The Great London Yarn Crawl: one week to go!

Next Saturday (20 September 2014), I’ll be taking part in the Great London Yarn Crawl: a wonderful woolly day out around London, visiting various yarn shops on a planned route with other knitters, all on public transport.

The founders of the GLYC, Rachel and Allison, hoped that the event would build a community and introduce people to shops they might not already know, as well as raise money for the charity Refuge, which helps victims of domestic violence across the UK.  You can hear Rachel and Allison talking about the event and how the idea grew in an interview in Episode 64 of A Playful Day’s podcast (which I highly recommend if you aren’t already a listener).

I was lucky enough to go on the first ever Great London Yarn Crawl last year.  I had a fantastic time, meeting some lovely people and visiting some yarn shops I love, as well as some which were new to me.  Fibre enthusiasts came not only from London, but from all over the UK.

This year, the event has grown, with a total of 12 shops in London welcoming nine teams of yarn crawlers through their doors in aid of Refuge.  The shops are mainly yarn shops, but some also focus on crafts such as weaving, spinning, sewing and quilting.  I’m looking forward to joining my team mates next Saturday on the Cheviot route (the routes being named after different breeds of sheep).  Each team will be visiting four yarn shops around London during the day, and then all the teams will meet up for a party hosted by Pom Pom Quarterly.

If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you.  If you want to go but haven’t yet got a ticket, there are still a couple of last-minute tickets available as I press ‘post’ at the GLYC ticket page.  Go, go, go!

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Holiday knitting

In the last week, my house has felt a little bit like Noah’s Ark, just before the flood waters actually lift it and carry it off!  It’s been very wet and cold across much of the UK, but as it’s officially still summer (it’s August after all) I refuse to put the heating on.  I love autumn, don’t get me wrong, but it has its place, and that starts next week.

However, I’m about to put off the arrival of autumn for a little while longer by going on holiday, so I’ve been planning my holiday knitting.

Sadly, my airline won’t allow knitting needles on the flight, but I’m taking plenty of projects for when I get there.  I had contemplated taking one big, selfish project (a cardigan or perhaps the knitted blanket for grown-ups that I have in my mind’s eye), but as I have four good friends who are expecting babies in the next few weeks, I decided to use the time to knit baby gifts.

Here’s my yarn, ready to go: a half-finished Eole baby cardigan by Nadia Cretin-Lechenne in a lovely greeny/silvery skein of Fyberspates Scrumptious sock, along with some cream and navy Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino for two more cardigans (possibly Meredith by Ruth Maddock) and some incredibly pretty pink speckled Koigu KPPPM to make Linnie by Justyna Lorkowska. If I finish the baby knits, I’ve got some green and yellow Koigu KPPPM to start some Christmas present socks.

Holiday yarn

So not quite the selfish holiday knitting I originally thought I would do, but I’m looking forward to some self-indulgent quality knitting time in the sunshine!  I’m not the fastest knitter, so it may be a bit optimistic to think that I can get through 3.5 baby cardigans and a pair of socks before I get back.  Still, the worst thing would be to run out of knitting, right?

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“In a trench you are sitting, while I am knitting…”

Last night at 11pm marked 100 years since Britain’s entry into the First World War on 4 August 1914.  In the UK, we were encouraged to turn off our lights and see in the anniversary moment by the light of a single candle, inspired by the words spoken on 3 August 2014 by the then foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: ” The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Sitting in the flickering candlelight, watching the service that was broadcast from Westminster Cathedral in the hour before 11pm, I was particularly struck by one of the poems read during that service (by the excellent Penelope Keith).  It was “Many Sisters to Many Brothers”, by British novelist and writer, Rose Macaulay, who wrote it in the autumn of 1914.  (The full poem, and some interesting background discussion about it can be found at George Simmers’s research blog, Great War Fiction.)

In the poem, a woman reflects on her shared childhood with her brother, the games they played and how while they were growing up she was his physical and mental equal (and sometimes superior).  The tone is playful and childlike, with a familiar sense of sibling one-upmanship as she remembers their childhood exploits.  It then moves on to compare their current situation as adults in 1914, with the brother away at war. This was the last verse that really caught my attention:

In a trench you are sitting, while I am knitting

A hopeless sock that never gets done.

Well, here’s luck, my dear; ― and you’ve got it, no fear;

But for me . . . a war is poor fun.

I found the tone of this poem interesting, and it was a war poem which was new to me. It highlights in a very simple, ordinary way, the inequalities between men and women at that time.  Earlier that day I had heard the BBC war correspondent Kate Adie talk about how the First World War had, through necessity brought on by a shortage of men at home, broken down pre-conceptions of what work women could do.  She said that before the war, women were not allowed to work delivering mail because it was thought that they might forget the addresses, but during the war, women took on traditional male roles such as postal work.

Of course, I was also struck by the mention of knitting, and the reluctant sock knitter in the poem.  Her resentment at being left behind to knit and the strong sense that she knits only out of duty feel completely at odds with my own knitting for pleasure.

I happened also to be knitting a sock last night, but I did so because I want to, rather than because I feel it is the only way I can be useful.  My sock is a colourful source of pleasure, rather than a tether to a restricted life I resent.


(My part-finished plain sock in Skein Queen‘s Entwist yarn in a beautiful unnamed colourway, with my WW1 lights out candle in the background.)

My freedom to spend my leisure time and disposable income doing something I love is something that I often take for granted, and the poem made me realise this.  I felt incredibly fortunate to be sitting on my sofa knitting out of free choice and knowing that my loved ones are safe.  One century on from the outbreak of the First World War, the world has changed a lot, but even now, I wish that everyone could know such uncomplicated good fortune (although I appreciate that not everyone’s version of that good fortune would involve knitting a sock!)

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Simple gifts

Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the best.  I usually work long hours, so escaping the office at 5.30pm and spending this evening in the garden with a glass of wine felt extremely decadent.  Dinner included home-grown salad leaves, radishes and beetroot, and there were plenty of early windfall apples which might make it into a crumble later this week.

Life is good (and yes, my wine is in a Moomins glass)…


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Unwinding in Brighton

Yesterday I returned, happy and weary, from attending the first ever Unwind Brighton, a yarn festival held across several stunning venues in Brighton on the south coast of the UK.  A weekend of yarns of both kinds seemed like something I couldn’t miss.

Brighton Pavilion Gardens

There was lots to do, and I hardly had time to take in the sea air, but the yarn fumes made a bracing substitute. The event had a marketplace at its heart, in the Corn Exchange of Brighton Dome. The list of vendors was incredibly impressive, but the stalls even more so.

I helped out with the unloading on the Friday night and early Saturday morning.  It was a privilege to witness each stand come to life as furniture was built, yarn mounted onto custom-made shelving and all kinds of decorative features (ranging from bunting to brown parcel paper and pompoms to fake grass!) added. The hall looked beautiful and I know from talking to other attendees that I wasn’t the only person who found it hard to decide what to buy! It was great to meet some of the indie dyers and designers that I’ve previously bought from online, and also to meet vendors who I hadn’t come across before.  Here are some of the stalls just after the doors opened:


However, Unwind Brighton wasn’t just about the shopping. There were drop-in learning sessions, demonstrations, chances to meet designers and podcasters, and also quiet corners of the buildings and Pavilion gardens where yarn enthusiasts from all over the world could knit, chat and compare experiences (as well as purchases and projects). I met knitters who had come from the US, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Argentina, to name but a few.  I particularly enjoyed learning to darn in Tom of Holland‘s free drop in darning session.  It was such a relaxing and satisfying activity that I now am quite keen to find someone with holes in their socks!  Here is the collection of darning paraphernalia that Tom used for the session (including an incredibly moth-eaten sweater in the foreground that he had repaired for a friend):


and to show how darning can be elevated to a beautiful art form, here’s some detail from a plain sweater on which he had done decorative darning, sampler-style:

Tom's jumper

I was also lucky enough to attend two classes. The first was a Colour Theory class with Amy Hendrix from Madelinetosh yarns. It was a fascinating and inspiring mix of theory, science, art history, and practical experimentation, aided by an abundant heap of mini-skeins of Tosh sock yarn in every colour you can imagine! We learned about how you can analyse colour, as well as why certain colour combinations work or suit certain people and how to choose colours to put together.  Here are some of the gorgeous mini-skeins:

Tosh sock

I also attended an all-day class with designer Ysolda Teague on how to make “The Perfect Sweater”.  After learning that there is no perfect sweater, we went on to consider: yarns (how to choose them, how the fibre and construction of a yarn and how it has been treated can affect a project and even a mini field trip into the marketplace to stroke lots of different breed wools at the Woolcraft with Wensleydale and Blacker Yarns stalls); how and why to swatch; how to take measurements and how your shape can affect what size you should choose; and how to adapt patterns to create flattering garments (with some handy maths tips!). It has given me so much food for thought and a detailed set of measurements, and I’m keen to delve deeper into all of the issues that Ysolda covered. Bring on the next sweater project!

With so many international attendees, this first ever Unwind festival seemed to have a significance beyond the UK already and it was hard to believe it was the first time it’s been held. Apparently over 3,000 knitters from 35 countries attended, but the participation extended beyond those who could be there this weekend through online knitalongs via the online knitting community Ravelry.

People have great ideas from time to time, but it takes an incredible amount of vision, energy, diplomacy and creativity, as well as hard work, to make an idea like Unwind Brighton happen.  In bringing this great idea to life, Dani Sunshine (the founder of Unwind) and the rest of the Unwind team not only made several thousand people very happy indeed this weekend, but also connected a new community of people enjoying each other’s talents, ideas and company.  It was an amazing experience to be there.


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First harvests from the garden

The garden is starting to yield up its first fruits and vegetables. Here is today’s harvest, which happens to have a strong red colour theme.


It was a bit daunting to move into a new home with a rather neglected garden after only having had a balcony before, but I’m learning so much and is fun (although very hard work) trying to get things growing. One border is now full of food, where there were previously only weeds, brambles, a few shrubs and a latent grapevine, which is now flourishing. It’s very satisfying to start being able to go out and gather food, even if it’s in small quantities at the moment. There’s plenty more growing though.


My current knitting is also all red. I’m making the Featherweight cardigan by Hannah Fettig, in Skein Queen‘s beautiful Flockly yarn (a wool, silk and cashmere fingering weight yarn) in a colourway called Cherry Jam, which is a perfect description of its colour. I’m hoping it will be ready to wear to Unwind Brighton this weekend (11-13 July 2014). I am really excited about attending this yarn festival in Brighton on the UK’s south coast. Meeting lots of other knitters should be really inspiring, and I’m looking forward to attending the fabulous marketplace and Seaside Shindig on the Saturday night, not to mention classes on colour theory with Amy Hendrix of Madelinetosh yarns and the “Perfect Sweater” with designer Ysolda Teague.  My fingers are firmly crossed for lots of sunshine but a few gentle sea breezes so that it isn’t too hot for knitwear!

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Rebozos: Weaving stories at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Yesterday I went to London’s Fashion and Textile Museum’s exhibition, “Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion”.

For those of you who haven’t visited the Fashion and Textile Museum, it’s well worth a visit if you are in London.  It is a small but perfectly formed museum near London Bridge station, usually with one exhibition showing at a time.  It also has a very interesting-looking programme of courses.

This exhibition looked at the Mexican rebozo shawl, which is a traditional woven shawl or wrap which has been worn by Mexican women for hundreds of years.  The word “rebozo” comes from “rebozar”, which means “to muffle up”.  The rebozo is so woven into the national identity of Mexico that apparently many claim it should be the national flag.  According to the exhibition material, many Mexican women today own a rebozo which has been passed down through their family or given to them to mark a special occasion.

The shawls themselves are incredibly intricate. The older traditional examples in the exhibition had incredible colours woven into complex patterns and long knotted fringes.  The process of making them consisted of many stages, with the patterns often being created partly by dyeing them onto the vertical warp threads (a technique called “ikat”) and then adding further colours with the horizontal weft threads to form the final pattern. There was a fascinating interview with an old man who had been making rebozos for many years. He said that each rebozo was an achievement, and then he always wanted to know whose shoulders it would be on. So much time and care to make one garment makes each one very special.

In modern-day Mexico, co-operatives have been formed to help the skills of making the rebozo be passed down to new generations of makers, preserving the traditions and also using these garments in new collaborations.  Different regions have their own traditions and styles, using different materials and different forms of pattern or decoration, so each separate tradition would be easily lost.

As well as the history of the making of these garments, the exhibition also looked at how they have been used (such as for mourning, baby-carrying, at other significant events and as a symbol of national and regional identity) and showed versions of the rebozo which have been created by contemporary artists and designers. There was also a showcase of rebozos made by students in London and Mexico City as part of a cultural exchange by students from Chelsea College of Art & Design and Universidad Iberoamericana. Here are some of the stunning rebozos created by the students:


The exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum really captures how this simple garment is so deeply imbued with history and meaning, as well as the complex processes involved in making one.  It is on until 31 August 2014.

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Making my own clothes (and garments for other people) is really important to me. While my handknitted garments look handmade rather than shop-bought, I still think that making my own clothes brings certain advantages over buying them in the shops.  I can choose the yarn or fabric and the little details such as buttons.  I can play with the fit by adapting the pattern to cater for my proportions (such as the fact that all my height seems to be in my body) or my preferences for a certain length of sleeve or neckline.  I’m still learning how to do this, but there’s no better way than to learn by doing and I’m becoming more confident with each garment that I make.

Of course, making a garment is not a particularly fast process, but as long as I’m prepared to accept that I can’t just whip up a quick cardigan to wear at the weekend, it’s satisfying to finish something that has taken time. However, I didn’t always feel like that.  In particular, I used to feel that I would never be able to make an adult-sized knitted sweater.

I tamed my impatience and increased my skill level when I gave myself no choice in the matter.  In 2012, I challenged myself to get through the whole year without buying any clothing, shoes or accessories.  The only things I could acquire were those I made myself.  I was curious to see how difficult I would find this, and whether it would change my perspective on the clothes I wear and buy.  I was also a relatively new knitter with only a few scarves and baby knits under my belt.  I had no idea whether I’d have the skills or confidence to embark on a larger project, but I hoped that by the end of the year I would have improved my skills.

I will admit that I did stock up on certain things beforehand (as the idea of making my own tights or underwear in an emergency didn’t really appeal!)  However, other than those items and one pair of winter boots I didn’t buy anything extra in advance.

I managed to stick to my resolution and didn’t buy a single item clothing, shoes or accessories in 2012. I was proud to have stuck to my challenge, but also found that I enjoyed the way it made me look at my existing clothes in a different light.  I combined things in different ways that I hadn’t worn before and I learned to feel happy about wearing the same dress to all the weddings I was going to (rather than feeling under pressure to wear something different to each one).

I also got a lot of pleasure from the new things that I made for myself.  My haul of handmade clothes and accessories for myself in 2012 comprised a scarf, a cowl, a small shawl, a pair of flip-top mittens, my first pair of socks and to my great satisfaction, my first adult-sized cardigan, plus one sewn summer top.  Each of these items gave me a real sense of achievement as my skill level developed, and my first pair of socks, even though they are a bit too big and rather mis-shapen, have been well-loved, as you can see:

First socks

These are Picot Socks, which is a lovely free pattern by Lydia Gluck from the Pom Pom magazine site.  However, I must take all credit for the lumpiness of these, which is not part of the pattern.  My first cardigan was also one of Lydia’s designs for Pom Pom, the Netherton cardigan.  The cushion the Picot Socks are sitting on is made by Becca Cadbury, who sells cushions at her Etsy shop made from gorgeous Japanese kimono fabric that she sources.

Having a year when I didn’t buy clothes, shoes or accessories kick-started a huge change in my attitude. It really made me think about how easy it is for me to buy clothes without thinking.  Where I live, clothes are cheap and plentiful, and I’m lucky that I have a bit of spare cash to buy clothes.  It’s easy to acquire new things.  I found that I owned too many items of clothing that I didn’t absolutely love, and these tended to be things I’d bought without thinking much about them.  I also found that I generally had no idea about whether the person who made my garment had been paid a fair price for their work in decent surroundings or about the provenance of the materials used in the garment.

I’m much more considered in my purchases now (so that I tend to buy less, but only buy things I really love). I’m also much keener to make things for myself where that is a practical alternative.  During my year of no buying, I invested in a decent sewing machine and I’m trying to build up my skills in knitting and sewing.  Apart from very plain fine-gauge knitwear for work (which would take me months or even years to hand-knit), I have knitted all my new knitwear since 2012, and I’m trying to replace my shop-bought socks  with hand-knitted ones as they wear out.  I know that this approach isn’t for everyone.  Making your own clothes isn’t always cheaper than buying them, it takes a lot of planning and it’s not fast, but I’m enjoying it, and I love being able to say “I made that” about something I’m wearing.  I’m really glad that I gave myself the challenge of a year of not buying clothes, and I think it has changed my views for good.

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I’ve just finished knitting my Hitofude cardigan (by designer Hiroko Fukatsu), so some showing off in the garden was definitely called for.  (Try to ignore the weeds, but look at the beautiful pink-edged leaves on the beech tree!)


I really enjoyed knitting this.  The lace pattern is very easy to memorise, so once I had done a couple of repeats of the lace it became a very relaxing knit.

It is the way that the cardigan is constructed that makes the pattern so interesting.  Hitofude means “one brush stroke” in Japanese, and the whole garment is knit in one “yarn stroke” in one piece.  You start with the sleeves and back, then the sleeves are seamed together and joined with the neckline and waist at the same time.  The lower body then flows from the waist with gradual increases so that the bottom hem is full and the cardigan has a lovely drapey open front.  It’s really clever, but not over-complex.

The finished garment is lovely, and that seems to be true of all the other finished garments that other knitters have posted pictures of on Ravelry.

I used The Uncommon Thread‘s merino fingering weight yarn Uncommon Everyday in the gorgeous grey/brown colourway “Toast”. The yarn was great to work with, and I’m hoping that this will be a cardigan that I will wear a lot over the summer. I highly recommend both the yarn and the pattern.

Hitofude detail

As with most of the things I knit, the memories of the things I was doing while I knitted it are bound up in the garment. This has been an on-off knit over the last few months and when will remind me of: my friend’s baby Sam excitedly shouting “BAAALLLL” at my ball of wool when I knitted on the train with him and his mum (a knitter in the making, perhaps?); the combination of guilt and blissful relaxation as I snatched a few minutes to knit in between unpacking sessions after my house move; TV highlights of Spring including the excellent comedy “Rev”, spring farming show “Lambing Live” and “The Great British Sewing Bee”; and the days lengthening with every stitch.

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Love of Liberty

When I was a teenager, we would have an occasional family trip to London during the summer to enjoy tourist sights, exhibitions, the theatre and the parks.

One place my sister and I always wanted to go was Liberty of London, the incredible old department store on Regent Street which was almost literally creaking with treasures from around the world.  I would save my pocket money to buy blue and white china, gorgeously fragrant sandalwood soap, rough silver charms from Guatemala for my charm bracelet, pretty stationery and scraps of flowered fabric from the remnants box that they had in the wonderful haberdashery department.

Unlike most of my childhood pocket money purchases, some of my Liberty treasures remain in my possession to this day.

Pocket money Liberty treasures

I still love Liberty (although I doubt it’s quite such an easy place to find pocket money treasures these days).   I no longer get completely lost in there, but I can still lose myself for a while in amongst  their wonderful collections, particularly the fabric department.  Liberty’s iconic fabrics have been part of its heritage since the business began in the 1870s.  I’ve been collecting pieces of their patterned Tana Lawn cotton fabric since my teens (and you can see some my collection in the photo at the top of this page).

Liberty prints have enjoyed a renaissance in the twenty-first century, as the Liberty design studio has started to design new prints, not only taking inspiration from the Liberty archive, but also producing new designs.  Many of these have been collaborations with artists, musicians, designers and other creatives from around the world.  The fabrics have also been used in product design collaborations with a wide range of different designers and labels.

I’m planning a few projects using Tana Lawn over the next few months to showcase my own collection…

Do you have a favourite Liberty Tana Lawn project or one using other fabric that is special to you?

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