Wednesday, 28 October 2015


Over the last couple of weeks, I've found myself knitting much more than I have done for a while and not just because of my newly-discovered rather long list of WIPs!

Coincidentally, I've had a lot of conversations this week with people about how the rhythm of the knitting is soothing, and knitting has been something that I've not just wanted to do, I've needed to do.  My head has been stuffed with unwritten lists, worries, jobs that jostle for first place on my mental to-do list and constant chatter from my "monkey mind" which will just not shut up.  Have you heard of the term "monkey mind" before?  It's origins are in Buddhism and refer to a mind that is constantly jumping from one thing to another, unsettled and unable to relax.  (Incidentally, here's today's useless fact: did you know that I have an 'A' Level in Buddhism? Technically, the course was Philosophy and Religion but the religion part was Buddhism and I loved learning about it; I have a lot of time for that particular religion.)

For some reason, it seems that our monkey minds are attracted to the parts of our bodies where something is happening, for example our hands when we are knitting or crocheting, our feet when we are running, our fingers when our hands are dangled over the side of a chair ... and once you have captured your monkey mind's interest, the chatter stops and the rest of your mind is free to become calm.  Picking up my knitting as often as I can has done just that for me and I've felt much better as a result.

It sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it?  However, it works every time, and it's not just crafting that causes this effect.  My theory is that is anything with a regular rhythm to it; I believe that there is something in our brains that responds to a beat - think of the stage hypnotists with a pendulum swinging in front of someone's eyes.  Or the ticking of a clock, or a heartbeat, or music of any genre; the easiest to listen to always has a regular beat.  The sound of a runner's feet slapping on the floor or the thundering hooves of a racehorse - even the "crazy cat lady" who is comforted by the rhythmic stroking of a purring animal.  The list goes on and on, and if you think about it, it's always the regular sounds or movements that make us most relaxed.  We feel calm and often more able to cope with what the world is throwing at us.

Still think it sounds crazy?  Well, here's my little bit of proof.  I have reached "that age" where my infrequent visits to our local health centre always involve a blood pressure check.  I have what's known as "white coat syndrome" which means that whenever there's a nurse with a blood pressure monitor heading towards me, my blood pressure shoots up.  Without fail.  And it's such a pain as I know that usually my blood pressure is absolutely fine.  Luckily, now the nurses at the health centre do too.  Quite by chance, I discovered that a couple of minutes' worth of knitting (socks = portable project, ideal for waiting rooms - have I mentioned that before?! J ) drops my blood pressure dramatically - so much so that the nurses even joke about whether I've been knitting before I go in to see them now!

I may have mentioned the benefits of this small portable socky project so often that a certain crocheting friend of mine is even knitting her own pair socks now.  I have it on good authority that she won't be hanging up her hook permanently, but as a change (and a chance to swell the contents of her sock drawer) she's giving it a go, and taking to it like a duck to water.  We're a versatile lot, us crafters!

It does make you wonder why it's taken so long for the scientific world to catch up with the idea that something with a regular, monotonous rhythm to it is good for us.  Woolly crafts aren't the answer for everyone (my sister-in-law finds that knitting makes her more stressed, not less!) but they are for a great many people and surprisingly, it's not something that's well-known.  I think the quality of the yarn that we're working with makes a difference too.  Beautiful hand-dyed yarns, or yarns that contain a percentage of a natural wool or fibre are far more satisfying to work with than squeaky super-cheap acrylic.  I feel that they connect us to nature in a positive way.  Does that affect the quality of the well-being effect?  Perhaps not, as I believe it's the rhythms that soothe our brains most strongly, but feeling that connection to the origins of the yarn reminds us that we are not an isolated part of the "sheep-to-shawl" process.

The beneficial effects of knitting is something that's interested me for a while and I'm delighted that there is progress on recognising crafting - and woolly crafting in particular - as a positive way to improve well-being without necessarily resorting to medication.  Betsan Corkhill has been working with therapeutic knitting groups within the NHS since 2005 and you can read more about that and the studies she has been involved with here.  Alison Mayne is currently working on a PHD on the effects of well-being and yarn-related crafts.  She has a Facebook group here for people to share their experiences and is also conducting research interviews to support her work if you think you might be able to help.  All of this information is going to add to the collective knowledge of how to help people's well-being and this can only be a good thing.

Personally, I think the well-being benefits are something that we (crafters) have known about for a long time without really thinking about the scientific implications, but it's good to know that we have such a powerful tool in our project bags!  What are you waiting for?  Cast on!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Projects on the go

Ask any crafter and the chances are that they've got more than one project on the go - and I'm no different.  Why do we do this?  Do we have a shorter-than-average attention span than requires us to hop from project to project?  Or does yarn bring out our "inner magpie", distracting us with something soft and squishy rather than bright and shiny, unleashing our creative minds to think what beautiful or practical item we can create next?

I don't know the answer to this, and I suspect that it's different for everybody, but I do know that in my case, I've usually got socks on the go along with something else as socks are such a portable project - and in the case of a basic pair of socks, pretty mindless too when you need to keep your hands busy but still be able to turn your attention to what's going on.

I've had lots of project ideas whizzing about in my head recently, so it seemed like a good idea to get out the WIPs (works in progress) that I knew were lurking to see just how much I needed to finish off before I could start something new without feeling guilty about it.

Ah.  There were quite a few.

The biggest project, of course, is the Yarndale Sock Line.  Seventy-six (yes, you read that right!) pairs of socks are now all photographed and available for the world to see on Pinterest here.  It's quite amazing to see all that socky love ready to go to new homes, and that's my next job - the re-homing process is underway!  I'll keep you posted on that one.

Next up and only just finished is this pair of socks in Regia Pairfect yarn.  These are going to be the subject of a future blog post so you'll see them again another day.  Edited to add: the write-up on this sock yarn is now featured as a guest blog post on the Black Sheep Wools website.  You can read part one here and part two here.

These are my Uncle's new pair of socks.  He told me the other day that he had finally worn out "his last pair of socks" so that's a few pairs he's managed to go through without even considering that I could have mended them for him!  Never mind.  This pair is in King Cole Zig Zag; they've brought out a new version of their Zig Zag yarn that has more wool content and knits up in stripes rather than swirls and I'm liking the way it's turning out.

Oh, and do you like my new stitch marker?  Isn't it lovely?  It was made for me by my very talented friend Tracy from Handmade over Yonder ...

In fact, she made me five of them!

And she gave me these pretty Babushka stitch markers as well - I felt very spoilt! 

Back to the projects ... a cotton top in Drops Muskat which I cast on after admiring someone else's top in a Facebook group.  Oh dear.  Surfing the internet can be an expensive hobby!  It's ever so pretty though, and easy to knit up as it's knitted in the round.  The good thing is that as it's a short-sleeved summer top, I don't feel quite so bad about putting this one further down the queue.  

Another gift, this time from Janine in New Zealand (how lucky am I to have been given all these gifts?!).  This yarn is such a beautiful teal-blue colour and beautifully soft and squishy ... and made from possum fur mixed with merino wool.  I'd never seen possum yarn before and have to admit being just a teensy bit squeamish about how the possum fur becomes yarn, but the possum is such a big pest in New Zealand that it's good that something positive comes out of it - and, as Janine says, "everyone should knit with possum yarn at least once in their lifetime".  I'm up for giving it a go!  This isn't technically a WIP yet, but as I'm spending quite a lot of time searching Ravelry for that perfect pattern, then I think it counts.  It's DK yarn and there's no nylon in it so I won't be using it for socks - I've been thinking maybe a scarf or a shawlette, or possibly even a hat?  I'm having a lovely time on Ravelry looking around so I probably won't make a decision just yet!

Oh dear.  This list is longer than I thought it would be.

My Vivid sock yarn blanket which I first wrote about in November 2013.  This one was always going to be a slow project so I don't feel at all bad about how long it's taking.  It is growing, though. Slowly.  These are just two of the squares that I've done; I really need to start looking through them all and seeing if I can start to join them together so that it feels like there's real progress being made.

This one ... I'm ashamed to say that this Viking version of the Central Park Hoody has languished in a bag pretty much since I cast it on - in December 2013!  This was the picture that I showed you then - and this is pretty much how it looks now.  I love the yarn but each ball goes from dark to light purple and I was worried that my jacket would just be too stripy.  I even tried knitting with just one of the shades from each ball and that was going pretty well until I discovered that my circular needle had two different sized tips on each end.  Oh, the joys of interchangeable needles!  I can't quite bring myself to unravel it just yet, so it's still languishing.

Finally! This one is just about to go on the needles - dog jackets for my friend's tiny little dogs. She asked me if I could make them and I said "yes" without considering that (a) I have never knitted a dog jacket before, (b) these dogs are too small for any pattern that I've found so far (they're teacup chihuahuas) and (c) I have all of the above projects to finish.  However, winter is approaching and these teeny tiny dogs shiver at the slightest draught so I will be trying to get the jackets finished over the school holidays next week so that they're ready to wear when the weather turns cold. We've been blessed with such a mild autumn so far, but you just know that the icy wind is waiting to blast in with a vengeance at being kept waiting for so long!

I haven't even mentioned all the yarn destined to be new projects that waves cheerfully to me every time I walk past it, hoping that I might just cast on yet another project and it might be the yarn chosen.  After reading this back, I don't think I dare!

What's your WIP list like?  

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Behind the scenes at Yarndale 2015 - part 2

I was up early on the Saturday morning of the Yarndale weekend.  Too early, it turned out, for the kitchen to be open at my hotel but I got to see the sun rise over the hill.  It was going to be a good day!

Up at the Auction Mart, there was a flurry of last minute preparations such as putting out the brochures ready to hand out as visitors arrived.  

The exhibitors too were busy doing their own last minute preparations.  Everywhere was a-buzz with anticipation for 10am when the doors would officially be opened.

I've only been to Yarndale on a Sunday before so the busy-ness of Saturday was a revelation to me. This was a quiet moment early on - later in the day the Knit n Natter lounge was full, Lucy disappeared behind crowds of visitors and the seating areas were crammed with people knitting, crocheting, eating lunches, chatting and watching the world go by.  It was exactly what the Knit n Natter Lounge was intended for.

The day whizzed past in a bit of a blur.  I spoke to so many people, admired socks, talked very proudly about the Yarndale Sock Line and helped out with a few sock-related problems.  I delved into people's shopping bags, ooh and ahhed and squished yarn, and met friends old and new.  It was a really lovely day.  

Sunday's weather wasn't quite so promising.  You'd be forgiven for thinking that I was showing you a picture of a different view, but it's exactly the same one from out of my hotel window - but without the hill!  It had completely disappeared in the mist, and it was noticeably cooler.  

The number of visitors to Yarndale on the Sunday was noticeably less, too.  I think as a visitor it will have been a much more pleasant day to come as there were times on Saturday when I think it must have been pretty much impossible to get close to some pens.  I did my bits of shopping on Sunday too, either early on before the doors opened or just as the festival was closing down.  

Once the last visitors had left, we started to dismantle everything.  It seemed such a shame to take away all the bright bunting, the socks and the blankets from the Knit n Natter Lounge, but I'm sure they wouldn't have been deemed necessary by the farmers who would be back for their sheep sales during the week.  Soon, apart from a few bags and tables, you would never know we had been there.

Out in the main pen area, the stands were being dismantled as quickly as they went up.

It was all hands on deck to get the bunting down from the Hub.  The Flowers for Memories were carefully rolled up ready to be moved, and the rest of the shop stock was stacked so that it could be stored and put on the Yarndale website later on.

The light was fading fast and the pens were empty.  All the bunting was down, the chairs were stacked and the rubbish collected.

Did it feel eerie?  No, just rather forlorn, this time.  A bit like when Christmas Day is over and all the relatives have gone home, leaving memories of a fun time and lots of tidying up.  At last I said my goodbyes to the rest of the team and headed for the doors.

I was rather sad to leave the Auction Mart for the last time that weekend.  Outside, the exhibitors' car park was empty apart from the last one or two vans and my car sitting all alone.  The moon was like a huge bright shining penny in the sky - it was actually the night of the Blood Moon, a super full moon eclipse.  I liked that.  After such a lovely weekend, it seemed right that even the moon should be doing something special.

Back home, I was delighted to see my husband and my girls again.  They were full of what they had been doing over the weekend and hadn't really missed me too much at all.  We sat and exchanged our news for a while and then in was time to get ready for bed - small daughter was already in her pyjamas and yawning widely.  The next day would be back to school and work ... Yarndale 2015 was over.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Behind the scenes at Yarndale 2015 - part 1

Have you ever wondered just what goes into putting the Yarndale festival together?  For the last two years, I was a visitor to Yarndale and by the time I got into the Auction Mart it looked as if the exhibitors belonged there.  The pens were full of beautiful coloured yarns, alpacas, yarn bowls, rare breed sheep, buttons, angora rabbits, knitting needles, felt kits and pictures, crochet hooks, spinning wheels ... you name it and it was probably there, displayed enticingly and calling out to your purse as you went past.  

This year, I was really lucky.  I was able to be part of the Yarndale volunteer team and saw the Auction Mart change from - well, from an Auction Mart to a hugely popular yarn festival and back again over a weekend.  I took lots of photos.  Would you like to see?

Lucy's post on her Yarndale experience this year tells you about the background preparation that's involved in getting ready for Yarndale, so really the work in setting up the Auction Mart is the culmination of twelve months of hard work.  It all began for me on the Friday morning when I dropped small daughter off at school and drove up to Skipton.  The Yarndale team had been working in the Auction Mart for a few days already and it had been cleaned out and was ready to become Yarndale's home for the weekend.  By the time I got there at 11am, work was in full swing.

It was quite strange to see the Mart so empty.  It smelled of sheep (which I actually quite liked, I felt that it gave the place an authentic "from sheep to needles" feel to it) and it echoed with the bangs and clankings of tables being set up, chairs being moved, and laughter and voices as the serious job of decorating the Mart began.

First stop for me - the Knit n Natter Lounge.  I was going to be sharing the space with Lucy who would have her blankets and cushions to show, and I would have the Yarndale Sock Line and be holding a Sock Clinic in case anyone had any socky questions.  It's surprising how big the Knit n Natter Lounge looks when it's empty. 

Lucy's tables were all ready to be set out ...

and here was mine.  Suddenly, the big bag of Sock Line socks didn't look so big after all.  However, after setting to work, I was pleasantly surprised by just how far the socks stretched out - you can read about this year's Yarndale Sock Line here.

Back out where the rest of the pens were, it still looked very empty.

So much space to fill!

I went to lend a hand with the bunting which was being strung up across the walkway, the seating areas and in other places around the Mart.  There's over a kilometre of bunting which is used to decorate Yarndale.  It all has to get tied up - and it all has to get taken down again afterwards.

The mandalas, which was last year's creative project, were already in place.  They were being displayed on huge boards in the cafe area so that people could get up close to see the detail of each mandala.  Not all of them were at Yarndale, some of them were being displayed elsewhere, but they still made a stunning sight.

This year's creative project was the Flowers for Memories project in aid of the Alzheimer's Society. It's hard to describe the impact of these thousands and thousands of flowers as you walked into the entrance hall - there were just so many of them in so many shapes and sizes.  The project has caused a huge emotional response and is set to raised a great deal of money for charity - you can read more about it here.

After lunch, things suddenly seemed to step up a gear.  The exhibitors started to arrive, first just one or two ... 

and then suddenly it was as if the floodgates had opened.  If it had been noisy before, it was nothing compared to what was happening now!  There was hustle and bustle, people greeting each other and chatting, and the sound of numerous trollies and trucks rattling across the concrete floors.

Each exhibitor was on a mission to get their stand set up as quickly as possible and then get away for an early night - many had driven for hours to get to Skipton and in Friday traffic as well.  The Auction Mart started to fill up with a different type of stock in the pens.

Back in the Knit n Natter Lounge, things were taking shape nicely.  The socks were up on their Lines and the rest of the decorations were in place.  Lucy put the finishing touches to her display ...

and then we headed outside to put the bunting up in the trees by the entrance door before it got too dark to see.  Lucy and I soon realised that neither of us were tall enough so we called in the cavalry!

By the time we got back inside, most of the exhibitors had set up and gone.  The Mart was the quietest it had been all day, the stands all tucked up for the night.  

Did it feel eerie?  No, I wouldn't say that it did.  It felt calm, and each of the pens were full of things that would make people very happy over the next couple of days.  It felt more like Christmas Eve when all the preparations are done and you're waiting for the morning.  There was now a sense of excitement in the air.

The Hub was all ready to welcome visitors the next morning and there was nothing more to do but wait for the last few exhibitors who had been delayed on the roads.  Can you see the stacks of Yarndale bags behind the tables on the left?  There were considerably fewer of those on Sunday night!

Whilst we were waiting, I got to take part in another essential Yarndale preparation - boy, were those fish and chips good!  (They were from Bizzie Lizzie's in case anyone's travelling to Skipton and needs to eat chips - definitely worth a visit!)  I don't think any of us had eaten much during the day and it was now after 9pm.  They didn't last very long at all!

A short while later, it was time to close the Auction Mart up for the night.  The next two days were going to be long and busy and I've got more photos of the weekend - come back again and look at them with me!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Ticking along

It's been a strange few weeks for us, with one thing and another.  Time has seemed to turn to elastic and something that happened only a few days ago feels like a lifetime away and vice versa. The simplest task has felt like wading through treacle, and on more than one occasion I have just wanted to hide in my bed until it feels safe to come out again.

The fact that life continues all around you is both a blessing and a curse.  I have a mountain of jobs to tackle, and although it's slow-going I am finding that being able to tick things off my list feels like a triumph and that I am still part of "normal" life.  I am fighting the urge to get everything done now - another day or two really won't make any difference and everything will get done eventually.

With this attitude in mind, I actually sat down to have lunch in the garden yesterday.  The sun was shining, the air was beautifully warm for early October and the birds were singing.  I have resisted just sitting and "feeling the sky" until now as I have been more comfortable keeping busy busy busy until I collapse in bed at night, but yesterday I needed to feel the sunshine on my face.

I sat companionably with the dog and we listened to the birds singing and the cars moving along the nearby road, and I knitted a bit more of the pair of socks that I am making for my Uncle.  It felt like a step in the right direction.

In other news, today is the day of the Great Winwick Bake Off.  It's an annual event held in aid of the roof fund for St Oswald's Church here in Winwick - you can read about last year's Bake Off here.  This is my entry - a blueberry and white chocolate traybake.  I have no aspirations of winning; for me it's just a bit of fun and an opportunity to be part of a community fundraising project and to spend time with local friends - and eat lots of cake!  What could be better for a Saturday afternoon?

Small daughter and I (my husband and big daughter were both working) headed up to the Winwick Leisure Centre to join in with the sampling and judging.  It's a very tasty way to raise funds for the Church and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

I still have another post to write about Yarndale this year, but for now, let me share with you the treats that I picked up whilst I was there.  I didn't plan to buy much sock yarn this year as I still have yarn from other years that I haven't knitted up yet, but I defy anybody to leave Yarndale empty-handed!

These were my bargain sock skeins - only £5 each!  I've used Knitglobal yarn for a shawl before but not socks so I'm looking forward seeing how these turn out.

I had spotted this yarn early on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend telling people about how lovely and soft it was.  It wasn't until Sunday afternoon when everybody was packing up that I realised that I'd spent the weekend recommending it but hadn't got any for myself!  I hurried round to the pen and luckily there was still a ball left for me.  I haven't knitted with Lang yarn for a long time and the one that I used didn't have cashmere in it - this is going to be a real treat to knit up!

Finally, my favourite purchase - hand-dyed DK sock yarn!  I spotted this on the Sunday morning, chatted for a while with the exhibitor (the lovely Helen at Ripplescrafts) and then headed back to the Knit n Natter Lounge.  It was only when I was almost there that I realised I was about to make the biggest mistake of the weekend by leaving this skein on the stand - there was only one and this one has my name on it!  I hurtled back and handed over my money before anyone else could whizz in and buy it first.  I've never seen hand-dyed DK sock yarn before and these are just my colours. These are going to be very grand boot socks!

Tonight, my plan is no more exotic than some knitting time in front of the TV.  I might even have a glass of wine (so no complicated patterns!).  I'm not always very good at taking the time to be kind to myself even though I am very good at telling other people to do so, but I think it's time to start listening to my own advice.  After all, everything will still get done even if I have a night off.

Pinterest info div#ContactForm1 { display: none !important; }