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June 2011
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August 2011

July 2011

Craft, dementia and a tiny link to my mum

My mum has dementia and she is in a care home. I know some readers will have strong reactions to that sentence but that's a discussion for another time so for now read on for something interesting I've noticed.

Mum always did craft. She did knit - but not to the obsessive levels of her elder daughter (yours truly). She did dressmaking - even taking a pattern cutting course on adapting clothes for people with disabilities because she wanted to do more for the young people she taught. At one time she had little business sideline making soft toys and selling them through a local shop. She did embroidery and cross stitch, painted watercolours and in more recent years took up card craft.

Mum and hugh 1 
Mum and her husband Hugh a couple of years ago.

Although there are craft activities in her residential unit some days, all this is behind mum now but that doesn't mean that even at this fairly advanced stage of her illness that craft doesn't have an impact. It is something that can still engage her, bringing a gleam of interest and animation back in her eyes.

There is an increasing amount of work going on about the therapeutic nature of craft for people with mental health problems, chronic pain and when fighting addiction- for example the work of Stitchlinks, but less so around people who have lost mental capacity.

Yet if I get my knitting out when I visit she reaches out to touch it and asks about it - perhaps several times in a short space of time but that doesn't matter. On one occasion she couldn't remember "Bronagh" being there but talked about the "fast knitting lady".

She can still spot a handmade item and will comment on it - even if the rest of the conversation is related to something in her head. A craft book will hold her attention for a while - on a good day she might comment on the pictures or even read out the title of a pattern or two. In her last weeks at home she could still be engaged in sorting her vast button collection.

Yesterday she even commented on millinery.

We were looking through a photo album and came across pictures of her in various spectacular wedding hats - she could always pull off a dramatic piece of headgear. When I commented on the first with a wide sweeping brim she started to explain what it was made of. No longer able to recall the word she wanted she had a look round and pointed to the front of her radio until I came up with the word - "mesh". Turning to the next hat, a giant poppy, she told me it wasn't mesh but silk - "very different".

And then sadly the gleam was gone. But for a few minutes colour, shape, fabric, construction - something from her craft skills - brought a bit of my Mum to the surface.

I don't know what it is or why but it seems that this still can provide a tiny bridge of contact and engagement. As someone with a professional interest in this area I want to know more - as a daughter I'm just glad it's there.

Crafty compliments or why I should see more than flaws

So there I was wandering round Exeter when I spotted an Aladdin’s Cave (well a second one actually, I’d already found some hand dyed yarn in a tiny knitting shop) full of sparkling jewels. This designer jewellery shop specialised in handmade silver so there was no way I could walk past.

While the long suffering Mr Penguin wandered off to look at historic markers in the sunshine I gave myself a few minutes to gaze on the shiny loveliness and daydream about when I will be able to make pieces like that.

 The shop was quiet so the owner came over to ask what I was interested in. I explained I was browsing because I was a fan of silver jewellery (not hard to guess actually given what I was wearing).

“Yes she said, you’re wearing some interesting pieces, I wanted to ask you about your pendant.”

 It was this.

Silver 016

And so I was taken aback.

It is a piece I’d made in a silver clay class at London Jewellery School. In fact my first go at setting a cabochon stone. I wear the pendant a lot because I like it and I made it but I am very clear about its flaws, so it was overwhelming to have it praised like that.

It occurs to me though that I'm very poor at accepting compliments and tend to see the errors over the successes. But I need to see the positives more if I want to spend more of my time on craft projects. It was a real boost to hear something like this, and I'm going to use it to push forward with my ideas and skills development.


The Knit Nation Experience

This year my Knit Nation didn't start in South Kensington but in just off Hatton Garden more usually associated for me with jewellery school days.

The area is also home to Médecins Sans Frontières and the p/hop fundraising project. As my employer allows me two volunteering days each year, I was using one to help p/hop co-ordinator Clare Storry (aka GingerKnits) get ready for two days running a stand at Knit Nation.

P/hop is all about persuading folks to donate to MSF in exchange for knitting patterns donated by some very talent designers. So preparing for an event means checking display samples, and lots of counting, stapling and printing patterns, before packing it all up to transport to the show. For me it also provided to an opportunity to see the MSF office in action and hear the reports coming in from those tackling malnutrition in Somalia.

Then it was off to Imperial College to deliver the p/hop goods, as well as a yarn stand for the Yarn Yard stall and in my case a version of the South Kensington shawl (which I recently test knit) to OneHandKnits so she could wear it on the stand with the Bothered Owl.

Having these jobs to do and offering to help out vendors I knew, meant I was inside the market place when it opened, so was able to witness the now traditional Wollmeise stampede and visit some of my favourite yarn dyers. With lovely but quite modest results:

Yarn 015
The turquoise is Sweet Clement Besotted, the grey is Yarn Yard Crannog, the champagne is Natural Dye Studio Dazzled Sock and the cone some very interesting linen and steel yarn from Habu.

But mainly it was lovely to chat to a whole bunch of lovely peeps who I usually only speak to online.

On Saturday it was up early to attend a class on Vintage Fit and Finishing from Susan Crawford of A Stitch in Time fame. This proved marvelously educational with tips on adjusting knits to fit, advice on key measurements - we all now know where our waists are - and putting garments together. For me, the most fascinating thing was the realisation that in the past women thought of knitted garments in the same way as dressmaking and learning about the weight-bearing structural importance of seams.

The class was so interesting that it over-ran but I soon had to depart for my next activity - the podcast picnic. Sadly the monsoon conditions forced this into a hallway but it was still lovely to meet up with iMake Guernsey and HoxtonHandmade of Electric Sheep fame.

 A quick chat (some recorded) and a bag of crisps later, it was time to man the p/hop stand which was under siege from lunching knitters. This year p/hop was in the Tea Salon area, just opposite the food queue. A fantastic position, especially on a rainy day, because pretty much anyone needing a snack or a sit down saw our tempting range of patterns. From newby knitters to established designers and magazine editors we had a constant stream of visitors most of whom became fans of the latest addition to the p/hop selection - Ros Clarke's cricket tea cosy which formed the centrepiece of the stall.

image from
Tea time?

But a whole range of patterns were popular and I so enjoyed chatting to knitters and finding the right pattern for them (I hope) and even on occasion answering queries from those who had cast-on there and then.

It was great to meet so many people and talk knitting all day. I hope everyone else had as much fun as me.

Shawl 8 of 11: spring sunrise

Vernal 002 A year ago I took a class at Knit Nation - Advanced Lace with Ann Hanson. This 3-hour class pulled together the elements of knitting lace drape, stitch technicalities, knitting on boarders, provisional cast-ons, an more. But mainly it gave me confidence to try more complicated patterns and to be less tentative in my blocking.

After that I went down stairs and bought a single precious skein of Knitwitches Seriously Gorgeous Laceweight Swiss Cashmere/Silk.

That skein has turned into my largest  shawl project yet and my first semi-circle - Vernal Equinox by Lankakomero. I'm very proud how my lace knitting has developed in a year and also to have something this beautiful to wear to a posh summer Sunday Lunch.

 As for the rest, I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Vernal 008
Vernal 006
Vernal 003

Walking on broken glass: part 1, the before

I don't like broken glass. Actually it is fair to say that a dropped glass has caused me to flee the room before now. So it was perhaps an unusual decision for me to sign up for London Jewellery School's Fused Glass workshop.

My broken glass issue is to do with a past traumatic event and is something I'd like to be rid off. On the other hand I am enjoying my jewellery adventures. So it seemed a perfect opportunity for a spot of amateur psychology by taking control of how and when the glass is broken and turning it from jagged and dangerous into smooth colourful jewels.

The trays of glass pieces were mini treasure troves of colour that we all just wanted to play with, but there was learning to do. 

Glass 002
Some of our first goes get ready for firing.

 First we learnt about the correct and safe way to cut glass - something I was quick to get the hang of, challenging myself to cut smaller and smaller pieces. Although I'm not great at square shapes just yet.

Glass 011 Then we started on some techniques.

Fused glass is all about melting the glass in a kiln, so all pieces have to be placed on kiln paper which stops the glass sticking to the kiln shelf.

This allows for one of the simplest techniques; placing a piece of fibre mat under a piece of transparent glass. The glass melts over the mat which burns away to a powder leaving an impression in the glass.

There aren't many finished items in this post, it is very much the before, because of the length of time it takes to fire and cool the pieces, but here you can see an after in the form of a blue moon.

We also experimented with layering up glass with an opaque base, a piece of fancy dichronic glass in the middle and clear on top.


Glass 012 I like the effect of this piece but it does show what happens if your top layer is much bigger than the base.

On the other hand if you make it too small you won't get a smooth domed shape.

You can layer other things as well as glass. For example, brass or copper can be sealed between two layers of glass. Or you can use mica powder to create patterns between the layers. And then there are long strips of glass that you can shape in the flame of a candle to create patterns on your glass. 

  • Glass 003
  • Glass 004
  • Glass 010a
Glass 010a

 All of these techniques are used in full fusing where all the glass melts together into one shape. Tack fusing joins the pieces of glass you use together but retains their individual shapes.


Frits, small glass pieces, can be used in either to create effects. You can layer then on with PVA glue that burns away in the kiln. I'll be interested to see what happens with these experiments.

Glass 008
Glass 006
Tack fusing also allows you to assemble shards of different colours on scraps of glass to create interestingly textured pieces. I think this is my favourite of the day.

Glass 007
But there are plenty of options in the pieces I assembled in our "creative play" session towards the end of the day. It will be fascinating to see what works and what unexpected effects appear.

Glass 005
The results will be revealed, once I have them, in part 2. And then we'll see what jewellery pieces they turn out to be.


Testing Testing

South ken test 001 I've been busy in recent weeks test knitting shawls for a couple of pattern designers.

Test knitting is perfect for me. Firstly it's knitting and I'm rarely without my needles, but this has the advantage of me having a challenge without spending hours agonising over yarn and pattern choices.

But it also uses my professional editing skills and my experience of teaching other people to knitor helping others with challenging projects.

Test knitting is about checking that the pattern works as intended as well as spotting any potential pitfallsin the way the pattern is written. For example you may raise a query which leads to a charting error being spotted or report issues with the yardage for the project.

Lace 035a I try to think about how less experienced knitters might approach the pattern or if there is any potential for confusion based on the problems I've seen people have with, for example lace.

It's about enjoying knitting but also having an eye for detail and for the customer/user's needs.

As yet I can't tell you what the patterns I have been working on are because they are yet to launch and have only included some teaser images. Watch this space to find out them when they are available.


Minor internet sensation

I had some fun recently creating my Professor Brian Cox and volcano for Stitch Science at the Science Museum in London. 

I also blogged about it.

Then I went on holiday.

When I came back I thought I should check on the blog, and initially thought something was wrong - it seemed I'd only had page views on one day. Then I realised that the other days on my stats chart represented the steady but modest traffic that passes through here but they were dwarfed by a 1,400+ hits on a single day. It seemed the knitted Prof was a star - even the real one's life had linked to the blog.

It didn't end there. When I went into work I discovered that a chat show had tracked me down to my day job to enquire whether if they had Prof Cox on the shown could they borrow my version. Nothing cam of that sadly - too Harry hill or Graham Norton perhaps - but it was interesting that a researcher went to that much trouble.

The problem now is - how do I follow up this "success".