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Philippe Starck's School of Design

Two weeks ago a programme came on BBC2 Mon 9pm that I wasn't expecting and it was a pleasant surprise. The programme is called Design For Life and if you haven't seen it yet, and want to catch up with previous episodes it is on BBC iPlayer
and you can read more there about how students were selected for the programme.

Basically World reknowned French designer (of the New Design style) Philippe Starck sets up a design school in Paris where he chooses new hopefuls British designers to take part in a series of challenges in order to win a six month placement with his Paris based design agency.

It is the usual reality show elimination format but according to a report I read in The Independent about this show, Philippe Starck is the one who chose the contestants and not the producers of the show, and it is he who has held tightly to the reins when setting challenges and eliminating students.

One thing that has irritated me slightly about this programme is that I want to hear exactly what Starck says to his students, and compare my interpretation with theirs as they quite clearly get totally confused about exactly what he wants out of them. Part of me thinks these young designers don't think creatively on the show, mainly because their fear of having misinterpreted it is so great they are paralysed but part of me thinks they just got it totally wrong.

However, whilst Philippe (in his very odd and unique style) is talking to the students, a voice over comes on paraphrasing and re-interpreting the brief so we as viewers know what is going on. However, that ruins the enjoyment of listening to Starck and seeing how you yourself would have proceeded with his information. We can't hear Starck's voice at all as the voice over completely blocks it out. The programme makers have obviously assumed that like other reality programmes, we want to watch it for the horror of contestants reacting abrasively towards one another. In this case, I think they could be wrong. The students were not chosen for the entertaining way in which they interact so perhaps other viewers like myself, are more interested in the design briefs given by Philippe Starck and seeing the creative thought processes others go through to fulfil (or not in their case) the brief. Also of course, they are either admitting that Starck is rambling and incoherent or even worse they are dumbing it down for people like us who don't have a clue of course about how designers communicate their ideas!

When it comes to Philippe Starck's ideas themselves, many people like me will have heard of him and have thought of furniture in Heals or the like but not be able to call to mind exactly what he has done. Well scattered around this page are examples of his work. It ranges from distinctly futuristic looking pieces that you can't believe are real life objects (they seem to be walking sketches) to pieces that are a little on the ugly side. Of these, the worst I feel has to be the garden gnome seat. It is just horrible really and kitsch, not stylish. I could see it in a novelty garden but not one that is supposed to be totally innovative.

There is the kettle, which looks great but actually had to be pulled from the market because apparently the steam mechanism was unreliable and pushed its way up the wrong end of the tube burning people's hands. Then there is the lemon squeezer which looks fantastic but is really not that practical. Starck supposedly said of this "
My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations"

There is a knife called Jojo, which is a cheese knife that stands upright on two legs which I love and some speakers called Parrot, which are designed as Wifi speakers for phones or i-pods, and if both those work, then they are truly elegant designs.

Do watch the programme and see people struggle not only to interpret briefs but also communicating their ideas and presenting their ideas to others. Even humble knitwear designers have something to learn from this. I.e. that it isn't all about the design speaking for itself, we have to champion the creation and present it and show how relevant it is as well. And generally it is the best communicator, interpreter that wins out and not necessarily the best knitter, or the most intelligent or complicated stitching. Lastly, remember that people want to make something themselves to wear or use out of a knitting pattern and something that is complicated or looks stunning will most certainly generate a lot of interest, but won't be the most popular project to make.

My Birthday!'

Twas my birthday yesterday, I had a little beauty of a tiny pc, a lovely little Eee PC netbook in white. I can share all my docs with my main PC, can take my charts and knitting patterns in my hand bag and just generally doodle to make new charts on my lap if half watching some talent prog on the TV!
It is a novelty and all makes it feel like play rather than work.

The OH made sure that this had an ergonomic keyboard and compared with even my main pc, the action and size of keys is perfect for the mangled hand as they are normal sized keys on a slant, I thoroughly recommend it. We also have a vodofone pay as you go plug in, so that makes Erssie Knits totally portable.I must admit, not having to print charts out and being able to rotate my screen to knit charts upside down is fantastic. This beauty also has a built in camera, so perhaps chance to do a few YouTube clips too. Anyway, whilst playing around with Excel, I have made some Happy Birthday simple charts just in case someone wanted to knit their own birthday card. I will be putting these onto a proper Zazzle greetings card, with profits going to greyhound rescue, so that you can buy a friend a card of a knitting theme but also have a pattern/chart included on the card for your friend to use.

As I find charting really easy, then I should have a big catalogue of single charts to choose from. If you want to print these charts then go to my pattern store on Ravelry to download free copies, or look back here soon to to be able to buy versions of these on Zazzle. Please note, that viewing them here as JPEGs means the gridlines look a little uneven, but the pdf prints them perfectly and cleanly once downloaded. I will need to get the charts reworked in Illustrator probably to get very good clean charts to go onto greetings cards.
Crochet Design

Its been a while since I had a crochet pattern officially published, although I do love to crochet as much as I love to knit. I have a design coming up for some mukluks in Inside Crochet, issue 5 which will be out in November (next issue).

In this issue, I have a little featurette on one of the back pages, as well as a preview of the Mukluks on the back cover to announce the next issue of Inside Crochet. My hounds are so handsome, even if I say so myself. As for me....well no-one likes their own photo do they, but the hounds are ever so good at hiding what my partner and photographer referred to as my ''third stomach''!

They were a labour of love those mukluks; trying out so many different yarns and colourways to get the balance of pink and red just right. I tried it out in Aran yarns to begin with, in pinks and reds and naturals and although I like these really it needed a smaller gauge to fit more patterns onto the legs.

I also tried them out with a ribbed top, but somehow it didn't seem right to fold back a big clumsy cuff over the top of the finer colourwork. This version too, had the standard form of double crochet and the fabric felt a little too stiff. Also the size of hook meant that some of the yarns being carried showed through slightly, so still not right.

Then it was on to the Felted Tweed which seemed right straight away and as soon as I made the swatches I knew it was the look of a carpet or rug that I was after.

Actually, they are very difficult to photograph to demonstrate what the surface is like because what is lost in the photo is the soft but tweedy effect the yarn has. it just looks like the photo is grainy or poor, but actually the yarn has flecks in it of different colours and looks fab in real life. It is Rowan Felted Tweed and this is the first time I worked with it. I found it really economical compared to other DKs and although it is tweed, it feels very soft and spongy but looks exactly the way I wanted for thes mukluks which is like an old Turkish carpet or rug. Look at this swatch, it looks as if I am making my granny a new stair carpet doesn't it? Do you remember those with the iron/metal decorative clips that held them down and the space either side of the stair carpet with polished wood? Nostalgic!

I wrote the pattern as both a chart, and as pure text. So a person who is worried by following colourwork crochet charts can use the text as back up. And it is easy to follow as it is written out round by round. It is constructed almost like a knitted sock and splits to make the heel as sort of 'mock' short row heel which is so simple as you just work rounds in stripes, do what it tells you, and decreases magically appear in the right places. you can't quite see the whole heel here, as it is covered by the moccasin bottom. Actually, if you wanted to see the striped toe and heel a little more obviously, then Fibertrends has two piece slipper bottoms as well as mitten palms. Go see their new website, its great.

There are other decreases scattered around the mukluk to make the leg fit the calf and ankle, but again the instructions are very clear about exactly where to make them and how and you would not have to worry about interrupting the pattern at all.

The stitch is slightly unusual, and a variation on double crochet that makes for a more flexible fabric and lines up the motifs much better without too much leaning that normally occurs in crochet. I won't tell you what that stitch is, as it will give the design away! And for a DK yarn, it is a surprising size for a hook and it is that which helps to give the density and a carpet-like texture. I made a version of this with a fold back cuff, which looked ok but kept moving and was difficult to get looking even and good in photography so then modified it to a more stable and smaller drawstring channel.

Knitted Version

I have a feeling these crochet mukluks might be quite popular as there is nothing quite like it that specifically fits onto suede bottoms. I have every intention of developing a knitted version. If you think you'd be interested in a knitting pattern for knitted mukluks, then drop me a line, and if there is a wave of popularity I will get round to it sooner rather than later.

As well as the pattern for these mukluks, the next issue also has a full feature revealing the inside of my studio and a little bit about how I approach design. I have had a lot of mentions in this magazine, they are very generous in that

I really like Inside Crochet (and not just because I am in it). the designs are classy, the photography is beautiful and the models just right but this magazine also has a bit of an edge so you find unusual things in there too. Like this pebble rug

It certainly rivals a lot of other british craft magazines really well, although at the moment this seems to be the only British magazine of its kind that is totally dedicated to crochet patterns.

I leave you with a picture that was featured in this month's issue of Inside Crochet as it is not often you get to see me.


We went on a little break, primarily to see my father who is very ill with cancer and having some heavy treatment on and off. It was good to get a chance to see him, although we did only see him 3 times over the whole week (he needs days off from seeing anyone I think).
We stayed in a lovely little cottage with a kitchen downstairs, and a living room upstairs. Despite being on the side of the owners house, we had a very quiet time and were not disturbed much at all.

It was sad to see him looking unwell and not that mobile. The saddest thing, is that he is still clinging to his way of thinking that often alienates people, and I am trying to guide him towards being a little less grumpy, but it doesn't always work. I want him to realise that with little time left, he need not worry about such little things (including money) and he could be enjoying his time, but he is limiting his world. He has made it not at all easy to go and see him, or organise any kind of family re-union and it is all sad and difficult so I am totally drained.

On the way down there we were stuck in an awful traffic jam just crawling over Avonmouth bridge, and we saw someone sitting against a post on the other side of the railings with people talking to him and ambulances queuing up. They were so close to him, they could touch him. We saw him clearly as we drove by and I later found out that he had actually jumped to his death. I feel a great deal of sadness for that. It reminds me of a school friend that I was very fond of who killed herself in Bristol. As lovely as that city is, it never seemed a happy place to me and I would not really want to return to it. However, my hear is yearning for my West Country, and I would be over the moon to live in Devon or Cornwall I really would. But that won't be happening I feel in this lifetime. The cost of moving there is too great.

I returned from my holiday, totally out of pocket (someone had promised to pay for the week in a cottage as I have such a low wage, but they only gave me half of the costs....can't complain but it did leave my pocket suffering) and also I was totally out of energy and very ill on the way home. I tried to do some work, and found nothing was making sense with the nagging pain so went to bed for a couple of days.

I am up now, a bit wobbly, but getting there. I am looking forward to perhaps making stuff for me, and not other people. I want some time 'off' badly, even if it is to develop my skills a little and I definitely want to stop having to do so much admin and computer work, and designing on the page. I want to be sitting there working stuff out in my own time again. I am ranging between thinking I am totally rubbish, to thinking I am not bad at the designing and making stuff but I need to be able to take a route that is personal and not hop around doing stuff that is not coherent....does that make sense?

Anyway, in the days in between seeing Dad, I did manage to do some yarny type things. As well as trying to knit myself legwarmers and constantly changing my mind about them (the ones you like wearing, are never the interesting ones pattern wise and if you design you feel like you should be wearing a little more than a ribbed tubey on yer foot!) We went here, to this little factory outlet of Axminster carpets. They have a woollen mill behind the shop. A lot of the woven carpets, are beautiful but a bit 'loud' to live with unless you are in a stately home. We did see one design we liked, but we didn't like the price so much!

However, they had big bundles of yarn they had spun to make carpets for £1 each...pure wool for only one pound yay hay! There are about 242 metres in each skein. I decided that it could be good for making strong tapestry crochet bags, or knitting rugs etc. So might give that a go at some stage. The yarn is far too scratchy and stiff to make a garment with. Tapestry crochet might produce something with them. I also had a chance to pop into Spin a Yarn, the new shop in Bovey Tracey. Well not totally new, they moved up the road to bigger premises and they have a lovely choice of stuff, I would love to be able to sit and browse and take notes there. I normally feel totally rushed in yarn places and they can be cramped and small and not much room to think. However, the pace of this yarn shop on Dartmoor felt just right. I like to ponder, think around a subject, then see new stuff and find a use for it. Touching and feeling is good too, and certainly beats going online.
I have been reading a lot of books too, but feel totally behind in sticking up some reviews of those. I am reading Dawn French's biography, and first recognised the blanket on her bed from a childhood photo...we had the same blankets as we too were with the RAF at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus at the same time as Dawn French and family. We lived in Limassol, but still rented blankets and stuff from the RAF.

Then later on in the book, she mentions Eggbuckland which is the village my mother came from and she also mentions Stoke where my Dad came from...and there are just so many connections I cannot help thinking we might have crossed paths at some point. For an ex RAF kid, she is very well grounded I think. We are nomads in the RAF, and we do tend to change school every 5 mins and are constantly on the move, so we tend to be either overly extravert, or introverted or both!

Anyway, if you haven't read this biography I can recommend it. It is a light and easy read even though she tackles some difficult subjects. I know you can't really tell what people are like from reading things they have written, but nevertheless she comes across as a strong and grounded lady and I would be proud to have a friend like her, she seems fiercely loyal as well as very funny.

Who knows, with my Granny Spry having had about 13 kids, and them all running around Eggbuckland and other Plymouthian places, Dawn and I could actually be distant cousins! We both came from families where the women were short....and stout! She was even given the same nickname as my dog, from living in Cyprus! Cypriot Greeks like to put a ''Mou'' (not really a moo) after a name of someone they have affection for. Literally it means ''mine'' but it is sort of like darling or dear. So DAwn was called Dawn Mou shortened to moo, and my dog was called Blackie Mou shortened to moo moo, or moo moo poo poo.