Alison Crowther-Smith

Posts Tagged ‘Somerset’

2019 Workshops are now LIVE!

Monday, September 24th, 2018

2019 is now live on the site.  You can find them all here!

There are icord designs, Happy Endings, new felting, gifts and the return of Christmas at Court Cottage.

Each day explores new techniques and applies them to projects specially designed for you.

I would love to see you here!

 

 

Dear Diary + Conversations with Lily

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

(Some of this was drafted a while ago).

Bank Holiday Monday:  this is the last day when I will live in the house without one or both of my children also living here. The last time I will peg out and fetch in washing for Lily*. The last time I will sit in the kitchen, in the early evening, knowing that Lily will be coming home. Home. To eat, sleep – live. Have long since abandoned futile and exhausting pretence that I am fine about this. The last weekly menu that includes Lily and Jack has been drafted and most of the meals I predicted have gone. Absolutely fed up of this self-generated ‘last time’ nonsense and yet am also apparently entirely unable to stop myself from doing it.  Overwhelming sadness is only marginally moderated by uplifting realisation that at the very worst, it will soon stop as they will finally have gone.

Reflect that ‘it could be worse’ and agree with annoying inner-self and many acquaintances, that yes, of course it is patently obvious that it could be worse.  Yes, Lily could be moving to New York (or insert distant location of choice). Am almost as sick of hearing this as I am of hearing my own inner monologue about woe-is-me. Next person to tell me how much worse it could be is in danger of seeing usually well-concealed version of self (and here, I sadly reflect that this is possibly the real self) who is liable to become ill-tempered and snappy upon receiving such probably well-meant but nevertheless platitudinous missives.

Fug of misery, deepened by length of time that ‘the move’ has been looming over me is further intensified by realisation that I have planned an unappealing supper for this last evening – a meal of left-overs supplemented by not always welcome spinach and chard from the allotment garden. Ponder if ‘last supper’ mentality is really appropriate and decide that it is not and thus, the fish-pie/cauliflower-cheese/spinach combo is fine.

*this proved to be incorrect as I still appear to be in charge of Lily’s running gear washes.

Tuesday:  wake with a refreshing sense that this is the first day in which ‘the move’ will no longer have the chance to loom as it will be history.  This uplifts me for at least half an hour. Am in danger of moping through yet another week, so embark on exhilarating programme of making myself do things I hate.  List includes such items as sorting out accounts, cleaning out wardrobe, defrosting ancient freezer, and weeding.  Therefore and entirely predictably, I make a list of these things and then shove list under pile of newspapers and knit while watching Netflix.

Wander round house, tidying up a bit. As hoarders go, I know I am not the worst.  For example, my stairs and hallways are not fire hazards, I do not keep ‘useful bits of string’ in the house (though I do in the car-port on the potting table), and I am often found in the act of housework which I detest and so see as form of divine (or maybe satanic) punishment.  But as ever, I wish my house looked more like the houses of some of my friends with no clutter and (I imagine) immaculate drawers.  I mainly hoard books.  It could be worse.

I am aware, however, that I am touchy about how clean and comfortable my house is.  Firmly tell self that this is silly and also make resolution to calmly tell people who may (even inadvertently – or whatever) criticise things, to fuck off, but to do so without loss of temper if possible as this is not nice for me  (I do not care much about impact on them). Post-Script Note:  this resolve instantly breached as very next week, a very slight acquaintance comes to house for coffee and without so much as a rueful smile, informs me that the coffee is not nice, and orders another but this time hot,  and explains how I can resolve other coffee problems.  And I do.  I do not say:  fuck off.  I do not lose my head.  I just comply but inwardly fume and suppress powerful desire to swear piratically. Think that I need more practice but I do make mental note to never repeat experience of having very slight acquaintance over.

Second, to tell people who say things that they think are funny and who, in doing so attempt to make others feel that somehow they ought to ‘get’ the ‘joke’ and not be offended, that it is not funny. In fact, believe that they use this as cloak of invisibility for nasty comments they want to get across.  These people are often the same cheerful folk who call a spade a spade, speak their minds and talk as they find.  In other words, they are incredibly rude but may not be taken to task as they ought because they at once say:  I speak as I find!  Decide to do the same to them.  This may test some relationships to point of breaking.  Do not care.  I do not ‘speak as I find’ as a rule.  Do you?  Wouldn’t it be awful if we all told the unvarnished truth as we see it? Thus, I know I will never do it unless loss of control has been achieved.

(Some weeks into the period of my life now known as AC – anno childrenia). Lily and I are training for a half-marathon at the end of September.

Saturday – long-run day:  Lily arrives before dawn has cracked. I am stumbling about in kitchen, dodging dogs and cat, fumbling with door locks. Lily erupts from and also into gloom and I can tell at once that, like me, she is absolutely furious. Hurls herself into chair and sobs:  why?? why are we DOING THIS?

Me:  I have no bloody idea anymore. (Note:  we are doing it to raise money for Cancer Research UK and in memory of my beloved Sister in Law, Judith, who died earlier this year.  But as Lily knows this at least as well as me, as it was her idea, I do not bother with explanation).

Lily:  I can’t face it.

Me:  nor can I.  Let’s not go.

Lily, new resolve clearly entering her soul:  No! we MUST go! (now declaiming in manner of warrior-leader attempting rally of troops).  Onward!

Me:  onward.  Into the night.  It’s still chuffing dark.  Let’s have a cuppa.

Lily:  OK.

Lily:  have you eaten?

Me:  no but I am thinking of eating a banana. (I hate bananas but my sports physio has prescribed one a day so I now buy tiniest possible bananas and sometimes eat one).

Lily:  yuk.  But OK I’ll have one too.

I investigate fruit bowl and find one rather old looking banana and some newer, less disgusting ones.  I take both examples into the kitchen and suggest we both eat half of each.  We do so, gagging due to early hour and also rank taste and texture of bananas.

Lily:  hmmm, that old banana wasn’t too bad.  Just shows that you should never judge a banana by its skin.

Me:  but that is really the only way to judge a banana, isn’t it?  Surely that’s the definitive banana test?

Lily:  don’t call me Shirley.

And thus, buoyed up by this sort of high-quality bant, we emerge into the slowly receding gloom and reluctantly begin our 12 mile furtive shuffle.  This we complete, with a lot of extended silences as I find running makes it hard to breathe and talk, thus meaning, according to all training material I have ever read, that I am doing it wrong.  The run is, however, enlivened by my periodic Michael Jackson impressions.  These are prompted by my running in white cotton gloves.  Am doing this because my hands are in sorry state and I can keep them hydrated and medicated by wearing the gloves.  But is, I find, irresistible to break into such iconic songs as Billie Jean, The Man in the Mirror, and especially Thriller, whilst waving one white-gloved hand in Lily’s face.  On down-hill sections only, obvs, due to shortage of breath at all other times.  She loved it.

Later, much later, after we messily complete the 12 miler – our last long run until the race – and have showered, eaten a lot of non-banana foods, and are lying on the bed in Lily and Jack’s lovely new house…

Lily:  we are doing OK aren’t we?

Me:  yeah.  I mean that was absolutely awful and frankly right now I’d give all the target money to NOT do it, but I think we will manage it.

Lily:  no, I mean THIS.

Me:

Lily:  THIS!! Me, not living at home anymore? We doing OK, right?

Me (thinking:  is that true?):  yes. We are.  It’s fine.  We are managing it well.

And I reflect that it is true, after all.  I would prefer to live in a huge house (with separate kitchens, due to my slovenly nature, obvs) with both my children and their partners.  But that’s not real life – and in fact, this is good.  I miss them.  But it’s fine and I have a feeling it will emerge from fine to not bad and then maybe onto actually really good in the coming months.  For one thing, I can go to their houses for dinner, refuse to eat spinach and ask for more wine!

 

 

 

 

 

WIP Amnesty Day 2019 – 23 March

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Come to the Court Cottage WIP Amnesty event in 2019 and get back in touch with a project that you once loved – or quite liked – but shoved behind the sofa in 2017 and now can’t face.

We are trained* professionals with years of WIP experience.  We understand the lure of casting on a new project.  It is irresistible.  But it is also true that completing an older project is very satisfying.  We can evolve reward-based strategies for you, if that works for you.  Or we can adopt the ‘tough love’ approach.  Or we can agree that, yes, it is time to let that orange waistcoat for the dog go.  And everything in between.

When I worked for Rowan in Johnny Lou Lou’s, I had a lot of experience of WIP wrangling.  Customers would smuggle in a carrier bag of half-knitted bits of a cardigan, for example, and a rumpled pattern, and a few notes maybe, plus an assortment of knitting needles.  They’d slide it across my table.  In the manner of an arms smuggler checking the quality of the goods being offered, I’d play it cool and casually glance inside.  If a cloud of moth did not emerge, I’d get it all out and have a nice long look-see.  The most common problems were:

  • I am lost.  Where am I in this pattern?
  • I have encountered an instruction I do not understand, or cannot make work.
  • I have a repeated numerical error – usually the stitch count after lace rows.
  • I wanted to adapt it but I am not sure how.
  • I made a mistake some rows ago and I can’t correct it.
  • I wish it wasn’t black.

Often, a fresh pair of eyes on a project can resolve the above, except the last one.

Or, you may know exactly where you are, and have no problems other than boredom with the design.  We can give you a kick-start and a list of good audio books/Netflix titles.

Or/and, you may in your heart of hearts want to quit.  This is fine.  Life is too short for a number of things, such as finishing books that are rubbish, peeling most vegetables, ironing, and forcing yourself to finish a WIP you don’t want anymore. With breathing techniques, whale-music, and finger-cymbals (Kath’s speciality), we can create a safe space for you to let it go.  Or, as we have absolutely no emotional or financial investment in the WIP, we can start the ripping out process for you, we are ruthless rippers – job done! We can help you re-assign the yarn and make a fresh start.

It’s half price as it is not a teaching day.  But we will both be on hand to help you, one-to-one.

Here is the page.

*We are trained.  I am a trained sausage-wrangler and Kath is a nurse.

 

 

July Newsletter

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

SSCW Throw and Scarf

I have just sent out the July Newsletter.  In this edition, there is the usual mix of my news, industry news and new yarns.

If you want to get these up-dates, please contact me and I will add you to the email list.

If you used to hear from me and would still like to, the chances are we got lost in the great 2018 GDPR-gate fiasco and I have had, reluctantly, to drop your address from my previous list.  This may be an enormous relief to you, in which case you don’t need to do anything.  Or you might miss the odd in-box wave, in which case, contact me to go back onto the list.

Here are some images of the easy and so pleasing Slip Stitch Colourwork Throw for the July events – 2 places available for the event on Thursday 26 July.

SSCW Throw 2SSCW Throw 3SSCW Throw 4SSCW Throw 1

How To Videos: stretchy cast on for socks

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

I am planning to make a few short videos of some of the techniques I teach and release them after workshops.  Here is the first one:  a stretchy cast-on for top-down socks.  This can also be used for the brim of a hat, the cuff of a mitten or anywhere that needs a good stretch that won’t go baggy.  Here it is.

Top down plain sock cast on

 

 

Workshops! Spaces!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Hello there, welcome to the ghost-ship Court Cottage.  The workshops have succumbed to an epidemic of cancellations – so there is a lot of space here in June.

This weekend, you can come and knit socks, either from the top down or from the toe up. This is a great skill. Socks are easy to knit once you have mastered the basics – and that, plus a few extras, is what this course is all about.  I teach top down socks on DPNs and toe up socks on 2 short circular needles.  Once mastered, socks are ideal in many ways:  great, fast and economical gift knits; and perfect as a travelling project.

Next weekend, you can come and learn to knit a magical Moebius, or if you have done this with me before, you can knit a brand new design.  Moebiuses are very addictive and great fun to knit and to wear.

Please follow the links above or contact me.

Just a reminder:  if you were on my email list and did not opt back in when I sent out a recent pre-GDPR reminder, you will no longer receive my alerts and up-dates. So if you want to continue to get these, please contact me and I will add your name back in.  If you did opt back in – thank you!

 

Allotment at Home Phase One

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

allotment lawn all done 2

The first phase of Bring the Allotment back home is almost complete.  The turf was all lifted some weeks ago and then sourcing and building the raised beds started.  I have a mix of home made wooden beds, beds made of pallet-cuffs, and some metal hexagonal shaped beds.

This is what the area looked like before we started. Allotment lawn before

I then had three trees felled – two in this area and one in the next area across the drive.

As the beds went into place, the turfs were moved from storage and placed in the bottom of several planters.  Then I was able to put down heavy duty weed suppressing lining.  I have had mixed results with this on other gravel paths.  For one thing they are not weed suppressing. For another the frayed edges can quickly make their way through the gravel and be unsightly and a nuisance.  But I think I needed some lining, mainly to stop the gravel being mashed into the earth.  So I laid a path way of lining in each area – a long and painstaking process as this is a series of odd shapes.  And each piece was turned under at all the raw edges, by hand, and then the whole of each piece was secured, including the folded edges, with home-made metal ‘staples’ which I hammered in all around.

Allotment weed membrane 1

The lining does not always reach right to the edge of the beds, but it is down in every area where I will have to walk.

I then ordered 2 tones of gravel.  Which I then delayed three times as it was first too cold, then too wet and then too snowy to work outside.  When I finally got the first 2 tons schlepped, I was still 2 tons short, so I ordered some more – and it snowed again.  Eventually, this Monday and with snow still lying about, I got the last of it down.  All that remains here is for me to fill each bed with soil and compost.  Most of the soil is being dug and barrowed from the other side of the drive.  This is also part of the work to complete the last phase of the project.  At the moment I have the two biggest beds full, and two more almost there. full

I will also need to rig netting on each raised bed to deter cats and birds.

I am very pleased with it so far.  I know it is not beautiful, but it is a highly practical space now, with twelve raised beds.  I have four more on the allotment, and three more here, so the next phase is well in hand.

Allotment lawn area part gravelled

It has been a much bigger, longer and harder task that I thought.  But this is always the way, or it is for me.

I have not even been to the allotment other than to look at the snow for about three weeks, but I will be down soon to plant out broad bean seedlings and have a tidy up.  Then, the cage will be dismantled and brought home.  I will also dig up and pot on some raspberry root-shoots and bring them home.  Finally, the raised beds there and the tyres will be emptied and brought home.

The space you see here is about 1/2 of a full allotment plot, I think but longer and thinner; and of course I have sacrificed space by having only raised beds.  But I think these are far more productive than open ground growing for everything except fruit canes, and beans.  When I have completed phase two and re-configured the old original veg plot, I will have c 1.5 of a full allotment. Perfect.

The light is good in this area, even for March.  This plot will not have the almost uninterrupted full sun that much of my allotment has; but in very hot spells that has been a mixed blessing really.  Here, the beds at the far end will get early and mid-late morning sun; and the rest will have sunlight or at least good light later in the day.  I think it will be fine.  It will also be much more sheltered and far more peaceful.  I am looking forward to planting it all up and having it literally on my doorstep.

 

New Workshop Dates for 2018

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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

 

 

2018 Courses

Tuesday, 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

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

The Cables, Bobbles and Blackberries Scarf:

The Fables:

Cables, Bobbles and Beads: the texture events

Monday, 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

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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.

 

 

Winter is Coming…

Wednesday, 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

 

Allotment Up-Date: should I stay or should I go now?

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

I am well into year two of Project Allotment. This year has been much better than last in many ways.  First, almost no digging. Second, I have learned a lot and it shows in terms of how I plan things and how well they turn out.  Third, I have just about managed to keep the brassica cage free of cabbage white fly with the use of diatomaceous earth.  This is an organic dusting powder.  It is a faff to apply it and it isn’t 100% successful but it has made a big difference.  Last year, by now, the cage was infested, but this year they are just beginning to be obvious – so I have re-applied the DE.

I have maintained an organic approach – no pellets, no poison.  I do lose a bit of stuff here and there but I think it is worth it.

There have been failures.  The potatoes were poor.  Not worth the effort.  The carrots were also poor in terms of germination.  And I planted the squash way too close together so it is very crowded.

On the other hand, the kale and cabbage are 90% better, and I have had (and am continuing to have) amazing bean crops, good courgettes and interesting and delicious new squash types.

So, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to tell you, dear reader, that I am thinking of giving the plot up.  Not in October 2017, probably, which is renewal time.  But maybe at some point in the following year.  I have not decided for definite but I have it in my mind.  There are pros and cons.  As I am powered by lists, here is my pros/cons for giving up the allotment list:

Pros:

  • I find it incredibly time hungry, as it is very labour intensive and in spring and summer I do go to the plot at least 3 times a week, often more.
  • It is not inconvenient as it is only 1/2 mile away but that is an issue when pushing a loaded wheel barrow, or riding an over-loaded bike.
  • It is basically still trying to be a pasture field and so despite the efforts of the previous plot holder before he gave up a year or so before I got it, and mine, if you turn your back for more than 3 days, the bind-weed and other invasive, pernicious weeds just move back in and bring all their mates.
  • Someone has taken some of my Japanese squash – which are big and heavy, and some of the black French beans. These are not things birds could or would take.  That was upsetting. It won’t be anyone on the allotments or our local badgers who do steal fruit and sweetcorn.  But the field is not secure at all so I guess it is inevitable, sometimes. Jo has also had fruit taken and last year someone had his brassica cage vandalised.
  • It has really set off my always lurking OCD nerve. I can’t just cut the grass, for example.  I have to cut the grass and then edge the whole plot and then pick up all the clippings and then hoe it neat – this is just the edges.  I wish I could be more relaxed but I can’t.  So, it’s a bit obsessive. Obsessions are, basically, my one weakness.
  • I am very allergic to a lot and an increasing number of things and many of these are down the allotment.  I am bitten by all the insects despite my spraying myself with jungle strength insect repellent, and I react very badly to these bites, both at the site of the sting or bite and also all over. I am allergic to soil on my bare skin, so I have to garden in gloves – but I am also allergic to most gloves so I have to line the gloves with cotton gloves, soaked in E45.  Despite this, my hands are in an awful state.  (I think I am also becoming allergic to some animal fibres but anyway…). My new allergy is to the plants themselves especially courgettes and squash leaves, raspberry leaves and runner bean leaves.  Spiders bite me whenever I go into the cage even if I wear long sleeves and trousers, and then I get blisters.  To be honest, it is just miserable to be so allergic to my allotment.  The garden can, of course, set off reactions but rarely so extreme.
  • The garden is suffering neglect.
  • I worry about it if I have to miss a few days and kind of dread the return to what I know will be a lot of hard effort.
  • I am often very tired.
  • I have learned a lot and some of this could be translated into my garden here.

Cons:

  • I actually love my allotment and I am very proud of it. I know I would miss it terribly. It is often a place of great happiness and peace for me.
  • After all that work (and this is not a response I am proud of) I can’t bear someone else to just walk onto the plot and take it on.  Is the answer to let it go to pot for a few months and then quit, I hear you murmur?  Frankly that thought is unworthy of you and I am disappointed, I shall pretend you didn’t suggest it.
  • I have invested in some equipment but mainly the cage which I think I can bring home.
  • Related, I have a plan (very provisional) to turn part of my garden here into a mini-allotment. It is at the thinking stage only but I do believe it may have merit.  There will be a lot of work associated with this initially and some cost, but still, it would be a realistic alternative.
  • We love the food I grow.  I have not thrown money at my allotment and not really bought much at all, so it really is a thrift project for me which has given us so much produce that you just can’t buy anyway.
  • I might be able to go down to a half-plot. But you see, the OCD nerve would kick in then, if the partner plot-holder left his/her plot (joined onto my MY plot) in a state.
  • I am not a sociable person in any way but I have slowly and quietly made some very nice ‘acquaintances’ down there. But on the whole it is just me there and I like that.
  • Whilst it is very hard work, it is really away from it all as there is no internet coverage and very poor phone signal. So, audio books are marvellous for allotmenting.

What do you think I ought to do? Give it up, or keep it?  You are wise, advise me.

 

Macmillan Afternoon Knit Club, 15 June and 23 November

Monday, June 5th, 2017

These dates could do with a few more knitters.  Based on the current bookings, everyone will have to eat 3 slices of cake and a plate of savouries – and that’s just not fair, even by my feeding standards.

All the fees (£15 a head) will be donated by me to Macmillan Cancer Support.

So it would be awesome (overdone phrase, but in this case, justified) if you could see your way to coming along.  They start at 2, and finish at 5.  You can come/go at any time around these points.

It is just a knitting session, with afternoon tea served basically all the time.  I am making a couple of cakes and some sarnies and if you want to bring something to add to the tea table, that would be marvelous but not by no means compulsory.  Just bring your knitting and crochet.

Here is the link, where either date can be booked.

Please come. Thankyouplease.

The Allotment in Year 2

Friday, May 26th, 2017

I am so glad I kept the allotment on.  Year 1 – The Year Of The Great Dig – was good, but very hard.  Year 2 is proving to be far nicer.

This is day one, 18 months ago:

Allotment Day 1 1 Allotment Day 1 2

The lessons I learned from the first 12 months have stood me in good stead.  Mainly, this is about recognition and hopefully control of pests, and knowing what to plant that will probably do well and we will enjoy.  And when to plant/sow of course.  These images are from this year, about 3 weeks ago – the plants are further on now and the spaces have almost all been filled up:

allotment beans mid may 2017 Allotment cage mesh and beans allotment top - with new planter Allotment early May 2018 1

I had a lengthy and boring debate with myself and anyone who would listen about netting for the brassica cage.  Yes, you read that right.  Mere mortals can only gaze in wonder at my utterly fascinating rock and roll life style, I know.  If I am not debating super-fine mesh netting, I am probably Googling ‘ways to kills twatting pests on my allotment, only organic and preferably not too horrid, please and thanks’.

Anyway, to replace the netting that the cage kit came with would have cost upwards of £250 – maybe £300.  As Mark was heard to murmur, we could buy brussels and cabbages in That Waitrose for several years and still have change…I agree.  It contradicts all the ‘rules’ (mainly self imposed, it is true) that I have applied to being an allotmenteer.  The main rule is that it ought to be economically viable.  But the old netting is not fine, and it admits little aphids and pests, chiefly cabbage white fly.  The cage was infested with these little sods in 2016.  I didn’t know what they were so by the time I got around to trying some incredibly ineffective organic control, it was too late. I am trying to be organic.  But sometimes I do wonder if I might as well sit in the cage and chant/clash finger cymbals/light incense. It can’t be less effective than fatty acids and nematodes have been…

This year, I am combating them and any other insect pests, with my new organic weapon, Diatomaceous Earth (DE).  This is a powder, slightly coarser than talcum powder and off-white. It is ground up fossils.  River fossils to be exact.  You sprinkle this onto the plants/earth/critters and the tiny but deadly razor-like structure of the powder particles damages the exoskeletons of the insects if it touches them. Then they die.  So I think that if I see any of them, I will sprinkle them directly and as a precaution, I am lightly dusting the plants and the earth in the cage, and also the potato towers – for I am having another go at growing potatoes in tyre-towers, despite the miserable failure in 2016. I think that if I break the cycle of the cabbage white fly, I may prevail.

DE is organic and harmless to humans though you are advised not to inhale it or get in in your eyes.  If it rains, you have to re-apply it, and if there is any on your crops when you harvest them, you just give them a good wash.  But you have to beware getting it into your eyes or breathing it in.  So I have to wear a surgical mask and my cycling glasses in order to apply it.  If anything could further single me out as a bit of a weirdo, it will be this. One problem is that as soon as I put on the mask thing, the glasses completely fog up so I have nudge them off my nose slightly.  I try to do it when there is no one else about…anyway, I will let you know how this goes!

Old crops from 2017 that I am repeating are:

  • Broad beans
  • Garlic (2016 fail)
  • Potatoes in towers (2016 fail)
  • Runner and French beans
  • Pea shoots
  • Carrots
  • Raspberries – absolutely thriving this year!
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries – to be frank I have the sulkiest, meanest strawberries I have ever seen and this is their last chance. I have taken runners from last year so these are Year 1 plants.  2018 is your cut-off year, guys, put out some of the good stuff or you’re compost.
  • Courgettes
  • Japanese squash
  • Kale*
  • Brussels*
  • Chard*

*All victims to a greater or lesser extent of the Great Twat-Off Festival of 2016.

So I have ruthlessly cut out Kohl Rabi, broccoli and purple sprouting.  All pointless.

New for 2017:

  • Giant Red Mustard leaves
  • A red curly kale called Scarlett
  • Red cabbage
  • Summer cabbage
  • Various different squash

Here is the red mustard.  It needs a lot of space, it is far bigger than a lettuce crop:

allotment red mustard

 

This is good picked small and eaten as a salad leaf – not that mustardy, less spicy than wild rocket. It is also nice wilted like spinach when the leaves are much bigger.  I cut out most of the stem and then chop the leaves into slices, and wilt it with butter and salt and garlic.  I love it.  The people for whom I have cooked this are less impressed.

Here are the early 2017 harvests of pea shoots and mustard:

allotment pea shoots and red mustard

 

 

 

 

 

Workshops in 2018 – again!

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Well, we had a fabulous weekend of teaching here.  Two new groups of nascent Steekers have now been released into the wild, and they all did amazingly well.  What I love about people who latch on to new skills like this is the open-mindedness that they come with.  It is so refreshing and I do thank all the students in 2016 and this year who have embraced this.  I think they will agree that, broken down into logical stages, steeking is not frightening, but rather the gateway to even more enjoyable and yes, even more ambitious and beautiful knitting.

We have now taught this Bee Design Steeking class 7 times and still I love it each time we do it.  However, that has now drawn to a close and I am looking ahead to the new designs for 2017 and into 2018.

I now have a pretty focused but still draft plan for 2018’s events.  I am not going to blog these in detail now.  But if you want to hear about them as they evolve, please contact me and I will add you to my email alert list.  That, rather than the blog, will be the forum where I will pre-announce or at least ramble on a bit.  Once it is all set up, I will pop it on here.

Of course, 2017 is far from over.  In the next 5 weeks we have 3 further days here which is the conclusion of the busiest Spring Term ever at Court Cottage. There will have been 13 events since late February.  There are 7 in the Autumn Term and I won’t be adding any as far as I know, although the Lined Fairisle Cowl event has sold out and been very popular so we’d be happy to re-run that – if you fancy it, let me know.  I have 3 names on a waiting list so if there are a few more I will have a go-er!  We could do it in early 2018 or in November 2017.  It’s a lovely, easy-going Fairisle knit with an option to line the cowl in plain silk stocking stitch.  No steeking, no homework, just lovely fast Fairisle.

Brioche Cowls

Friday, May 19th, 2017

I have two events in June on Brioche Cowls.  This is Brioche knitted in two colours, in the round.  It is stage two of our 2017 Brioche events.  You do not need to have attended the earlier Brioche course to come to this one. In fact, knitting Brioche in the round is rather simpler than when knitted flat, but of course, it is knitted in the round which is not something everyone is comfortable with.  However, it is possible to knit these (in fact, it is preferable) on a single circular needle, either 40cm or 60cm long, depending on how wide you want the cowl to be.

In the round, Brioche is a simple two round process and with no ‘ends’ as you have with flat Brioche, there is no sliding, turning or edge stitch business.

Brioche is a stitch that will reward your efforts.  And by effort, we are not talking about the feats of Hercules.  No, this is rather more tame than that. It really requires you to open your mind and leave some old knitting habits behind, just for a while.

As with any new skill, it can take a while to assimilate the unusual – or rather, new – technique but none of it is at all difficult as it is of course only knitting, purling, slipping stitches and moving your yarn back or forth.  And you can do all these things already.  Brioche is just a stitch that re-arranges the order somewhat.

I have designed three cowls.  One is chunky and it is knitted in a luxurious silk wool yarn; I chose a soft grey and a sweet, subdued yellow.  This uses one hank of each.  Another is colourwashed and is in Kidsilk Haze plus a DK wool – I used Felted Tweed.  Finally, an aran Brioche cowl for which I used grey and navy blue.

The classes are limited to 6 participants only.  There is 1 place available on each of the two days – the 24th of June and the 25th of June.  Use the links if you fancy having a go at this rather lovely new skill, and whipping up a Brioche cowl in double quick time.

Brioche Cowl In the round - aran

grey and yellow silk Brioche cowl

Brioche Cowl Colourwashed