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Homage to the (Granny) Square

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

How many of us imagine a different, more creative life?

How  many people are so caught up in the ties of responsibility that the idea of creating something amazing will only ever be a daydream…..or  at best a ‘one day when…..’ scenario.

We all lead extremely busy lives. Lives that don’t lend themselves to spending even one day in a painting studio. (Oh – the luxury of even having a studio!) So if you find yourself justifying your creative inactivity with excuses about time, space, finances and a whole host of other stuff – keep this in mind;

“great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together”

Vincent Van Gogh.

OK – so I’m not suggesting we should all aspire to be a future ‘great master’ – (and actually even that description sounds very out dated and patriarchal these days)  but if you have that creative urge you really do have a duty to act on it – for your own wellbeing and metal health. In my own experience constantly feeling guilty for not acting on those creative urges results in Netflix binge watching, navel gazing and general self loathing.

I genuinely believe that however busy our lives are there are always some, barely visible, pockets of time that can be put to better use. The key is to locate those moments between the big things in your life. If you can spare 15 minutes a day to scroll through your social media feed, then you can find a few minutes to make one small, exquisitely perfect thing. Like a square. (and you’ll feel much happier afterwards)

Crochet is how I choose to manifest my ideas at this moment in my life. It allows me to make small beautiful colour interactions in those brief 15 minutes I catch in the mornings before the children wake, or as I wait for a pot of potatoes to boil. In 15 minutes I can make a 4 inch square of beauty and lose myself in it. That makes me happy.

And the next day I can make another.

Then another.

Until eventually I’ll have a collection of the most wonderful, colourful content for a bigger, even more beautiful, finished, work of art.

Homage to the (Granny) square blanket course

It’s as simple as that- and you can do it. There’s no big scary blank canvas. No declaration of intention or preparation of resources.

Just sit down, with a hook and some yarn and quietly begin working on the most amazing thing you’ve ever created.

Don’t even tell anyone what you’re doing, you don’t need anyone else’s approval, or permission. This is a conversation between you – and your creative soul.

My latest project; Homage to the (Granny) Square fits this model. It’s a way of working that’s playful, intuitive and achievable by anyone with an ounce of  curiosity, and it pays homage to the artist Joseph Albers and his lifetimes work on the interaction of colour.

Joseph Albers was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century who began his creative life as a crafts man, working with coloured glass; an early indication of his love of colour and optical effects. He saw the craft of stained glass as both a functional medium and as an art form.

Albers worked at the Bauhaus school where he taught glass work and furniture design and later after the closure of the Bauhaus moved to the United States where he became head of painting at  Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and later at Yale University. His students included Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Eva Hesse and many other iconic 20th century artists.

In  1949, at the age of 62,  he began painting what was to become over 2000 works of art entitled Homage to the Square and he spent the rest of his life exploring the ‘relativity’ of colour.

These small compositions of squares within squares create unique colour interactions and  provoke different visual effects. He observed how the squares appeared to change according to the colours they were next to; they appeared sometimes brighter, bigger, smaller, static, moving or heavy and in his seminal thesis INTERACTION OF COLOUR he described how colours have their own inherent logic.

Joseph Albers Homage to the Square

Image Credit

When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color.”

Joseph Albers.

The square was chosen by Albers as a motif for it’s mathematical simplicity and because it has no specific symbolism. It is the most extreme reduction of form, doesn’t feature in nature and therefore can’t be interpreted as representational on any level. (although he later conceded that actually some crystals do form as cubes)

Albers work was an exploration of colour and altered perceptions of colours, but it also highlights the precarious and inconsistent nature of human perception.

“In my color book there is no new theory of color. But, in it, there is a way to learn to see.”

Josef Albers

So….the square; chosen for its simplicity of execution and  absence of symbolism and unnecessary ornamentation.

As an artist, Albers sits in a precarious place. As one of the most important artists in the 2oth century he occupies similar territory to numerous other important modernist male painters. And all the other artists who followed with their educated opinions on aesthetics and the decorative.

His work, however, is rooted in his early years as a craftsman exploring the relationship between function and aesthetics and I am always interested to discover what leads an artist, or crafts person down a specific chosen path.

I like things to be functional. I like things to have a practical purpose in life and I believe in the principle that form follows function. I hate trinkets and unnecessary ornamentation but I love pattern and colour. I have a fear and loathing of the monumental in art preferring careful and respectful use of materials. That’s why I do what I do. I like to make beautiful things that also perform a function.

My Homage to the (Granny) Square project is not intended to be a parody of Albers work, or a commentary on ‘womens work’. It is simply an exploration of colour and colour interaction fuelled by curiosity and the impulse to make. The format is  flexible allowing anyone to use it as the point of departure for a uniquely beautiful, functional, work of art.

The blanket is made using 10 colours of Rowan Felted Tweed yarn; colours carefully chosen for their relationships with each other, and the squares are 3 different sizes, again, each having a relationship with the others.

Every square is different. Each one is carefully considered ( I decided against using random colour arrangements), and some I like more than others. But what’s important to me is that each square has its own unique characteristic and it is unlikely that this blanket will ever be reproduced in exactly the same way.

Beginning in April this year, I will be running a series of Homage to the Granny Square workshops facilitating others as they create their own unique ‘work of art’.  The course is aimed at anyone with basic crochet skills who would like a framework to create in, and the freedom to express themselves in colour.

Homage to the (Granny) Square crochet workshops

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

So why not invest in those hidden moments of time and join me this year to create your own Homage to the (Granny) Square?

Video by Boo Marshal Photography

At the time of writing this post, there are still some spaces available on this course….nip over here if you’d like to find out more. And if you can’t join me ‘in real life’ keep a look out for the online CAL which will be available later this year. (you can stay in the loop by signing up to my newsletter here).

You might also like these posts: The Real Life Daisy Wrap Crochet-Along and  Folklore Shawl Crochet Along. 

And you can see all the workshops I’m running this Spring/Summer here: Workshops and Events

 

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Natural Dyes, Collaboration and Story Telling

A natural dye project

Do you find the subject of natural dyeing fascinating – but also a little strange and mysterious?

Unlike the neat little sachets of Dylon they seem to hold a strange alchemy requiring  specialist knowledge that can only be gained through years of experimentation. Not for the likes of us dye dabblers.

I always imagined natural dyeing techniques would entail long walks in the country gathering baskets full of seasonal flowers, berries and other natural dye plants that I would have no means of identifying, followed by careful weighing and preparation of strange archaic substances, and perhaps even the wave of a mystic wand.

Why would anyone in the 21st century even want to boil up handfuls of grubby vegetables just to dye a few grams of wool a rather grubby shade of beige?

I guess the answer is- the magnetic and irresistible power of curiosity. It’s that voice in your head that begins every sentence with;

 “I wonder what would happen if….”

and ends it with;

” no, I can’t package it, sell it, affiliate market it or drop ship it. I just want to do it!”

So as someone prone to curiosity, and with a desire to explore new territory, in September I rather recklessly announced to one of my textile classes that we would be doing a natural dye project this term. And no, I’ve never done it before.

So in this blog post I’ll give you a little insight into how it is possible to create a palette of the most beautiful coloured yarns using simple ‘kitchen sink’ methods – and a class of curious minds.

We worked with plant materials that were easy to find. Some came from our gardens, and kitchens; some came from the supermarket, and the woad was bought online. But none of it was difficult to find.

We had no recipe book, just a vague idea of what we thought might happen.

I should probably also say that, for me, one of the joys of this project was the delight of discovery and the freedom of exploration.  The colours achieved are non repeatable, I can’t predict how colour fast they’ll be and I can’t really explain the chemistry involved.

I can, however, tell you that the process was intriguing, the colours are beautiful and the stories we uncovered about the history of natural dyes were surprising and compelling.

For me the subject of ‘textiles’ has always been the subject of ‘everything’; history, geography, science, art – textiles can be used as the vehicle for navigating a route through all of these things, and the history of natural dyes has much to tell us about….well, pretty much everything.

So this is what we did – and what we learnt along the way.

   1. MORDANTING

We started with around 500gms of undyed aran weight wool which we wound into small skeins of about 10gms each.

We washed the skeins in warm soapy water and rinsed them well.

We used Alum (which we bought online) and cream of tartar (which we bought in the supermarket)  to mordant the wool. Mordanting ensures the dye fixes to the fibres.

We allowed 1tsp of allum and 1tsp of cream of tartar for every 100gms of yarn.

Remember, this is my ‘suck it and see’ recipe!

Because we only had large kitchen saucepans to work with we decided to split up into 4 groups at this point. Each group dissolved 3-4 teaspoons of alum, and cream of tartar, in a cup of hot water then added this to a pan containing enough water to cover the skeins and stirred  well to make sure everything was completely dissolved.

Then we added the wet wool to the pan – each group added 12 or 13 skeins. We brought this to simmering and continued to simmer for about an hour. Then we turn off the heat and left it over night.

The next day we were ready to dye. We didn’t rinse the mordanted skeins……and what was left of the mordant bath was disposed of in the sink with lots of running water

   2. PH LEVELS AND A LITTLE BIT OF SCIENCE

The PH level of the dye bath affects the colour of the dye so we experimented with adjusting these levels using vinegar and citric acid to make the dyes more acidic, and washing soda to make the dyes more alkaline. We used litmus papers to test the PH levels and found that generally 1 or 2 teaspoons was enough to significantly change the levels – but also, too much of either additive had a detrimental effect on the handle of the wool.

For each plant material that we used, we made up a neutral dyebath, an acidic bath and an alkaline bath; aiming to achieve three different colour variations from one natural dye source.

   3. MAKING THE VEGETABLE DYE BATHS

We were very kindly donated a huge bag of yellow onion skins and we used these to make our first dyes as I had read that this is the easiest plant material to work with and usually give excellent results.

Working in 3 groups we each filled a pan about one third full of onion skins (no weighing or measuring for us!), filled it about two thirds full of cold water and heated it to boiling point.

We added citric acid to one pan and washing soda to another – the third remained neutral. We let it simmer for about an hour then took it off the heat and left it over night.

The next day the dye baths were strained/sieved to remove the plant material.

This is pretty much what we did to prepare all the natural dyebaths, – we just filled the pans one third full with plant material – chopped up if we thought it necessary.

Relying on kind donations by teachers and parents, and whatever  the students brought in with them that particular day we experimented with a good range of plant and vegetable dyes including……

Yellow onion skin, elderberry, blackberry, sloeberry, plum, red cabbage, horsetail, dahlia.

    4. DYEING THE WOOL

We added 2 or 3 skeins of wet mordanted wool to each dye bath and brought the temperature up to boiling then allowed the dyebath to simmer for around 40 minutes, gently stirring occasionally, then took it off the heat and left it overnight.

The next day the skeins were removed from the dyebath and rinsed thoroughly. (you could wash the wool at this stage -but we didn’t)

This was the most exciting bit; examining the final results. Did they measure up to our expectations? Were they disappointing? Were they surprising? Did we like the colour? How did the dye bath effect the handle of the wool?

We came to the conclusion that the more acidic dyebaths yielded  pinker/redder tones and the more alkaline the dyebath the more the colour inched towards green.

We also discovered that if you tip about 10 teaspoons of washing soda into a dye bath when instructed to add just one – the result is a nasty weak and scratchy yarn!

So that’s it really – we did this with all the plant materials we collected and achieved the most beautiful collection of colours. Some were surprising; the dahlia flowers produced the most vibrant shade of yellow – a lovely brilliant sunshiny colour. The red cabbage yielded a pretty pink, a lilac and a sage green and the berries all gave up subtle variations on beige and pinky brown

DYEING WITH WOAD

I decided to buy in the woad as I was keen for everyone to experience the magical oxidising process – where the materials change from murky yellow to brilliant blue as they make contact with the oxygen in the air – and I didn’t want to disappoint by using a less ‘tried and tested’ source of woad. I bought ours from here, it came with excellent instructions on how to use it and it didn’t disappoint!

It was easy to use and really did produce the most intense indigo blues that added a depth and richness to our natural dye colour palette.

THE COLOUR STORIES

Throughout the dye process we also learnt about how the history of natural dyes illuminates our history books with stories that date back to Greek legend and span the breadth of the globe.

We learnt why purple was such a coveted colour. None of our experiments produced  strong purple shades and historically this was the most difficult colour to achieve.

For centuries, until the discovery of the first synthetic dye the mucus of a particular Mediterranean sea snail yielded the best bright and colour fast purple dye. But it took 10 000 snails to yield just 1 gram of dyestuff and it was so expensive only the very rich and powerful could afford to wear it. We imagined Cleopatra’s ships with their brilliant purple sails billowing in the wind, and Julius Caesar returning to Rome wearing a vivid violet toga.

Throughout history purple has signified extreme wealth and power. It’s been such a provocative colour that wearing it could even be viewed as high treason with the penalty of death.

We learnt that in Britain, before the introduction of synthetic dyes, our 3 staple dyestuffs were Weld (yellow) Woad (blue) and Madder (red) and these three colours were mixed and overdyed to create a whole spectrum of colours.

Weld is said to produce the most brilliant yellow – and when over dyed with woad it creates the brightest forest green; the green apparently worn by Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This colour was known as Lincoln Green and it has been immortalised through hundreds of story books and films over the years.

We learnt about woad; our native ‘indigo’ dye which was used by Ancient Britons not only to dye textiles, but to dye whole bodies in preparation for war with the invading Romans. Imagining the fear and confusion ignited by an army of blue Celtic Iceni led by a woman with flaming red hair, we also discovered that the Celts knew a bit about medicine too as woad has natural astringent properties so it served two purposes as they marched in to battle.

Madder was the dye we didn’t get to try – so we are missing a good red from our colour palette. But we did lean that, strictly speaking, the colour yielded by madder is more orange than a true red but the concept – and consequently the word,  orange didn’t exist in Britain until the introduction of oranges  (the fruit). So it seems that a colour can’t exist in our consciousness  until it has been named.

THE COLLABORATIVE CROCHET PROJECT

So , after several days of dyeing, and story telling, we had a collection of unique, unrepeatable, extremely beautiful coloured yarns to work with and we started to make  our granny squares. I had already decided that a crochet afghan blanket would be the perfect way to use all those small skeins of coloured yarn.

I love collaborative projects. I love that everyone, whatever their skills or commitment level, is able to contribute what they can. Every small piece represents an individual and the finished work represents the group.

Some of the ‘squares’ were less than square – and required a little ‘help’ to straighten then up. Some were very large, some were a little holey, some were perfectly executed- but they were all inherently charming and I took them home over Christmas to finish piecing them together.

Crochet Blanket with Natural Dyed Wool

This is the finished blanket, it’s been trimmed, blocked and pressed – and I love it!

At first glance it looks like any other conventional crochet granny square blanket, but it is so much more than that. It is a window into the past and a brilliant reminder of the colours our ancestors experienced.

Crochet Blanket made with Plant Dyed Yarns

This blanket is a collection of stories about our past told in full Technicolour and a testament to the collective curious mind.

 

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On Freedom Fighters, Peace Keepers and Crochet Berets.

The Beret.

Yes, I know it’s a bit of a fashion cliché – but sometimes I rather like clichés. They have a certain old fashioned charm to them that can make a refreshing change to the politicised spin that’s constantly streamed into our lives.

My love of the beret stretches beyond the French stereotype and the image of the romantic artist.

I am fascinated with the beret’s seductive versatility as it’s become the headgear of choice for hundreds of international paramilitary groups. That such a small and innocuous accessory can take on so many different meanings and associations  shows how entrenched an object and it’s signals can become in our psyche.

Fashion is one big glorious mash up; looting from everywhere, stealing from anyone and then brazenly parading it’s booty.

The beret is one mashed up, mixed up accessory to the crime.

With a vague and blurry notion that there are some conventions, the beret plays with the rules; both mocking, and paying homage to freedom fighters, peace keepers,  the armed forces and other organised groups operating around the frayed edges of ‘civilised society’.

So, yes, it may be a cliché and elicit a bit of a giggle from some – but take a look at the organisations that the beret is looting from and you won’t see many of them laughing.

Clockwise from the top:

  • Beyoncé’s backing dancers pay homage to the Black Panthers. www.highsnobiety.com
  • Vincent Lappartient for Christian Dior. www.thepinealpost.com
  • Marxist revolutionary and international poster boy Che Guevara. www.artblart.com

Clockwise from top left:

  • All female group of Guatemalan United Nations peace keepers. www.sustainablesecurity.org
  • Blue beret at Rodarte. www.elle.com
  • The elite Soviet VDV (Air Landing Forces) www.harveyblackauthor.org

Clockwise from top left.

  • An all female  group of Guardian Angels protects women from sexual assault on the New York subway. www.mcdermottphotos.com
  • Red beret at Gucci. www.elle.com
  • The Army of Brunei’s  Special Combat Squadron. www.worldmilitaryintel.blogspot.co.uk

If you’re feeling empowered, inspired – or just fancy doing a spot of crochet – why not come and join us at Norfolk Yarn this Autumn for our Crochet Beret master class? You’ll be in good company.

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From Movie Star Planet Back Down to Earth

Craft Activities for Children

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 in preteen 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, and the infantilising effects of adults in onesies.

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 bloody well 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

5. Bake Some Gingerbread Men

Introduce this activity with an age appropriate argument about who’s going to tidy up 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.

She has returned to earth.

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Choosing Colours for the Trellis Poncho CAL: 4 Things You Can Do To Make the Right Decision.

If you’d like to join me for The Real Life or the Online Trellis Poncho CAL this Autumn your first challenge is deciding on colours!

We’ve all been there at the beginning of a new project. You’re so excited as you enter the yarn shop and feel like a child in a sweet shop salivating at the counter.

You know this is an enjoyable, yet important, decision and you love spending time picking up the wool, feeling its texture and putting groups of colours together.

At first you go with your instinct. Those are your favourite colours and you love them. Then somebody (usually me) pipes up “But what about these? – they’re gorgeous”. So you begin to look at alternatives.

Then a complete stranger joins in with -“Oh, I think you’d look lovely in these colours.”

That’s all it takes to send you into a spiral of confusion, indecision and fear.

  • What if you make the wrong decision and end up making a grotesque parody of the vision you had in mind?
  • What if you develop an irrational dislike of your favourite colour halfway through the project?
  • What if that particular colour throws a yellow cast over your complexion and makes you look like you’ve just had a spell in hospital?

Yes; we’ve all been there, and while it’s immensely pleasurable, it’s not easy choosing colours. So I’d like to help you out.

Here are 4 things you can do to make the decision making process easier:

1. Shop in a real wool shop whenever possible.

You simply can’t beat seeing the skeins of yarn in real life, holding them next to each other, and feeling them against your skin. Ask if you can see the yarn in daylight rather than in artificial lighting and don’t be afraid to take your time.

2. Pay attention to your physical responses to the colours.

Try to tune into your physical self as you handle and study the different colour combinations. How do they make you feel? Do they make you feel lighter and excited? Can you feel a glow inside you; do they make you want to touch them? Or do those colours together just feel safe, familiar and static? Decisions are made with the whole of our body, not just our minds, so listen to what your body is telling you. And remember that when excitment is the driving force, fear is always a passenger.

3. Consider the worst case scenario.

So what’s the worst thing that can happen? Well, yes, you could waste hours of your life making something that you’ll never wear or use – and neither will anyone else. But in reality you will probably see that it’s not working way before you finish the thing. Some (but not all) yarn shops may allow you to return any unused balls of wool so it’s a good idea to check this before purchasing. Or you could consider just buying enough of the wool to make up a sample first.

4. Don’t just imagine it – do it!

This means that you make an allowance in your budget for sampling and you work up one or two samples before you make a final decision. Personally, I would never begin a project without sampling first – how else could you possibly know how those colours are going to behave once they get together? A couple of hours actually trying things out before you make the big commitment is well worth the effort.

And if you still can’t decide………in my experience most people have a gut instinct for colour and usually those colours that you picked up before that stranger and I butted in are the right ones. So trust your instincts.

And if, after all of that you still can’t decide I’ve put together some colour combinations for the Trellis Poncho that are available from Norfolk Yarn. Each bundle contains 11 x 50 gram balls of Rowan Felted Tweed and if you sign up to my newsletter I’ll give you a 10% discount code.

HEATHER bundle will contain:

  • 4 x 50gm balls Celadon (green)
  • 5 x 50gm balls Peony (pink)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Mineral (yellow)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Seafarer (dark blue/grey)

CORNFLOWER bundle will contain:

  • 4 x 50gm balls Mineral (yellow)
  • 5 x 50gm balls Maritime (blue)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Clay (pale grey)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Seafarer (dark blue/grey)

BLACKBERRY bundle will contain:

  • 4 x 50gm balls Seafarer (dark blue/grey)
  • 5 x 50gm balls Tawney (dark red/pink)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Mineral (yellow)
  • 1 x 50gm ball Avocado (green)

Well I hope that helps a little – and I just can’t wait to see what colours you choose!

With Love

Sue

x

 

 

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A Crochet Poncho, UFO’s and the Zeigarnik Effect

The Crochet Trellis Poncho

I have this thing about endings.

I just can’t bear messy endings and unresolved issues. UFO’s, or Unfinished Objects, haunt me with their incomplete and unformed shapes, and loose ends have to be tied or I think about them incessantly.

For most of my life I just thought this was me, endlessly obsessing and worrying about unfinished business. But it turns out that this is a thing. An actual phenomenon.

It’s called the “Zeigarnik Effect”

Bluma Zeigarnik was a Russian psychologist who, in the 1920’s conducted a series of tests where subjects were asked to complete a sequence of tasks, some of which were interrupted and consequently left unfinished. When asked to recall the details of the tasks the subjects were able to remember twice as much information about the unfinished tasks than those they completed, concluding that completion leads to forgetting.

Subsequent tests have been carried out by other psychologists and the general opinion is that;

Your mind is more likely to remember, and keep returning to, an unfinished task.

So the unresolved preys on your mind – it’s a scientific fact which explains why I get so edgy and slightly neurotic when I have too many UFO’s cluttering up my house, and my brain.

There was one project in particular that nagged away at me for quite some time. A project that was slow to develop, in a kind of stop, start, rewind, unwind kind of a way. Some of you may have witnessed the development of this project and read my premature exclamations; “It’s nearly done!” and “it’s coming soon”  and then, like me, reached the conclusion that actually it’s not at all done and possibly might never be.

But I was sooooo close. I made two versions, did the photoshoot and  nearly finished the pattern. Something was just stopping me from shipping this one.

Then, just as it really was almost ready, disaster struck.

A nasty virus wiped out all my projects in development, and with it, hundreds of hours of work.

Potentially this was catastrophic and my slow rolling, ongoing, never ending project was the main casualty. I was devastated and just couldn’t stop thinking about what I had lost. Somehow to lose an unfinished project seems so much more tragic than losing something complete.

But, I listened to those recurring thoughts until they drove me nearly insane and I made a decision to either close the book or take direct action.

I decided to take action.

Sometimes in life you just need to wipe the slate clean, and start again. So I started again with a determination to follow through and make it even better than it was before – and it is, and I’m finally happy with it. But without the incessant nagging of the Zeigarnik Effect I could easily have left this end dangling.

Now it’s done I’d like to share the results with you in my Autumn online Crochet Along which you can join here.

Or you can join in the Real Life Crochet Along this Autumn at Norfolk Yarn, in Norwich, and I can help you create your own beautiful version in lovely Rowan Felted Tweed.

So what UFO’s are keeping you awake at night? And isn’t it time to make a decision and either close the book – or take action and follow through?

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Folklore Shawl Crochet-Along

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”

    Albert Einstein      

                         

Earlier this year I was delighted to run another ‘real life’ crochet-along at Norfolk Yarn in the Lanes, Norwich.

Over the course of 3 months we met up to work on our own versions of The Folklore Shawl and the results were just beautiful. The design can be made using any brand of DK weight yarn but we chose to use Yarn Stories DK Merino because we all agreed that the colour range was perfect for this project.

As always, the first class was really exciting as we spent time selecting colours and working on our own, individual, colour palettes. It’s always such a pleasure helping people do this; the challenge is to gently poke someone out of their comfort zone and into their creative zone. Comfort gives you a nice warm fuzzy feeling but being inspired, and  truely creative, gives you a buzz that makes your heart sing.

The investment of hours and hours of labour (even if it is a ‘labour of love’) does require a sprinkling of faith that the colours you have chosen are ‘right’ – but this is where the magic lies. You try to visualise the finished result but it’s not until the work begins to reveal itself that you see it’s ‘true colours’ and begin to know your creation.

It is a priviledge to work with people that have this faith; they trust their decisions and follow through.

Here are some glimpses of the amazing work produced by a group of  inspirational people.

 

The real Life Folklore Shawl CAL

If you love these as much as I do you might like to join me for my next real life CAL at Norfolk Yarn this Autumn. We will be making my latest design; the lovely Crochet Trellis Poncho using Rowan Felted Tweed.

But if you live too far away to join us why not join in the online Trellis Poncho CAL

And if you’d like to stay in the loop you can subscribe to my lovely little newsletter.

with love.

Sue x

Lifestyle photography by Boo Marshall Photography

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The Real Life Daisy Wrap Crochet-Along

On line CALs (that’s crochet-alongs FYO) are a fabulous way to create something beautiful and feel part of a community. We live in amazing times where we can work on a project and share our progress with people on the other side of the planet.

If the person sitting on the sofa next to you  doesn’t appreciate your  skill, tenacity and sheer hard work, you know there will always be someone online who will offer you support, advise and a virtual pat on the back for your efforts.

I have run 2 online CALs, and they have  been such great fun, and I’ve just loved seeing so many different versions of the Folklore Shawl and the Daisy Wrap. I’ve enjoyed them so much that I’m running a new one this Autumn – and I’m so excited about it.

However, you simply can’t beat meeting up in real life with like minded crafters and I want to share with you some of the amazing results of the ‘real life’ Daisy Wrap crochet-along I ran  at Norfolk Yarn, in Norwich last year.

The course ran over 3 months and we met once a month. The first class is the one where you get to choose your colours (we used Debbie Bliss DK Rialto) and this is always such a pleasure for me. There’s nothing I enjoy better than playing with colours and helping people find their perfect ‘combo’. There really were some absolutely stunning colourways; so feast your eyes on these beauties. I wonder what colours you would have choosen.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these amazing shawls. The pattern will be available here soon and it is also available, now, in my Ravelry store.

If you’re feeling inspired to take on a new project you might like to join in with my next CAL which will start this September. I’ll be running an online and a Real Life crochet along and we’ll be making something gorgeous in Rowan Felted Tweed.

I hope you’ll be able to join us!

with love

Sue x

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Floral Crowns and May Day Protests

So it’s nearly May Day.

Another mixed up, modern day excuse for a knees up.

May Day, like most festivals in 21st century Britain, has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s not quite sure what it is anymore and doesn’t really know what to do with itself.

It wants to put on a pretty frock, wear a floral crown and frolic around a maypole on the village green performing a ritualistic dance of summer, fertility and joy.

On the other hand – it is also an anarchist bent on overthrowing the canons of capitalism; a proletarian revolt against exploitation of ‘the workers’ and a rampage through the streets in an uproarious celebration of temporary mayhem.

It seems that in the 21st century we have to choose which side we’re on. Floral dress and crown- or hoody and bandana?

Shall I frolic – or rampage?

Am I joyful or angry?

And why can’t I be both?

In the past ordinary folk, like me, were allowed to do both. To be both. May Day, and similar festivities were all about breaking the rules, fools were crowned, and the authorities were mocked as the world was turned upside down for a day.

At what point in the civilising process did we lose our identity? When did we lose our sense of humour – and the strength to uphold our traditions?

At the turn of the 21st century when an ex soldier was jailed for decorating Churchill’s statue with a green turf Mohican it signalled how insecure as a nation we have become. We take ourselves so seriously now we deny all our weaknesses. We are so self-conscious, and self-policing, we don’t allow ourselves to make mistakes, say the wrong thing occasionally, get drunk and cavort outrageously. It can’t be healthy to be so civilised.

So this May Day I’ll put on the crown….then I’ll open a can of larger and swear at the 10 o’clock news.

If you’d like to join in my armchair revelry, here’s how to make the pretty floral crown.

You will need:

  • A few lengths of natural raffia. (around 12)
  • Some freshly cut flowers. (nothing too ostentatious….just a few sprigs of whatever you can find growing nearby)

You’ll need to secure your work – I’m quite happy to stick pins in my furniture – you might not be.

Gather your raffia and begin by tying a loop at one end – leave the ends nice and long.

Raffia May Day Crowns

 

Start to plait the raffia – and works the short ends into the beginning of the plait.may day crowns 2

Check the length of the plait and when it’s long enough to go around your head thread the ends through the loop and secure in a knot. If you knot it fairly loosely you’ll be able to undo it if you need to adjust the size.may day crowns 3

Trim your flowers and poke the stems through the plait. Use additional lengths of raffia to

bind the stems so they dont poke out.maydown crown with flower

Continue to add the flowers until you are happy with your crown. Now try it on.mayday crowns finished

I wanted to photograph the crown on my resident 10 year old May Queen ………but…..

“I’m not wearing THAT.” Stomp stomp stomp. SLAM.

Hoorah! The spirit of protest is alive and kicking in our house.

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Crochet Shawls: Connected with Hugs and CALs

Crochet CAL

For several weeks now I’ve been thinking rather a lot about shawls; their history, their function and their design  potential

I’ve written before about The Norwich Shawl and it’s glorious history. Queen Victoria commissioned two Norwich shawls after admiring them at the 1851 Great Exhibition and for much of the  19th century decorative woven shawls were the ‘on trend’ accessory for women of all social classes.

It’s also fascinating to track the demise of this once ‘must have’ wardrobe staple as fashions evolved and the shawl became almost obsolete in fashionable society. For the last few years of the 19th century, and for most of the 20th century, shawls became a rather self-effacing accessory, associated with the elderly, the frail and the ubiquitous huddled masses en route to an unknown future.

In the 21st century, it is still a brave designer that sends models swathed in shawls down the runways of London Fashion week; and I love Burberry Prorsum for having the courage to do this two years running.

Burberry

A shawl presents infinite possibilities. It is a conceptual blank canvas that can be any shape, size, colour or gender. It can be functional or decorative; high fashion or utility. A shawl has the power to comfort and make the wearer feel warm, safe and protected. Like a shell, but soft and forgiving. Being wrapped in a fabulous shawl is a gentle and tender embrace.

Fringed prayer shawls feature in Judaism and there is now, particularly in the USA, a movement for knitting or crocheting a more generic ‘prayer shawl’ which is blessed and given to someone in need of comfort. I was reminded of this recently when I was contacted by Anne McCrudden about the Shawl Hugs project she has started. Shawl  Hugs is a project for anyone to make shawls for people who are going through a tough time “ they may be experiencing physical or mental health problems, going through bereavement or struggling in some way.”

“Shawls can be tangible symbols of love and support. They can be warm hugs of happiness and empathy; a place of escape to relax, rest and renew; something to hold on to when all else is slipping away. Wrapping another in a shawl made of your loving thoughts is a gift not only for the person who receives it, but for yourself as well.” 

shawl hugs

The project includes live workshop events where anyone can drop buy, learn to knit or crochet, pick up a pattern and get started on their own, unique, shawl. The next event is on Thursday 12th May and you can find out more about it here.

This is such a great way to connect with others, and in my own work at The Mercerie I also used a shawl, earlier this year, as a way to connect with people all over the world.

In February I launched my first on line CROCHET-ALONG which ran over 6 weeks and I was amazed and delighted by what happened. I loved watching the progress of so many variations of the Folklore Shawl. I was stunned by how fast some of you work (yes, that’s you Lee!) and thrilled to see so many different colour variations – take a look at some of the projects…..they are so beautiful.

I adore this blue version by Lee.

lees Shawl V1

Marion’s multicoloured version is just fabulous – I’m going to try this….

marions

Lee managed to make TWO!!!

Lee's 2

Heather was the first to finish…..

Heather's

Aimi hooked up her black and red version pretty quickly too.

Ami's

Oh – and here’s mine. Shamefully still unfinished!

green folklore

If you made a shawl as part of this CAL; wrap yourself up in it……and that’s a big hug from me to say THANK YOU!

 

 

Ps. I’m running a ‘Joining Motifs’ crochet workshop on May 14th if you’d like to give this pattern a go – but need a little help getting started.

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