These annual awards, now in their 9th year, are hosted by Let's Knit magazine and the nominees in each category and later the winners are all voted for by the crafting community, so it's a huge honour to be included in the list at all, never mind win a prize! Super Socks, the book of my Sockalong tutorials, was awarded 3rd place in the Favourite Book category and I was thrilled! You can read about it here and you can find a list of all the other categories and winners here. The awards always take place during the Knitting and Stitching Show which is great as it meant that I would get chance to look around there first!
Settled on the train with my hot chocolate, a picnic for the two hour journey (got to keep your strength up!), my iPod and of course my knitting, I couldn't stop smiling as the train left Runcorn and picked up speed, hurtling towards the Big Smoke.
The socks are for my husband, a pair of DK boot socks in West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley DK shade Blue Lagoon. I started knitting them to replace the pair that we thought we had lost when we went to Betwys y Coed at the end of the summer (I live in fear of only bringing home one hand-knit sock of a pair when we go away somewhere!) - it turned out that the errant sock was hiding inside a boot but I'd started the new socks anyway so he's going to have another pair to add to his collection.
Two hours is just long enough for me to listen to a couple of episodes of my favourite podcast, In Our Time, a Radio 4 discussion programme which covers a wide range of topics. I don't usually get chance to listen to programmes like this during the week as I rarely sit in one place for any length of time unless I'm writing and then I need to be quiet to concentrate, so it's a treat to have the opportunity to discover something else about the world - there's always more to know! My episodes of choice for the journeys to and from London were circadian rhythms (how the body clock works), the Muses, Agrippina the Younger (mother of the emperor Nero) and the Maya civilisation. Quite an eclectic mix, but it kept me amused whilst I worked my colourful rounds and the countryside flashed by the window.
Once in London, I met up with Lucy who won the categories for Favourite Crochet Blog and Favourite Crochet Designer, and also Emma and Kate who are two of the organisers (along with Lucy) of Yarndale which won Best Knitting Show/Event 2015-16 and we all headed out to Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) together. It's an enormous place, as you can see from this photo. We went in through the arched entrance just in front of the domed roof which you can see on the left hand side and the show stretches through most of the building.
Alexandra Palace opened in 1873 on Queen Victoria's 54th birthday. The first building burnt down just 16 days later, and the new building was opened in 1875. The palace has seen many events over the years, including use as an internment camp in 1915. These days, the events are much friendlier, such as the Knitting and Stitching Show, car shows, firework festivals and even an ice rink!
It's a very grand building as you would expect, as the Victorians were very good at doing "grand". This is the entrance atrium (the Palm Court) which I actually thought looked more like a train station with the glass and arches ...
and this is the domed roof that you could see on the photo above. It's quite a feat of engineering, isn't it? I wouldn't like to be the one who had to wash all that glass!
The Knitting and Stitching Show is very different to Yarndale. The way the stands are set out reminded me of an indoor market, each row laid out on a grid system to help you to find your way around - as it's quite a lot bigger than Yarndale this is very helpful! There was quite a difference in the types of exhibitor too. At Yarndale there's lots of fleece, yarn and sheep. Here, there were no sheep but there were other crafts - lots of fabric stands and textile exhibitions which is good - if all the yarn shows and festivals held during the year were the same, then there would be no point in visiting more than one. It's always good to have an excuse to go and have a look around!
We didn't have long before we had to meet up in the marvellously decorated Londsborough Room for the awards ceremony. The room started to fill with other awards winners - some who were exhibiting at the show and others like us who had travelled there specially.
The ceremony's opening speaker was Stephen Robertson who is the CEO of The Big Issue Foundation. The Big Issue is an initiative which helps people facing poverty and exclusion to earn their own money by selling a weekly magazine which they buy from the publishers and then sell on at a profit. It gives them an opportunity to earn money with dignity, not just become beggars on the streets, and the magazine is a good quality one written by professional journalists. I don't buy a copy every week but I do buy one from time to time and it's a good read - if you've never looked at it before, then do buy yourself a copy from a seller when you see one, you won't be disappointed. The Big Issue has been around for 15 years now and has a current circulation of around 100,000 copies every week so you can see that it's doing a lot of good for people who (often through no fault of their own) are in difficult circumstances.
You might be wondering what this has to do with knitting and there is a link, I promise! Every year, The Big Issue has a Big Knitathon to help raise money for their work in supporting magazine vendors and this year they've teamed up with Hobbycraft to spread the word even further as Hobbycraft will be hosting a special Knitathon day on 12 November in their stores. You can register to join in here.
The second speaker was Stuart Hillard, who was a contestant in the first series of the BBC2 programme, The Great British Sewing Bee. He was very entertaining to listen to, a natural storyteller who was a knitter before he was a sewer and whose love of crafting shines through his stories. Since the series ended, Stuart has become a craft teacher and writer, running patchwork workshops and writing books on the subject. After listening to him speak, I can imagine that those workshops are very popular!
Finally, we listened to Jamie Sterry whose job it is to co-ordinate all the little hats that are sent in to Innocent Smoothie's The Big Knit campaign each year. In case you've never heard of The Big Knit, this is something that started 13 years ago when people were asked to knit little hats to fit onto Innocent Smoothie bottles over the winter period. Innocent would donate 25p per hat-wearing bottle to Age UK, a charity which helps older people and especially during the cold winter months.
In the beginning, the hats were simply little bobble hats to adorn the tops of the bottles and I sent my few hats in along with many others, thinking that it was a good idea and I hoped they'd sell well. The hats-on-bottles season not only sold well that year but has got bigger every year as more and more people join in. Over the years, whilst there are still many many little bobble hats sent in, the range of styles has got more extravagant and the bottles fly off the shelves as people hunt for their favourite style in the display. Last year, more than 1 million hats were sent to The Big Knit, and over £2million has been raised for Age UK. This year, they're going for 2 million hats! That's an awful lot of cosy bottles and an awful lot of money to help combat the difficulties that so many older people face as the temperature drops. If you want to get involved in this year's campaign, you can find more details here.
Then it was time to collect our awards, have our photos taken by an official photographer (doesn't that make you feel posh!) and chat to a few more people before heading back to the tube stations. It made me smile to see all the awards left on tables as people circulated around the room to talk to other winners.