Author Archives: kate

The Knit Nurse returns (with sketchbooks)

I’m at a – well, I suppose it’s a sort-of craft fair – at the weekend. It’s the Fibre and Fabric Fair in Harlech (harlechcraftfair.com), where nine local ‘designer-makers’ (sorry about that) will be demonstrating and selling and letting people have a go at whatever it is they do. There are three very different weavers, a spinner and dyer, a printmaker, an embroiderer, a ‘sewist’ (sorry about that too) who recycles beautiful old fabric, a felter – and us. A friend and I are running a knitting hospital. I keep saying ‘the knitting doctor is in’; she keeps referring to herself as the knit nurse…

The last Fair, I took along my sketchbooks and people seemed to find them very interesting. Er, interesting, anyway. So I’ve been digging them out, tidying them up (i.e. picking up about 85,623,890 ancient ball bands which fell out, then sticking them in place)

and making them look vaguely respectable. I then put a pic of one on Instagram, saying that I wasn’t sure whether or not to take it, as I didn’t feel it was very exciting:

and I got one comment saying that I should, definitely, to demonstrate that there’s more to the maths in knitting than counting rows and stitches. Hm. Personally, I think that might be more more likely to put people off, but I’ll probably take it.

I’m certainly taking the big sketchbook which relates to my latest Fair Isle WiP:

and probably the notes which relate to it, as well as a finished (must block it) piece.

But the whole thing got me thinking, after a chat with the embroiderer. How many of us who work with textiles keep sketchbooks, I wonder? Or notebooks, or whatever we like to call them? As the embroiderer said, a sketchbook doesn’t have to involve paints or pencils or pens… Oh, well, enough speculation – must go and block the hell out of that Fair Isle. Wish me and the Knit Nurse luck!

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Customer service, shops and woolly fairs…

I think that title about covers it.

I said in my last post that I was looking forward to visiting Loop when I was down in London (and living virtually next door), as I’d previously been a bit ‘meh’ about it. Well. I went in, with a list of things I wanted to look at – and most probably buy, given that I’d checked them out on Rav. A couple of issues of Laine magazine, some of Jared Flood’s books, Marie Wallin’s Shetland. Probably would have come to about £100.

Did I buy any of them? I did not. Could I find them? Some, yes. Did anyone show any interest in serving me? No, they did not. Speaking to me? Nope. I know I wasn’t wearing an invisibility cloak because one of the five people who seemed to be members of staff said ‘bye’ as I left. Still, that meant I had more to spend at Wonderwool on Sunday.

And I did. That fine strip of blackness was a completely unnecessary purchase which was down to brilliant customer service.

It’s a wrist tape measure. It’s fifteen inches long, is measured off in both inches and centimetres, and goes round your wrist twice where it fastens securely. It’s leather, and it was – well, let’s just say ‘not cheap’. An unbought issue of Laine magazine not cheap. I was merely intrigued, but the woman on the stand took me through the logic (indisputable: my friend had been doing tension squares in the wine bar the night before without a ruler – I know, I know – which led to some speculation on accurate guessing, length and much coarse laughter), and the available options. Obviously I was attracted by the almost-black one – very popular in Scandinavia, apparently – but I resisted. I went back twice before I gave in. But I gave in. And each time I had fabulous service.

Then there’s this:

This, my lovelies, is Colinette Banyan. Colinette! Colinette who went out of business a couple of years ago! And it was on sale! I also bought the five balls of bright red Juniper Moon Zooey from this stand – in part, again, because of brilliant, informative, friendly customer service. Even though the stall was heaving with people.

John Arbon got my money for some fibre (the orange) even though I swore I wasn’t buying fibre – and guess what one of the factors was? Yup. And the people on the stall who sold me the silvery blue were great too. In the teeth of a freezing cold and very busy Wonderwool Wales.

Customer service: it costs nothing. It doesn’t even cost your pride. When I was a baby bookseller I was once told ‘don’t grovel, don’t be snotty, just treat your customers as you would want to be treated,’ and I think that just about sums it up.

Oh, and IMO a good local yarn store in a provincial (or market or small) town can knock socks off one with a high opinion of itself in central London. It’s not just customer service where the LYS can easily win (why annoy people who might turn into regulars?), it’s range as well (you have to cater for the baby wool market, as well as the addicts who will pay £35 for a single skein). Enthusiasm – that’s another factor. Encouragement. Inspiration. Even help. Yes, there are exceptions, but there are more who match. There. I’ve said it. And as someone who lived in London for 20 years, I never thought I would. Yay for great wool shops in the provinces. They can win. And often do.

As a footnote: the eight balls of Shetland DK were brought down to Wales specifically for me to collect at the show by Jamieson’s. From Lerwick. Customer service!

What makes a good wool shop?

I’ve been considering this – and I’d better fess up, because I work in one, half a day a week, to get me a) out of the house, b) working with all sorts of yarn fabulousness, and c) to give me an excuse to make the most enormous fuss of the individual who really runs Knit one… in Dolgellau, the lovely and somewhat bossy imperious Bramble:

I’m abandoning North Wales briefly next week, as I have a meeting in London. Conveniently close to Loop. I mean, it would be silly not to investigate, wouldn’t it? Even though I have been before?

So, what does constitute a good wool – for wool, read yarn – shop?

First, I suppose, that it exists. There are not as many wool shops as there once were, but I do think the ones which have made it through are an enormous improvement in terms of quality. The first wool shop I remember was a dark cavern of a place in York, where my mother took me in despair when she saw the ‘easy’ object I had picked as my first garment to knit. It was beige. It was a tank top. It was super chunky. I have no idea why, and neither did she. After one horrified look, she stuffed me in the car and drove to a then-notorious area where, in a brutalist block of shops, stood a wool shop. It was stuffed. Stuffed. You couldn’t see in (or out). Ma showed the woman behind the counter what I had been knitting and they both became slightly hysterical. I was allowed to leave, eventually, with a cardigan pattern and some mohair in peacock and jade and purple. I loved that cardigan.

That leads on to the second point: inspiration. Inspiration and colour. Here is Jamieson’s in Lerwick:

and I defy anyone not to be inspired by this. I certainly could not resist, which led to the most complex of my (many, ahem) WiPs, a Fair Isle cardigan, colours chosen to reflect the landscape of Shetland. I am amazed that I managed to restrict myself to enough wool for just one, really.

Texture is part of this as well: you need to be able to fondle those balls (ooo, matron). Even if it is just to stroke them, as on the Oliver Twist stand at Wonderwool Wales:

Which reminds me, it’s Wonderwool next weekend. I will be there, or be square and deprived of yarn, on the Sunday. I have to go, no really I do, because Jamieson’s will be there and I have to collect some more of the yarn for the cardigan. Forced to go, basically. Life is hard.

Next, and maybe it should be right at the top, comes customer service.

I remember a wool shop, now unsurprisingly closed, where the owner spent all her time leaning on the counter and moaning. About the tourists (her bread and butter); about parking; about the weather; about how hard it was to run a wool shop because people would keep coming in wanting to buy stuff (not to worry – they soon went elsewhere); about politics (anyone to the left of Attila the Hun); about the bad service she had received elsewhere – the woman had no sense of irony – and about how the people who went to the local knit and natter groups failed to buy all their yarn from her. Really? You surprise me.

There’s another, too, I’ve encountered. In this one the problem wasn’t lackadaisical service but rather the opposite: you WILL knit this, and you WILL knit it in this yarn. What do you mean, you want to make your own mind up?

Ideally, the service should be just at the right level, and that means being aware of what customers are happy with – some people want to chat, some people want to look in silence (and some people come to see the cat rather than the yarn, but that’s fine). I think it should also involve help where necessary and if required:

(like me being taught magic loop, yet again, yes, I know, I’m blaming my hand surgery). Though there is a fine line between providing help and people who expect you to finish their knitting…

So where, I wonder, will Loop fit in? I’ve not been wildly impressed so far, but I’ve been there with non-knitters – which doesn’t really give you the chance to get a proper impression. We will see. If nothing else, I’m going to enjoy the pattern books. Laine magazine particularly.

And, as a final note, look what we found on the inside of a Zauberball label:

They’re not wrong.

 

Well, hello (again)

I am, finally, back. Or so I think. I’ve been working on a huge project, completely unrelated to knitting or wool, and am beginning to come out from under. Beginning is the word, though. But, yes, it’s definitely a beginning. I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging while spending so much time nailed to the laptop doing Other Stuff, so here I am. Back. Back, with a revamp. So hello – again!

It may have been snowy over Easter but three of us huddled together in a pop-up craft-makers’ shop (I sat next to, and occasionally on, the radiator) which gave me a c-c-chance to shiver leave the aforementioned major project and think about wooly things instead. And about how fabulous knitting is in detail:

This, natch, is Noro. Taiyo Sock. I’m in love with Noro, which is odd for someone who habitually dresses in black, but hey ho.

and how wonderfully splendid a variegated yarn looks with stitch detail:

This is a skein I picked up at Wonderwool a few years ago, hand-dyed by Ripples Crafts. The colourway was called ‘lichen’: bang on.

This is another Wonderwool find (which reminds me, the 2018 Wonderwool Wales is very, very close), but I can’t find the label. I think it was dyed by Nimu. Actually, I’m sure it was dyed by Nimu. Beautiful – and the pattern is Stitchnerds’ TGV:

It was refreshing – after spending so long editing and writing and considering and checking and and and and and – to spend some time in the close company of wool. Beautiful wool. And it’s also interesting, when you normally work on your own, to work with other people. No, I did not bite anyone. It was fun.

And, as a final note, some more Noro:

Kureyon Sock, I think. Fabulous colours, just fabulous!

Nearly autumn (thank all the gods)

And I’ve survived!

That is, always supposing something terrible doesn’t happen in the next ten days or so. Quite frankly, this holiday season, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a gnu eating ice creams and riding a unicycle landed on me from a great height. It’s been one of those Augusts. And Julys.

Knitting has happened, however:

(this is a Woolwinding shawl in Rowan’s Grainy Silk) which always makes me feel better. Better despite the fact that I’ve begun to wonder why I don’t just paint a big target on my car and have done with it. Losses? Two wing mirrors, both to tourists going too fast. In one case the German driver was delightful and it was either me or the cyclist he was overtaking, so obviously it was me; in the other, the (British plates) driver vamoosed. Dents? Numerous, including one from being barrelled into a wall by a motor home driving on the wrong side of the road. British, again.

And the weather’s been iffy. But I can warm my hands on this:

I once worked in a major gallery. I went off to do a stage in the US, and one museum where I worked had a lunar chart on the back of the staffroom door. I thought flaky, typical – but no. They’d charted bad customer behaviour and it did coincide with phases of the moon. When I returned to the UK we tried it.

Nah.

Then we tried atmospheric pressure.

Bang on.

Weather changes, either good or bad? Changes in visitor dingbattiness. This summer has provided further support for this theory, to the extent that I submit that it no longer qualifies as theoretical. Been in craft pop up. Woman picks up long thin shawl, holds it right out, studies it. Turns to me: ‘Is this a hat?’

No, it’s a shawl. But do try winding it around your head, it might keep your brain warm.

It is really, really hard keeping the sarcasm level at acceptable. Really hard. So if anyone reading this gets a bit of a sharp response from some hardworking shop keeper this season, please bear in mind the effects of atmospheric pressure, and that if we have to explain once more that ‘please do eat or drink in this shop’ includes you with the can, your child with the crisps, the one with the ice cream and above all the one with the squishy banana, and take it in the spirit it was intended.

And also take your sticky child, your quavers, your magnum, your banana, your dripping can of cola out. Because I am armed with sharp sticks, and by this stage I am not afraid to use them.

WiPs and WiWs

Busy, busy, busy. I love summer (actually I don’t, particularly; autumn’s my favourite) but round here summer means extra work, and lots of it. The work that gets me out if the house and away from the laptop’s titanium grip, that is. Knitting work. Helping-friends-who-have-interesting-shops work. But at least I’m down to only three works in progress, and one thing on the spinning wheel. Mind you, I have only the one wheel.

Here’s the first, a big jumper in Rowan Cocoon. Naturally I’m not knitting to the same gauge as the pattern, so adjustments have been made. We’ll see. Love the yarn, though, even if it sheds like the devil and all his angels.

Then there’s the Megaproject. This is an Orkney cardigan, also a Rowan pattern but knitted in Jamiesons shetland DK instead of Felted Tweed. This has also needed tweaking to get gauge. Naturally.

Happily the only ither thing on the needles (for the moment) does not need me to explore the realms of higher mathematics. It’s a shawlette, culled from Ravelry, and it’s being knitted in some really ancient Jaeger pure silk which I bought in a sale at Rowan in Holmfirth.

and I’m loving the yarn. It will look even better when it’s been blocked, of course, but it is de-lic-ious. Supposedly this is being knitted for the stall, but we will see.

Then on the wheel, in my lamentable attemot to join the Tour de Fleece this year, is some drum-carder blended fibre. There’s silk in here too, and heaven only knows what else.

Not enough to do much with, either, but I decided I would use the TdF to spin up some bits and then… well, who knows? One wristwarmer, perhaps. Which will add a fourth WiP, of course. And might be very useful for someone with one wrist.

Yikes!

I just realised, with a shock, that poor old Woolwinding has gone untended for ages. So while I am stupidly busy, I thought I’d do a few quickie posts which I could complete easily from my phone or tablet – just, basically, saying that I’m not dead, and neither is Woolwinding…

One of the things that’s keeping me busy is the prospect of summer and the pop-up makers’market in which I participate. As usual, it’s the things which need some sewing that are hanging about, waiting for me to just… just…

decide which fabric is going to make the lining of this felted bag. Classic (if mad) brocade, or the 1980s Collier Campbell?