Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Kirsties Handmade Christmas...the Return of the King

In early September (2015), I had a call from the team at Raise The Roof about a new series of Kirstie's Handmade Christmas.  They were getting in touch with all the competition winners from last year: best Christmas tree decoration,  best cake decoration and Christmas jumpers.

Would I be interested in coming back to "defend" my crown?

Memories of going through weeks of design & re-design hell, not to mention RSI,  flashed through my mind and it was with a sigh of relief that I had the perfect excuse to bow out, I would be on holiday and I had vague plans of going to Berlin (one of my favourite cities).

"Ah, Kirstie will be so disappointed.  All the other winners have said they'll come back.........but we understand.  Do let us know if your plans change and you're able to take part" - I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the gist.  Relief.  One bullet dodged.

A couple of days later and an email arrived in my inbox.
"Kirstie was so disappointed to hear that you won't be taking part....",

the classic pincer movement: lay on the guilt trip and hope my benevolent nature and competitive urge conjoin to make me renege on my decision.  It worked and they had me by the short and curlies.  I agreed to take part and would re-arrange my holiday plans.  So, once again, I had just over a month to source yarn, design and make a jumper and then head to an as yet undisclosed location for the filming day.  The difference with the competition this year was that it would be open to both men and women knitters.

I made a decision early on in the design process to make a jumper that I would be happy to show to the public, but wasn't too proud about it if another knitter swiped my title with a more worthy jumper.  This time, my jumper would need to be adaptable, I didn't want to spend time and  money on a project that I would only wear a couple of times.  So, I decided on a mix of fairisle and appliqued crochet which I could remove after Christmas was done and dusted.  The overall design would be festive but not in-your-face.

 There were deliberations about the positioning of mistletoe, but in the end, I opted for an over-the-shoulder number.  Also, the neckline changed from a round crewneck, to a snuggly roll neck.

The main yarn used was Paloma Tweed by Debbie Bliss, a beautifully soft and chunky wool.

Filming at Craft HQ in Devon, a gorgeous large Georgian house should have been a fun day out, with little expectation of the outcome.  I had enjoyed making this sweater and was looking forward to seeing Kirstie Allsopp again.  But the day before filming and I came down with a terrible bug - not sure if it was a virus or even food poisoning.  Needless to say, I had very little sleep, lots of time visiting the bathroom and an anxious wait until morning when I would need to make the decision whether I could take part in the competition at all.  I struggled on and hubby drove us to the filming location two and a half hours away. Every bump in the road was like sailing on the high seas and we had to stop several times so I could regain my composure!

On arriving at HQ, we met the other contestants, four lovely ladies and a dog.  Yes, you heard me right, a dog. Of course, the dog hadn't knitted her own jumper, but Betty (the dog) had been crocheted a gorgeous coverlet jumper by her owner, Ruth Maddock.  The other jumpers were a mixture of traditional humorous knits and a wacky 12 Days of Christmas design that was truly amazing.

The filming didn't start until two hours after we'd expected and, as is often the case with these things, there was filming and refilming, close ups, cut-aways and sound checks.  By the end of the night, I was about ready to drop dead in an exhausted messy heap. But we had to remain up-beat for the filming of the Christmas party when we would eat, drink and be merry and view all the amazing festive creations from other talented people involved in the show.  And there were some AMAZING things, not least a wonderful balloon nativity scene and a jaw-dropping paper floral creation by Zoe Bradley.

I guess you want to know the result?

That crown didn't slip :-) and this King/Queen is still the reigning monarch of Kirstie's Handmade Christmas, Christmas Jumper competition.

If you missed the show, it will be available on Channel 4 on demand and probably Youtube.

Following on from the filming, I had a call from the production company to ask if I would be happy to donate my jumper to the TEXT SANTA charity appeal.  Kirstie was going on the Good Morning Britain show and would be delighted if she could take my jumper.  I agreed and they sent a courier the next day to collect the jumper.  Kirstie was on GMB the following Monday and one of the presenters, Richard Arnold, wore my jumper!  It will be auctioned to raise money for the charity and I hope it does well for them.

Yarn Hunt

A couple of weeks ago, I took what can only be described as a tortuous trip to London.  Let me explain.

It all began a few weeks prior when I was spending a very happy Sunday mooching around central London - a rare occasion for me nowadays when I decided to take off on my own for a day out.  Hubby was away with a friend so there was nothing keeping me at home and I fancied an adventure.  This adventure led me to the wonderful world of John Lewis on Oxford Street, a Mecca for crafters and my home-from-home when I was a student up the road at the London College College of Fashion in the late 90s/early 00s. It's changed a lot in the last fifteen years, but it's haberdashery department is still wonderful and stocks a decent range of yarns for knitting and crochet.  As is my habit, I always come away from a wool shop with a few balls of yarn for my stash, not really knowing what I'll use it for but keen not to go home empty handed.  I returned home with several balls of wool: a couple of chunky yarns by Debbie Bliss and two balls of Rowans Hemp Tweed in a grey/green colour called 'Pine'.

It was happy coincidence that around that time, I saw a picture on Twitter of a crochet design for a blanket by knitting-pro.com   It had a chart design, but no further instructions.  I thought it would also make a nice scarf, but I'm still a novice crocheter so I had to Google and make some guesses about where to put my hook.  Soon, I had a pretty nice scarf on the go.  But then disaster, the two balls of Hemp Tweed I was using would not be enough for a decent length scarf.  Argghh!!!!

My next day off, a Monday, and I planned to phone all my local Rowan yarn stockists to see if any had the yarn I needed.  I was prepared to travel, but not on the off chance.  My first call was to John Lewis in Southampton.  Their telephone office sent down a message to the shop floor with my enquiry and told me they'd phone back soon.  The clock ticked.  My fingers were raring to go with the crochet hook and my feet were itchy to get in the car and go out to buy yarn.  Silence.  Then, hubby said, "Why don't we just go to London, get your yarn and spend the afternoon wandering?".  This plan was fine except that by the time we'd arrive in London, it would be around 2pm so there would be little time to see or do anything other than the wandering part of the plan.  I reluctantly agreed.  We hopped on a train and with regrettable predictability John Lewis phoned to say they had my yarn....we were already half way to London by this stage.  And so began an afternoon of fighting crowds, overheated shops, sardine tube journeys, overpriced food and some bubbling squabbles.  We headed straight for John Lewis and captured my prize - the elusive Hemp Tweed in 'Pine'.  This is a wonderful and much underrated yarn - try it.  Whilst I had it in my sights, I thought I'd better stock up so I bought enough in blue to make another scarf.
Here is my completed scarf (I added a scalloped border).

In amongst the horridness of our London trip was a walk across the 'wobbly' bridge with it's stunning views, and a brief trip to the V&A before they closed.  Even a short visit to this amazing museum is enough to lift your spirits and I was beguiled by the wonderful Asian statues of Buddha and their Oriental ceramics.  Also of interest to me is the museum's collection of Arts and Crafts design which covers furniture, pottery, textiles, glass and metalware.  This is one of my favourite periods of design. There wasn't enough time to view the museum's fashion and textiles collection, but I'm sure I'll be back there again sometime.....well after the Christmas madness!!!!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Kirsties Handmade Christmas - Veni, Vidi...

Back in 2014, I answered a Twitter call for entries to a TV knitting competition.  The general gist was that they were looking for male knitters who had made, or who could make in the time available, a Christmas jumper. The show: Kirstie's Handmade Christmas on Channel 4 (UK T.V). When I was given the details of what was needed, I seriously thought about backing out.  Could I really design and knit a jumper in only 5 weeks?  I'm not a tortoise with the needles but I'm also no speed knitter like the super-talented Shetland knitter, Hazel Tindall or the inspiring Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  I would have to source yarn, find a basic jumper pattern shape and design something entirely appropriate for the task and I would have to do it pronto.

You will have no idea of the swearing and tears that went into that woolly creation! Although, if you're a knitter yourself, you do?  Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Ravelry website asks members what is their favourite curse word for their profile.  Mine is FFS.  So, although I'm not unique in turning the knitting air blue, only my hubby could attest to the emotional bruises that jumper inflicted, mainly because he had to suffer them too when I asked for the umpteenth time, "what do you think if I were to do this....?"  There are no right answers to such questions.

The ever present dangers with such an undertaking are Tacky vs Tasteful and Stretch Yourself vs Play it Safe.  I oscillated back and forth on those questions so many times I was dizzy.  And, to add to the mix, I was having a tough time at work and had a bout of shingles to get over.  I knitted.  I unpicked.  I redesigned. I knitted again.  I unpicked.  I ran out of wool so I ordered some more (Woolwarehouse,  you should try them, they're great). I knitted again.  I cried.  The body was too tight.  I adapted it and added patterned side panels.  I got over it and moved on.  I cried again, the sleeves didn't fit because of the changes I'd already made.  I brought into play my tailoring skills and my rusty knowledge of flat pattern cutting.  I worked it out. I ran out of yarn again! I ordered more and I finished up.

Despite all the challenges, I came through and I was moderately pleased with the result. Mostly, I was glad to have finished in the time and relieved that I didn't have to pick up my needles ever again if I didn't want to. But the best bit was still to come, the filming day.

The competition was filmed at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.  This huge stately pile was home to an amazing craft festival and Kirstie Allsopp's TV team had set up camp in one wing of the building. They were filming several items that day, including other craft competitions to be featured on the show: best Christmas Tree decoration and best Christmas Cake decoration.  The place was buzzing with creativity and simmering with competitiveness.  Kirstie said it herself on the show that the atmosphere between the cake decorators was intense.  I'm pleased to say that the atmosphere between the knitters was much more jovial and more collaborative than combative. They really were a great bunch of guys, all keen knitters with varying skills and knitting CVs stretching back months to years.  We were asked to strut our stuff in a catwalk style down one of Blenheim's columned corridors.  Whizzing around us as we did so was a cameraman on roller skates -  like a woolly Starlight Express.  On reaching the end of the catwalk, we were grilled by Kirstie and her fellow judge, knitting supremo and all round goddess, Erika Knight.  Erika was keen to know about the techniques involved in making our jumpers and inspected them on the inside as well as commenting on the design choices.

In my mind, there was one clear winner and it wasn't me.: a beautiful Scandinavian style stag jumper with stranded colour work.  So, I was surprised and delighted that the judges chose my jumper...my cursed tortured jumper...to win.  VIDI. Kirstie's Best Christmas Jumper 2014.

You can view it here


I was presented with a handmade laurel wreath and a very sweet 'Oscar' figure which was adorned with a handmade miniature scarf.  Chuffed? You bet I was.  Put off knitting for life? Not on your telly nelly.

And more of this story to come....