porch, coming in from stowing away kit):  best if you ring the caver himself, or the pub first, Lils, in future.

Lily:  IN FUTURE??

Me:  yes, great, really not helping, Will, but thanks.

Me:  look darling I really am most dreadfully sorry that you were so frightened, and you absolutely did the right thing. I just don’t know what I can say now.

Lily:  say you won’t go caving again.

Me:  well…if it is any consolation, it was not worth it, it was a weird and fairly unpleasant evening…

Lily:  well, GOOD.  That makes two of us!

Me:  I won’t go to that cave again, how’s that?

Lily (sighing, collecting her things):  I have college tomorrow. It’s late (it was 11 pm).  We will say no more now, but we will talk about it tomorrow.

Me (internal dialog only):  This really is not worth it.  I am going to eBay all my caving kit.





Technical Mini-SKills Workshops – last 3 places for next 2 events

Friday, May 15th, 2015

There are only 2 places left for casting-off skills, on Thursday 9 July; and only 1 space is left on my eleventy ways to knit in the round event on 1 October.

These are half-day, intensive sessions.  Really useful for your knitting repertoire, and also, small, hands-on events – with cake as a reward at the end.

Do book.

‘Elements’ Photo-Shoot; photo-bombing

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

We have now completed about 70% of the photography for the new book, ‘Elements’ which Donna and I are publishing in September.  The shoots have been held in Somerset, and in South Wales which is an important factor for us both, since we have drawn our inspirations from our home environments.

For my other books, I was never able to attend the shoots.  I very much regretted this, and not only because, had I been at one of them, I would definitely have noticed that one of the pieces was inside out. Before it was photographed, so that it didn’t end up in the book that way.  It’s OK.  I expect to be over it in roughly 2018.  I did ask to be there each time. But it wasn’t – yes, I think, in fact, it wasn’t allowed.  No-one said that, but it just didn’t ever happen, despite my always asking, and even driving the items over to the shoot location for one of the books.  And then, you know, saying ‘hi!’ and ‘bye!’ before just driving home.  I am more assertive now.

I did mainly love the photos for the other books.  But Donna and I both wanted to be much more involved this time than I had been in the past.  We now have a much better appreciation of just how much sheer hard work styling a shoot is, and we are very grateful to our models and photographer.  I mean, it’s not hard as in assembling Range Rovers in a car plant or teaching GCSE maths to a bunch of enthusiastic teens.  But it is actually a lot of slog, fixing, getting wet, getting steamed up, forgetting to eat and drink – that sort of thing.

Anyway, above all it was a nerve-wracking and highly enjoyable experience which has yielded some great material for our designer to work with.  All we have to do now is choose a minute percentage of the 1000s of images that were produced.

We shot some of the interior pieces here.  In fact, for my very first book, the cover shot was taken here so I was present, if in the kitchen.  As I was arranging two of the pieces, Arthur who is the Zoolander of the Dachshund world, being ridiculously good-looking, photo-bombed the set up.  I think one of his shots might creep into the final edit.  I always think of Arthur as a pup.  But he is 7 this year.  I was struck by how white his muzzle is going.  Sigh.

Arthur photo bombs the shoot 1



Arthur photbombs the shoot 2

Technical Workshops

Friday, May 1st, 2015

These are starting to take off nicely now.  The nerd in me (this is approximately 50% of my content) is delighted that people want to nerd-out on knitting skills.  Yesterday we had the 3rd event and it was all about casting on.  I have now added 2 more events.  There is casting off skills, on 9 July; and 4 ways to knit in the round, 1 October.  They start at 1.30 and end after tea at 4.30.

I realise that You Tube is basically a giant knitting how-to resource and that’s great.  I use it all the time.  But, a lot of the content is American and not always easy to ‘translate’ to English knitting.  And mainly, not everyone enjoys learning from videos or illustrations in books.  Also, when I choose (as I did this week) 8 cast-ons, I am ‘editing’ for you and telling you all about my favourite ways, and how I do it, along with tips and issues to be aware of.

I estimate, with my scientific research skills, that there are now eleventy-hundred ways to cast on for any conceivable application.   These include the Transylvania Long-Tail Cast-On for knitting a toy shark in the round, the little-used limited-edition ‘Cambridge’ Tubular Cast-On for knitted clerical robes, and the widely-avoided Kilner-Robson Axis twisted and rolled cast-on, whose use is now only ever observed at the monthly ‘knit n knatter’ group based at the Brown Spout cafe, Louth, Lincs.  So it makes a lot of sense for me to trawl through the options and serve you up the only ones you are ever likely to need, thus narrowing the scope from 1000s to 8.  At most.

Book now!  Embrace the inner nerd.  You know you will find kindred spirits here.