Friday, 20 July 2018

Di Gilpin's Saorse & Patterns Ready For Autumn

Yes, in the UK we may still be basking in a July heatwave, but this is the time of year when designers and yarn shops turn their thoughts to the Autumn/Winter season. 

Di Gilpin, whose studio is based in Fife, Scotland, not only has some covetable new designs out ready for the colder, woolly months using her Lalland lambswool yarn, but she also a brand-new Scottish yarn: Saorse. 

First up are the patterns using Lalland. There are 21 shades available. Here's the shade card: 

Haar, a very delicate pale blue shade (see above second left on the top row) is the most recent shade to be released. Now here are the latest patterns:

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin
The Geo Snood pattern costs £5 and is a great smaller project to practice your stranded colour work skills. 

There are four Lalland shades used: Furze, Silver Birch and Broch. The good news is that buying buying those four 50g balls gives you enough yarn to knit two snoods!

Gilpin sells Lalland for £8.75 per 50g ball plus P&P.

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin
This is my personal favourite out of the three patterns, using stranded colour work to showcase five shades from the Lalland range: Driftwood, Crowd, Flame, Hear and Silver Birch. 

The colour detail around the bottom of the sleeves and jumper make the design stand out from other yoke patterns. 

The pattern costs £6. Gilpin says that the jumper "started life as a commission from Shetland Wool Week Fashion Show. The sweater design, inspired by the geology and landscape of the Scottish islands, creates texture and colour in the yoke using a new interpretation of the fabulous Fair Isle OXO patterns."

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin
Coda requires the colours Agate, Haar, Driftwood and Morion from the Lalland range. 

The pattern costs £6. 

Gilpin advises that Coda is aimed at experienced experienced colour work knitters and describes it as "a Fair-Isle inspired vintage jacket with a modern twist".

The cropped body and semi-monochrome colour palette certainly give Coda a 1960s feel.


Saorse is a one-shade-only light aran-weight yarn, a gorgeous natural ecru. The yarn is a blend of 80% Scottish fleece and 20% cashmere, being relatively soft but also a long-lasting workhorse with a slight halo and good stitch definition. It has a very slight sheepy smell, reassuring the buyer of its natural origins.

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin.
On Gilpin's website she explains the thinking behind Saorse, saying that the name is the Gaelic word for freedom. Gilpin has long wanted to make "a truly special yarn using the best fleeces from sheep reared in Scotland and blended with the finest cashmere from Mongolia". Saorse is a collaboration with Uist Wool and organic wool produced entirely on Claddach Farm in Fife. 

Gilpin's love affair with cashmere stems back from when, as a young woman, she spent some time in Ladakh on the Tibetan border teaching knitting.

What can you knit with Saorse?

The Seol Gansey Tunic pattern costs £6 directly from Di Gilpin. It requires eight to ten balls of wool to knit, depending on your chosen size.

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin
One small point about the new yarn's name: the yarn tag calls it Saorsa whereas Gilpin's website calls it Soarse.

Whatever the name, it's a premium product with a price tag to match. A 50g ball costs £22.50 plus P&P and can be bought directly from Gilpin's website. One for British yarn lovers and small, precious projects.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Review Of New Magazine - Your Crochet & Knitting

Image courtesy of Practical Publishing
Practical Publishing, who also produce Knit Now, got in touch to suggest I review the latest addition to their ranks, Your Crochet & Knitting. Whilst the copy of the first issue was a gift my review is impartial.

Go to your local newsagents and the shelf for craft magazines is crowded. My first thought about the publication of another knitting magazine for beginners was do the newsstands really need it?

It's a competitive market with both the Yarn Forward and Knit Today titles folding in the last few years. What could make YC&K stand out amongst the throng?

At a cost of £8.99 it's certainly one of the most expensive craft magazines on the market but that price includes not only the paper copy but a kit containing six balls of acrylic yarn, a pair of wooden knitting needles, a crochet hook, sewing needle and black thread (you have to provide your own toy stuffing).

The magazine is aimed at beginners who want to dabble in both knitting and crocheting. There are quite a few patterns that can be made with the included yarn including a blanket, baby bootees and a woman's hat and mitts, but the star attraction are the Mr. Men and Little Miss official toys.

I'm a beginner crocheter and therefore for essence of speed I decided it would be quicker to test one of the knitting patterns instead. They are described as 'easy, quick and incredibly cute' and hit two out of three of those descriptions.

It took me, a usually speedy knitter, about four hours to knit, embroider and sew up the Little Miss Princess toy. Not the quickest knit it must be said, but the pattern was easy and the end result is certainly cute.

My beady eye recognised the Little Miss Princess and Mr Funny knitting patterns from a supplement that came with Knit Now magazine around Christmastime. I'd kept it to keep for the future and dug it out to double-check. The crochet patterns are new to me though.

At 68 pages the magazine is rather short but it certainly packs a lot of projects in - 39 in total. As well as the patterns, which include a blanket craft-along to be continued in issue 2, there's a round up of craft news, tips from Toft's Kerry Lord on sewing up toys, a review of baby yarns, giveaways and basic knitting and crochet instructions.

So is the magazine worth it? I'm not usually a knitted toy fan but the kit and pattern to make the Mr. Men and Little Miss characters swayed it for me - they will make great gifts for my friends' children and I think are worth the cost of the well-photographed magazine. I'd like to see patterns to knit flowers with the free gift yarn in the future.

It'll be interesting to see what's in issue 2!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Hot New Patterns To Knit

Here in England the temperature continues to sizzle, which gives us Brits lots to talk about on our stereotypical favourite subject - the weather.

Whilst it may be too hot for some to dig out the wool and get ahead on knits for Autumn when we'll be swapping summer shorts and dresses for a cosy jumper, that hasn't stopped some of our favourite designers bringing out covetable patterns.

So find a shady spot, accessorise with an iced glass of lemonade, and decide which pattern is going to grace your needles next.

Tin Can Knits

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits
Boardwalk is Tin Can Knits' latest pattern. As you'll see from the picture it's a back to front cardigan, although you can go rogue and wear it the conventional way round if you wish to!

Alexa Ludeman, one half of Tin Can Knits' design team, describes Boardwalk as 'a simple little cardigan with crisp raglan lines and sweet little split hem, made in DK weight yarn. No matter how you button it, it's the perfect addition to any wardrobe.'

As with all Tin Can Knits patterns the cardigan is available in the full range of sizes from little tots to fully-grown adults.

Download the pattern for £6.56 from Ravelry.

Linda Shearer

Image courtesy of RSPB
OK, so there's no way anyone needs to wear a woolly hat in this sunshine, but the Curlew Hat, using Shetland wool, raises awareness for the RSPB's Curlew Crisis appeal and if you cast on now it will be ready to wear once the nights start to draw in.

The pattern is free to download but Kate from Northern Yarn is offering to donate money to the RSPB for every set of Jamiesons of Shetland Spindrift wool bought from her online shop to knit the hat with. Each ball is £3.50 and you'll need six in various colours to complete the pattern.

Visit Kate's Facebook page to see how she's getting along knitting her own version of Curlew.

Renée Callahan

Image courtesy of Baa Ram Ewe
Look at the gorgeous intarsia pattern on the back of this Josephine cardigan that costs £6 to download from Ravelry.

Callahan, who lives in East London, says that her design was 'inspired by and named after my grandmother ... Josephine is a timeless style, with an elegant waterfall front, and an ususual construction.'

Yorkshire wool shop Baa Ram Ewe has promoted its own brand Titus 4ply wool, which retails at £17 per 100g hank. The shop says that the pattern is a great way to use up left over Titus from your stash.

Alternatively, for £3.50 each you can pick and mix 12g small balls of Titus - a more cost-effective way of creating the lovely colour pattern rather than buying a full 100g skein.

Marie Wallin

Image courtesy of
Marie Wallin/Baa Ram Ewe
Sticking with the Baa Ram Ewe theme, ex-Rowan designer Marie Wallin has gone from strength to strength in her freelance career and has chosen Baa Ram Ewe's Dovestone Natural Aran DK for her latest pattern launch, Brambling.

Brambling is on sale on Ravelry at a download for £5. Wallin has informed me that the pattern will soon also be available on her own  website.

With its roll-neck and slightly oversized fit Brambling will keep you warm in winter. Wallin recommends the design as a good first Fairisle garment to knit.


Image courtesy of Whistlebare
New from Northumberland family-farm yarn company Whistlebare is this T-shirt-style top to whip up and wear before the balmy weather changes.

Designed by Kirstie White, Mermaids Pool (sic - no apostrophe!) is knitted in the round from the top down in Whistlebare's Cheviot Marsh 4-ply. You'll need two skeins to knit the small and medium sizes or three to knit large or extra large.

Whistlebare says Mermaids Pool is named after a pool near Coldingham Sands in Berwickshire. The pattern and yarn kit costs between £33 and £49.50 plus £4.50 P&P.

Blacker Yarns

Image courtesy of Blacker Yarns
Finally here's freebie. Blacker Yarns is offering its latest pattern, Trym Vest, as a free download.

There are three versions, depending on whether you want to knit it in DK, 4-ply or 3-ply. The DK version uses Blacker Yarns' Lyonesse linen blend, the 4-ply version Tamar Lustre Blend, and the 3-ply version in Samite Silk Blend.

The top is designed to be work over a shirt or blouse. Blacker Yarns suggests that if you want to wear Trym on its own then you may want to decrease the depth of the armholes by working fewer rows before beginning the neck shaping.


Which is your favourite pattern? Are you too hot to knit or are you using the summer holidays to catch up on your works in progress?

Let us know on the A Woolly Yarn Facebook page.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Support Countess Ablaze's Tits Out Collective

Image courtesy of Countess Ablaze
On July 1st Countess Ablaze will launch her Tits Out Collective together with a group of like-minded indie dyers who want to say no to commercial exploitation and support women's groups at the same time.

Says the Countess, "I will produce a Big Ass Master List of Certified Tits Out Dealers and where you can find them. Everybody is donating a portion of their proceeds to a charity that means the world to them. We have got participants worldwide! Including UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Hungary, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, USA, Canada ..."

So what is it that has brought all these dyers together and what has it got to do with boobs?

Back in March Countess Ablaze dyed two special colours, 'Shit Tea and Tray Bake', and 'If I Want Exposure I'll Get My Tits Out' in response to a 'collaboration' proposed to her by a local cafe. It wanted her to provide her time and £800 for free and in return, says the Countess, she "would be given 'exposure'. They went on to say that the customers would be (paraphrasing) middle aged women who would bring their girlfriends, we can serve them shit tea and tray bakes which would cost the restaurant very little but the ROI would be massive."

Image courtesy of Countess Ablaze
Countess Ablaze gave £3 to the charity Women's Aid for every skein sold. These one-off colour ways were a hit ... so popular that an indie dyer, whom the Countess doesn't want to name, produced a knock-off with no contribution to charity.

At the time of writing over 200 indie dyers and makers have signed up to the Tits Out Collective to create their own version of 'If I Want Exposure I'll Get My Tits Out' and donate at least £3 (or their currency equivalent) per skein to a women's charity of their choice.

A quick search of #titsoutcollective revealed that Baa Baa Brighouse, Giddy Aunt Yarns, The Urban Purl, Old Maiden Aunt, Hand Print By Celine, Queen of Purls, Huckleberry Knits, Joma Yarn and Serenity Fibers are amongst the dyers taking part.

Set your alarm for 1st July when Countess Ablaze's list of all the Tits Out Collective will go live.

Holiday knitting

I'm going on holiday for a week and have packed Wool and The Gang's Total Eclipse sweater to knit whilst I'm away. I saw the variegated yarn whilst on my Sirdar Knit Now prizewinners day nearly a fortnight ago and bought the kit on sale.

It's a cotton yarn (sadly not made in the UK) with a vibrant mix of pink, black, white and orange colours.

Whilst the pattern knits the sweater in garter stitch I've changed it to rib and stocking stitch because I think it suits the yarn better.

The sweater is knitted on 5mm needles. The circular 5mm needle I have has metal tips. I've taken wooden circular knitting needles on board planes before but I suspect metal may be on the banned list, so I'd rather not risk it and am packing the project in my suitcase.

What are you taking to knit on holiday this year?

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom

The afternoon session of our behind-the-scenes tour of Sirdar started in the showroom. This white, beautifully-curated room is the place to go to see future Sirdar, DMC and Wool and the Gang knitted-up designs and yarn. White mannequins wear display collections that are fashionably-styled as a full outfit. At the foot of the mannequins lie the balls of the yarn used in the garments.

The showroom is the place where reps and retailers come to see what next year's collections will bring. Trouble is it's:

We weren't allowed to take any photos of the designs but needless to say there were quite a few that caught my eye, including a forthcoming sweater from the Sublime range with a retro feel. It was very exciting getting a sneak preview of the ranges, seeing the colours forecasted to be on-trend next season and, of course, having a good squish.

As I can't show you the outfits I'll instead offer another photo of Sirdar's current yarn range on display in their meeting room:

Knit Now editor Kate Heppell then gave a presentation in the showroom explaining how the magazine is produced - it was so fascinating and thorough I'll cover it in a future blog post. Then it was time for all the winners to receive their certificates.

Here's mine!

It was fabulous to meet such a great, creative and friendly bunch of women.

I came away from the day very impressed with Sirdar and its combination of heritage and forward-thinking. As someone, however, who doesn't live near a decent wool shop and is used to buying online, my one tip to the company is to improve their website.

At the moment it's merely a shop window for their products with no opportunity for customers to purchase them. All you can do is browse. If Sirdar sold direct or at least provided a one-click link straight to online retailers who do sell the customer's product of choice it would be extremely beneficial, as would making their patterns available to buy and download on Ravelry.

Image courtesy of Sirdar
A massive thank you to Kate Heppell and all the Sirdar employees who generously gave their time to us on the day and sent us away with goodie bag containing magazines and yarns from the Sirdar, DMC and Wool and the Gang ranges.

Coming home with a goodie bag, it felt like Christmas in June!

Read the other posts in this series:

Behind the Scenes At Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room

Have you ever dreamed about being paid to test new yarns before they're in the shops and also knit for a living? If so, then a role in the design room at Sirdar should be at the top of your job hunting list.

The first thing I noticed when my fellow Knit Now magazine prize-winners and I toured the design room was the staff happily clicking away knitting up patterns or sample squares to go to retailers.

Julie, the design manager, gave us an introductory talk all about the design process covering the initial idea all the way through to the final pattern production. The team produces hundreds of patterns a year.

Armed with feedback from shops, customers, reps and surveys, the forthcoming yarns from Sirdar's product development team plus future forecast trend forecasts and their knowledge of the knitting market , the designers produce mood boards with swatches and ideas.

When themes are agreed the designers draw an initial sketch for a pattern. Sirdar's different sub-brands, including their luxury Sublime range and the more budget-conscious Hayfield, need to be taken into account, as well as providing for beginners all the way to experienced knitters. Plus the team make sure there's a mixture of catwalk trends, classic and vintage designs to suit all of their customers.

Each sketch then goes into a folder and makes its way to a pattern writer whose job it is to - yes you've guessed it - write the pattern up and check that the measurements correspond to the initial brief.

Says Julie, "There's not always one way to write a pattern, you have to get it right for the design and level of knitting ability." She checks the knitted sample and often makes suggestions for tweaks to the design, such as a few extra stitches on a collar. The pattern itself is checked by different eyes a vast number of times on its journey to be turned into a Word document. The original pattern writer is responsible for the final once-over.

It's not just clothes that the team designs - accessories and toys are popular too. Above is a cute toy knitted up go to a yarn shop. Julie explained that knitted samples on display in stores massively increases that yarn and pattern's sales.

Samples are knitted either in house or outsourced to home knitters. Each garment/accessory/toy is photographed for the pattern cover.

There are two pattern seasons: Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. New patterns are drip-fed to stores throughout the season ensuring that there's always a reason for a customer to come back and browse. "We have to provide people with what they want to buy", Julie emphasised, "... if we get it right the customers are happy and the stores are happy."

The archive

Sirdar has a long history and the archives contain a copy of every pattern published over the years. On the outside the folders don't look much, but they contain engrossing knitting, social and fashion history.

Browsing the folders unearths many gems, from 1970s psychedelics to baby patterns from times gone by.

The little girl on the left doesn't look very happy in her romper suit does she!

I could have spent much longer browsing through the files but time was short. The archive is not only a snapshot of Sirdar's history but is also used regularly when customers ring up to query a pattern. The team will then find the pattern in the archives and do what they can to help.

In the next post I'll be reporting on Sirdar's showroom, which was the last stop of the tour.

See also:
Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

My prize for winning an Online Innovator award from Knit Now magazine in their Knitter of the Year 2017 awards was a trip to Sirdar's headquarters in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. It was such a packed and interesting day that it'll take three blog posts to tell you all about it. I'll be reporting on the design room where the patterns are created, the showroom which features garments from future collections, and today's post is all about the warehouse full of thousands upon thousands of balls of yarn. My request for a five minute trolley dash was politely declined!

After all the winners had arrived we congregated in Sirdar's meeting room along with Kate Heppell, Knit Now magazine's editor and various super-friendly Sirdar staff members from their design and marketing departments. The first thing I learned is that Sirdar is part of the DMC group and consists of three brands: Sirdar itself (and its sub-brands Hayfield and Sublime), DMC, which I previously knew made embroidery and tapestry threads but also makes knitting yarns too, and Wool and the Gang, a more fashion-forward company.

This was not just any old meeting room, this was a yarn-filled meeting room containing a ball of all the colours and varieties in the Sirdar range, including a few planned for next season. These are top secret but what I can tell you is look out for the new colours and additions to the Sublime range in Spring/Summer 2019 - two are especially exquisitely covetable. Whilst all the winners started off in best behaviour mode it didn't take long before we were having a good squish and inhaling all that yarny goodness.

Then it was time to head to meet Darren, the logistics manager, in the warehouse. At the beginning of the century Sirdar sadly stopped spinning its own yarn here. Like a lot of manufacturing businesses Sirdar found that increasing globalisation meant that it was no longer competitive to produce its products in this country, so they had to restructure and outsource to survive. A factory in Turkey bought a lot of their machinery and today 80% of Sirdar yarn is manufactured there. It's the job of the product development and design teams to decide which yarns and colours they want to include in the range, based on feedback and future forecast design trends.

When the manufactured yarn arrives at the warehouse in containers it is quality checked to ensure it's up to standard and then sorted into shade and blend numbers. Once the team are happy the yarn is taken out of boxes and onto wooden trays. Each consignment is inputted into the computer system and allocated one of the thousands of positions in the warehouse so it can easily be found when a customer places an order (Sirdar sells direct to retailers and not currently to individual members of the public).

When Sirdar receives an order the products are retrieved from their designated shelf positions and then moved to the packing room where a huge machine bundles the yarn together in plastic and seals it with heat. A number of team members study the pick list to double check the customer receives the correct invoice, packing note and products. The order then is put on a van to be sent out to the depot and shipped anywhere around the world. From September onwards is their busiest time of the year.

It's not just yarn that Sirdar stores in the warehouse, it's pattern leaflets too. These are produced upstairs in the design room (more of that in the next blog post) and printed in house. There's one colour machine for the garment photograph and a black and white one to print the instructions.

There's a ready-made selection of leaflets on numerous shelves ready and waiting for trade customers. Like the yarn, each has its own designated position on the computer system.

The tour of the warehouse opened my eyes to the complicated logistics behind a successful international yarn and pattern business. Though A Woolly Yarn champions British wool and in an ideal world their yarn would still be produced in the UK, Sirdar has done a great job in adapting to stay alive and thrive in a very price conscious and competitive market and is an important part of the UK's knitting industry.

How are knitting patterns designed? Find out in the next post Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room. Then discover what goes in the showroom Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom.

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