red bobble knit bangle

Art, Entropy and a Bobble Knit Bangle

I may have mentioned this before…but I really don’t look forward to winter.

I turn the clocks back with a heavy hand, and heart, making mental calculations of how many weeks until spring.

Yes, I know that Autumn can be a beautiful season, and there is much to celebrate with Michaelmas and Harvest Festivals, Halloween and Bonfire Night. But for me, especially this year, I inch towards November with a swarm of red admirals avoiding hibernation in the pit of my stomach as I watch Mother Nature slowly decay.

Melancholia, however, is not something I revel in and so today I am reminding myself that the darker months bring with them their own unique gifts.

During a recent walk around the Ted Ellis Nature Reserve at Wheatfen, on the Norfolk Broads I was greeted by thousands of bright and cheery little beacons of colour in the hedgerows, undergrowth and trees. Nature was bedecked in her most brilliant, yet transient, jewellery and her ebony and ruby red beads shone in the October sun.

Wheatfen 2


Wheatfen 4

Her seasonal decorations will leave no trace; they are biodegradable, environmentally friendly and carry the seeds of a new generation. They cost nothing, are labour free and won’t be exhumed from a landfill site in 1000 years from now.

I love my craft and the community of makers I feel a part of – but I make no apologies for not feeling the urge to yarn bomb a tree, or decorate a hedgerow with knit graffiti.

I can’t help it – I am hot-wired with the Modernist Manifesto. Beauty in Function and Ornament is Crime are carved into my heart and, for me, the natural process of entropy, brings with it its own poetic, unadorned, beauty.

I know a place where nature and art encounter each other perfectly, and it’s in the work of Anja Gallaccio.

A carpet of 10,000 decaying roses; 2,000 gerberas gradually decomposing and trees strung with apples shamelessly performing their entropic autobiographies.

red on green

Image creditgallaccio 3Image credit 
gallaccio 2Image credit

This is the work that stops me in my tracks. This is what reminds me that life is short, time is precious, nature is beautiful…..and art is profound.

So I’m going to stop looking at the clock, drag my eyes away from my naval, and look again at the big picture……

Wheatfen Broad

I’m feeling inspired. Now where’s that lovely red wool?

red wool

I’m going to make a bobble knit bangle just as soon as I’ve climbed off my soap box.

red bobble knit bangle


Look out for Issue 25 of The Mercerie Post – I’ll include the pattern for the bangle…’s super simple!

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CAL Shawl project

The Folklore Shawl CAL

I’m so excited!!

I’m going to be running The Mercerie’s very first CAL project in 2016 – and it’s going to be our gorgeous Folklore Shawl. WAHAY!!

It will be launching in the new year as a series of 4 crochet patterns that I will email directly to you over a period of 6 weeks.

Worked in our own gorgeous DK merino yarn this shawl has two very different colour ways to choose from and we will be selling yarn bundles for each colour option  in our online shop very soon.

I’ll be posting further details on how you can sign up, so come back soon or sign up to our newsletter and I’ll tell you all about it…..


Folklore Shawl CALCrochet Shawl CAL


Folklore Shawl CAL

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yellow flowers

Crochet, Penelope and the Art of Unmaking

Close your eyes and imagine the joy of seeing a new design emerge, and that buzz of excitement when it’s finally complete, and it is more beautiful than the picture you’ve held in your mind for so long.

This is what drives me to start a new project; this is my addiction. I am a #crochetaddict.

Penelope and UnmakingPenelope and Unmaking

But recently I’ve been struggling with conclusions. I’ve been working on a new crochet project, and I’m very excited about it; except I’ve been working on it since January and it’s very resistant to completion.

I must have made, and unmade, this design half a dozen times now. Each time there’s something not quite right. The flowers don’t lay as they should, the shape is all wrong, and that shape’s wrong too. It’s not big enough, it’s too big, it’s too dense, it’s too lacy……

unmaking the purple crochet flowersunmaking the yellow crochet flowers

With each design scenario I find a reason to undo it. I spend hours taking back days of work. Evenings are spent undoing and redoing; unmaking and remaking; destroying and mending; brutalising and healing.

I am Penelope, the archetypal dutiful wife who for 3 years spent her days weaving and her nights un-weaving in a cycle of procrastination. My own making and unmaking has suspended time by a thread and it is still resisting conclusion.

Penelope weaving and unweavingPenelope image credit

There is order in finished work. A completed textile is a product, an object with a role to play, a position in the order of things. It can be owned and measured, valued and devalued.

But I know that there is also meaning in the act of making. I became aware of this when I wrote about The Happy Blanket. But that was different, the process of making was linear. It did what it was told. It behaved itself, and in the end it looked lovely. (and it still makes me smile)

But what about the cycle of making and unmaking? Where is the truth and meaning in that process?

I don’t know.

Perhaps there isn’t one.

Perhaps it is just mindless making afterall.

But I do know that this period of unmaking has been about something other than the finished (text)ile. It’s not about the text, it has been about the conversation. And it was a difficult subject.

The threads of this particular conversation are long  – but soon it must reach a conclusion. I want this design to be finished in time for Yarndale.crochet design

There. I’ve said it.

So I’d better get on with it.



If you’re visiting Yarndale this year please do come and say hello, I’d love to meet you.

And if you’d like to learn to crochet – or develop your existing skills, I run classes to suit every level at Norfolk Yarn in Norwich.

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crochet flowers

Crochet Flowers for Memories

I am getting increasingly excited about Yarndale this year, and one of the things I am most looking forward to is seeing the display of knitted and crocheted Flowers for Memories. Just as the mandalas did last year, these flowers are going to be breath taking, and given their significance – extremely moving.

The crafting community need little excuse to pull together and charities can be a powerful mobilising force. I was reminded of this last year when I saw The Knitted Flower Pergola and more recently the Craftivist Collective have introduced a #wellMaking Craftivists Garden.

It seems that the convention of floral tributes has been embraced by crafters and makers all over the world; those generous people who give their time, skills and resources to all kinds of good causes.

I wanted to contribute to the Yarndale project again this year, but also wanted to draw people together to work collectively on this. Making is always more fun with other people – and cake!

Rebecca at Norfolk Yarn very kindly offered to host a workshop, so yesterday I met with some lovely, generous women and we worked together on our collection of crochet Flowers for Memories.

We were gathered for all kinds of reasons and we all managed to finish at least one or two flowers. As we worked our conversation ebbed and flowed as some of us remembered our own family members who had lived with dementia

How many of the flowers made for this community project represent real people loved and lost? Perhaps they are all ‘forget-me-nots’ in their own way.

Thank you to everyone that came to the workshop, I loved meeting you all and I will be forwarding your work to Lucy at Yarndale – perhaps if you visit you’ll be able to spot your work…….

Crochet Flower Workshop

Crochet Flower Detail

flowers for Memories

If you’d like to brush up on your crochet skills or simply learn the basics, we’ve got a whole programme of classes at Norfolk Yarn this Autumn, and we’d love you to join us!

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From Movie Star Planet Back Down to Earth

Help! I think my daughter has been abducted by aliens!

What 21st century parent isn’t wearily familiar with the addictive nature of online games for children?

Having finally come to terms with a family members minecraft addiction, another seems to be rearing it’s ugly head. It has huge purple hair, empty black eyes and appears to have an arrow impaled in its head.

This monstrous character is an alien from Movie Star Planet; a truely scary environment. Inhabitants of the planet appear to have had their brains sucked out and they wander about aimlessly spouting mindless banalities to anyone they come across.

Direct action is required.

“This is Earth calling. You are under threat of alien abduction. Please make your way to the dining area for your own safety…….NOW!!!”

I wait for the slap of the laptop closing and observe the entry of a young female with attitude. She rolls her eyes slowly, swishes her high pony tail and makes an exaggerated gesture. (which she hasn’t quite perfected so it looks alarmingly like a nervous twitch)

Let the battle commence.

Here are my 5 suggested activities designed specifically for combating and alleviating the negative effects of Movie Star Planet on 10 year old girls.

  1. Make a Dream Catcher.

Introduce this activity with an age appropriate conversation about cultural appropriation.

Making Dream Catchers

  1. Make Some Felties

Introduce this with an age appropriate conversation about animal welfare, conservation, Cecil the Lion and the infantilising effects of adults in onsies.

Making Felties

  1. Arrange a Collection of Rocks, Stones, Pebbles or Crystals

Introduce this activity with an age appropriate contextual conversation about the work of Andy Goldsworthy. (eg. Is it Art? Yes it is.)

arranging crystals

Goldsworthy image credit

  1. Make a Tent Outside.

Introduce this activity with an age appropriate conversation about temporary dwellings, refugee camps and homelessness. (try not to make her cry)

home made tent

Refugee image credit

  1. Bake Some Gingerbread Men

Introduce this activity with an argument about who’s going to tidy up all the mess.

baking ginger bread men


Any of these activities should help re-ground and acclimatise your child. Normal speech patterns should return, eye rolling should cease and general intelligence and well being should be restored

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crochet shawl

Crochet Shawls, Strangers and other Norwich Stuff

If you head north east out of London for about a hundred miles, just before you get to the North Sea, you’ll find Norwich; a fine city. Once an impenetrable gated community, Norwich is now circumnavigated by the ring road and the crumbling remains of a city wall.

Like many people, my historical knowledge of the place where I live is sketchy, anecdotal and riddled with holes and questionable facts. 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) 52 churches (one for every week) rivers running red like blood (the madder dyes) and a cockerel as big as a donkey (on the top of the cathedral spire – according to my grandmother)

In geographical terms, Norwich is rather off the beaten track but it is possible to trace a route through history to a time when it was a city second only to London and a thriving textile hub.

Knowledge and evidence of our grand textile history has become rather threadbare over the years but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and I wonder how many of my ancestors might have spent long hours weaving in their dimly lit garrets, or suffered the dire consequences of working with toxic mordants in the dye houses of sixteenth century Norwich.

I wonder how they might have viewed the new community of ‘strangers’ –  the highly skilled Dutch and Flemish weavers invited into the city to mobilise and modernise the city’s ailing textile industry, and to escape religious persecution.

Like all new immigrant communities The Strangers brought with them many things that impacted on the City. The Flemish brought with them their pet canaries (canary breeding became so popular in Norwich we named our football team after them) and even the Norwich dialect is said to have been influenced by this community, who at one time made up almost one third of the city.

The greatest impact, perhaps, was made on our textile output. They introduced revolutionary technical changes, mixed fibres and improved finishing processes.

The Norwich dyers were also prized for the quality of their bright, clean, colourfast dyes. Red dyes were particularly prized and one red dye became known as ‘Norwich red’ produced from the madder plant which was grown locally and later important from Turkey.

The new fabrics were lighter, silkier and had strange names like camblet, Say,Tammy, Callimanco, mockadoes, Fustian of Naples, Bombasine, stamin, serg, and dornix. Collectively they became known as Norwich Stuffs.

As the fabrics became more delicate, like the fashionable ones on the Continent,  the need for a big warm shawl increased and Norwich was to become hugely important in the production of the very fashionable ‘Norwich Shawl’. Not to be confused with the Paisley Shawl – no really – don’t EVER make that mistake. I did once – and was told off very severely by a textile historian. Paisley is in Scotland. Norwich is in England. You see – they are different!!

Shawls were manufactured in Norwich from the 1780’s but by the mid 19th century Norwich was producing some of the most exquisite, and expensive shawls in the world – inspired by the beautiful textiles imported from Kashmir

Norwich Textiles


Much of the history of Norwich is wrapped up in a beautiful wool shawl and I’m very pleased to see shawls, wraps and oversized scarves return to the contemporary fashion scene.

Shawls make the perfect knitting or crochet project if you’re one of those people who can never quite get the fit of a jumper right, or if you’re rather too impatient to work a third tension square….shawls always fit!

I recently added The Bohemian Shawl to my collection of crochet patterns and it takes more than a hint of inspiration from the textile history of Norwich.

Bohemian crochet shawl

I may wear it one evening soon and take a walk through the city, past Strangers Hall, the Maddermarket Theatre, The Woolpack, The Dyers Arms, Canary Way, and, finally, down Weavers Lane, and  think about the rich history of this very fine city.

I shall also be running a three part crochet masterclass in Norwich this Autumn where you can make your own version of this gorgeous shawl. We will cover a huge range of stitches and techniques and you can choose your own colours from a range of Debbie Bliss yarns at Norfolk Yarn wool shop.

crochet shawl design

Crochet shawl

Crochet Shawl Bobble Trim

Full details can be found here

Oh – and I’m going to include the instructions on how to work the lovely pom pom trim in the next issue of The Mercerie Post!

You can register here.

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colour workshop

Colour Stories and Chromatophobia

Do you suffer with Chromatophobia?

What’s your relationship with colour like?

Are you slightly afraid of it; not really sure how to approach it in case you do, or say, the wrong thing?

Or are you living a comfortably safe existence? Is it habitual, something that you don’t really think about until you realise that almost everything you own or wear is grey? maybe you’re worried you’re just a little bit too passionate; a ‘more is more’ approach, hiding your true colours under a layer of rainbow brights and deafening your friends with your extremely loud colours.

Perhaps your love of colour just needs rekindling; a little poke here and there to check that it’s still alight.

Colour is a subject/concept that fascinates me on every level. It’s a triple science subject; biology, chemistry, and physics. It’s metaphysics. It’s natural, manufactured and available in every shape and form. It’s animal, vegetable, mineral and every conceivable hybrid in between.

It’s a reflection, a memory and a trace with the power to ignite associations and flash backs.

It’s on trend, off colour, retro and ‘the new black’. It’s classified, organised, registered and theorised.

It’s all an illusion, it’s smoke and mirrors playing with our perceptions and confusing our senses.

Joseph Albers spent a lifetime exploring the Interaction of Colour and his work is a visual reminder that nothing is fixed; perception is all about context. Just like people, colours adjust their behaviour according to who they are sitting next to, or talking to.

Consider #thedress and the media facination with how and why its colour apparantly appears different to different people and in different environments.

This is all beginning to feel like a heavy load, there are rules, authorities, the fashion police and queues of ‘other people’ just waiting for us to make a ‘colour faux pas’ so it’s easier just to stick to a nice pink and purple combination because that always works – doesn’t it???

Well maybe it’s time to lighten up a little and see colour as an exciting new plaything. It’s there to be enjoyed, not feared.

So let’s play a game…it’s called Colour Associations and anyone can join in – in  fact the more the merrier. It works better with friends. And wine.

Think of a colour then simply list everything you associate with that colour. It might be food, an emotion, a landscape, a smell, a piece of clothing, a favourite auntie…..that’s it. You could also say wherther you like a particular shade of that colour –.

I’ll get the ball rolling…..(it’s a big red bouncy ball BTW)


Lipstick, blood, apples, tomatoes, anger, passion, bull fighters, nail varnish, Red Army, Red Cross, Red Tent, red shoes, red knickers, FIRE! STOP!

Phodophobia; is a fear of the colour red.

Red Collage



Get ready to go; marmalade, ginger hair, life bouys, ginger toms, guantanamo detainees, Tango (drink not the dance) sunsets, fake tan, nicotine stained fingers…..not sure I like the way this one’s going…..

Chrysophobia is a fear of the colour orange.

October is Orange


Sunshine, yellow ribbons, submarines, *smiley face, smiley face, sad face*, custard, egg yokes, baby chicks, scaredy cat…. jaundice…er, lets stop there.

Xanthophobia is a fear of the colour yellow.

yellow collage


GO! My favourite colour (as everyone under the age of 10 knows – you MUST have a favourite colour by which you will be judged) chlorophyll, new shoots, eco warriors, naive, green tea, jealousy, sea sick, green cross code, my favourite charity shop cardigan that I literally loved to pieces and couldn’t bear to get rid of, pool tables, the green green grass of home, Greensleeves, the dress they always put the red head in…..

Chlorophobia is a fear of the colour green

green collage


Steady now… loyalty, precaution, my horrible school uniform, any uniform, big sky, oceans, blue moon, blue movies, big blue eyes, forget-me-nots, the blues, baby blues, black and blue, flashing lights and sirens, another uniform….ello, ello, ello….what’s gong on here then??

Cyanophobia is a fear of the colour blue

blue collage


The Colour Purple, velvet Jackets from the 1960’s and 70’s, purple hearts, parma violets, purple haze, purple rain, the Biba lipstick I bought in Top Shop in 1979, my childhood bedroom, royalty, Victoriana, mystics, lavender, residential homes for elderly people.

Porphyrophobia is a fear of the colour purple. (I think I may be borderline)

purple collage


Sherbet, Brighton rock, fluffy mohair jumper (mine in 1982) ballerina’s, pink ribbons, in the pink…..OK. I’m bored with pink.

And I can’t find a word for the fear of pink. Does that mean it’s the least scary colour??

pink collage

You get the picture?

The next part of the game is to get your paints out and paint as many different variations as you can of each colour – that’s possibly a step too far for most of you, but I thoroughly recommend a ‘hands on’ appraoch when it comes to playing with colour.

If you’d like to have a go at mixing colours, and creating beautiful and inspiring colour combinations I’m running a 2 part Master Class in Norwich starting on June 3rd. You can find all the details here.

But if you can’t join us, just gather a few friends round, open a bottle of wine (after arguing about what colour it should be) and share your colour stories.

I’m sure you’ll all enjoy hearing each others personal anecdotes about why they can’t stand bottle green, lemon yellow or candy pink.

Such fun!

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The Journey of Creation

Today I’m delighted to host a guest blog post by The Mercerie’s brilliant lifestyle photographer Boo Marshall;

Ive watched the creation of The Mercerie grow from the seed of an idea to a successful and vibrant creative company. As someone who has been lucky enough to be asked to photograph the major seasonal collections, Ive been there, witnessing the birth of a design idea –  something simple like colour choices wound round card, or some crochet motifs still on the hook, or a half knitted bag. Then later, much later, I see the finished samples, and I gasp – every time –  with delight.

Lifestyle Shoot

 For those of us who love wool, who adore colour and whose fingers have a physical yearning to make, The Merceries designer, Sue, has managed to meet and satisfy our creative needs. The need within us to create is almost as strong as the need to breathe. Who has not whipped open their new package to reveal their choice of wools and colour palatte and not sighed with happiness? Although the process of creation can be fraught with anxiety, or frustration, the satisfaction of completion makes us forgot those moments of frogging or the doubt that appeared in the night over our choice of colour. Rather like the birth of a new baby, the arrival of our completed project is worth every day of angst, sickness or even pain.

 But the final result doesnt just delight because it is complete; rather, it invites you to continue your journey –  because during this one, you may have learnt a new technique, or perfected an old one, or because you want to try it again with different colours. And that I think is the key to successful design –  that it pushes you on, again, into a new part of a continuing journey.

 Last year, engrossed with the art of creating, I set up a new business with a fellow photographer, Jo. Both of us had experienced purposeful creation of aspects of ourselves, our personal and our business lives –  and decided to share our experiences in Create The Moment. We recognised that within a vast majority of women, we shared a feeling that wed lost control of aspects of our lives, even of our characters –  in our ability to make choices and to decide what we wanted and how we wanted to live in our futures.

 After running workshops, we adapted our ideas into an online 6 week course, showing how it is possible to return to your past to choose what you want to stay, and how to use the amazing strength we all have, to choose our future.

Create the Moment

 Having spent weeks writing and editing the course documents, I suddenly saw how the process it invites you to go through, is similar to the process of creating. It has all the initial excitement that is familiar in the new start of any creative project. There are many, many moments in it that will bring you close to tears –  but throughout it, there is always hope – and finally, the end promises not just completion –  but a brand new start. And therein lies the real comparison to creating –  that an end is just another start, to a phase in another journey.

 Readers and newsletter subscribers of The Mercerie have a special code allowing them 20% off the full price of the Create Your Vision online course. Use code Mercerie20 when you book using this link. Next course starts 1st June 2016.


Boo Marshall is a photographer and film maker. (Eliza Boo Photography and Dynamic Dog Productions). She is also co founder of Create The Moment with Johanna Garlike, photographer at Summer Love Photography.


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Eos Godess of Dawn

EOS, Easter and a New Dawn.

As Easter approaches and the green shoots of spring finally appear I can, at last, welcome the season of renewal and rebirth.

I love the anticipation of this time of year with it’s promise of warmer months and longer days, and I’m fascinated by its spiritual mix of Christianity, paganism and ancient Germanic Goddesses.

Eostre may well be a modern myth whose roots go no further than new age paganism, but she still has a presence in our Easter mythology; one that seamlessly combines rabbits, chocolate eggs, tricksters, fertility festivals, parades, bonnets, the crucifixion, the resurrection and  glorious new dawns.

Whilst Eostre and Ostara may be little more than the goddesses of romantic conjecture, this month I have been reminded of the Titan goddesses Eos; the goddess of dawn and the female spirit that dissolves darkness under a shower of light.

Eos rises from the river each morning in her golden chariot drawn by winged horses, and with her rosy fingers she opens the gates of heaven so that the sun may rise and disperse the mists of night.

Eos enables the light to come streaming through and she accompanies the sun, Helios as he travels across the heavens. The Titan goddess signifies beautiful new beginnings and recently I was reminded that every day begins with a glorious dawn and ends with the promise of resurrection.

EOS Programme

This month I finally committed to the Eos programme, a course of self discovery and personal regeneration, and I think I’m beginning to see some light –  over there on the horizon.

Eos is a 2 part programme for women designed to reframe your thinking, kick your negative thought habits, and move forward towards a brighter, more fulfilled future. It is intense, liberating and empowering and after just one day I felt like I’d finally got a handle on my internal dimmer switch and could begin turning the lights up.

It’s a straightforward programme and beautiful in its simplicity. Much of what is covered seems like common sense, but it’s alarming how blinkered we become, and how deafened by the noise in our heads that we are no longer able to listen to our own intuition, as we attempt to navigate our way through our complex modern  lives.

After just one day feel I have been given permission to take control of my life. No- one had taken it away from me – I’d just let go of the steering wheel.

EOS Programme 2

Jenny Eaton, who presented the session, is an engaging speaker whose knowledge, skills and serious intent are delivered with humour and empathy fusing psychology, philosophy and anecdotal evidence with a recurring theme of……. men’s pants.

Thank you for that visual metaphor Jenny!

We discussed the ways we think, how we measure our successes, personal responsibility and our own self image and as we shared stories and discussed scenarios and considered our values I think each of the 10 women in the room experienced a light bulb moment. Not the startling glare of a 100 watt flash light; more of a slow turn of the switch enabling us to gradually get used to the light that was starting to illuminate our thoughts.

It was a long day, and I felt exhausted, and rather emotional when I got home.

One week later, with time to reflect, I feel different. I feel calmer, lighter, empowered; my thoughts are clearer and I’m very much looking forward to Part Two.

Thank you Eos for opening the gates.

Happy Easter!

You can find full details on the Eos programme, seminars and 1-1 coaching here.

Image 1 (clockwise from left)

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4


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Crochet motifs 3

Crochet Motifs: Pattern and Repetition

I’ve been rather busy lately, working on some new designs and planning some new crochet workshops. Progress has been slow though, mainly hampered by my inability to stay on task and focus on the patterns I’m trying to develop.

I just can’t help it though! How is it possible to stay on task when you’re presented with a myriad of pattern possibilities?

One of the things I love about making little crochet motifs is that each one is a small, but perfectly formed (*cough*) object of beauty and completion. It’s very satisfying to finish something – however small it might be but if you can make one – you can make one hundred and then you have the potential to create something absolutely amazing!!

A single object can be nice, good, interesting, beautiful even. But multiply it by 10, 100, 1000 and then you have something extraordinary, fabulous and magnificent and I just can’t stop myself playing with these thoughts.

crochet motifs


Crochet motifs 2

Crochet motifs 3

As humans we naturally seek out pattern, repetition and order. There is something inherently satisfying in placing things in order, in sequence, in a pattern –  it is this simple, primal urge that prompts designers to play, explore and repeat a motif.

If you study decoration from any historical period, and any culture and you will find yourself in the repetitive realm of tessellations, mirrors, rotations, drops and half drops. And I can lose myself for far too long meditating with the rhythms of pattern repetition


islamic patterns


I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to explore these ideas in my own work, and how to answer the question I’m often presented with – ‘what can I do with all these crochet motifs; how can I join them together?”

So I’ve been working on trying to resolve this…and rather enjoying the results and the possibilities. (with a little help from photoshop!)

Joining Crochet Motifs

Joining Crochet Motifs 2

Why stop at ‘nice’? There’s power in numbers. Aim big, be ambitious, and make something amazing.

You just have to do the same thing again and again and again……

If you’d like to explore the possibilities of pattern repetition and discover exciting new ways to piece together your crochet motifs why not join us for a masterclass at Norfolk Yarn in Norwich on March 18th?

We’re also running a rather lovely flower class too…..

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Valentines Rose

Red Threads at the Wool Shop

It’s nearly Valentines day and once again I’ve been busy working on a themed window display for the Norwich Lanes Valentines window competition. Some of you may remember last years display – and this year I was thrilled to be asked to work with the fabulous wool shop Norfolk Yarn in Pottergate.

A stash of wool, some red thread, a spinning wheel, a few nails and a roll of rose print wallpaper all feature in this years display, and I’m very grateful to Rebecca at the shop for humouring my rather loose  interpretation of the Valentines theme!

Wool, string, or thread of some description was always going to be the essence of this work. It describes the shop and defines my self.

As a child of the 1970’s I was threading string around nails in a fashion that was eventually unravelled, rewound and reworked into the most beautiful and evocative artworks of contemporary artists such as Chiharu Shiota and Debbie Smyth.

String art

Image 1 Image 2

There is something very emotive about red thread. It features in many different cultures as a metaphor or signifier for emotional  ties and familial relationships.

The Red String of Fate is a myth with its roots in East Asia and the story goes that the gods tie a red string around the ankles, or the little fingers, of two people that are destined to meet and become soulmates. The magical cord may become stretched, or tangled over time, but it will never break.

The tug of an invisible thread reminds us of our connections to others; our heart strings are strummed, we’re bound by duty; it’s time to cut the apron strings; there’s no strings attached, it’s a long drawn-out affair, who’s pulling your strings? I can’t seem to string this sentence together….. String Art   String Art   String Art Crochet Valentine hearts pattern   I can’t finish this post without the promise of a little Valentines gift……….so if you rather like the look of the little crochet hearts in this display – I’ll give you the pattern in Issue 20 of The Mercerie Post!

You can Register here: The Mercerie Post Issue 20

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Vision Boards and Action Plans

Vision Boards and Action Plans

A new year and a 2015 diary present 365 blank pages to fill.

With every new year hopes and ambitions can be edited,  goals redrawn and new dreams imagined in a rose tinted landscape that signals the dawn of our future selves.

When the year was just a few days old I met with 6 lovely women from all walks of life to discuss our hopes and dreams for the coming year; to share our innermost thoughts – (and some rather fine pumpkin soup; thank you Caroline!) and to create our Vision Boards for 2015

Conversation and visualisation drew us together, and a mountain of magazines, some scissors and some glue, became the tools for constructing our new dreamscapes.

Swept up in the chaotic carnival of Christmas with its inevitable hangovers and  leftovers it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. When #consumerism is trending I lose all perspective and my personal goals and ambitions disappear into vanishing point, so a day of cutting and sticking helped me to put my aspirations back into the fame.

Our conversations that day were a roller coaster of emotions as we flicked through magazines and searched our souls, looking for pictures of our alter egos.

Vision Boards 1


Vision Boards 3

At times we were surprised, and shocked, by what we found on our vision boards.

On mine #largeandostentatiousflashydesignerjewellery was a significant trend, without so much as a wool fibre in sight.

Vision Boards 4

Vision Boards 5

My vision boards are now on the wall in my new studio and will be my daily reminder of how important it is to aspire, look forward and imagine a better future.

However, I am not naturally a fantasist and over the last day or so I’ve been hearing the words of Professor Richard Wiseman, from his book 59 Seconds; Think a Little. Change a Lot.

“…fantasising about your perfect world may make you feel better but is unlikely to transform your dreams into reality.”

Change can only take place if you action it, and this is what Wiseman suggests.

  1. Write down what you want to achieve.
  2. Remind yourself, regularly, why you want to achieve it.
  3. Make a plan and break it down into small, manageable, steps.
  4. Tell people what you are doing.
  5. Reward each small achievement.

Visualisation is an excellent point of departure…..

….but then you must Take Action!


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Paper cut out snowflake

Paper Cutouts and Crochet Snowflakes

If October is orange, November in Britain is most definitely grey. Outside the sky is grey, the morning fog is grey, and inside, I feel grey. I have to remind myself that grey is a tone not a state of mind. November is Grey In fact grey is a whole spectrum of tonal colour  from the most delicate pearlescence  through polished concrete, platinum, gun metal  and  charcoal. Grey exists in an achromatic world and its tonalities have captured history since the invention of the camera obscura.

As I watch the colours fade from the seasonal pallet I wait patiently for the glittering signifiers that winter is here. Winter brings with it the shiny finale to the seasonal calendar with  crisp frosty mornings, freezing cold mists, cracked puddles of ice and the hushed quiet of pure white snow scapes.

Winter has it’s own exquisite  beauty and the excitement of the first winter snowfall is magical for a brief moment in time. So this month I shall celebrate  winter, that huge exclamation mark after the sentence that is November. This year I will shake the icy fingers of Jack Frost, accept his frozen gifts with grace and wait for the first snowflakes to fall…..

In a cloud, a water droplet freezes and takes on a six fold crystalline formation. It shoots out six radials and starts to travel through the cloud. As it travels it bumps into other particles, it moves through different temperatures and humidity’s continuously melting and reforming into complex asymmetrical shapes.

The radials, or arms, each form independently and most snowflakes are visibly irregular; it is estimated that less than 0.01% of snowflakes are perfectly symmetrical. In contrast, it is almost impossible to find an image of an asymmetrical snowflake. It seems that even a snowflake can’t escape our prejudice against perceived imperfection – regular ones look nicer in photos.

It is well documented that it is almost impossible to find two identical snowflakes. In the late 19th century Wilson Alwyn Bently  searched for two icy twins as he documented images of over 5000 snowflakes, captured under a microscope. Snowflakes Images from Snowflake

There is something very compelling about the imperfect uniqueness of a single snowflake that makes it the perfect motif for home-made Christmas decorations, and the starting point for a new crochet project. Paper cutting is perhaps, unlike bronze sculpture, abstract expressionism and landscape painting, not perceived to be a proper, grown up, artistic endeavour.

So here’s my advise, if you are on the receiving end of withering looks, patronising glances and quiet tutting when you pick up your paper scissors, consider what Henry Matisse, Rob Ryan or Tord Boontje might have to say, then snip away and watch the confetti fall. Paper Cut Art Image 1. Image 2. Image 3

How To Make a Paper Cut-Out Snow Flake.

I used large A3 sized sheets of paper, but A4 sized printer paper would be fine. First fold in half lengthwise and mark the central point on the folded edge with a small crease. With the folded edge at the bottom fold both edges in so that they are overlapping (see photos) and your paper is folded into 3 equal potions. paper cut snowflake Fold again bringing all the folded edges together. Crease well. Cut off the untidy bits at the top of your folded ‘dart’.

Now draw your design on the paper. This might take some planning. The most important thing is that your design touches both folded edges and also runs continuously from top to bottom. It might help to shade in the areas you are going to cut away. paper cut snowflake 2 Then snip with a sharp pair of scissors (I used nail scissors) and unfold. paper cut snowflake 3 Give it  a press – and your done! I have to admit to getting rather obsessed by the paper cutting. paper cut snowflakes paper cut out snowflakes but I did manage to create some crochet snowflakes too! crochet snowflakes We’re going to be making some gorgeous crochet snowflakes  at our Christmas Crochet Workshops, along with some other rather cute little seasonal decorations – but if you can’t join us we’ll include a couple of patterns in our next issue of The Mercerie Post which will be out very soon. Christmas Crochet at Norfolk Yarn

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A Knitted Halloween Lampshade

Knitted Lampshades and a Festival of Light

WARNING – this blog post contains a picture of a big black spider.

As the nights draw in, the clocks go back and lighting up time creeps in a bit earlier each afternoon I begin to get slightly anxious. I can sense the approaching storm so I batten down the hatches and prepare to ride it out.

This is not my favourite time of year. I enjoy watching the world change colour, but for me, Autumn is simply the wrong end of the seasonal spectrum. As I turn back the clock I long to re-wind it all the way back to the dawn of spring and the promise of long summer days again.

Yes, I know there is much to celebrate at this time of year and I manage to brave Halloween behind the mask of a comedy scream. A firework phobia, however, makes it impossible for me to appreciate the explosive celebrations of bonfire night. I can really only enjoy a large bonfire with a stiff drink in one hand and a hose pipe in the other; and my arachnophobia peeks as the supermarkets restock their shelves with spiders.

But I am  determined to confront my fears this year, and in this week of Diwali I’ve had a light bulb moment. It’s time to lighten up.

This autumn I shall take inspiration from a culture different to my own. Light will triumph over darkness and hope over despair. I’m going to fill my home with light.

I want the Blackpool illuminations in my living room and floodlights in my garden. I want a crown of twinkly fairy lights and a fibre optic nightie. I want to bathe in the light of a million candles every time I go to the bathroom – and I’m going to plant a bed of daylight bulbs to stop me feeling sad at night.

So I’ve been looking for a little lighting inspiration and this is what I found……knitted lampshades 1Image 1 Ariel Design

Image 2 Ikea Hackers

Image 3 Les Petits Bohemes knittted lampshades 2Image 1 Naomi Paul

Image 2 Freshome

Image 3 Naomi Paul

Yesterday, buzzing with excitement, I nipped down to my local DIY store  for a lamp to customise and set to work on a Knitted Halloween lampshade.

halloween lampshade 2

If you’d like to make a Halloween Lampshade too, this is what you will need –

  • A small table lamp with a shade. (like this one I bought in Homebase)
  • DK weight yarn (our black and sunshine yellow merino would be perfect)
  • A length of black pom pom trim like this one from Beyond Fabrics.
  • 4mm knitting needles.

Halloween Knitted Lampshade We’ll give you the knitting pattern in Issue 17 of The Mercerie Post – so don’t forget to register!

I feel better already – Happy Halloween and/or Diwali!

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Knitted Loopy Hat

In the Loop at Yarndale

I think I’ve finally recovered from all the excitement of Yarndale. It was a fantastic experience, a bit of a learning curve and a long way from home.

As I am deemed too risky to insure (it’s a long story…yes, I have all my points, and no, I haven’t been involved in a collision for 25 years) my good friend and photographer Boo was assigned the task of driving us there and back fueled by a stream of cheesy biscuits, peanuts and wine gums.

Five hours, and a white knuckle ride later, we arrived. A combination of car sickness, too many wine gums and the site of a huge empty animal pen made me slightly  nauseous, but we eventually displayed our lovely yarns and knitting and crochet kits and snatched a few moments to enjoy the environment. I don’t get out much.Yarndale 2014 As the owner of an online business I spend too many hours sitting in front of the laptop staring at a screen.

I often feel like I am peeking through the nets at a window, curtain twitching and watching a party that I can’t go to. Brief conversations via social media; tweets, DM’s, ‘likes’ and shares are as personal as it gets for me most days. I might be linked in, but mostly I’m out of the loop, so Yarndale was the perfect opportunity to get connected – with no wifi  connection on site.

We met so many really lovely people over the weekend and it was interesting to see what people were drawn to, and why. One of our most popular products  at Yarndale was the Loopy hat. Loopy Knit Hat This particular design seemed to trigger vivid memories  for many people;  “oh my goodness – I had a hat just like that in the 1960’s” or  “My mum knitted me one of those!” One lady looked as if she’d been struck by an electric flashback and was witnessing her whole childhood again as she stared into the soft pile of the pink loopy hat. Vintage Hats Fashion is a compelling signifier.  A single item has the power to ignite laughter or shared memories; and prompt a conversation between total strangers.

Fashion offers a facinating vantage point from which to view the world. It provides a telescope for looking forwards and back, and the vistas are both strange and familiar.

Fashion never really goes full circle, it cycles in spirals and loops. It revisits itself and is predictable by nature. It’s playful, mischievous and self mocking. It dresses up as a parody of itself and it points its finger and laughs at our past and future self.

We had a fabulous weekend at Yarndale, and sold out of this particular pattern so I’m currently on the lookout for ‘loopy hat ladies’. You can download the pattern here for this hat or if you simply want to try knitting this stitch, look out for a simple pattern we’ll be including in the next issue of The Mercerie Post.

How to Knit Loop Stitch.

The loop pile texture is achieved by working a loop stitch on every other stitch on one row, followed by a complete row of knit stitches. The loop stitch takes a little practice – but it looks so gorgeous we think it’s worth it!

Step 1 Insert the point of the right hand needle into the stitch on the left hand needle (as if to knit). Wind the wool over the right hand needle and the first finger of your left hand 3 times – take the wool over, round and under (you will keep your finger in these loops until they are all knitted together as one) How to Knit Loop Stitch Step 2 Then put the wool around the right hand needle as if to knit and draw all 4 loops through the stitch on the left needle, this will make 4 loops on the right hand needle. (here comes the tricky bit!) Remove the left hand needle and insert it into the 4 loops, with the needles in the knit position.   How to Knit Loop Stitch Step 2 Step 3 Gradually easing your left finger out of the loops knit all 4 loops together. Give the yarn a slight tug to tighten the stitch and give the loops a little tug to neaten.  It will seem very fiddly at first – but keep going – it’s worth the effort! How to Knit Loop Stitch Step 3

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Knitting and Breaking the Law!

Today I’m very excited to be hosting a guest blog by Martine from the fabulous lifestyle blog IMake. We thought it might be rather fun to share some histories of the places we call home….

Dear readers of The Mercerie blog.

My name is Martine and I write a creative lifestyle blog over at There you’ll find all sorts of other goodies too, such as my podcast, magazine and knitting patterns.

I live in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. One of the best things about blogging and podcasting is I get to share my beautiful island home with people all over the world.

Guernsey has a fascinating knitting history so I thought I’d share a few snippets with you in this guest post.

As a Guernsey girl and avid knitter, it seems natural for me to want to explore Guernsey’s knitting history. However, it wasn’t so much my heritage that drew to research this topic further; it was overhearing a fascinating story at my Stitch n’ Bitch group one evening.

Apparently, it is illegal for men to knit, during daylight hours, in Guernsey! This law was created because local fishermen cottoned on to the fact that they could make more money knitting Guernsey jumpers than they could fishing! As such, they started neglecting their fishing duties. The law was passed to get the men back out on the fishing boats. According to my Stitch n’ Bitch buddy, the law has never been repealed.

The Guernsey jumper was traditionally knitted in 5 ply, worsted yarn on straight or circular needles. It’s warm, wind-proof and shower-proof making it the perfect garment for people working at sea. It’s estimated that a speedy knitter could make a Guernsey in approximately 80 hours.

guernsey sweater

The traditional design is a boxy jumper in navy blue with gussets under the arms and ribbing on the shoulders, cuffs, neck and waistband (the ribbing is said to represent ladders). There is a split hem at the waist for ease of movement. Some Guernsey designs would include the owner’s initial and some featured parish-specific patterns. This was useful back in the day when the vast majority of men wore Guernseys. Sadly it was also useful for identifying fishermen who died at sea.


Guernsey has been famous for kitting since the Middle Ages, but not just for jumpers. Guernsey’s textile industry was at its prime in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Guernsey worsted stockings were particularly famous (and incredibly itchy, I should imagine!) It’s said that Mary Queen of Scots wore a pair of white stockings, made in Guernsey, for her execution during 1587.

I knit for a number of reasons. It relaxes me but it also connects me to my island’s history. I’ve yet to get a definitive answer on whether it is still illegal for men to knit in Guernsey, but in the meantime, the rebel in me wants to teach as many Guernsey men to knit as possible! I can just imagine the headlines now: “Guernsey man arrested for knitting during daylight hours.” Perfect .

men in guernseys



Thank you Martine!

If you’d like to nip over here now, you can read Sue’s homage to historical Norwich.

Image Credits:








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The Mercerie A/W 2014 Collection

Autumn/Winter 2014: A New Collection

As word of The Mercerie begins to spread; you – our lovely blog readers, are the first to see these beautiful images of our new Autumn/Winter 2014 knitwear collection captured by the brilliant Eliza Boo Photography outside the iconic Sainsbury Centre, in Norwich. Sue, our designer, (PR person, blogger, social media slave, pattern writer, graphic designer, stylist, tea maker, incompetent accountant and attention deficit daydreamer) has created a collection of cosy knitting and crochet designs perfect for snuggling up in as the temperature drops, the nights draw in and the colours outside turn golden.

As always, Sue’s designs are uncomplicated (we don’t like a lot of fuss) and draw their inspiration from tradition and contemporary key trends. This season it’s all about ‘the big wrap’ – versatile scarves and shawls that can be worn in different ways – depending on how much you want to retreat from the world! So here’s a taste of what’s coming this season.

Worked in our supersoft DK Merino, The Crochet Folklore Shawl is a beautiful and extremely versatile product. Wear it as a traditional shawl for an on trend folklore look, or find your own way of snuggling into it, and stay warm and stylish this season. This is a fabulous project for anyone with good crochet skills and is an achievable and very satisfying creation.

Crochet Folklore Shawl

Crochet Folklore shawl detail

OH! And we’re going to be giving away this kit to one lucky subscriber next month….find out how you could be in with a chance to win one at the end of this post.

The super-sized knitted scarf is a must-have key item this season and we’ve got just the thing for an absolute beginner – and for the more competent knitters among you. This pattern will include two variations on the oversized scarf. If you’re just learning, or you want a ‘mindless knitting project’ (one that you don’t have to think about too much as you knit your way through endless TV programmes, DVD’s and old movies) this one is for you. Worked in our beautiful 100% British aran wool, in easy-peasy garter stitch, it’s wide enough to be worn as a shoulder shrug, or a wrap around scarf. It’s easy to wear and easy to make. What could be simpler?

Garter Knit Scarf

If your knitting skills stretch beyond garter stitch and you love a bit of texture, why not make the bramble and moss stitch version?  – it’s a classic. Both styles would make beautiful gifts for the significant men in your life- who aren’t always as appreciative as they should be of our hand knitted jumpers.

Bramble and moss stitch scarf

Our knitted collars make quirky and cosy additions to your wardrobe and can be worn over dresses and casual knitwear to add a touch of drama and style. The Loopy Fur Collar knits up very quickly  once you get the hang of this stitch. (look out for a little tutorial later this season) and is a rather jaunty accessory with it’s lovely pom poms and big cord bow. It is worked here in our bark coloured aran yarn – but it would equally stunning in natural grey.

Loopy Fur Collar

And finally, if you’re looking for a statement piece, our Knitted Lace Pierrot  Collar is a dramatic accessory. Worked in aran yarn it combines short row knitting, lace and bobbles – so it’s perfect if you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge in a project that’s not too huge.

Knitted Pierrot Collar

We are working on getting these into our shop by the end of September and, as always, our designs will be available to buy as downloadable patterns, and self contained kits. You can buy all the yarns you need to make the projects in our online wool shop, and we’re adding a few new colours soon too. (we think you’re going to LOVE them!)

We’re so excited about our new products that we’re going to give one away!!! This is what you need to do to be in with a chance to win a gorgeous Crochet Folklore Shawl Kit

  1. Subscribe to The Mercerie Post (our cute little newsletter)
  2. Like us on Facebook
  3. Tell us you’ve entered by posting on our Facebook page – or by sending us a message on our Facebook page.

If you already ‘like us’ and have subscribed to our newsletter then all you need to do is tell us!

This will be a sweep stake competition with one winner announced on Thursday 9th October 2014 at 12.00 noon GMT.

This competition is open to all our UK and international customers and the prize will be one crochet kit for the Crochet Folklore Shawl (as pictured) No cash or product alternatives will be offered and winners names will be announced through all our social media platforms.

Good Luck!

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Christmas Crafting

Breathing Space: A Midwinter Creative Retreat

As the school holidays unfold and the long summer days begin to dissolve into each other I remind myself on a daily basis to savour the freedom of these unbound weeks.

I make myself slow down, and become conscious of my breathing, because I can see what’s on the horizon. It’s just a speck now, but I know it’s hurtling towards me – and a knot is already forming in my stomach.

I am in a direct collision course with Christmas and when it makes impact I know it will take my breath away .

A British Christmas, in the 21st century, is a paradox rolled in glitter. It is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s stressful and blissful. It brings our friends and families into sharp focus and empties our head of all rational thoughts.

Thankfully the current zeitgeist points to a return of the home made and reminds us of the genuine pleasure derived from crafting and making things.

One of the greatest delights at Christmas is, perhaps, the rediscovery of old, home-made cards and decorations; the unsophisticated, but intimate, reminders of Christmas past. My own family’s attempt at edible tree decorations and felted gingerbread men will never grace the pages of Elle Decoration, but they made us smile and we had fun making them.

There is something strangely powerful about the home made Christmas object, and this winter, at the beautifully tranquil retreat; Breathing Space, we are going to give you an opportunity to create your own, home-spun, decorative traditions.

I am delighted to be collaborating with the brilliant Stylist and Image Consultant Sarah Morgan on a programme of Creative Retreats,  and so just before Christmas strikes this winter  we can offer you a space to catch your breath.

When did you last give yourself the time and space to play?

When did you last give yourself permission to play; to cut, glue, sew, print and explore new ways of making?

When did you last use your paints,  open your sewing box , or unfold that stash of salvaged wrapping paper?

Sarah and I gave ourselves permission last week, at Breathing Space, and we spent a day ‘playing’ with fabrics in preparation for the midwinter workshops and it was FUN! We talked and laughed, shared stories, ate cake and were delighted by our upcycled textile decorations.

Crafting at Breathing Space



upcycled textiles

If you struggle to give yourself permission to play, just remind yourself that creative practices trigger the release of endorphins – our bodies ‘feel good’ chemicals. Creativity is associated with improved brain function, and connecting with others in a creative environment fosters empathy, laughter and trust.

So if, like me, you sense a growing knot of anxiety as the ‘festive’ season approaches, give yourself permission to play. Get out the scissors, and the glue, and all those salvaged scraps of fabric or paper, invite your friends round and have some FUN!

Make a date now. Go on – put it in your diary…….

For more information about this fabulous weekend retreat at Breathing Space take a peek over here.



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string of happiness

Glampsite Crochet: Crafting a String of Happiness

Life in the twenty first century is fast , and as a consequence our body clocks often feel out of synch with the natural rhythm of life. Subconsciously we chant the ‘YOLO’ mantra and strive to live life to the full; achieving, succeeding and consuming. We stuff so much into our lives they threaten  to burst at the seams.

The arrival of the school holidays announces that it’s time to take a break, slow down, and sooth our hectic lives with a brief oasis of slow living under canvas, in a field.

As I plan this years summer camps I am reminded of a brief glamping holiday we had earlier in the year……………

Just as my life was straining at the seams I was invited to take part in a group camp at the beautiful ‘glampsite’ Camp Katur in North Yorkshire. Would I like to come along to provide a crafting workshop and stay for a couple of nights in a bell tent or a yurt?

Um…..let me think about that. Yes please!!!

Camping and crafting are two of my favourite things. Neither can be rushed and I enjoy their slow, leisurely pace. Both require an investment of time and once surrendered to they can offer a refreshing antidote to the speed and stresses of modern, urban life.

Grabbing my little tin of crochet hooks, a basket of brightly coloured wool, and my children, I was ready for two nights of glamping heaven on the Camp Hill Estate in North Yorkshire.

I live in Norfolk, and the 5 hour drive through the fens and up the A1 provided me with plenty of time to think about the camp, my first of the season, and what we could make during the workshop. As I was driving my thoughts turned to a conversation I had recently with someone who shares my passion for camping and crochet.

She told me about her ‘camping blanket’ and how it was created with a group of friends over several weeks of holidays in North Norfolk.

The blanket is made up of a number of crochet squares worked in any spare yarns that the friends brought with them to camp. The squares are functionally, rather than aesthetically, stitched together and as a consequence the colours are random and the patterns are impulsive, giving the blanket  a playful, and naive quality. Normal rules of design don’t apply to this kind of blanket  – anything goes, as long as it’s made with friends.

The charm of the blanket lies in its creation and its group identity. No one wants to take it home, it wouldn’t really fit in. It belongs on site, like the campfire, the tin cups and the miss-matched crockery.

Things look different when you’re camping; everything is altered. With no clocks to watch, trains to catch or deadlines to meet, time slows down and opportunities arise for alternative pursuits, things you might not normally have time for.

The lazy hours spent watching a kettle boil over a camp fire, or time spent simply relaxing and breathing in the fresh spring air allow a space for creative thoughts to develop.

Crochet lends itself particularly well to camping as it is the most perfectly portable of crafts. With just a small, simple hook as its only tool, a few balls of wool in gorgeous colours and some time on your hands you have the potential to create something beautiful at your finger tips.

I’d had time whilst driving to plan a little crochet project for the group and we had just a couple of hours to work on it so I knew it had to be something small and achievable.

On our first day, after a huge breakfast (thank you Dawn!) half a dozen of us gathered around a wooden picnic table ready to start work. I’d brought with me a selection of The Mercerie’s beautiful British aran wool which has its origins not far from where we were camping; the yarn is processed and spun in a small Yorkshire spinning mill. It seems only fair that when you are crafting in a beautiful natural environment, the materials you work with should echo this, and be as beautiful and natural as your surroundings.

We each reached for a hook, and a different coloured yarn, and prepared to start crafting.

camp Katur 1 copy

We were going to make a little garland of crochet bunting; something decorative, pretty, and more than a little bit kitsch. A colourful string of bunting has the innate ability to bring a sense of frivolity and humour to any gathering. It is guaranteed to add a little vintage charm to the occasion and helps to turn any activity into a celebration and an event.

We took a simple crochet granny square as our starting point, and adapted it slightly to make it triangular. Worked with just trebles and chain stitches it is an easy pattern for a beginner to learn, and is a great way to play with, and explore, colour.

Between us our skills were varied. One or two of us were fairly experienced, or knew the basics; another had learnt to crochet as a child but hadn’t picked up a hook since she was 9 years old. One was a complete beginner whose enthusiasm for a new skill made her a fast learner and, as I recall, one was an observer, story teller and self appointed tea maker. We were joined, very briefly, by just one of the men, who made a good start but was soon distracted by his camera and a pheasants mating ritual which appeared to be taking place in the middle of the field.

As we worked we gradually got to know each other a little bit more. Crafting has a history of bringing people together and providing a hub for conversation and social exchanges. It draws people together with a common goal and a shared interest. Secrets get spilled, gossip is circulated and lives overlap during the making process.

There’s something about ‘busy hands’ and making things that encourages mental relaxation and easy exchanges. As we crafted the conversations ebbed and flowed as our concentration shifted, slipped away briefly, and then refocused on the task in hand. All our senses were engaged; feeling the textures of the materials, listening to the story telling, smelling the smoke of the campfire and pausing for a break to take in the natural beauty of the environment.

As we worked on our individual pieces we occasionally stopped to drink tea and sample the delicious homemade cakes that appeared around mid morning. As we compared and studied our work we saw that each little triangle was as individual as the person that made it. None were the same.

They were different colours and sizes. Some were worked to perfection and other slightly misshapen, but just as charming in their hand- made imperfection. The quirky individuality of the crochet triangles reflected the general homespun appeal of Camp Katur. Their makeshift beauty was in keeping with the recycled gas bottles that double as wood burners in the bell tents and the furniture fashioned from wooden pallets found in the yurts and safari tents.

Crafting by a campfire is a unique experience unlike working inside a studio. A mischievous gust of wind can carry your work away when you’re not concentrating, or cause the smoke to change direction rendering you temporarily blinded until it clears again. A brief shower of rain can prompt a dash undercover and an opportunity to stop and discuss progress as you scan the sky for blue.

The pleasure of crafting outdoors with old and new friends is unlike any other shared experience. Unlike sport, there’s no competition, and unlike cooking, there’s no consumption at the end.  It is a purely creative activity.

The items made on camp have a strange and charming allure. They are both souvenirs and functional, or decorative, objects. They are the handmade memoires of a particular place and moment in time. Kitsch and quirky they bear traces of the people that made them – the individuals and the group. The crafters have all invested in it – collaborative making is a way of giving and sharing, and the final object is worth far more than the sum of its parts.

After our brief crafting session, the crochet collective gradually disbanded. The lunchtime soup was ready, one or two people had work commitments at home, and the fire was beginning to burn down, so I gathered the little collection together to finish later that day.

With any craft project the ‘finishing’ is vitally important – this is what makes, or breaks the final object, and this is particularly the case with a group project such as this. It needs one or two people to pull it all together at the end, to stitch it, edge it and finish it, or it will forever linger in its incomplete state waiting for someone to tie up all the loose ends.

Later that day I found a solitary moment to lay out all the triangles, 13 in total, and I spent some time sorting and arranging them. Then with a bright blue yarn I crocheted them all together with a chain stitch and worked a little picot edge around each one to unify them.

Camp Katur 2 copy

They were brought out for our final meal together and we admired them as we ate; a little row of brightly coloured flags strung up to celebrate our shared experience.

The string of rather wobbly and slightly flawed ‘Camp Katur Bunting’ is currently strung up in my kitchen. It could really do with a good press, and it still smells a little of campfire smoke, but it makes me smile. It’s a little string of happiness.

As I look at each triangle in turn they remind me of the people that made them,  and prompt a recollection of the stories we shared as we crafted together.

It takes me a while to catch up with the pace of ‘real life’ after I’ve been camping, but for a few days afterwards I feel as though my body clock is set to the right time and I am more in tune with my life.

I’ve keep the Camp Katur Bunting for future camping trips and every time I hang it up I’ll smile and remember the delight of crafting with new  friends in a misty field in Yorkshire.

Camp Katur 3

Images by Eliza Boo Photography

If you’d like to make your own string of crochet bunting we’ll include a little pattern for you in Issue 15 of The Mercerie Post. 

Mercerie Post No.15

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crochet mandala

Crochet Spirals and Mandalas

If you were a shape – what shape would you be? 

I think I must be a square.

I like straight lines, right angles, vertical and horizontal axis. I like the perpendicular and the solidity of a square. There’s no ambiguity. It is pure, modern art. It is architecture, white cube spaces, frames and paintings.

The circle, on the other hand, is an ethereal shape whose origins have been lost in pre history. The circle began life back in the year dot and I’ve never quite managed to get a handle on it.

This September The Mercerie will be at Yarndale. I’m very excited, and also just a little bit anxious about this event – our largest and furthest from home so far! We weren’t there last year so missed out on the spectacle of 1.25 km of crochet bunting that decked the halls. This year, however, we’re delighted to be able to contribute to the decorative installation co-ordinated by Lucy of Attic24.  Yarndale 2014 will be decorated with hundreds (possibly thousands?) of beautiful crochet mandalas. (er -yes, that’s Sanskrit for CIRCLES) I’ve been following the progress of this project for several weeks now, and have finally found the time to contribute to it, with just days to go before the deadline. So today I’m climbing out of my box, re-framing my thinking and leaving behind the formality and eurocentricity of the square (after the 600 hundred squares of the last project  a circle will make a nice change.) I’ve been getting my head around circles and spirals and reminding myself that mandalas are not just the focal points of meditation, or the trinkets sold in tourist gift shops. Mandalas also have a worthy and deserving place in nature, anthropology, art history, ethnographic studies, textiles and fine art practices. My head spins as I circumnavigate a whole spectrum of spots, dots, circles and spirals; polka dot prints, African baskets, crop circles, medallions, Aboriginal art, spin paintings, land art, standing stones, almanacs, clocks, planets…..

Sonia Delaunay and Paula Baader

Sonia Delaunay and Paula Baader

Damian Hirst, Andy Goldsworthy and Yinka Shonibare

Damien Hirst, Andy Goldsworthy and Yinka Shonibare

Paula Walker, Rozita Fogelman, Attic24 and my crochet mandala!

Paula Walker, Rozita Fogelman, Attic24 and my crochet mandala!

So I’ve been going round in circles and exploring crochet spirals- there’s my little mandala – ready to post to Yarndale! So now I feel inspired to start work on a whole new collection of swirly, hypnotic and meditative designs. I’m imagining bags, round cushions, berets, rugs…… anything else? If you feel like having a go – here’s how to crochet a 2 colour spiral. It’s easier than you think.

How to Work a Crochet Spiral

(UK abbreviations are used here)

Make a magic loop with pink yarn and ch1

Step 1: Work 2 dc, 2htr, 2tr into the ring. *Remove hook from work leaving a large loop.

Step 2: Join yellow yarn into the ring. Ch1, 2dc, 2htr, 2tr into the ring. *Remove hook from work leaving a large loop. *Do this everytime you take your hook out of the work to start a new round.   crochet spiral 1Step 3: Put your hook through the large pink loop and work 2tr into every yellow stitch. Remove hook when you get to the end and put the hook through the large yellow loop to pick up where you left off

Step 4: Work 2tr into every pink stitch. Remove hook when you get to the end and put the hook through the large pink loop to pick up where you left off   crochet spirals 2Step 5: Pick up the pink loop and work into each yellow stitch with trebles, increasing into every 2nd stitch until you get to the end of the yellow stitches. Remove hook when you get to the end.

Step 6: Pick up the yellow loop and work into each pink stitch with trebles, increasing into every 3rd stitch until you get to the end of the pink stitches. Remove hook when you get to the end.

Step 7: Pick up the pink loop and work into each yellow stitch with trebles, increasing into every 4th stitch until you get to the end of the yellow stitches. Remove hook when you get to the end. crochet spirals 3 Continue to work the spiral in this way, increasing every 5th stitch on the next round, then every 6th st, then every 7th , until it is the size you need. If you find your circle is not laying flat you may need to adjust the number of stitches in between shapings to accommodate this.

Finishing the Round.

Step 8: Pick up the yellow loop and work three quarters of the way around the row. Over the last remaining stitches, work half in htr’s, then work the remaining in dc’s finishing with two slip stitches to smooth off the curve. Crochet mandala Step 9: Mark a half way point with a pin, (this is where you will finish) pick up the pink loop and work one quarter of the way around the row. Over the last remaining stitches, work half in htr’s, then work the remaining in dc’s finishing with two slip stitches to smooth off the curve.

And you’re done!

You can ‘frame’ your spiral in lots of different ways – experiment with edges and trims – then sit back and think about what it might become…..  

Image references: Shonibare maxa 2003

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