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Oops!

January has been a bit of a walking through treacle month so far. But then it is for many people. The post-Christmas slump when the family has departed and the house de-Christmassed, the overly long wait for payday, the winter blahs (even though we’ve turned the corner and the days are getting longer)…all that stuff.

In addition to the usual suspects, January has been a month during which

  • I have been battling the black dog.
  • I have attended the funeral of a man who died far too young (he was 30!).
  • I have grown to despair of the sort of conversations that take place on Twitter. During my years in the field of L&D, Twitter was one of the most important tools in my toolkit. Since I no longer have those conversations to take part in, the balance has changed, and there is just so much vitriol. I have begun the process of extricating myself from that space.
  • Someone I thought I knew has metamorphosed into someone I barely recognise, and it is causing pain to two people I care about.
  • I have been entertaining grave doubts about the future of Karyn’s [re]Kreations.

This combination of factors already had me a bit of a low ebb, so I wasn’t in the greatest of places when the tree surgeon hired by our landlady had an accident and fell through the roof of my workshop. There are so many aspects to this event.

  1. The tree surgeon dude’s wellbeing. When he came to the house to let us know what had happened, the first question Mr Namasi asked him was whether he was okay. He said he was fine. Mr Namasi thought he’d probably feel less fine the next morning. (spoiler: he’s back today, and he is indeed fine – he said he’s had worse falls in the line of his work))
  2. The roof is asbestos. Apparently the risk sets in when it breaks and the fibres are released. Well, it was broken. The broken bits have now been removed. But I don’t know what the associated risks are of fibres on the contents of the workshop (see below).
  3. The structural damage. The hole in the roof is huge. Unfortunately, because it’s asbestos, a specialist replacement is probably on the cards. Because we don’t own the property, this is of course, the landlady’s problem, but she’s a lovely lady and it’s not a nice problem for her to have. And, now that I think about it, I guess there will come a time when there is asbestos-related work going on, on the property. I’m not sure how that will affect us.
  4. The damage to my stock. The part of the workshop that was damaged is where I keep my pending and completed projects. Some pieces of roofing have done damage to the pieces, and lot of dirt and debris has landed all over the place. I have yet to do a proper audit of the true extent of the damage.
  5. The impact on my already wobbly mental health.

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I shared a post about the damage to the workshop, focusing on the potential impact on Karyn’s [re]Kreations. Because that’s what the page is about. I reshared it on my personal Facebook page, and on Instagram.

This was when I discovered that I might not always present myself in the best light. A few people urged me to be grateful that the tree surgeon hadn’t been hurt, and reminded me that that was the most important consideration. I was utterly taken aback. Of course it is. And of course I know it. And of course, if the man had been hurt in any way, I’d have made a completely different sort of post. Of course. Well duh. Obvs. All those things.

But apparently it isn’t ‘well duh’. Apparently people didn’t automatically infer from my post that the structural damage to the roof and the damage to my stock was the worst of it. Apparently it isn’t immediately clear to people – even those who know me personally – that I value people more than things. That sat in my belly like a rock. And it reminded me of something.

Years ago, when I was submitting papers towards my Master’s degree, my course supervisor would repeatedly ask why I hadn’t elaborated on this or that point. I would explain that I had only 3000 words, and didn’t want to waste them stating the obvious. She would reply that ‘the obvious’ wasn’t necessarily obvious to the person reading the paper. I still contend that anyone to whom that particular obvious wasn’t obvious had no business marking Master’s degree level papers on the subject, but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for here.

It does seem, however, that I fell back into the same damned trap of assuming.

I clearly need to rethink how I present myself. I need to find a way to make it clear that I care about people. About the planet. About the environment. About animals. That I’m not just about stuff. Belongings. Possessions. Property. Things.

The problem is that I thought I was already doing that. This is a helluva concept to be tackling in a state of blah-ness. I might have to come back to it when my inner Tigger moves back into the front room and my inner Eeyore has dozed off again.

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DIY deodorant

Finding deodorant can be tricky if you don’t want to use aerosols, or aluminium, or products tested on animals or any of the other myriad issues that we’re slowly learning are detrimental to us and/or the planet. I’m not going to pretend that suitable products don’t exist. They absolutely do. But I thought I’d experiment with making my own deodorant at home.

Of course, Pinterest is always your friend in these cases, and I explored a few recipes, and found some that use relatively everyday ingredients. The result is a cream you rub in. It’s easily absorbed and doesn’t leave a greasy residue, but I’m not sure what it would be like to use it on hairy armpits.

Ingredients

You will need:

  • 65ml (5 tablespoons) arrowroot or cornflour/maizena
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) bicarbonate of soda (affectionately known as bicarb) – or baking soda if you’re American (it’s the same thing)
  • 90ml shea butter
  • 50 drops of tea tree oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Let’s just unpack a bit about those ingredients. As you can see from the picture, I bought my arrow root and bicarb at Waitrose. This is just because I happened to be there. You can get these products pretty much anywhere – probably even your little corner shop. And, of course, you will use these in your cooking and baking, so you’re not making a special purchase, only for the leftovers to languish in your pantry cupboard until underverse come (you get a geeky handclap if you can name the source of that reference).

Tea tree oil probably won’t be available from your local supermarket. I bought mine from my nearest health/whole foods shop. You might find it from a pharmacy, too. You don’t have to use tea tree oil – pretty much any essential oil will do, if you’re only after a fragrance for your deodorant. But I opted to use tea tree oil, because, well, not to put to fine a point on it, I SWEAT. I was always inclined to knock the ‘horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ thing into a cocked hat, and now I have a pretty physical job and am post menopausal. I sweat like a bloody horse, okay? Sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s relevant. If you don’t see the connection, tea tree oil is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, insecticidal, and fungicidal. I also rather like the smell.

Shea butter is probably the least readily available product on this list. You can buy it online, of course, but you might feel that some of large online buying sites (koff koff, Amazon) have a bit of an ethical/moral question mark over them, and prefer to buy elsewhere. Oddly enough, I found mine at CostCo, of all places. It’s organic, fair trade approved, and comes in a twinpack (2x150ml). The tubs are metal, which is both reusable and recyclable.

I have no pictures of the process, this time, but it’s pretty straightforward. Yield is approximately 200ml.

  • Either chop the shea butter up into small pieces, or melt it gently in the microwave or a bain marie/double boiler, then place into a bowl. Use a bigger bowl than you think you will need. If you have a choice, go with deep and narrow, rather than wide and shallow.
  • Add the two powdered ingredients and blend – you can decide whether you want to do this with a fork or a handmixer. This may take a while. Be patient. You’ll get there.
  • Add the essential oil. Blend again.
  • Transfer into a container that seals, like a glass jar or a tin with a screw top lid. Make sure to scrape out the very last bit to get full value for your money and effort.

You can apply it with your fingers or a make-up sponge. Rub it in until it is completely absorbed. It goes further than you would expect.

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Pine resin salve

Pine resin salve

It’s been far too long since I did any making of the sort that I could share here. Which is not to say I’ve been idle. Far from it. I have been tending the largest garden I’ve ever had in my life, and loving it. This is not, of course, any guarantee that the garden will thrive. I am not known for green fingers!

But today I did a bit of making I thought I’d share with you.

I made some pine resin salve, using just three ingredients: pine resin (you’ll be astonished to learn), jojoba oil, and beeswax.

Three ingredients
I sliced my finger

Before we go any further, I should probably explain what pine resin salve does, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth making some. Oddly enough, I had just made this batch, when I needed to use some of it on myself. I was busy with another make, when I sliced my finger on a very sharp metal edge. See the photo taken just this very minute, which was quite tricky with a ‘proper’ (non smart phone) camera and my left hand!

Pine resin is naturally antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. So the salve can be used to treat minor grazes and cuts. As well as preventing infection and reducing inflammation, the stickiness of the pine resin also helps keep a wound closed. Some people swear by it as a treatment for eczema.

Caveat: some people are allergic to pine resin. In case it needs to be said: such people should not use this salve.

The proportions are:

  • 60ml pine resin
  • 125ml jojoba oil
  • 30g beeswax
Pine resin

Pine resin doesn’t tend to arrive in conveniently usable form. It tends to be large crystals.

You can use it like this if you like, but it’s harder to measure out by volume that way, and it takes aaaaaaaages to melt.

Much more usable

So I recommend that you crush it first. Pour a quantity out onto a sheet of baking parchment or waxed paper or newspaper or something. If you have waxed cloth wraps, these could serve, too. Fold the paper/cloth over the resin crystals and then whack them repeatedly with a rolling pin or a hammer or other blunt instrument.

The result is a far more usable product.

Bees wax

 

You can buy beeswax in pellet form, but it’s more expensive. So I buy the sticks and grate it myself. I have a dedicated wax grater for this purpose, so I don’t have to go through the faff of cleaning it before using it for food again. It’s not that I’m particularly extravagant. It’s just that our old hand grater broke, and when I replaced it, I kept the old one for crafts. I also have a dedicated fork for stirring wax-based concoctions. This is one that must have been left behind by a barbecue guest at some point, and remained unclaimed.

 

Kit:

I am reliably informed that the main piece of kit you need to use for this is called a bain-marie in the UK. I know it as a double boiler, and when I went shopping for one in Swindon, was appalled that I tell people who worked in specialist cookware shops was a double boiler was. To me, a bain marie is a whole different thing used for keeping food warm when catering. Hey ho. If you don’t have one – whatever you call it – you can use a bowl over a saucepan, or a smaller saucepan over a larger one. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can buy the top pan bit separately… as long as you call it by a name that the shop assistant recognises! Do not, under any circumstances apply direct heat to the sap – it’s highly flammable!

You will also need containers for the finished product. You’ll need something that won’t melt, like glass, ceramic or metal. To give you an idea of yield: using this recipe, I filled 15 small (lipsalve sized) tins – roughly 10g of salve in each.

Melt the resin in the oil

Fill the bottom pan of your double boiler/bain marie with enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the upper pan, and bring it to a boil. Pour the oil into the upper pan and place it on top of the lower pan. Add your pine resin and stir occasionally until it has melted. This might take a while, and it will go through a stage of sticking in a gloopy mass to your fork (or whatever you’re using to stir).  If your resin had bits of bark in it, you might want to strain it through a piece of muslin once it has melted.

Once the resin has melted, add the wax. If you want a softer salve, you can choose to reduce the amount of wax by as much as half. Stir until the wax melts. This should happen very quickly.

Then you’re ready to pour your salve into containers. If you’re using glass jars, I suggest you preheat them first, to avoid cracking the glass. Leave to cool, and hey presto.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t fancy going through all that faff, but you’d still like some pine resin salve. As luck would have it, I just happen to have tins of it for sale at £2.50 each. Let me know!

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Uffington White Horse Show

I’ve been a little sporadic about updates here, because settling in to our new home in the Vale of the White Horse is taking a little longer than I would have liked. But things are starting to take shape.

Over the bank holiday weekend we experienced another hallmark of country life: the famous Uffington White Horse Show. As you will see, if you follow the link, there was a lot to see and do. I had hoped to have a stall there myself, but wasn’t able to get my poop in a pile in time. Maybe next year.

We attended on the bank holiday Monday, because the weather on Sunday was utterly miserable. Judging by the feedback from the stallholders I spoke to, most people opted for the same approach. Apparently Sunday was depressingly quiet. Having done a few depressingly quiet events myself, I know exactly how discouraging they can be, I’m just glad that the weather on Monday was much improved.

So, what were the highlights for me?

I need to start by saying that it was wonderful to be able to take Jess with us. It is a well-known fact that the English love their dogs. But in the towns and cities, this is less obvious than in the country. Almost every country pub and coffee shop I’ve been to is dog friendly. I love being able to have Jess for company when I’m out and about. Even though she now needs help getting into and out of the van (which brings a lump to my throat, even as I think about it). There were hundreds other dogs at the show. Of course, some of them might have been there for the dog show, but most of them were just there because… because this is the English countryside. What made it even better was the amount of attention my old girl got. She’s a mixed breed and nothing spectacular, but she has such a pretty face, and there’s just something about her that causes people to warm to her.

Mr Namasi and I spent a good long time wondering around the vintage cars on display. If I had seen a list of entries beforehand, I would have been able to predict which each of us would drool over most, and so it was. Here is Mr Namasi’s favourite.

E-type Jag

He is a lifelong Jag fan, and there can be few cars more iconic than the E-type.

For me, it was this one.

MG

I have a longstanding love for the little MG with a back that looks a bit like an old Austin Healey.

…with a back view a little like an Austin Healey

In fact, when Mr Namasi and I were dating, I used to tell him that if he ever wanted to marry me, he’d have to buy me one. In red or British racing green. He never has. Blighter.

We also saw motorbikes, trucks and all sorts of lovingly built/restored static steam engines.

Of course, there were food and drinks stalls doing a brisk trade. And a marquee with various traders. I bought a raffle ticket for a beautiful patchwork quilt, and a handmade belt for Mr Namasi.

We watched a bloke do some stunts on motorbikes and quadbikes, while providing his own commentary, which was pretty cool!

…and take to the skies

There was a guy doing stump carving with electric saws. A man on stilts. A funfair. BMX stunts (which we missed). Falconry (which we saw glimpses of, from a distance). A dog show, which we avoided – Jess gets a bit grumpy around other dogs, and we know she’s the best dog without a rosette to prove it. Heavy horses showing their skills. Helicopter rides. All sorts.

As we left, we spotted some additional traders outside the main space, and I was hijacked by some pretties which will find their way into various kreations in due course. Aren’t they gorgeous? They came from Button Box Devon.

So much pretty!

If I have one criticism of the show, it was that there was no water provided for the many, many dogs in attendance. We did find a tap (faucet for any American readers), and Mr Namasi was able to give Jess a little water in his cupped hands, but she really could have used a bowl or trough. I suspect any dogs doing agility for the dog show would have needed a drink too.

We look forward to next year’s event!

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Yard sale…or quarts into pint pots

 

Our recent move to the lovely Vale of the White Horse has presented a challenge on the Karyn’s [re]Kreations front: We have downsized considerably, and the two spaces that will serve as studio and workshop currenty look like cluttered storage units with no space to work. As a result, I’m getting absolutely nothing kreative done. We’ve sold/given away some items already, but the one-by-one approach is too slow. Hence the yard sale.

Surplus curtains, furniture and decor items are up for sale. Some of my less frequently used power tools are available (planer, band saw…). Several of my kreations – including toys, jewellery, bath oils/salts and ornaments – will be on offer at clearance prices. I’m having a rifle through my stashes of fabric, yarn and crafting supplies, and will be looking to whittle them down to something more manageable in the space available to me.

Regrettably, I am not yet set up to accept card payments, so it will be cash only.

How to find us: Our post code is SN7 7RP. We’re just a couple of doors down from the lovely Fox & Hounds pub, where you can enjoy lunch or a cheeky pint or two to make a real outing of it. You’ll have no trouble spotting Barney, my faithful, battered blue van parked out front.

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Moving on…again

The last nine months have been among the happiest of my life. We have been living in a thatched cottage in a village in rural Northamptonshire, and I have had the luxury of a studio and a workshop in which to wield my various pieces of kit.

When we sold our previous house and started to look for places to rent, the sort of places we were shown within our chosen budget caused my spirit to plummet. There were some fairly decent places within that price range, but none that would accept our pets. And the places we were seeing were dire. Dilapidated, insalubrious, poky… The only place we saw worth considering turned out not to have broadband – a deal breaker for us.

Then a friend told us about a client of his who had a property to let. It was well outside our budget, so I had doubts about going to look at it. I’ve watched ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ (don’t judge: my son was due to get married). I know how it goes. If you look outside your budget, you’ll find the perfect thing that you can’t afford, and then be miserable about everything you can afford. But Mr Namasi thought we might as well look. So we looked. And we fell in love. And nothing else would do.

Because neither of us had a regular income, we had to pay the full year’s rent up front. It was a massive chunk of change.

And it has been worth every penny.

It has been a time of restoration and healing for me, on so many levels. I had hoped that I would see out my days in this lovely home in this delightful village. Everyone who has come to visit us here has remarked on how well it suits us. When the subject of the end of our lease came up, I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and shout lalalalaaaaaa in that time honoured gesture of denial. Mr Namasi is more pragmatic, but this place has been balm to his soul, too. Not least because of how happy I have been here.

With the end of our lease period approaching all too soon, it transpires that it has been ‘for a season’. Mr Namasi has accepted a wonderful job offer in Oxfordshire, and starts on Tuesday. It has all happened incredibly fast. The job is such a perfect fit for him, the recruitment ad might as well have had his name in it. When he went to discuss the offer with the MD, they were so busy talking about their plans and visions for the future of the business, they almost forgot to discuss his remuneration package.

Of course, I am disappointed to be leaving this cottage and the little village. The craft-and-coffee group I started is just starting to take hold properly. And the response to my litter picking events has been so positive. The neighbours are a delight. But I’m optimistic, too. We’ll find another wonderful house in another village setting. I’ll join or start a craft group there. I’ll get involved in a local environmental initiative there. And we’ll befriend the new neighbours. We’ll be somewhat further away from our sons, and I will miss them sorely. But they are adults, and living their own lives. They will still come and visit us – we will only be a manageable car journey away. And the wonderful thing about Karyn’s [re]Kreations is that they can be [re]kreated anywhere. So the house hunting has begun in earnest.

I really thought I’d crumple in on myself when I had to face moving away. But I haven’t. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the scale of everything we have to do in the next couple of months. But I’m not burying myself under my duvet. And this gives me enormous hope.

If you happen to know of a wonderful property to rent within reach of Abingdon, do get in touch, won’t you?

 

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My tangential ‘process’

Working with found and reclaimed materials requires a measure of flexibility: you can never be sure what you’re going to have to work with, so it’s best not to run on rails.

Two recent pieces I’ve made illustrate this fairly well. So I thought I’d write about them.

Shepherds’ delight

The impromptu weaving

One Sunday night, while Mr Namasi was at ice hockey, I ran out of yarn for the project I was working on. This was the second time in a week that there was too much project left over at the end of the yarn provided, and I was deeply frustrated. Also, I was in the middle of watching a movie on telly. Something which I simply cannot do without something to occupy my hands. I had to find something to do. And quickly.

There are some who might be able to understand the degree of urgency with which I was looking for a project: those people who absolutely have to have something to read on the loo. Inevitably, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced a sudden and urgent need and you haven’t been able, for the life of you, to remember where you put your book/kindle/magazine/whatever. There follows an urgent search, the like of which mere mortals will never understand.

It was like that.

I have, under the table in my studio, a stock of picture frames. They were used by a sixth form student as part of a design technology project display, and had been dumped. And then rescued by yours truly.

I grabbed one of them, a spool of sisal twine, and some yarn remnants. I had only the vaguest idea of what I planned to do with it, but swirling around my mind were images of the beautiful weaving my (Swedish) mother in law used to do. Of course, she had a proper loom (and a proper spinning wheel… both of which were works of art in their own right). But I thought I might be able to fashion some sort of rough loom thing out of the frame. It was never going to be of the order that my mother in law could produce, but I thought it might work.

A bag of felt tip pen lids

Once I started working, I couldn’t stop until it was done. It has ever been thus with me. When I’m on a roll, I have to keep going, regardless of the nature of the project I’m working on.

My husband’s ice hockey ends very late on a Sunday night*, and he seldom gets home before 12:30am. I usually manage to wait up until he gets in, but I’m less usually able to stay awake long enough after that to join him for his wind-down drink before he makes his way to bed.

On this occasion, he came home, had his drink and went to bed before me. I joined him at about 2:30am, having finished a piece I call ‘Shepherds’ delight‘.

The fragrant mobile

I recently acquired a bag of plastic felt tip pen lids. I was pretty sure I could find something creative to do with them. And I have no doubt I eventually will.

But yesterday (what is it about Sundays?), when I started exploring ideas, my mind went off at a tangent, and I ended up with this.

About as far from plastic as it’s possible to be. All natural materials, with the exception of a smidge of gold paint: driftwood, cardamom pods, some other kind of seed pod, felt balls (wool), sisal twine, pine cones, twigs…and a splash of essential oil for olfactory delightfulness.

The fragrant mobile is not yet on the website, but if you’d like to snap it up before then, you can purchase it from my Facebook page.

So I guess it’s back to the drawing board on those lids. I have an idea of what they will become. Watch this space!

*This is quite normal, in order to spread the huge cost of running an ice rink, a large number of teams, clubs and groups will pay to use to the rink at all manner of weird times. The teams with the greatest chance of bringing in a paying audience – understandably – get the best time slots. Everyone else has to fit in where they can. I have heard parents express their dismay at their 10 year old children having to attend trials for regional and national teams between 11pm and midnight. My husband and elder son play on a Sunday night from 9-10:30pm. My younger son plays on Mondays and Tuesdays – his Tuesday session finishing at midnight.

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Moving into new spaces

I’m very excited to say that Karyn’s [re]Kreations are to be found in some new spaces.

Currently on display at Woodley Wool

A few of my furniture pieces are currently to be found at Woodley Wool where, until they are sold, they serve as display space for the lovely yarns and haberdashery stock for sale. Jo, who owns the store, has also taken on a few of my knitted and crocheted items to include in her stock.

So, if you’re in the Berkshire area, please swing by the store, say hello to Jo and have a browse through the treasures on offer. Jo will also be offering crafting workshops in a rather wonderful space at the back of her shop. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get to run one or two of them! I have a friend who lives in that area, and spending time there is always a treat.

 

Soon to be seen at Click Antiques & Vintage

And then, a little closer to home for me, from the beginning of May, I will have a space at Click Antiques & Vintage, where some of my restorations will be found. I will aim to include a fair range of pieces, but the primary focus will be on vintage restorations, in keeping with the ethos Nick and Claire are looking to emphasise.

If you’re within reach of the Northampton area, and have never been to Click before, do consider popping in. It’s a total treasure trove – an eclectic mix of vinyl records, vintage glassware and crockery, tools from a bygone era, furniture, photographic equipment… a real something-for-everyone space, with a cup of tea or coffee on offer for those who finish browsing before the rest of their party.

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A Parker Knoll overhaul

Before

Some time ago, I acquired a Parker Knoll wingback chair. It had belonged to someone who had wanted to reupholster it herself, and then – having painted the legs black, and re-covered the seat cushion in the same colour – decided that it wasn’t going to be quite as straight forward as she had expected.

Parker Knoll furniture has been a British standard 140 years. Their wingback chairs are fairly timeless and – like Volvos – they are so well constructed that they just keep going.

I needed a chair in our bedroom where I could retreat with a book or my knitting when my anxiety levels rose, or when the rest of the family wanted to watch something on telly I didn’t fancy (sometimes those two things are related, but not often).  A comfy Parker Knoll was just the job.

In order to blend in with the colour scheme in the bedroom, I went with an aubergine upholstery fabric from my all time favourite fabric shop, Millshop Online, where it had been reduced to £1.00/metre (it might even have been 75p/metre, now that I think about it).

I chose a mustard coloured flanged piping. I wanted olive, but I couldn’t find any, so I compromised by painting the legs with Frenchic pea soup. Once it was done, it looked perfect with the van Gogh Irises cushion we’d bought on a trip to Paris.

I’m thrilled with the finished product, and now can’t wait to get started on the other armchairs awaiting my attention: two commissions, and three on spec. One of those commissions is a recliner, which will be a first for me, but I’m feeling confident.

For now.

After
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Reflections on the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show 2018

This year was the first time I attended this show. I booked a package that included a coach ride to and from the venue: £28 all in. These are my reflections on the whole day from start to finish. Let me say up front, that I had a wonderful day. Please don’t lose sight of that in the face of the negative points that I will be making.

The coach journey

Our coach was supplied by Poynters, and left from Victoria Street in Northampton pretty much on time. Our driver was a very pleasant chap called Andy. The coach was half full – perhaps not even that. So if you’re tempted to come along next year, you’re almost sure to get a seat. I highly recommend this approach – no fighting with London traffic, no parking nightmares, no changing trains and tubes and and. Many of us had brought projects to work on during the travel time, of course, and I made pretty good progress on my knitting. There was a toilet on the coach as you might expect, not luxurious, but adequate if you had a pressing need. There was also a box containing the makings for coffee and tea, but the driver made no mention of them, so I don’t even know if there was hot water.

Andy had estimated that the journey down would take a little over 2 hours, but it took less than that. We arrived at 9:45.

The coach picked us up again at the front entrance at 16:45. We left a few minutes after 17:00, once Andy had made sure he was leaving with the same people he’d brought down. The journey back was slower – taking us longer to get out of London, due to the time of day. I’m so glad I didn’t have to battle that traffic. We took a little over 2 hours to get back to Northampton, where the rain was bucketing down.

Arriving early – finding coffee

The venue security wouldn’t let us in before 10am. The show only opened at 10:30am, but in light of the icy weather, arrangements had been made for us to be allowed into the cafe area a half an hour early. I decided to decamp across the road to a coffee shop in search of breakfast. I found a coffee shop, but the nearest thing they had to breakfast was a pretzel or a croissant, both served as is, without jam or butter. Nice coffee, though. It was rammed, as you might expect, with people waiting for the various shows at the Olympia to open.

The venue

I have been to more shows at the Olympia than I can count, and my observations remain the same after every one. It is a wonderful venue for shows like this, but… and, as always, there are too many significant buts:

  • There are no drinking fountains, and nowhere to refill a reusable water bottle. Your only option is to buy plastic bottles of water from the various catering suppliers dotted around the place.
  • The food on offer in the various cafeterias was pretty good, but extremely expensive. Here again, plastic proliferated. Lots of packaging and plastic cutlery to eat it with. There were segregated bins in the cafeteria, but I can’t help feeling that wooden cutlery would be a better option.
  • Following on from this point, there are garbage bins dotted around the venue, but they’re not set up for recycling. Apart from in the cafeteria, all the bins are mixed waste. With the volume of people passing through the Olympia every day, I feel quite ill to think of the environmental impact of this lack of provision for responsible trash disposal.
  • I attended on the last day (day 4) of the show. Several of the toilet stalls were out of order, as were several hand dryers. In the case of the hand dryers, it seemed that the water reservoirs were full.

Reception/security

At the entrance to the show, tickets were checked and we were offered the opportunity to buy a show programme (£4.00), a carrier bag with a slogan about knitting taking balls (price unknown – I loved it, but I have enough carrier bags), and T-shirts (£10.00). I need to say a word about these T-shirts. What a pleasure to attend a show with T-shirts in ladies’ sizes! Of course, most of the attendees were women – this is the way of it with handcrafts, although we are seeing a growing number of men taking up needles and hooks. Nevertheless, event souvenir T-shirts (any souvenir T-shirts, come to that) are usually shapeless crew necks touted as ‘unisex’. These have a V neck and actual space for actual boobs, without hanging like a sack around the middle!

At one point during the day, I lost my phone. Another visitor kindly offered to call it for me, and it was answered by a member of the security team. I was told it was at the event organisers’ office and I could collect it from there. I made my way to the office. No-one looked up from their desks when I walked in. No-one acknowledged that I was there. I spotted my phone on the desk in front of one person and went and picked it up. “This is mine.” I said. “Oh, okay,” said the guy, and I walked out with it. I’m not sure that level of security would win any awards any time soon. But hey ho. I got my phone back.

The show itself

In spite of adverse weather conditions, I understand that only one exhibitor was unable to make it.  The stands were beautifully decorated and appointed, and most vendors were able to accept cards. The only time I had to pay cash was for a workshop I booked myself on (see below). There were hundreds of stalls – an absolute feast for the eye. And so many with a commitment to recycling, environmental impact, re-use, empowerment of developing communities… all the things that make my heart sing. Products on offer included:

  • art supplies

    A little gift from a vendor
  • beading supplies
  • papercraft and card making materials
  • crochet and knitting tools and equipment
  • sewing machines
  • yarns using a wide range of materials
  • cross stitch, tapestry and embroidery supplies
  • dressmaking supplies
  • fabrics
  • felt and felting materials
  • lace, ribbons, finishes
  • lights and magnifiers
  • publications
  • spinning, weaving, dyeing
  • textile art
  • threads
  • storage solutions
  • frames and stands
  • kits of every sort imaginable, and some you’ve never imagined

There were also some guilds and charities represented. Some finished goods on sale (such as jewellery, bags and so forth).

The downside for me was the presence of stands selling beauty treatments, nail treatments and offering skin analyses. There are going to be loads of women there, and everyone knows women are obsessed with looking beautiful, so let’s throw some beauty products into a show about crafting and making. Ugh. One stand was offering eyebrow products or treatments, and the vendors were quite aggressive: grabbing passersby by arm and telling them they could knock ten years off their age by letting them loose on their brows. Having dragged my sorry butt out of bed at stupid o’clock to make the coach on time, I was happy to have my clothes on the right way around. I hadn’t bothered to put a face on. I hadn’t even had time for breakfast. I wasn’t there to be decorative. I was there to explore what was on offer to me as a professional crafter/maker/artisan. I didn’t need someone telling me I could look younger. One of the women from my coach actually said as much to the pushy type who was clutching her arm. “Why do I need to look younger?” The vendor was floored. Stop telling us that we don’t look good enough or young enough or thin enough. We no longer care. Leave us and our wrinkles and grey hairs the hell alone. Okay?

Other non-knitting and stitching type stands included a few charities – fair enough, visitors clearly have disposable income, and charities must take their opportunities where they can. Although I did wryly wonder whether we weren’t being stereotyped as crazy cat ladies when I spotted Cats Protection among those present. And I fully acknowledge the appropriateness of the stands offering therapies for arthritis, RSI and other frustrating loss-of-dexterity afflictions.

The galleries

There were five galleries of quilting exhibits, and I wanted to make special mention of these. Quilting is one craft I haven’t been motivated to try, probably because it’s such a slow burner. But I am in awe of the works of art – because they are nothing short of that – that quilters produce. The Quilters’ Guild exhibition was titled Commemorating World War 1, and featured works of poignant beauty.

Workshops

For an additional fee, ranging from £15-£34 each, attendees could attend workshops for an hour, an hour and a half or two hours, depending on the complexity of the skill being covered. I booked myself onto a 1-hr workshop called Peg Loom with Recycled Materials for £15, and learned a very useful little craft for my tiny bits and bobs of yarn and fabric that are too small to use anywhere else. Since it was last of these workshops for the show, the looms were offered for sale at an excellent price. But I reckon I could knock one up myself.

My purchases

Of course, I blew the budget completely. But I am excited that my search for a runner across the high traffic area in the dining room is over: I will be knitting one, using extreme knitting yarn and needles. And it will be gorgeous and cheaper than any pure wool rug I might buy.

And, for the sake of scale, here are those (handmade) extreme knitting needles beside a selection of my other needles, including the pair that used to be the largest I owned.

I am also going to make the most beautiful wall hanging in the whole world ever, using a peg loom and recycled saris and silks. And if you’re very lucky, I might offer it for sale in my shop. Watch this space.

Suggested links

I came away with a few names that I am prepared to make a noise about. In no particular order:

Sheep on Mars, a family business selling a range of yarns, sheep locks, feltmaking fabrics, wool fibre, mohair shawls and felted goods.

Rachel John of Megaknitz.com, whose products and tools will go into the making of the carpet runner I mentioned. Not to be confused with the actress of the same name.

Elaine (aka Lala) of Lala with Love, producer of ethically sourced, sustainable yarns and fibres.