Monday, 22 February 2016

Unravelled at Unravel

image by Holly Exley

Well, another Unravel festival has come and gone at the Farnham Maltings and once again I have been left feeling inadequate, inferior, inspired, insatiable and intrigued....oh, and broke.  This was my second time at Unravel but this year I chose to avoid the crowds and go on the last day, Sunday. There was quite a laid back feel going on, or was it exhaustion?  Still, the stall holders all seemed smiley and happy and keen to engage with their customers.  I had several conversations with people while I browsed their stock of yarns, trying to justify adding yet another single skein of DK to my stash and wondering how I would slip it past my hubby on my return home.  Who was I kidding? He knew exactly what I was up to and fully expected me to break the bank.
I don't like to disappoint...

...On that rather advisory note, I should apologise for the lack of photos - rather stupidly, I left my phone in the car and couldn't draw myself away from the yarn to go back to the car park to get it.   I'm afraid you'll have to use your imaginations to conjure up scenes of yarn glory and marketplace carnage in the great hall.  And there was Glory in wicker bucket loads!  In comparison with other fairs/festivals, Unravel is not huge but it's plenty big enough to spend at least a morning or afternoon wandering around and filling your mind with possibilities.  What it lacks in enormity, it overflows in creativity, quality and individuality. It was interesting to see such a variety of sellers and exhibitors, from the traditional and craft focused to the way-out and wacky.  The vast majority of yarn sellers were small-scale producers and dyers, each with their own unique twist on things.  There were some larger names too but they were certainly given a run for their money by the smaller outfits.  

I shopped and I dropped.  It wasn't all shopping though as I did manage to take in an absolutely fascinating talk by Alison Ellen about stitch-led design.  Whilst her designs are not necessarily to my taste, her techniques and thought processes are truly inspiring.  Alison has been designing for many years and it was obvious that I have a long way to go before I come anywhere near her level of skill and expertise; much of her talk went way over my head. I can't really explain anything more about her approach except to say it was about accepting, rather than fighting, the innate nature of knitted stitches and using them in your designs to create shape and movement. 

It wasn't all lovely though and something left me feeling rather more unravelled at Unravel.  The thing that left me perplexed and vexed about my Unravel experience was a topic close to my heart: men, where do we fit in?  Before I carry on, let me be clear, there is NO chip on my shoulder and I hold no grudge, cast no aspersions and pass no blame.  I visited on the quietest day of the festival, so I can't really be certain about the truth of my observations, but, it seemed to me that there was distinct lack of men in attendance. The reasons for this could be debated and picked apart 'til one died of boredom. Having been burnt in the past when trying to have a conversation about gender, I will try to steer clear of the why's and wherefores. I will, however, make one other observation about gender at Unravel: men are in the minority, on the ground and in terms of representation.  The majority of men there seemed to be supporting partners who were exhibiting, a few were stall holders themselves and I could count on one hand the number of men visiting. Yes, this is a perhaps a true reflection of the gender makeup of the fibre crafts world, but what was more vexing was the same gender imbalance in the number of menswear patterns for sale. Perhaps people have put too much stock in the tale of 'boyfriend sweater curse' and now only knit for the women, children and pets in their lives?  

The yarn and creativity at Unravel was inspiring, but what challenged my mind the most was how to get more men involved, creating and catered for?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ich Bin Ein Woolly Berliner.

 I consider myself a bit of a Berlinerphile, I absolutely adore the place and would move there in a heartbeat if money and circumstances permitted.  I like the architecture, the culture, the transport system, the nightlife, the people and the vibrancy.  But in addition, I like that despite its capital city status, it is not overwhelming or aggressive, nor is it hectic or expensive.

Last week, husband and I had a short break, based in the Wilmersdorf area of the city which is known mostly for the Berlin Zoo and the KaDeWe department store.  What I didn't know was that it is also home to a huge craft market superstore called Idee Creativemarkt 

This chain has several stores across Germany, much like Hobbycraft in the UK, but infinitely more Uber.   It has the feeling of being a store for real crafters, not hobbyists.  And yet, the prices and variety of product do not exclude those who just want to have a go.

 For knitting and crochet fans, there is a sizeable selection of yarns and tools to whet your appetite.  I came away with four balls of Merino Plus in a palette that I seemed subconsciously drawn to: cream, dark teal, rust and mustard.

I think the city must have been seeping into my mind at this point because I seem to have  channeled the design aesthetic of the Berlin U-Bahn system at the Mockernbrucke station.  

It was nice to see that even Tilly and the Buttons has made it over to Germany with this translated book I spotted.

This wasn't my first experience of a Berlin craft store, but it was by far the biggest.  On previous trips, I've shopped in La Laine  which is the most exquisitely merchandised yarn store and Woollen in Freidrichshain which despite its smaller size manages to pack in a great variety of yarns and has the friendliest staff.   I'm a huge fan of independent stores vs chains, mainly because they tend to offer a more personal service and often more artisan yarns.  But I really liked Idee and would love to see them expand to the UK.

 Not having a pattern or even an starting idea isn't usually enough to prevent me from starting a project when I'm bored, so I happily started crocheting with the mustard yarn at the airport whilst waiting for our flight home.  I even got quite far with a hat design before we landed but then ripped it all out again when I got home.  I guess i'm a process knitter!

In addition to dragging my husband around craft shops, we did manage some culture: museum island, a rainy and cold walk through the Holocaust memorial, the Brandenburg gate and Potsdamer Platz and seeing parts of the torn down Berlin wall.  And, for our not so cultured evenings, we visited a few bars in the Schoneberg district where we spied Fashion legend Jean-Paul Gaultier!  My fashion graduate heart did a little happy dance, especially when the bar staff changed the music to Madonna's 'Vogue' and JP did a little bopping at the bar. I'm afraid this is the closest we'd dare get to sneak a photo, so you'll just have to trust me, it WAS him.


One of the problems in starting a blog is that you really do have to keep it going!

My excuse for the hiatus is that since the middle of January I've been rather unwell with chesty/throaty/coughy/nasty winter bugs and, to be frank, keeping up a blog was the least of my worries.  But, in these 'lost' weeks, I haven't been idle, nor boring.  I've just come back from a short break in Berlin with my partner (there'll be more pics to come) and the last couple of months have seen me knitting like a wild thing with project after project being churned out....some more successful than others.  Below is a smattering of some of the things I've been working on.

 I've been knitting lots of samples of fairisle/stranded knitting to use in a workshop demonstration I've been asked to facilitate at the Bella Crafts centre near Eastleigh, Hants in March.
 This chunky brioche cowl was originally a very long scarf that I'd knitted for my partner but which was starting to look like it had seen better days.  So, much to his consternation, I frogged it and re-knit.  I had fully intended on another scarf for him...but it didn't quite work out that way.  Oops!
 Not wanting to lose my crochet bug, I made this button up cowl.  I'd hoped my mum would like it, but apparently it's "not her thing".  Oh well, I'll keep it back from another time and another person.
 I had a new year's resolution to knit more things in-the-round, particularly small things like mittens and socks.  With my fairisle workshop in mind, I downloaded a plain generic mitten pattern from ravelry and knit a simple three colour triangles design.  Such a seamingly simple pattern couldn't go far wrong, could it?  Well, the diagram pattern had very limited instructions and I just couldn't get the thumb position right and the overall gauge was just far to small for me.  But, it will serve it's purpose as an educational tool.
 Hats, hats and more hats!  It's been a bit of a recurring theme as the shape is just so simple and gives freedom to create many different colourwork designs and to use up lots of odd skeins in my stash.  One of my other new year's resolutions for 2016 is to learn the technical language of pattern writing so I can share my designs.

 Finally, I have a thing for zigzags and this workshop sample is to show people how you can use variegated yarns to add further interest without having to change yarns all the time.  One project I completed a couple of years ago was Brandon Mably's Balkan jumper which uses this idea to great effect.

All being well, normal service should resume and I hope this new venture of blogging will become as fruitful as my knitting.