Alison Crowther-Smith

The Wool Palette Workshops in 2018

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

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!

Dear Diary

January 22nd, 2018

Do you keep a diary? I mean a record of your days, rather than an appointment book?

I don’t, but I have tried to in the past, with very limited success.  Like (I think) all school girls, I used to start a diary every January and confide my thoughts to it.  These usually seemed to consist of lists of food I had eaten.  The agony of ‘crushes’ on boys sometimes got a mention, along the lines of:  ‘AB at rehearsals today.  He didn’t speak to me, as usual.’  And:  ‘Have just heard that AB is going out with Janet P!!!!  How can he???  Went to the pictures with Ann.  Ate a whole family sized bag of Revels.  Why coffee Revels??? Ate them anyway.’

One entry reads: ‘Had my hair permed today!!! It’s not what I expected.  Is in fact ginger frizz now. I look even more awful than usual and obviously cannot go to school.  Wonder if Mum will let me stay at home until it is grown out???  Had beans and Angel Delight for tea. Watched Doctor Who.’  And later:  ‘Mum says I need to sleep in rollers to get the perm to be curly not frizzy.  This is absolute TORTURE, even the foam ones.  Very disappointed.  Look nothing like Frida in Abba!!  Went round Ann’s and we had fish and chips from the shop.’  Then:  ‘It is the school disco tonight and Mum says I am not allowed to wear makeup but I am taking eye-shadow and lipstick anyway!!’  Later:  ‘School disco was V V V GOOD!!! Had a slow dance with MB at the end!!!  Linda G went round the back of the pavilion with a boy from the 5th year!!! Had a drink of pineapple juice and a bag of crisps.  AB not there.’

I never kept a diary going for more than a few weeks.  My life was so tedious, even to me, I couldn’t face recording it for long. I am glad I did some entries though and I have kept them, along with my school reports and some hideously cringe-worthy poems I wrote as a teenager.

If I was to keep a diary now, I have a feeling it would once again degenerate into a series of lists.  Lists of tasks to do/completed; lists of meals, seeds sown, knitting projects…but if we wrote truthfully in our diaries, what would we say?  I am afraid mine would be along these lines:

Monday: Up V V early to drive to Manchester.  Would be very sorry indeed to recount my feelings about this.  Manchester, from where I have been absent for at least 13 happy years, is the place of my birth and early childhood.  I then had an enforced reunion with the city and especially its neighbour, Stockport, when my parents inexplicably moved back up there.  This baffling decision led ultimately to years of hospital visits as Mum became very unwell and infirm…client v nice.  Odd canteen/cafe arrangement for staff, where I note they serve giant Yorkshire puddings, filled with mashed potatoes.  I had the cauliflower soup, served in a tall polystyrene cup.  Luckily I had a stash of emergency cold sausages and some carrot sticks.  Consumed this secretively as was overcome with shame – why?

Wednesday:  Unpacked a Christmas gift – a day-light, anti-sad lamp.  I asked for this.  I am hoping that it will alleviate customary profound January – March melancholy.  I have it beside me now, as I type, bathing the left side of my head and shoulders with dazzling white light.  Can this really work, I ask myself?  Answer comes there none but so far I feel the same.  Along with this, I am also taking turmeric tablets plus black pepper as said to convey almost magical properties of healing/illness prevention for almost all known conditions.  Am I, as I strongly suspect, a shallow fool, easily lured into false beliefs?  I will let you know, dear diary.

Friday:  The highlight of my day is the menu planning, shopping list activity that I do every week.  In this, I compile 2 lists.  One is the week ahead in menu form.  This is only for evening meals as even I cannot plan every breakfast and lunch.  It is annotated with notes about who I am expecting to be at home, and any other activities that might impact the list.  These are exclusively gym classes as am now v painfully aware that I have absolutely no social life and furthermore, actively do not want one.  The other list is for Things To Buy This Week.  I have audited the freezer and this informs me that I (still) urgently need to prepare a meal of soya-protein sausages (Q:  why did I buy them?  A:  none supplied), plus frozen soya beans and other home-grown beans from the allotment.  This seems too focused on soya and also beans.  I write it down for Tuesday anyway, fully aware that come Tuesday I will be frantically substituting something nicer.  Or that if I do serve it, there will be silent rebuke from the family as they balefully shove different incarnations of soya about their plates.  Cheer myself up by brief audit of cleaning cupboard and toiletries cupboard. Note that my hoarding is now becoming critical.  No-one, not even a professional cleaner which I certainly am not, needs 24 sponge scourers.

Saturday:  Customary silent struggle with Self precedes attendance at the gym for 2 morning classes.  I go, but am angry (unreasonably and pointlessly) with Self for going but also know that feeling of disappointment in Self if I shirk it will be far worse. Wish I had not worn patterned leggings when I accidentally see myself in the partially steamed-up mirror and am painfully reminded of the widening effect of geometric stripes.  Note that I am, again, clearly the 2nd oldest person there.  Am not proud of feeling of satisfaction when far younger, fitter and definitely more attractive class-mate gets cramp in the brutal Leg Session of BLT.  Spend entirety of second class thinking about food.  Decide definitely on a salad for lunch, enlivened by maybe some tuna. In the end, go to Asda and buy a tiger loaf with which to consume c1/2 lb of salted butter. Pop salad back in ‘fridge…

Sunday:  Watch Netlix for far too long.  Worry (but not enough to stop) that I am becoming addicted to programmes made by The Hallmark Channel.  Definite softening of brain function appears to be side effect.  Do not care.  Have finally and absolutely abandoned any pretext of intellectual capacity, preferring instead programmes about Canadian Mountie and school ma’am sweetheart.

Monday:  Am dismayed by appointment in diary, in my own hand-writing, committing me to a social engagement this evening that is not a gym class.  Recall, yet again, that writing in dates when still weeks away confers a feeling that it will never happen, despite absolute certainty that I understand the concept of time.  This will require me to get dressed in something other than pyjamas or gym clothes and actually leave the house.  After dark.  In January.  Toy with brief and wild fantasy in which I go to Devon or somewhere not that far away, for a few weeks, starting today.  But then cannot bear scenario which flashes through imagination in which the dogs pine away and die while I selfishly bury myself in countryside escape.  So do go out with group of acquaintances.  Spend evening in freezing corner of pub which is also so dimly lit I cannot really see and has such a low ceiling that conversation mainly eludes me, noise buffeting off the ceiling in booms.  Am introduced to nice looking woman who I am told knits and crochets; mutual acquaintance tells nice woman that I am a knitting designer and teacher which naturally instantly causes NW to never speak to me again all night. Come home and sit by open oven door for half an hour.  Decide once and for all that I will never go out again, except with family or to gym.

Tuesday:  Go to village meeting this evening in village hall.  In most un-motherly way, also force Lily to come with me.  This is a crazy departure for me as I have only been in the village hall about 4 times, usually when bullied into something by Hilda.  This meeting is about the imminent closure of the village Post Office which I very much regret.  I attempt to get into the hall, but am brought to a sudden halt by vision of about 6 or 7 elderly people, wearing what I think are pyjamas or very baggy tracksuits, occupying entirety of hall, slowly moving arms and legs in manner observed on a programme once about old people in Japan.  Naturally I assume I am asleep and dreaming, OR that I have the wrong day, but a man walks past and I realise the meeting must be in Another Room, Round the Back.  We stumble round hall path in inky darkness and shove sticky door open hard, into elderly lady, and surge into a tiny room, packed with about 60 villagers only 2 of whom I recognise.  Think that old Tai Chi people could have easily fitted in here and decline invitation to sit down so close to someone I might as well have sat on their lap.  Realise at once that I am not in agreement with the main suggestion that we all BUY the existing PO and run it as a community venture but feel I cannot just walk out not least as exit now barred by further late-comers.  Spend very uncomfortable and hot hour standing up, and imagining the viral soup which is brewing in the now fetid, slightly damp atmosphere.  Sprint home, drenched in icy sweat. Agree with Lily that we will Not Join Committee as we have no idea how to raise money to buy and then run a PO.  Not to mention slender time resources. Break soya-based meal news to family who become mutinous. I hastily substitute frankfurters but remain firm on question of soya beans. Not a success…

So you see, the passage of time has really not enlivened my life enough to make it worthy of record.  If anything I think the school disco days were rather more fun.  I’ll spare you any further insights – unless something really exciting happens such as turning out the apple store…

 

The Shetland Adventure – and some Fairisle Nerd Stuff

January 9th, 2018

Here’s a nice write up by Muddy Stilettos about the tour I am heading up this summer.

The designs for this are at the prototype phase – in my head and my note book.  I know I am going to design a throw that can be steeked – indeed, it must be steeked or remain a tube for ever.   I think this will possibly have a miniaturised version – a tubular scarf.  This is dependent on the design for the Fairisle chart.

For example, this design would be perfect for throws, scarves or cowls:

But this one (still a WIP), not so much for scarves, though it would be very possible with an off-set addition, as it is motif based:

None of the above will be the new Shetland designs, but as an added bonus, you can choose any of my other Fairisle designs as a gift-pattern, including my all-time favourite (so far) the Bee Designs:

One of the many things we will be teaching on this tour is the importance of the top or dominant yarn when knitting Fairisle.  Because we will also be teaching you how to carry yarns in both hands, you will be able then to choose which yarn – say A or B, or the background and the motif shades – you prefer to ‘dominate’ the pattern you are creating.  I think this is fascinating stuff, but then I am HRH, The Queen of Nerd, as you will find to your delight on Shetland.  You see, if you carry A in your right hand and B in your left, and A is your motif, it will sort of stand out more.  This is more of an issue if you are knitting with closely matched shades.  This difference in appearance is about how the wrong side stranding lies.  All will be revealed on Shetland.

There will also be another version of the same basic design that will not be steeked and the problem is I keep changing my mind about whether this will be a hat – possibly a tam; or mitts; or a cowl.  Nice dilemma though.  I do want one to be fairly small so it might be finished while we are away!

But the main thing I want is to pass on my absolute passion for this style of knitting.  I know my Fairisle is not super traditional, but that’s why I love it so much – this ancient knitting craft is so adaptable to both traditional and modern designs.  I am sure you will love it too. And if you already do, you will love it more.

The flight info for this tour has now been added to the ECT Travel website.  I would really love to share this adventure with you!

 

Your Voice

January 1st, 2018

It’s good to look back.  In fact at the very threshold of a new year, it is almost inevitable.  2017, you were good.  There was a lot of new.  New teaching events, for example, notably Knit Camp which dominated my knitting year in a number of amazing ways.

I have been blogging here for ages now.  Rambling on.  It’s always been my aim to make it a blog by a knitter, not a knitting blog.  So this is my knitting voice.  Mainly, plus a fair bit of my personal voice.  My personal life is so intwined with knitting that they are often just the same.  But once or twice I have got into a spot of bother for saying things that a few people objected to.  At the time, it really did bother me.  In fact, in one instance I actually apologised.  I really, really wish I hadn’t done that.  I wish I had (politely) but publicly told them to F off and scroll on by if they didn’t like or agree with my views.  And I still think, beautiful through it is, St Ives is so far up its own back-spout, it can see daylight. So there.

But I have other life areas – other voices – that hardly ever make it to this blog.  For example, I have another ‘job’, in which I use a totally different set of clothes.  And probably an almost totally different set of ‘skills’.  The other job is about corporate governance and it enables me to draw on work experiences from previous what-I-lightheartedly-call-careers. In a nut shell, I work for a company that carries out formal and independent reviews of plc Boards, to assess their effectiveness across a range of Board responsibilities, activities and duties, with regard to the UK Corporate Governance Code.

I really do love this work.  It is varied, it can be challenging, and it is always interesting.  Usually, these two lives do not meet, except for the time I left a bag of knitting in a Board interview and had to be summoned back by the kind but very baffled Chairman, in order to retrieve it.

I don’t blog about this because it’s not my business.  Also, it’s confidential.  Also, unless you are carrying out the work or the subject of it, it’s probably not *that* interesting.  But in this work, I certainly have a different voice.  And no pink in my hair.  Apparently.

Do I have a different ‘private’ voice? Of course I do.  I know I share with you my thoughts on recycling, cabbage white fly and cycling for example, but the day to day mundane is something I spare you.  You’re welcome.  It makes me think though that we probably all do, don’t we?  There is, from time to time, discussion on the interwebs about makers, designers, artists etc finding and using their unique voice as they establish their brand.  I don’t think this applies to me.  Maybe it should!

Happy 2018 to you. May the yarn only be knitted, and never be knotted. May the beads always sparkle.  May your stash never fall upon you.  If you have never been on a workshop with me, why not try it in 2018? There are still a few places left on the 2018 events at Court Cottage and I have also accepted some new teaching invitations this year – more on these soon.  Best wishes and thanks for popping in, dear reader.

The Last Day of Christmas

December 25th, 2017

Happy Christmas!  It is Christmas morning and the pattern elf has placed this little design in your stocking.

Smoke and Mirrors detail for needle case

It is the Smoke and Mirrors Felted Needle Case that is the companion to my Smoke and Mirrors bag pattern.  This uses 2 shades of Felted Tweed and some beads.  I think this is a perfect post-Christmas project and you might have some left-over yarn you can use.  Other yarns may be alright, but do test them first to make sure they will felt.  The temperature that you use may vary.

I hope you have enjoyed the 12 Days of Christmas pattern give-away.  I am going to leave this last one up as a free pattern into 2018.

Thank you for following my blog, coming to my events, buying my designs and generally being great.

Ali x

 

The Shetland Tour, July 2018

December 22nd, 2017

Just to let you know that ECT Travel have now up-dated the tour to include flights!  Here is the link.  I do hope you can come on my Fairisle knitting adventure on Shetland!

Image

 

 

Traditional Fair Isle – Modern Design: Your Shetland Knitting Adventure. 27 – 31 July 2018

December 11th, 2017

In July, I have been asked to lead a Fairisle knitting holiday in Shetland.  To say I am excited is an understatement.  In the same way that saying I quite like knitting is an understatement.

Lerwick

This is the full immersion Fairisle experience.  No distractions.  No ‘work’.  Nothing to do except knit, learn, explore the island and its rich history, relax and have fun.  Here!

The company that is hosting the event is ECT Travel in Bath, and we came across each other during my early preparations for Knit Camp 2017. That was ages ago and the idea they floated of collaborating seemed miles away, but after Knit Camp we go together and so we have drawn up a knitting holiday based in Lerwick.  You can  see the full itinerary and details here.

It will be from 27 – 31 July 2018.  We will have a whole FIVE DAYS together!  And if that is a bit alarming, do not be afraid, because I have of course asked Kathryn to join me so we will be teaching together and generally having such a lot of fun with you all.

Shetland Textile Museum

There is teaching, of course there is teaching, this is me, but it is not a Boot Camp experience (as some of you have been known to murmur when you thought I could not hear).  No, there are trips and visits every day; trips out together – and dinners with the high possibility of knitting at almost all times.

 

I love Fairisle knitting more than any other knitting.  And I love knitting it in a traditional way, usually in the round, sometimes I steek it, I always adhere to the 2-colours-only-in-a-row guideline (rule), and I do sometimes include traditional motifs.  But more often I add my own modern twists with non-traditional motifs, use of beads and even yarns such as Kidsilk Haze.

On this Shetland adventure, I will be showing you and teaching two brand new designs, designed especially for ECT Travel. I will draw upon the magic of the islands, but I will definitely be introducing some modern twists.

Jamieson and Smith

The teaching will focus on:

  • How to knit perfect Fairisle, in the round.
  • Charts – reading, and knitting from, charts.
  • Stranding and tension:  getting this right is the key to perfect Fairisle. I can help you.
  • How to knit with the yarns in two hands – if you want to try this.  And trust me, it is the easiest and fastest way.
  • How to never, ever, get in a muddle with the balls of yarn.
  • How to prepare for, and cut a steek; then how to finish the steek.  This is optional.
  • How to incorporate your own design ideas into your Fairisle knitting if you want to.  This is entirely optional, but we can draw upon the inspiration around us and help you to get your ideas onto paper and the needles.

I will be on hand at all times* to help and encourage you!

Everyone who comes with us will have a choice of my other Fairisle patterns as a gift, but I will be focusing on the new designs – one larger (a throw) that will be steeked, but there will also be a design that does not need to be steeked.  So if steeking is not your thing, you do not have to. But…isn’t this the perfect time to learn it, with us there to hold your hand every step of the way? (Obvs I won’t actually hold your hand or neither of us will be able to get any knitting done.  Just a metaphor). You will have both patterns for the new designs too.

I will be emailing the group at regular intervals with news, images and up-dates on Project Shetland.  ECT have an amazing reputation for really exciting innovative hosted holiday adventures so we will all be in very safe hands.  We even get a Tour Manager!  Kath came over all rock ‘n roll when she heard this, but I have talked her out of the leather trouser plus bandanna combo…

One thing we do need.  YOU!  Please come with us.  I can promise you the best time.

*I will not be with you at all times, never fear.  Just most of the time. Nor do I stay up beyond 10.00 pm so there will be respite.

View and book here. 

 

 

 

Allotmenting Continues

December 6th, 2017

I have renewed the allotment for another year.  It seems silly to be hasty, especially as I have really got it under control now (except for the twatting white fly in the brassica cage – it is no longer a draw; they win).

No progress has been made on the ‘allotment at home’ project, though I look at the space a lot and think about it.  However, several other allotment holders have chucked it up this year, including my immediate neighbour and his immediate neighbour. One chap (or family) has now taken on both of these and jolly lucky they are too, to get two such good-condition plots side-by-side with almost no need to weed-control from the get-go.  One of these plots did in fact change hands last year but they only lasted one season.  I think often people just do not realise what a lot of work it will be, and the level of commitment needed, especially if like me, the first few months have to be spent entirely on weed removal and hand-digging. If I had known, I definitely would not have taken it on – which is not to say I am sorry because I do love my plot now.  But it’s a slave driver; and somehow, it feels ‘different’ this year, less peaceful, less calm and friendly.  So I sense that I am edging slowly closer to being able to part from it with no regrets, maybe even with relief – if and when that time comes.

Meanwhile, I am growing prosaic brassica (though see note above ref twatting white fly), spinach, beans, garlic and shallots.  The plot is still producing food.  Mainly perpetual spinach and kale.  The kale is on its last hurrah but as we’ve been harvesting this for about 6 months now, I think that is pretty good going.

The spinach – not the same at all as the small-leaved spinach that you can buy in bags at the supermarket – is a muscular plant, more closely aligned I am sure to chard than the bought-spinach.  It has stems like chard, which I cook first in a small lake of butter, garlic, mustard seeds, salt and pepper.  Once this is tender, I add the shredded leaves.  These do not wilt into a tiny ball of green sludge as small spinach is liable to do; it stays reasonably in shape.  I love it.  Mark really dislikes it and furtively pushes it about and usually leaves half of his portion.  We have arrived at a compromise:  once he takes over the growing/cooking duties, he gets to choose the vegetables. Thus, I anticipate that we will be eating spinach for a while yet.

My favourites are the red cabbage and this perpetual spinach;

I sowed this spinach in March, direct where it is to grow and although I only got c50% success, this is more than ample for one household for months.  I think it will slowly succumb to the cold now so in March I will sow more.  We were cropping it by May this year.

2017 was the best year ever for runner and French beans.  We ate them until we were unable to look one in the face, and then we froze them.  So I can vary the spinach/kale based diet with runners and Frenchies every week.

The raspberries were also fantastic.  They are all autumn varieties.  I rescued three plants from the weed jungle two years ago, and they thrive; plus I was given a lot of bare-rooted pull-ups in the hot summer of 2016.  I assumed they would be summer raspberries, but they also are autumn.  This is ideal as all summer, from early July to early September, we have loganberries, gooseberries and blackberries in the garden here.  So by September, when they are all over, in come the raspberries.  These are my favourite soft fruit.

The strawberries, also rescued from the weed-cluster years, and then lovingly grown on as runners by me, have been rotivated into the earth.  I never met such a sulky, ungrateful and lazy bunch of plants. But then, that’s strawberries for you, isn’t it?  I reckon I got a mean half-dozen unappetising little sods off them.  Pointless.  They are no more.

2017 was not so good as 2016 for courgettes, but it was still very good.  However, it was great for squashes of all sorts, some of which we are still eating as they store very well just in the open fresh air on a bench by the door.  They are delicious and so pretty.

I have now got four raised beds.  These will be supplemented in 2018 by the tyres I scrounged to grow potatoes.  Remember the great potato sadness of 2016/17?  I give up, Asda has lovely ones and that’s fine.  But the tyres, stacked in twos or threes, make ideal small raised beds. So I am going to allocate a courgette or squash to each of my tyre-beds – there are four, directly by the big raised beds.

So I am now beginning my third year as an allotmenter.  Who’d have thought it?  I feel much more confident, and also I know what I like to grow, what succeeds, and what I like to  eat.  I no longer care what other people like.

I continue to grow 100% organically.  It does really get on my nerves, when twatting white fly gets my brussels but if the alternative is spraying with chemicals, it’s not worth it.  What does work is barrier control, resignation to the fact that you will probably have to ‘share’ some of the crops with the birds and the twats, and avoiding things that you can’t protect without resorting to the nuclear option.  I really do think harsh chemicals including the old blue slug pellets should be banned from sale and use.  I have not used chemicals for years and after a couple of tough years (this is at home really, at first), the eco-system of the garden has adjusted, I have stopped growing slug salad-bars and I get very little trouble.  In fact (and I am really not, except once, a tree-hugger) I gently remove snails from my way and relocate them to the hedge row.  I don’t kill them, for they are a blackbird’s breakfast!  And if I poison them, the birds may also suffer and die.

In 2018 I will grow two or three new things, as I have each year, and so far the list is:

  • garlic
  • broad beans
  • shallots (new)
  • spinach
  • chard
  • kale
  • red cabbage
  • courgettes (three types)
  • squash (four types)
  • French beads – dwarf and climbers
  • runner beans
  • carrots
  • pea-shoots
  • mixed salad leaves (new)
  • raspberries
  • rhubarb

In the spring, I may also begin work on the ‘allotment at home’ project.  If that goes well, I could stop the allotment in late 2018 – or run them side-by-side for a year.  Then the lease on the field where we have our allotments will be up again, and maybe it will be renewed but there is no guarantee and that is partly why I feel I need to have a Plan B.

 

Copyright. Sigh.

December 5th, 2017

Copyright is such a tricky issue for indi designers. When you find a breach, it is even harder to know what to do about it, if anything. Recently I found that a woman in a different part of the UK is knitting and then selling, in her shop, some of my designs.

She isn’t selling the patterns (as far as I know) and they are from one of my books, now out of print. So really she is selling her labour and materials. And my design. When a book goes out of print, the copyright reverts after a period of time, to the originator.  So the hand-knit design part of this book has now reverted to me. If I wanted to sell my designs knitted up, I’d knit them and sell them (highly unlikely!) or license someone to knit them, sell them and pay me for that. It would be nice to be asked.

It is infuriating to stumble across breaches like this. She isn’t even changing the names of the pieces.  But what to do?  If I insist, maybe she will desist.  In the course of such an action, I may also damage my own reputation as a ‘nice’ person, because after all, I’d be coming over all strong arm to another indi maker, right?  And what have I lost by her doing this? If someone is willing to buy a ready knitted item, chances are they can’t knit so even if I am selling the patterns – which I am, arguably they wouldn’t buy it anyway.  But they might.  They might buy it, buy the wool and pay her to knit it.  As ever for me, this is not about the money but the principle.

And, if she ignored me, what then? Would I really take it further? Given the wafer-thin margins in knitting, that’s unlikely isn’t it?

When I started working in this field, there was no Ravelry.  Yes my child, such a time existed.  How we managed to organise our stash, or even cast on, I don’t know but we did. With the advent of Rav and other places, the availability of free patterns – often untested, not checked etc – has further blurred the lines of copyright.  There is now, I think, sometimes an assumption that everything just might be free.  For example, I know that a lot of people generously share their patterns with others, with absolutely no idea that it’s basically taking the fee – usually just a few quid or dollars – from the original designer.  Recently a lovely lady sent me a pattern that I admired.  And I was very touched.  But it meant that I had to privately go to this designer’s website and buy it anyway, as otherwise, I couldn’t have knitted the thing at all. I do use free patterns now and then. I have recently decided to knit a jumper (it has been cast on, knit to the yoke – and frogged but I might knit it yet…) and I used a free design.  Largely because I could not find the exact yarn used and techniques in a bought pattern.  If I can find a suitable pattern now (I need to change to a 4 ply design now, having already bought yarn that says DK and boasts a DK tension but is obviously not DK when knitted by me!), I will buy it as I reckon a bought design will have had more scrutiny.

I would also add that knitting my designs and giving them away as gifts is an activity I fully endorse in fact I actively promote it! And knitting things for an event for charity – also fine but as they are being sold, I should be asked and sometimes I am. I always say yes anyway.

What will I do about this woman?  She’s just trying to make a living, like me. At least they look reasonably well knitted. But aside from keeping the original names of my designs, there is (as far as I can see from her shop) no ‘credit’ to me, not even a nod in the direction of the book.  I think what has happened is that ages ago, she bought the book; and now she knits and sells things from it.  So she may think, if she thinks of it at all, that by buying it once, she has the ‘right’ to do this.

 

New Workshop Dates for 2018

November 10th, 2017

I have added 2 new dates to the Court Cottage events – these are repeats of events that quickly filled up.  There is a repeat of Gift Knits, and this is on 22 September; and a repeat of Moons and Stars Fairisle and this is on 23 September.

I am also adding new external dates for 2018.  I will be teaching in Bovey Tracey in February and March 2018; and in Dawlish in April and October 2018 – I will add details and links nearer the time.

All my Court Cottage courses for 2018 can be viewed here.

Do come!

 

Christmas Workshops 2017: images

November 2nd, 2017

Crocheted Heart Wreath with Lights, Mini Jumpers, ‘Frozen Hearts’ Picture Frames, Icicle

Heart Wreath 1

christmas 2017 icicle in bauble

christmas 2017 hearts 2

christmas 2017 montage

christmas 2017 3 jumpers

 

 

Strictly My Own Opinion

November 2nd, 2017

I am, as many of you know, a very enthusiastic fan of Strictly Come Dancing.  It is an on-going source of sadness and frankly, bewilderment, that I am still waiting for the call to join the ranks, but maybe next year.

In the meantime, every year a similar pattern develops.  I watch the Going-In show.  This year’s was especially terrible.  I watch the Pairing-Up show. I complain at length to anyone in the room that I don’t know half of them, have barely heard of another bunch, dislike three of the four I do recognise and really only like one.

Then the dancing starts and I am quickly able to forget that I had never heard of this or that soap star or sports person or weather/anchor person.  They become part of my late autumn/early winter routine and I feel I have known them all my life.

So, this year I was a bit uncertain because Len has of course retired. I say retired. He appears to have gone on to present a sort of game show, I am not entirely sure as I only saw a clip and he was very mahogany.  I was miffed that Darcy was not appointed as Head Judge as I really like her. I like her now.  At first I didn’t so much but she has almost stopped saying:  ‘yeah?’ after and during every sentence. Almost…

What do we think of new Head Judge, Shirley?  I am going to tell you that (as with almost all the dancers in week one) I had never heard of her and her so-called Latin credentials don’t impress me much.  What I find really odd is that the programme makers sacked (OK, moved) former judge Arlene in what I considered to be a blatantly sexist and ageist move some years so and instead we had the attractive, and much younger Alesha Dixon – great amateur dancer, nice woman I suspect but not a judge.  I didn’t care for Arlene much but I was still incensed by her treatment.  And now they have replaced Len with a woman who I think is strikingly similar to Arlene. They look quite alike.  They both have harsh, difficult-to-listen-to voices.  Why did they do that?  I mean, great if they were trying to address telly’s openly hostile treatment of mature female personalities – which I doubt – but she is not a good fit.  Maybe she will grow into it.

So far, I think Shirley is doing a mediocre job at best.  I give her a 4.  Her marking is incredibly more inconsistent and I think she really is starting to play favourites…she is spoiling it for me.  Craig and Darcy are now the voices of reason, Bruno is – well, he’s Bruno.  But Shirley is mainly just so dull.  What she is saying may be right, but now (Hallowe’en week) I am watching it on iPlayer on my PC so I can fast-forward through the Shirley bits.

The other thing that I just can’t be doing with any more are the daft introductions before each pair dances.  I like seeing the rehearsals but not the silly messing about.  Please make it stop.

As for the contestants, so far I have been very happy with the decisions of the Great British Public (muses:  should the influence of the GBP on our nation’s fate be limited in future to voting on reality TV programmes?  Answer:  might be safer). The ones who have left were all the worst dancers and the recent leavers failed to improve so that’s fair.

And I absolutely I love Debbie.  She fantastic and so is her partner.  What a role model.

More SCD blogging to follow!

2018 Courses

October 31st, 2017

The 2018 courses are now live here.

Next year, as trailed, we will be teaching:

  • Cables, Bobbles and Beads – for the absolute last time!  In March.
  • Slip Stitch Colour Work
  • Socks from the top down.
  • Socks from the toe up.
  • New Fairisle:  Moons and Stars, steeked or not steeked, throw or cowl.
  • Design Weekend.
  • New Moebius.
  • Professional Finishing.
  • Gift Knits.
  • Knit Camp 2018.

In 2018, as there is a late and seasonal Knit Camp, there will be no Court Cottage Christmas Workshops.  This makes me sad – but Knit Camp will be good, and I might hold a Court Cottage Christmas Knitting Party in mid-December, just to finish off what I really think will be a great year.

There is good availability for many of the date at the moment.  We would love to welcome you here.

 

 

 

All the Images for Cables, Bobbles and Beads Events, October 2017 – March 2018

October 21st, 2017

The Cables, Bobbles and Blackberries Scarf:

The Fables:

Cables, Bobbles and Beads: the texture events

October 16th, 2017

fable peakcock 2

The next Court Cottage events are Cables, Bobbles and Beads, at the end of this month.  The final pattern samples are almost ready – one of the designs is all done, knitted in 4 optional ways and the patterns all sorted.  But the interruption of Knit Camp – lovely though it was – has slightly delayed the completion of the final offering.  However, this is now 75% done.

Here are the Fables.  This is the first pattern, and it is a fake cable – hence the  fable name.  I actually prefer this fable to a real cable, as it sits so flat and also there is no cable needle deployment. In these designs, I have added beads to the DK options, and the chunky option is not beaded, but with the addition of Kidsilk Haze, it could be.  Fable comes to you as a knit-in-the-round cowl, or a flat-knit generous scarf. The patterns are easily adaptable to other yarns and other sizes.

Next is Cables, Bobbles and Blackberries.  This features real cables, big bobbles and also a smaller bobbly texture using blackberry stitch.  Further textural variance is achieved by knitting the cable ends of the scarf in chunky wool, turning the cable on its side, and picking up the rest of the scarf in aran wool.  This design also features a new teach here – Kitchener stitch.  This is a widely dreaded grafting technique but I can assure you that, rather like Kitchener’s exact opposite, Steeking, there is nothing to fear.  It is simply a process, all the steps of which are very simple. There is no need to memorise the steps as I have written them down, so there is nothing to worry about.  Also, we will be practicing this.

I am teaching this a lot – at the end of this month and again into 2018.  All the courses are fully booked except the last one, on 4 March 2018, which has one place.  You can view and book that here.  I probably won’t teach it again here so if you fancy it, do come along.

Here is Fable as a wide beaded scarf:

 

Knit Camp 2017 and 2018

October 14th, 2017

I think this has been the longest I have ever gone between blogs.  That is mainly because Knit Camp 2017 happened last weekend and most of the 4 weeks prior to that was given over to the final preparations.  I have worked in many different roles all my life but I have never worked as hard as I did on Knit Camp.

When I decided to run it, which was a decision taken in October 2016, I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to deliver.  Somehow, I think we did deliver that vision, very close to the concept and the plans – in fact in many ways, even better.  The concept seems simple:  a knitting event that is not a holiday or a retreat, but a fully focused teaching and learning event.  The emphasis being on high levels of technical content all pitched at a variety of levels from intermediate to advanced, and also a range of project sizes from small to large.  All these factors determine the degree of difficulty for the knitters, and they also scope the teaching requirements for the teachers.

At KC 2017, we specifically taught:

  • Beaded icord
  • Picking up and knitting along a beaded icord and using this as a base for a knit-in-the-round accessory
  • Two handed, no-swap Fairisle, in the round
  • Steeking
  • Picking up and knitting into  lace edge, a side edge, a top/bottom edge, and a steek-side
  • Shawl shaping, including short-row shaping on a lace knitted-on border

Plus anything that was needed one-to-one.

Because it was over 2 days, Knit Campers could also choose and start more than one of the collection.  I will add some images of the Bailbrook Collection here but if you want to have access to the Drop Box folder that I created for Knit Camp 2017, contact me, tell me you want to see the 2017 Knit Camp Drop Box album, and I will add you to the access list. Knit Campers have been able to look at this folder for some time now, but now it is over, I will widen the access.

I loved it.  Don’t get me wrong, I also hated it at times, and there were several times when I wished I had not started it, and swore I would never do it again.  The sheer volume of Knit Camp was (self-imposed but) daunting at times and I wanted to tick off every conceivable detail, to create an event that was unique, special and really enjoyable.

Teaching with Kathryn, and working with each other all year to perfect these designs, was a joy.  I would never have done it alone.  To teach this level of content to almost 30 knitters, and have the grades of project content, at the same time as organising and running a complex event was something I will admit I found challenging, but then there was nothing for it but to work and then work a lot more to deliver the event we imagined.  So much was pre-planned, that on the weekend, it all just fell into place.

Next year, Knit Camp will return, in late November 2018.  We will stay at Bailbrook House, in Bath, and the basic format will be the same.  But this will be Knit Camp 2018 – the Christmas Edit.  It will be coinciding with the start of the Bath German Christmas market and the gorgeous Georgian hotel will be starting to get dressed up for Christmas.  So Christmas at Court Cottage will, in 2018, move to Bath.  This means I can widen the design scope with some festive content.  It will be Christmassy – but not too much; just enough to get that pre-Christmas tingle started.

My 2017 Knit Campers have first refusal, but inevitably, they won’t all want, or be able to attend.  So in a week or so, I will be opening up Knit Camp 2018.  If you are on my email list, you will automatically get an alert.  But if you are not, or you are not sure, please contact me and I will add your email address.

If you join us, I can promise you a weekend of absolute indulgence, luxury accommodation, delicious food which was also not overwhelming, inclusive wine, full board with all catering needs included, the undivided attention of my little team, an amazing weekend of companionship and laughter with lovely like-minded knitters – and a packed knitting and teaching schedule with lots to learn and choose from.   Along the way throughout the year, Knit Campers get regular Bulletins with news and previews, a private Drop Box folder as the designs emerge and first refusal at future events.  It means we build up a community.  And that is exactly what it felt like.  If you want to join in, please let me know.  You can see a general overview for 2018 and some of the 2017 feedback here.

Knit Camp 2017 logo

 

 

2018 Courses

September 16th, 2017

The events for 2018 are now all decided and in the diary and I will add them to the website in October.  If you are on my mailing list, you will automatically get an alert as they go live.  If you want an alert and you’re not on my list, please contact me.

The schedule goes like this:

  • New. Moons and Stars:  a new Fairisle course with the option to knit a Moons and Stars blanket (steeked) or a Moons and Stars cowl (not steeked). Learning to steek, if you have not tried this yet, is a built-in option for the workshop.
  • New. Socks:  two events, one for toe-up socks and one for top-down socks.  Learn all the elements of sock construction for either or both.  They will run back-to-back.  If you want to do both and plan to stay locally overnight on the Saturday (email me for some suggestions), I will be in the Puriton Inn on the Saturday evening if you want to have supper with me.  If not, I probably won’t bother!
  • New. Slip-Stitch Colour Work:  a great alternative to Fairisle, intarsia or brioche.  Only one colour is worked at a time, rows and rounds are worked only once, and it is easy yet effective.  There will be two designs, one knit flat, one in the round.
  • New. Design Weekend.  Design weekend is back with a new design brief.  This is a two day event, back to back.  If you want to come to the event and plan to stay locally overnight on the Saturday (email me for some suggestions), I will be in the Puriton Inn on the Saturday evening if you want to have supper with me.  If not, I probably won’t bother!
  • New Moebius.  There will be a new Moebius design knit in two yarn weights.  I will also take bookings from those new to Moebius knitting and we will split the class.
  • Gift Knits.  New festive gift knit ideas.
  • Christmas at Court Cottage.

In the meantime, here is one of the designs for Cables, Bobbles and Beads.  This is Fable (a beaded fake cable) knit as a luxurious wide scarf, and as a beaded neat cowl/neck warmer.  This will also be knit in a chunky yarn, not beaded.  And there will be a further design with real cables and bobbles. I am teaching this on four dates in 2017 and 2018 and the classes are all full except for the one on 4 March, 2018 which has one place.

 

 

Knitting Code

August 18th, 2017

 

Recently I have been writing and editing a lot of knitting patterns.  I am always doing this anyway but this year there is Knit Camp and also we have had the busiest year of teaching ever, and because I over-cater, there are usually 2 – 4 patterns for each new event.  So this year I have so far designed 18 new things not counting Christmas which I have not started yet.  This is paltry stuff compared to the output of a Proper Designer with a Proper Yarn House – but I do not have the software to generate patterns and if I did, I would not use it.

Anyway, Dr Donna is pattern checking my Knit Camp designs and we are almost done with them.  However, there is one pattern that has a lot of ‘tech’ content and so we’ve been very focused on that.  *I write the pattern.  Kath and I and sometimes someone else knits the pattern.  We find the bugs, I re-write the pattern, rep from * to about 2 months later…then they go to Donna.  Donna edits them with pink notes.  She corrects my errors, she checks all the data, she re-measures and re-states tension, and she suggests style/wording edits to make it more accessible to the knitter.   As with many things, there are often several ways to express the same line of a pattern.  They all add up to the same outcome, assuming the maths is right.  So for example, you may get a line expressed with the use of * to end, or * to *; or it can be written in full; or you can have ( ) with a number after to give you the number of repeats.

Add to this our shorthand.  Tbl, k2tog, psso, skpsso, sl1, k1, psso, tog, M1, B1, rep, cont, RS, inc(s) C6B, TL, MB  and so on, with the punctuation and * and ( ) etc that goes with it.  As a new knitter (stretches hands back through the mists of time) I used to ask Old Knitters: why, oh wise one, do we have all this CODE?  why can they not be written in English?  And the wise one would say:  just look it up and shut up.  Fair enough.

This week Kath and I have been wrangling a Knit Camp pattern.  So there is Donna’s pink edit, then my blue edit with highlights and insertions to query points, plus hand-written calculations and notes in the margins.

Code

This sheaf of documents was on the table when Mark came in, bearing tea.  He looked at the notes.  He doesn’t touch them because he knows that there be dragons in these pages but he went as far as putting on his glasses and peering. And he said:

Mark:  Knitters would have made incredible code makers – or code breakers, like at Bletchley Park.

Me:  They would.

Mark (looking in some bewilderment at the many hues of type, the squiggles and the abbreviations):  I mean, this looks like a code.

Me:  Well, it is sort of.  There are lots of words in there but it is a stream of code that will equal a shawl, for example, when put into practice.

Mark:  I imagine the CIA would think it was dodgy…

Me:  Ummm…(think but do not say:  I bet lots of the CIA operatives are awesome knitters!)

Mark (warming to his theme):  They would assume it was a code within a code!  Cleverly hidden coding concealed in a knitting pattern!

Me:

Mark:  A plan to invade somewhere!

Me:

Mark:  A knitting army!

Me (putting down pen and rubbing eyes):  Where would we invade?

Mark:  Oh, I don’t know (desperate but brief mental search follows) – say, Japan!

Me:  Japan?

Mark:  OK not Japan.  Israel!

Me:  Surely, Sherlock, we’d be more likely to invade a country with a known excellence for goats, lamas and alpacas?

Mark:  Why?

Me:  Well, the knitting army would need supplies of fine fibres.  What is the point of knitters invading a fibre desert?

Mark: Ah. OK.  Peru…?

Me:  Peru is a peaceful land (I think).  So ‘invade’ is not really the right word.  Maybe ‘visit’ would be better.  ‘Visit’ and ‘go shopping’.

Mark (pointing at a long string of pink, blue and black ‘writing’ on a page):  Does this say:  the invasion is on tonight!  Prepare and meet at dawn!’

Me (reaching for the pattern):  Yes.  Impressive skills.

Mark:  What does it say?

Me (after short struggle with wish to make up some sorcery):  It says – and I am just going to copy and paste this now for you, dear reader as it will be quicker for us both:  Row 32 (WS): With B, P1, yrn, *p2, (B1, p1) to last st before next M, p1, SM, rep from * once more, p2, (B1, p1) to last 2 sts, p1, yrn, p1. (105 sts)

Mark:

Me (sensing his disappointment):  OR, in other words:  we strike at dawn! Operation Thumb Gusset is GO GO GO!

This satisfies him and he leaves.

Knitters would never form an army but if they did ‘organise’ it’d be for peace. It is sad that knitters do not run the world. Peace.

Winter is Coming…

August 16th, 2017

Zig Zag scarf 4

Without wishing the summer away, I have completed the design and knitting (almost) for the Christmas Gifts events in September.  These are the days that kick off the autumn term – and I can’t wait to get back to the workshops!  Having the summer ‘off’ enables me to focus on some other designing, notably this year finishing off the last two designs for Knit Camp and the Christmas Gift events in early September.

The concept for this teach is to produce some fairly easy (but not boring), and economical accessories – so none use more than three balls of wool, and none will take an average knitter who also has a job or a busy life, more than a week of evening knitting to complete.  For example, Kathryn can knit the hat pattern in one night; I can do it in two-point-five nights.  Kathryn can knit a pair of the mittens in two evenings; I can knit a pair in four evenings.

 

Zig Zag hat mink close up

This year I have taken one stitch – a zig-zag rib that looks like a little cable, but is not – and used it in both flat and round knits.  There are hats – womans (beaded) and mans; a split scarf; and a pair of mitts with a beaded peplum detail. I am really happy with the finished items and I will definitely be making some myself as gifts this Christmas.

Zig Zag hats collection

I love this concept, because for one thing it frees up the Christmas at Court Cottage events and allows me to just focus on festive decorations.  Also, mid-late November is possibly too late for you to make a few hats, scarves or mitts.  But early September is plenty of time.

The courses are both full but I have three names on a waiting list so if you are interested, let me know – we may be able to set up an extra date.

Zig Zag hats male edge

Another knit that would make a great gift-knit is my Brioche in the round cowl, which I am teaching again in Devon at Spin-a-Yarn (fully booked but I am trying to fit in an extra date or two) and also on 4 November, at the Totnes  ‘Stitchfest’ – more details on this will follow soon. I can accept up to twelve bookings for the Totnes gig, so contact the organisers if you fancy a place.  This is the same event that I taught here, but slightly abbreviated.

In the meantime, here is the split scarf for the September events, which I love and it makes me feel all Judy Garland in ‘Meet Me in St Louis’.

Zig Zag scarf 3