The BIG Knit

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While it may be February I thought I would blog about resolutions. For most people I guess I am a month behind, but if you’re like me you begin a year with fantastic resolve and intentions and by the end of January they are shelved under an inch of dust, where you left last year’s lot too …

For me 2013 is going to be different, and Lent falls just at the right time. So I’m not going to talk about giving something up, but more about taking something up … the next 6 weeks give us a chance to get back on track, or just start anew. I spent a lot of 2012 discovering myself, and launching my business. This year I want to grow my business and generally not be so scared of things. I think as we grow up the things we used to do – or attempt as teenagers and children – become so much more problematic, and we become gripped by the fear of failure.

Having two small children, I would of course try to make sure that they don’t get hurt, but the reality is that we learn from our mistakes; and it is that which makes us in to the people we are. SO why as grown ups do we stop growing, making mistakes and learning?

Well I have decided that this year I am just going to bite my lip and go for it.

What is your new horizon for 2013?

What is your new horizon for 2013?

It’s all started with flying solo, literally on my own. This may not seem like such a big deal to most people, but I have been terrified of flying for a long time and while a trip to the US helped enormously, this time I’ve done the return leg of my travels without anyone I know.  I decided not to be overwhelmed and shrink away from this opportunity but to seize the day and enjoy life.  So I’ve been off to Barcelona. It was so exciting, knitting was stowed away and projects travelled with me.

As lovely as it was to jet off to foreign soil, what on earth did that have to do with my business? Well, what is it that you’ve been putting off? It might not be big, or important to anyone else, but it’s your nemesis, it’s your party pooper, and it’s your general pain in the neck that stops you doing and creating what you want.

I therefore encourage you to grab the bull by the horns and step out with faith that, even if you fail, you will learn something from your mistakes!

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Deck the Halls with Handmade Goodies

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alpaca christmas

Well we are finally into December and the tree is up and decorated. The advent calendars are packed full of chocolate for the kids, my Christmas cake is soaking in half a bottle of brandy and I even have cards and presents ready. All in all, I am rather proud of my preparations this year … I admit that it’s usually a bit of a mad rush. I love Christmas, in case that wasn’t already clear!

But this year I have something more pressing on my mind.

Bearwood Handmade 8.12.12

On Saturday 8th December I will join the hoards of handmade lovers and present my offerings to the general public at the Bearwood Handmade fair. This is the moment when I will discover whether people actually like the work I do. I am excited and nervous and worried I won’t be ready, and a whole mixture of emotions in between.

For the last few years The Crafty Muthas have developed a fantastic annual fair to allow local artisans to exhibit and share their wares. I have been fortunate to get to know these wonderful ladies and, to be honest, stand mostly in awe of the talents that will be on show. So I guess I’d better add that I’m a bit intimidated to the above list. Not that they would ever admit to this accolade but quite frankly they are amazing!!!

I think wool is a really personal thing, something to be touched, and loved. Given the right care it can last a life time, and I am not just talking about a cashmere sweater. Alpaca is one of the finest yarns around in my opinion, and so I have given it pride of place in my craft offerings this year. Toft Alpaca is one of the best places for me to go and indulge my Andean dreams, and I really love their desire to let the wool do the talking.

Alpaca wool is so versatile and when treated with love and care it will last as long as you do.  I have put together hats, snoods and scarves that will keep you warm on the coldest of nights, and yet its lightweight fibres won’t give you that hot aggravated feel when you step into the warmth.  I have truly fallen in love with the product and so there was only one thing for it – I had to have my own alpaca yarn.

Thankfully, SMC Select saw me coming and decided, as if by magic, to stock their own alpaca. This comes in all the colours of the rainbow and then some, all set to show off the 2013 trends to their best, and if I could sleep under the balls of wool I would be holed up in the box right now. I haven’t even got it all photographed yet and the sales are coming in.

So folks, if you want to know what all the alpaca hype is about you might want to check it out, as I have a suspicion I am not the only alpaca nut out there.

Oatmeal alpaca cable cowl

Getting ready for autumn

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With September just around the corner my mind has started to turn to autumn and winter.

To be honest, I have been thinking autumnal thoughts since about June. The amount of rain that has dumped itself all over Birmingham and the UK over the “summer” has left me feeling like a drowned and rather cold rat. I don’t do weather like this at all – give me a nice warm sunny climate any day of the week please. Unfortunately I live in the UK and so summer is not something we get very often. On the plus side my garden is looking marvellous with a lush, green lawn!

What on earth does my review of the British weather have to do with wool and knitting, you may ask! Well, now that Christmas is looking us squarely in the face – yes I said it, I used the C word before Halloween. But let’s be honest, when we hit September and all thoughts turn wintery, the shops are starting to stock the winter collections, gone are the t-shirts and in come the coats. If you are anything like me when I think winter I think scarves and hats, gloves, mittens, cosy jumpers, chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

So now is exactly the time to be planning your winter colours to match, contrast or stand out from the crowd (whatever takes your fancy). Plus with all the new big lapel open-neck coat collars we’ll be seeing this winter the only thing missing is a perfect scarf!

Cabaré is my ideal scarf knit from SMC Select; you can knit it as a chunky number or stretch out the fibres and construct a frilly piece. The warm earthy shades will go with everything you have in your autumn or winter wardrobe. Plus, if we actually get a warm autumn (don’t you just love global warming?!) the cotton fibres are light enough so you won’t feel overly hot and itchy.

View the book which features this patternThe other great thing about the Cabaré is that because you can create a frilly pattern you can also team it up with the SMC Select Violena and make something more robust or funky. This yarn is so unusual, that I dare say most of my loved ones will be receiving a Cabaré knitted piece this winter.

The other thing I am going to be making a lot of this autumn is socks! Yes they are the new in-thing, no longer scratchy and making you feel like you are wearing large pieces of sandpaper on your tootsies, but soft sumptuous fibres that keep you feeling fresh and warm all day and night.

Now strictly speaking Violena and its crazy mixed up sister, Violena Colori, are not sock yarns but the 50% Cotton and 50% modal make them perfect for winter warmers. The cotton gives you fresh breathable yarn while the modal helps give the wool a lustre and elasticity. As 4 ply wool it will knit or crochet into almost any design, and show your creative juices off to their full potential. Whether you are into your lace, cable or plain stocking stitch if you like making socks, you really have to try this Violena, and if you want a colour mix the Violena Colori.

So what are your knitting, crochet and handmade projects looking like over the autumn?

After all, this is the perfect time of year for dusting off the needles and making something for the ones you love, or just treating yourself to some time out and some creative, cosy wooliness.

Carpe Diem

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As a Classical Studies student, the phrase carpe diem was common-place in halls of residence and faculty corridors. But in the wider world it’s a rather overused little phrase that usually makes me roll my eyes. Why? Because do people really mean it? Usually not! It has become a little saying that seems to be a good excuse for ‘doing what I like’.

How many times have you heard people boasting about their latest conquests and triumphs, regardless of other’s feelings and thoughts? It’s often accompanied by the attempted justification: “Well, carpe diem, that’s what I say! You’ve got to seize the day.”

But what does it really mean? Well, that rather depends on whether you follow Ovid or Horace. Ovid stands by the ‘seize the day’  definition, but Horace is more a ‘pick or gather your moments’ kinda guy.

Personally, while I like the Ovidian poem from which it comes, I cannot help but hark back to my faculty days and take ars longa, vita brevis from Hippocrates – ‘art is long, life is short’ – instead. That’s completely true, and not likely to annoy me on the bus! For example, art can – and does – last more than a lifetime. I am not talking about fleeting-fancy-type-art, but beautifully worked pieces that ignite inspiration for people down the spirals of time.

Now, you are probably asking why I’m giving you a Greek and Latin literature essay. No, it’s not because I think it’s a much underrated subject, which I do. Nor because my old uni nearly got rid of my beloved faculty (it lives on, thanks in part to Boris). But because in this quest of self-employment both statements are true for me.

I need to apply a bit of carpe diem (I write this with slightly gritted teeth) but also mindful of ars longa, vita brevis. What I am doing should last a lifetime and gives others the chance to create their own pieces of art. After all, anything created by hand is a form of art.

So, Rachel – and you – carpe diem!

“Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgement difficult.” (Hippocrates, 460-377BC)

Time

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What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(Leisure, by W H Davies)

I don’t know why, but these first few words of Davies’ well known poem have been stuck in my head recently. Maybe it’s trying to launch a business, while working part-time and having a home, husband, two small children, school, nursery, church … The list of things to think or worry about IS endless, or maybe it’s the fact we are already into May and I swear yesterday was Christmas Day!

People say “time flies when you’re having fun”. But quite frankly, time flies. Period. Seemingly there is never a moment to stop and think, let a lone stare at a tree!

I knew when I embarked on this idea of owning a business that ultimately my time to stand and stare would be greatly compromised. My knitting and crafting time has become business time. No longer can I indulge in nights of knitting and TV, but instead you will find me in my office with laptop on, working on websites, accounts, or stock.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not in the least bit upset by this! I like the fact that I am actually going to do this website thing, but I do worry in all the busyness that I may lose something along the way.

We are blessed with a Botanical Gardens here in Birmingham, where I used to spend countless hours on a regular basis. Now, I am lucky if I make it there once a month. I grew up in a place with a massive park and river right in the centre of town. Every day, going to college meant 20 minutes of being in nature – it was glorious! Now I live in a big city and I miss that chance to just breathe.

I am therefore setting a new year’s resolution, as seemingly the new year itself was actually at about 2am this morning! I am going to set time to actually breathe, whether it’s enjoying a stroll round the gardens or grabbing a coffee and going to an art exhibition, or just sitting and indulging in some knitting and TV.

Davies was very much right: “A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.”

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