Although I have no trouble at all starting crochet and scrumbling projects, I’ve recently discovered that I’m not particularly brilliant at finishing them. Too easily diverted by the amazing texture and vibrant colour of each new addition to my (extensive) yarn collection, I frequently have several projects on the go at once.
So it’s fortunate for me that ‘OliVen’s’ – a ‘patchwork café’ that opened in Newport High Street recently – have started running UFO (Unfinished Object) evenings, open to all crafters.
I turned up to the inaugural session on Monday 13th June, not knowing quite what to expect but clutching a carrier bag filled with ‘works in progress’. I was hoping that someone would be able to advise me on stuffing a toy giraffe and help me work out how to downsize a gilet and jumper for my granddaugher, so that the poor little cherub isn’t strangled by a too-tight necklines.
The proprietors, Vendulka and Oliver Battais greeted me warmly and – after taking my order for a pot of mint and liquorish tea (delicious!) – ushered me to the rear of the shop, where a seven or eight women were already seated around small tables. As I made my way up the steps towards them, I could see that some were stitching patches, others knitting, whilst a couple worked in crochet. I joined a group where one of these was making a traditional square blanket.
So were my companions able to help me? Certainly – but not in the way I had imagined. I soon realized that this was no masterclass, with experts insistent on the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ way of doing things but rather a gathering of women with as little – and as much – expertise as I have. Everyone praised my efforts and made helpful suggestions, then left me to decide whether to follow them or not.
I pulled out the gilet and began to figure out how to continue with it, listening to the ebb and flow of conversation and joining in when I had something relevant to contribute. Vendulka visited each cluster in turn, showing interest in what we were doing; gently promoting forthcoming workshops, which she thought might interest us, fetching us books to look through for inspiration and showing us pieces that either she or her husband had created – in a variety of interesting and unusual techniques.
There is something magical about working with your hands while chatting to others – words and ideas flow more easily and time seems to slow down. I believe this has to do with the lack of eye contact creating a safe and relaxing space in which to voice your opinions. I’ve read about this effect in novels such as ‘The Friday Night Knitting Club’ and ‘Divas Don’t Knit’, and even experienced it myself with friends on a one to one basis. But I never expected it to happen in this group. Not yet.
Yet – by the time our ‘hosts’ were ready to evict us and shut up shop for the night – the atmosphere was buzzing. People who had been strangers less than three hours before had become – not friends, exactly – but definitely more than casual acquaintances and were discussing what they could bring to the next meeting in two weeks time. Looking forward to it already!