Saturday, 1 November 2014


Every now and then I get the urge to return here to my blog. Sometimes it's because I've been feeling especially creative and have lots to share. Sometimes it's because I'm feeling sociable and want to reach out to all the people who share similar interests to me (or who read my blog for other random reasons!). And other times it's because I feel the way I do now.

I've been struggling a bit. There has been a lot going on in my life over the last year. Things that have been difficult and stressful and at times even traumatic, though ultimately very positive. Exciting and happy times lay ahead. I may share them here soon.

But getting to that point has taken a lot from me. I feel like my natural creativity has been sucked out of me somewhat. I feel like I have lost the happiness that I used to find in the everyday things - in particular my work.

I have been teaching since my PGCE in 2004. Despite a couple of difficult years learning my craft, I came to enjoy what I did. Kids enjoyed my lessons. I know because they told me. I enjoyed coming up with different ways to teach things. I enjoyed telling the stories and little anecdotes that helped make history come alive.

When I returned to work after my maternity leave just before summer in 2013, I had completely lost my confidence in myself. The first time I stood back in front of a class, I burst into tears afterwards. The world of teaching had changed for me. I felt like I had to measure up to something and prove myself. I felt like I had to fit my lessons to a certain mould. I couldn't teach in my way any more.

I got through last year by working harder than I ever have (despite being part-time!) and desperately trying to jump through the ever-growing number of hoops that seem to be placed in front of teachers these days. Teaching in this way didn't feel natural to me. I couldn't get a sense of flow. I was terrified of being accused of talking too much - the latest big no-no in the teaching world. I stopped having the long discussions that used to form a large part of my lessons. I stopped enjoying passing on my love for and knowledge of my subject.

A few weeks ago I had an observation that seemed to confirm my feelings. It was 'good'. Not bad in itself, but hardly inspirational. The trouble is, while some valid points were made, I disagree with quite a bit of the spirit of the feedback. I feel like we are trying to create a version of what teaching has to be in order to be effective. But there are so many ways to skin a cat. Last year I achieved outstanding sixth form results. I did not teach in the way that would have (currently!) achieved me an outstanding lesson observation. And yet it worked. My students did extremely well. They learned what I wanted them to. We enjoyed our lessons. Isn't that a sign of effective teaching?

And yet I find myself with my confidence in my abilities now at rock-bottom. Why have I allowed myself to feel like this based on other's opinions when I have plenty of evidence of the good I have achieved with my pupils? Partly it is what the government has done to the profession. Performance related pay and continual scrutiny have made it feel like teachers are in a goldfish bowl at all times, waiting to be pounced upon for failure. The word 'good' in relation to your work now means 'not good enough'. The passion and individuality feels like it has been replaced by fear and conformity.

This may be an over-reaction on my part. But it doesn't deny the fact that this is the way I feel. And it is no reflection on my school, which I feel is one of the best around. It is a reflection of the current environment of the profession. It is a reflection of my own self-esteem in returning to the classroom. It is a reflection of the difficulties of balancing home and work life and being a working, part-time mum, especially with small children.

So what am I going to do about it? I don't want to leave a job that I have loved in the past. I am fairly certain that, as is the way of these things, it will change. Things will come full circle. Someone will tell us that another way of teaching is more effective. We will move on. I will learn to love what I do again. And the only way to deal with it is to keep on doing what you know works, what inspires and engages, what reaps results. Even if this doesn't tick all the boxes of current educational dogma.

So why blog about this? Well, I sat down the other night and thought about the things that make me happy. That put work in perspective and give me balance. And it ultimately comes down to two things - my family and my hobbies. Spending time with my loved ones is always a joy. I love to watch my little boy grow and change and discover the world. Lately I have been so caught up with worrying about work, I haven't done that. I have allowed my worries to stop me from sleeping and stop me from taking pleasure in the everyday activities - a trip to the park, rhyme time, choosing books from the library, coffee and cake at the cafe. I need to embrace the little things again.

And I also need to be creative. At a time when I feel my creativity is stifled at work, it is even more important that I give it an outlet at home. I haven't done anything creative now for about two months. This isn't good for my health and wellbeing. I know books need to be marked and lessons planned. But ultimately, a stressed and unhappy teacher leads to stressed and unhappy pupils who won't learn as well as they should.

To that end I've decided to try to finish a few WIPs. I'm going to share them here. It will hopefully give me the impetus to actually finish some of them!

The first is a shawl I started knitting for my mum. I whizzed through the first half in a few days, then inexplicably put it down at the halfway point and haven't picked it up since. The yarn is some gorgeous Araucania Botany Lace which will look lovely when finished and blocked. I need to get this done!

Next is my Lady Penelope cardigan, made in beautiful Sublime Lustrous Extrafine Merino dk. Completed the back, both fronts and one and a half sleeves! Why did I put this down? The colour is divine and I know it will look fantastic (even if I messed up the lace decreases at the front...).
Next up is a pair of socks. The colours are garish (half price yarn at Hobbycraft) but the first sock fits like a dream and I got so far as finishing turning the heel on the second. I only have the foot to knit. One and a half socks are somewhat useless...

Finally we have this beautiful little jumper for J. All the knitting is done on this one. It just needs sewing up. It's been sitting there since March. Surely this is an easy win?!

Writing this blogpost has been cathartic in the build up to another busy half term at work. I need to get some perspective, I need to realise what is important, and I need to make sure I don't put myself under the kind of pressure that makes me an unhappy and unhealthy individual. I'm hoping that getting back to blogging and sharing my hobbies, a process I always used to enjoy, will help me to do that.





Friday, 1 March 2013

Cables and Twists

Today I thought I'd share a project I completed a few months ago - my Folklore Cables and Twists jumper by Sublime yarns. It's knit in Sublime Chunky Merino Tweed which was recently discontinued so there were a lot of bags of it floating around the Internet going cheaply. I picked up a couple of colours, including the lovely bright pink shade Dilly.

The Cables and Twists jumper turned out to be a bit of a steep learning curve. I had cabled before but never so many different types on one garment - it could be difficult to keep track of the pattern which ran over something like 26 rows, each one a little different, especially when tired.

Suffice to say I made a few mistakes. Some weren't that visible such as some around the neck shaping, so I left them as a fitting tribute to my cabling education. Others were obvious, such as a knit stitch on the purl section or a completely forgotten cable crossover. This taught me some other tricks for correcting mistakes in your work - I unravelled the offending stitches right back to the offending row and then reknit them all the way back up again. It doesn't look perfect, but it's better than the original mistake! I also had the common problem of a loose stitch on the left of each cable. Is it true you can knit into the back of a stitch to tighten it? I'm not sure, but I was never able to solve this problem.

When I had finally finished the knitting and sewing up, I tried it on and realised it was way too short for my liking. I had achieved the correct tension by going up a needle size, so it wasn't that. I can only assume that either I have a long body or I just don't like the fashion for short jumpers that seems to be prevalent in a lot of knitting patterns these days. I just don't see how it is flattering to stop half way down your waist - I like to have at least a bit of my hips covered.

I knew that in its current state I would never wear the jumper, and after all that work I wanted at least to be able to wear it casually/around the house even if it wasn't fit for best. So I took a deep breath and made the scary decision to cut into my work and pick up the stitches above the bottom ribbing, with the help of the excellent Tech Knitting blog. This was not the easiest project to do this with as the cables started just above the rib, so I have to admit I fudged it a bit. Since the garment was already sewn together I just unpicked the seam to above the section I was cutting, then knit downwards in rib in the round. It does all sound a bit botch job, which it is, but it turned out alright and you would have to look closely to see the errors.

I used every last scrap of yarn to add length, even the unravelled pieces. I added about two inches, and would have added more if I had any yarn left as I still think its a bit short. But I was proud of myself for actually cutting my knitting and for all the techniques I had learned.

It's not my favourite jumper - it looked good in the book on the skinny model but the cabling on the arms and drop shoulders make me look a bit like a rugby player, especially combined with the short length! I will have to be more careful with my pattern selection in the future. But it's soft and warm and fine for sobbing around the house in.

In other news, J's Stripy Jacket is finished and I have cast on something new...

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Knitter 55 Review

As promised, here is my review of the latest issue of The Knitter magazine. On first glance, I wasn't sure if this issue was really for me despite having loved the preview photos in the previous issue. None of the patterns had that standout wow factor and I wondered whether I would actually knit anything form this issue (given the time!).
And admittedly, there are a couple of garments that are just really not me. The cover project, Winterbloom by Martin Storey, while a pretty jumper, is not my style at all, big roll necks like this tend to make me too hot and uncomfortable and they don't fit under my coat properly. Delft by Judy Furlong is far too fussy and floral for my tastes, and Emma Vining's Sugar Kelp, while classic in its design, is also not for me.
This sounds quite negative for a review, but actually this issue is a grower - the rest of the garments aren't especially statement pieces but you begin to see aspects of each that you like, and sometimes these kinds of designs make the best wardrobe staples.
One such design is Yui by Kyoko Nakayoshi - I'm quite a fan of her designs, and while this is probably one of her least complicated it is quite elegant - in a neutral tone I could imagine this cardigan being a good general throw over. Similarly the Kimono style jacket by Sirdar - I'm a fan of cardigans like this as I always feel the cold, and I like a collection of slightly quirky versions like this.
Curlew, by Twilleys of Stamford, is in the same vein although a little more vintage in style and fitted at the top, so you would not be able to wear any heavy layers beneath.
The Herring Girl Wrap by The Wool Shed is a lovely rustic wrap in organic tones, which could be knit up in pieces as you have the time, though there is part of the pattern missing so be sure to check The Knitter website.
Ravish is a simple tee shape, but with an slash opening down the front. Knit in Kidsilk Haze Glamour it does have an impact, and would look very striking over a plain camisole or something similar, but it is not my favourite Marie Wallin design and I probably wouldn't grab the needles to start it.
My favourite design in the magazine is definitely the Eriskay Gansey by Beth Brown-Reinsel. It is based on traditional ganseys but has such a modern look and shape, I have already been thinking about a substitute for the suggested yarn which is not available in this country. This is one failing of The Knitter - I wish they suggested alternative yarns for garments, particularly where a yarn is especially hard to source or very expensive. Other knitting magazines do this and it is such a useful addition.
An extra booklet of Nordic inspired knits provides some pretty sock and mitt patterns, and there is an interesting article on Estonian knitting traditions, though I'm not a huge fan of this sort of heavily coloured knitwear in general. The Masterclass is on how to avoid RSI, which I don't have as I don't get enough opportunity to knit - most of the advice is pretty obvious, but there may be some tips which help you out if you suffer with this problem.
Overall, not an outstanding issue but a solid one which contains a few 'inoffensive' patterns that would probably suit most wardrobes.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


There can't be many knitters out there, at least those who frequent Ravelry, who haven't heard of Kate Davies' infamous owls jumper. There was even a bit of a furore recently when a certain department store appeared to have copied the design.
Several of my friends had already knitted the pattern, and last year I decided it was about time I had my own version.
I chose Jarol Sweet Briar Chunky, mainly because that is what my friend Rachel had used for hers, in a silver grey colour. The whole knit is more or less seamless, with the body knit in the round and the sleeve stitches picked up and also knit in the round.
The knit took hardly any time at all, but it was a bit of a learning curve for me as a fairly inexperienced knitter. The magic loop sleeves have a very tight column of stitches where I overcompensated at one of the ends by pulling the yarn too tightly. I messed up one section of the short row shaping, leaving a bit of a hole. The cast off neck edge is a little tight. And the less said about the underarm graft the better!
However, for all it's faults, I'm not displeased with how the jumper turned out in the end. It's a little bit tight on me, probably because I failed to check my tension adequately and I know I have a tendency to knit a little tightly, and also because I'm carrying about 10lbs more than I would like since having little J (as these photos testify!). But I love the shaping, and the owls, and the fact that its the first seamless knit I have ever completed!
I'm currently sewing in a vast amount if ends on J's little jacket, and then I just need to sew the arms to the body and it will be done. I'm a little concerned its not going to fit him though - its in the 6-12 month size and although J is not yet 8 months he has been in 9-12 month clothes since January. I might have to squeeze him into it for just a few wears...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Ruby in the Smoke

I love a good story. Always have. When I was young, I used to lock myself in the bathroom so I could read undisturbed, or smuggle a torch to bed with me to read under the covers. I love the classics of Bronte, Austen and Hardy. I love the fantastical world of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I love books that are just a little bit quirky or off the wall. The literary world represents true escapism for me
But these days I want to spend my free time doing something creative. I have little enough spare time as it is, so I often feel like time spent simply reading is wasted time. This is why I am a massive audiobook fan. Don't get me wrong, I still think that actually reading a book is not only quicker, but a far more immersive experience that really lets your imagination fly. But listening also requires you to fill in the visual blanks, and often gives a different spin on a story as the narrator puts their unique stamp on a reading.
I have been a member of Audible for several years now. I get a book a month; and that, along with a few extra purchases, have built up to a library of some fifty audiobooks, all of which can be downloaded and listened to on my iPhone. I have discovered some real gems through this subscription.
The latest series to garner my attention is Phillip Pullman's Sally Lockhart series. I bought The Ruby in the Smoke, the first novel, some time ago but only recently got around to listening. They are aimed at young adults, but I never let that put me off a good read - hasn't half the world read Harry Potter after all?
I really enjoyed this novel. Set in Victorian England and ranging from opium dens to a shipping merchant's offices to dockside dosshouses, the book really built up a picture of imperial adventure, burgeoning industry and thriving criminality, as Sally Lockhart tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her father's death, the eponymous ruby and the Seven Blessings, as well as evade the deadly clutches of the evil crone Mrs Holland. I promptly set up the next novel to download, then discovered that back in 2006 the BBC had made an adaptation of The Ruby in the Smoke that had somehow totally passed me by! How had this happened? I'm normally first in line to watch anything with a hint of period drama about it.
So I downloaded the TV programme on iTunes and watched it - quite entertaining it was too. Although Billy Piper was not exactly the best choice in the lead role, I thought that J.J.Feild was the perfect Fred Garland - I had only ever seen him in an Agatha Christie's Marple adaptation before, and I confess in a slightly fangirlish way I headed off to watch Northanger Abbey in which he also stars. Go watch them, if you have an hour or two free and no energy to actually get up and leave the house!

I've now nearly finished listening to The Shadow in the North (why, Phillip Pullman, why?! How could you? So sad!), and have The Tiger in the Well ready and waiting on my Audible app. Plenty more hours of entertainment to come.
In craft related news, I am currently short row shaping the border of J's little stripy jacket, so after a lot of weaving in of ends I should be ready to share that very soon. I'll be back with a review of the latest issue of The Knitter in the next few days.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Hudson on Hold

Last week I made a concerted effort to finish my Hudson hoodie. This project had been hanging round for far too long and I thought it was about time to release it from the doldrums at the bottom of my knitting bag and actually wear the thing!

I worked on it every spare moment, nap times and evenings; the endless moss stitch hood was finally finished, a sleeve edge picked up and knit (apologies for the night time, bad light photos!).

I had a whole ball of yarn left and decided it was time to pick up for the button band, which wraps all the way around the hood and down both sides. There were a mega amount of stitches to pick up, something like 440, but I sat and spent one whole evening picking them up evenly onto a long circular needle.

Each row seemed to take forever as it was all in rib and the hoodie itself was pretty heavy by now. The buttonhole row took extra time - I decided to add in an extra button hole than the pattern suggested, as I wanted one right at the bottom too. I used this Masterclass to help me make my buttonholes as neat as possible - they still aren't perfect, but better than ones I have knit before.

Then the worst happened - I could see I was running out of yarn. I decided to cast off a row early as I really didn't want this button band sitting on the needles, it would be far too easy for stitches to drop off. I had just enough yarn to cast off (and I mean just - there was about a centimetre left!).

But I was left with one sleeve edging and two pocket edgings to knit. I had a feeling I would be in this position as my tension for the project was so drastically wrong, since I discovered part way through that I was knitting in a finer gauge yarn than the pattern specified. Unfortunately, I had used Knit Picks yarn from Great British Yarns which is the only UK supplier and they no longer had the colour in stock. Was I destined never to finish this hoodie?

Fortunately for me, Ravelry exists. After a trawl through the stashed Wool of the Andes yarn, I actually found some in the same dye lot in one lovely person's stash, and we are currently arranging for her to ship it to me all the way from the US. Isn't the Internet a wonderful thing?

Hopefully I will be back to share the finished item very soon!


Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Hat for my Sister

Last Christmas I decided to give yarn related presents to my sister and my brother's girlfriend, but having little time to actually do the knitting since little J was quite rightly dominating my attention, I wanted to find a pattern that was simple and showed off some beautiful yarn.
I found what I thought would be the answer in the pages of Simply Knitting Issue101. It was a simple beanie hat with a lace border above the ribbing, knit in the gorgeous chunky Colinette Calligraphy yarn which comes in a veritable rainbow of different shades. I quickly ordered a skein each in two shades - Monet for my sister, Gaugin for my brother's girlfriend. The colours in this yarn are stunning and beg to be worked up into special accessories.
My brother's girlfriend is quite crafty so I thought she might like to knit up the hat herself, so wrapped up the yarn with a set of DPNs and the pattern. But my sister is not crafty, so I knew I would need to knit hers myself.
The pattern was really easy - I used a long circular needle and the magic loop method rather than DPNs - and the hat flew off the needles in one evening. However, when I tried it on, the hat seemed to be far too small. I know I probably have a larger than average head circumference, but my sister has a lot of hair to fit under a hat and I wanted it to be flattering.
So I ripped back to the end of the lace section and added an extra 9-10 rounds (can't actually remember which it was in the end) then finished off the crown shaping again. As it turned out, I still had yarn left and could have added an extra few rounds, which if I knit it again I would do as I prefer a slightly more slouchy-look hat. But it was fine, so I wrapped it up and gave it to my sister for Christmas.
My sister absolutely loved her hat and wears it all the time, but because I live 100 miles away from her I have only just got some photos! It makes me more inclined to gift a few more knits (which I have always been disinclined to do before in case people feel obliged to wear something they hate!).