Alison Ellen

IMG_20170515_084337Alison Ellen is one of the most interesting people I have met in hand knitting and her stand at Unravel a couple of years ago was a feast for the imagination. It’s hard for me to put my finger on why.  Her patterns aren’t always to my taste but in a world where designs can feel regurgitated or formulaic, her take on hand knitting is quite unique and very inspiring.

She studied textiles and worked for a while in print before she turned her gaze, and considerable creativity, to hand knits. But far from being satisfied with a two-dimensional take on the knitted medium, she turned her attention to three-dimensions.  The result is a body of intriguing work in yarns that she dyes herself.  Her emphasis is on construction and most of her designs are knitted all in one piece.

IMG_20170515_084535As part of my year of stashbusting, which already seems endless, I am tackling a simple poncho to get to understand her work better.  It is taken from her book called Knitting – Stitch Led Design which I managed to find on Ebay.  I haven’t followed her colour scheme exactly but am using up some Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal and Noro Silk Garden sock yarn.  Garter stitch is a favourite of mine and these mitred squares are like therapy.  I have tinkered with the pattern a little to get them to sit properly.

I have never managed to attend one of Alison’s workshops but she does teach all over the country and you can find out where she will be appearing next here.

Silversmithing

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Over the years I have done quite a lot of silversmithing, most recently at Rachel Jeffrey’s school in Wheathampstead.  It’s not always that easy for me to get to her evening classes but when she called to say she was running a Monday morning class I jumped at the chance to sign up for a 10 week term.  I love the way Rachel helps you to achieve a new design, guiding you through all the techniques you need to know and building your skills.

Now, strictly speaking I should be working, sorting through emails, planning posts etc but I have really felt the need to indulge my creative side and this feeling has been growing over the last couple of months. Starting my week by thinking of something other than pr and social media is actually framing my work time in a very positive way. And although I love knitting, working on jewellery is just so different that it’s a real tonic.

I like to make my designs in silver.  I love the way each piece behaves differently when you hammer it, the thrill of seeing the solder run in to a joint, even sawing is fun.  It is taking a bit of a toll on my finger nails but its definitely worth it.

So far I have been finishing off some pieces that have been languishing in my tool box – a lovely long chain with photo etched Mayan holy days linked in among other things.  That’s the picture at the beginning of this post.

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Today I finished off this ring.  I cast the ivy leaf many years ago using the lost wax method and the ring is a cuttlefish casting from a couple of years ago.  They seemed to go so well together.

Next week the chain will also be finished and then I will start on a completely new design.  I’m not sure what it will be yet but I know I am going to have fun browsing through Pinterest for inspiration.

When bad things happen to good knitting

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Just when I think that I am getting quite good at this knitting lark something happens to make me feel like a complete novice. I am very embarrassed to show you what a cock up I have made.

I have been knitting Red Shift by Jared Flood which is a fantastic pattern.  All my favourite things; stranded knitting, steeking, knitting in the round.  I didn’t use the recommended yarn because, as you know, I am on a yarn diet.  I chose two yarns from Gomitolis in lambswool and lambswool/cashmere from my stash.  They are typically Italian spun yarn with multiple ends and very bouncy.

I really enjoyed knitting the body of the shawl.  It looked great and the steek went really well.  I cast on the first part of the edging but when I finished it one side was a bit cockled.  I knew I had picked up the correct number of stitches so figured I would just block out the irregularity.

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Then I picked up the hypotenuse border and noticed that the gap between the decrease shapings and the edge of the steek was really showing with yarn grinning through. Yuk.

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Normally I would simply unravel a project.  I believe not being afraid to frog your work is one of the most valuable things I have learned.  But this work is steeked so it simply isn’t possible.

At the moment I am considering unravelling all the borders and trying to tweak the pattern to compensate for the overly lofty yarn that I chose. Instead of just getting on with it, I am trying to find as many other projects as possible to take my mind off my mistakes. I need to convince myself this is a learning opportunity rather than beating myself up for working in the wrong yarn.

Ho hum

Henry Moore

IMG_20170415_145330I remember going to an exhibition in around 1985 or 1986 at Leeds art gallery featuring the work of sculptor Jacob Epstein.  You may be familiar with his work The Rock Drill that I first saw at the Tate.  He moves between post apocalyptic, realistic, religious  and voluptuous figures.  I was completely fascinated especially since the gallery was quite small and you could get so close to the sculptures.

IMG_20170415_144321Jacob Epstein preceded Henry Moore and influenced his work.  I didn’t ever really feel that much for Moore’s work, feeling a bit smug about discovering Epstein, which is probably why I have never been to Hoglands at Perry Green.  This was Moore’s farm and now home to his foundation with a fantastic new visitor centre.  It is just 45 minutes from where I live and now I could kick myself for not visiting sooner.

IMG_20170415_163800 (1)I went with my husband and 3D designer son on Saturday.  The weather was amazing with huge fluffy clouds punctuating the blue sky and apple blossom everywhere.  IT jus couldn’t have been a more perfect way to discover his work and marvel at the curves, his vision and drive.

IMG_20170415_161848 (2)A new exhibition called Becoming Henry Moore is brilliantly curated to include the artists and teachers who influenced him as well as his contemporaries to give his work context.  The exhibition included early South American carvings from the British Museum as well as Modigliani, Hepworth, Epstein, Brancusi and other names I can’t remember. I just couldn’t help smiling as I wondered round just captivated by the richness of inspiration all gathered together in two rooms.

IMG_20170415_163411If you do get a chance I can’t recommend this exhibition highly enough.  It is immersive, interesting, historical, inspirational and plain joyful.

Allsorts

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I have to admit that being on a yarn diet is not as bad as I remember, especially when you get a gorgeous little package like this from Baa Ram Ewe.

Titus is a lovely yarn to knit with and although I find it a bit slippery for Fair Isle knitting it’s just perfect for lace and cabling.  The colours are wonderfully balanced and have evocative names like Eccup, Dalby and Aire.  Now they have created these dinky Pick ‘n’ Mix taster  packs so you can try out more of their colours for yourself.

The little tube has 6 balls weighing 12g – enough to knit the fingerless mitts pattern that comes with the yarn. I wasn’t really feeling stripes and wanted to try something a little more adventurous.  A quick trawl round Ravelry and I found a great pattern called Escalator Mittens by Tiina Huhtaniemi

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I only finished the first one yesterday but I was so excited I thought you might excuse that I haven’t quite gotten round to the thumb!

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And I still have all this lovely yarn left.

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If you haven’t tried Titus yet, this set of mini skeins could be perfect for you.

A Woman’s Best Friend

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I was always a cat person.  Growing up we had a number of moggies, some friendlier than others, but when my eldest boy was 2 we got a cocker spaniel called Billy.  He was so sweet with his ding-dong-bell ears.

Now we have Buster and Boo.  You may notice that all their names begin with the letter B, as in B for Bernard.  My kids have my husband’s surname so I thought it was only right that our pets should celebrate my bloodline – silly I know, but that’s just me.

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Anyhow Buster is a Standard Schnauzer.  Did you know that there are less than 300  Standard puppies born each year?  The Minis seem to be more popular but I like the robustness of the Standard.  He is a lovely old fellow, nearly 12 now, and is placid, good with children and a big soppy thing when it comes to cuddles.  It wasn’t always like this.  Standards are notoriously hard to train.  You ask them to do something and they look at you as if to say ‘Surely you don’t mean me’. It took blood, sweat and tears from all of us.

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Boo is a little scrap of feisty Cairn Terrier, all mouth and no trousers. She is ready to take on anyone and anything, until you get the brush out and then she runs upstairs, yelping like a big girl’s blouse. If you ask her to show you her belly she rolls over and lies there until you tickle her.

My DH and I take it in turns to walk the dogs in our local woods which are just coming to life and oh so beautiful.  And that’s where the fun starts.  Boo has to stay on the lead.  When we walk over the fields at the weekend she runs free but the woods are a different matter. I blame the squirrels.  She has a pathological hatred of them and will  happily chase them in to the next county with me flailing after her.  Don’t even get me started on the deer.  She just doesn’t understand how small she is.  Another reason she is on the lead is because she will just fly at any dog that comes towards her, shrieking expletives but wagging her tail.  Talk about mixed messages. We have tried all kinds of training including me growling at her, which seems to be working.

Buster on the other hand is leadless on walks and happily ambles along until he spots anything related to a Labrador.  It might only be the minutest microgram of Lab DNA and he turns in to a shag monster.  From the front, side or back, he really doesn’t mind.  He has been neutered but the rutting gets worse as he gets older.

Now you have an idea of the perils of my daily walk. This morning everything was just lovely and calm, the woodpeckers were pecking and the birds were tweeting.  Then, round the corner came 2 Black Labs (did I mention the Black Labs are Buster’s particular favoutite?) and some smaller dogs from the other direction.

Instantly my two transformed. It’s like being out with Hinge and Bracket after they have been at the sherry, with  Buster showing a burst of speed you would only expect from a younger dog, Boo barking like a Celtic warrior falling on a Roman battalion and a 6ft mad woman running behind brandishing a lead and growling.

Back home for a lie down I think.

Sugru – Juliet’s Little Helper

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A few years ago (it must be more than 6) I came across an amazing inventor who had created something called Sugru, a mouldable silicone ‘putty’ which looked a bit like BlueTac but which self cures into a strong ‘rubber’.

It is so hard to describe, which might be why it isn’t as widely known as it should be.  The lovely people at Sugru have just sent me their latest pack – a tin with 4 little sachets of this magic substance to have a play with. They have also produced a great little booklet with lots of ideas for crafters.  What I didn’t know is that Sugru is strong enough to stick things to walls like small shelves and coat hooks.

IMG_20170321_092739I have used it to protect charger cables, mend the handle of a pair of scissors and fix a knife blade back in to a handle.  With the latest pack I thought I would try something for a knitter with lots of DPNs.  Keeping my DPNs organised is always a bit of a problem.  Sometime I put them in a tin or use rubber bands but I wanted something that looked a bit more tailor made.

Each sachet holds enough of this miracle product for a small project. Here is the Sugru rolled out in to a little sausage.  I recommend doing this on a flat surface to get it nice and even.

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I then secured the DPNs with a cable tie and rubber band to hold it in place while I wrapped the Sugru round them.

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Then because I had some left over I popped a couple of the balls on each end to protect the tips.

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Now I need to leave it for 24 hours to self cure and we’ll see how it fares. I’m sure it will make great needle tip protectors for my circular needles as well.  Ooh and I could bury a magnet in it so I can keep track of all my pins. And my scissors are always getting caught up….  Looks like I’m going to have fun this afternoon.