Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for February, 2018

Moons and Stars

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Moons and Stars 1

I thought you might like to see the final images of the designs for the Moons and Stars events which are new for 2018.

Here is the lap-blanket:

And here is the Cowl:

The blanket is steeked.  Both are knitted in the round and we also knit Fairisle with beads.

There is one space (a cancellation) for 22 March. The other dates are fully booked but we may repeat it in the autumn as there is a waiting list now.

This is not the design for our Shetland Fairisle adventure in July – but like Bees and Sulis, it is typical of my approach to Fairisle design – modern, a bit different, not difficult, simple colours and clean images – but knitted 100% traditionally. Do come to Shetland!  I can promise you it will be amazing.


Conversations with Lily: the gym, the stuffing, the kale and the sweat.

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

As I review the blog section that houses conversations with Lily, I see there are fewer of them as time passes.  This is not a true reflection of real life as in fact I think we have more conversations if anything.  But she is 21.  Apparently.  So they are different from the young and late teen-age conversations.

We often go to the gym together and this is a conversation from last week.

Lily and I are driving to the gym to attend a spin class followed by Bums, Legs and Tums. Do not let these familiar and innocent names fool you.  They are brutal at our gym.  Nice, but brutal.

As we drive up the hill to leave the village:

Me:  we could just not go.

Lily:  not go where?

Me: to the gym.

Lily:  what, just not go? (as if I had suggested participating in the class naked).

Me:  yes. I could turn the car round. We could go home…

Lily: what is for dinner?

Me:  chicken wrapped in bacon, roasted.

Lily:  (genuinely happy) yay!

Lily:  is there stuffing?

Me:  no.

Lily:  (crestfallen) what are we having with it?

Me: (said with unnatural enthusiasm as am fully aware that this news will be unpopular) kale!  And mashed root vegetables.

Lily: (with heavy sarcasm) yay!  Kale!

Lily:  f**cking kale. We are always having kale. Why do we have kale so often?

Me:  I grow it. I like it.  It’s good for us.

Lily:  can we have stuffing?

Me:  well…if I drove to Asda instead of the gym I could buy some, then we could go home and cook it with the chicken!

Lily:  but then we will feel bad.

Me:  about what?

Lily:  missing the gym.

We drive to the gym.  As we toil through 45 minutes of spin, I note that as ever, Lily and I are the only women in the class who are obviously literally pouring with sweat and very red.  Muse:  why is this?  Would like to think it is work ethic but think we are in fact just genetically programmed to most unattractive reaction to exercise.

As BLT is about to start:

Lily:  I wish we were having stuffing.

Me:  well it’s too late now.  Also I feel sick so let’s not talk about food please.

Lily:  we should have gone to Asda.

During BLT – the bit where you kind of half-kneel, half-lie on your mat and have to do incredibly painful things with your legs for an improbable length of time – which always comes after the running about bit and the torture that is 15 minutes of squats and lunges and thus makes me sweat even more, I catch Lily’s eye.

Lily:  (mouthing/whispering) stuffing…!

Me:  shh. Also – kale.

Later, someone I know only from the gym and who I really like comes up to me.  We are happy because the class is over.  She says:  ‘oh Ali!  your face in class always makes me laugh!  You cannot hide how you are feeling, can you? You look so fed up!’   I agree but in fact I am startled to hear this as have always assumed my face to be a perfect mask of enigmatic opacity at all times.  Later, on the drive home, I ask Lily.

Me:  Lils, so-and-so said to me that I look – well fed up in classes. I am trying to look neutral.  Which is it?

Lily:  quite angry and sometimes a bit scared and always fed-up.

Me:  wow! Sometimes I am enjoying it though!

Lily:  were you enjoying the mat-work tonight?  Because you looked psychotic.

Me: well no…but I was sweating so much my arms kept sliding away from under me.  I must try smiling.

Lily:  for God’s sake don’t do that. You look bad enough without adding a deranged grin to the mix.


Lily:  why do we sweat so much?

Me:  I don’t know!

Lily:  I blame you.


Me:  why?

Lily:  the same reason I blame you for the moon-face and the hair:  I get these things from you.

Me:  you’re welcome.

Lily:  but really, mum, why don’t I look like so-and-so in class?  SHE never sweats so much she has to mop the floor at the end.  HER hair never looks like she’s had a shower.  HER makeup never slides off her face like a land-slip.

Me:  we are working harder.

Lily:  we’re not!

Lily:  also how can the instructor do it all, AND yell at us non-stop, AND not die of sweating like us?

Me:  practice?  Or they won on the genetic lottery? They got lungs the size of hot-air balloons and no sweat glands and we got tiny lungs –

Lily:  (interrupting) yeah to go with our tiny bladders!*

Me:  yes! tiny bladders and tiny lungs – but incredible and over-productive sweat glands. Maybe, our profuse sweating is linked to having tiny bladders?

Lily:  eh?

Me:  well, our bladders are so small, the excess – um – fluids are excreted via our skin!  So we don’t…

Lily:  yes! OK, I get it! and also gross.

Lily:  we deserve stuffing for tea.

Me:  well, tough, too late, it’s kale.

Lily:  when you’re old I am going to make you kale smoothies instead of meals.

Me:  what about my wine allowance?

*It appears to be true that we both have bladders with the capacity of an egg cup. This is a source of irritation to anyone who has the misfortune to cave with me, or undertake a motorway journey with us as we like, in fact need, to visit all the service areas. On their first ‘date’ which was to Carnival, Lily’s boyfriend recalls that she had to visit the lavatory 5 times including just before leaving his house.  And yet still he went on dating her. He doesn’t so much mind it – really why should he? – as find it an absolutely baffling feature.  And then he had to drive me to Birmingham so now he knows where she gets it…


The Wool Palette Workshops in 2018

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

I am delighted to be teaching a short series of one day workshops for The Wool Palette in Plymouth.

This is the space, which I just love:

The Wool Palette space 1


I can just see us there, can’t you?

There are four dates and topics:

17 March:  The Smudge Scarf.  I have not taught this event for at least five years and I won’t be teaching it here but it is a lovely day knitting a pretty scarf or wrap in Kidsilk Haze plus beads. So I think you should come to The Wool Palette and knit this with me.

19 May:  The Sara Mitts.  This is another topic I taught a fair bit when my second book came out and these mitts were the cover shot. They are a mix of two shades of Kidsilk Haze (but could be knitted in DK or 4 ply held single with the right needles and a bit of number-fudging).  They are possibly my easiest ever mitts – but just because they are fairly easy, doesn’t make them boring.  They are beautiful.  And an ideal day for a beginner to knitting in the round on DPNs or someone who just wants a lovely, straightforward project and a nice day out.

20 October:  The Magical Moebius.  There may well be some people out there who I have not yet taught to knit these magical and mysterious objects.  You will fall in love with it, I promise.

3 November:  Christmas Stars.  I taught this once here, but have never taught it since.  This is a great festive workshop in time for you to knit a galaxy of stars.  It’s a fun, fairly simple and highly addictive pattern too.

All the events will be held at The Wool Palette’s beautiful space at The Ocean Studio, Royal William Yard, Plymouth.  You can see this lovely creative space here. I just know this is going to be our sort of place.

The owner of The Wool Palette and I have chose these subjects because they offer a range of levels (though none are hard) and I don’t really teach these any more – they are vintage back-catalogue items!

I know that places are limited and there were I think 3 places left for March last week.  How can you book?  Here is a link to the Wool Palette’s Face Book page with details and contacts.

Allotment at Home

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

As I get into year 3 on my allotment, I have made a decision.  I think.  You must be relieved.  Maybe (I am not promising) I will now stop mythering.

The allotment is going to move to home. The main reason I wanted an allotment was because my own little veggie garden here is in 50% deep shade from c May – October from a very large neighbouring ash tree.  This is now called Area 1. The parts that are not so affected are sometimes in shade from the house next door – the charming Whitlow – and the lightest, best parts are full of soft fruits.

Also, Florence and Will wanted a share in the allotment, but of course they instantly bought a house with a gigantic garden.  So why do I want it now?  As you know, loyal reader, I have mused long over this.  I have now almost decided that I don’t like the allotment as much as I did.  There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I cannot influence.  But my original veg garden is too small and dark.  So if I want to carry on vegetable growing on a largish scale, which I do, I must either grit my teeth and stick with the allotment, or find an alternative at home.

In other parts of this garden, the bits you never see if you come to a workshop, I have the veggie garden mentioned above, and two other potential areas for veg growing.  One of these is a long and quite narrow stretch of fairly poor quality lawn and borders right outside the back door.  This was, until a few years ago, in deep shade from two huge trees which I had to have removed due to their dangerous proximity to the house.  In the intervening years this area has recovered and with some further tree removal, I think this could be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 2.

There is also a further bit of land, bigger than the lawn, with a large open wood store at the end.  It is partly paved, partly border – empty border, as I had a big hedge grubbed out 18 months ago.  This, with the removal of the slabs and the rocks, and some levelling work could be the area where the frankly pathetically useless brassica cage would go.  This area would be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 3.

If I add all this up, it is at least as big as an allotment.  But of course, some of it is less favoured than my allotment mainly due to the shade.  If I then change the way I grow vegetables I think I can be at least as productive but with less effort.  I have learned a lot about allotmenting these past 3 years.  Such as how to grow new vegetables, how to work with barrier and other organic deterrents to have 100% organic veg (with sometimes limited success but anyway…).  And I have learned that growing veg in raised beds is an utter joy.  I only have 4 plus some tyre beds – new for this year – but this is my most successful and most enjoyable growing, really.  Yes, the squash and the courgettes and beans have thrived in open ground.  But all root crops, salad, peas, edible flowers and garlic do very much better in raised beds.  The crops that do well in the open will also do even better, I imagine, in raised beds.

So, the allotment project will continue but in 2018, it will gradually move here and 80% of it will be devoted to raised beds, with gravel paths round each one.  Even in the cage, it will be a raised bed garden.  Raised beds do not need digging, ever.  They are easy to clear, provide protection against some flying and most soil-dwelling pests. They are easy to net, and are a bit warmer than open ground all year round.  The downsides are:  you get a bit of lost space and they need watering in dry spells.  This latter is not a problem if it is at home, but it was, a bit, at the allotment.

The preparation work started at home this weekend.  We cleared Area 3 of a ton of rocks, some old path lining, the gravel and a bit of other stuff.  This was back-breaking but not as bad as digging was 3 years ago.  Next, I will take down the cage at the allotment and reconstruct it here. It will need to be smaller but it is modular.  Then we will build the prototype beds – 2 to start with and perfect this skill for as little outlay of money and effort as possible.  Then we will make the maximum number we can fit into the cage and lay slabs (recovered from the ground of Area 3) and gravel as paths.  This has to be first as I plant into the cage from May onward and still harvest into February – but after October it won’t be my allotment any more.

Step 2:  lift the turf on Area 2.  Level and populate with more beds, and gravel paths.  Step 3:  as the raised beds and tyre beds at the allotment become empty from mid-summer, deconstruct, bag the earth and bring it all back to plant seeds for late summer and autumn crops here.  Step 4:  take raspberry root cuttings at the allotment and plant them here – they are great.  Step 5:  prepare the original Area 1 for crops that really need an open position such as broad beans.  Step 6:  transplant all herbs from Area 1 to Area 2, in raised beds.  This will liberate more space in Area 1, too. I love planning, don’t you?

Here are some pics.  These show Areas 1 – 3, and also the work in progress and to date on Area 3, which began this weekend.

If I don’t like it or am too sad about the allotment, I can still keep it!  But you know, it’s just not the same there.  It is no longer a haven.  So I do not think that will happen.  It’s not as much fun, or as calming and enjoyable. I don’t enjoy going as I did before – and that is partly influenced by factors that I cannot see changing.

Onward.  I can put all my energy into Project Allotment At Home.  I don’t think I would ever have had the confidence or the planning ability – or even the very idea – to do this (if it works) if I had not had my allotment.  So as with most things in life, they lead you to things that you didn’t foresee – but they too, are good. Veg on!