Hooking up with the Women’s Institute…

I am just about emerging from the food coma that is a weekend at Denman College…The past 72 hours completely challenged my expectations of a weekend with the WI, and I’m left feeling much calmer, focussed and yes, full.
My friend (a seasoned WI member) and myself (interloper) embarked on a weekend Crochet for Beginner’scourse at the WI College Denman, which is located in the super pretty village of Marcham in Oxfordshire. The course was run by the ever-patient Lindy Zubairy, who was super all weekend, and completely tailored the sessions to the diverse abilities within the group.
A chunky sample = hook case
Neck Snuggler in a weekend!
And now a smidge of a confession: I can crochet. But NOW I can crochet neatly. And change colour smartly. And read a schematic pattern (the pretty ones that look like page tattoos for crafters). And make a ‘Magic Loop’ -which judging by some of the post-dinner, wine fuelled evening sessions could refer to just about anything. If you are a self-taught, book or youtube crocheter I can’t recommend this course enough -I suppose it’s a bit like finally having dance lessons after wildly throwing random shapes on the dance floor for years and wondering why you ache the next day. Going back to the start and watching a real person make the loops and chains, forces you to unlearn the bad habits you pick up when self-teaching, with the benefit of having that expert tweak and pull and point out the bits you’ve got wrong (and importantly, what you’ve got right).
There were only 11 of us around the table which made the sessions companionable and highly entertaining. There was a tense point midway through Saturday when hooks were thrown (yep, these ladies can get cross), the atmosphere was tense and we might have all ended up swinging from some seriously chunkyyarn, but by late afternoon (and more tea and cake) this lifted and there was a group effort breakthrough. Shoulders dropped, conversation contained less expletives and the gossip began.

Beyond the course itself, going to Denman as a woman in your thirties is a chicken-soup for the soul type experience. With two small kids I’ve spent the last few years reliving birth traumas, discussions about nappies and milk, sat on carpets and sweating the small stuff…and I’m more pragmatic than most. I realised by Sunday that the conversation that had nothing to do with the silly piddle frustrations of raising young kids, and everything to do with perspective and real life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t surrounded by wistful reincarnations of Ghandi (although the 88yr old on the Flamenco course and who did her ‘exercises on the bed’ was clearly channeling something), but women who’d seen a lot, done a lot and simply stopped caring about what the world thought of them in favour of making their own judgements about the world instead. It would be fair to say that in both crochet and life terms, it was the kick up the butt I needed!

Top Denman Survival Tips:
1. Pace yourself on the food front.They feed you on average every 2 hours. It’s fantastic, fresh, locally sourced and seasonal food and it just keeps coming. Save room for all of it.
2. Don’t drink the coffee after 4pmunless you like insomnia. It’s like rocket fuel.
3. Take your mum or best mate so you can get a room in the main house (they’re all twin). It’s beautiful and a bit like Downton with wool.
4. If at first you think some of the ladies are rude, don’t. They’re just upfront, say what they think and everything functions better this way.
5. If you’re stuck with your phone, iPad, or Dropbox account, there will be a smart silver surfer in every group to help…Some appeared to be more addicted to Facebook than I am…
6. Walk around the grounds and the village. There is time to spare, it is beautiful and you need to work off lunch in preparation for afternoon tea…And then dinner…
7. Listen. These women ain’t daft, they know more than you and it could come in handy one day.
8. Join the WI. I’m now on a mission to keep this up. I’m looking at the groups in my area and have been advised to check out a few to find the ‘best fit’. Meanwhile, I’m saving my pennies for next year.

Have you just joined the WI in your ’30’s? Or been to Denman? Where you there with me when the hooks hit the fan? I’d love to hear from you xx

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