Feeling the #NCTyarns love at the AGM

Rachel Plachcinski writes: On Saturday 13th October my alarm went off at the unearthly time of 5.15am. This is not normal weekend waking for me, however I had a very important date – #NCTyarns at the NCT AGM!

Fortunately there was a glorious sunset (with a generous helping of NCT staff purple) to get me fired up for the day. Plus, after I met up with Sarah McMullen (head of NCT Knowledge team) and Cathy Ashwin (head of Midirs) we detoured across Parliament Square for a quick tribute to women’s suffrage campaigner Millicent Fawcett before heading into the Central Methodist Hall. It’s a beautiful venue; if you haven’t attended an NCT event there before it is well worth a visit.

It was wonderful to feel the love in the room for the #NCTyarns project. Staff colleagues had elected to use the NCTyarns hashtag for the whole day, and there were many knitted and crochet squares, plus a couple of blankets, waiting for us. Val Willcox and I decided to use Sheila Smith’s beautiful baby blanket to trim the lectern, then we swathed the stage in pompoms.

The #NCTyarns ties were out! NCT CEO Nick Wilkie gave an excellent speech with many references to #NCTyarns (and managed to keep his cool despite me heckling every time he got his knitting and crochet mixed up), and Regional Volunteer Elgan Owen proudly donned his Welsh leek tie.

And finally, at the end of the day Val and I gathered all the pompoms and passed them into the loving hands of Melissa Gough-Rundle, Regional Volunteer Manager, so they can adorn future regional events.


#NCTyarns isn’t quite over. We still have lots of squares to fasten together, and borders to crochet onto blankets. Our goal is to have everything completed by the NCT Stars awards in March. Watch this space for news of more #NCTyarns #StitchUp events.


How’s your pompoms?

How are your pompoms coming along? With the NCT AGM looming (October 13) we at #NCTyarns HQ thought we’d better get cracking, so we pestered NCT Euston staff to give up their lunch hour to pompom creation.

pompom meet 1

We started with traditional equipment – cardboard circles. Which worked out pretty well:

But it was a bit slow (and that AGM yarnbombing session is creeping ever closer) so we decided to give a pompom production line technique a go.

Sanjima got herself into a good rhythm for yarnwinding and in a short space of time we had six fabulous pompoms.

Please send us your pompoms (and squares, and blankets), care of Maggie Holman at NCT, 30 Euston Square, London W3 6NH as soon as possible.

After adorning the stage and lecturn at the AGM, our beautiful pompom garlands will be passed on to our hardworking regional volunteers ready to decorate parties, training days and nappy changing tents all over the UK.



Pom diddly om pom pom….

pompom party

Val Willcox writes: I used to be a very crafty sort, when my girls were little we made all sorts of things usually with me having to rein in my perfectionist streak and avoid shouting “colour INSIDE the lines…” as little fingers got to grips with pencils and crayons.

#knittingNCTtogether and #NCTyarns has demonstrated just how far away I am from those halcyon days as every attempt to teach myself crochet or reanimate ancient and basic knitting skills has resulted in (a) a lot more bad language (b) an increase in gin consumption and (c) chasing the dog around the house with a ball of wool in his mouth (evidence below):

pompom dog

He’s really not helping…

So the latest phase of the project fills me with joy – pom poms. Yes – pom poms! How many of us spent hours in our youth at groups or in each other’s houses diligently wrapping wool around cardboard discs and in a short time creating the pom pom:

pompom how to

These are really easy and incredibly satisfying to make – and if you can keep the finished product away from my dog, they have a multitude of uses from decorating bunting to bobble hats to yarnbombing the NCT AGM on October 13. Yes, you heard me – yarnbombing the AGM.

We need many, many pom poms… big ones, small ones – all in the NCT colour palette of light green, dark green, purple and white. We’ll be fastening them on to bunting so please leave a good long thread on them.

You can send your pom poms to Maggie Holman at NCT in London (30 Euston Square, London W3 6NH) or bring them with you if you can get to the venue (Central Methodist Hall, London) by 9am on the big day. If you really love your bunting you can take it away with you afterwards; otherwise we will pass it on to our fabulous Regional Volunteers so they can adorn various branch and regional events.

Need a reminder how to make a pom pom – here you go:


#NCTyarns – any time, any place, any where…

Jo squares

Jo Booth writes: I didn’t take much persuading to take part in the #NCTyarns project. Initially I was just going to make one or two squares, but I have made a blanket’s worth! I’ve crocheted enough now to make a blanket for Billie’s Blankets.

Initially, I was going to knit the squares but crochet is a lot quicker and a lot more forgiving in terms of mistakes…! I am at the stage now where I need to join the squares together, what could possibly go wrong?!

My grandma taught me to knit when I was about six. I then had a huge knitting-hiatus until I started training as an NCT antenatal practitioner in 2008. I found myself in a tutorial group where virtually everyone, tutor included, was knitting. Not wanting to be left out, by the next tutorial I had needles, yarn and a pattern. Still in the garter stitch squares territory I was amazed at some people casually turning heels in socks and knitting beautiful, delicate lace shawls. Ten years on, I have improved a little, I have turned out a few shawls and heel turning isn’t quite as terrifying as I thought.

I tend to knit or crochet wherever I feel I can get away with it – including on a boat on the Norfolk Broads this summer. With the NCT AGM looming, this was too good an opportunity to miss. My parents and my children were mortified. You either get it or you don’t!

Jo on boat

Jo is an NCT antenatal practitioner with a special interest in caesarean birth under general anaesthetic. She is based in Stockton-on-Tees.


The unseen benefits of yarny crafts

Rachel Plachcinski writes: NCT’s HiddenHalf campaign is going really well. It aims to get postnatal mental illness out of hiding and ensure new mothers get the help they need, by improving the postnatal check up carried out when babies are 6-8 weeks old.

I’ve been to various events linked to the campaign, including a Parliamentary reception and the Big Push walk and picnic at Temple Newsam, organised by NCT Yorkshire and the Humber volunteers. I took my yarn, hook and squares to publicise #NCTyarns , but in the end it was so hot that they never left my bag!

These events got me thinking about what we can do to manage our own mental health. Now, I’m not saying that someone who is bordering on suicidal will be saved by possession of a crochet hook. On the scale of mental health wellness and illness there are definitely times when the help of a professional, possibly with good drugs, is the best way forward by a county mile. But it is good to talk about things we can all do, in our everyday lives, that keep us well.

My day job is as NCT’s Research Engagement Officer, so it is with great happiness that I present to you some research which found that knitting slows your heart rate, helps with anxiety and depression, and even slows dementia and distracts people with chronic pain conditions.  

And in a quick and entirely unscientific survey of my friends, I found that knitting and crochet help them to:

Enter a calm, meditative state

It’s about stilling my mind, shouting down the anxieties

It keeps me patient when I have a long, unexpected wait (I care nothing about airport delays, because I can knit!)

It’s the one craft I’ve always kept up with over the past almost 50 years! I find it relaxing and the repetition and rhythm of stitches is quite meditative.

I find sitting with a project can really help to still my mind and shout down the anxieties that build when I sit without something to do.

I like the repetition, it’s soothing. It also seems to help order my thoughts, slows everything down so I can think things through.


I find I listen better and pay more attention when I have a mindless activity like knitting to keep me still.

I really need it for watching TV because I start to twitch if I’m not doing something with my hands.

Negotiate challenging social situations

I was at a large week long event with about 1,000 people. We set up a knitting table in a corner of the general meeting area. There was always someone there knitting, mostly me as it was all a little overwhelming. Over the course of the week I taught many people to knit but mostly I listened. People would wonder over and sit down not to knit but for a rest. Then they’d start to talk and share things that they were struggling with, their questions, hopes and fears. It was a powerful safe space in the midst of a busy event.

As an introvert I also find that it can really help me to navigate social situations that I would otherwise find tricky. Even when I’m not feeling at all able to people if I know that I can sit in a corner with my knitting I’m far more likely to accept an invitation.

I take my small stash along to NCT Tiny Explorers, the baby group I run. If the women are getting on ok and don’t need much input from me I get it out and make a start. Usually someone asks me what I’m doing, so I explain about the project. Other days it’s a good way of ‘being’ there without being intrusive. Maybe a new or quieter mum will feel safe because I’m not making anything happen,just letting them be. I’m not very good,either, which probably helps – I’ve cast on a lot more than I’ve cast off!

Learn new things

It’s easy to learn, but the potential for continuing to learn is endless. When I’m exploring technique options, I am exhilarated at what I learn, and how I can use a particular stitch pattern or construction method. I like that I can knit something that takes almost no thought, or that I can knit something that requires all my focus and attention.

Find new friends

The yarn community is an amazing place too. You should definitely check out what’s been going on on the #titsoutcollective hashtag with dozens of creatives coming together to raise money for charities. But in general it is a lovely, warm, friendly group and a festival like Yarndale filled with indie dyers and pattern designers is a magical place to be.

What’s funny is that when E and I bump into one another it is at Yarndale so the knitting environment helps us navigate our introvert and talk to one another.

An additional point from me: I love that it’s tactile and you choose your own beautiful colours. Both these things are hugely soothing for me. I used to work in a fabric shop and would spend half my time stroking cashmere and silky cottons, or gazing with rapt admiration at glorious patterns and colours. Talking to customers with crafty hobbies was good fun too.

Knitting is so much more than yarn and stitches – it’s peace, hope, expectation, challenge, certainty, accomplishment. It’s both the future and the past – it is everything!

What do knitting and crochet mean to you?

A worthy home for the #NCTyarns blankets

Rachel Plachcinski writes: I’m really thrilled that we have found an excellent home for our #NCTyarns blankets. Woolly Hugs is an entirely volunteer-run project making blankets (and other items) with the most lovable aim.

“It is hoped that through our work, babies, children and their families will feel support, comfort and the sense of being loved and looked after”

There are two particular Woolly Hugs projects which could use some NCT love:

Billie’s Blankets works with World Child Cancer to send blankets to children suffering from cancer in low and middle income countries. In these countries their overall chance of survival can be under 10% compared to around 80% in high income countries such as the UK. Blankets for this project need to be at least 60cms/ 24 inches square.

The Refugee Project is creating larger blankets (at least 120x150cm/ 48x60in). Woolly Hugs works with a charity called Knit for Peace to send the blankets to refugee families around the world and in the UK.

We still need you to send your #NCTyarns squares and blankets to us as we want to display them at the NCT AGM on Saturday 13 October. Once we’ve had the chance to admire our handiwork and take lots of photos, we will package the blankets up and send them on to Woolly Hugs.

Please don’t feel restricted by our call for 10cm squares, as long as it’s in the NCT colour palette (pale green, dark green, creamy white and purple) you can use whatever pattern you like to make a blanket. However, if you’re new to knitting or crochet, or instructing beginners, you will probably find the 10cm squares quick and easy to complete.

Maggie Holman in the Euston office has kindly volunteered to be Collection Point Number 1! Send them to her at NCT, 30 Euston Square, London NW1 2FB. You can also hand them in at any of the ourNCTstory workshops being held this month. Alternatively, if you are planning to attend the AGM you can bring completed blankets along on the day. If you want your blanket to go to a particular project then do label it clearly as such, and make sure it’s the correct size.


Adding some crucial stitches


Rachel Plachcinski writes: I’m building a sizeable collection of knitted and crocheted squares so thought I’d better get going with fastening them into blankets.

Some much-needed help came in the form of the multi-talented Eleanor Thomson (she knits! she sews! she crochets!) who offered her skills, table, tea and scones. We were joined by Caroline from NCT’s Bradford and Airedale branch, and Karen from the Leeds branch.

Eleanor showed me how to fasten knitted squares together using a ladder stitch:

Image result for ladder stitch

The stitches were invisible when Eleanor did it; less so when I took over but I’m sure I’ll perfect it with time.

Then Eleanor took my crochet squares and crocheted them together with light green (the shade we’re using to represent parents supported by NCT). I love this as I think it emphasises how parents are threaded through everything that we do as a charity.


We also got to admire Eleanor’s yarn winder, here demonstrated by Karen, and shared out leaflets advertising the NCT Big Push for Yorkshire and Humber, to be held at Temple Newsam on Sunday 22 July.

I’m planning to be at the Big Push, with yarn, hooks and needles, so do look out for me if you have any questions or want to hand in squares or blankets.