Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Ann Kingstone Announces Yorkshire Knitting Tour

Ann Kingstone image courtesy of Ann Kingstone
Knitting holidays have been around for a long time, usually entailing a weekend away at a seaside hotel with a few knitting classes thrown in for good measure. Craft holidays tend to be popular with solo holidaymakers who want to join a group and learn something new as well. The best knitting holidays, however, are run by well-known designers who can offer their expertise and turn a simple holiday into a one-off personalised experience.

Lovers of Yorkshire wool and people who would like to explore the county's crafting heritage will be pleased to know that local designer Ann Kingstone is running a week's knitting tour of Yorkshire from July 8th to 15th 2018.

Says Kingstone:

"We are going to explore the colour work, lace and cable knitting traditions of this historic county, with visits to Yorkshire's foremost heritage centres, fascinating presentations by knitting historians, and superb knitting tuition for all levels of knitting ability."

The trip doesn't come cheap, costing £1500 for a shared room and £1600 for a single, but excursions include trips to the Bronte Parsonage, Fountains Abbey, York and The Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Plus of course there's Kingstone's invaluable expertise thrown in.

Kingstone's patterns caught my eye a few years ago when I bought her Born & Bred pattern book from Baa Ram Ewe. The yarn to knit the Hild hooded jumper is in my stash and on my 'to knit' list. Kingstone's designs are inspired by Yorkshire's landscape and heritage. More recently her Tup Knits pattern book includes very covetable sheep designs.

Shetland Knitting Holidays

Further north the Scottish island of Shetland is a popular destination for knitters who flock yearly to Shetland Wool Week. Gudrun Johnston (aka The Shetland Trader) and Mary Jane Mucklestone lead holidays there showing local knitting delights. This year's dates have sold out - sign up to receive information about next year's holidays when it is released.

Knit for Peace in India

Much further afield the British charity Knit for Peace runs yearly knitting holidays at Mysore in India.  Places are still available for the 20th January to 2nd February trip in 2018, when designer Jane Crowfoot will join the group to provide knitting tuition and guidance.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Exclusive Interview With

How do you flog yarn to a typical bloke, making knitting as desirable a hobby as football, real ale and X-Box? Now we AWoollyYarn readers know that knitting is a unisex pastime - there's nothing girly or sissy about it - but sadly once boys get past primary school age, or even before, many reject knitting as something for girls.

Thirty-six year-old Yorkshireman Lewis (Lewy) Ryan is on a mission to change this stereotype by creating a community of knitters across Barnsley and launching a knitting portal for men, appropriately named ManKnit. He exclusively chatted with AWoollyYarn about his values, plans and wool range.

ManKnit patterns and wool are unashamedly marketed towards men. Says Ryan: "The whole Manknit ethos is to try and get more males into knitting. The packaging, the names of the products (ManBowls for example), the pattern designs, even the colourways .. they're all aimed at encouraging more men to pick up the needles (or at the very least, want to wear the finished item if a loved one has knitted it for them)."

Image courtesy of ManKnit
ManKnit's own range of wool - Falkland Fine Merino and Blue-Mash, a Blue-Faced Leicester and Masham blend - come in natural colours in a blue wrapper. There's a reason for this explains Ryan: "With the ManKnit colourways and patterns I've tried to be rather plain ... most blokes don't really like anything to bright or flamboyant, even too much cabling can put some blokes off."

A 100g ball of ManKnit's Blue-Mash costs £12.99.  Supporting patterns on the website include beanies and an aran scarf.

It's not all manly colours though. Amongst ManKnit's natural plant dyed yarn range there's ... sshh ... Pink Ice Cream Aran and Pretty In Pink Aran.  Perhaps so the blokes can knit something for their girlfriends?

Offline Ryan runs knitting classes for men. How has he persuaded his fellow Yorkshiremen to pick up the needles? "Busting the gender myth is hard" he replies. "I think the men that I taught to knit have done so because they find it a skill and aren't worried what others think."

Lewis (Lewy) Ryan
He gives a case study: "There's a engineer that comes to my regular Knit and Natter evening. He's 6'5'', covered in tattoos, rides a motorbike and always has oil on his hands. On his first evening (he's never knitted previously) he compared knitting to welding, saying it was an incredible skill to have, once you have mastered it you can create anything! However he still hasn't told his friends at the engineering firm he works for that's he's knitting as he's worried about what they'll think."

Hopefully as ManKnit's community grows men will feel able to out themselves from the knitting closet.

AWoollyYarn is delighted to see that ManKnit's wool range is British. No Chinese imports or acrylic here.

Image courtesy of ManKnit
Ryan says his wool is locally grown and spun, environmentally using free air miles. He notes that "there are so many breeds to choose from in the UK, each breed's wool having its own properties, be that colour, texture or feel. I myself prefer rougher yarns as they are more robust (I use them for hiking and camping so they need to stand up to the elements). There's an amazing choice in the UK and that's before you start to blend various breeds for their properties."

He's not a fan of synthetic fibres, which "are used without thought of what happens to them after they are worn. They just go into landfill and won't decompose for hundreds, if not thousands of years ... I really can't understand why more people don't champion wool."

Hear hear!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Salutary Reason To Knit A Tension Square

For a couple of months I've been knitting the lovely Lush cardigan designed by Tin Can Knits. A few years ago I bought three hand-dyed skeins of Killer Flamingo DK from Rainbow Heirloom.  They remained in my stash whilst I ummed and ahhed over what to knit with it. Finally I put the yarn and pattern together and - bingo! - knitted Lush in front of the TV most nights.

First you knit the lace shoulder border, block it, then pick up stitches to knit the collar and finally pick  up stitches on the underside of the border to knit the rest. I was very much looking forward to wearing it and bought rainbow buttons from Kate Davies' shop to give it a whimsical feel.

What I didn't do is knit a tension square beforehand. I'm size extra small in jumpers and cardigans. That's what I always am - right?

Wrong. I thought the cardigan looked suspiciously tiny. I tried it on before knitting the button bands and it was a stretch to pull it around my shoulders. Desperate to make it fit I doubled the size of one of the button bands (I couldn't do both as I'd run out of yarn) but of course this made the cardigan look skew wiff. The buttons pulled, the joins gaped and the shoulders screamed for more room. My Lush was sadly beyond saving.

Here's what Lush should look like:

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

And here's what my Lush ended up as:

The next two sizes up require four, not three skeins and I've ordered a custom-dye batch from Rainbow Heirloom, again in Killer Flamingo, because I love the colour so much and want a Lush cardigan.

As it's hand-dyed the yarn will be slightly different shade-wise from my leftovers. I've got my eye on the t-shirt Rosamund by Katya Frankel to knit with them. That's when I stop kicking myself for my daft mistake that is.

Heed my sorry warning. Knit a tension square!

Do you have any epic knitting fail stories? Do please let me know!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Fibre Co Launches Fell Garth II + 20% Discount Code

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
One of the wonderful things about the onset of Autumn is the release of new knitting patterns for wrap-up-warm jumpers and cardigans. Hot off the press on 1st August was The Fibre Co's offering for the forthcoming Autumn/Winter 2017 season - Fell Garth II.

The Fibre Co is based in Cumbria, in the north of England, and the rugged local scenery has inspired both the designs and the company's latest yarn Arranmore Light DK, a tweedy blend of 80% merino, 10% cashmere and 10% silk that's spun in Ireland. There are 18 colour shades in the range with the texture in the yarn comes from the nepps:  "small bits of tangled fibres in multiple shares that are dyed first prior to blending" explains The Fibre Co's founder Daphne Marinopoulos.

Arranmore Light is one of the five yarns featured in Fell Garth II. The collection contains 19 designs by ten talented designers. Patterns can be bought individually from The Fibre Co, which will redirect you to Ravelry.

NB - Until 8th August receive 20% off all patterns by using the discount code FellGarth2 at checkout!

All the sumptuous images of the 19 designs were photographed in Cumbria, a landscape that in July 2017 was awarded World Heritage Status.

Fell Garth II features two cowls, a hat and some mitts but I feel its strength is in its sweater patterns. Cowls, hats and mitts are great for beginners but, let's face it, most knitters who have been crafting for a few years probably already have more than they need. The sweater patterns really strike me as different from many on the market and the sumptuous photography of the garments sells the vision of a stylish outdoor lifestyle. I might not be about to hill walk in Cumbria, but the following are my favourite jumper designs to wear down the park this Winter:


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Look at the lovely texture of the design created using stitch patterns juxtaposed with the tweedy nepps of Arranmore aran weight yarn. Designed by Fiona Alice, this sweater is worked in pieces from the bottom up. For me I'd shorten the body but I do think the styling of this jumper looks good with the belt.

Howclose Gill

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
The 1930s-style of this design immediately caught my eye. It's knitted in The Fibre Co's Knightsbridge yarn, a Cornish blend of merino, silk and baby llama, and was designed by Francesca Hughes. Intermediate knitters will relish the challenge to knit with the two colours.

North Row

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
This jumper screams 'cosy' straight out of the photograph. Knitted in Arranmore Light, it's a stylish, slouchy cover up that will go with jeans or skirts alike. The soft shade of 'River Esque' will take you through to next Spring too and go with almost everything in your wardrobe. Holli Yeoh is North Row's designer.


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Ceciknits designed this boxy, on-trend sweater with twisted rib lines and an oversized silhouette. It's worked in pieces from the top down and seamed. I like the way it's a cross between a jumper and a cape - on cold Winter days I imagine wearing it over another jumper for another warm layer. Armathwaite is knitted in The Fibre Co's Cumbria yarn.


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Another oversized fit is Rathbone with its sloppy-Joe a-line shape and texture details on the sleeves. Holli Yeoh designed this throw-on sweater in Arranmore Light. It's a go-to garment that would be great to wear over a t-shirt and jeans - a forgiving, day-to-day wear that's cosy and stylish.

To see all 19 patterns in collection go to the Fell Garth II section of The Fibre Co's website. Don't forget that the 20% discount code FellGarth2 expires on 8th August.

Which design would you cast on first? Let us know in the comments box below.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Yorkshire Day Special - The Terrible Knitters Of Dent

William Wiberforce image courtesy
of Bridgeman Art Gallery
The first of August is Yorkshire Day, 24 hours to celebrate all that's great about this northern English region, from its history to its culture, food (Yorkshire pud anyone?) and its artisan beer. I may not live in Yorkshire any more but am proud to be born and bred a (South) Yorkshire lass.

This date was chosen to commemorate the work of Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, who passionately campaigned against slavery. The first of August is the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire, which legally took place in 1834.

Wool has long played a part in Yorkshire's commercial and cultural history, with the region's mills, particularly in West Yorkshire, becoming a backbone of the industry spinning yarns to send out across the Empire. Whilst by the 1990s the wool industry was on its knees due to globalisation and cheap, foreign competitors, the twenty-first century saw the rise of smaller companies - such as Baa Ram Ewe whose first Yorkshire 4ply wool Titus is celebrating its fifth birthday - seeking to cater to the growing army of knitters who want British yarns spun and dyed in this country using local fleeces.

The popularity of wool has come full circle. From the 1960s onwards the population may have been bedazzled by cheap yarns from abroad made with petrochemicals but now wool has won out with its natural properties, local provenance and not an oil barrel in sight.

The Terrible Knitters of Dent

To celebrate Yorkshire Day here's an abridged version of a feature I wrote for a magazine a few years ago about the North Yorkshire knitters of Dent whose entire livelihoods revolved around knitting:

From dawn till dusk; alone or communally around a fire during long, dark, Winter evenings; whilst walking to neighbours or lying in bed; for the men, women and children of Dent knitting was a round the clock activity.

In the North Yorkshire Dales from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century the domestic knitting industry was a vital source of income for rural communities. The village of Dent made a name for itself for producing high-quality hand-knitted stockings, jerseys, caps and gloves, knitted from local fleece. They used very thin needles for intricate lace and fair isle garments. Knitting, although not a lucrative business, provided much-needed income, usually on top of another family activities such as farming.

The economy of the area was heavily-reliant on sheep. Carriers would go round the Dales delivering wool (known as bump) and collect the items knitted from the last batch. Bump was oily and off white, marking the garments as from that region. Dent knitters' knitters reputation spread as far as the Poet Laureate Robert Southey, who said of them "They er terrible knitters e' Dent". In dialect this meant they were great knitters, not that they possessed poor knitting skills!

Image courtesy of Dent Village Museum & Heritage Centre
Children were expected to play a part in contributing to the family income and as such learned their craft at an early age whether they liked it or not. Adam Sedgwick, who hailed from Dent and rose to become a Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote in his 19th century memoirs that knitting schools were set up in farmhouses for local children. Poor children were taught knitting as a way of earning a living in those days when there were no factories or mines competing for workers.

Not all villagers relished their craft. In Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby's book The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales, published in 1951, one elderly lady, Mrs Crabtree, recalled that in her childhood she and her sister were given by the family a quota of knitting to complete each day.  She usually took two days. One Christmas day as a special treat her father finished her knitting for her so she could go out and play.

Knitting was a social as well as a solo activity. Neighbours would gather together in the winter in front of a peat fire to share warmth and the local gossip. Dent houses had a wooden gallery at first floor level where knitters could watch others go by.  Sometimes the knitters would sing, knitting along to the tune's rhythm.

Needles were known locally as 'pricks' and the villagers knitted in a fashion called 'swaving', rocking backwards and forwards as they knitted. This was a different method from how we conventionally knit today. Industrious villagers would even knit when walking to run errands or visit friends. Double pointed needles could be held in a wooden sheath (known as a stick) secured by a belt, leaving the knitter to knit solely with one hand. This left the knitter free to do another task as well such as butter churning. Surely this was the ultimate in multi-tasking!

Knitting sticks were often personalised tokens of affection. A custom for courting couples was for the man to make a personalised knitting stick for his betrothed as a love token. The aforementioned Mrs Crabtree may or may not have been offended when her father made her a knitting stick in case she didn't get married and didn't therefore receive one from a lover.

The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales gathered much of the information we know today about Dent's knitting history.  The authors told the stories of the last remaining Dent residents who remembered the customs and knitting practices of the region.  "It was the elderly people who knitted to the last and with them have gone almost but not quite all memories of the centuries-old industry". 

As industry mass-produced woollen items at a cheaper price and villagers found alternative employment the local knitting traditions began to die out. Yet Dent still holds its crafty heritage dear, celebrating its past. The parish church contains a wonderful wool embroidery of the Knitters of Dent and Dent Heritage Centre displays information and objects from the village's textile history.

Coming soon on this blog ...

UK knitting holidays - including a very covetable one in Yorkshire - and the Autumn pattern collection from The Fibre Co. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Two New Covetable Brit Sweater & Cardigan Patterns + FOMK

Aaah - can Brit designers please take a six month break from releasing patterns to allow me to finish what I'm currently knitting? We've all been there, happily halfway through knitting a current project then wham! comes a new design you really want to knit straight away. Do you add it to your Ravelry favourites and steadfastly finish what you've started, or do put your half-finished creation to one side and get cracking with your latest pattern crush?

The acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) was coined for the social media generation when on Facebook, Instagram etc it seems like everyone else is out having a great time when you're stuck indoors doing the cleaning. I've made up the acronym FOMK (fear of missing knitting) for when crafters spot a lustworthy new pattern that they want to be one of the first to finish.


Praline image courtesy of Dani Sunshine
Emails about two such new patterns inspiring FOMK dropped into my inbox over the last few days. The first was from Kettle Yarn Co, showcasing a fabulous design from designer Dani Sunshine knitted in KYC's Beyul DK (see left).  Praline is a short cardigan perfect for wearing over floaty dresses. It's a great twist on a cardie and I want to wear it immediately!

At the time of writing this post Sunshine is offering 30% off the pattern if bought through Ravelry using the code BEYULSHRUG. I couldn't resist.

I haven't seen KYC's Beyul yarn in all its squishy glory. It's a mix of baby yak, silk and ethically sourced merino. Sadly it doesn't pass the A Woolly Yarn British origin test, so I looked at the other yarns on offer from the company.  Islington DK is a blend of 55% Blue Faced Leicester wool and 45% silk and is said to be hard-wearing, low pilling and long-lasting. I've settled on the shade icicle - a silver hue - as my favourite and one that will go with most garments in my wardrobe. At £21 per 100g skein it's certainly not cheap (this is where I thank my lucky stars I'm size extra small, needing the least amount of yarn) but I see Praline as an evening wear treat that will last as long as I do.


Image courtesy of Ysolda Teague
In her latest email Jen from Arnall-Cullinford Knitwear features a chat with Edinburgh-based designer Ysolda Teague. This month Teague published the Icelandic-inspired sweater Threipmuir and it's another I really want to knit. I haven't yet knitted a sweater with a multi-coloured yoke and would like both add the skills to my repertoire and have a snuggly jumper for the forthcoming winter.

The Threipmuir pattern is £7 to download on Ravelry. It uses S Twist Wool, which I'd never heard of. Following a little internet searching I discovered that S Twist Wool an Irish company and their sock weight yarn, used for the jumper, is a blend of fleeces from Tipperary and Kilkenny. It is available online in 100g skeins priced in euro.

If you'd prefer a Brit wool version sold in sterling then I'd recommend these two: Blacker Classic 4 Ply British Wool or the same company's pricier range Blacker Yarns Tamar 4 Ply, which has very vibrant shades. Blacker Classic costs £4.40 per 50g ball and Tamar is £16.20 per 100g skein.

Which to cast on first when I finish my current two projects - Raindrops and Lush??

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Commemorating The Life of Jane Austen + Katya Frankel's Kitty's Chemise

Image courtesy of
Bodleian Library
Did you know that author Jane Austen was between 5 feet 6 and 8 inches tall and skinner in her 30s than the current model du jour Kate Moss?

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death. I discovered the titbit of information about her figure when I recently visited an exhibition celebrating her life and work at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

I've been a fan of Austen's novels ever since studying Pride and Prejudice for A level English Literature. Further undergraduate and Masters degrees in English Lit didn't dampen my enthusiasm for her. Indeed, I remember rationing her novels rather than bingeing on them and the subsequent sadness I felt when I finished her sixth knowing there were no more left to read...

Even if you've not read any of Austen's novels then it's likely that the BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice television adaptation, making a star out of actor Colin Firth playing a smouldering, wet breeches-clad Mr Darcy (although a BBC news story burst the fantasies of many women by showing what Regency period Mr Darcy would probably have actually looked like - and it involves a grey wig). Since then the film and television remakes of Austen's novels have kept on coming, but, whilst they are very entertaining, none can live up to the wit of her sparkling prose.

Pride & Preju-Knits

In 2016 I had the pleasure of reviewing a book, Pride & Preju-Knits, containing patterns to knit your favourite characters from Austen's novels.

Whether it be Lydia and Wickham's wedding in Pride and Prejudice:

Image courtesy of Geraldine Warner

Anne Eliot playing the piano forte for Persuasion's Captain Wentworth:

Image courtesy of Geraldine Warner

Or our heroine's wedding in Emma, there are plenty of patterns for Austen fans to knit! Which character would you cast on first?

Image courtesy of Geraldine Warner

Geraldine Warner, the book's author (who writes under the pseudonym Trixie Von Purl) has even made a short movie mash up featuring her knitted characters. Watch it on her website - scroll down the page to play the embedded youtube movie.

Which Jane Austen?

Image courtesy of Bodleian Library
As well as finding out about Austen's figure at the Which Jane Austen? exhibition there was lots to discover about her writing inspiration and the culture in which she lived.

For me, to see her handwritten letters and manuscripts, her portable writing desk and a replica of the silk pelisse coat she bought with her writing earnings, was thrilling. The objects and contexts - from her childhood to the influence of the war with France and her trips to cosmopolitan society in London - really brought Austen's character alive in my imagination and challenged the perceived image of her as a middle-aged spinster living a quiet life in the back of beyond. No knitting was there, but there was a needlework sampler on display reputed to be Austen's.

Whilst I waxed lyrical about the exhibition my husband was rather more appreciative of our next stop, the Turf Tavern, reputedly Oxford's oldest pub. He declared Which Jane Austen? to be like watching paint dry, only more boring!

Kitty's Chemise

I was delighted to hear that talented Newcastle-based designer Katya Frankel has timely re-released her Kitty's Chemise pattern, which can be downloaded on Ravelry for £4.

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel
It's inspired by the undergarment a gentile young lady such as at Kitty in Pride and Prejudice would have worn, and in the 21st century makes a great t-shirt rather than a vest!

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel

Kitty's Chemise is knitted in the round from the bottom up in panels of stockinette and reverse-stockinette stitch The photographs of the back of the chemise (above and below) show this well.

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel

The chemise is fitted at the waist. It has ribbing at the hem and i-cord trim at the neck and sleeves. Whilst the prescribed yarn on the pattern isn't British, Brityarn has a selection of homegrown DK yarns to substitute it with. It goes without saying to knit a tension square first.

I haven't had time to knit this pattern yet - such was the rush to blog about it - but I will choose one of the following yarns that are easy to wash and soft against the skin:
  1. West Yorkshire Spinners' Illustrious DK - I've a penchant for the delicate green that is 'Sea Glass'
  2. The Knitting Goddess' Merino Sparkle DK - its sparkles would make a great going out top for the evening
  3. Blacker Yarns' Lyonesse DK - this wool and linen blend gives a more lightweight knit and offers a more autumnal palette of shades than the other two choices. 

More Jane Austen

To find out about more events taking place to mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death, visit the Jane Austen 200 website.

For details of the crafts that a gentlewoman would have indulged in during the Regency period - and it's not just knitting and needlework - see Emily Hendrickson's Regency Craft & Pastimes post.

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