Totally unravelled

I finally made it to Unravel this year - the yarn festival at the Maltings in Farnham, Surrey.

Saturday morning was bitterly cold which made it easier to spot other knitters emerging from the station - a fine array of woolly hats, scarves and gloves was the clue. And more knitting soon brightened our day with a yarnstorm of signs.

The show had just opened when we arrived and there was still a queue but at least everyone was entertained by a few welcoming sheep like this one.


I'd also planned to take pictures inside but it was so busy that didn't seem practical. But I can confirm there was plenty to see with yarn pretty much everywhere.

There was a fantastic variety in fibre and style of yarn and a tremendous array of colour. 

I wasn't really on a shopping trip because I have plenty of yarn (I would never say "too much) but did plan to allow myself a couple of advance birthday treats (it's nearly the right day) and I was also making one particular purchase for a friend who'd asked me to look out for a merino/cashmere 4-ply in gold as highlight colour for her Pinion cardigan.

Instead I was mainly there to see what was going on, get a feel for what's popular right now, admire yarn and talk to lots of lovely knitting folk.

And lovely they all were too. For example one lady offered me a seat on her stand - I think it could have been Debonnaire - because she'd overheard someone asking me about my back problems and I didn't look well.

Nearby I admired Millamia's new designs for adults and was recognised as "one of the people who told us we should do an adult collection". I was particularly chuffed because it was a single conversation at another show several months ago.

At Sparkleduck  I got a chance to show Heather what I'd been doing with some spectacular yellow yarn I'd ordered from her earlier in the week (of which more in a forthcoming blog). 

And there was a chance to catch up with Anna from Onehandknits and Sarah from The Bothered Owl - a talented designer and a clever accessory maker respectively as well as being lovely people I don't see enough of.

IMG_2516Then there was catching up with friends and meeting online ones face to face at last as well as bead sourcing, yarn squishing and admiring at so many stands including Fyberspates, SkeinQueen and EasyKnits where I was completely smitten with this pumpkin coloured sparkly 4-ply.

It's likely to turn into a lacy scarf or a shallow crescent-shaped shawl that will look stunning over a dark jacket or coat.

It just hasn't quite decided what it will be yet.

Oranges and browns were clearly my colours of the moment on Saturday. Almost as soon as I arrived, I spotted some Fibre Harvest Alpaca laceweight in a coppery colour (officially Rust) and a skein had to come home with me especially as it was on offer for the show.

But all morning I kept thinking about a dark colourway they had as well. So much so that after a lunchtime sit down for a cuppa I was plotting a striped circular shawl. And so the inevitable happened...


I could easily have spent much longer at Unravel, if it hadn't been for the opportunity to indulge one of my other passions. 

My second ticket of the day was to see England versus France in the Six Nations Rugby Champs at Twickenham - and believe me after that (and the 3 trains between Farnham and Twickenham) I was truly unravelled but still very happy.




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. 

Olympian knitting

Just because I've been in an Olympic bubble doesn't mean I stopped knitting. Instead, the needles have been touring the venues with me.

I decided to attempt various Ravellenic Games challenges - knitting challenges for during the Games period - with an additional twist, one project was to be done during the period of the fencing competition when I was volunteering

Amazingly it is possible to complete a lace scarf travelling to and from a venue, in your breaks and the downtime I must have had at home at some point. 

Drum roll please...

image from

Once I emerged blinking into the light, there were other events to attend

image from images4.ravelrycache.comThis baby jacket for a new little cousin had a trip to the handball and the athletics.

While the beret - the pattern for which I tech edited mid Games - went to the basketball and the mountain biking.

image from



Confessions of a sports junkie


It seems that when it comes to the Olympics, I'm a sports junkie par excellence. I didn't think I was but then I found myself saying: "A spare ticket for handball - why not."

Suddenly having never seen a sport before or having any idea of the rules didn't matter. I had a ticket, I could learn. So when I wasn't in the fencingtron I found myself at a variety of venues, quite often roaring my head off.

There was the athletics, on a beautiful sunny August evening.  


There was decathon high jump...


...spectacular hurdling...


...and 80,000 people reacting as one to a certain appearance in the 200m semi-final to name but a few.


Then there was basketball which oddly was not as exciting as I expected.

Mountain biking at Hadleigh Farm in Essex offered an exciting race and glorious weather in a picnic atmoshpere.


And I was mighty glad it wasn't me toiling up and down that gruelling course.

But the best for me was handball - fast, furious, engrossing. I can't recommend it enough.


If you are interested in seeing more to the sports or the Olympic Park, a full set of pictures is here.

And very soon I'll have attended a range of Paralympic sports including "murderball" aka wheelchair rugby, which I'm already very excitied about. Handball, wheelchair rugby - fast and violent, am I sensing a theme here?

Emerging from the bubble - or surviving Tron

There hasn't been much in the way of activity on this blog of late. One of the main reasons is this:


This is the fencing arena for the London 2012 Olympics. Its coloured lights outlining the pistes Trondrew comparisons to a certain sci-fi "classic". Becoming known to some as the "fencingtron".

And certainly volunteering as a London 2012 gamesmaker does take you into a different world - one of long days, excitement and exhaustion in equal measures, one off experiences and lots of smiles. And I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

In my case I was actually working in the arena as a piste minder - fecning's equivalnet of a Wimbledon ball kid, I guess. My job included running up the steps on to the piste during the breaks with a chair, drinks and towels for the athlete - developing some interesting juggling skills in the process; making sure armourers, coaches, equipment etc were in the proper places; keeping things tidy and safe; and plugging and unplugging athletes into the scoring system - a task that brings you into close contact with fencers' bums and occasionally finds you fishing between their legs.

It also meant that at times I was only inches away from a gold medal adorning an excited athlete. 

It is hard not to get excited around sportspeople who have worked so hard to reach an Olympic Games. In the cases of fencing only around 30 people made it to each event, so this was a very special moment for them all as evidenced by the highs and lows of emotion. Teams almost flattening all around them as they celebrate reaching a final - I was briefly under a scrum of Romanian sabreurs - or an individual sprinting around the arena in joy. A real contrast with the loser so devastated they could barely be persuaded off the field of play.


Plus I was able to witness close up, the best and brighest in a sport I love - what could be better, especially when it is accompanied by making new friends and learning about how the behemoth of the Olympics actually functions.

In just a few days I'll be returning to the London 2012 bubble for wheelchair fencing at the Paralympics but before then I hope to share a few more of my recent experiences - some sport-related, some not.



An Olympic volunteer and knitter feels insulted

  Knit 155I’m a volunteer for London 2012 and will be part of the team delivering the fencing events at both the Olympics and Paralympics. I’m embracing all the opportunities to experience an Olympic Games first hand so when an opportunity came up recently to volunteer in another capacity thanks to my crafting skills I was there with my nimble fingers.

As a result in the past week I’ve spent one day sewing top secret costumes for the opening ceremony and another learning about wheelchair fencing equipment with some of the British wheelchair fencing squad who we hope to see at the games.

At the same time I’ve been planning my “Games time” knitting. Small projects that will fit in my gamesmaker bag that I can work on while travelling to and from shifts and on my breaks. My plan is to take part in the giant worldwide knit/crochet/spin-a-long that is the Ravelympics. This event founded on the yarncraft online community Ravelry encourages knitters, etc, to take part in challenges while viewing the Olympic Games. It features events such as the “single skein sprint” and the “socks putt” and to set themselves goals to achieve in the Olympic period – ie when the flame is burning in the stadium.

The event which ran during Beijing and Vancouver games has the double effect of raising awareness of the Games and challenging crafters to new skill levels. It creates a positive worldwide viewing party for the Games where crafters share their progress and discuss what they’ve been watching.

It would not be unexpected to come across, for example, the comment: “The rowing was so exciting I dropped all my stitches during the coxless fours finals”.

It is all about creating virtual participation.

So as a supporter of the Games and of Ravelry – I’m even the founder of a discussion group for ravellers who are also gamesmakers – I found the tone of a letter from the US Olympic Committee to Ravelry suggesting the event breaches Olympic trademarks insulting.

While all Olympic committees need to ensure that commercial organisations are not unfairly trading on the back of the Games and that sponsors interests are maintained (the sports need the funding), going after a non-commercial effort that celebrates the Olympics seems counter-productive.

But if the USOC legal department thought it had to pursue the matter, there was, as my mother would have said, no need to be rude about it.

The offending part of the letter is as follows:

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

Well quite frankly, the USOC is managing to be disrespectful to millions of of people who have great respect for sportspeople and others who have worked hard to perfect a skill

I have been privileged to witness the hard work of athletes close-up and the fact on one occasion that I knitted in the same room as they were preparing didn’t seem to bother them. The fact that I am highly skilled at an activity is likely to raise my appreciation of their skills not insult them.

As I write, the USOC Facebook page is swamped with comments from crafters and #Ravelympics is trending on Twitter. The 2m or so Ravelry members are clearly passionate individuals with a good grasp of social media.

Surely these are the people we want on the side of the Olympics, enthusiastically sharing news of the events their watching and sharing experiences and encouraging other people to watch the Games (and therefore see all the sponsor logos) – not angry and alienated.


A few hours after my post joined many others on this issue and contributed to the online storm, the USOC issued a statement intended to pour oil on troubled waters.

"The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.

We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games."

Well, it is an attempt at an apology. But it rather misses the point the sentences that caused the offence are not part of a standard-form letter, they are specific to Ravelry and imply that knitters are disrespectful of Olympic athletes.

On the other hand it is a public statement intended as an apology and that is quite an achievement for the fibre community.

What we don't know is where this leaves the Ravelympics themselves.