Making a new (or several) new starts

This used to be an active blog with plenty of updates about projects, making, yarns etc - and then it wasn't.

Part of the reason might have been the amount of blog content I was writing elsewhere, but the main reason was that life happened.

2015 was a tough year. It is one that I will always associate mainly with grief and physical pain. 

Which isn't to say that there weren't any highs. There were opportunities to take on new projects that draw on a range of my skills, I won two competitions for knitting design, chances to visit new places and great times with family and friends.

image from www.lapurplepenguin.comMy wining design for Knitting magazine

But grieving and dealing with pain used up a lot of energy and as much as I am by nature a battler, I ran out of steam. So much so that for a while I was finding it hard to pursue opportunities and even to set fingers to keyboard. My head was still buzzing with ideas but I wasn't always getting them out there.

As  result I entered 2016 needing some change and the first quarter of the year has been focused on achieving that.

Some of that has been physical. The start of the year featured a lot of physio and rehab exercise which means I'm in less pain and am more active. Last week I attended my first fencing session in nearly a year. Getting back to those particular pointy sticks was energising and gave me a boost for other activities.


But mainly the change is about my work focus. I have stopped working on something that I was no longer enjoying and which was perhaps stopping me chasing other opportunities - and already I'm replacing that lost income from new projects and expanding existing one.

Although I've laughed at the Japanese idea of decluttering by holding each object in your hand and only keeping those that give you a feeling of joy - it would probably take a life time to go through my clutter - I have been doing something similar mentally in terms of work and goals.

Part of this process is giving time to (and keeping that time) for doing what makes me feel positive lifewise as well as workwise, which means:

  1. Setting aside time to blog regularly including:
    - completing the promised set of posts on decoding cable knitting
    image from

    - talking more about the creative projects I'm involved in and why you might like them too
    - sharing the development of designs and patterns
    - reviewing the new yarns I try
    It may also means reviving a second blog for my political and social issue musings

  2. Making part of my working week about my own designs which means:
    - sorting out my sketch book and the assorted other scraps of paper
    - writing up designs I've already made
    - giving myself a kick up the backside about actually submitting designs to magazines etc. I did this in the last few days and have a commission as a result. Just need to do it more
    - taking more pictures
    Sketch book

  3. Teach more. I love helping people develop new or improve their skills whether that be knitting and crochet, business and social media or other crafts such as jewellery or braiding. So I will be developing some new workshop ideas and looking for opportunities to teach. If you are looking for a tutor for an event check out what I can do and get in touch.

  4. Allow myself time for learning and creativity. Some people might think that someone whose working life involves writing and working with knitting patterns might have plenty of creativity going on already. But stimulation beyond work is important to keep you active and fresh.
    Towards the end of last year I took a couple of online photography courses. This meant setting aside time to join online seminars and to do my homework. I found that not only did I learn a lot from the classes but the homework time was stimulating for all my creative projects.
    So the plan for this year is to have some time each week to do more online courses or attend a workshop and also to explore new sewing and jewellery-making techniques. With this in mind I've signed up to a sewing magazine and started an online wire weaving courses, so expect more posts on these topics as well as more experiments in resin.

    Wire weaveEarly wire weaving attempt

Even writing this has made me feel positive so I'm looking forward with new energy and new plans. Roll on the remainder of 2016 and beyond.

Dealing with dementia: Crying over a chocolate digestive

This is a version of a facebook post I wrote a few days ago. Although it's not the normal theme of this blog I wanted to share this because it is important to me and because I think it offers an insight into how tiny things can become very important when someone you love has dementia.

image from
I went to see Mum today.

For the first time in many weeks she was out of bed and seemed pleased to have a visitor.

She chatted away - you can't make out much but it's generally a good sign.

Then the staff brought her tea and two chocolate digestives. Usually Mum would gather all available sweet things to her but this morning she ate one and then looked at the other for a long time.

Then she pushed the plate towards me andsaid very clearly "that's for you". 

Her most coherent sentence in about a year. 

I cried.

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.

The Knitter 30: Lace Therapy

Do you buy knitting patterns for the articles or the patterns? 

image from Normally I'd say the patterns every time but with this month's The Knitter, it is all about the articles.  There are some patterns I'll highlight below (I'm not a fan of sleeveless pullovers and cardies) but there are two feature articles that push all the buttons for me and make up for this not being my favourite pattern-wise.

Stitchlinks is a project I already follow but was pleased to read more about it. Founded by Betsan Proj 022 Corkhill, Stitchlinks is all about the therapeutic aspects of knitting and how it can help people with long term health issues.

As someone whose professional life brings into contact with social workers and the social care system and having an ancestor who was an occupational therapy pioneer this is of particular interest to me but I think most knitters will be interested in what Betsan has to say. Knitting and other crafts can have an impact on how we experience pain, our sense of worth and our mood including how we deal with stress. I for one will say that if I'm having a difficult day at work, spending lunchtime in a coffee shop with my knitting can clear my head and help me find positive solutions. Betsan writes about these many effects and how colour and texture can have an impact on people - the silk wool cable project above makes me feel better - something that all knitters could relate to. 

image from One thing that makes me feel good - perhaps because of the sense of achievement - is lace. So I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the Shetland Fine Lace Project which is about maintaining the craftwoman's skills and heritiage associated with the finest of hand knits.

It is also about educating people about the amount of work and craft knowledge that goes into each lace item. The scarves and shawls (like the one left) are sold through the Shetland Museum if you want to find out more.

Meanwhile I haven't many highlight patterns this month which I suppose balances out those issues where I want to cast on absolutely everything, but there are still highlights.

I have a young niece and I think I can guarantee that at some point she will own a Child's Sweater with a Cat Pattern by Kari Haugen. It's a Norwegian colourwork item in DK that features whole cats on the body and cat faces on the sleeves. Think Sara Lund with cats for a 4-year-old.

I'm also hoping my other half will like the subtly striped Ease man's jumper image from in cotton/silk DK by Brandon Mably - the stripes will make all that stocking stitch for a man-size  garment interesting and I think it would suit him.

For me a simple textured and fitted 4-ply sweater may well prove the answer for some of the summer yarn in my stash. Lilium by Vladmira Cmorejova fits the bill - reverse stocking stitch with lines of twisted rib and beads of leaf design it will make a simple spring/summer top.

Hayworth is classic Sarah Hatton - a simple but effective cropped cardigan with a romantic Jane Austen look, this time in aran. A quick knit simmer cover up and good choice as a first cardigan for a beginner.

And finally a stashbusting gem from Ann Kingstone - long fingerless 4py lacy gauntlets with bobbles that give them their name, Pearl

Knitting the pain away - science and yarn

A study conducted Royal United Hospital, Bath, suggests that knitting can improve sufferers' experience of chronic pain.

It says more work needs to be done to work out why this happens. It could be  a number of things such as:
rhythmic repetitive movements and their role in meditation and serotonin release; the effect of bilateral  patterns of hand movement on brain maps; automatic movements on rumination; the ‘end product’ and its effect on the reward system; the effect on cognitive function; stimulation from colour, texture and being creative.

I'm particularly curious to find out what is going on because I have osteoarthritis and sometimes experience a great deal of pain. But my anecdotal experience is that knitting in some way improves the experience perhaps by distracting me or perhaps its the medative thing. I'll be following this with interest.