Friday, 12 August 2011

Transformations and Shifts

I've had a long knitting break for a variety of reasons. Work commitments have been one thing (and I'm so very grateful to Kate MacDonald for taking on the Oxford Summer School for me - everyone really enjoyed the week). Alongside this has been a deeper discernment process, which has resulted in a big decision to drop my City and Guilds Hand Knitting course and to begin training as an interfaith minister later this year. From now on my main blog will be what I am calling my online commonplace book, with only occasional postings here. Do drop by and take a look. You can also find me on Twitter .

As part of my discernment around this, in June I went back to my old childhood "patch" in Bristol and the first picture here is the corrugated fence outside my primary school. I was struck by the beauty of its colours and patterns. It was fascinating to 'beat the bounds' of my walk to and from school and home, remembering how scary being a child there sometimes was and seeing as an adult how small the distances actually are. It has felt important to revisit the places that I came from before setting out on my new adventure.

In the meantime, I've picked up my knitting needles again, to create a patchwork throw for the Shetland house - I see that the colours of the fence are reflected there. I'm basing it on the Gwithian Beach Blanket in Jane Gottelier's delightful book Indigo Knits,using Rowan's wonderful denim cotton yarn and trying out some of the distressing and bleaching techniques. The transformations and shifts in the yarn occur not only as you knit the stitches, combining colours or twisting cables, but also as you apply bleach or sandpaper and as it shrinks to size in the washing-machine and afterwards continues to wear with use and age. Something about life, here, as always in knitting - change is at the heart of the universe. How exciting!

Saturday, 28 May 2011


"It's never too late to have a happy childhood". I read this on a sign in an art gallery recently. It's one of those trite statements that you can easily dismiss - but chewing it over, I thought, "Hey, why not?". My own childhood had a deep fracture running through it and I've spent significant amounts of time discovering and understanding how that has affected me. Now this invitation has enabled me to look back at the particular glass of water that makes up my early years and see it as half-full rather than half-empty. Undoubtedly, two of my best growing up experiences were a vast amount of reading of all kinds, and spending time crafting with my grandmother.

Recreating playfulness with those two sticks of metal, wood or bamboo that we call knitting is definitely one way to reconnect to the happier parts of my childhood. And it's good to know that there will be an opportunity to share this playfulness at the Oxford Summer School 2011 - there are still a few spaces available on my New Directions in Knitting course.

Friday, 15 April 2011


My web browsing and other reading recently seems to have led me to lots of successful, productive artists of one kind or another - writers, knitters, designers. I mentioned feeling stuck last time and, although sometimes the success of others can be encouraging, at other times it can feel downright overwhelming and intimidating. I've definitely been in the latter place for a while. I've written about the double meaning of knitter's block before, so I thought this time it was worth celebrating those glorious times when one feels able to blast through something and unblock it. This is the story of my Quite Contrary Midwinter purse, finally pictured here. I had the idea for this ages ago at a Debbie Abrahams Design Workshop when Debbie miraculously produced a selection of Rowan Hand Knit Cotton yarn in exactly the right colours for my inspiration piece, a saucer designed by Jessie Tait for Midwinter in a pattern called Quite Contrary. We decided quite quickly that Fair Isle was the best technique to render the essence of the piece and I knitted a sample that day and did the calculations for the purse at the second part of her workshop (well worth doing if you are interested in designing your own knits Debbie Abrahams).

I finished the knitting part quite quickly after that. But I was then blocked for ages about how to line and attach the bag to its frame, kindly donated by my friend Margaret from a Simply Knitting free gift. It was not knitting, you see, and therefore difficult to do! Several times I made the attempt, reading instructions from different places and by different writers. I also tried various techniques to get unblocked, including an exercise from Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way, in which I am a great believer. However, nothing seemed to work, although the Cameron exercise did help me to see that it was my fear of failure that was keeping me stuck. But for eighteen months this project has languished in my "unfinished" basket, to be taken out at various intervals, another attempt tried, ripped out and put aside.

Finally it was a coaching session with Chrissie McGinn of Wisborough that helped me. Chrissie asked me whether I believed that I could finish the project - and I realised that I didn't. But that realisation somehow seemed to help me to shift it, so last Friday I simply sat down, sewed up the seams and attached the purse frame.

It sounds simple, so why couldn't I finish it before? It's hard to explain but I expect those of you who've been stuck like this will understand. Of course it isn't always just a case of mind over matter - there needs to be an understanding of technique and of what you need to do. But I came to realise that I already had that and that I was just afraid of making a mistake. It did take a few goes to get this to work and of course it is not perfect but it is finished and I am using it - hurrah! And the mystery of unblocking? Well, perhaps we will never fathom it fully. You might even call it Quite Contrary...

Friday, 1 April 2011

It's a long wait for Easter!

Struggling a bit with my creativity at the moment - torn between several options and not sure which way to take things. Shetland life seems a long way away, although I am going up at the end of May and I enjoyed encouraging other folks to go there, through my talk to the Oxford Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers on the 19 March. I think they will publish my presentation there at some point so do take a look. Meanwhile, isn't it a really long wait for Easter this year? Here are some Shetland sheep to look at in the meantime...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Mid-February Blues

Apologies for this slightly blurry picture but it's from the utterly fabulous Imperial Chinese Robes exhibition at the V&A in London, which you should certainly get to before it finishes on 27 February if you possibly can. It is full of the most beautiful pieces, which are also wonderful inspirations for knit. The floral waistcoat in this cabinet is made of dark blue satin embellished with flowers and butterflies and the colour scheme of the border is known as the "three blues", which was a particular feature of ladies' fashion in China in the late C19th. I had to treat myself to the exhibition catalogue and poster. Even though the pictures can't really compare with the real thing, they are a great reminder of what has been put on display.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Winter Warmers

Happy New Year to all. I hope that 2011 brings you a sense of being in the right place, doing what you are meant to be doing. As I write, it is a beautiful, sunny afternoon here in Oxford and it is so wonderful to see the sun after all that grey and rain over the past few days. And the cold is back too, which makes it feel more like January again.

Here are some pictures of things I made last year to help keep body and soul warm. The first image shows a pair of photographer's mittens I made my Other Half for Christmas. This is my own design and I have called them Falklands' Dags. Falklands, because they are based on a traditional Falklands Island cable pattern I found in Pam Dawson's Traditional Island Knitting and are knitted in 100% Falklands wool that OH brought back from there in 2009. And Dags because the shape is derived from the traditional Shetland fingerless mittens known as Fisherman's Dags described by Elizabeth Johnston at the In the Loop conference last year. If anyone would like to knit these, please contact me for the pattern - I also have some of the Falklands wool, if you would like to buy a ball to knit them with.

The other pictures are of a Debbie Bliss blanket I made for baby Lincoln who arrived in the world on 6 January. A big, big welcome to him and blessings to his Mum and Dad.