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October 2012

A book to unlock your creativity

Material World
I've just come across a new book that says a lot of what I’ve always said about craft skills – and my dressmaking, knitting, etc, pre-dates the latest DIY fashion trend by decades – they allow you to be individual. Having the skills to make your own piece of jewellery or customise a jacket doesn’t mean you have something that’s second best. Instead you have the latest look your way, garments that fit properly or the item you’ve only previously been able to imagine.

That is very much the theme of Material World: The Modern Craft Bible by Perri Lewis.

The book is much more about giving readers the basic skills and plenty of advice on how to use them, rather than a prescriptive set of rules. In other words helping people unleash their own creativity.

I work part-time for the London Jewellery School and am ever fascinated how a group of six people being taught the same techniques and using the same materials can up with very different looks or styles in the pieces they produce in a workshop.

Across a range of craft skills Perri offers advice on the right tools and has collected some fantastic tips. I particularly like the idea of buying high street jewellery from the sale rack as “parts” for your own creations, or cheap garments for the buttons or embellishments because that can cost less than buying something similar separately.

The crafts covered are embroidery and cross-stitch, decoupage, printing, embellishment, macrame, quilling, leatherwork, millinery, jewellery, patchwork and tailoring. 

Given my large collection of craft books and the amount of new skill information for me in Material World, I might have said that this is a great book for people looking to start or expand their crafting with lots to get them going. But there is another layer to the book which makes it attractive even to those with too many crafting years (and books) to count. It also features a series of interviews from designers, crafters and artists on everything from colour in embroidery to the much debated "what is craft? what is art?"conundrum.

The comments from designers and makers are a great addition to a manual like this. Whether it be Emma Bridgewater explaining that designing isn’t about sitting staring at a daunting blank piece of paper but rather collecting and channelling a set of thoughts and skills you already have, or milliner Philip Treacy telling you to break the rules and experiment.

Treacy also talks about the smile test – when someone tries on one of his hats and get a real sparkle in their eye, he knows he’s got it right. Something I certainly recognise from my knitwear  and jewellery successes whether for myself or others.

This is certainly a worth addition the the craft shelf/bookcase/room.

Material World is out this week  published by Virgin, £18.99

Getting close to beautiful design

One of the perks of pattern checking and tech editing is that you get close to some lovely knitwear and designs.

In recent weeks I've been doing some work for Let's Knit magazine including the Emmeline hat by Kelly Menzies:

image from

In fact I liked that one so much I made my own right away because I had had the opportunity to try the sample on and seen how good it looked. It's a simple beret with a little slouch and I really liked the edge detail and the diamond pattern. It's also an excellent stashbuster.

Then I've been working on Aniken Allis's forthcoming Beads and Lace collection. Anniken hasn't posted pictures of all the shawls yet but among those that she has revealled is this pretty crescent Lamorna Cove. It does feature short row shaping and beads but is well explained so shouldn't hold any fears. Plus this is another excellent stashbuster, only using 600m of 4ply.

image from

But the most complex and fascinating project for me are some new patterns for Purl Alpaca because designer Kari-Helene Rane has an innovative mind that comes up with cleverly constructed garments.

Again not everything is out yet but here are a couple to whet your appetite.

The Icon dress

and the Helene top


Missing-in-action penguin returns

I've realised that since London 2012 the Penguin has been very quiet. 

Some of that was being happily exhausted when the Paralympics finished and having 1,000s of Games photographs to edit.

Peacock versus Pistorius - the men's T44 100m final

And a lot of it is down to being very busy with work - some of which I haven't been able to talk about, and a lot which involved writing articles and blog posts for my various professional roles.

So this post will serve as an update list of what I've been up to - at least as much as I can tell you.

So plenty of writing in the past few weeks from social care policy to new knitwear designers - look out for my pieces in The Knitter and Simply Knitting in the coming months (obviously the social policy stuff will be elsewhere).

I now also work part-time for the London Jewellery School - the place where I learnt most of my jewellery making techniques. I look after web and blog content, social media, press, advertising and membership which means I've been writing plenty of blog posts for that site instead of here. It's very educational and inspiring being around the classes and seeing the work of all the students wether doing one-day courses or a full diploma programme. So I've been working on my own jewellery which means I'll hopefully be updating the etsy shop soon.

Agate and wire necklace

Meanwhile I'm also blogging over at Planet Handmade where I'm working on the content our full launch. If you don't know about Planet Handmade, I'd recommend follwoing the link and having a look at our blog but in summary it goes like this...

Planet Handmade is the brainchild of former editor of The Knitter and all round craft PR guru Juliet Bernard. It is an online hub for designer makers across all the handmade sectors - from metalwork and woodturning to jewellery and ceramic with of course plenty of yarn and textiles in the mix. Planet Handmade will support designer makers by providing relevant business and other information and promote them to retailers, stylists and the press. It will also campaign abpout attitudes to craft skills and the handmade.

One of the first things we've been getting exercised about are the changes to how textiles - especially yarn - have now to be labelled. The new EU rules have been drafted by someone who clearly knows nothing about yarn or textiles. If you want to marvel at the stupidity of rules that make no distinction between superfine merino and the cheapest coarse wool, do have a read. In the course of looking at this issue, I appear to have become something of an expert on the matter...

Knitting has also been featuring heavily in both my working life and downtime - now there's a surprise. I've been working as a tech editor on a number of interesting projects brining me into contact with some beautiful patterns - which probably deserve a post of their own once I check what has been released so far.

I've also been knitting for a London College of Fashion project. I can't reveal even a glimpse of what I'm working on but I can say that it is a new an exciting challenge because I'm interpreting the designer's drawings to create full garments with unique features. It requires a problem solving ability, knitting skills and an understanding of how fabrics behave. I look forward to being able to share the results and to talk about the experience in full.

IMG_2586As with the jewellery, all this exposure to design in the raw has sparked my own creativity.

Current swatches range from the super-fine for a 1920s inspired idea to super chunky (below).

The super-fine idea came from seeing some beautiful yarn and catching up with some TV drama in the same day. I was already besotted with the yarn and then I fell for a sweater on TV. Moare as the idea develops.

Meanwhile I was swatching for the secret LCF IMG_2616project when I started thinking about what it would be like to knit lace this big.

So I got some of the yarn for myself and started experimenting, and a bolero jacket using shawl shaping techniques was born.

I'm not quite ready to reveal the finished product but using shawl techniques in big wool adn needles raises some interesting thoughts. Is lace itself, plus provisional cast-ons and short row shaping, difficult because we think of doing it in fine yarn and on tiny needles? Would it be a good introduction to these techniques to do them "big"?

Despite all of this I did make it to Ally Pally last week. And I even know what most of the haul is for. The purple Fyberspates yarn is for long gloves for a December wedding, the brown Nimu will be a scarf for Mr Penguin and the Rowan Lima had to be bought after I was talked into buying a copy of Designer Knitting containing some fabulous cable patterns.


So now we're up-to-date, I'll no my very best to post interesting and informative - or at least yarn-obsessed - items on a more regular basis.