Monday, 24 June 2019

Read This Before Taking Your Knitting On Board A Flight

Whilst it gets you to where you want to go relatively quickly, flying can be a pretty boring (and unenvironmentally-friendly) mode of transport. There's the journey to the airport, all that hanging around to check your bags in and go through security, and then hours of sitting down mid-flight with nothing to keep you occupied other than movies you've already seen and the person behind periodically kneeing you in the back of the seat.

All rolled up and ready to be knitted into socks
So it goes without saying that taking a small knitting project with you could be a great way to get more rows in and pass the time until the flight attendant prepares for landing. With security rules stricter than ever however, and varying between countries and airlines, here's how to err on the cautious side ...

1. Take nothing sharp in your carry on bags. Pack scissors, yarn snips and sewing-up needles in your suitcase that's going in the hold. It seems counter-intuitive that you can't take a razor through security but can buy one in Boots when you've passed through but that's the rules.

2. Only take a small project such as socks - unless you're lucky enough to be flying first class that is. With the minuscule amount of room you have in an economy seat a sweater or blanket will end up spreading over to your unhappy neighbours. You'll take up less room using circular needles.

3. Wooden needles are a better bet than metal ones, whether they're straight or circular. When you check your luggage in ask an airline staff member if you can take your needles onboard. If they say no then pack them in your check-in suitcase.

4. Forgotten to ask an airline staff member and a guard says you can't take your needles through security? Carry a stamped, self-addressed envelope in your hand-luggage, pop the needles in and ask security to post it for you. Make sure you have a piece of spare yarn to hold the stitches on (although this will be difficult without a needle if you're knitting with lace or 4-ply yarn).

5. When knitting on board try and keep the needle-clacking to a minimum - if you're a noisy knitter it's polite to switch to reading instead on a night flight when the lights have been switched off.

Forgotten to pack any knitting at all? That's a great excuse to visit a local yarn store wherever you're going. A ball of yarn you can't buy in the UK makes a better souvenir than a macrame camel or bag of spices!

Monday, 17 June 2019

Successful Debut For Sheffield's The Wool Monty

Wool, wool and lots more hand-dyed wool (with a spot of tea and a piece of cake thrown in) - that's what visitors to the inaugural The Wool Monty show had the delights of discovering on the weekend on 15th/16th June. A Woolly Yarn was there to browse, squish and seek out new knitterly wonders.

The FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield usually is home to bands, comedians and the local ice hockey team but for two days it was taken over 60 stands run by both local vendors and those from further afield. The emphasis was firmly on small businesses you might not have come across before (four of which are featured in this post), along with bigger names such as Nathan Taylor aka Sockmatician, and Elaine Jinks-Turner from Baa Baa Brighouse.

Elaine Jinks-Turner
A Woolly Yarn visited on the Sunday afternoon and Elaine, taking a moment to knit in-between customers, said that the Saturday had been very busy and she'd certainly exhibit again next year.

The popularity of hand-dyed yarns, particularly for one-ball projects such as socks and shawls, seems to be going from strength to strength. Look at the fabulous array of shades on offer from Ducky Darlings, a Derbyshire-based business that sells on Etsy:

Chatting to vendors it was great meet people who'd recently started businesses, spurred on by their love of yarn and curiosity to try dyeing their own.

Claire Nettleship launched her venture last year.

After visiting Yarndale she decided to learn how to knit socks and then tried her hand at dyeing sock yarn herself. She specialises in self-striping yarn and aims to have up to ten colours in each skein. Claire showed me photos of her dyeing in action - let's just say it involves lots of buckets - and it looks very impressive!

Claire Nettleship with her own yarns
Another 2018 starter is Mad Scientist Yarns. This husband and wife duo, Scott and Michelle - who used to be scientists but now work in IT - started yarn dyeing after Michelle went to Edinburgh Yarn Festival and decided she wanted to create her own yarn colours inspired by chemistry.

The couple run their company as well as keeping their day jobs and give a proportion of their sales to charities such as MIND. The Wool Monty was their first foray into yarn shows - and very professional their stall looked too.

I already have a huge stash of yarn to use up and was trying to very good but I did buy one thing - a jumper kit from Hot Butter Yarns. I hadn't heard of the business before and was impressed by the samples they had on display of their own patterns knitted up from their own-dyed wool.

Nerrit from Hot Butter Yarns
I ordered the Nerrit kit which is made to order and I'm replacing the teal blue shade with a vibrant pink.

Well done to Debbie, Mand and Rosie, the trio from Woolfull who organised the The Wool Monty and also displayed at the show and sold cute, sheep-embossed merchandise. When it was less busy the venue seemed a little large for vendors, but it certainly scored ten out of ten for accessibility, free parking, disabled access and lots of room to sit and drink refreshments in between shopping.

Keep an eye out on The Wool Monty's website to see whether the show will run again next year.

Did you go to The Wool Monty? What did you buy and which vendors did you most like? Let us know in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Kate Davies Targets Beginners With Her Latest Pattern Book

Kate Davies' knitwear patterns are perennially popular and currently on her website she's tantalisingly trailing designs for her forthcoming book: Bold Beginner Knits.

Image courtesy of Kate Davies
Back in the day when I learned to knit as a child the starting point was a dishcloth (doesn't matter if there are holes or uneven tension because it's only wiping muck off plates) or perhaps a chunky scarf. Since then knitting has become a hobby people are learning as adults and they want to aim bigger and brighter in order to create something instagram-worthy.

Upstream is the second pattern Davies has teased, the first being the blanket on the cover of the book.

Image courtesy of Kate Davies
It has a patterned yoke using slipped stitches. Says Davies, "This intriguing pattern is actually just a series of basic stripes, in which slipped stitches (when held at the front of the work) create an undulating effect which travels, in highly satisfying waves, around the yoke. When working the pattern, only one shade is ever in use."

Now it took me a about two years of adult knitting before I attempted a sweater and for my first attempt I stuck to one colour in order to concentrate on the construction. That, however, was a garment knitted in four pieces (back, front and two sleeves) and when I moved on to knitting in the round I found that technique easier than having to sew finished pieces up. Ysolda Teague sells a pattern aimed at jumper beginners, Ravelston DK, at a 'pay what you can' price between £5 and £12.

Image courtesy of Ysolda Teague
The pattern is all one colour, includes lots of sizes and a choice of necklines.

Keep an eye out on Kate Davies' blog to see when she releases details of more patterns from Bold Beginner Knits. The book is available for pre-order at £15 plus P&P.

What did you knit when you were a beginner? Let us know in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Review Of Erika Knight's Wool Local

"From fleece to finished yarn in less that 50 miles" is the streamline for Erika Knight's most recent yarn launch, aptly named Wool Local, which hit yarn shop shelves earlier this year.  But is it worth knitting with?

Wool Local image courtesy of Erika Knight
Wool Local's eco-credentials come not only from its (lack of) transport miles but also because it's spun with fleece from British Bluefaced Leicester and Masham Yorkshire sheep. The wool is scoured, combed spun, dyed, steamed and handed in the same county. Says Knight "The catalyst for creating my own yarn collection was to support the British heritage of textile mills and to promote native sheep breeds."

There are six shades to choose from:

A Woolly Yarn received one 100g hank in the blue shade Bennett to review (all opinions are our own). A quick sniff revealed a pleasantly subtle, sheepy aroma and when squeezed the hank bounced back straight away. Wool Local is 4ply weight and, though wool is thought of more of a Winter knit, it's also suitable for Summer projects including t-shirts and lightweight cowls.

If you're after a softish yarn with a proper woolly feel then Wool Local is a great choice. It feels that it has the strength and resilience of a more workhorse wool but is soft enough to be worn next to the skin in cowls and hats. Wool Local has a subtle colour variation that almost resembles tweed. Knitted up it has a slight halo and does shed a little so it's perhaps one to avoid if you find that to be an irritating quality.

All in all for people who want to knit with British wool and know its provenance Erika Knight has come up trumps again with Wool Local.

How much?

Each 100g skein costs £13 at McA direct plus P&P.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The Debate About Pattern Pricing - Too High Or Too Low?

Recently on social media the thorny issue of knitting pattern pricing has come to the fore. Some members in the knitting community have pointed out that the cost of buying a pattern from a designer can be off-putting to those on low incomes and may lead to knitting becoming an elitist craft only open to those who can afford it. The counter argument is that a lot of work goes into creating a pattern and that designers deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work.

Designer Ann Kingstone published a blog post pointing out that "very few handknitting designers make a liveable income from selling patterns. With so many free patterns available, and a huge amount of choice in pay-for patterns, hand knit designers face an uphill struggle to attract buyers."

How much cash would you pay for a pattern?
She goes on to argue that lowering prices could prevent designers from earning a living wage: "I want to make design a viable self-employment choice for folk who have creative talent and want to make a living from it. With current industry pattern pricing averages that is not going to happen. So for many years I have deliberately priced my patterns at the top of the range of what other designers charge, feeling able to risk losing sales in order to support a move to more sustainable pattern pricing across the industry. As my patterns are quality products, I have felt justified in doing this, and almost nobody has complained."

Many designers have sales to stimulate interest in their products and also offer free 'taster' patterns, although these are usually from their back catalogue and not their new releases. Kingstone states "I consider it ridiculous to worry that knitting is being 'gentrified' if designers increase their prices".

There's also the issue that if great pattern designers can't earn a living wage from their craft then the profession itself may become a 'hobby job' only open to people who have enough income from elsewhere to live on, which itself would discriminate against talented people without a rich partner or a trust fund.

Elaine Jinks-Turner, owner of internet yarn business Baa Baa Brighouse, said in her blog post that social media can be open to abuse and misuse, when referring "to the ongoing furore regarding pattern pricing ... it's quite heartbreaking to see designers feeling as if they have to justify themselves to customers by detailing all kinds of personal and private events, to show that they are not being 'greedy' nor that being a knitwear designer is a 'choice' or 'privilege'."

Ravelston image courtesy of Kate O'Sullivan
Edinburgh-based designer Ysolda Teague is trailing a 'pay what you can' pricing mode, saying 'I've often felt like that "standard" price of knitting patterns is both lower than other similar products (eg. indie sewing patterns) and doesn't really reflect the amount of work that goes into them. At the same time it's totally fair to worry that rising pattern prices will price people out ... as a community it can feel exclusive and like you have to spend a lot to fit in. I'd like to find a price that balances valuing the work in a pattern, and being inclusive."

Teague's trial consists of two patterns, Ravelston and Thebe. Both have a higher trial price combined with lower 'pay what you can' options. Kingstone says if this improves overall profitability, whilst making a pattern affordable for those on low budgets, she will use this model herself for her next pattern release.

The 'pay what you can' pricing model itself is, however,  open to interpretation. Is it right for someone to pay more to subsidise a pattern for someone else (for example we all pay the same price for a tin of baked beans depending on where you shop) and how do you police the system so it is not abused? What qualifies as a low income? What about people who earn more than the average salary but feel cash-strapped due to their outgoings? In his book Status Anxiety Alain de Botton explains that how rich or poor you feel can be influenced by how well you are doing compared to your peer group and neighbours - for example a person earning £20,000 a year may feel well off if surrounded by people earning £18,000 but someone on £30,000 can feel poor if their neighbours can afford foreign holidays and a new car and they can't.

There could be an option, rather like Food Banks, where satisfied customers donate money to a designer's fund to give out free patterns to those on low incomes who otherwise couldn't afford to buy them. Yet, like state benefit means testing, it's embarrassing for someone to declare themselves in need of financial support and very intrusive for the designer to police.

Says Jinks-Turner, "there are days when I'd quite like to wander round Brighouse dressed in Chanel but my budget won't allow it and that's fine, there are plenty of alternatives. The same goes for knitwear patterns. There is an abundance of free patterns available on Ravelry."

The result of the 'pay what you can' trial will be closely watched by many designers.

Do you think knitting pattern prices are too high? Would you be prepared to pay the highest price in the 'pay what you can' model? Have your say in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Review of John Arbon Textiles The Annual

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Instead of publishing the usual catalogue of yarns, this year John Arbon Textiles, a family-run business in Devon that spins yarns for its own range and other clients, has taken a different approach.

It's harking back to the 1970s and 80s with issue one of The Annual - a collectable, entertaining read that even includes a word search!

A lot of John Arbon's sales to customers are done via the web, therefore it's handy for would-be-purchasers to have background information on their yarns, particularly its composition and specifications.  Yet this isn't just a mere catalogue (and readers would expect more than that to justify its £5 plus P&P price tag when bought directly from John Arbon Textiles). The Annual goes behind the scenes at the business with information about the staff, what the machinery does, and for light relief there's a spot the difference puzzle featuring John himself.

The stand-out highlights of The Annual are the four exclusive knitting patterns that aren't available anywhere else. These are:

Chapman Socks by Rachel Atkinson

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
These use Exmoor Sock 4ply yarn.

Boyd Hat by Sonja Bargielowska

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Viola DK is the yarn of choice.

Drucilla Shawl by Fay Dashoer-Hughes

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Knitted in Alpaca 2-3ply.

Cuthbert Scarf by Francesca Hughes

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles

This pattern requires Knit By Numbers 4ply mini skeins.

The only thing missing is a feel of the actual yarn itself. British people old enough to remember the early years of the Next Directory (a clothing catalogue) when it launched at the end of the 1980s will know that it included little cloth samples from some of the designs, which was great for colour-checking and feeling the quality of the material.

I'd have loved there to be a strand of each yarn in the John Arbon range included in the annual. That'd be so helpful for those of us who have now idea how a Zwarbles feels differently from an Exmoor Blueface or Merino. Perhaps something for John Arbon's team to consider for issue 2?

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Stylecraft Yarns Open Day Closed To Physically Disabled People

I've mentioned in this blog before that I was born with a physical disability. Nowadays I use a wheelchair pretty much all the time I'm out of the house which, contrary to misery stereotypes of the 'wheelchair-bound', greatly improves my quality of life as opposed to not being able to walk far and being in pain when I do so. In a wheelchair I can get out and about a lot further and longer than I could do otherwise.

Spend an afternoon with me though and you'll find out the numerous barriers there are to my freedom and how they exclude me, and others in a similar position (think other wheelchair users, mums with prams, those who use mobility devices such as sticks or walking frames, and elderly people who find it difficult to walk) from places non-disabled people think nothing of going to.

The knitting community is renowned for being friendly and inclusive, which is why recently I was aghast to find that physically disabled people are excluded from a day Stylecraft Yarns is holding to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

Image courtesy of Stylecraft

On Facebook the company ran a competition to win one of fifteen pairs of tickets for a 30th anniversary celebration day at their mill in Huddersfield, stating that "the day will kick off with some fun and games before a mega yarn-tasting session featuring new yarns from the Autumn/Winter collections. After a prosecco lunch, the winners will spend time in workshops with some of our Blogstars ... every winner will also receive an amazing goodie bag to take home."

Sounds great, right? Except there was no need to try your luck in the draw if you're physically disabled. The small print said that the mill is not accessible for disabled people. Stylecraft didn't specifically say not to apply if you're a wheelchair user but putting two and two together I deduced that it was pointless if I couldn't get in the building to use the tickets. No prosecco or goodie bag for me!

Stylecraft yarn image courtesy of Black Sheep Wools
Stylecraft is a huge player in the UK knitting industry. I haven't featured it on A Woolly Yarn because this blog focuses on wool and most of Stylecraft's yarns are either synthetic or have a low wool content. That aside it's a popular, much-loved company and was a winner in the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2018. Surely for the purpose of the celebration day they could make what the Disability Discrimination Act calls a reasonable adjustment and hold it in their business areas that are accessible or even rent a room somewhere else for the day? Stylecraft is a fair-size company which, unlike a sole trader, will have the funds to do so.

The pointlessness in applying for tickets left me feeling excluded from their business and the knitting community. I can't help comparing the experience with that I had with Sirdar last year. As one of the winners of Knit Now magazine's Knitter of the Year 2017 awards I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Sirdar. Both the magazine's Editor, Kate Heppell, and the Sirdar team were extremely welcoming. They said it was fine for me to bring a friend to push my wheelchair and there was a stairlift to access the upstairs areas. Another of the winners was also a wheelchair user and our physical ability just wasn't an issue, as it should be. What mattered was our love of knitting.

The purpose of this blog post isn't to name and shame Stylecraft, but to raise awareness of exclusion in the knitting community. In the last few months the issues of lack of representation of people with colour, the bias towards smaller pattern garment sizes, and access to patterns for people on low incomes have been hotly debated within the knitting community on social media.

Yarn image courtesy of Sirdar
To me the marginalisation of disabled people is important too. If you're not part of the demographic affected you might not be aware it exists.

I also experience exclusion with some yarn stores, although to be fair they tend to be small businesses without the cash or the means to move or alter their premises. A broken lift, more than one step up or a huge step and no portable ramp means that I can't go in. I've come across very friendly staff who have told me to knock on the window and they'll come to the door and bring to me what I want to look at. Sounds good in theory but in practice when it's raining, the staff are busy serving customers and have to wait a while to come and see me, I'm not sure what I'm after and then feel obliged to buy something after a member of staff has helped me, it's not.

I miss out on the joy and freedom of browsing, squishing and smelling yarn, comparing colours and chatting with other customers, never mind not being able to attend any workshops or social knit and natter nights. Plus the yarn stores lose out on my cash and repeat custom. To people who tell me to buy online instead I say I do sometimes when I know what I want but any knitter will tell you the benefit of being able to browse, see and feel wool first before buying. Why should I be any different?

Pattern image courtesy of Stylecraft
Those who have experienced social exclusion will know that it has a drip effect on someone's confidence and ability to join in with the world.

Of course it's not just yarn companies I've faced it from but shops, pubs, restaurants and other businesses too. Yet the days have long gone when I've felt grateful to a shop for taking me to their upper floor in a goods lift or meekly accepted that businesses and services open to all are out of bounds for me. It saddens me greatly that anyone should miss out on their favourite hobby, knitting, just because of physical ability beyond their control. It's hard enough sometimes dealing with disability anyway, without added unnecessary exclusion from society.

I contacted Stylecraft for a quote to hear their side of the story and this is what they said:
"We are very sorry that it will not be possible for people with a physical disability to attend the Purl Anniversary party. The building is normally accessible for wheelchair users, however, at present our lift is undergoing renovation work and we are not able to guarantee that the lift will be in operation by the time of the party. To prevent disappointment nearer the time, we felt it better to state that it would not be accessible. In retrospect we could have expressed this more clearly in the hopes of avoiding disappointment."
Here's hoping Stylecraft's lift will be fixed soon and they'll host another party for those who missed out.

Now just don't get me started on the lack of representation of disability in pattern photography. Knitting companies and magazines are certainly improving the representation of their customer base by including models of colour, different ages and larger sizes in their images. But have you ever seen a wheelchair user advertising the latest jumper pattern? A model with a hearing aid, guide dog or even something as everyday as wearing spectacles? That's a blog post for another time ...
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