Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for October, 2016

Knit Camp 2017

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

As you may know, Kathy and I have been planning a Knit Camp experience; most of these plans have been in our heads – until now.  Now I am ready to ask you if you would like to come with us, next October from Friday 6th until Sunday 8th, at Bailbrook House in Bath.  At the end of this post is an outline document with lots of initial information.


To gauge interest, I am asking people to tell me if they would like to go on the pre-registration list.  This commits you to nothing, but it does guarantee you a place, up to my maximum number, which is not all that high as we need to have an appropriate sized group for teaching.

Here are a few basic facts:

  • It is not a knitting holiday or Knit Club away-event.  It is an exclusive and luxurious weekend, but this is Knit Camp – two intense days of knitting with a lot of technical content.
  • I am designing The Bailbrook Collection for this event.  Three of these designs, which are inspired by the beauty and history of Bath, will form the basis for the weekend.  One project is relatively simple, one is moderate, one is more complex and challenging.  They can all be knitted with Kidsilk Haze – or with another yarn. It will be very flexible and we will be delighted to help you with yarn and bead choices.
  • You will choose one design, but all participants will have all the designs and we will be more than happy to teach you any and all of the techniques.
  • I have chosen what I think is a beautiful venue in Bath, which was once home to a knitting and button-making school for children.  I love that historical fact and I think it is only right that my first ever residential event should mean a return of the knitting school to Bailbrook House, if only for two days.


Anyway, please read the attached and then, if you think you might like it, please contact me and tell me if you would like to be on the pre-registration list. If you do want to go on the list, you will get first refusal of the places when I start to take confirmed bookings.

We have so many plans for this weekend, so many design ideas, new teaching, and new adventures!  Plans are also afoot for little treats and gifts for you all.  It will not be a huge group, as I said, but with just about 25 spaces, I think we will have a wonderful, energising and bonding experience. You will work hard at my Knit Camp.  We will work hard to make it the most special experience.  And you will be spoiled a bit too, with lovely bedrooms, private dining and lovely food.  You will need it!

Please let me know what you think. I hope you can come. Here is the outline:




New Moebius Course, 18 February 2017

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Hello there!  Here is a new course, in February 2017 (a repeat of November 2016).  NEW Moebiuses.  I have designed two new ones and I can also take bookings from those new to Moebius knitting as we can teach two groups between us – beginners learn all the stuff and make a very pretty cowl, while those who have done it before have a refresh and knit one of the new designs.

Moebiuses are the coolest thing you will ever knit and they are absolutely lovely to wear.  You won’t regret it.

There are three places available, which you can book here.



The Axis of Evil (AKA Squirrel for lunch)

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

So, recently, as you may have read, my good friend Hilda sadly died.  It was a shock.  It is still a shock.  And while Hilda was in hospital and then after she had died, I had her dog, Toby, here to stay.

My dogs didn’t really like Toby at first.  It’s OK now, kind of.  But Medlar really, really hates Toby and he is never getting over it.  Even though Toby isn’t here now, Medlar still approaches the house sideways, on his toes, ready to attack-slash-run.  Not attack/run.  No, I mean slash-run.  He is very aggressive.  Having three dogs and a seething cat in the house was not restful.  There was never any peace until bed-time when I placed the animals in several different parts of the house.

One day, just a few days after Hilda’s death, I had some ladies who attend my workshops here, come over for a technical knitting solving thing – coffee with DPNs on the side. I just do not know why I didn’t cancel or rearrange it as I was honestly still in shock and we had not even sorted out the funeral, but it never occurred to me call it off.  So these lovely ladies arrived, I popped them into the workshop room and then went to make coffee – and round up the three dogs (three dogs, by the way, is too many dogs.  Do not do it.  You’re welcome). Only Toby was present and correct, if by present and correct you mean turning somersaults on the borders and eating shells and stones ‘cos that is what he mainly does.  No sign of my boys.

I had to find them and then place them, all three of them, in specific and safe places before returning to my guests.  I called, whistled, cursed (quietly) and finally resorted to shaking the biscuit box in the front garden.  I have created a sort of Pavlovian reaction among the good village folk here too – when I shake the dog biscuit box, they form a line outside the gate.  Rupert swaggered over, got a biscuit and I placed him in the kitchen.  No sign of Arthur, who is the nicest of all my animals and very biddable.  Eventually after some castanet-standard biscuit percussion, he emerged from the border.  With a squirrel’s head, perfect and looking me right in the eye, sticking out of his mouth.

Squirrels have really large heads.  Well this one did – its head was almost the same size as Arthur’s head. This created a surreal impression of a two-headed dachshund where one of the heads was growing right out of the main head.  Also, the squirrel’s eyes were open and as Arthur sashayed up the path, the squirrel head kind of bobbed and swayed.  Now, I know, realistically, if a squirrel is so far down inside a dog’s throat/stomach you can’t see the body, it can’t still be alive.  But I was as far from rational as I am from New York, and so I did what I think we would all do in just this situation.  I screamed at the top of my voice.  This set off a short chain of reactions.  First, Arthur froze and bellied-down but tried as hard as he could to swallow the squirrel.  Second, Toby and Rupert cartwheeled out of the kitchen like a two-headed poodle/dachshund freak-show act.  Third (I imagine) traffic stopped and children were ushered indoors at the school and kindergarten, both of which have the pleasure of being within earshot of Court Cottage.

I knew I had to get the squirrel out of Arthur’s mouth.  I’m not good with stuff like offal, in fact I can’t have it in the house and so I was just certain I couldn’t get hold of it and pull.  I was also sure Arthur would resist me.  Yet, I had two ladies in the dining room, literally 30 feet away – and I had to get back in there and knit. Or at least not be hysterical.  My screaming matured into a really sweary stream of consciousness.  And a whole tirade of eugh. Arthur was very afraid.  Toby and Rupert were hysterical.  Poor Toby, he never signed up for this mad boot-camp experience.

I forced myself – and I still don’t know how – to grab the head of the squirrel and pull.  Arthur resisted a bit then suddenly let go. And that is all there was – just the head.  No body.  It was either still in the shrubbery, or in the dog.  My money is on the dog.  I hurled the head into the border and Rupert sprinted after it like a starving wolf who has never had back surgery.  But I was too fast and I dragged the bloody, boiling pack of dogs back into the house. Then I scrubbed my tembling hands, and my arms, face, and neck with boiling Dettol and wire wool, made the coffee and went back into the dining room.

‘I’m sorry about that’ I murmured.  No problem, they intimated.  Just as if they had no idea of what had just happened, just feet away from the window of the room where I had left them for an awkwardly long rest.  We knitted for a bit, resolving tricky things as we went.  Then Florence who often calls in during her break at work, popped her head in, and said:  ‘Is Rupert in here?’ No.  When I last saw the dratted threesome they were in a squirrel coma.

I hastily excused myself and joined Florence in the kitchen.  She was furious as she had been fruitlessly searching for Rupert for about ten minutes. We deployed the dog biscuit box and went back into the garden.  No sign of him.  Toby happily trampled a few borders and Arthur went to look for the squirrel head.  Ominously, it had gone.  Suddenly, Rupert popped out of the border – with a new, and absolutely huge squirrel in his mouth.  But this time, the head was inside his mouth and the whole of the rest of the body was hanging out.  He could hardly walk!  He kept tripping over the sodding squirrel as it lunged and lurched about – oh, it was dead alright, and it was just the most bizarre and nightmarish puppetry. I honestly wondered, at that moment, if I was in fact asleep and dreaming.

I was actually crying by now – tears of utter rage, and revulsion, for I knew what I had to do. Both Florence and I were now totally oblivious to the fact that everyone within a 200 yards radius of the house, including the people in my dining room, would definitely be able to hear our piratical swearing and for my part, jagged sobbing. We just did not care and our yelled oaths were truly heartfelt, if a bit repetitive.

Our only hope was to distract Rupert with dog biscuits and then, when he dropped the squirrel, to grab it and get it away.  A very hasty discussion revealed that Florence was unwilling to be the squirrel-grabber. And after all, I had already wrestled a squirrel head from one dog that morning, it was in danger of becoming my party-piece. So she festooned the path with many biscuits, casting them before Rupert like savoury, hefty confetti.  He hesitated…he loves those biscuits and frankly I think we were all wondering how he’d swallow the enormous squirrel, so he dropped it and still snarling at me, started eating the manna from heaven while I – a true heroine, picked up the headless squirrel and kind of pogo-ed up the path with it in my outstretched hand.  I hurled it into the kindling box.  And then, as I am confident you would have done, I had to dance and jog about on the spot for a few moments while flicking my hands about in a frenzied routine of grossed-out devil-casting.  You would have done the same, right?

A few moments later, after another full decontamination routine, plus face-washing to reduce the redness and swelling of angry tears, I calmly rejoined the knitters.  There is simply no way on this good earth that they did not hear all this and frankly, had I been in that room, I would either have left by the window and never come back, OR joined us in the garden. But anyway they must be much calmer than me.  One lady simply said, hesitantly raising her delicate hand – ‘You seem to have something in your hair.’ My inner hysteria, always only lightly dusted with calm, almost burst forth – in case it was a squirrel body-part; but it was only a twig.

My dogs are hounds.  They will hunt and kill and eat things.  But I am 100% sure, on reflection, that Medlar had a dark hand in this terrible scene.  He probably wanted Toby to eat the squirrels and die, or at the very least be in big trouble.  But Toby will hardly eat his own dinner let alone giant rodents that the cat has winged.  Oh yes, it was Medlar, and my lads just went in for the kill.   Were you watching, Hilda?  Hope you enjoyed it more than I did!


Sunday, October 9th, 2016

If you have been on one of my workshops here, you may well remember Hilda.  She often came down to the house at about tea time to sit with us at the end of the day, have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and hear all about what we had been doing.


Well, last month, Hilda died.  It was very sudden.  She went on holiday, became unwell, was admitted to hospital first abroad and then after being air-ambulanced back, here in Somerset but a week later she died.

Hilda was 80.  But really, she was about 40 years old in spirit, determination and character.  I know 80 is a good age, but it’s not good enough for me and Hilda, because Hilda was one of my closest friends and much more than that, to me.  A surrogate mum, I suppose, with all that goes with that – ups, downs, tiffs, laughs, tears, and mostly, love.

When we moved here, from Burnham-on-Sea, which may as well be That London as far as some locals are concerned, Hilda was the first person I met. If you don’t count the old goat who stomped up the path at 7.30 one Saturday morning just after we moved to bang on the door and moan about the hedge by the pavement.  Hilda was not from Puriton.  She was from South Wales originally and then had moved all over the UK and the world with her RAF husband.  But unlike me, she had a great gift for overcoming barriers and she might as well have been born and raised in this village, because she was an integral part of its fabric.

Our first mutual love was knitting.  Hilda was a fantastic knitter.  She taught me to knit Fairisle.  Years later, when I really took to it, she was so proud of me.  She taught me to do so many things you cannot learn from You Tube or a book or a degree course.  I have been almost unable to knit since she died, which is terribly awkward as I have a busy schedule of workshops to deliver.  I also appreciate that I will have to pull myself together fast to a) be able to actually DO the workshops and b) avoid the wrath of Hilda if I don’t.  She would tell me in no uncertain terms that I must not be so silly, I can hear her saying it:  OK Ali, that’s fine, you’ve had your tears now let’s crack on.

When I applied for and, in an act of folly on their part, was appointed as a Rowan Design Consultant in the Cribbs Causeway John Lewis store, Hilda was absolutely, whole-heartedly and very generously even more thrilled than I was.  Unlike me, she was also confident that I could do it.  To make 100% sure of this, she often drove all the way up to sit at my table and be encouraging on my quiet shifts.  From then on, until the last time I saw her in hospital which was three days before she died, she has been at my side in all my knitting adventures.  Not always literally, but still, there.  She knitted for me, she knitted with me, she encouraged me when I was unsure or anxious (often!), and always added so much value, wisdom and common sense to my work.

She used to say to me:  Ali, you have the ideas, you’re the designer; I am the monkey!  But she wasn’t.  She had run her own hand-knitting business in the pre-Puriton days and I really do believe she did ‘Kaffe’ style designs before he could even knit.  What she loved – and I loved about her – was that she never stopped wanting to learn.  If she taught me, then I also taught her.  Not as much but she really embraced skills such as felting, knitting with beads, Kidsilk Haze – she loved it! Moebiuses, steeking – wherever my adventures took me, she came too.

One things I used to do was ‘use’ Hilda as a guinea pig ‘class’ when I had a new, tricky workshop to teach.  I never went ‘live’ without a practice on Hilda.  Now I feel like I am flying solo for the first time.  Where is my safety net?  Who will I tell funny stories to when I make a hash up of something simple?

In the last few days in hospital in Taunton, she was visited by all her closest friends, mostly from the world of patch work which was really her domain.  She was brilliant at it, ran several groups over the years and donated literally thousands of hours of her generous time to teaching and encouraging and organising at so many levels.  Her group in the village was her pride and joy.  As bereft as I feel, so they must feel terrible too.  They have lost their group leader, a force to be reckoned with – and they loved her.

At her funeral – which was packed – the group hung some of her quilts in the church, in the porch and in the Church Hall.  The Order of Service was literally covered in quilting too – it was so adorable, utterly bonkers and very, very Hilda.  Look!  Also, a quilted cross.  She would have loved to see this. hilda-2


This is not to say that we didn’t have our ups and downs.  Unlike someone who is a ‘friend’, we could and did sometimes fall out, squabble – as you do with your family, because you can. At times, she drove me nuts.  For example somehow Hilda always seemed to pop in on the day I had my hair done – and she really didn’t like my purple, blue or pink phases!  Never afraid to share an opinion, even if it was not invited, I frequently heard:  Oh Ali!  that really does not suit you!  Thanks.  Or:  you will wear yourself out with running and the damn gym, well don’t ask ME to push you round in a wheelchair!  Or:  Don’t go caving.  Or if you MUST go, don’t tell me!  You will kill yourself and then what will you do with All That Wool?

We managed, twice, to fall out over the Village Flower and Craft Show.  Impressive.  God knows how, except that Hilda loved it and I hated it.  Not the show itself, but entering it, which she forced me to do on three occasions.  The trouble with you, Ali, is that you are not a joiner.  You need to join in more! Oy, OK.

She comforted me when I was upset and told me to pull myself together many times.  One creature who I think loved Hilda more than any other non-human is Rupert.  He adored Hilda from the day she met him when he was eight weeks old.  I  went and ruined it a bit when I also got Arthur but Hilda and Pete had Rupert with them so often.  Once he went on holiday with them in the caravan and he loved it.  When his spine went and he had all those operations, Hilda made him a patchwork sling to help him learn to walk and knitted him a hand-made, felted sleeping bag which he still uses every day and every night.  He simply loved her.

Now, I have part-fostering care of Hilda’s dog, Toby.  He is only one year old.  He is staying with Peter but has been spending a lot of time here, especially after Hilda was admitted to Musgrove and then again after her death.  Poor Toby.  But he has settled down here and also at home with just Pete and I walk him too.  Rupert is not his biggest fan but we have attained peace and I aspire to friendship.  Looking after Toby seems like the very least I can do for my old friend.

What Hilda enjoyed about the tea-time workshop visits was seeing all the participants, hearing about their knitting – and their sewing – and putting on on of her best hand-knits and sitting with us in the busy, end-of-workshop atmosphere; and then staying on for an hour after everyone had gone home to gossip about her week and tell me to stop knitting in grey all the while, for pity’s sake, Ali.

The door would open, in she came, I’d sit her down and get the tea and cake.  It was just part of my life.  It signaled the close of the day and it made me really happy just to see her, even if I was usually running about with a knife and ball of wool.  I actually do not think I can bear it, that she will never do that again – and I am as mad as a badger because I booked her in at tea time for both my October workshops and the Christmas ones.  And if she could be there, I know she would, because she never let me down.

Yesterday was the first workshop since her death.  She was due to have tea with us, as always and at 3.30 ish I just could not help looking at the door. But I did not cry or feel like I would because it was busy and also a lovely, happy day which Hilda would have loved. We did steeking.  She had knitted two Scandi-style cardigans and steeked them some years ago, but I still practiced my teaching on Hilda in the summer, showed her how I do it, with crochet (she did not approve, as she did hers with a sewing machine, but she did it anyway).  That was the last time.  If anyone wants to volunteer to be a guinea pig student in the future, just say…or I might just not bother.

The last time I saw her, in hospital, she had some fairly specific instructions for me to carry out.  Amongst these, I was to eat cake at tea time after workshops.  And use some of her stash to knit a jumper or cardigan in many coloured stripes, each one of which must be bordered with a single line of black knitting.  Well, of course I promised so now I am faced with that task.  I never wear stripes! I never wear colourful cardigans.  She has set me a challenge, as ever. I was due to see her again two days later but she was too ill by then and the next day she died.  The effort I must now make is to not remember her as she was that day, but as she was on some of our adventures together, in the years before her mercifully brief illness.

We have permission for her ashes to be buried in the village church yard, by the Church Rooms where every Tuesday she held court at her Patchwork/Quilting club. Very fitting.

So, Hilda, the question is (I am, as you know, ever selfish) what the HELL am I supposed to do now?  And thank you, for being such a faithful friend to me – and more. Goodnight, God bless, see you in the morning.


‘Ice Boa’ from Elements

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

I wanted to show you this:


It is Ice Boa from Elements.  Jane, who has knitted two of these now, edged the cast-on side with velvet fabric/ribbon which I think is really lovely and would also have the added bonus of making sure the boa never gets any longer!  I think I will *borrow* that idea.

By the way, I have knitted this is in chunky yarn other than Rowan Cocoon; I love it in luxury Juniper Moon Farms silk/wool chunky but any chunky wool will knit to tension.  Another thing:  you can knit this in DK or Aran weight wool and use the appropriate needle.  Then, I add a few repeats to make it long enough.  It is a very fast knit and need not be at all expensive.  Great gift, really. When making one in DK, I would also add a few row repeats to give it enough depth.  The Boa is knitted flat, on one long fixed cable needle.  It does end up with *a lot* of stitches, but on the other hand it is only a few rows deep. Highly memorable pattern too after the first two or three repeats.

You can buy Elements here.