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Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Makery in Rainford

A couple of weekends ago I spent the morning at The Makery in Rainford, near to St Helens.  The weeks have flashed past and I haven't had time to tell you about it so let me show you my photographs now.

It's a lovely place, tucked away in a parade of shops along one of Rainford's main streets.  Just the kind of shop that you'd like to find in your village, where you can buy special gifts and learn new skills as easily as buying a loaf of bread or a newspaper.  

And this is Catherine, who owns the shop.  She's lovely too, friendly and welcoming, and doing what so many of us would like to do for a living by owning a craft shop.  

She has a good eye for what people like, and her shop is filled with all kinds of treats - some to buy and some to make.  

Catherine runs regular workshops on sewing, crocheting and lots of other crafts - you can find out more here on her Facebook page.  She even teaches people to turn old books into unique ornaments by folding the pages in clever ways which seems like some kind of magic to me!

Whatever your craft, I'm pretty certain you'd find supplies here.  From yarn for knitting and crocheting to buttons and material to card-making resources, it's all here!  I could have spent a very long time poring over every item; there's so much to see and I know that I would have loved a shop like this in my village when I was growing up.  I always had something creative on the go and this would have fed my habit nicely!

One of Catherine's specialties is re-painting old wooden furniture and she has a good range of paints for the job.  I love shops like this, they make me itch to try out new skills!

On this particular Saturday, a certain sock knitter was visiting for a sock clinic and drop-in knit n natter session.  It was lovely to meet new people who were able to try out the various sock needles and stay to chat for a while.  Knitting and nattering is such a sociable activity!  The workshops all take place around this table too; small groups who have the chance to get to know each other as well as what they are learning.  Why not make new friends at the same time as honing new skills? It sounds perfect to me!

I've written before about how important I think it is that shops like this one should be supported by the local community so that they - and the community - can thrive.  How wonderful to have an oasis of crafting calm in the centre of a busy village!  It's something that every village should have, in my opinion, and aside from it being someone's dream and all dreams should have the opportunity to flourish, I feel that if we don't support our local businesses, we all become the poorer for it.  We will be left with generic superstores that offer us what they think we should want, without any room for individual taste or desires.  That would be a very sad day.   

There's a knit n natter group here every week (and you don't get many of those in your local supermarket!) and some of the workshops run in the evenings too, so that there's as much opportunity for people to attend as possible.  Catherine even holds children's parties - children love having a go at all types of crafts and where will our designers and crafters of the future come from if we don't teach them from a young age?

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning at The Makery and will be back later in the year to run a sock-making workshop which I'm very much looking forward to.  If you live close enough, I can definitely recommend popping in to visit - you'll be glad you did!

The Makery, 12 Ormskirk Road, Rainford, WA11 8BT
01744 884567

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Online Knitter of the Year

It's lovely to be able to sit down at lunch time with a new magazine to look forward to reading, isn't it?   

I was particularly looking forward to reading this magazine, and now I can tell you why!  For a couple of weeks now, I've had secret.  It's been a very nice secret, the sort that fizzes up from time to time like bubbles in champagne and makes you smile when you remember, but it's been a secret nonetheless and I've not been able to tell anybody.  And when you've got such a nice thing to share, that's very difficult!

You see, this secret is all about you too.  Yes, you!  The ones who have read my posts, commented, asked questions and knitted socks.  And for that, I am immensely grateful, and that's why what I'm about to write next is extra-special because it's shared.

There was a competition in this magazine.  Knit Now were looking for Knitters of the Year. There were four categories - Designer of the Year, Charity Knitter of the Year, Online Knitter of the Year and an Open Category.  You can see where this is going, can't you?

Wouldn't it be wonderful, I thought, if they published a list of people who entered?  It wouldn't matter whether I won or not, it might just let someone else know about the Sockalong, point them in the direction of short (or long) circulars and the joy of letting your mind disengage as you rhythmically knitted round and round.  I thought hard about how to describe my blog in just 100 words and sent off my entry email. 

And this is where the fabulous, fizzy secret comes in.  I won!  (We won!)  I am one of five Knit Now Online Knitters of the Year, and now everyone who reads the magazine will know about the Sockalong!  I'd like to say thank you to you all, for reading my blog and keeping in touch through the comments, and for making it a blog worthy of an award.

Not only that, part of my prize is a trip to the Sirdar mill in Yorkshire (I'll see where the Heart & Sole sock yarn comes from - I'm very much looking forward to that) and I'll be able to tell you all about it.  You can come with me as I get to see the yarn from sheep to socks - I'll be taking plenty of photos!

There's also going to be a photo-shoot with Knit Now which I'm rather nervous about - I prefer to be on the other side of the camera! - but it will be fascinating to see how it all works and what goes into the professional photos that we see in the magazines.  I might even get my socks professionally photographed which will feel very grand!

And that magazine with my lunchtime sandwich?  I get to read it for a whole year as I've also won a subscription and that will be great.  It'll certainly make me sit down for a while as it's good read, packed not just with patterns but interesting articles that keep me connected to what's going on in the yarn world.

I'm very pleased and proud to have won.  I love to imagine how many new pairs of socks there might be in the world, and hopefully now there will be even more pairs! 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Monthly Musing - February 2016 - New and Old

I met up with a friend recently and as is usually the case with Mums, our conversation turned to our children.  Our eldest children are both studying for A levels so we had an enjoyable time comparing experiences with exam stress, sixth form colleges and subject choices.

My friend’s son has chosen a maths and science route, much to the pleasure of my friend’s husband as he works in that field and is keen for the tradition to be continued.  However, along with the maths and science, computer technology is also being studied, and there is a growing conflict between “traditional” and “modern” ways to get the same results.  My friend is worried that she is going to be caught in the middle of a dispute between a teenager intent on moving with the times and a husband who believes that there is still much to value in the “old” methods. 

In the end, it will of course work out, but it does give pause for thought.  Are the old ways better?  Should we abandon the traditional for the modern?  No farmer would choose to go back to a horse and plough when a tractor can do the work in much less time – but are we losing our sense of purpose and history if we concentrate on how technology can do things faster and more efficiently and leave the old ways behind?

My view is that in many cases, the one can help the other.  I’m a hand-knitter (you may have noticed! J) and have no desire to swap my needles for a machine – but I do like modern circular needles with their smooth joints, flexible cables and variety of needle tips for any knitting circumstances.  The needles that I inherited from my Mum and my Nan seem quite old-fashioned now in terms of their construction and although I do still use them from time to time, I much prefer my modern ones, and I think my Mum and Nan would too.  For me, traditional hand-knitting combined with modern needles works perfectly, and if it wasn’t for the progress in technology and machinery then these needles couldn’t be made. 

I suspect that in my friend’s case, the traditional skills that her husband learnt will be built upon by her son and the result will be something the same but different.  Traditional and modern – a bridge is a bridge, after all, but the style and construction changes and improves over time.  Without the opportunity to do this, perhaps we would never have seen any tractors in our fields.  Would we be the poorer for this?  Maybe – or maybe not.  It’s one of those unanswerable questions, but I think what we can say is that combining both old and new can often bring forth something better, which abandoning one for the other could never do.  Progress isn’t all bad.

Thursday, 28 January 2016


It's been a zooming kind of week here in Winwick.  The month is zooming by - it's going to be February in a few days and already the mornings are getting lighter and the days slightly longer. Even the days of the week are zooming - how can it be Thursday already?! - and we're heading speedily towards the weekend.

You'll be pleased to know that I have also been zooming during this week.  The dog and I have zoomed on our walks, dodging rain showers and big puddles - or at least, I have been dodging the puddles.  I've been watching my step very carefully as the paths are very muddy and the exposed tree roots are extremely slippy.  I've been wishing for four-paw drive myself!

These logs across the flooded path make me think of crocodiles, or perhaps seals!

I hadn't realised just how lovely the light was today until I came to look at these pictures later.  I was so taken by the reflections in the water, the pools were much deeper than usual and they were so very still. 

Another pair of Split Mittens has zoomed off my needles and are finished.  These ones are in Hayfield chunky tweed yarn and I do like the little flecks of colour very much.  These mittens are so easy to make and so useful, I really love them!

I started a three week series of workshops at Black Sheep Wools this week, based on the original three week Sockalong on the blog last May.  It was great fun to meet people in real life who are going to knit the socks, and all of the ladies who came along have promised to come back next week so I can't have scared them too much!

I'm also knitting the socks in real time as the classes go along so that we're all working on them together.  I've decided to use mine as an opportunity to practice my Continental knitting technique as I've had enough of my small sample.  I'm not doing too badly at all - knitting the small section that I did has helped enormously and I've found a way of wrapping the yarn around my fingers which helps the tension to be a bit more even.

What do you think?  It's not as good as my usual tension yet and I know it will take quite a bit more practice, but it's certainly an improvement on my first attempts.  

I wouldn't say that I'm really zooming with this yet though.  I'm still quite a bit slower than I am with my "flick" style, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'm still learning.  I've taken to timing myself with my phone to see if I am actually getting any faster (I'm not impatient at all!) and slowly but surely I definitely am.  By the time I reach the end of this pair of socks, I hope to have cracked the tension and the speed or at least have had a really good go at it!  

Oh, and that's one of my new Christmas mugs you can see in the picture.  Every girl needs a gold and purple spotty mug with her initial on it! J

So am I taking care of myself in amongst all of this zooming?  Actually, I am doing my best to.  I am making sure that I drink plenty during the day, that I sit down to eat my lunch (ad actually have lunch at all) and that I turn the computer off at a sensible time at night.  I've managed to take my own advice for nearly a month, and some would say (my husband certainly would!) that that's a first.  How are you doing this month?  I don't tend to suffer from January blues but I know lots of others do.  I hope you are taking care of yourselves!

Don't forget that I'm going to be at The Makery by Unique Seal at 12 Ormskirk Road in Rainford on Saturday 30 January from 11am till 1pm if you can drop by and say hello!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Must knit faster!

Sometimes, I think that all of the yarns and patterns that are available are the knitter's equivalent of a sweetie shop - the only good thing is that the don't make your teeth fall out!  

I've been feeling little guilty this week as I've cast on another two projects before I've finished some other things that I'm working on - although to be fair, the ones that I showed you in this post back in October are now done except for the summer top and the sock yarn blanket which is a long-term project, so it's not as if I have endless WIPs (works in progress).

Before I show you what I'm up to, I must say thank you for all the lovely comments about my Split Mittens pattern.  I'm hoping there are going to be lots of much warmer hands around!  I've seen one or two pairs in progress already and I'm really looking forward to seeing them in lots of colours and different types of yarns.

Here's my latest pair, cast on in the Hayfield Chunky Tweed with Wool that I picked up at Black Sheep Wools this week.  I'm finding it quite amazing how quickly they knit up when you don't keep stopping to take photographs!  The bulk of the first mitten was knitted last night whilst we watched Joanna Lumley's adventures on the Trans-Siberian railway which was fascinating yet easy watching - ideal for knitting along to!  (We watched a re-run of it on ITV, but it's available as a DVD and some bits of it are on YouTube.)

I've reached the heel of my second cashmere sock - I'm really looking forward to putting these on my feet as they feel absolutely gorgeous whilst I'm knitting them.  Too nice to wear, perhaps - although I have made a resolution that I am going to knit the lovely yarns that I have in my stash, not just "keep them for best" or endlessly squish them.  Sometimes it takes a while to find the perfect pattern, but I am determined not to leave the yarns unknitted.  I think this is something that's clicked in my mind whilst we've been clearing out my Dad's house - there is so much stuff that he has kept because it may come in useful one day, and we look at it and say, "I don't know what to do with that".  I don't want that to happen with my yarns, and it probably would as at the moment, neither of my girls are obsessively into knitting like me.  That seems like a waste, and I don't like waste - and especially not waste of my sock yarn!

This is one of those yarns that I have no intention of wasting.  It's Regia Design Line Arne & Carlos (shade 03653, Star Night colour) and I've been itching to cast it on ever since I bought it, but have made myself wait until I had finished other things first.  As you can see, I got fed up of waiting!  It's cast on and is also up to the heel but on the first sock so I've still got a way to go before I can get these on my tootsies, but I'm really loving the colours and the way it knits up into the Fair Isle patterns.  I think it's so clever how the yarn just does that without any help from me!  I've got a few patterned pairs lined up next, but I wanted this pair to be plain so that I could see the colours without them being broken up in any way.

You can see my good old Herdy mug in the picture too - I was given three new mugs for Christmas and they're all very lovely, but I do like my Herdy mug!  (Ohhh, I've just looked at the website for the link and there's now a Herdy mug in purple!  The world is a happy place J)

In the midst of this, I have been trying (again) to teach myself how to do Continental knitting. Depending on how you pick up your yarn and in particular create your purl stitch, this is also seems to be variously known as German knitting, Norwegian knitting, Russian knitting and East European knitting, but the point of it is that it's meant to be super-fast once you get going.

My knitting technique is what's known as English knitting, although I'm a "flicker" rather than a "thrower" which means that I don't let go of my knitting to wind the yarn around the needle but instead flick it over.  It's pretty quick as I've been doing it for a long time so the muscle memory is very strong, but I'm still in awe of the knitting speed of people who use the other methods.  In addition, you can do stranded knitting with yarns in both hands rather than having to pick up and put down the yarns each time.  It's time that I got to grips with this technique!

The process seems quite easy and it's based on switching the hand that you hold your yarn in - currently my right hand ...

to my left hand.  Piece of cake - or so you'd think.  

I started off by thinking that I would just knit a pair of socks using this way of knitting and by the time I'd finished I'd be an expert, but forgot that by doing something different I was actually back to being a new knitter.  I couldn't get my tension right and it seemed frustratingly slow.  I decided to go back to basics and practise right away from my socks until I felt I had enough control over what I was doing to attempt them again.  I found this article in December's KnitNow magazine, and I've also been watching YouTube videos such as this one by Arne and Carlos (for them it's called Norwegian knitting) and this one where the yarn is wrapped differently around the knitter's fingers.  I guess in the end you have to find your own way to get your tension right and there's no short cut for just getting in there and practising!

I also said that this year I was going to make more of an effort to take care of myself so I've been making an effort to turn my face to the sunshine whenever it's peeped out of the clouds and enjoying a few moments of sunlit warmth on my skin.  I think the dog has wondered what I'm doing a few times when I've suddenly stopped walking, but I tell him that I'm being mindful and he has to wait.  He's not always good at waiting so sometimes my mindful moments are cut short, but the thought is there!

I had to come out of the house the other day to see what was going on in the garden - there was a host of sparrows in the tree all busily shouting to each other and being generally very noisy.  I renamed them a 'racket of sparrows' instead!

I've been making a real effort to switch off at night before I go to bed - quite literally as the computer is turned off so that I'm not tempted to surf just before I go to sleep - and I've been reading instead.  This is the next book in the pile that I have to read and after I'd enjoyed the Astronaut's Guide ... , I was looking forward to starting this one.  I've not been disappointed.  In fact, it's been making me laugh out loud and I've been doing that really annoying thing that I always get cross about when my husband does it, namely exclaiming "listen to this bit!" and then proceeding to read it out. "You'll have to read this book after me," he tells me when he's reading a book he's enjoying, and I point out that I won't need to because I've already heard all the best bits. I don't think my husband will need to read this book either.

Finally, if you're at a loose end next Saturday (30 January) and over in my part of the world (north west England), then I'm going to be at The Makery by Unique Seal at 12 Ormskirk Road in Rainford, near St Helens for a drop in knit n natter and sock clinic.  You don't have to be knitting socks to come along, as Catherine has all kinds of other crafts to see at her shop.  

I'm going to be at The Makery from 11am until 1pm so do drop in and say hello if you can! Catherine is asking people to let her know if you're coming so that she can make sure there are enough chairs.  You can either contact her through her Facebook page or on 01744 884567.  There is a small charge of £2 per person.

I hope you're enjoying your weekend, and if you're caught up in the snow in the US, do stay safe and warm.