Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for September, 2015

Garden in September

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

September is, as we have established many times, the best month of the year.  I love it for its gentleness and promise.  All that is really going to grow and be harvested has, by September, finished with growing and is either ripening or setting seed.

It is often warm and sunny, with a mellowness that can elude July and August, if they have a mind to be hot.  Unlike this year.  So this year, after so much rain and cold in the official summer months, I am especially grateful to September for being, so far, warm, golden and soft.  The claws of winter are still sheathed.  We can still hope for sun.

Here is some of my garden, this September.

Interview – Somerset Life Magazine

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

I thought you might like to see the transcript of an interview I did with Somerset Life for a forthcoming edition (October I think) about the new book, Elements.

Somerset Life.  It’s only a short step from here to being on Strictly, really, isn’t it…?

*Who is behind Smith & Jones and how did you get together?

I am Smith, and Donna Jones is Jones! We met when we both worked for Rowan Yarns in Bristol about nine years ago.  Over the years, we have collaborated on some knitting workshop teaching and often discussed doing some joint design work. Finally in 2014 we decided to create a design partnership – Smith & Jones Knits and this book is our first major project.

*What are your backgrounds?

I worked for Rowan Yarns for several years, in the John Lewis Partnership and later as a Workshop Tutor teaching all over the UK.  Donna did the same.  By combining this work with our ‘real’ jobs, we both developed our textile and teaching skills.  Before and alongside knitting design and teaching, we both have other jobs.  Donna is nurse by background and is now a senior nurse manager in the NHS.  I am a freelance writer, working on magazine, website and corporate projects, most of which are nothing to do with knitting. 

*How did you begin knitting?

I learned to knit as a child – which is something that skipped a generation, really, after generations like my own.  People just stopped knitting, though knitting is still enjoying an 8 year plus renaissance, so people are once again learning to knit and are passing on the skills to their children. I suppose what I am saying is I knitted before knitting was ‘cool’. I knitted when none of my friends knitted and frankly it marked you out as being a bit odd.  There was a time when women especially knitted for reasons of economy:  it was cheaper to knit a school sweater than to buy one.  With the start of mass-produced clothing and low prices, most knitters now knit for pleasure and to create something luxurious and special that you could not buy, because it doesn’t exist in the shops.

When I had my own family, I returned to knitting just as a hobby, which gradually grew to occupy more of my time and attention.  I attended a lot of courses and workshops and decided that I wanted to have this ‘hobby’ as part of my working life.  Getting the part-time role with Rowan as a Design Consultant was the start of that.  I remain utterly amazed that I have somehow now written 4 books, and that I teach and design every week. 

*Where are you based and how would you describe your workspace – do you have a Somerset view?

I live in Puriton which is about 4 miles from Bridgwater.  We have lived in the village for 10 years; before this we lived in Burnham-on-Sea for many years.  My workspace is my house, which is a very old cottage right in the middle of the village.  My view from my office and from my workshop room is my garden.  This garden was definitely right at the heart of my designs for Elements. The garden has lots of history – very old apple trees, and metal work from when the cottage was a black-smiths forge. It is a bit wild, it’s quite big, and it also served as the back-drop for some of the book photography.  But all my inspirations were drawn from Somerset, especially the Mendip Hills where I spend a lot of time, cycling, walking and caving.  I teach here at Court Cottage, with an annual knitting workshop programme, and I have also been very inspired and encouraged by the knitters who come here, from all over the UK.

*Can anyone learn to knit or do you have to have particular skills like patience?

Yes, I have never failed to teach someone to knit, and I have taught 1000s of students.  Patience is helpful, especially when things feel a bit tricky.  But in fact, I’d turn that round and say that becoming a knitter, even just an occasional knitter, can teach patience.  It’s a very soothing, repetitive process.  It need not be difficult, often the simplest designs are the most effective. Really, you are weaving a piece of fabric – only with wool and two pointy sticks instead of a loom.  And despite all the amazing knitted items that can be created, knitting boils down to just 2 stitches – knit and purl. I was absolutely terrible at needle work at school; I think my poor old teachers would be stunned to know how I make my living today!  

*What tips do you have for a beginner?

Ask someone calm and patient to teach you.  It’s great if this is a friend or colleague as you can ask them for help all the time!  Knit every day, even if it is just a few rows.  This will really consolidate your new skills and create a memory in your hands as well as in your mind.  Choose a real project to start with, not just squares or long strips.  A simple scarf or a bag is a great starting point, but you’re much more likely to keep going if you have a goal.  And don’t worry or give up if you make mistakes or go wrong.  It’s only knitting.  It can be fixed. 

*Why did you decide to produce the book?

Personally, I liked the idea of collaborating with someone I know and really like.  Donna’s knitting style is nothing like mine, nor are her colour choices, so it was also a great opportunity to offer our audience 2 different, complementary knitting design styles.  Elements is my 4th book and also the one most closely associated with my Somerset background, so that really appealed to me.

*What are some of the examples of designs we can find there?

The book has 24 designs, ranging from garments such as cardigans, and shrugs, to accessories, such as mittens and scarves, and home-wear with cushions and throws. 

*What inspires you?

I am inspired by textures and shapes.  I look at a landscape and it suggests areas where I might focus – stitch patterns, shades, shapes and so on.  I then layer in design ideas and my shade choices, working backwards from this initial idea.  My designs are not ‘literal’, so if I am inspired by, say, the Mendip landscape, as I have been, the resulting designs are likely to be suggestive of this imagery, rather than conveying an accurate ‘picture’ reproduction of it. I am also inspired by fine details and delicate features, so I often incorporate beads and lace to capture these.

*Do you have a favourite knitting style?

I like simple knitting that looks as if was really hard!  My designs often look fairly complex, but on closer inspection, they are very accessible by most knitters, even beginners for some designs.  I love knitting Fairisle colour work, and I love pretty, dainty knits.  What I can’t be bothered with is knitting that you can just buy in M&S – why knit a navy blue sweater, when you could buy one for twenty quid, and spend that time knitting a gorgeous wrap instead?  Nor do I go in for knitting that is going to take longer than a few weeks to complete.  I love knitting, but I don’t want to be committed to a project that lasts longer than some marriages! 

New Book Preview

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

These are the Drift Mittens.  They are one of my designs in Elements, which officially launches exactly one month from today.  I think they are in my top 3 favourite things that I designed in the book, although actually my absolute favourite thing out of all 24 projects is probably this felted bag, by Donna; this is Bramble:

Bramble by Donna