Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The return of the Knitter

In school, we learned Amo, Amavi, and Amabo.  I love, I loved, I will love.  In my case, it is I knit, I knitted, I will knit.  I tell you this, it is partly through an old school friend, that I have fallen in love with knitting again.

I was always a knitter, I come from a long family of knits.  I learned to knit when I was 4 years old, it was almost an extension of me.  Girl Guide knitting badge was like taking candy off a baby, not of course that I would ever do that!  

At university, I used to knit my own clothes.  I remember an illicit weekend in Dublin and I was knitting a dress to take with me.  Time was against me, I was knitting blue Donegal tweed and silk on a circular needle.  I kept knitting until I stepped into the magic circle, and, I thought it covered all the requisite bits.  A pair of pink tights, and white ankle boots and I was ready to go!  And I am sure I was lovely.  Looking back, it was a little on the short side!

For me, when I had children, it was great!  Now I got to knit children’s jumpers.  There was a brief halcyon moment when I used to design my own jumpers for my twin boys.

And then came the Julius Caesar dagger in the heart moment.  Twin one was whispering to twin two. “Can you knit school trousers?” asked twin one.  “No, you can’t” I replied.  The relief in the voice was tangible as twin one whispered to twin two “she says you can’t, we will be buying them in a proper shop”.  Et tu Brute.

So …. That was the end of the knitting, and a heart broken mother.
Fast forward 25 years and twin one marries a girl who not only knits, but spins her own yarn.  Result!  But talking to the young is a whole different language these days, yarn not wool, cake not ball, (cake – I eat cake!), indie dyers not wool shops, ravelry not patterns in a big folder.  This was all a foreign land to me, then my daughter in law took me to Unravelled in 2016.

Unravelled was my epiphany.  I had no idea what was going on, mostly, but it was ever so exciting.  I walked round and round in a state of confused awakening.  I love all these skeins, but what do you do with single skeins?  Why does everybody knit shawls, or wraps, or even stranger, haps?  What is a hap?  How do you know how much wool to buy if you don’t have a pattern book to flip through?  Where did all these “young” people come from?  They all knit?  I came home enthused but emotionally exhausted.  I spent hours reading knitting blogs and trying to get to grips with Ravelry.  I started buying random amounts of wool, sorry yarn, but no clear idea what to do.

And then Heather contacted me.  I had left a comment on this Hookery blog,  Heather and Elaine had a conversation about this lady who had posted a comment and how there could be connections. Elaine, realised we had gone to school together and that our fathers had been friends for years and years.   And then I was contacted, I was invited to join the girls in their meet up.  And …. It all clicked.  I had come home again.  I could see why folks knitted more shawls and scarves than there were days in the week!  Knitting in the round and having cake on the needles was where I was meant to be!  I spent a lovely summer with the girls, and set off to our very own Yarnfest at Whitehead in August fully prepared.

This time around, I knew where I was going.  I was buying skeins with a purpose.  I knew what BFL high twist was, I knew what fingering weight was, I even knew what sport yarn was.  And, no it isn’t a jumper you wear when playing cricket!

So, back to my declensions.  I knit, I knitted, I will knit.  I DO knit!  And I look forward to spending time with the girls again, and seeing the eventual completion of Bernard.  And, would you believe it? I have even mastered brioche!  Yes, this time last year, I thought brioche was a French bread too.

Helen x 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Hookery on tour

Hookery went on tour this year.  Our ladies travelled far and wide and some have sent through interesting photos.

Mags was on holiday in France and locally in Fermanagh.  In France she went to the Vendee but to quote they were ‘in the middle of glorious nowhere’. just into the Vendee region.  Knowing that it would be too hot to crochet and preferring to spend her time in the pool, her French project was very small.  Mags crocheted some flowers from Lesley Stanfield’s book 100 flowers to Knit and Crochet and plans to sew then onto a dressing gown.  Mags assures us as readers of the blog that photographic evidence will not be forthcoming of her modelling the finished article.
Camping at The share Centre in County Fermanagh provided the family with a few days of glorious sunshine between two weeks of torrential rain, a typical Northern Ireland summer!  The pic is of her ‘Argory blanket’ and was taken inside the tent because, unusually for Northern Ireland, the sun was in full blaze and too strong!  We are never weather-happy in Northern Ireland.

Elaine went to Scotland.  Her first visit was to a woollen mill in Hawick, the Scottish home of cashmere, ‘seriously the real job’ as she described it.  It would have been a shame not to buy …..  Elaine’s husband was encouraged to pose wearing the WIP, which is a new winter chunky James C Brett scarf, wonderfully matched to his jacket.  Although I understand that for the purposes of creativity, craft and continued matrimonial harmony he smiled throughout but has neglected to allow his photo to be included here.
Then they went on to Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside where the scarf made another appearance.
Helen’s holiday hookery photos have come all the way from New Zealand.  The first was taken at the Franz Josef glacier and the second, as you can tell, on a much warmer and sunnier day in Queenstown.  The much-looked-forward-to holiday was over in a blink of an eye.

Catherine travelled to Moraira in Spain for a whopping 3 weeks as a special family birthday treat.  Whilst there she crocheted herself a beach cover-up which she got to wear before she came home.

I was in Germany, staying in Boppard on the banks of the Rhine.  I got some work done en route.
Within 30 mins of accessing the local shops on day one I had found a shop which sold wool.  It was a strange shop selling both wool and outdoor/trekking clothing and equipment.  It was also a very wet day!
Now which one to choose?  400g or 25g?
I also found a wool shop in Cochem a few days later which was more traditional selling textiles, material, wool and accessories.

Evelyn and I were on the North Coast and couldn’t resist the temptation when a photo opportunity arose.  Not so much a rose between two thorns as a pick-up truck between two roses?  Seriously, we should all remember water safety and thank these folks in the RNLI for the sterling work they do to patrol our beaches during the summer months and rescue folks from the sea all year round.

A few of us managed to have a wee day out, a girlie day, in August with lots of shopping and tea/coffee/lunch.  Individually we had all come across this wee wool shop and independently thought that it might be worth a visit.  It’s a wool shop in Bessbrook and although it has been there for about 40-50 years it is now under new management by Lorna.  Isn’t it great to see this happen and not see another independent yarn shop close it’s doors?  Lorna was on hand to help Elaine choose a yarn to match a current project, I was looking for some cream DK and we also got to chat to another customer and ‘help’ her to choose yarn for a new projet.  It turned out that Elaine and Lorna had mutual, local connections and histories were discussed.  I think that you could call this Hookery in the Bookery went to Bessbrook-ery.  We wish Lorna all the best in her new adventure and we will certainly be back.
One day, I did manage to have a late breakfast of coffee, croissants and a little time to do some crochet at Magheracross, near Bushmills, Co Antrim.
A few idol minutes up at Malin Head produced this.
Hope you all enjoyed our tour?

Monday, 19 June 2017

World Wide Knit in Public Day June 2017

Here we are at our 3rd WWKIP Day held once again in Yarns Coffee Halt at Theatre at The Mill, Mossley.  We held our WWKIP Day a week earlier than the official date because of holidays etc. among the group.  We had our WWKIP Day on Saturday 3rd June.

Our local Hookery Group were joined by some lovely ladies from
the Knitwits Group in Portstewart who went on to host their own WWKIP Day on Saturday 10th June on Portstewart Promenade. Thank you ladies for your support.   Maybe next year we'll travel
to the North Coast and join you for The WWKIP Day.

We also had some friends from Whitehead who joined us again this year. Thank you ladies. 

The staff at Yarns were very attentive as usual and thanks must go to the Duty Manager and to Heather in the coffee shop.  We had 36 folks who came along - women, men, adults and children, some who could knit and crochet and others who couldn't, some who were coming back for a second time and some who were new.

On the table in the photo above you can see some white pieces of work.  It was quite difficult to get a good picture of the white work.  One belongs to Catherine's great grandmother and was crocheted back in the late 1800s.  Catherine's grandmother worked in the local linen mills and she then attached the crocheted pieces to some linen.  The work is so detailed and one can't even begin to imagine the poor light that the ladies had to do the work and also the material is so white and clean.  Another couple of pieces belong to Helena's sister-in-law who crocheted collars and cuffs for Irish dancing tunics.  All of these pieces of work have Irish roses and shamrocks on them.
We decided on a floral theme this year and everyone pulled out all the stops to come up with unusual ideas for crocheted and knitted garments and other items on the theme of flowers.  The photos don't do justice to the work.
Ladder kindly loaned by Mags and the flowers and vines kindly donated by Judith, Niqi's mum.  Judith was tasked with crocheting 'just a few' while she was over on holidays a few weeks ago. 
  Doesn't Ermintrude look well?  This is one of the cows placed in public places around Northern Ireland.  This one is in The Civic Square at Mossley Mill.  Ermintrude's head was carefully measured to ensure a snug fit of her sun hat!
It was a warm day so Ermintrude didn't really need her blanket but there were a few very heavy showers of rain!
'THE Bernard' as it has become known was ceremoniously cast off on WWKLIP Day.  It had been cast on at last year's WWKIP Day.  
This is a very special little flower.  Maureen was teaching herself how to do this pattern when news came through about the Manchester Arena explosion.  After she had finished the flower Maureen decided to put a single pink button onto the flower to represent each of the 22 lives lost.  
 Some other flowers seen on the day.
On trend cacti ....  Have you noticed them everywhere in the shops, in flower shops, on clothes and in the home decor magazines?  Can you see the dinky red watering can tucked away in the background?  
Here's a cheeky little cacti man made by Chloe ....  And a bouquet of carnations made by me.
 The group are making a friendship blanket.  We have all made flowers according to a pattern from Crochet Now but have chosen our own two-tone colours.  Catherine has started joining them together and some of the rest of us will do some more of this.  It is our intention to raffle it off once completed.
 Meet the members of Hookery Group.  Elaine started to crochet in February and this is her first piece.  It's a labour-of-love blanket for her husband.  The Mayor came to pay us a visit too that day on one of his last official visits at the end of his term of office.
 Evelyn's smiley little happy flower, from an Attic24 pattern, resting against Niqi's Sunshine and Showers blanket.
Maureen's sunshine flower.
 We were lucky enough to have one of our Poppy Pieces on display for our WWKIP Day.  It generated lots of discussion from members of the public who were also using the coffee shop that day.
And so to rest ...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Yarn Shop Day 2017

Saturday 6th May was Yarn Shop Day and I asked all the ladies to visit a yarn shop, buy some wool, take a pic of their favourite yarn shop, either of the outside of the shop or preferably of them shopping inside, or to write a few lines about their favourite yarn shop, the farthest one they have ever visited or the most expensive one they've ever been to.

My own favourite local place to buy yarn is in Mullan's along the Promenade in Portstewart.  Don't be fooled by the ladies' clothing in the window because there is a veritable treasure trove of wool, buttons and accessories at the back of the shop and lots of knitted examples of the patterns on sale. The colours, textures and patterns are to die for and always a new sample from the latest trade show. There are always samples of many of the patterns hanging on display around the shop or in the window and some of these are for sale.  Gerardette is very friendly, supportive and enthusiastic and she also helps to run the Knit and Natter Group in the local Library.  This group along with customers of the shop knit tiny baby hats for the neo-natal unit at a local hospital and also twiddle muffs for dementia sufferers.  It was Gerardette who introduced me to the liquorice allsort blanket last year. Gerardette also provides seating for husbands who have to patiently await wives discussing and choosing wool because a visit here is never a short one.
My other special woolshop is John Gregory's on the Ta Xbiex Seafront, Msida, Malta. It always strikes me as unusual that a country which is so warm has a wool shop which can sell aran, chunky, and super chunky wool.  But then I suppose if your summer temperatures are 40 degrees on average and your winter temperatures are in the mid-teens then the winters are relatively cold.  I always go and buy some yarn there when I'm on holiday and I knit or crochet a little something to remind me of that particular holiday.
From an early age Elaine the English teacher discovered wool, especially the smell of new wool in a wool shop.  She loved the smell when the door to Sew 'n' Knit in Canal Street, Newry, opened.  This was the shop Elaine's late mother used to frequent as she was a keen knitter and seamstress - buttons, wool, needles and hooks aplenty.  The owner was a very slight lady with bright auburn hair who at the time also wore the fashionable pink checked nylon coverall.

Another reason as to why the shop sticks out in Elaine's memory is because it had a laminate wooden floor, breaking new ground ahead of the fashion rage years later!  Today with the abundance of textures, colours and weights of wool it is a far cry from the basic DK and bland colours of back then, differentiated only by DK, baby and aran!  But to an 8 yr old this shop was a veritable Aladdin's Cave and has stood the test of time in Elaine's memory - a true mark of class.  Sadly the shop no longer exists but remains the 'bar' in Elaine's psyche to which all other wool shops have to adhere to.

Teaching Catherine took herself off to Parlour Yarns in Carrickfergus for Yarn Shop Day.
Catherine speaks of this shop as a 'cave of delights' with yarn everywhere and too much choice. There was a warm welcome and lots of help to find her particular colours.  In other words, there was more money spent than anticipated and even more wool added to her stash!  However, there was a gift if you spent more than a certain amount of money -  a bag with two different balls of yarn, a DK and a JC Brett chunky, and a crochet magazine.  There was a raffle for all callers to the shop that day and Catherine was lucky enough to win the second prize of a set of clover crochet hooks in a nice case. Altogether a pleasant way to spend an hour.
For Hooking Helena a trip to Mullan's in Portstewart is always a bit of a problem, in the very nicest sort of way of course.  What to choose from the extensive range and how much she can get away with buying without her 'long-suffering, wool-widower' husband finding out about.  Additionally, there is the issue of storage at home, but there is always under the bunks in the caravan .....  Sssshhh dont tell her husband!  On Yarn Shop Day Helena was very determined only to buy two balls of super chunky needed for a Nordic flower cushion cover - but which colour to choose?  Luckily Gerardette had two contrasting colours beside each other and Helena could hear her husband sigh with relief.  

Little did Helena's husband realise that this was only the first yarn shop visit of the day.  Next stop was a certain cash and carry in the local area where cheaper DK wool is well stocked.  
This cheaper wool is very good for knitting charity blankets or for items which need frequent washing.  Oh what a choice of colours they had and all DK!  Twenty minutes later, and in record time, Helena had chosen 10 different coloured balls and had paid for them at the till.  Phew!  

Our farthest traveller has to be Sheila who was in Norway.  Sheila didn't buy any wool because she had no idea of the Norwegian Kroner prices in the shop or the value for money because of currency exchange.  The shop was in Aldasnes, Norway, and she visited whilst on a cruise to celebrate a 'big' birthday last year. From memory the wool was all very thick and was in very dull colours which was disappointing since Norway is the land of the Northern Lights and associated with the Scandinavian tradition of patterned sweaters. Sheila hopes to go back some day and she will definitely buy some wool to bring back as a memory and keepsake.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Breaking news 

Here is some advanced notice about our Hookery group's WORLDWIDE KNIT IN PUBLIC DAY 2017. This year again it will be in the Foyer at the Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey.
Due to holidays within the group we are holding it a week earlier than the official date. We are booked in for Saturday 3rd June and it will run approximately from 10.30am - 2.00pm.

There is a cafe which serves scones, traybakes, paninis and sandwiches with tea, coffee and soft drinks.
We'll have a think about what we can do to make it a little bit more fun so if anyone has any ideas just let me know.  Raffle?  Exhibition of work? Demonstration?  Pattern/book swaps?  Stash/odds and ends swop?
Please share this post and hope to see you and your friends there.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Passing time and past times

The clocks in the UK went forward last week and we entered into British Summertime. Unfortunately no-one told the weathermen that we need a little bit less rain and a little bit more heat!
I thought that for this blog post I would turn the clocks back a few years.  I asked all the ladies in the group to tell me a bit about how and when they learned to knit or crochet and who taught them.

I learned to knit when I was 8 and was taught by my aunt, my father's sister.  I remember sitting on my own along the hallway with a pair of very short plastic children's needles and some of her old scrap lengths of wool.  I learned to crochet almost 40 years later thanks to two ladies with whom I worked, Guru Patricia and Mags.  Another friend, the Librarian, had tried unsuccessfully to teach me for years and had given up hope of ever succeeding.

Guru Patricia herself learned to knit when she was about 7 or 8.  Her tutors were her mum and one of her primary school teachers.  In 'big school', at about the age of about 15, a friend taught her to crochet. Guru Patricia is most probably the quietest in the group but then out of the blue she comes out with little gems of crochet wisdom and has skills beyond anyone's dream.
Queen Niqi's mum taught her to knit when she was about 5 or 6 while they lived in Hong Kong (so glamorous!).  Twice Niqi had unsuccessfully tried to learn to crochet but finally cracked it thanks to Mags, Lorna and Catherine Button whilst sitting drinking coffee in the Coffee Bean Deli back in 2011.

Teaching Catherine learned to knit when she was about 6.  She learned in primary school with a lot of help from mum at home.  When Catherine was 8 her gran taught her to crochet a chain but that was as far as the adventure went at that stage.  Later, at uni, Catherine tried again and got as far as granny squares and hexagons which was a tremendous improvement on the previous attempt.  Well done! Over the past two years crochet and knitting have taken on a major part of her life, the projects are rolling off the needles and hooks and it has enabled Catherine to get back in touch with old friends and meet new friends.

Hooking Helena was taught by her mum and granny when she was about 6.  Her granny was always knitting and Helena wanted to be able to do it too.  Helena learned to crochet at he age of 10 during craft time on a Friday afternoon for P6 and P7 pupils.  All through these classes the knitting/crochet was done during the Winter months and sewing and embroidery took over in the Spring.  Carpel tunnel syndrome prevented Helena from knitting and crocheting for a few years so she took up cross stitch.  After surgery the hooks and needles were dusted off and now there is no stopping her.

Elaine, the English teacher, was introduced to knitting and crochet in P6 and P7 at Windsor Hill Primary School.  Girls were dispatched to Mrs Campbell or Miss Crozier to undertake what was loosely termed 'needlework'.  The boys wove baskets elsewhere!
 "Miss Crozier scared me,  She wore a lime green pinafore over her clothes and had rather uneven teeth!  That is probably why I can say that although she introduced me to knitting and crochet, it was my mother who perfected the techniques to prevent me from becoming a nervous wreck.  My first adventure was a bookmark which was plain stitches knitted with blue plastic needles and turquoise wool finished with yellow fringing.  There was obviously a glut of turquoise wool as our next challenge was to knit a turquoise purse with a navy handle and a sky blue button on it."
Elaine says she has never really taken to knitting but that she is currently in the process of completing a Dr Who-type scarf, affectionately known as The Bernard by her friends.  It has been laid across the Brig O'Doon in Scotland and is almost the same length!  Elaine's experiences of crochet were much more pleasant.  Mrs Campbell who wore a brown checked overall and was much more pleasant. Elaine's mum was not so proficient here so Elaine was on her own when producing a cushion cover in chocolate brown, beige and egg yolk yellow hooked into two large squares.  Now some 40 years later Elaine is in the throes (no pun intended) of creating an extended blanket for her better half in the hope that a new blanket will entice him to snooze on the sofa warmly wrapped.

Sheila M was taught to knit in P3, eons ago, and seemingly wasn't very good with loose rows and tight rows intermingling!  A teacher watching closely over her shoulder didn't help.  Sheila started knitting again when expecting her son (now 33) and churned out many matinee coats and cardigans. At the age of 57 her friends persuaded her to take up crochet with many attempts at getting started with hoops and loops - or rather hooks and chains.  Sheila has reverted temporarily to knitting but the hooks and wool are in the background awaiting the pitter patter of tiny feet if her son ever becomes a dad .....

Librarian Evelyn learned to crochet in Windsor Hill Primary School where Mrs Evans was the teacher.  A square cushion was the hoped-for end product and the project was supposed to last a few weeks.  Evelyn went into school the next day having finished it!  Crochet has been a great go-to ever since.  Miss Crozier taught her to knit but Evelyn never really took to it in the same way as she did with crochet which, she says, is much quicker to complete and more enjoyable.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The year of the blanket

It all seems so long ago now when we talk about 2016 and yet we aren't quite at the end of January 2017.  How time flies!

Looking back over some photos, for our group 2016 appeared to be a 'year of the blanket'.  Many, many blankets were produced for babies, charity and for oursleves.

This got me thinking and the Chinese celebrate 'years' on a slightly different calendar to us and, on checking, 2016 was The Year of the Monkey and 2017 will be The Year of the Rooster.  So for a bit of a laugh and on the theme of 'the year of' I decided to look a bit further.

Those born under The Year of the Monkey are ambitious and adventurous, helpful and confident, love to talk and are sociable.  Monkeys are also thought of as being crafty and so are we although we hope it stems from a different definition of the word crafty!

People born under The Year of the Rooster are energetic, generous and hardworking, compassionate and talented, talkative and are happiest when they are surrounded by others.  They also make very loyal and devoted friends.

I think that these qualities just about sum up the Wednesday evening Hookery ladies, don't you?   The Hookery group is very talented as is evident by the vast array of crocheted and knitted goods they produce.  They are also very community aware and honour efforts and sacrifices made by others as was shown by their Poppy Project.  Many of us in and through the group have made, and also revived old, friendships.

It is the group's work with Pauline and John Tuff who are based in Tanzania which reveals their caring and passionate nature.  Each year for the past 4 years the ladies have sent out initially hand made blankets and and then wool and needles first to a leprosy village, Samaria, where the women were taught to knit with the wool and accessories.  Lately the blankets have gone to a children's home in Kazima, north of Taboro in Tanzania also run by Pauline and John.

I hope you enjoy looking at the colourful blankets below.  Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos but a mobile phone was used to take the pictures in some cases.

For babies

For charity

For ourselves

A beautiful mermaid's tail