Crafts get the cookery show treatment

 There has been a recent trend on daytime TV for shows such as Gok's Fill YOur House for Free  and Money for Nothing that encourage making and recycling, mainly featuring specialist craftspeople. 

Now crafting and making it yourself has hit primetime with Channel 4's glossy cookery show style Craft It Yourself on Tuesday evenings. 


Having watched the first two episodes I am enjoying the show and noting good ideas but I suspect the audience will fall into two groups - the doers and the admirers (one of the factors that reminds me of cookery shows).

The doers are makers already, with big craft stashes and knowledge about at least some of the techniques on show. We're watching to see what crafts they include and to pick up ideas or tips. We're the equivalent of the cookery show fan with a bigger larder than Nigella's.

The admirers, I see more like the person who watches Masterchef while munching a microwave dinner. Equally here they are going to enjoy seeing the makes but are unlikely to hit Hobbycraft with a list on Saturday morning.

But perhaps some of the latter group will make that list and have a go and that is all to the good. 


The three presenters, Robin Johnson, Clemency Green and Ant Anstead are all experienced makers but in the show they try crafts they are new to which means we see that things can be learned. Such as furniture maker Robin (above) taking up needlepoint and then creating a cushion cover.

Also every make is accompanied by three important pieces of information - cost, the time needed and the level of difficulty - to give viewers a realistic view of what's possible. The show mixes big projects with "mini-makes", quickfire projects that could be completed in an afternoon and offers a wide range of project types and materials. I'm certainly adding new items to my list of tings to try.

Craft it yourself 2

But as someone who loves courses and trying out new skills, I will keep watching for the "master craft " feature. Each week one of the team tries out a craft course you could take over a weekend. So far we've seen knife making which I now want to try and throwing pots (which I've just tried).

I think the show will draw in an audience in the same way as food shows do but after just two weeks on Channel 4 it is apparently shifting to More 4 - whether this is to do with sport, I'm not sure, but I hope Channel 4 will give the show a good go. If nothing else it may give more people an appreciation of what hand made actually involves in terms of skill and time.

Knitting in the Tardis - why I will be watching Dr Who even more closely this year.

I am a life long Dr Who fan. I can remember watching it with my dad when I was little, and being very excited to catch a glimpse of Tom Baker at an event.

As an adult I have rewatched pretty much all the classic episodes available and followed the recent series very happily. But I don't think I will have watched any as closely as the new series.

This is because I was commissioned to knit items for the upcoming season.

I was introduced the the show's talented costume designer, Hayley Nebauer, when she asked mutual friend about knitters who could work from a sketch and measurements.

It seemed that she needed some sweaters making and it turned out they were for the Doctor himself.

The process started with Hayley sending me some top secret sketches and one of the sweaters Peter Capaldi had worn in a previous series so I could get the shaping spot on. Then we had to decide on the yarn. The sweaters (three the same) had to be black and not too heavy, so we chose Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply and I started work using 3mm needles (that's a lot of sweater on small needles. 

The challenge was that the sweaters had to have rips in. But the rips had to be stable and the same for all three jumpers, so I created a pattern with dropped st sections of different widths and lengths. Plus some short rows at the neck and cuff to create a worn look.

Since the trailers came out I've been peering at all them very closely whenever the Doctor is in black.

Like here...


and here...


So I was very pleased to see this preview interview where Capaldi is definitely wearing my work.


I will be looking out for how the sweater fares in next few weeks - the series starts on 15 April - as well as some other items that could show up.

Excited? Just a little 8-)


Great British Sewing Bee - bee still my beating heart

image from
It was with some trepidation that I tuned into the BBC's Great British Sewing Bee. To be honest, although other TV forays into craft have raised the profile of the handmade, there has tended to be a tweeness factor.

So there I was ready to produce a pragmatic, critical review and then it happened. 

I fell in love.

No, not with Saville Row tailor Patrick Grant - that's the debonair chap in the centre - but with the sewing studio and the people in it.

I wanted to be running between shelves of fabric and trimmings like a kid in a Lego factory alongside Sandra and having a calming herbal tea with over-ambitious Tilly.

I identified with these people to a ridiculous extent. They talked about wanting to put their personal stamp on things. As Jane said "nobody else will be wearing what I am" and "I love it when people ask 'where did you get that?' and I can say 'I made it".

I shared Lauren's memories of having a sewing kit at a young age and others' of sewing with mothers and grandmothers. I wanted to go to the cafe and have a chat with these eight contestants. 

I also identified with the pressure and the tension of the tasks. I think I make the same face as Lauren when trying to perfect on invisible zip. And anyone who has sat up late sewing on buttons or hemming a garment that needs to be worn the next day, will know exactly that sweaty finger feeling the contestants developed when told they had only 10 minutes there.

I enjoy shows like Great British Bake Off and Masterchef, but I've never had the same emotional engagement as I found with this. With this every challenge, problem and triumph had resonance with me and I was still picking up tips.

All of which makes it impossible to review this show pragmatically but I will pull out a few interesting points.

Individuality - these where eight very different people with very different styles but sewing was important to all their lives. Their individuality emerged more than you would see in Bake Off, I think, in the challenges. We had eight different A-line skirts and eight different adapted blouses rather than eight homogeneous lemon drizzle cakes.

Technical detail - I'll need to ask a sewing novice if it worked, but I was impressed with the technical information that came out about using patterns, fabric choice and fitting. There was a good deal of basic advice but also useful tips for the more experienced, such as Patrick demonstrating how a poor fit on the shoulder made the hem of a dress slope.

A project for viewers - I loved the idea of a simple laundry bag project to try at home. Oh, and why don't I own a bias binding maker?

I'm clearly too besotted to judge whether GBSB will bee a smash hit. But I do believe there is an opportunity to inspire people to dust off granny's sewing machine and convince them that sewing isn't necessarily about chintz.


Read also: Fab clothes for a fat woman's view

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".


TV knits

 Does the knitwear on the TV make you lose the plot?

Sarah lund I haven't been watching The Killing but have noticed that the sweater worn by the central character Sara Lund has been getting a bit of attention

Apparently when the series was originally shown on Danish telly, the company that made it couldb't keep up with orders, and now UK shops are being scoured for Nordic -style knits.

Of course that got me thinking. My trusty 1960 Odham's Encyclopedia of Knitting has a pattern for a skiing sweater that could easily form be adapted Sara style.

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But while I haven't been caught up in Killing sweater fever, my viewing is hit by knitwear envy.

Watching the European Indoor Athletics champs on the BBC the other day, lead to a Twitter discussion over whether former Olympic sprinter Colin Jackson's natty chunky waistcoat was a hand knit.

But what has really caused me to lose the plot has been the recent BBC adaptation of 1930s tale,South Riding. Luckily I've watched the whole series on iPlayer because I genuinely did have a moment when I realised that I had no idea what had just happened because I was considering the construction of a rather fine lace fitted cardie worn by Anna Maxwell Martin as central character Sarah.

I couldn't find a picture of the cardigan in question, but I pretty much loved Sarah's whole workshop and it would go with this outfit.  I'll continue searching for pictures though because I would love to copy the cardie.

  South riding

Knit your own fashion on TV - what we can learn from 1976

I suspect  most  knitters will enjoy this archive BBC show on knitting currently on the BBC website.

Bbc crop1

 There is much still of value from what was apparently the first part of a series intended to help experienced knitters to develop and allow novice knitters to create fashionable garments on a budget.

The excellent section on tension squares and types of knitting needles  from expert Pam Dawson would be useful for anyone learning today but we might all baulk at presenter Jan Leeming waxing lyrical over rayon yarn. 

My favourite part, apart from the assertion that "shawls are important" (well of course),  is Pam's sniffy reference to the metricisation of knitting needles.

Watch and enjoy.


£166 for a garter stitch scarf!

I've been catching up on BBC1's High Street Dreams on accessories because I'd heard rummours of people pricing a plain hand-knit garter stitch scarf at £130 and  £166 for one with cable or rib.

The programme features fashionistas saying I want it look "handmade but not homemade". I wasn't sure what that meant but to me the scarves where the sort of thing I use to teach beginners. Brightly coloured chunky wool and fat needles in garter stitch.

The big marketing gimmick was "hand knit by nanas" - even though it turned out that younger knitters were actually more productive. I admit this was a second knitting stereotype that annoyed me.

On the other hand, the fact that the retail guru Jo Malone decided the Beryl the scarf woman (aka Beryl Brewis Handmade Scarves) could pitch to the Jigsaw fashion chain, and get an order for 200 scarves, may of course raise the credibility of knitting and we knitters (and especially the knitting shops) will be teaching the classic chunky scarf more in the future.

Either that or knitting groups should set up retail businesses immediately.