Thursday, 27 December 2018

(Almost) Every Strictly Come Dancing Showdance - Ranked! (Part 1 47-23)

Despairing of the TV on Christmas day and finding I had had slightly too much champagne to knit, I watched (almost) every Strictly Come Dancing showdance and, for your delectation and discussion, have ranked them from 1 - 48. 

Why almost? Series 1 don't seem to be available on YouTube. And I don't count Lisa Snowden as she was allowed to do it, but had already been eliminated from the competition by that point. Also it was wafty leotard stuff so, as you will see, unlikely to do well in this list.

Some general points - a good showdance, according to me, needs great music, outfits, style and wow factor. The character of the dancers should be written all over it. It needs to be memorable (having watched them all in one go, some may have scored more than they might otherwise simply on the grounds they were different). Watching them altogether also makes you appreciate how much the series has changed - props and sets (even basic ones) aren't really used until series 6, and lifts which are same-old, same-old now were revolutionary in series 3. *I've tried to judge them by the standards of the time. The best dancing doesn't always make the best showdance - indeed many have failed due to choreography that is too frantic, complicated or clever-clever. As you'll swiftly gather, I'm not too keen on ballads or histrionic contemporary dance. I accept this is entirely subjective. The very top showdances will be ones that, in my opinion, settled at one stroke the destination of the Glitterball.

She's wearing a mint blindfold, presumably to avoid seeing Giovanni's a) teeth & b) vest. He flings her about for a bit then - hey presto! - it seems he can, indeed, "fix her" as he removes her blindfold just in time for her to enjoy him pirouetting around the place and seeming a bit more interested in doing that than dancing with her. Presumably meant to be tender & moving. Actually a bit creepy and verging on offensive.

I've tried to find a redeeming feature as I like both Julian & Erin, but I can't. Teejus, even by the standards of the time.

Possibly a controversial ranking for a popular couple. Peak histrionic waft, IMHO. 

Mark did well to get to the final but looks out of his depth here. He does seem to be enjoying himself though. 

Caroline was at her best when being fun, cheeky and entertaining. This appalling mush, accompanied by a particularly tortuous version of Robbie Williams' least bearable number, was none of those things. Yes, she won, but I maintain that a) that was down to her prior performance in the series, and in particular her Charleston and b) had there been a second referendum (or had voting only started after all the dances had finished) Simon Webbe would've beaten her. So there.

An attractive contender who peaked too early. This was lacklustre & didn't play to her elegant strengths. Plus the song's a bit of a cliche.

Lots of running around and flinging Chelsee in the air. One Night Only is a secret dirge of a song dressed up as a party track. Pasha in a dodgy white suit. And she was much better in their Shrek dance.

There's a reason why, why you google Pamela Stephenson Showdance, what you mainly get are links to her splendid Viennese Waltz. This song has been done to a slow and painful death-by-repetition on Strictly (to be fair, many of the iterations post-date this) and this isn't the best of them. It's not the worst, either.

Ricky Whittle is, of course, one of the Great Lost Strictly Winners. The highest average scorer of the series (admittedly not a vintage set of competitors), popular legend has it that he missed out due to Tabloid Controversy and Lack of Journey. But another reason is this showdance. Just too many lifts, not enough character (and two very attractive people dressed like refugees from a thankfully forgotten dodgy sub-Saturday Night Fever 70s disco movie).

So he's being lowered to the stage upside down on a string. So he's wearing a vest. This might be Peak Vest. A classic example of a dancer who won on overall series performance in a year when nobody quite pulled it out of the bag, showdance-wise, and maybe just out of gratitude that neither was claiming to be able to cure disability by the power of contemporary dance (ante, entry 47).

Honestly, I think Stacey nearly lost the final on this. It's just trying too hard, like Kevin was throwing the kitchen sink and most of his white goods at it. The frenzied speed of the whole thing just didn't give her real strength - her personality - enough of chance to shine. 

This one scored an own goal from the start, thanks to this a) ropey and b) necessarily peculiarly truncated, version of Bohemian Rhapsody produced by Dave Arch and His Wonderful Orchestra. The dance never does enough to get over that, and the Big Surprise isn't really much of one as it's perfectly obvious she's not going to carry on wearing that sheet the whole way through.

The original "best dancer in series throws it away due to overthought yet underwhelming/deeply peculiar showdance"gate. Is it time for a reappraisal? No.

Yes, she's a professional dancer. Yes, that means she's very good. No, that doesn't mean the Great British Public were going to vote for what was basically her Couple's Choice performed on a Lazy Susan.

First outing for this perennial Strictly standard. Disappointing, partly because neither the dance nor the music lives up to her rather spectacular disco flapper outfit.

Giovanni's amazing magical powers are on display again, this time he is able to bring the ballerina from a music box to life! Stand back in amazement! Ranks higher than many similar numbers due to the undoubtedly exquisite ballet dancing, as you would expect from a former member of the Iranian National Ballet.

I feel bad for putting this so low, I really do, because he was great and I adore Oti but... There's a door. They're sort of running around through it. Why? Who knows.

The song is another Strictly repeat offender, but this dance is one of the better versions of it. Yes, there's too many lifts, but they're fairly spectacular. Also, I'm slightly scared of James Jordan.

I'm now officially onto showdances I really quite liked! This is flawed, but sort-of genius, and an unusual one in terms of style and music, plus it's very much about making Gemma centre-stage and playing to her strengths.

A memorable Strictly classic that doesn't quite stand the test of time. Yes, he looks great in a pair of tights and it's all very impressive but it rather goes to my standard complaint - it's a dancing competition, not a holding-women-in-the-air competition.

Just about the best version of this perennial favourite, also my husband says he likes her (searches for acceptable term) outfit.

Good, but not as good as it should have been.

Scores for an unusual song and a touch of raunch which feels (not surprisingly in the circs, let's face it) more genuine than many. 

Series 4 feels like something of a gamechanger. It was the first one I really got in to. The final was fought between two total beginners who we'd watched develop over the weeks - the winner (of whom more later) had the advantage of being a natural dancer, something that could never be said about Matt Dawson, yet Lilia somehow produced this spectacular (By The Standards Of Its Time) and enjoyable number, helped by being danced to a genuinely great and moving song.

Comfortably the best showdance in this final from comfortably the best dancer in the series, danced to an absolute banger of a track. What went wrong? Slightly over-frantic choreography from Pasha (Pasha, Pasha, just because she CAN, it doesn't mean she MUST), Louis Smith's Charleston and the quick dopamine hit of his gymastic showdance.

So, we're halfway there. Tune in soon for 22-1...!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

I've joined the 100 Club!

It's a remarkable thing to be able to say, but as of this month, I have 100 patterns in my Ravelry portfolio!

Back in February 2012, I made myself a phone cover (as a way of learning Judy's Magic Cast-On) and thought I'd write up the pattern and post it up on Ravelry (as Pandora), I had no idea of becoming a "proper" designer, let alone a published one. I was stuck at home with an illness and basically started writing patterns as a way to combat boredom, and shared them on Ravelry really to just see what others thought. I knew absolutely nothing about how independent pattern designing worked - I didn't even come across the Ravelry designers groups at first - and submitted my first idea to a magazine (Cecily) basically just to see what would happen, and was rather surprised when it was accepted. It turned out there may have been all sorts of strange reasons why it was, but this isn't the place to go into the history of that particular publication; from my point of view it did give me a bit of confidence, and this time I actually did a bit of research as to how to put a proposal together. The encouragement and support I got as an inexperienced designer from Kate and the team at Knit Now absolutely key to my learning to be something like a competent designer. My first batch of submissions didn't make it, but Kate took the time to say some nice things about them, and in the next submissions call I not only got a pattern into the magazine, but Talboys Wrap was the main design on the front cover!

I now found out what a tech editor was (no, I didn't know about them when I started!) and later that year made another Great Leap Forward when I discovered the wonderful world of pattern testing on Ravelry - the first patterns that went through the whole testing procedure were the designs in the Waters of Africa e-book. My testers are now some of the most important people in the design process, especially the people who have tested for me regularly and whom I trust to make sure my designs work for knitters. A lot of the early patterns I published have now had the benefit of the lessons I learned during my first couple of years.

Since then I've written lots more patterns for Knit Now and also started working with a great publication in the US, I Like Knitting, designed for yarn companies and published quite a few patterns myself, including some for charity (especially p-hop).

So here's a few stats about those 100 designs...

Most Popular by Number of Projects: Beaujolais Mitts

Most Popular by Number of Favourites: Myrtle Cowl (sadly no longer available on Ravelry since the demise of Artesano)

Best Seller: Santiago Cowl

Pattern I'm Most Proud of: Stefano Sweater

Design of My Own I Wear Most Often: tricky, but in the last year it's probably Lazy Eight Cowl

And what's the 100th Pattern? October Afternoons Scarf from I Like Knitting

Friday, 18 November 2016

Gift-a-long 2016, shining like a good deed in a naughty world.

2016 - it's been a funny old year. I shall say no more.

If you're feeling a bit like the sands of certainty are shifting beneath your feet, then here's a beacon of continuity - it's November, so it's time for the good people of Ravelry to take part in the Gift-a-Long 2016. If you've never gifted along before, it's a worldwide knitting and crochet event full of KALS, CALS, discounts, prizes and the change to get to know designers, patterns and crafters from all over the place - plus get all the inspiration you'll ever need for that Christmas present knitting! Helpfully they've compressed everything you need to know in this handy graphic...

So what will I be doing? Firstly, as a participating designer, you'll be able to get 25% off selected patterns during the sale period which starts on 22nd November US Eastern time- see my Ravelry page.
I'll be posting about the patterns I have in the Sale on my Facebook page - including my new Pattern Playlists on Spotify! (Here's a sample - playlist for Endless Summer). I will also be doing some giveaways exclusively for followers of the Facebook group so why not like the page now?
On Pinterest I'll be posting my favourite patterns I discover from other designers - adding more every day during the sale period - so please come & follow.
Follow my Twitter account @hanwellknitter for a daily Pattern of the Day during the sale period.
And there'll be a bit of stuff on Instagram - @jolliemiranda

You can also join my Ravelry group - there will be a special prize giveaway for anyone who joins between now and the end of the KAL (that's the end of the KAL not the sale period) - just join the group and post in the "Introduce yourself!!!" thread to be eligible - the more people join, the more prizes I'll offer - there'll be some yarny ones and some patterny ones and maybe a wildcard or two...

If you want to get knitting before the sale starts on the 22nd, why not start with Endless Summer? It's a laceweight infinity scarf that knits from just 50g of yarn. Originally published in Knit Now magazine. it's now available to download through MSF P/hop - in exchange for a donation to the charity Medicins sans Frontieres which is doing so much to bring proper medical care to people in the most troubled places in the world.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Thank you for the freebies...

Today you're going to get the benefit of some of my thoughts of one of Ravelry's hottest topics - free patterns. This isn't however going to be a discussion of the pros and cons of independent designers posting free patterns - there have been plenty of arguments about that - it's more aimed at free pattern users, who presumably want designers to keep offering free patterns, just to explain a bit more about how you can say thank you and make sure (without it costing you a penny!) that offering free patterns stays worth our while?

First question, I guess, is why is it important to say thank you? Well, here's how much work goes into writing the pattern. First, you write the pattern. You don't of course just sit down and start writing - a designer will swatch, maybe do some maths, check standard sizes, spend some time thinking of a pattern name. The yarn then needs to be sourced - either the designer has paid for the yarn herself, or she has spent some time and effort getting yarn support. The designer then knits the sample (or pays a sample knitter to do it for her). There's then a photo session, involving either getting somebody to model it or somebody to photograph it, spending some time taking different shots and thinking about how to present the pattern - I usually try & find an attractive or appropriate location as well. And spend a bit of time rowing about it with my photographer aka husband ("Take more. I look fat. No, now I look weird.") Then you choose your photos, lay out the pattern and proof read. Next the pattern will get tech-edited (for which the designer pays a tech editor) or tested (a process of several weeks even for the simplest pattern) or both, and corrections made.

I hope I've persuaded you that, if you're then able to get the results of this work (for instance, my Beaujolais Mitts, above) for free, it's worth taking some time to say thank you.

When you're thinking of ways to say thank you, take a minute to think about why the designer (and I'm talking about professional (full-time) and semi-professional (design & have a day job) designers here, not people who just do it as a hobby) might post the pattern for free. Patterns which are posted for free permanently are usually to allow people to test out whether or not they like the designers work, and also help to keep up the designer's profile on Ravelry by getting more people to look through her shop. Patterns posted as a short-term promotion essentially are aimed at the same thing (although I will confess to having offered one after a rubbish week because I basically needed to bring a bit more love into the world - even if it's only love for a knitting pattern...). However, there's not much point for her in doing this if all that happens is lots of people download the pattern to their Ravelry libraries and do nothing else.

So, if you like free patterns and want them to keep being offered, here's some things you could think of doing when you download a free pattern, whether it's permanently free or on special promotion:

  • Favourite and queue the pattern as well as downloading it;
  • Make a comment to say thank you, and if you like the pattern, say so;
  • Take a look through the designer's shop. If there are other patterns you like, why not share the love and favourite them as well?;
  • Post in the groups you're in on Ravelry about the pattern you have downloaded;
  • Best of all, make the design and post your project onto Ravelry. Many knitters just have no idea how much we love seeing that people are making and enjoying our designs!
If you want to look at my free patterns, you can find them all here. Don't forget to say thank you!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Gourmet wool on the menu!

We all love the coming of spring - longer evenings, warmer weather (hopefully!), bobbing daffodils and the first lambs gambolling in the fields. I saw my first of the year a couple of weeks ago near Pentlow in North Essex - some little Jacob's sheep, so shy I am afraid they hid behind their mums when I tried to take a picture! So it's an appropriate time of year for one of my favourite British yarn companies, Blacker Yarns, have launched a gorgeous new all-British wool blend in both DK & 4-ply Tamar Lustre Blend. They send me a little bit to try, coincidentally in pretty much my favourite colour.

The list of ingredients - Teesdale, Wensleydale, Leicester Longwool & Cotswold - is really a gourmet menu of British wool. (Think of it as the woolly version of a dish from great Cornwall's famous chefs Rick Stein or Nathan Outlaw). It's very versatile, making a lovely smooth stocking stitch and very well defined lace.

It would work well for both garments and accessories, though some might find the woolly texture a little uncomfortable to wear for a long time right next to the skin. I think the 4-ply, for instance, would work really well in a simple garter-stitch triangular shawl. The DK would be the ideal substitution for Blacker's limited-edition Cornish Tin yarn (now sadly no more!) which I designed my Cornish-pasty-themed Croust Mitts for.

so far I've only made a swatch or two as an amuse bouche - but it's already inspired me to start thinking up a few full-scale new design feasts!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Wist, lads, it's the waaarm...

When you're submitting designs to a publication, most will start with a "mood board" - pictures of colours, people, images that set the sort of theme they'd like the designs to fit with. Sometimes it's a bit vague and "woolly", e.g. "modern vintage pastels" or something; other times it's very specific. Sometimes you gaze in consternation at said mood board, wondering how on earth anyone could ever translate this concept into a knitting pattern. For these ones, I find the best way is to file the board at the back of your subconscious, as many times the perfect concept will turn up when you're not looking at it - I've got a design due out in a couple of months that arose in exactly that way, so watch this space for the story of that one.

Sometimes, though, a mood board or theme speaks so directly to you that the pattern will leap, fully-formed, like Athene from her father's skull , and that's what happened to me for the scarf I have in this month's Knit Now, Lambton Scarf.

The theme for this issue's Collection is Myths and Legends of the British Isles and I was immediately transported back to sitting on the floor by the big mirror in my parents' bedroom, as my father and I sang the old Northeastern folk song The Lambton Worm. The story of the worm - worm in this context being more of a term for dragon, although this worm is a particularly long and wriggly one - exercised a powerful effect on my imagination as a child. It's partly down to the language the song used - sung always in the broadest Northeastern accent, it was great fun so exhort listeners to "wist" and "hide yer gobs" (which basically means shut up and pay attention), plus the gory thrill of the worm "swallying little bairns alive when they lay doon to sleep". Bairn is a northeastern/Scottish word for child and as my mum's family are all from the North East I was used to being called a bairn by my granny, so the fear felt deliciously immediate! (If you're trying to recreate the accent, go for somewhere between Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Nail.)

Now I'm not saying that I just sat down and cast on - but the essence of the scarf - the "tongue" shape echoing medieval cloisonné jewellery (the tale is set in the Crusaders' era), the worm's beady yarn-overed eye, and the twisty cables representing the worm's tail (long enough to "lap ten times round Penshaw Hill") were all pretty much there.

So this is a pattern I'm especially fond of, and as a bonus I absolutely loved the Yarn Stories Fine Merino 4-ply I got to make the sample with - it has a really gorgeous sheen which works perfectly with the medieval jewel look.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Merry Christmas - and here's a quick free mitts pattern to celebrate!

Lots of us who knit love making handmade Christmas presents but sometimes as a designer it's the worse time of year to do so! I've been lucky enough to get a few commissions which have to be knit over the Christmas period, and had been thinking everyone would have to wear what they got last year again... but my sister-in-law put in a special request for sparkly fingerless mitts to match the cowl I made her last year.

Luckily for her, the perfect opportunity arose as we'd decided to take a quick trip to Heidelberg in Germany this week, and fingerless mitts are one of the things I am very confident of being able to knit on the plane, thanks to my very un-threatening bamboo Brittany DPNs. So the commissions stayed at home, and what turned out to be a very small scrap of leftover sparkly acrylic, plus a bit of Blacker Classic DK, came along instead.

We actually hadn't gone for the Christmas markets (which seems to be what most people come for), but just to spend a bit of time somewhere different. Heidelberg is a pretty little town, with plenty of history, on the river Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine, complete with ruined castle and ancient bridge. Obviously we did visit the markets, but mainly for sausages and Gluhwein. However I did do a bit of shopping, for shoes - and, you won't be surprised to hear, for yarn, from the lovely Wollke 7 in the university district of Neuenheim, where I bought some Isager and some Zitron. But how do you go shoe and yarn shopping and still get it in your hand luggage...

Anyway, my plain fingerless mitts turned out pretty well, and I only had a couple of short flights and a train journey to make them on. So here's my early Christmas present to you; the pattern for the mitts and if you're behind with your shopping, you can still have them done in time for Christmas. You can knit them from leftovers and the size goes up to mansize.

The pattern!

Size: S (M, L). Actual circumference around knuckles 14.5 (16, 18) cm / 6 (6 ½ , 7)” to fit with up to 5cm/2” negative ease

Materials: About 20-25g DK yarn in each colour A & B (or about 40-50g if working only one colour!)
3.25mm / US 3 & 4mm / US 6 DPNs; 2 st markers; st holder or waste yarn.

Tension: 22 sts x 30 rows to 10cm/4” in stocking stitch using larger needles.

2x2 rib – k2, p2
cdd – centred double decrease – slip 2 sts knitwise together, k1, pass slipped sts over.
DPN – double-pointed needle
K – knit
K2tog – knit 2 together
M1 – make one st by picking up the strand between the sts from the front onto lefthand needle and knitting it through back loop
P – purl
Pm – place marker
Rep – repeat
Rm – remove marker
Rnd - round
Sl – slip
Sm – slip marker
Ssk – sl 1, sl 1, knit 2 slipped sts together
St – stitch

Pattern Notes
To make a single coloured mitt, just omit colour changes.
I like a garter stitch effect at the top of my mitts. You’re welcome to change to smaller needles & work 2x2 rib for a few rounds if you prefer.
If you want the mitt to go further up your fingers, just keep working in 3 rnd stripes until you’re happy!

When I made mine, I used this method to knit jogless stripes:

Backwards loop cast on:

Pattern (make 2)

Using smaller DPNs & colour A, cast on 32 (36, 40) sts. PM & join to work in the rnd, being careful not to twist.

Work 6 rnds in 2x2 rib.

Change to larger DPNs.

Knit 2 rnds.
Change to colour B & work 3 rnds.

Change to colour A, work 1 rnd.
Next rnd: K1, m1, k1, pm, k to end of rnd.
Knit 1 rnd.

*Change to other colour. Knit 1 rnd.
Next rnd: k1, m1, k to 1 st before marker, m1, k1, sm, k to end of rnd.
Knit 1 rnd.

Rep last 3 rnds (changing colours every 3 rnds) until you have 11 (13, 15) sts between markers.

Change to the other colour & knit 2 rnds.

Next rnd: k1, transfer next 9 (11, 13) sts to holder for thumb. Cast on 5 sts using backwards loop method, k1, sm, k to end of rnd.

Change colours & knit 1 rnd.
Next rnd: k1, ssk, k1, k2tog, k1, sm, knit to end of rnd.
Knit 1 rnd.

Change colours & knit 1 rnd.
Next rnd: k1, cdd, k1, rm, knit to end of rnd.
Knit 1 rnd.

Change colours and knit 3 rnds. Purl one rnd, knit one rnd, then cast off purlwise. Break both colours.

To make thumb – take up the same colour as you have on hold for the thumb, and with larger needles, knit across sts on hold, then pick up & k 7 sts across base of thumb. 16 (18, 20) sts

Change colours & knit 1 rnd. Knit 8 (10, 12), ssk, k5, k2tog (last st of current rnd with first st of next rnd), knit to end of rnd.

Purl one rnd, knit one rnd, then cast off purlwise. Break both colours.
Weave in ends and block to measurements.