Saturday, December 22, 2007

And now - maths and knitting :)

Well, so much for posting on my third blogiversary (3 December)! I've been knitting my little fingers to the bone to complete a private commission which I actually took on in April. I didn't realise at the time how long it would take me to produce the Simply Knitting plus-size set, and poor Penny (the commissioner) has been very patient.

She has been planning this jumper in her head for years, because she's never seen anything similar in the shops. She wanted a sleeveless polo neck, hip length - with a ten-inch diameter circular hole in the back to show off a tattoo... Well, the jumper itself was no problem (except that she wanted it in Rowan Tapestry with the stripes running vertically, so I had to do it side-to-side), but, oh, that hole!! I was panicking all the time I was working on it, in case it was in the wrong place, or too big, or too small, or not round enough.

Eventually, the Beamish Boy made use of his maths training, and worked out how many stitches I had to lose (or gain) on each line, and produced me a chart for the first quarter of the hole, which I then had to read backwards or upside down for the other three quarters. Success! One perfectly round hole, which I then had to edge with ribbing and find a way to cast off, flat. After three days of experiment, and two reknittings of the entire rib, I cast off using a crochet hook, with 3 chain stitches between each cast-off stitch. Next I made a crochet chain and threaded it through the 3-chain loops, drawing it up to the required size. Even then, it came out rather oval, from the weight of the garment pulling on it.

I've never had such a reception for anything I've made, in any way, ever. I hadn't realised how personal and important this jumper was to her, until I saw her tears of happiness over it. I admit I was pleased with it myself, but she was ecstatic. It's lovely to get such a personal response!

Anyway, because her name is Penny, she requested I call the pattern Pénélopé - not that I'm likely to use it again, of course! - and here she is:

DSCF5493 DSCF5488 DSCF5487

The other big news is that poor Tigger had to go to the V-E-T because his breathing was a bit fast. Well, after telling me he was fine in every other way than his breathing, and taking some phenomenally expensive x-rays, the V-E-T decided he probably has asthma! Apparently it's common in cats. I wonder if they're allergic to themselves...

So, that's two of us puffing and panting and taking steroids, then. I know he loves me, but copying my illnesses is going a bit far :)


Tigger says, "I hope you're not expecting me to stick those pipes up my nose..."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

When Physics and Knitting Collide

Sometimes it is very easy to make a very big mistake. Even though you do all the right things - you swatch, you measure, you plan and execute perfectly - the God of Knitting Physics still comes along and raps you smartly over the head with a 15mm wooden needle, just to keep you in line.

I had a bit of a disaster. I started the third item from Simply Knitting's plus size collection, which was to be a loose garter stitch slipover to pop on top of a camisole to disguise the old "flying squirrel" arms that so many of us of a Certain Age experience. I really don't know why I design things in garter stitch, because it bores me rigid - bits of it here and there are fine, but an entire garment can get a bit tedious. To be honest, I feel much the same about stocking stitch. Stripes or stitch patterns are much more fun, because you can say to yourself, "Ooh, I'll just do another stripe", whereas you're very unlikely to say, "Ooh, I'll just do another few rows of stocking stitch"!

Anyway, I'd swatched carefully before I began and was quite confident that, even though I was knitting on bigger needles to increase the lacy effect, I was going to get a garment of the right proportions. Halfway through, I decided I was bored with garter stitch and, because I was working from side to side, thought it would be more fun to do the second half of the garment in drop stitch. I swatched again very carefully and found that the stitch count matched perfectly, although obviously the row count was different. This wasn't a problem as I could simply knit the same width of material as I had on the first half. I recalculated the decreases for the sleeve and set off on drop stitch.

I finished the top a lot more quickly (gotta love those wide drop-stitch rows!) and cast off. And then I held up the neck opening. The garter-stitch half of the neckline (a slash neck going from front to back) was about three inches smaller than the drop-stitch side. After a moment's panic, I realised that this was because I had cast off too tightly. I decided to be brave, unpick the cast off, and redo it with a looser one. I consulted the Oracle (aka The Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe - thoroughly recommended; I'm sure it doesn't have everything in it, but so far it hasn't let me down) and picked the tubular cast off, which is a sewn cast off. Well, it was a bit fiddly till I got into the rhythm of it, but it worked perfectly and I congratulated myself that at least I had learned a new technique.

I sewed up the sides and found a similar problem on the drop stitch seam - again I had cast off far too tightly, and had to unpick it and do it again. This time I tried the Yarn-Over Cast Off which is absolutely brilliant if you, like me, tend to cast off too firmly. Effectively, it lengthens the stitches on the cast-off edge, and it's really easy to do:

Step 1: Knit the first stitch on the needle.
Step 2: Bring the yarn forward and slip the stitch you've just knitted over that yarn.
Step 3: Knit the next stitch from the left-hand needle and pass the stitch already on the right-hand needle over this new stitch.

And that's it - just repeat steps 2 and 3 to the end of the row. You can experiment with the yarn overs - you may find that you only need to do the yarn over bit every two or three stitches, depending on the tightness of your casting off. Clever, isn't it?

So I'd reworked the cast off on the neck, I'd done the same on the side seams, I'd learned two new techniques while doing so, and I was feeling pretty smug. Finally I did what I should have done a lot earlier in the proceedings - I got Richard to hold it up for me.

And it stretched.

And stretched.

And stretched.

What had been planned as a slipover that would end just below the waist was now six feet long and still going. And this is where the Physics comes in. What had I forgotten? Unlike Isaac Newton, I had forgotten to account for gravity. Stretchy yarn + big needles + gravity = the longest waist-length garment that has ever been seen in the history of knitting.

I didn't quite believe what I was seeing at first. My initial reaction was, "Maybe it will ride up a bit when it's put on..." Well, I gave up on that idea when Richard proved to me that the neck opening had stretched to a point where it would fall from my shoulders to the floor without touching me at any point. There was nothing left but to try to unpick it. Sadly the yarn, although lovely to work with, did not take kindly to being unpicked. Instead, I had to grovel to Debora - the very understanding editor at Simply Knitting - who is sending me some replacement yarn with which I intend to make an entirely different garment...

(If you're wondering why I hadn't held it up before, it's because I have been put back on to bed rest, having overdone it with the whole Walking Round the House bit. It's quite hard to hold up a garment to its full length when you only have little arms.)


Tigger says, "Will you stop waking me up with that camera? I'm enjoying this bed rest stuff...."

Sunday, October 21, 2007


It can't have escaped anyone's notice that I have not had a brilliant year, healthwise.

It has taken me nearly a year to design and produce a set of three plus-size garments for Simply Knitting (although I did use the time when I was waiting for yarn to knock out a baby cardigan for Knit Today, too). My blogging has been sporadic, and I have yet to provide the Beamish Boy with any content for the wonderful website he has designed for me - it's all already written, but I want to rewrite bits of it before it goes live, and I rarely have the mental stamina to face doing it.

I don't want to give up designing - I still have a headful of unused ideas! - but I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand I have the option of employing outworkers to knit the actual garments, so that I can concentrate on designing, swatching, submitting ideas and so on. This would be OK up to a point, but I find a lot of my designs evolve as I knit them. It would also be difficult to pay people the minimum wage, as I don't even get that for the entire garment :)

I also have several people urging me to submit book outlines to publishers and, while I have plenty of material, I would need a co-author to do the actual work of putting the thing together - writing a book, especially a non-fiction, 'how to' book, with lots of pictures, is unbelievably complicated and very hard work. I learned that back in my old days of freelance copy editing, when one of my clients was a firm producing art books.

So I have quite a clear decision before me - do I expand my output by bringing in other people, or do I pull back a little and do what I can with my own resources?

I didn't begin designing to become a brand. I have huge respect for people like Debbie Bliss, Louisa Harding, Erika Knight - I have no idea how they achieve so much great work when there are only 24 hours in the day, but I suspect they survive on little sleep :) Even if I wanted to emulate them, I don't have the physical or mental stamina to allow me to do so, and that is something I have to keep learning over and over again. You'd think, after ten years of illness, that I'd know this, but it doesn't stop me overdoing things....

I started designing because that's the way my brain works, sick or well. I love seeing an idea evolve as I create it. I didn't want a job. I can't really cope with a job :) So these are the decisions I've come to:
  • I'm no longer designing things just because they're trendy. Anything I make will be something I love for itself. If I don't have much energy, I want to use it on designs I will enjoy making.
  • The design process carries on right through the garment, so - no outworkers. I'd be missing out on a vital part of the project.
  • I'm not going to be simply creating things to sell, one after another. I need socks. And I want to try the Elizabeth Zimmermann Baby Surprise Jacket, just because.
  • No book projects.
  • I want to take a little time out soon to do my part of the website, so that the Beamish Boy can finish it and it can start earning me money (by selling my patterns, although there will be free stuff too).
  • Must blog more!!
  • NO MOHAIR!!1!!!!! Ahem. Sorry. But no mohair. It makes me wheeze :(
I know it's not the obvious way forward for a designer, but I've always hankered for 'the road less travelled'. Let's hope that, for me, it will prove to make all the difference.


Tigger says, "Do what you like. Just take time to tickle my belly."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Holidays

It's been an interesting few weeks. Shortly after my last entry, I unexpectedly received the keys to the bungalow for which I'd been lobbying the council since the beginning of June. Exciting though this was, I was less than impressed to be told that I had only 2 weeks to move into it before I started paying rent on both properties. For those of you contemplating a house move, may I just say that it is possible to go from zero to Moving In in 10 days. I know this, because we did it! Lots of lists and a hard-working removals firm that packs as well as moves is all that you need. And a sense of humour. And a handful of takeaway menus. And a devilishly handsome son.

So, we moved in on 25th July, and thanks to the Beamish Boy everything was pretty much unpacked after a week. It's a brilliant house with a big living room, two decent sized bedrooms, a good kitchen, a lovely large bathroom, and laminate flooring throughout. It's wonderfully quiet, in the middle of a figure-of-eight shaped cul-de-sac. We look out onto two big oak trees in the middle of a lawn, and the road, which has very little traffic on it, runs down one side of us. It was well worth all the aggravation to get here, and we both love it.

Of course, being me, I couldn't let things go too smoothly. We'd just got sorted out when I developed cellulitis in both legs. A week after that, while they were still recovering, I had a dodgy prawn curry and ended up flat on my back with food poisoning for a fortnight. This, of course, made my legs flare up again. Then my chest - not wanting to miss out on the action - went haywire and I had to have a course of steroids.

So, ask me how I feel :) Actually, now that I'm eating properly again, and my legs are improving - which means I can walk around better - I'm feeling almost like my old self. My chest feels fine and I've even managed to start knitting again. Yes, gentle reader, I was Too Ill To Knit. It was awful.

In the last few days I have sent a completed baby garment off to Knit Today. They're very pleased with it and, I must admit, so am I. There's something very satisfying about making small garments, and it's not just the quick fix of having finished something. It's to do with nurturing and protecting as well. The magazine chose the most gorgeous colour (I hate wishy-washy pastels on babies, and apparently they can't see them very well), and I got to use some of my extensive collection of decorative buttons. Not sure when that's being published, but watch this space.

I'm still writing up the pattern for the second plus-size garment for Simply Knitting, and I had a bit of a hiccup with the yarn for the third one. Let's just say mohair is not a friend to my chest...

Another good piece of news is that Feed The Children UK have finally managed to produce their pattern booklet, Best Yarn Forward. This is the one for which I designed a boy's sweater in Sirdar Denim Aran. The booklet also includes a selection of patterns by the late Judith Whincup plus a beautiful little girl's dress by Mary-Louise Quick which is worth the cover price on its own. You get 6 patterns, and a number of motifs with which to jazz them up, for £3.50 (plus P&P) from Feed The Children UK. And well done to Kim Tame who was responsible for putting the whole thing together.

The cats, by the way, have settled in wonderfully, although Chloë was quite traumatised and tried to hide in a cupboard when we first got here. They now have a cat flap, which they take turns in staring through as if it were merely a handy cat-height window. Chloë won't use it at all, and Tigger will only use it to come in - preferring instead still to leave through the window. He always bursts through the flap with great excitement, bounding down the hall and proclaiming his return in a loud voice. By the speed at which he comes through, I think he must take a run up. It's certainly easier, now that we're here, to keep an ear on them, because their claws click on the floor as they walk :)

Hopefully it won't be so long before my next entry. To all of you out there who are moving house this year, all I can say is: best of British, and I hope it goes as smoothly as ours did :)

Tigger says, "It's very tiring, all this moving house lark. I have to find all new sleeping places... and break in new Little Old Ladies."


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Brought to Book

I've always been a great one for writing things down. Even before I developed Marshmallow Brain, I had a diary full of lists that had to be ticked off, and strange entries like "Water filter will need changing today". I also had a journal and, separate from that, a notebook for my creative writing. This was all, of course, before I had a decent computer and could store it all on that.

What I haven't computerised (apart from yearly lists of items and garments I have completed, and to whom they've been given) is my series of knitting notebooks. I currently have three, although I considering merging them all into one, in the interests of saving my muscles. I know I would get through notebooks three times as quickly, but at least I'd only have one to drag out every time I wanted to put something in it.

The first one is my knitting journal. At the moment, this is a rather fetching suede-covered notebook, courtesy of eBay. I'm not one to keep ball bands, samples of yarn, or tension squares but I do copy out all the information along with what tension I got, an overview of the whole project, and any problems I met along the way. I also record start and finish dates, and the eventual recipient.

The second one is my design notebook. At the moment, I'm using a Cath Tate spiral-bound A5 affair. The covers are printed with close-up photos of fair isle, and the front cover also has a delightful old-fashioned photo of small child, swathed in many knitting garments, with the caption: "Life would be so much nicer if my mother would only stop knitting", which makes me giggle every time I look at it. This contains sketches of potential designs, schematics, inspirational postcards, and the like.

Finally I have my Useful Bits-and-Bobs notebook, where I jot down stitch patterns of which I like the look, handy little wrinkles that I've worked out myself, and information to which I need frequently to refer, like measurements for each of the sizes I knit. I have a particularly groovy book for this one - a type I have just discovered at Ecotopia - which uses recycled carrier bags for the covers. Some of the pieces are still recognisable (there's a large chunk of a Tesco bag on the front), but I am desperate to find out who provides leopard-print carrier bags. There's just a sliver of one on the back. (They also make book covers from juice cartons, circuit boards, and tyres.) This one has all sorts of peculiar little snippets of information in it, and I thought it was about time I started to share them...

Pompoms, for example, seem to have come back into fashion recently, but I've always been a bit hit-and-miss with my sizes. I discovered that there are actual rules: the outer circumference of the cardboard ring should be a little larger than the desired size. The diameter of the hole should be between a third and a half of the total diameter. The larger the hole, the more tightly packed will be the finished pompom.

Alternatively, of course, you can do what I did the last time I made pompoms and buy one of those nifty plastic pompom makers. They are amazing. You get pompoms in about a minute :)

Oh, and I might occasionally post items from my Commonplace Book, where I keep all my favourite quotations. I have a section at the back called "English As She Is Spoke", which is home to all the bludgeonings of our mother tongue which I've encountered, usually on TV or radio. For example, on this week's 8 Out Of 10 Cats:
Sean Lock: It was a case of mistaken identity.
Trisha Goddard: Why?
Sean Lock: Because he thought I was somebody else!
If I tell you that Richard and I laughed at that until we wept, it'll give you a good idea of how bad a sense of humour we share :)

Tigger says, "I wish they wouldn't laugh so much; it's very disturbing."


Sunday, June 24, 2007


First of all, I just have to say what an utterly, utterly, fabulously brilliant and spiffing season finale we're having in Doctor Who. A great big meaty three-parter you can really get your teeth into. And what about John Simm, eh? It would be very easy for him to teeter over the edge and turn into a pantomime villain, but he keeps it just this side of parody. I knew he was good from Life on Mars, but this is a whole different performance. And you have to love a villain who can use the word "decimate" correctly...


What I was going to talk about, before I got side-tracked by the end of the world, was the unreasonable dislike some knitters have for crocheters, and vice versa. I have, in the past, had complaints about my knitting patterns, because they use small amounts of crochet. I was quite surprised by this, and even more so when I did some Googling. I found that there is a sizeable number of knitters who seem to regard crochet as simplistic and inferior, and only done by those who can't cope with knitting.

Not only this, but there is also a vocal section of crocheters who can't see the point of knitting, who think it's ugly and unwieldy and completely incapable of producing the beautiful pieces which can come from a crochet hook.

I have been able both to crochet and to knit for almost as long as I can remember. I picked up crochet much more quickly, and found that I could work it considerably faster than I could knit. But even at that age I could see that each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and that - quite often - these complemented each other. A crocheted edging could lift a knitted piece, and could be worked much more easily than a similar edging done with knitting needles. On the other hand, crochet takes up about 33% more yarn than the equivalent knitted item.

Both knitting and crochet have been responsible for some of the most garish and eye-melting fashion faux-pas (do I need to mention the 70s?). On the other hand, we have Shetland shawls knitted so fine that they can be drawn through a wedding ring, and Irish crochet wedding dresses which took a whole convent of nuns to make.

Of course you, gentle reader, would never be so narrow-minded as to say that anyone should stick only to one discipline; I'm sure you've discovered the ease of making up garments with a crochet hook, for example.

If you've tried one but not the other, why not give it a go? Whatever you learn will expand your abilities as a crafter. And that can't be a bad thing, can it?

We're all in it for the yarn; let's not squabble over what shape our sticks are.


Tigger says, "I don't care how you make it, as long as it's comfortable."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Have your cake and eavesdrop too

First, an apology: I regret bringing myself down to playground level last time by personal name calling. I stand absolutely by my comments and my criticisms, but I feel I weakened my case by slinging mud back. So there.

My name, however, is still not Mavis and I am really relieved to find that Katie is not one of the two finalists. I am sure that people who make sweeping generalisations are not much of an asset to companies relying on up-to-date customer data.


I have finished it!! Yes, gentle reader, I have finally finished the plus-size garment for Simply Knitting, which I started in - wait for it - February. My impression of it, apart from the fact that I want to fling it from me and never see it again (because I'm sick of the sight of the damn thing), is that it's probably the best thing I've ever designed. I can't say too much in detail because it's commercially sensitive, but I'll be giving plenty of feedback about the yarns and the design elements once it's printed. At the moment we are looking at printing all of the plus-size garments at the end of the summer. This is the second of three for which I've been commissioned, but the third and final pattern is going to be a much quicker job.

It will also help, of course, that I will be taking all the correct medication while I'm making it up...

The Beamish Boy and I have spent a very happy weekend of celebration, as he turned 22 on the 9th. There has been chocolate cake. There have been presents and cards. There has been Scrabble. Which I lost. There have been "Woo"s, and there have been "Hoo"s.There has been Excitement. There has been Adventure. There have been Really Wild Things.

So please join me in wishing a Jolly Spiffing Birthday to the Beamish Boy, 'cause if anyone deserves one, he does :)

He has also added a dedicated blog to his business website, which is wittily called Cat Blog Sine Theta. There's only one entry at the moment, but he's going to use it to break updates on the business as well as comments on the design process itself.

And finally, more news of Tigger. I overheard two of my neighbours discussing him recently. He was sat looking out of the window, and they were stood just outside it. I don't think they knew I was there, so I couldn't suddenly pop up and join in, but I was delighted to hear what they said:
"She's a bonny little cat, isn't she?"

"Oh yes. Very friendly, too."

"I mean, I'm calling her 'she'; I don't know whether she is. All cats look female, don't they?"

"She sometimes comes and lies on my sofa, you know. People must think I'm mad when they see me in the kitchen talking away to no one, but I'm talking to the cat. She's very good company."
I shan't worry so much, now, when he doesn't fancy his supper; I shall assume he's eaten with one of his friends :)

Tigger says, "You can never have too many friends. Especially if they have food..."


Sunday, June 03, 2007

My Name Is Not Mavis

The Beamish Boy and I are not generally big fans of Reality TV. "Real people" aren't half as entertaining as actors pretending to be real people. One of our exceptions, however, is The Apprentice UK.

Unusually, we haven't picked a favourite this season, and not just because The Badger didn't win last time. It's just that, this year, they all seem equally snide, bitchy, and generally useless as each other. I must say, though, that we would certainly not pick Katie under any circumstances.

Last week's task was to pick items to sell live on a home-shopping TV channel. Katie has a tendency to personalise her target market by giving them a name and personality traits. Thus she came out with this gem:
My imaginary consumer is Mavis. I assume it's a "Mavis" because I assume it's someone who's got a massive bust, who knits a lot, who's got bugger all going on in their lives, and spend their entire time watching the TV just for some sort of companionship. I might be over representing the "saddo" bit, but I think that's what we need to be doing; we need to be talking and selling to Mavis.
I have one thing to say to this over-made-up, dark-rooted, smug suit:

Things can change in the blink of an eye, and your health is much less set in stone than you may think. I came home one night (in my business suit and high heels), ran up the stairs, slid down the wall at the top, and have barely been able to leave my bed since.

You may think I don't have much going on in my life, but I bet it's a damn sight more fulfilling than yours. I don't have to spend my time stabbing other people in the back, slapping on a fake smile, and generally working myself into an ulcer and an early grave. I can be me. I can have real friends. OK, so I've lost a few since I became ill, but I know that the ones that are left are true friends.

Knitting gives me not only mental and physical exercise, but a boost to my self-esteem every time one of my patterns is published. Also it is the means by which I have met some of the most fascinating and genuine people in my life.

So don't you dare look down on people like me. If I had the choice, I still wouldn't be you - with or without a job with Sir Alan Sugar.


Tigger says, "Let me see that manicured hand..."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hippo Birdy To Me

Well, you can tell how much I enjoyed my birthday (10th May) by the amount of time it's taken me to recover enough to blog about it!

Last year I instituted the Three Day Birthday (partly because I wanted to open a present on the 9th). This year I went for broke and had a Four Day Birthday. I had most of my cards and presents on the 10th, as expected, but I also had some arrive on the 11th and 12th.

On the 13th, we had tickets to go to the theatre in Durham to see Tony Robinson's one-man show. I was really looking forward to this, although I hadn't been out of the house since October (in fact this was one of the reasons I was looking forward to it). All of the preparations went off without a hitch; taxi turned up on time, carer came in plenty of time to get me dressed, etc. The problem came when I hauled myself out of the door and into my wheelchair, where I promptly had a 15 minute panic attack. [Ed: In the rain.]

Still, once they loaded me onto the taxi, and I got there, I had a really good time. Tony Robinson performed both halves himself, with the aid of a screen behind him for showing photographs and bits of film. It was more or less about his life as an actor, but also explained his lifelong interest in championing the ordinary people in history.

The first part of the second half was a question and answer section, and included him getting some poor unsuspecting chap called Walker up on stage to act out the job his ancestors would have done. This originally involved stomping in a tub full of wool, fullers earth, and urine for many hours a day in order to felt the material. Aren't you grateful for washing machines and old pairs of jeans?

We also got a chance to speak to him at the end. There are benefits to being in a wheelchair, and queue-jumping is one of them :) I have to come in and out through the stage door in order for the taxi to pull up next to the building, so the Stage Manager always comes to find me at the end of the night to let us through the keycode doors. I used this information to persuade the lady who was looking after Tony and his book signees, to let me sneak in ahead of the next person in the queue. He was very sweet, and was delighted to hear that I remember seeing him in 1977 in Chichester Festival Theatre, playing a character called Everypeasant, who was not too dissimilar to Baldrick!

I did really well for presents this year, too. I got:
  • 7 books, including "The Friday Night Knitting Club" and "The Knitting Answer Book".
  • A gizmo for holding my book open while I'm reading it.
  • A couple of bookmarks. (Are we sensing a theme here?)
  • A very pretty silver necklace that I wore on my night out.
  • A huge gingerbread-scented candle.
  • Flowers
  • Chocolate
  • Belgian chocolate cakes.
  • And three (count 'em: three) Pulp CDs from Richard because he is wonderful and knows how to read my Amazon wishlist; although he did wrap each CD in paper, then cling-film, then two together in paper then cling-film, then the three together in paper then cling-film, then a padded envelope, but he wouldn't be him if he wasn't daft...
Admittedly it's taken me two weeks to get over it, but it was all very enjoyable, and I think I'll have another one next year...


Tigger says, "It's my birthday soon. Don't forget it's my birthday soon. My Birthday. It's soon."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

On The Up

I've had two pieces of good news since last I blogged. The first is that I have had two designs accepted by Knit Today. Yay! Go me! I'm just waiting for the editor to finalise my contract, and then I'll just be waiting for the yarn to turn up. No idea, yet, when they're going to be published, but watch this space.

The second piece of good news is related to that, in a way. The reason that it's taken so long for me to produce the item I'm working on at the moment for Simply Knitting is that I've felt like my O2 levels have been off for several months, and that therefore I haven't been able to concentrate properly. I can't tell you how many times I've had to check and recheck the Hard Sums on the pattern, not to mention having to frog and reknit. I've also been unable to read anything with a narrative. Knitting magazines and books have been OK, because they are a collection of short pieces, but if you'd asked me to keep track of a story and its characters...

Richard and I tested the oxygen flow from my concentrating machine, following his initial suggestion that maybe I wasn't getting enough (mind you, that's been my problem for years...), and turned it up a notch. This helped a bit, but I still asked for a visit from one of the hospital's Respiratory Nurses. I was still expecting them to tell me that there was insufficient oxygen in my bloodstream, but I tested at 95%, which is pretty good for me.

We had a long chat about my fuzzy head (which is also part of the ME, of course) and my breathing difficulties, and eventually she suggested upping the dose of my fluid retention tablets, because extra fluid generally makes it harder for my lungs to expand, and big puffy legs don't help mobility, either.

"Um... I kind of stopped taking them."

She was baffled. "Why on earth would you do something like that!?"

If I'd been standing up, I would have shuffled my feet. "Well, I felt like they were irritating my kidneys. And they made me wee a lot."

"Yes, that's the point of them. If they're reducing the fluid, it has to go somewhere. Now, are you going to start taking them again?"


"And you won't stop taking them?"


"And I'll phone you next week and see how you've improved."

"'nk oo."

She packed up her stuff and left, and I rooted about in the drawer to find my fluid retention tablets...

Well, suffice it to say that when she phoned the following Monday, I had read a novel-and-a-half and zoomed ahead on my knitting. So much for my self medication; I think I ought to leave it to the doctors in future!

(One of the novels was Ark Baby by Liz Jensen, which is incredibly funny and very cleverly written, all about the theory of evolution and the Missing Link. I recommend it unreservedly.)

So I'm now in the pleasant position of having work coming in and knowing that my brain is up to doing it. And I'm being much more diligent over my medication...

Tigger says, "Nurse? What nurse? Oh, you mean that nice lady that came to make a fuss of me?"


Thursday, April 12, 2007


Well, the big news of the month is the launch of the Beamish Boy's official web design business. He's been designing websites for himself and other people as a hobby since he was about 15, and now he's doing it as a professional. He's working on a great retail site for me at the moment. If you would like to see his business website, you'll find it at Feel free to tell your friends :)

The biggest trauma of the past couple of weeks has been taking Tigger to the V-E-T. He needed a little light pedicure as well as his booster shots. He took the needle in the neck like an absolute trouper, but he complained bitterly about the Vet touching his paws! He has a unique method of protest about car journeys, too. Rather than howling, weeing himself, or trying to get out of the box - which are the methods all my past cats have used - he sits in his box, quietly and regularly uttering a pitiful "mau" (to rhyme with "cow"); somewhat reminiscent of a metronome... if metronomes went "mau"...

Once he came home he behaved as any sensible cat would do, and lay about the place pretending to be at Death's door, while ignoring that heartless human who made him go through the ghastly process in the first place: me. Yes, folks, even though it was Richard who took him to the Vet, it was me he ignored for the next 24 hours...

Oh, and I've had a reply from Rowan, who say they don't have any vacancies for designers at the moment, but that they'll keep my details on file for when they do. In the mean time, I'm sending more submissions off to Vogue Knitting and the Interweave group.


Tigger says, "Vets? We don't need no steenkin' vets!"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This thing is bigger than both of us...

How did it get to be so long since my last entry? What with the Beamish Boy going off to see his mates from Uni, and my laptop dying, I was aware that it had been a while - but I really didn't think it had been 5 weeks.

I've been thinking a lot about the role of the designer in knitting patterns recently. There have been a couple of conversations on knitting lists which have sparked this off. In one, I was told that I wasn't a professional designer. After I had explained, very clearly and in words of one syllable, just why I am a professional designer, I came to understand that what she meant by 'professional' was "well known, and with books to your name." Well, I have to accept that I will never be the kind of designer who runs workshops at knitting shows - because I can't travel to them. But I have been thinking about a printed collection of patterns.

Back in the days when I wrote fiction and poetry, I knew exactly how to approach a publisher (synopsis, sample chapter, all double-spaced, and neatly printed on A4) - but I'm not altogether sure of the etiquette to be followed when submitting an idea for a knitting book. Obviously most of it will be the same - but instead of a sample chapter, do I send a sample hat? Anyway, it's something I'm looking into, and I will report back on my progress.

The next conversation was about knitting for designers. Broadly speaking, it seems that fashion designers are likely to provide a sketch of the finished item and expect knitters to work out the actual pattern and knit it up. (Just like the seamstresses at, for example, Chanel - did anyone else see that excellent series on BBC 4 which went behind the scenes at Chanel? It was quite fascinating, but I have to say that Karl Lagerfeld is really weird...)

This seems very unfair to me. I understand that the important part of being a designer is having the ideas in the first place, but surely the best ideas come from understanding the way items are created and put together in the actual materials you are going to use? I don't think it's right that someone who has done so much work on an item isn't given any credit. Similarly, I think it's disgraceful that individual designers and/or knitters are not credited in the individual patterns that yarn companies sell.

I can understand why designers, however good a knitter they may be, use other people to knit their designs up and it's something I may have to start considering for myself. You see, when you are a designer, everybody always asks you where you get your ideas from. Nobody ever asks you how many of the damn things attack you at once. I don't know what it's like for other designers but, as soon as I pick up my needles, my brain is off thinking up all kinds of other useful and inventive ways to use the yarns that are sitting around my room. Even if I were in the best of health, I would never be able to knit up all of my designs, so I'm starting to see an additional appeal in working with magazines like Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits, where you supply the pattern and it is knitted up for you. I can't see how I will ever put all of my ideas into practice without farming them out to other knitters - especially if I am going to produce a collection in book form.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not giving up knitting altogether; I love knitting up my own designs. In fact, quite often, the designs evolve as I'm creating them. But I think that I have enough work with British knitting magazines and private commissions to keep my needles clicking for a good while yet. It's just that I know, if I want to see more than a quarter of my designs knitted up, that I have to admit that I need other people to help me do so.

Anyway, those are my thoughts at the moment. I haven't even got so far as considering how I will choose my knitters, or how much they will be paid. But you can be sure of one thing: they will be given credit for doing the work!


Tigger says, "You will still have time to cuddle me, Mum, won't you?"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night...

Although, to be fair, night is always dark and it isn't especially stormy out there. We have, however, had blizzarding snow all day. Not much of it has actually settled, although the hill above the village is uniformly white. It is odd that it's the South and South East that seem to get all the snow these days, while we in the North get very little. It's a complete turn-around from when I was growing up in the South. Perhaps that's the key: snow avoids me. I ought to hire myself out to places which want to have little snow during the winter.

The first plus-size garment is now with the Editor of Simply Knitting, and she loves it. It took me almost a week to write up the pattern, because I hadn't realised quite how much Christmas had taken out of me. Mental activity is just as draining as physical, and I know this, but somehow it always manages to take me by surprise. That's one of the reasons it's been a while since I blogged; that, and the fact my faithful amanuensis has been on a pointless course [Ed: It's the Gateway to Work course the Job Centre sends you on after you've been signing on for about 6 months. It's a two-week break in job-hunting (during which you still have to fit in job-hunting) to tell you how to hunt for jobs. They tell you how to write a CV, analyse job adverts, and write formal letters - all of which I already know how to do; so it was a complete waste of time for me...]

I've finally had my designs returned from Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits. Both were accompanied by letters which were full of praise for my work, and asking me to submit more designs, which is a step up from the very first letter I got from VK - "Thanks, but no thanks", in effect - so I'm not too disappointed. Back to the drawing board! [Ed: We have a drawing board?]

And finally, my thought for the day:
I've come to realize that the secret to a happy life is not looking like Barbie or Ken, and suffering through tofu and rice cakes to stay that way.

It's eating chocolate, staying fat, and explaining that you're really a perfect size - but you keep it covered with fat so it doesn't get scratched.
Tigger says, "Diets? We don't need no steenkin' diets!"


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Déjà Tricoté

Sorry for the gap in postings. Christmas has rather caught up with me. (Thanks to everyone for your comments, which kept me amused - and a special hello to nimblynaff in South Africa!) On the odd occasion lately that I felt like dictating, Richard wasn't here to type. And every time he was available to type, my brain took on the consistency of damp cotton wool, without even the possibility of cress seeds growing in it to give it a bit of life and vigour. (Do kids still do that at school, grow cress seeds on damp cotton wool? I remember doing that quite vividly. And growing broad beans against the side of a jar. Mind you, I remember dissecting a rat and a bull's eye as well, so it shows you how long ago I went to school...)

Anyway, I had a bit of a disaster last week. At least, I said it was a disaster - Richard insisted that, as it was fixable, it was more of a hiccup. "A disaster," he said, "would be your yarn catching fire because you were knitting so fast." Phew, no chance of that, then.

It all happened because I thought that I could remember the pattern. I was supposed to do part of the row in garter stitch, and part of the row in a pattern stitch; it was roughly 80 sts in pattern and 60 sts in garter stitch, but in my cotton wool state this translated on my needles into 60 sts in pattern and 80 sts in garter stitch. And then, to compound the error, I increased one stitch on every row instead of on every other row.

I only noticed something was wrong when I came to cast off, held up the entire thing to look at it, and realised it was a shapeless mess. I nearly wept when I realised that it would all have to be unpicked.




I am not a one for making New Year's Resolutions, but I think my resolution for this year may be summed up thusly: Never Assume You Can Remember The Pattern, Even When You Have Written It Yourself...

(I did unpick it, and reknit it, and it worked fine the second time. Thank goodness knitting is forgiving!)

Tigger says, "Relax..."