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Mrs Jones, Crafty Maven

Its my birthday and I'll craft if I want to!

For my birthday this year, I thought I would reunite my old crafternoon friends for an afternoon of tea, cake, craft and catch-up. Great ideas need action though and well I didn’t get organised in time…maybe next time! But it did have me thinking about great craft parties. I’ve often thought about the old question “if you could have dinner with anyone – alive or dead – who would you invite?” except I would organise an afternoon tea and invite fabulous knitters! I would set the table with yarn specially selected for each of them! Here are some of my picks.

At the risk of sounding obvious, I would have to invite Brad Pitt. Now settle down with the cougar calls (for starters he is older than me) but I mean come on, we’ve all heard the rumours that he knits. I mean it could well be an urban myth born of a great female fantasy, but hey, I’m willing to believe it. A few years ago Brad Pitt was seen wearing a great slouchy beanie for some months and I mean, come on, who amongst us didn’t think nice knit-wear…is the rumour true, does he knit as well? Could this be one of his own creations (gasp!). Ok so maybe that is just my fantasy, but hey this is my ultimate birthday party we are talking about here! Imagine the questions you could ask that fine, fine man? “Do you like straights or interchangeables?”, “did you knit booties for the twins or a man-scarf for George Clooney?”. It would also be fantastic to hear about his work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, he would have some amazing insights on what went so terribly wrong that exposed so many to the worst of the storm. I would set his place with some Zealana Heron…its manly but soft.

Is it true..does Brad Pitt knit?

Second invitee would be Audrey Hepburn. She was a regular knitter and there are quite a few beautiful pictures of her knitting on set. She would bring some wonderful style and class to the party (Brad would pull her chair out for her). She would share stories of lead men and beautiful couture and we would all be jealous! Of course I would have to quiz her on why Mickey Rooney an obviously white man was cast as an Asian man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Was that really the way things were done then? For Audrey I would have to bring a fingering weight yarn. She was from an era when patterns were for 3 or 5 ply yarn, so I would pick some Cascade 220 fingering for her…enough to make a twin set.

Audrey Hepburn was one of the stylish knitters

Knitting may have appeared to be her down fall, but for me seeing our first female Prime Minister posing with her knitting in Women’s Weekly made me love her more, so Julia Gillard would most definitely be at the coffee table! I was never sure what offended me more. The way she was treated because she was a woman or the way she was mocked for being a knitter. The photo of Julia knitting with her dog at her feet would be the equivalent of any other PM at the cricket with his kids. The image for me was who Julia was when she was at home  and so was a very honest image and one I admired greatly. At my birthday crafternoon, as she settled in with a cup of tea and a slice of honey roll that Brad baked, she would share with us stories of her beloved dad, snippets from parliament (maybe the day in parliament she had to get a message to Tony Abbott via the speaker that his fly was undone and the clerks could see his speedos) and what a wiz with hot tongs Tim is. As the afternoon wore on we would talk about the need to educate women as the real power to changing the world and we would all come up with plans to change the world for women. For Julia, the yarn would have to be something special, none of this dime store acrylic. I’m thinking a good DK yarn, something with colour and character like Fleece Artist 3/6 Merino.

Julia Gillard our first knitting Prime Minister

Next on my list is young Australian comedian, Stella Young. Sadly, Ms Young passed away suddenly at the end of 2014 and my fantasy of a chance meeting with her at a stitch-and-bitch was crushed. Stella had a wicked sense of humour and was openly crafty, she also happened to be disabled. She was a great advocate for disabled people, using her humour to give a very pragmatic view of the challenges of disability and the awkwardness and sometimes inappropriateness of the rest of us mugs. She was a gal with spunk and a gal with spunk who knitted so I would totally love to have her at crafternoon tea. She would hold forth with her wicked sense of humour, some cheeky teasing of Brad and a few pointed questions to Julia all while knitting up some intricate lace shawl! I would have a skein of Hand Maiden Mini Maiden waiting at her place at the table!

Stella Young, knitting enthusiast

And finally, I’d want Eleanor Roosevelt to join the party. Now there is a woman with some stories I’m sure. Eleanor was probably not what America expected from a first lady. She, it appears, had strong opinions and was not afraid to publicly disagree with her husband, The President. She was a feminist, a civil rights activist, a mother to six children and thought to have had liaisons with other strong women like Amelia Earhart. I suspect she would be quite sassy! I picture her chatting with Julia swapping stories of running countries, the political machinations and the treatment of women in power. I imagine she would be a captivating guest from start to finish. She would of course knit and befitting to the era of her craft skills, she is likely to use number four straight needles. I would at least try and introduce her to wooden needles! Her project is bound to be something fine. I would give her a skein of Fleece artist Tree wool – a sports weight yarn with a modern twist.

Eleanor Roosevelt knits in the Governor's House

When you start to think about it there is quite an array of famous knitters that would be great to bring together. All sharing that passion but coming with different experiences and stories. My friends bring that to the crafternoon table, but what fun to imagine someone famous joining in! Who would you invite to your ultimate crafternoon party?

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Crafting with friends

Crafting with friends

Several years ago I formed a “Crafternoon” group. The concept brings together two of my favourite things…craft and afternoon tea! At the time I had access to an old corner shop that could be my craft space and crafternoon space. Amazing things were made in that space…organic paper lanterns for a birthday party, quilts, Christmas gifts, clothes. Amazing food was also consumed...my favourite being a vegetarian curry with Quinoa consumed one breezy summer afternoon when we took our craft out onto the concrete apron in front of the corner shop.

The shop became someone else’s home and we moved to a take-it-in-turns-at-your-place model. Each host bringing out their favourite china and comfy chairs for us to gather, gossip and occasionally craft!

 

To be honest, at times it felt it became more about the food than the craft! But more than that it fostered crafty friendships. I met like-minded people who happily shared food, ideas and skills and whiled away the hours tinkering at our craft projects. We did lose momentum and the months between meet-ups became longer, the crew became smaller as everyone got busy with life, kids and family! We've been in hiatus for quite sometime, but periodically when a couple of us meet up we suggest a crafternoon, and I'm sure one day we will manage it! I have recently joined a new Crafternoon group, met new people and eaten new foods! Last event included meeting some chickens who didn't mind taking part too!

The tradition of craft groups has a long history. I always remember that movie “How to make an American quilt” where the construction of a wedding quilt is the catalyst for sharing advice and life stories. The idea of not only crafting with friends but actually working together to create something beautiful and something that is a challenge to make on your own really did appeal to me. The movie did rather create a romantic notion in my head about co-creation of craft items (much in the same way “Pretty Woman” made me want a red velvet evening gown and white gloves!).

The tradition of quilting bees is particularly strong in American history. Friendship quilts has a long tradition. Some years ago (when the Australian dollar was at parity) I discovered antique quilts on eBay. I scored a few beautiful vintage quilts. But one of my favourite finds was a stash of friendship quilt blocks, not yet sewn together but embroidered with the names of the creator on each block. The names are wonderful….Daisy… Mary Scott with a tartan fabric…you can’t help but wonder who these women were and what the final quilt was intended for and why it was packed away for many years unfinished. I know some would finish a quilt like this but I feel it’s not right. That a quilt like this needs to be completed in a friendship circle and by hand!

Knitting too has its own tradition of gatherings. I’ve just revisited one of the great “Stitch’n’bitch” books by Debbie Stoller. She talks about the origin of the phenomenon. Starting with a small gathering of older family knitters and younger enthusiasts in a Café in New York. This first small group that waxed and waned spawned a global phenomenon of the ‘Stitch’n’bitch social gatherings. There are many throughout the world today- including Australian chapters. New younger groups and movements are also happening with English mob “Wool and the Gang” creating their own Avon-like social gatherings and parties.

With the advent of the internet knitting groups have gone global. If you ever see the letters KAL – it means “Knit-a-long” and it is a real child of the online age with people in far flung places knitting the same project at the same time. There is even the idea of a mystery knit-a-long that many designers use in which you don’t know what you are creating until the end! The pattern is released in stages…something like a treasure hunt as each weekly or monthly clue is released! Great designers with a reputation for creating beautiful things get almost a cult following for their mystery KAL. Kaffe Fasset the darling of all things colourful knit, for example, produced an afghan in his trademark colour and pattern style.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m happy to craft solo and sometimes you need that quiet space and contemplation to really knuckle down to a project or to unwind after a busy day. But the camaraderie of crafting together is a great motivator, a great way to learn and share skills and a great way to make friends.

So get out there a join a craft group. It will make your heart sing and your mouth laugh!

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