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Homage to the (Granny) Square

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

How many of us imagine a different, more creative life?

How  many people are so caught up in the ties of responsibility that the idea of creating something amazing will only ever be a daydream…..or  at best a ‘one day when…..’ scenario.

We all lead extremely busy lives. Lives that don’t lend themselves to spending even one day in a painting studio. (Oh – the luxury of even having a studio!) So if you find yourself justifying your creative inactivity with excuses about time, space, finances and a whole host of other stuff – keep this in mind;

“great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together”

Vincent Van Gogh.

OK – so I’m not suggesting we should all aspire to be a future ‘great master’ – (and actually even that description sounds very out dated and patriarchal these days)  but if you have that creative urge you really do have a duty to act on it – for your own wellbeing and metal health. In my own experience constantly feeling guilty for not acting on those creative urges results in Netflix binge watching, navel gazing and general self loathing.

I genuinely believe that however busy our lives are there are always some, barely visible, pockets of time that can be put to better use. The key is to locate those moments between the big things in your life. If you can spare 15 minutes a day to scroll through your social media feed, then you can find a few minutes to make one small, exquisitely perfect thing. Like a square. (and you’ll feel much happier afterwards)

Crochet is how I choose to manifest my ideas at this moment in my life. It allows me to make small beautiful colour interactions in those brief 15 minutes I catch in the mornings before the children wake, or as I wait for a pot of potatoes to boil. In 15 minutes I can make a 4 inch square of beauty and lose myself in it. That makes me happy.

And the next day I can make another.

Then another.

Until eventually I’ll have a collection of the most wonderful, colourful content for a bigger, even more beautiful, finished, work of art.

Homage to the (Granny) square blanket course

It’s as simple as that- and you can do it. There’s no big scary blank canvas. No declaration of intention or preparation of resources.

Just sit down, with a hook and some yarn and quietly begin working on the most amazing thing you’ve ever created.

Don’t even tell anyone what you’re doing, you don’t need anyone else’s approval, or permission. This is a conversation between you – and your creative soul.

My latest project; Homage to the (Granny) Square fits this model. It’s a way of working that’s playful, intuitive and achievable by anyone with an ounce of  curiosity, and it pays homage to the artist Joseph Albers and his lifetimes work on the interaction of colour.

Joseph Albers was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century who began his creative life as a crafts man, working with coloured glass; an early indication of his love of colour and optical effects. He saw the craft of stained glass as both a functional medium and as an art form.

Albers worked at the Bauhaus school where he taught glass work and furniture design and later after the closure of the Bauhaus moved to the United States where he became head of painting at  Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and later at Yale University. His students included Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Eva Hesse and many other iconic 20th century artists.

In  1949, at the age of 62,  he began painting what was to become over 2000 works of art entitled Homage to the Square and he spent the rest of his life exploring the ‘relativity’ of colour.

These small compositions of squares within squares create unique colour interactions and  provoke different visual effects. He observed how the squares appeared to change according to the colours they were next to; they appeared sometimes brighter, bigger, smaller, static, moving or heavy and in his seminal thesis INTERACTION OF COLOUR he described how colours have their own inherent logic.

Joseph Albers Homage to the Square

Image Credit

When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color.”

Joseph Albers.

The square was chosen by Albers as a motif for it’s mathematical simplicity and because it has no specific symbolism. It is the most extreme reduction of form, doesn’t feature in nature and therefore can’t be interpreted as representational on any level. (although he later conceded that actually some crystals do form as cubes)

Albers work was an exploration of colour and altered perceptions of colours, but it also highlights the precarious and inconsistent nature of human perception.

“In my color book there is no new theory of color. But, in it, there is a way to learn to see.”

Josef Albers

So….the square; chosen for its simplicity of execution and  absence of symbolism and unnecessary ornamentation.

As an artist, Albers sits in a precarious place. As one of the most important artists in the 2oth century he occupies similar territory to numerous other important modernist male painters. And all the other artists who followed with their educated opinions on aesthetics and the decorative.

His work, however, is rooted in his early years as a craftsman exploring the relationship between function and aesthetics and I am always interested to discover what leads an artist, or crafts person down a specific chosen path.

I like things to be functional. I like things to have a practical purpose in life and I believe in the principle that form follows function. I hate trinkets and unnecessary ornamentation but I love pattern and colour. I have a fear and loathing of the monumental in art preferring careful and respectful use of materials. That’s why I do what I do. I like to make beautiful things that also perform a function.

My Homage to the (Granny) Square project is not intended to be a parody of Albers work, or a commentary on ‘womens work’. It is simply an exploration of colour and colour interaction fuelled by curiosity and the impulse to make. The format is  flexible allowing anyone to use it as the point of departure for a uniquely beautiful, functional, work of art.

The blanket is made using 10 colours of Rowan Felted Tweed yarn; colours carefully chosen for their relationships with each other, and the squares are 3 different sizes, again, each having a relationship with the others.

Every square is different. Each one is carefully considered ( I decided against using random colour arrangements), and some I like more than others. But what’s important to me is that each square has its own unique characteristic and it is unlikely that this blanket will ever be reproduced in exactly the same way.

Beginning in April this year, I will be running a series of Homage to the Granny Square workshops facilitating others as they create their own unique ‘work of art’.  The course is aimed at anyone with basic crochet skills who would like a framework to create in, and the freedom to express themselves in colour.

Homage to the (Granny) Square crochet workshops

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

So why not invest in those hidden moments of time and join me this year to create your own Homage to the (Granny) Square?

Video by Boo Marshal Photography

At the time of writing this post, there are still some spaces available on this course….nip over here if you’d like to find out more. And if you can’t join me ‘in real life’ keep a look out for the online CAL which will be available later this year. (you can stay in the loop by signing up to my newsletter here).

You might also like these posts: The Real Life Daisy Wrap Crochet-Along and  Folklore Shawl Crochet Along. 

And you can see all the workshops I’m running this Spring/Summer here: Workshops and Events


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Crochet Flowers for Memories

Flowers for Memories

I am getting increasingly excited about Yarndale this year, and one of the things I am most looking forward to is seeing the display of knitted and crocheted Flowers for Memories. Just as the mandalas did last year, these flowers are going to be breath taking, and given their significance – extremely moving.

The crafting community need little excuse to pull together and charities can be a powerful mobilising force. I was reminded of this last year when I saw The Knitted Flower Pergola and more recently the Craftivist Collective have introduced a #wellMaking Craftivists Garden.

It seems that the convention of floral tributes has been embraced by crafters and makers all over the world; those generous people who give their time, skills and resources to all kinds of good causes.

I wanted to contribute to the Yarndale project again this year, but also wanted to draw people together to work collectively on this. Making is always more fun with other people – and cake!

Rebecca at Norfolk Yarn very kindly offered to host a workshop, so yesterday I met with some lovely, generous women and we worked together on our collection of crochet Flowers for Memories.

We were gathered for all kinds of reasons and we all managed to finish at least one or two flowers. As we worked our conversation ebbed and flowed as some of us remembered our own family members who had lived with dementia

How many of the flowers made for this community project represent real people loved and lost? Perhaps they are all ‘forget-me-nots’ in their own way.

Thank you to everyone that came to the workshop, I loved meeting you all and I will be forwarding your work to Lucy at Yarndale – perhaps if you visit you’ll be able to spot your work…….

Crochet Flower Workshop

Crochet Flower Detail

flowers for Memories

If you’d like to brush up on your crochet skills or simply learn the basics, we’ve got a whole programme of classes at Norfolk Yarn this Autumn, and we’d love you to join us!

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Crochet Shawls, Strangers and other Norwich Stuff

Crochet Bohemian Shawl

If you head north east out of London for about a hundred miles, just before you get to the North Sea, you’ll find Norwich; a fine city. Once an impenetrable gated community, Norwich is now circumnavigated by the ring road and the crumbling remains of a city wall.

Like many people, my historical knowledge of the place where I live is sketchy, anecdotal and riddled with holes and questionable facts. 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) 52 churches (one for every week) rivers running red like blood (the madder dyes) and a cockerel as big as a donkey (on the top of the cathedral spire – according to my grandmother)

In geographical terms, Norwich is rather off the beaten track but it is possible to trace a route through history to a time when it was a city second only to London and a thriving textile hub.

Knowledge and evidence of our grand textile history has become rather threadbare over the years but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and I wonder how many of my ancestors might have spent long hours weaving in their dimly lit garrets, or suffered the dire consequences of working with toxic mordants in the dye houses of sixteenth century Norwich.

I wonder how they might have viewed the new community of ‘strangers’ –  the highly skilled Dutch and Flemish weavers invited into the city to mobilise and modernise the city’s ailing textile industry, and to escape religious persecution.

Like all new immigrant communities The Strangers brought with them many things that impacted on the City. The Flemish brought with them their pet canaries (canary breeding became so popular in Norwich we named our football team after them) and even the Norwich dialect is said to have been influenced by this community, who at one time made up almost one third of the city.

The greatest impact, perhaps, was made on our textile output. They introduced revolutionary technical changes, mixed fibres and improved finishing processes.

The Norwich dyers were also prized for the quality of their bright, clean, colourfast dyes. Red dyes were particularly prized and one red dye became known as ‘Norwich red’ produced from the madder plant which was grown locally and later important from Turkey.

The new fabrics were lighter, silkier and had strange names like camblet, Say,Tammy, Callimanco, mockadoes, Fustian of Naples, Bombasine, stamin, serg, and dornix. Collectively they became known as Norwich Stuffs.

As the fabrics became more delicate, like the fashionable ones on the Continent,  the need for a big warm shawl increased and Norwich was to become hugely important in the production of the very fashionable ‘Norwich Shawl’. Not to be confused with the Paisley Shawl – no really – don’t EVER make that mistake. I did once – and was told off very severely by a textile historian. Paisley is in Scotland. Norwich is in England. You see – they are different!!

Shawls were manufactured in Norwich from the 1780’s but by the mid 19th century Norwich was producing some of the most exquisite, and expensive shawls in the world – inspired by the beautiful textiles imported from Kashmir

Norwich Textiles


Much of the history of Norwich is wrapped up in a beautiful wool shawl and I’m very pleased to see shawls, wraps and oversized scarves return to the contemporary fashion scene.

Shawls make the perfect knitting or crochet project if you’re one of those people who can never quite get the fit of a jumper right, or if you’re rather too impatient to work a third tension square….shawls always fit!

I recently added The Bohemian Shawl to my collection of crochet patterns and it takes more than a hint of inspiration from the textile history of Norwich.

Bohemian crochet shawl

I may wear it one evening soon and take a walk through the city, past Strangers Hall, the Maddermarket Theatre, The Woolpack, The Dyers Arms, Canary Way, and, finally, down Weavers Lane, and  think about the rich history of this very fine city.

I shall also be running a three part crochet masterclass in Norwich this Autumn where you can make your own version of this gorgeous shawl. We will cover a huge range of stitches and techniques and you can choose your own colours from a range of Debbie Bliss yarns at Norfolk Yarn wool shop.

crochet shawl design

Crochet shawl

Crochet Shawl Bobble Trim

Full details can be found here

Oh – and I’m going to include the instructions on how to work the lovely pom pom trim in the next issue of The Mercerie Post!

You can register here.

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Crochet Motifs: Pattern and Repetition

Crochet flower motifs

I’ve been rather busy lately, working on some new designs and planning some new crochet workshops. Progress has been slow though, mainly hampered by my inability to stay on task and focus on the patterns I’m trying to develop.

I just can’t help it though! How is it possible to stay on task when you’re presented with a myriad of pattern possibilities?

One of the things I love about making little crochet motifs is that each one is a small, but perfectly formed (*cough*) object of beauty and completion. It’s very satisfying to finish something – however small it might be but if you can make one – you can make one hundred and then you have the potential to create something absolutely amazing!!

A single object can be nice, good, interesting, beautiful even. But multiply it by 10, 100, 1000 and then you have something extraordinary, fabulous and magnificent and I just can’t stop myself playing with these thoughts.

crochet motifs


Crochet motifs 2

Crochet motifs 3

As humans we naturally seek out pattern, repetition and order. There is something inherently satisfying in placing things in order, in sequence, in a pattern –  it is this simple, primal urge that prompts designers to play, explore and repeat a motif.

If you study decoration from any historical period, and any culture and you will find yourself in the repetitive realm of tessellations, mirrors, rotations, drops and half drops. And I can lose myself for far too long meditating with the rhythms of pattern repetition


islamic patterns


I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to explore these ideas in my own work, and how to answer the question I’m often presented with – ‘what can I do with all these crochet motifs; how can I join them together?”

So I’ve been working on trying to resolve this…and rather enjoying the results and the possibilities. (with a little help from photoshop!)

Joining Crochet Motifs

Joining Crochet Motifs 2

Why stop at ‘nice’? There’s power in numbers. Aim big, be ambitious, and make something amazing.

You just have to do the same thing again and again and again……

If you’d like to explore the possibilities of pattern repetition and discover exciting new ways to piece together your crochet motifs why not join us for a masterclass at Norfolk Yarn in Norwich on March 18th?

We’re also running a rather lovely flower class too…..

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Crochet Workshops

Crochet Bracelet

We’ll take you through the basics, and beyond, in these two crochet workshop at Arts Desire, Norwich. Find out how a few basic stitches can be used to create beautiful ‘on trend’ accessories and you’ll soon have the confidence to produce your own decorative, and unique, works of art.

Visit our events page for more details


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