On Craftsmanship

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A really interesting book landed on my desk called On Craftsmanship – Towards a New Bauhaus by Christopher Frayling, former Rector of the Royal College of Art  and Chairman of the Arts Council England and the Design Council.

My son has just completed his dissertation as part of his degree course at Manchester School of Art – you may have seen me post pictures of his furniture. Part of his worked focussed on the democratisation of design and craftsmanship.  He looked at organisations such as Open Desk, a very interesting collective of designers selling open source furniture.  The basic idea is you choose the furniture design you like and then find a craftsman near you who can make it for you.  This decreases the cost to the environment as well as making good design more affordable – the very epitome of the democratisation he wrote about. If you are able to make it yourself you can simply buy the CAD/CAM files as Joe did.  You can see his Roxanne chair at the top of this post.

So the arrival of this book was apposite. It isn’t a long book but I haven’t had time to read it all yet. In the introduction, Frayling talks about the move from ‘the creative industries to the productive industries’ which seems a very satisfying move to me. His definition of craft as ‘an activity which involves skill in making things by hand’ resonated with me.  The word skill had fallen out of favour in the nineties and noughties imho but I celebrate its return.  It hints at years of deliberate practise, seeking to improve and build skills, and inherently celebrates age and wisdom.

I recently interviewed Mr Noro who is in his 80s. Many of you will know his amazing yarns that meander through beautiful colour combinations. He has spent his entire working life developing his skill and he is sought out for his abilities.  With his kind of skill also comes the generosity and humility to pass the knowledge on to the next generation, which he does to his staff – the ancient relationship between master and apprentice, if you like.

The only things that worries me is that the word ‘craft’ will be overused – it’s already started.  Craft should embody the time it takes to acquire skill and not just the latest buzz word used by advertising agencies and marketing consultancies.  It needs to have substance.

 

Yarn Diet – part 1

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In December when I announced I was going on a yarn diet it all felt so easy.  After all I did exactly the same thing a few years ago when I was editing The Knitter.  This time I took a few extra precautions and ordered in some new yarn before the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, just in case you understand.  But now reality has started to bite.

I haven’t yet had the nerve to pull out all of my stash and take a long hard look at it but I have started to look at patterns that I think will use up odd balls of yarn.  One of the large wooden trays that house my stash is full of tweedy 4ply yumminess.  It’s mostly Rowan Scottish Tweed (remember that?) and Jamieson’s Spindrift in a rainbow of shades.   I noticed that there was quite a lot of oatmeal among the colours, which screamed blanket to me so off I trotted to Ravelry.

Purl Soho have such stylish patterns but their Optic Blanket really caught my eye.  The design is based on a kind of mitred square, knitted in the round.  Each square is then cast on to the next but I have decided to sew all my squares up at the end.  Partly because I have such a variety of colours I want to see how they turn out first, but also because I want this project to be portable.

img_20170207_095723I absolutely love the way the squares are turning out and can’t wait to piece the finished blanket together.  I just hope I have enough oatmeal to finish the blanket.

Pussy hats

A bit of a busy week for me so just a short post.

Whatever your political persuasion, in fact let’s put the politics aside, the 600+ women’s marches across the world were quite an awe inspiring moment on 21st January.  I had intended to go to the one in London but life got in the way, so I watched the 10 O’clock news with a growing sense of pride.

Of course I had seen the call for pink pussy hats going out since before Christmas thanks to the vision of cofounders Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, so I knew knitters and crocheters were busily making them, but it wasn’t until I saw the marches that I saw what had been achieved.  A simple pink rectangle was taking the world by storm. Makers that couldn’t get to a march were supplying these modern objects of solidarity for their brothers and sister to wear to show that we do care and it does matter.

Now some people may say ‘it’s just knitting’ but our humble craft has a long history of being used to raise awareness.  Whether it was les Tricoteuse perched in the shadow of the guillotine or Queen Mary’s army of knitters making socks for the troops, our craft galvanises a simple thing in to a statement of togetherness and a hope that each individual together can make a difference.

I am so proud of each and every knitter or crocheter who took the time. Seeing Time magazine and The New Yorker take the symbol to their hearts and covers makes me hopeful.  So if you are one of those makers I’d like to thank you.

The Yarn Collective

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I have tried knitting with a lot of different yarns, as you can imagine – many of them have found their way in to my stash.  While I like a lot of them there aren’t many I love.

Felted Tweed by Rowan is probably my all time favourite although the current palette is a bit dull for my tastes; Yarn Stories Fine Merino DK, but I have to declare an interest in this yarn because I worked on the brand from its inception; Berger  de France Goomy – a fantastic sock yarn in really tasteful colours.  Spindrift by Jamieson’s of Shetland which has the best range of colours for my beloved Fair Isle.

Now I can add a new yarn to this select band,  The Yarn Collective Bloomsbury DK curated by Carol Feller.  Developed by Love Knitting/Love Crochet I have to admit to being a bit sceptical when I heard about it.  Their first own brand yarn, Paintbox, was not particularly good.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not averse to a value yarn but I found the acrylic too crisp and the cotton too floppy.

However The Bloomsbury DK is a lovely merino yarn with plenty of bounce and drape, and the semi solid shades give a lovely depth to your knitting. Spun in a family run mill in Peru from ethically reared sheep, the yarn is kettle dyed, which is how they achieve their distinctive colour blends.  Apparently the mill also contributes some of their profits to a school in the Highlands of Peru.  Ticking lots of boxes for me there.

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Each yarn from The Yarn Collective is curated by a different designer who chooses the palette and creates some special designs for their yarn.  Carol has put her colours together in to 3 groups for the Bloomsbury DK, Surfer Blues, Fall and Fuchsia, but I think all the shades work together across the range.

I loved playing with this yarn so much that I have designed a hat to celebrate its yumminess. The blue I used is called Surf and is almost iridescent in its colour saturation. Just beautiful! You can find the pattern here.

rococo1I haven’t yet tried the worsted or lace but if the DK is anything to go by I should be in for a treat.  The only downside is that, being on a yarn diet, I can’t buy any of the yarn until next year. Rats!

Inspired by Islay

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I am a huuuuuge fan of Kate Davies.  Her designs, the articles she writes, her blog – HUGE.

Before Christmas I signed up to her Inspired by Islay club.  Each Wednesday a pattern arrives in my Ravelry library for me to lust over.  When I took out this subscription I was kind of expecting accessories but, so far, two of the designs have been the most beautiful garments.

The price is such good value.  Unbelievable in fact, when you take a closer look at the patterns.  Kate and Jen have worked so hard on the actual pattern writing itself.  I am about to cast on Finlaggan and had a good read through of the instructions.  The first thing that struck me is that Kate doesn’t tell you what size needles to use.  This means you have to swatch – something I am very in favour of – both in stocking stitch and the decorative cable.

I tried out two different yarns that I thought might work with quite different results.  The first was from Colourmart, a merino yarn that has some size still on it so, to get an accurate swatch you might need to wash it first. Because the pattern calls for Sport weight yarn I started with 3.75mm needles.

img_20170114_125537I wasn’t completely happy with the results – it just felt a bit thin and the stitch definition wasn’t brilliant, so I tried again using Lang Thema Nuova which is described as Virgin Wool.  These swatches worked out much better. This time I dropped down to 3.5mm needles because the first swatches were oversized.

img_20170114_125549The other thing I noticed about the pattern is the use of numbers to help you orientate yourself as you knit with a brief description of what you are about to do in that section. A simple thing yet so very helpful.  I can’t wait to see what else the pattern teaches me!

The club lasts for 12 weeks – that’s another 7 whole patterns for me to get my teeth in to. Thank you Kate and Jen!

#wearenotinvisible

Last week I was on a shoot for one of my clients, Yarn Stories.  I met a woman called Kate Goode who is an art director, stylist and all round amazing person.  She is a similar age to me and, as often happens when women in their 50s get together we chatted about the problem of being who we are at a ‘certain age’.

To give you a bit of background, Kate and I must have bumped into each other in the heady days of London in the 80s.  Post punk and just about post New Romantic it was an incredibly creative time in the fashion industry.  Within 3 weeks of starting my job at Courtelle I had met Paul Smith.  Lynne Franks (Abfab) was our PR and Lamb and Shirley did our graphics.  In my second year I worked with Jean Paul Gaultier and in my third John Galliano.  The parties we went to were ridiculous and I loved every second of it.  I didn’t earn much so I mainly shopped from the High Street, but whatever I bought was chopped and changed to make it individual and trendy.You could wear anything and it was accepted as you being you.

Over the years I have struggled with my look.  Having been a Sassoon house model I have always focussed things on my hair as a starting point – do you remember my mohawk from a few years ago? – then my shoes and now my glasses, but clothes have become harder and harder to wear.  For a start I am a good 2 stone heavier and my bust has got significantly bigger since becoming a mum.  But I also have a  super-sensitive mutton alert that seems to go off if I even go near a Miss Selfridge or Zara.

What further complicates things is my age.  Now that I could technically be a grandmother I have become invisible.  I used to get appreciative comments or looks when I walked in to a room but this just doesn’t happen now and its amazing how much this has dented my confidence.  These days I would rather don a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and cocoon myself in a voluminous cardigan so I can merge in to the background.  I have  a fantastic pair of mock leather culottes I bought from Zara in my wardrobe.  I would love to team them up with ankle socks, killer wedged suede boots and a man’s shirt but I just can’t get past the fear that I would look ridiculous.   I never used to worry about this so what has happened to me? Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to be or look younger – I am happy with my age, I just want to be a bit more me.

This is what Kate and I talked about, the dilemmas of the ageing woman.  I don’t really have any answers because it is a very personal thing, but seeing how great Kate looked and following our chat I am determined to take a few more ‘risks’.

The day after we met Kate commented on an image on Instagram and used #wearenotinvisible at the end of her comment.  Brilliant!  This is now my mantra so watch out!

In Praise of the Bed Jacket

It’s taken me ages to get out of my mum what she wants for Christmas.  I have already knitted her a pair of Estonian mittens from a kit I bought at Ally Pally but was really stuck on what else to give her.

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While we were talking she mentioned she would love a bed jacket for her 80th Birthday in February.  She has really started to feel the cold at night and has a bit of arthritis in her shoulder. It set me to thinking about the garment itself. Very much of its time the bed jacket was an incredibly practical creation, when most homes had no central heating.  In my imagination it is also a glamorous garment, worn by movie stars wafting around in their boudoir. Soft, fluffy, with ribbons and in pastel colours. It’s a shame it has fallen out of fashion.

A quick scout around Ravelry and I was amazed to find how many bed jacket patterns there were available.  Some are vintage patterns that can be hard to find but this one is available free from the Australian Woman’s Weekly archive here.

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But my mum is not a twee person and I wanted something a bit more stylish.  At the moment she is wearing just a normal cardigan so I searched out some lacy cardigans and found this little beauty called Pergola by Maria Magnusson which I think fits the bill with its delicate lace and three quarter sleeves.

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In order not to break my yarn diet in the New Year I though I’d better get the  yarn now. She wants something luxurious and made from natural fibres and I have chosen Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk 4ply in a suitably soft blue called Paddle.

So I’m all set. I’d love to think I was glamorous enough to wear a bed jacket but I’m more of a onesie kind of girl.