More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Monday, 28 May 2012

Visit to the Rowan Mill

Rowan has been a part of the fabric of my knitting life for thirty years now, and the mill has been a place for several personal milestones.  I did my first ever workshop there, after Stephen Sheard started to feature my designs in the early 80s and my first TV appearance was at the mill when Selina Scott brought The Clothes Show to Rowan and they filmed my workshop for the programme.

I almost feel Rowan yarns run in my blood - when I use it I feel inexplicably confident that the pattern will work.  It's not just the gorgeous colours and fabulous yarn qualities, it's the way that the company has always blazed an exciting trail.  In the beginning you could almost see the rank and file of the staid and stolid Northern woollen mills wagging their fingers and predicting Rowan's demise - a flash in the pan, their new-fangled ideas gone with them.

Well I'm glad to say the fibre fishwife faction were completely wrong and in fact Rowan have prevailed and sadly it's the mills who have fallen by the wayside - unwilling to move with the times. Today the most important thing is to be flexible and innovative, something that was never previously understood in the woollen industry, when it seemed like all you needed to succeed was a tried and tested formula for argyle socks.

I remember trying to source an order for 20,000 garments in the UK for Laura Ashley. They were fairisle sweaters and had twelve colours and in the early 80s this was unthinkable. 90% of factories we approached weren't interested, many had antiquated machines which couldn't cope with the design and some had newer machines capable of all sorts of different techniques, but their technical knowledge and attitudes hadn't yet caught up with their modern machinery. We eventually found only two mills who were prepared to take a chance, one in England and one in Scotland.

Enough of my reminiscences though, on to our lovely visit to the mill. We were warmly welcomed and checked in by Margaret in reception, then taken along the corridor to the workshop area. The way-in was flanked by tempting baskets of discontinued colours at giveaway prices - some of us just couldn't resist and dived straight in.

Tea and coffee was ready for us to take along into the workshop, where Kate Buller, Rowan's Brand Manager and David McLeod, their Design Room Manager were waiting to formally welcome us.  And what a welcome it was! We were treated to a slide presentation preview of the upcoming Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, some of which were already on display around the room.  Many of the designs were Martin's - it was so good to be able to see the wonderful new things he's been working on and get an overview of his designs. 
Martin and Kate
After the presentation the group had a chance to chat with Kate and David, to handle the sweaters from the new collection, to browse all the latest Rowan books, try on samples that were for sale and of course, view the entire yarn line at close quarters.  Eventually we managed to  round everyone up for Martin's workshop, Big & Beautiful Cables. 
Chatting to David over morning coffee
Kate talking with Catherine and Seik Yee
P and I were hoping to stretch our legs before lunch so asked Margaret how long it would take to walk to Holmfirth and we wondered why she immediately asked us if we were walkers.  If we were she had a great walk for us up the cobblestones, past another mill, over the moor with fab views from the tops back down to the mill, then dropping down into the town. We soon found out why she'd asked the question -West Yorkshire walkers are obviously made of different stuff.  The hill must have been a one in two slope and had us puffing and panting after twenty yards, the top nowhere to be seen, the cobbles curving away off up the moor and around a bend. Suffice to say it gave the old heart an excellent if painful workout, but  it was definitely worth it once we got to the top!
Last of the summer Wine is the world's longest-running sitcom.
Photo ©
Once in Holmfirth, home of Last of the Summer Wine we headed straight for a little cafe, which turned out to be next door to Sid's Cafe from the series, where we were warmed by a very welcome bowl of hearty lentil and veg soup.  We then paid a quick visit to Up Country, the Rowan stockist who also stock an interesting collection of clothes, to check that everything was ready for our visit later, then back to the mill - by a slightly less taxing direct route.
Cindy & Joanne in Martin's workshop
We got back to a hive of industry with everyone enjoying their big cables, most by this time having graduated to working oversized cabled hearts which could be made into anything from oven gloves to cushions to bags. 

The mood was buoyant, with the group obviously having a whale of a time. Martin is a very good teacher and communicator, and I love the way he demonstrates a technique from behind the students.  Why have I never thought of that?

The day was a great success, in fact definitely one of the highlights of the tour. Lots of pictures were taken, yarn and sample sweaters bought, and later on the coach it was interesting to hear what each knitter planned to make with their swatches. All too soon it was time to pack our things and leave the people at the mill to get on with the day to day running of this busy yarn company.
Love this pic of Martin...
... and this one of Madeleine
Our trusty York Pullman coach was waiting outside, ready to take us down for a quick visit to Up Country, a chance to stock up with even more Rowan yarns from the latest collections. Just time for a quick photocall with Kate, David and Martin, when P said Jean, look who's here! I turned around and there was Annabelle, an old friend I hadn't seen for several years who is now one of Rowan's sales consultants. Annabelle was quickly persuaded to join us for the picture, before we jumped on the coach and sped off down the road.  I do hope we get a chance to catch up sometime soon before several more years disappear.

Kate, David, Martin, Annabelle et moi

It was a wonderful day with many special memories made - I think I can speak for us all in saying we enjoyed every minute at the mill. A big thank-you to the team for allowing us a peep at life behind the scenes at Rowan and creating such an exceptional experience for us all.

PS Lots more pics of whole Lakes & York Knitters Tour on Facebook

Friday, 25 May 2012

Django in the wars again

I knew I had things to do and deadlines to meet immediately after the tour finished so I was trying to keep up with posting our progress as we went along.  Best laid plans... there were just not enough hours in each day.  After we got back to York we found there were so many other things to do as well as the day to day running of the tour.

One of the things that threw me was the fact that Django had to be readmitted to the vets as he'd developed a nasty wound underneath his bandage from having his leg covered for nearly a month. We managed to visit him on Wednesday, but he looked a sorry sight and the nurse told us he was quite depressed, so she was grooming him and doing what she could to cheer him up.  Although I'm sure this was very helpful to Django, my fertile imagination was working overtime and I was thinking he was just going to give up and die.  Thankfully I was wrong, and I brought him back home this morning, still quite depressed but at least he can move around the house in the very hot weather to find different comfy spots to sit in.
Django through the window

He was very disturbed to find he wasn't going to be let out and sat on a chair yowling and pleading to be released, which of course we couldn't comply with.  So he's now sitting in my office with me, looking as contented as I've seen him since we got back - the poor thing's having to wear two collars to stop him from licking the wound now there's no dressing on it.  So I'm honing my nursing skills again, doing lots of grooming to keep his spirits up, making sure I don't forget the anti-inflamatory and applying the Manuka honey ointment, which apparently is the best thing to get Django's wounds to heal.
The two collar cat chilled in my office
On a more positive note, as I said I knew I had deadlines to meet after the tour and one of them was a sweater for the 30th anniversary issue of Vogue Knitting. One of my best test knitters brought over the finished design in the middle of the tour, making me anxious and apprehensive in case there were massive corrections to be done. The deadline is so tight and the sweater is quite a complex knit that I was dreading seeing it. So I was massively relieved to discover I was delighted with it  - the knitting gods must have been smiling on me. It's now pressed, labelled, packed and ready to go, just in time to meet the deadline. Phew... that one was easier than I thought.

At this point it would be wonderful to be able to show you a picture - I'm so thrilled with it I'm itching to see what other people think. However, I'm sure I would be in big trouble with VK if I did, so all I'll say is that it's in that gorgeous spring green merino/silk yarn that arrived a couple of months ago, which gives fabulous stitch definition to the intricate patterning - but you'll have to imagine the rest.

Gotta go and do a bit more clearing up now, amazing the chaos that being absent for eleven days creates.
Haven't forgotten about posting more about the York part of the tour, more anon...

Meanwhile a big thank you to our fabulous group of fun people who all helped make the tour such a huge success - we enjoyed every minute with you.  Hope by now you're all safely at your destinations and are enjoying the memories - we are for sure!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Crookabeck & Steam Yacht Gondola

Yesterday was a fun and full day out and about the Lakes, starting off bright and early at Crookabeck Angora & Herdwick Farm. 

Walking along the farm track to Crookabeck
Situated in an idyllic setting close to Patterdale, Crookabeck is home to Mary and Benny Bell, who gave us a warm welcome with tea and coffee in their farmhouse kitchen, served by their daughter Hazel. On arrival Mary started by showing us some of the luxurious yarns her goats produce.

Then on to see the goats themselves, who seemed very pleased to see us, and keen to see what goodies we'd brought for them.

There are domestic and farm animals whichever way you look at Crookabeck, all keen to cosy up and be sociable.

And of course the abundance of Mary's yummy yarn, scarves, shawls, socks and blankets certainly didn't go unnoticed - I think everyone left with their own souvenir of the visit. 

Next a spin on Gondola, a beautifully restored Victorian steam yacht and a perfect way to experience the spectacular scenery of Coniston Water. Not sure how much of that was seen though, as most people were keen to get on with their knitting projects. The captain pointed out the Cumbrian chimneys, which he told us were circular so that the devil had nowhere to hide!

We disembarked at Brantwood, John Ruskin's lakeside home, then spent a couple of hours exploring his home and garden.  Inside there was a demonstration of Ruskin lace, an interesting musical instrument called a lithophone (sort of like a stone xylophone) and particularly colourful loos. One of the windows overlooking the lake was beautufully decorated with stained glass reflecting the mountains on the other side of the lake.

Outside there was much to see both in the ziggy-zaggy garden which used fleece both as decoration and as a mulch...

... and in the wilder part of the garden behind, where we found the beautiful Himalayan poppy flowering.

This morning in my Swirl Knitting workshop, I noticed Joanne had some lovely markers from the Herdy shop in Grasmere. This is a lovely shop with all sorts of well-designed sheepy things from baby sleepsuits to colourful mugs.

At the end of my workshop Andrew, our favourite waiter, arrived for a knitting lesson, fully armed with a massive ball of yarn and sixty stitches already cast on. Cindy volunteered to be his tutor and by the time I was leaving he was already knitting like he's been born to it  - obviously a quick learner!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

California Revival Knits Winner

It's been all go on the tour recently so sorry that the draw is a little tardy. We managed to find time to pick a winner before supper at our hotel this evening after an action packed day out.  Two of our guests, Peggie and David, kindly agreed to do the draw, pulling the winner out of Merry's Dragonfly handknit sock. As you can see it was number two which turns out to be Susie Hewer.  If you email your address to me Susie, I'll get the book sent on to you post haste. 

California Revival Knits draw at Cragwood Hotel
 There'll be more about what we've been doing soon, but meanwhile here's a taster.

Group outside Rydal Mount
We were up early, breakfasted and off on the coach by 9.15am to Wordsworth's Rydal Mount. The rain held off, with even the odd burst of sun coming through, making the landscape seem almost biblical.

The house and gardens are magical and we were treated to poems along the way by Peter, our excellent guide, as well as a rendition of The Daffodils by Paul, who was later rewarded by a signed copy of the poem by Susan Wordsworth, the poet's great, great, great grand-daughter.

Herdwick sheep with her lamb

Then on to Grasmere for lunch and a wander around. P and I went for a walk along the beck and encountered many Herdwick sheep with their lambs, who seemed to be quite tame, in fact they behaved as if being photographed was just another part of their everyday lives, which I suspect is actually the case.

Next a wonderful drive through the most spectacular Lakeland scenery, arriving about an hour later at the honeypot for fibre enthusiasts that is the Wool Clip Co-op. Needless to say, much ooing and aahing went on at the fabulous range of handspun fibres and I don't suppose I need to tell you that before we left, there were many Wool Clip carrierbags heading for the coach!

Also it was a lovely bonus when Cecilia, one of the co-op members, kindly gave us a demo of drop-spindle spinning.  She made it look so easy, but I remember thinking otherwise when I used to spin, having no problem with a wheel but I never could get the hang of the drop spindle.

Cecilia spinning yarn
There's tons more I could tell you but it's late and I'm falling asleep at my laptop so watch this space ... Tomorrow we're knitting on the Steamyacht Gondola en route to John Ruskin's Brantwood.

Monday, 14 May 2012

First day of Lakes & York tour...

Up early yesterday to meet everyone at Manchester Airport for the start of our Lakes & York Knitters' Tour.  We arrived with plenty of time to spare for our 9.30 am assignation with our guests and it seemed all was going to plan until we realised one of the flights was two hours late!  What to do, should we stay, not knowing whether or not the plane would arrive at the new scheduled time or go, leaving detailed instructions for our final guest on how to catch us up later that day.  After much mulling over we decided to stay and luckily the plane caught up some time, so panic over, we all set off together. 

Arriving for lunch at the Levens Hall Café
Lily-flowered tulips in the café garden
Levens Hall, a Grade 1 listed manor on the edge of the Lake District was our first stop for lunch. Dating from 1694, the gardens are home to spectacular topiary that's recognised as some of the oldest in the world. 

When I said that we'd gathered up all our guests at the airport, that wasn't quite true, as we still had to meet up with the final member of our group who was travelling up independently from London. Philip was very relieved to see her arrive during lunch and so pleased to know he had all his sheep in the fold!
Part of the group under the crown arch
Despite the weather forecast, the rain held off while we wandered around the world-famous garden, originally laid out more than three hundred years ago by Monsieur Beaumont and remaining largely unchange to the present day. We played amongst the wacky shapes of the enormous yews, as the cold wind made it hard to stand around for too long.

Under the crown arch

The joys of spring!

Beyond the topiary garden lies a croquet lawn (with people actually playing), a spiral maze, and an orchard with a carpet of ransoms (wild garlic) beneath. I love wild garlic and it was all I could do to stop myself from gathering some up to give to our chef at our hotel for our evening meal.

Finally it was cosy to be able to warm up inside the house, where there was a welcome fire in the Jötel woodstove.  Levens is the family home of the Bagot family and sports a fine collection of paintings by Rubens, Lely and Cuyp, Cordova leather wall coverings, Wellingtoniana, but best of all, the earliest English patchwork quilt.

When asked what was my favourite part of the house, I was spoilt for choice and remarked I loved the lead drainpipes with their hearts and hugs. On hearing this I was regaled with a lovely tale of how at one point in its history the house was won on the turn of a card - this being the ace of hearts.  The lucky new owner was so over the moon that he had hearts and hugs etched and painted in gold on all the drainpipes.

On the way out Mr Bagot came to have a word with us, accompanied by his two lovely dogs.  When he realised we were fibre lovers he told us about his fifty rare Bagot goats which unfortunately had been banished to the other side of the road as they were threatening to kill off the ancient trees in the parkland by eating the bark. Ooops, not something to be tolerated in such a garden -  I wondered if they know it's only their name that's saving them!
As we chatted to Mr Bagot the other attraction was the two steam engines puffing away quietly in the background.  Amazing contraptions, which seemed to run like Rolls Royces, with beautiful brass and paintwork.

There was just time to snap a few chickens and their five-star coup before getting onto the bus for our last lap to the hotel...
Lacy bantam - great inspiration for a shawlette!
What a joy to collect eggs from this every morning.
...arriving in good time to have a quick nap before preparing for our evening reception and my slide talk Behind the Scenes.
Later we were served with an excellent supper that we've come to expect from the team at Cragwood, a lovely old Arts & Crafts hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere.  After a very full day I feel sure, jet lag permitting, our guests were more than ready for their beds by the end of the evening.

I certainly was and went off to make sure everything was ready for my workshop, Design Your Own Shawlette, first thing after breakfast on our first full day in the Lakes.

Off to Show & Share now, more anon...