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.
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.
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.
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.