Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Millington’ Category

Needle Review: Signature Needle Arts

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I will carry on reviewing needles from time to time, even though we have now reached my favourite brand:  Signature Needle Arts.

Single Point Needles

This American company has created a range of needles which, for me, covers almost all the areas that matter: incredible functionality, precision, and beauty.

The website is interactive, so you actually build your own needle, using a range of choice options, which include gauge, style (e.g. single tip, DPN etc), length, tip profile, and decorative end feature (for the single tip needles).  The colour of the needle is determined by the gauge, for example, 2.25 mm needles are green, as are 4 mm needles. The other colours are hot pink, blue, purple, red and gold.

DPNs Size 2.5mm (Purple)

So you choose a set of 4 mm single point needles.  Then you are asked to choose the length of the needle – three options.  7, 10 or 14 inches.  Then, and for me this is the best part, the profile of the tip:  stiletto, midi or blunt.  All mine are stiletto, which is a long, tapered tip, always sharply precise and in the smaller gauges, very sharp indeed.  I can only afford one set of the sizes I like and use most so the luxury of choosing midi or blunt tips was always academic, but I just can’t see where they’d be better than stiletto tips, to be honest, which work for all knitting and yarns.

Then finally you choose your end feature: bell, tear-drop or spiral.  (Describing these decorative ends to a class once did get me into a bit of a myther, and caused Millington to snort tea and stare fixedly out of the window for some minutes as we fought to regain self-control.  Just read them back and add the word ‘end’ to each one…)

I have a few pairs/sets.  Most years I ask Mark to buy me a pair for Christmas, which means I have to go on the website and choose – not a hardship!  I have the single points in 10 and 14 inch lengths, in a range of my usual, preferred sizes; and I also have 4 sets of DPNs, which are just lovely.  One the clever features is that you can buy the DPNs singly, or in sets of 4, or 5 needles.

I have 2 fixed circulars too.  These have now been discontinued, and replaced with interchangeables.  I wish I had bought more of the fixed cables now, because I don’t use interchangeables – nor could I afford a full set of tips I use and cable lengths.  I think these are incredibly expensive, and I just don’t think I could justify it even if I thought I’d use them.

Knitting with them is an absolute joy.  I knit a lot of smallish items, so the small lengths of single point needles are ideal.  I also love the way they look.  The colours are jewel-bright and really pretty.  If the same precision-engineered tool was available to me in say, grey metal (think Pony), I know the knitting would be the same, but it actually wouldn’t feel as enjoyable.  We knit a lot, don’t we?  It’s good then to use tools that please and work so well.

They are the result of a brain-wave idea.  The woman who founded the company was also the President of a precision engineering company, and her hobby was knitting. Wanting a sharper needle tip, she had a pair made and polished – the first stiletto tips.  Now, these could have been made in grey, but the range has evolved into a thing of beauty as well.

They are aluminium.  So they do not flex much.  They are cool to the handle, and the tips are super-finely transitioned into the main shaft of the needle.  The main part of the needle is the part that is coloured and this has just enough ‘grip’ on the yarn to not be lethally slippery – though they have less ‘grab’ than carbon or wood; they have a lot more than plain steel needles.

Best bits:

  • amazing tools for the job; they make knitting even more of a pleasure
  • beautiful to look at
  • extremely well made
  • attention to detail – the range of size and length options, for example, and the laser-cut size that is added to each needle
  • choosing them is great fun – very addictive!
  • clear, clean website
  • life-time guarantee against manufacturing defects

Not so good:

  • they are really quite expensive.  A pair of single point 4 mm needles, in the mid-length, stiletto tip and spiral end is $34 plus postage.  I do not begrudge this cost.  I think they are worth this money, and I expect to have to pay for great craftsmanship.  It just means I have a limited number and will never have a full set!
  • there are very few UK-based retailers, and I can see why because the whole point is that YOU build the needle and then they assemble and ship it.  But this means that you are highly likely to be importing them direct from the US manufacturing site, which adds a lot of time and postage cost
  • be aware that they attract import tax
  • the longer single points I find very heavy, possibly due to the decorative ends.  They can make my hands ache after an hour or so, which is unusual for me.  The way round this is to use circs – but as I have said, the fixed option has been discontinued



New Courses for 2015

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The 2015 Court Cottage courses are now live on my website.  You can view and book here.

To help you (and also because it is, apparently, impossible to design a website which can order pages for you.  Sigh.  So the 2015 events are in random order), here is the complete list:

  • 31 Jan – Full-Moon Shawl
  • 7 Feb – The Bump Bag
  • 21 Feb – intermediate crochet with Donna Jones
  • 7 March – Frill Seeker (a super-frilly boa!)
  • 18 & 19 April – Design Weekend
  • 16 May – beaded, colourwash Fairisle in the round (Kidsilk Haze)
  • 13 June – Summer Florals: stoles, cushions and throws to knit and (maybe) crochet
  • 19 Sept – repeat of the Fairisle day
  • 3 October – repeat of the Frill Seeker day
  • 17 October – Halloween at Court Cottage
  • 14 November – Christmas at Court Cottage (full)
  • 21 November – Christmas at Court Cottage (repeat of 14 November)

New for 2015 are the Frill Seeker, the Fairisle, and the Floral Summer events.  But all the events feature new designs, except Bump Bag which is repeated due to over-spill demand.

Two topics are repeated, to allow greater attendance.  But if a course gets filled up, and you want to come, do please email me as I will possibly get cancellations and can pop you in, or I will arrange a new date if I have enough demand, as has happened with three events this year, thus allowing an extra 20+ knitters to attend.

Design weekend will be slightly different this year, so if you have been before, there will be a new ‘design brief’ to suit you.

Millington and I can’t wait for a great year of knitting with you.

I really would love to welcome you, whether you have been before, or are new to Court Cottage, so please book your place and we will look forward to seeing you.


Conversations with Lily #6

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Me:  why don’t you ever post on Face Book anymore?

Lily:  Face Book is boring.

Me:  I like it, it’s not boring.

Lily:  yes, but you like groups about Dachshunds and knitting – it’s lame.

Me:  none taken.

Lily:  And FYI mum, the people on your Dachshund Groups aren’t your friends.  You’ve never met them, or their dogs. And you never will.

Me:  *hurt silence*

Lily:  also, lots of old people use it.  Like you.

Me:  wow.

Me:  I’m not old.

Me:  you’re mean.

Lily:  It’s also very embarrassing that some of my real friends have added you on Face Book.  And you accepted!

Me:  it’s because I am cool.

Lily:  *eye rolling* yeah, OK whatever…but it’d be fab if you could stop up-dating your status every time you have a cup of tea or make a sandwich.

Lily:  and what’s with the carpet shampoo stuff?  Please stop.

Me:  no.  It’s interesting.

Lily:  it really isn’t.  Nor is the stuff about wine making and going to Nandos.

Me:  really?

Lily:  yes.  Really.  It’s sad.

Me:  OK…

Me:  I’ll delete my FB account…


Lily:  oh yeah, that reminds me – all the stuff about caving – that needs to stop too.

Lengthy pause, in which I contemplate life without Face Book and Lily continues to interrogate her mobile.

Me:  so, what is the social media of choice for Young People nowadays, then?

Lily:  I am not going to tell you.

Me:  why not?

Lily:  because you will get all over it like a rash and RUIN IT for me.

Me:  I won’t – and anyway, I can just ask Millington, she is a Young Person and also she will know AND she will tell me, AND she will then set it up for me!  Ha!

Lily:  Sarah is a bad influence.  Sarah set you up with a lock on your phone so I can’t frape you anymore.

Lily:  Snap Chat – ever heard of that?

Me:  no, what is it?

Lily:  you send a picture to someone on Snap Chat and it only lasts for, like, a few seconds.

Me: (trying, successfully to resist almost overpowering impulse to say:  ‘Is it “like” a few seconds, as in similar to a few seconds? Or is it, in fact, a few seconds?’)

Lily:  then it vanishes.

Me:  HOW??  That’s magic!*

Lily:  oh please mum, you’re such a massive loser.

Me:  I made you griddled chicken for tea with buttery mash.  Because I am making curry for me and dad and you don’t like the one with coconut in it.  Now I am sorry that I bothered, because I am, apparently, *a loser*.  

(Flounces out of kitchen, ramming my leg into the door of the dog sleeping crate as I go, thus a) utterly ruining flounce effect; b) making me curse a lot and almost cry; and c) rendering Lily speechless and incapable of normal function, as she is literally convulsed with hysterical laughter).

* (I have since looked this thing up.  It is called snapchat and it’s a mobile image messaging application.  The image – picture, video, whatever – is limited by the sender to appear to the recipient for between 1 – 10 seconds.  No, I have no idea why either.  Often, I am glad I am old).


Workshop Loyalty Scheme 2014

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Court Cottage Workshop Room – Ready for the Day!

Eleven valued customers have just qualified to choose £20 of Rowan yarns from me!


This is my 2014 Workshop Loyalty Scheme, details of which you can see here.

If you have attended, or book to attend, three workshops or more with me here at Court Cottage in 2014, you too will qualify.  I have back-dated the plan to January and it ends in November with the Christmas Workshop.  By November, I will have run ten events here, including the two-day Design Weekend, which is more than the last three years.  I have run more events because of the limited numbers I can take – seven or eight is my maximum – and I want to enable more people who might like to come, to be able to do so.

I recently added five new events.  You can see all the events here.  There are still spaces in June, September and October.  I do feel really lucky and very proud that so many of my customers come back for more workshops with us.  I have seen so many leaps and bounds of confidence and skill, in all of my customers, and I think that together, we have created a really special place to come and learn something new, enjoy a bit of gentle boundary-pushing, and meet other lovely people.

Teaching here at home was something I began almost 4 years ago.  I must say, I was filled with mild* anxiety about it when I first started, because, despite having taught for many years, over literally hundreds of events, I was opening up my house to people.  It felt much more personal.

Then Millington joined me.  It is very rare to have the focus of two knitting tutors for groups as small as seven or eight participants, but I think this is one of the elements that makes Court Cottage events special.  I was very lucky to meet Millington when we both worked at Rowan as freelance teachers and Design Consultants, and I am lucky to have her work with me still.

*may be an slight** understatement

**refer to * above

Over the 3 plus years of teaching here, I have always taught elsewhere, usually here in the West Country.  For me, these two experiences go hand-in-hand.  It is a very different (not better) experience, coming here for an event.  If you haven’t yet tried a Court Cottage Workshop, please do, because they really are unique and I love meeting new knitters too.

But to my very special cohort of regular attendees, new and long-standing alike:   this is a tangible way for me to say thank you.  So, enough with the schamltz – get choosing your yarn!

Lent: Millington’s Take

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Last year in Lent, for some reason I gave up sugar. Millington’s response was a single text:  ‘Are. You. Mad?’

I did it for purely selfish reasons and I don’t really know why I *need* an arbitrary period of time to do it.  As it happens, I don’t eat that much sugar.  Really, I don’t. Anyway.

This year, clearly still shaken by last year, Millington sent me a text to suggest other things I might give up.

Here they are, I am in blue.