Friday, 3 July 2015

In Memory of Wink (A Creative Being)

I feel that I need to write something to mark the passing of a friend and creative genius Marinke Slump (or Wink) as she preferred to be known. It's been a week since she lost her battle to depression, and I am still struggling to control the powerful waves of emotion that frequently run through me as I think of her.

Yesterday was Wink's funeral. People from around the world, myself included, continued to honour this inspiring lady who loved to adorn her hair with pretty flowers, colours, wool and dreadlocks (search for hashtag #wearingflowersinmyhairforwink). As I write this blog post, there are 347 photos on Instagram of people across the world uniting in a combination of mourning for her loss and celebrating her creative life by wearing flowers in their hair. I crafted a crochet daisy throughout the week to wear yesterday. It was a solemn day for me as I wore that pretty flower that was loaded with so much emotion.

A continuing celebration of Wink's creativity can be found by searching for hashtag #mandalasforwink or #mandalasformarinke. At this present moment nearly one thousand photos of beautiful hand-crafted crochet mandalas have been posted on Instagram by adoring and grieving followers and admirers of Wink's work.

I met Wink for the first time in 2014, along with other lovely crafters and bloggers at fiber arts festival Unravel at Farnham Maltings in Hampshire. I was delighted to meet this lady who I had followed and admired via Instagram. We instantly hit it off; later on in the day posing for a fun 'duck face' picture.

It was while we were sat having a bite to eat and drink in the Maltings cafe that Wink and I happened to discuss the deeper reasons why we love to craft with yarn. She told me that crochet had once saved her life, and that it helped her to manage the days when she found life difficult. Albeit from a different perspective, I totally understood this. This is because I too have discovered respite from difficult periods in life in the sweet repetition of clicking needles, hooky hook or whirring wheel, and in the instant colour-therapy gained by working with yarns of every conceivable colour from over the rainbow and beyond.

A year swung around quickly (as they do) and Unravel 2015 was on the horizon. I looked forward to seeing my friends again. Wink was staying with Sarah of Crafts from the Cwtch, and I planned to meet up with them both. Having my young son with me (who I knew wouldn't last more than a few hours at the festival) meant that we arrived later on in the afternoon, but it was wonderful seeing Sarah and Wink again. After the initial hellos, and having not seen the sights yet, Wink very kindly offered to walk around the Unravel show with my son and I whilst Sarah continued to catch up with friends and rest her legs in the cafe. Wink shared with me that she had had a tough year since we last met, and I remember giving her a hug and some words of comfort. We continued to look around the show and took another selfie picture of our time together.

I am so incredibly sad that this is to be the last photo we will have together.

This is a heartbreaking time for those who knew Wink. My most profound condolences are with her family, friends and boyfriend.

When bad things happen, I try to find a silver lining somewhere ... I have noticed this week that many of the comments on social media have centered on the celebration of Wink's light and talent. Also, and very importantly, it appears to have opened the floodgates of people being able to talk about their own struggles with mental illness. So many individual messages of support have been left by people who truly understand the darkness that overwhelms the lives of those touched by this dreadful affliction.

Any one of us can suffer. The Mental Health Foundation states that 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. That's a disturbing statistic, but it is only after events like this that people begin to talk and open up about such matters.

One of my favourite quotes comes to the front of my mind ... It is one that I try to live by ...


Please can I urge anyone affected by diagnosed or suspected mental health conditions to reach out for help if they feel they are struggling to cope with life. There have been a number of brilliant online sources of information on mental health concerns that I would urge you to take a look at if you want to learn more. Let's end the stigma and ignorance about this topic once and for all. Please don't suffer in silence.

To family and those who were very close to Wink, I hope that you are (even in a small way) comforted to know that she was so loved and respected by people who had either met her or who knew her through the blogosphere. Wink is gone but her creative legacy will live on and continue to inspire countless people to create beauty and comfort in their lives.

You can find Wink's catalogue of work on her blog called A Creative Being, on her Instagram page or on Ravelry.

Wink published her first book Boho Crochet earlier on this year, and another called Crochet Mandalas is due for release later on in 2015.

Let's cover the world in her brightly coloured creative vision.

Goodbye Wink ... I'll not forget our kindred-spiritedness xxx

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Unravel 2015

Having my pre-schooler in tow, it was going to be a challenge to visit the Unravel Knitting Festival for anything longer than a few hours, but visit it we did ... and we did it in style.

Unravel has become an annual treat for me, and I was very happy to introduce my son to it this year. He was very curious about the adventure I was taking him on in the car. I kept him entertained for the hour-long journey to the venue with a sing-along session to a Disney CD.

We were in good spirits when we arrived at Farnham Maltings at about 2:30pm on Saturday 21st February, where I was delighted to find a car parking space at the venue straight away.

Eager to see the goodies, I took my little one by the hand and led him around the quirky corridors of the Maltings to the sales halls of delights.

With it being later on in the day, I was relieved to see that the usual crowds I'd encountered at Unravel in previous years had dispersed.

The Natural Dye Studio's stall was as stunning as ever. The best way to advertise your range of colourful yarns is to see them in action of course!

After receiving a text message from Sarah of Crafts From The Cwtch that the Nudinits talk she had listened to was finished, I cut our tour of Unravel short to see my fellow crafting and blogging friends in the cafe area of the Maltings. I was delighted to see that Sarah was there, along with Marinke from A Creative Being. It was so wonderful to see these two again, and after the initial hellos were said, they introduced me to another lovely lady called Alison (Cristaltips on Ravelry). My little one was bashful at first and then sat on my lap as I caught up on news with friends.

Realising that time was slipping away, I still needed to see the last half of the festival, so my son and I excused ourselves from the cafe area to go and look around some more. Leaving Sarah to her networking, Marinke decided to keep us company whilst we investigated more rooms.

The most tempting stall for me personally with regards to wanting to part with my hard-earned cash was the one run by Louise Player of Spin City UK. Hers is a feast for the eyes ... with all the kinds of fluff I love ... gorgeous hand-carded batts, sparkly and girly drop spindles, roving in all the colours of the rainbow, and more. As a spinner, I couldn't keep my eyes off of it.

Louise herself was busy trying to (and succeeding) in converting yet more yarn lovers to the joys of spinning on a drop spindle.

And here's one last full view of the stall, with Louise and her lovely Mum.

A vendor that I hadn't encountered before had me loitering around their stall for quite some time. The faux taxidermy knitting kits by Sincerely Louise were just so well designed and executed. From giant tiger floor rugs (like picture below), and trophy wall-mountable animal heads, to faux fox stole scarves, Louise's designs and kits were all really tactile, endearing as well as being quirky and fun.

Other stalls that took my breath away included Hilltop CloudJohn Arbon Textiles, Ingrid Wagner Rug Art Creation, and IST Crafts.

It seemed even bigger and better this year, which may have something to do with more stall holders, more Maltings rooms allocated to the event, and the fact that this was the first year that they'd run the event over three days instead of the usual two. Either way, it was great. With familiar and unfamiliar vendors, it was a feast for the eyes.

As usual, the Maltings was decorated with a variety of yarn-art to inspire crafty souls of every persuasion.

'Growth' by Barbara Touati-Evans

Towards the end, I discovered a very interesting installation at the event called 'Blue Jumper'. This was a participatory knitting experience conceived of by artist Sarah Filmer. Hanging up around the eaves of the Undercroft area of the venue was knitting in a large variety of different blue coloured yarns, in undulating and beautiful shapes, hanging down with unfinished sections attached to knitting needles ... inviting you to join in. Many women were sat at this communal knitting lounge adding their few lines to the sculptural work. It would have been rude not to have participated, so Marinke and I sat down and got involved.

My little one is too young and lacking in the fine motor skills needed for the yarn crafts, but I'm hoping that some of the buoyant creativity seen at events like Unravel will rub off on him in some way.

5pm had been and gone, and it was sadly time to leave. I said farewell and safe travels to old friends and new, got in the car with a tired and happy little one, and home we went.

Thanks for a great afternoon, and see you next year Unravel!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Continental Knitting ... What's Your Crafting New Years Resolution?

Thanks to the success of my friend Sarah Knight of Crafts From The Cwtch's decision to switch to this (in my mind) more efficient style of knitting, I've been encouraged to set some very firm crafting New Year's resolutions in 2015.

As a traditional English Thrower, I've dabbled with Continental Knitting, but haven't stuck with it long enough for it to become second nature yet, so THIS IS THE YEAR!

My usual way is to study the multitude of You Tube videos detailing naturally competent Continental Knitters, and copy away, which is all very well and good if you're knitting a Hitchhiker Shawl, or something else with a million knit row stitches. However, any pattern that needs some tricky finger and needle work has left me scratching my head and giving in to the temptation to go back to what my brain and hands know best.

Having seen the new(ish) Craftsy class titled 'Knit Faster With Continental Knitting', I think I'm going to dip my hand in my pocket and learn this properly, as it deserves the proper attention to get things right. Let's face it, teaching yourself can store up a whole host of future problems including getting into bad habits from the start. I've included the affliliate link on this page because I want to spread the word ... and besides, there's a 34% sale on the class at the time of writing this post :)

If you don't know the difference ... there are several ways to knit, the most common being the English Vs American styles. Traditionally, the English way is to hold the yarn in the right hand or wrap the yarn around the right hand fingers and momentarily pause on the flow of creating your knit fabric to literally 'throw' the yarn over the right needle to create the stitch. This is effective enough, but not entirely efficient. It is slower than the Continental style, and can cause more knitting related injuries or repetitive strain. This may be because the action creates more of a whole arm or shoulder movement.

On the other hand (literally), Continental Knitting is where the yarn is held in the left hand (more akin to how you hold the yarn for crochet). By holding the yarn in a certain way, the right hand needle merely picks up the yarn from whichever angle is needed for the stitch you require, with very little pausing or movement of fingers, hands or arms. Once mastered, it can be a very fast technique indeed.

Moreover, for long term health benefits ... I'm in! I've always been a bit concerned with how the millions to billions of stitches I've created in my lifetime might be having an adverse effect on my joints. Especially as I have problems in the rotator cuff on my right shoulder as it is (may or may not be associated with my crafting habits).

So off to Craftsy I go to purchase this class.

2015 Mantra ... Momentary slowing down of crafting speed to learn a new technique is a means to an end for long term gain ... Just keep knitting (Continental) ... Just keep knitting (Continental) ... [verbatim]

What style do you use? Would you be willing to switch?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Knitting Pattern Sales and the New VATMESS Scandal

Happy New Year to all my lovely readers and customers. I hope you have all had a very lovely festive period with your family and friends.

I wish the first post of 2015 was on a more positive subject matter, but I have some apologies to make ...

Thanks to new EU laws that went into play today, purchasing one of my knitting patterns just got that little bit more expensive and time consuming.

I have had a think about what to do about the new laws, and my only real option is to begin to charge for all my patterns. The other option would have been to remove all the patterns from sale, but that wouldn't benefit anyone.

Due to the amount of time it's taken me to create my patterns, write them up and then fiddle about with getting them listed online (especially now that they are online in two places), I am now charging a very small amount for all my patterns.

All old and future patterns will still be available through my Ravelry Store. However, EU customers will now be directed to another website called Love Knitting in order to purchase the patterns. This is because Love Knitting is the only online facility currently able to charge (and deal with) VAT on top of the price of a pattern.

If you would like to read about the new laws, then please read this article written by those in the know on the Ravelry website.

It's a shame that the people who make decisions on such matters feel that it's of economic worth to hit micro-businesses like mine and other friends in the industry. Especially when there are many large corporations getting away with tax evasion (controversial)!

I hope you understand my predicament from reading this. It's very hard to make any pocket money from the crafts, but these new laws just made it even more difficult. I value my time. I spent many hours amending my patterns and sales listings today when I could have been enjoying the bank holiday by playing with my young son.

Despite this situation, I will continue to design patterns.

I am nearing the end of a pattern for DK weight bed socks at the moment, so will be able to post good news about that soon.

I wish you all an excellent New Year with good health, prosperity and laughter :)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A New Pattern: The Monogram Baby Hat

Really pleased to announce that my new pattern is live and ready to download from Ravelry ... the Monogram Baby Hat.

This was created as a gift for a friend who has just had a baby boy.

I used a J for the monogram, but my pattern includes letter templates for the entire alphabet, so baby Annabel to little Zavier are all catered for.

Using colour schemes of your choice, this would be equally suitable for baby girls.

Please forward to friends and relatives who are expecting, as well as those searching for a sweet little handmade gift.

You can purchase the pattern using this link:

Many thanks and happy knitting :)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Top Whorl Drop Spindle Instructions

Learn to make your own yarn on a Top Whorl Drop Spindle with A Yarn Loving Mama ...

1) Take a length of 100% wool yarn of about 20 inches long and double it up so it forms a big loop. Tie it to the spindle securely beneath the whorl. Bring the leader yarn over the side of the whorl and wrap it once or twice around the hook. You are now ready to start spinning. Holding the looped end of the leader yarn, dangle the spindle in the air and do a practice spin by turning it around in a clockwise direction with your free hand. When too much twist builds up in the leader yarn, stop the spindle and unravel it. Repeat this as many times as you need to until you feel comfortable with the action of the drop spindle.

2) Take a length of fiber around 20 inches long and no wider than about an inch. Without pulling them apart completely, carefully draft a few of the fibers away from the bulk of the strip of roving (about the width of a pencil) and pass a few inches of this through the loop in the leader yarn. Then place the short end back on itself so that it now looks like the leader yarn and drafted fiber are interlocking loops. Pinch both sections of drafted fiber in the fingers of whichever hand feels most comfortable to you, and with the other hand, spin the spindle in a clockwise direction as you did in your practice spins.

3) When the spindle has stored up enough twist that it wants to turn back the other way, stop the spindle spinning and hold it between your knees. Bring your free hand up and pinch the fiber where your other hand had been. Then begin to draft the loose fibers of the roving by pulling gently approximately 2 to 4 inches away from the fingers keeping the twist on hold. With practice you will begin to see that a small triangle of fiber appears between the fingers of your two hands. This is called the drafting triangle. By keeping the amount of fiber in this drafting triangle the same thickness and density, the more likely your yarn will be of being an even consistency. Also, the more fiber you allow into the drafting triangle the thicker your yarn will be and the less you allow through the finer your yarn will be.

4) When you've allowed enough fiber through your fingers via the drafting triangle it's time to release the pent-up twist into them to begin to make yarn. Keeping the spindle between your knees, release the fingers nearest the leader yarn and watch the twist travel up into the fiber. It will stop when it can travel no more but there will probably still be too much twist in the free length of yarn so pinch the fiber beneath the roving, and with the other hand continue the drafting process again. Carry on carefully allowing a few inches of twist to move up into the roving in a controlled manner until the yarn is too long for your arms to manage.

5) Now it's time to wind the yarn you've made onto the drop spindle so you can continue to make more. Keeping the length of yarn taut and holding onto the roving securely with one hand, unwrap the yarn from the hook and wind the length of yarn onto the spindle directly underneath the whorl until there are a few inches to spare. Use the remaining length to bring the yarn back over the side of the whorl and back around the hook once or twice. Now you are ready to carry on as before. You can continue to hold the spindle between your knees whilst drafting for as long as you need to or until you feel ready to try free spinning.

6) To progress, you now want to try drafting the fiber whilst the spindle is spinning away in mid air. You will need to concentrate on both at the same time. To do this you need to keep an eye on the spindle. As soon as the spin slows down, it's time to stop the drafting process and put more spin into the spindle. If you allow the spindle to stop spinning or start to twist back in an anticlockwise direction, the twist that you've put into your yarn will unravel and it will become weak, turn back into fluff and break. This is when you will find out where the drop spindle gained its name from. Be prepared to have your spindle drop to the floor quite a few times until you get the hang of it. A cushion between your feet might be wise in the early stages.

7) This way of spinning is called the Inchworm Technique and is an excellent way to begin to spin yarn. There are other techniques to learn when you've mastered this one as it will give you a very good grounding in the art of spinning yarn.

8) When you wind your yarn onto the spindle, try to wrap it neatly and form a cone shape as you go. The majority of spun yarn should be nearest the whorl and then taper down neatly to the wooden spindle. This will help to control the spinning action of the spindle by preventing it from wobbling and will give you a much smoother spinning experience.

9) So experiment and most of all have fun. Once you've gained some confidence try spinning using different fibers (i.e. different sheep wools, alpaca, angora, silk, cotton, synthetic, etc), try different seats or standing up. There are so many things to discover with spinning ... the sky is the limit creatively, so just keep going and see where it takes you.


Adding more roving: If the spindle has dropped to the floor because of a break or you've used up the fiber in your hands it's time to attach a new length of roving to your yarn. Make sure the length of yarn attached to the spindle has at least an inch of fiber that is loose enough to look fluffy and draft out a similar amount of fiber on the roving, overlap the two ends of fiber by a couple of inches so that the strands intermingle. Then begin to spin the spindle again, ensuring that the two ends have locked together before you move along further into the roving.

Weak/breaking yarn: This means that there isn't enough twist in it. Putting enough twist into the yarn will provide it with strength and resilience.

Too much twist: You can see this when it forms what looks like noodles! To counteract this stop the spindle and spin it in the other direction for a few rotations. You will see when the over-twist has gone because it will lose that bunched up appearance.

The spindle is full: You have quite a few options here. You can either unravel the yarn by hand or onto a ball winder and keep them as singles (bearing in mind that they will be weaker and energised in this format), or you can leave them on the spindle and spin the same amount on a second spindle with a view to plying the two (or more) singles together (i.e. 2-ply, 3-ply, etc). If you only have one drop spindle, this can be achieved by taking the singles off the spindle via hand, onto a cardboard roll or ball winder and storing it until you've finished the same amount of fiber again. Plying is achieved by tying both ends of single yarn to the leader, setting the drop spindle up as before, but this time, spinning the two (or more) yarn lengths together in an anti-clockwise direction. You can see how much twist is going into the yarn and test it as you go. You will see if there is too little or too much twist in your yarn (compare it to your shop bought yarn in appearance and feel). Too much twist will produce a tight looking yarn that wants to spring back on itself and gather up. Too little twist will look loose and untidy, and will also want to gather up in the other direction. You are ultimately looking for a lovely 'balanced' yarn where it is content to hang without too much recoil.

More questions: Please email me at ayarnlovingmama(at)gmail(dot)com if you have any further questions or suggestions and I will endeavour to help you.

And finally, don't worry if your yarn is uneven, thick and thin, and has areas of too much or too little twist. This is completely normal if you are a beginner/improver. Try doing a little bit of spinning each day, and before you know it you will be spinning exactly the thickness of yarn you intend to spin, and if there are lumps and bumps, it will be because you meant for them to be there!

©2013-2014, Tanya Blackiston. All rights reserved.

The drop spindle shown here can be purchased from the A Yarn Loving Mama Etsy shop.

The fiber for this demonstration was supplied by A Stash Addict.