Saturday, 16 September 2017

Three Rare British Yarns To Try While Stocks Last

The very welcome boom in the production of small-scale British born and bred yarns continues apace. Here are three of A Woolly Yarn's latest finds but remember, because they are produced by sole traders or small businesses with wool from a specific flock, there's only a finite amount of stock available. Once they've sold, they've gone forever! Well, until next year's clip anyway ...

Langsoond

Langsoond is a yarn spun from the fleece of Shetland designer Donna Smith's own sheep and that of her neighbours. The name, she explains comes from Langsound, which is a stretch of water that runs along the East coast of Burra Isle. She says, "In Shetland dialect we pronounce the 'ou' in sound as 'oo' so I have gone for the phonetic spelling".

Langsoond image courtesy of Donna Smith
The yarn will go on sale on Saturday 30th September at the Shetland Wool Week Maker's Market and will then be added to Smith's online shop. The 100g DK-weight skeins will be available in four natural colours. Smith is busy working on three designs to support the yarn.

Garthenor

Ysolda Teague features this certified organic British yarn in her latest pattern release Caru.

Caru image courtesy of Ysolda Teague

She used Garthenor No.2 Manx Loaghtan & Wensleydale Blend to create these cabled, fingerless gloves and sells it in her online store. The weight is described as between 4ply and DK and a 50g ball costs £8 plus P&P. As the yarn is breed-specific it's available whilst stocks last.

Image courtesy of Kettle Yarn Co.
Ramble

Kettle Yarn Co. has launched Ramble, a seven-colour wool range sourced from local British farms. The blend, says the company, is only available in small batches due to it being spun from the finest-graded fibres of Shetland and Romney.

Ramble is described as lightly-processed and woollen-spun into a heather, sheep cloud that's perfect for colour work, twisted stitches, cables and rustic lace shawls.

It's a 2ply yarn and can also be used holding two strands together to create a traditional marled effect.

The seven colours are striking, with the greeny/blue hue of Burdock standing out amongst the bunch. The palette offers a good choice for both those who prefer understated colours and knitters who like their knits to be vibrant.

A 100g skein costs £18 plus P&P directly from Kettle Yarn Co.'s online store.

A Woolly Yarn hasn't yet seen any of these three yarns in person and therefore can't comment on their squishiness or review their knitability at present.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

What Louisa Harding Did Next

The Louisa Harding pattern and yarn brand has long been known for its whimsical, romantic flirtatiousness, femininity and fun. What you may not be aware of is that although the brand still bears her name, Louisa Harding no longer has any involvement with the company.

Harding grew up in London and learned to knit from her grandmother. At fashion college she fell in love with a knitting course and got a student opportunity at Rowan, which is where cut her teeth in the knitwear design industry. After starting a family she went freelance, then in 2005 launched the Louisa Harding brand.

Now she has her own venture, Yarntelier, which launched to the public at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in October 2016.

Image courtesy of Yarntelier
Yarntelier is a labour of love for Harding, who says:
"British yarn is important to me as I first explored the Yorkshire spinning mills during a placement with Rowan when I was studying textiles for fashion at Brighton Art College in the late 1980s. At that time there was a big boom in hand knitting and during my placement I visited many woollen and worsted spinning mills and learned how yarn was made. There used to be so many mills local to where I live in Yorkshire. Over the years all but a few disappeared. The idea of the new brand Yarntelier was to look at what was still available within Britain, specifically in Yorkshire, and to champion what is still available."
Yarntelier launched with two yarns: Cashmere Lace and Cashmere Gilli. Although the cashmere comes from Mongolia and China the yarns are spun in a mill less than five miles from Harding's home in the Holme Valley. Both ranges have 12 shades and each 50g ball costs £25.

Whilst certainly not cheap, the yarn is top quality, super soft and a delight to knit with and wear. Most of the patterns in the supporting pattern book Yarntelier Volume One only require one or two balls, making them within the reach of most customers for a special treat.

Image courtesy of Yarntelier
For Harding, her favourite design "is the one that I am still working on ...  I love the complexities of working out stitch patterns ... but I love to wear the Zephine shawl from Yarntelier Volume One as it is so versatile. I have worn it is a scarf, as a shawl, and the cashmere just gets softer and softer with each wear."

Zephine image courtesy of Practical Publishing.

Review

Harding gave this blog a copy of Yarntelier Volume One and two balls of yarn for review. All views are A Woolly Yarn's own.

Yarntelier Volume One contains 15 garment and accessory patterns beautifully photographed in Yorkshire scenery. There's a good mix of patterns suitable for newish and intermediate knitters, including a stocking stitch beanie hat and more challenging lace knits. It's a luscious book to look through and, importantly for many knitters, the lace sections are in both chart and written form.

Using Cashmere Gilli I test knitted the Blythe scarf, making a few slight changes to the pattern in order to turn it into a cowl and alternate the garter stitch and lace sections. Here's Blythe in the pattern book: 

Image courtesy of Yarntelier

And here's my version on the needles:



Take a closer look at the lovely stitch pattern: 



The yarn is a delight to knit with and will, no doubt, be a delight to wear.

Yarntelier's Cashmere Lace yarn is a more delicate colour but with the same softness:


I intend to knit the Luella hat pattern with it:

Image courtesy of Yarntelier.
The other designs are equally covetable, with my favourite garment pattern being the Zelene sweater, which I imagine would feel like being cocooned in silk:

Image courtesy of Yarntelier
It does, however, require between five and seven balls depending on size, so therefore is rather a lottery winner's purchase! The one ball patterns are much more accessible for a luxurious treat that you'll wear for a long time to come.

Yarntelier Volume One costs £15 plus P&P from Yarntelier. Alternatively individual patterns can be downloaded for £4 each.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Why British Yarn Doesn't Have To Equal Expensive: 50g For Under A Fiver

It's a myth, almost universally acknowledged, that British yarn must be expensive and unaffordable (with apologies to Jane Austen for stealing and changing her opening line from Pride and Prejudice).
Go to any yarn discounter and there will be dirt-cheap balls of Chinese acrylic and nylon yarn for sale that haven't been within miles of a sheep. Real wool, well surely that's pricey isn't it, so why buy British when you can have all-you can-knit imported balls?

Image courtesy of Farming UK
Here at A Woolly Yarn we believe British is best, because of the financial benefit to farmers who in the past have had to pay more for shearing their sheep than they could make from selling the fleeces; the environmental benefits that come from using less transport miles and not burning oil barrels to make artificial fibres; wool's natural properties keeping one cool in summer and warm in winter; to educate the public about endangered sheep breeds and ensure their survival; the knock-on effect of jobs created for designers, spinners and dyers using British yarn; and of course because quality British wool feels so much better to wear than scratchy, man-made, imported alternatives.

Louise Scollay from KnitBritish kicked off an internet debate back in 2013 when she posted a feature called British Yarn Under A Fiver. Do your research as I recently have, and you'll find that four years on there are still under £5 British bargains for sale.

I have an old Wool & The Gang sweater pattern that requires aran yarn. From BritYarn I bought four 100g skeins of West Yorkshire Spinners Jacob Aran Wool for £22 plus P&P. That's enough yarn for up to size medium and works out at the equivalent of £2.75 per 50g ball - a fabulous bargain.

My £22 British yarn bargain
This prompted me to do some internet searching to see what else I could find for under £5 per 50g. Local yarn shops you know sell British wool are your first port of call for their end of line sales, but not all of us are blessed to live near a yarn store, never mind one that's eschewed foreign man-made yarns.

Five more British yarn bargains: 50g for under a fiver

Blacker Yarns' Classic DK knitting yarn retails at £4.40 for a 50g DK ball and is available in the purple shade whilst stocks last.

Image courtesy of Blacker Yarns
From New Lanark Mills comes an organic hank of aran British wool in a natural ecru shade, selling at £8 for a 100g skein (the equivalent of £4 for 50g).

Image courtesy of New Lanark Mills
Woolyknit's own range includes 100% pure British wool Big Brit Super Chunky in four shades at £5.95 for 100g (the equivalent of about £2.98 for a 50g ball)

Image courtesy of Woolyknit
Online retailer Baa Baa Brighouse is selling Wendy Ramsdale DK in the shade 'Helmsley', spun from Yorkshire fleece, for £2.48 for a 50g ball whilst stocks last.

Helmsley image courtesy of Wendy 

Available at BritYarn is West Yorkshire Spinners' Bluefaced Leicester BFL UK, available in nine colours at £4.85 per 50g ball. 

WYS BFL coral shade courtesy of BritYarn

So you see British doesn't have to equal expensive - in face it some cases it's quite the opposite. Why import cheap, oil-based yarn from across the globe when what's on our doorstep is much better quality and reasonably-priced to boot? 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review of Let's Knit's British Yarn Collection Issue

Image courtesy of Let's Knit magazine
Issue 123 of Let's Knit magazine, published on 30th August, is a British yarn collection special. It features 18 makes in pure British yarns along with wool reviews and interviews with British designers.

At A Woolly Yarn we're always thrilled to see British yarns gain centre stage in the media and we went straight out to buy a copy. Here's our unbiased review - is the issue worth £5.99 of your cash or is it a dud?

Firstly, don't be put off by the free gift. The issue comes, like many knitting magazines these days, wrapped in a cellophane packet with the free gift obscuring the front cover: not very helpful if you want to know what's in the issue before you buy. Potential readers who can't flick through the pages have to either take a chance that it includes patterns they will want, or embarrass themselves in the newsagents by opening the cellophane and taking a look (preferably not near any CCTV cameras).

This issue's free gift is a 'Tom the cat' knitting kit with both normal and eyelash yarn. No country of origin or information about what the yarn is made from is given; therefore it's pretty safe to say it's not British and probably is man-made. It's rather a strange gift to give away with a British yarn special edition. The magazine contains lots of toy knitting patterns - great if you like knitting them but not if garments and accessories are more your thing.

Without the free gift obscuring the cover the reader can see one of the great gems of the issue, which is also the main design featured on the front cover. The Fair Isle Yoke sweater has an interesting mix of Fair Isle and lace patterning. We can also imagine knitting this for winter without the lace parts and replacing the cuffs and jumper bottom with garter stitch rib in the contrasting colour. With only two colours used this pattern is a simple introduction to Fair Isle for those new to the skill. Baa Ram Ewe's Dovestone DK is the given yarn for the pattern. There are lots of other shades to choose from if  Brass Band and Coal are not to your taste.

Dovestone DK image courtesy of Baa Ram Ewe

Other British Yarn Collection patterns include a textured cardigan knitted in Debbie Bliss Falkland Aran (see here for A Woolly Yarn's review from 2016); a waistcoat using Wendy Ramsdale; a sweater designed by Pat Menchini with West Yorkshire Spinners 100% Wensleydale Gems; and a beginner friendly cowl knitted with Baa Baa Brew Marble 4ply

Baa Baa Brew Marble image courtesy of Baa Baa Brighouse

With a mixture of garment and accessory patterns there's certainly enough patterns to suit most readers' tastes. Unfortunately as yet there aren't any images of these designs available on the internet to show you here.

The news pages highlight some British brands you may not have heard of, such as Herdy and Shropshire Ply Double Knitting. Over on the yarn review pages are the magazine's top eight picks of yarns produced and spun in the UK. Plus there's an informative feature to read about four women who are passionate about British wool.

The verdict

All in all this issue gets the thumbs up for highlighting and celebrating British yarn. It's a shame that every pattern in the magazine isn't knitted with a British yarn, but it's certainly a good start. Get past the toy patterns and this issue is a good buy for British-wool-loving beginners and intermediate-level knitters.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Review Of Marie Wallin's North Sea Collection

Image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Sit back, relax, put your feet up and be transported through the sumptuous, evocative photography in Marie Wallin's eighth stand-alone pattern book to Unst, the most northernly of the Shetland Islands. This collection of eight hand-knit designs screams lifestyle envy, with the beautiful model posing moodily on windswept beaches and even managing to look good accessorising the designs with a pair of wellies.

Wallin built her career and reputation as Head Designer at Yorkshire-based yarn and pattern house Rowan before going solo in 2013 and launching her own design company from her home in Leicestershire.

She runs workshops and a Fair Isle club but it intricacy and delicacy of her patterns that she's best known for.

The eight patterns in North Sea are knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed, a non-British merino, alpaca and viscose blend; or Valley Tweed, the 100% wool yarn spun in Huddersfield previously mentioned on A Woolly Yarn in this blog post.

Each pattern's beauty comes from the subtlety of the cabling and/or pattern design, knitted in cool, timeless colours.

A Woolly Yarn's favourite is Islay, with cabling around the yoke and shoulders contrasting with a stocking stitch body and arms. For knitters nervous about the difficultly of making an all-cable sweater this pattern would be a good place to start.

Islay image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Second favourite is Skye.  The cabling and yoke pattern in grey and blue recreate the colours of an Unst seaside day. Less experienced knitters could leave out the cabling and replace it with stocking stitch.

Skye image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Bute is a cabled cardigan with subtle shaping around the hips that's perfect for wearing with jeans or skirts.

Bute image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Soay's shorter length has boxy, tranquil feel created with a mixture of cable and rib.

Soay image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Eriskay, a muted grey sweater, also uses a mixture of cables and lines to create its subtle patterning.

Risky image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Tiree has a darker feel, reminiscent of thundery skies.

Tiree image courtesy of Marie Wallin
The Arran cardigan is a great cover-up for when the wind starts to blow.

Arran image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Finally the Uist v-neck cardigan has a longer body and mixes cables with a flower pattern.

Arran image courtesy of Marie Wallin
A Woolly Yarn received a review copy of this collection but it has not affected our review.

North Sea really is a coffee-table publication that's a delight to flick through and admire the patterns and the spectacular landscape of Unst. The designs live up to Wallin's high-standard reputation. The downside? There isn't an pattern here for beginners or less experienced knitters to tackle. The cable and pattern designs are charted and do not have the alternative option to follow them in written form. The charts are very small and would be difficult for even experienced knitters to follow: these aren't patterns to knit whilst watching television! Knitters who do complete a design, however, will have a quality garment to cherish forever.

North Sea is available to buy from Marie Wallin's website and costs £13.99 plus P&P.

Coming soon is Wallin's Shetland collection of eight garments and four accessory designs - watch this space for a review next month.

For A Woolly Yarn's review of Wallin's Springtime Collection Six, published back in 2016 go here; and for a review of her first stand-alone pattern book, Windswept, visit this page.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Battle Of The British Tweeds

Tweed looks set to be on trend this Autumn/Winter season with not one but three tweedy yarns launches this month by British yarn companies.

Rowan Valley Tweed

Image courtesy of Rowan
This well-known yarn company rarely gets a mention on this blog due to it sourcing its wool from overseas but A Woolly Yarn was  ]delighted to see that on August 15th it launched an all-British yarn, Valley Tweed.

Roden image courtesy of Rowan
Rowan says the yarn is inspired by the company's Yorkshire heritage and 'this 100% wool yarn is spun a stones throw away from the Rowan Design office. A selection of earthy, natural shades make up a colour palette inspired by and named after the surrounding valleys and Yorkshire landscape."

Valley Tweed is a 5ply/sport weight yarn and there are ten shades to choose from. Each 50g skein retails for around £8.95, depending on the stockist you choose to buy from.

I haven't yet seen a sample of the yarn to comment on its feel and knitted-up properties. Rowan, however, describes it as 'a very lofty yarn due to the special way it is spun'.

Rowan has published a supporting pattern book costing £12 and containing seven designs for women by Lisa Richardson using Valley Tweed. The patterns are for beginners and intermediate knitters, with my favourite being the sloppy-Joe Sunday sweater Roden.


West Yorkshire Spinners The Croft Shetland Tweed

The Croft image courtesy of WYS
This month also saw West Yorkshire Spinners' The Croft Shetland Tweed go on sale.

The shades in this aran-weight yarn are more delicate and pastel-like than Rowan's Valley Tweed colour palette. Again I've not had the chance to squish a skein in person, but its British credentials are solid: The Croft is spun from Shetland wool renowned for its fineness and warmth.

WYS says 'The Croft has a soft and silky handle that retains a lot of durability'.

At £8.95 for a 100g skein it's definitely a price-conscious choice.

Sarah Hatton has designed The Croft Pattern Book to support the yarn. Inside its very practical spiral binding - much easier to keep your page open when knitting than a conventionally-bound book - are 14 traditional-looking designs for men and women, including jumpers and cardigans. The book costs £12.95.

The Fibre Co Arranmore Light

I mentioned this new yarn in a previous blog post covering The Fibre Co's Fell Garth II pattern book. The Fibre Co is based in Yorkshire and Arranmore Light, launched at the beginning of August as a DK sister version of the company's Arranmore aran weight tweed yarn, hails from Ireland.

The Fibre Co kindly sent a sample and shade card for review. Although Arranmore Light is not made of British wool I'm giving it an honoury mention due to its superb, soft squish, jewel-like 18 shades and excellent stitch definition when knitted up.



A quick internet search told me that the yarn is as yet not available in many online stockists (The Fibre Co doesn't seem directly to customers), but I did find it on sale at Tangled Yarn. One 100g skein costs £22.50. This is definitely a treat purchase and yarn to potentially use for accessories rather than in large quantities for jumpers etc. I saw from my sample that Arranmore Light is definitely a quality yarn and even has a pleasing, lingering aroma of sheep.

Which aran yarn should you choose? Luckily the decision will be made for you depending on the weight of yarn required for your preferred pattern. Arranmore Light is DK, The Croft is aran weight and Valley Tweed 5-ply.

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Monday, 21 August 2017

We're Now On Facebook!

Image courtesy of Facebook
A quickie post to let you know that A Woolly Yarn now has a Facebook page. As well as linking to all new posts there'll be a few news snippets about British knitting that don't make it to the main blog.

There's also a link on the A Woolly Yarn homepage to like the blog. Please do click on this if you are a Facebook user - you'll then get to see in your Facebook feed when new blog posts are published.

At the end of each post there's an option to share the content on your favourite social media platform, including Facebook. At the moment Facebook is the first social media platform A Woolly Yarn is on but if there's user demand for it then who knows, Twitter and Instagram may follow!

Coming soon is a new logo for the blog plus, of course, lots more content on the subject of British knitting news and reviews. Do three new British tweed yarns, a review of Wensleydale Gems DK, a feature on Louisa Harding's latest knitting venture and a profile of young British designers Conway & Bliss whet your appetite?

Readers' feedback is most welcome and will help shape the future of the blog. Please do use the comment box below or post a message on the Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/awoollyyarn. It would also be great to hear your news from your local knitting group or campaign, plus see photos of your makes using British yarn.

If you are a British designer or wool company that uses British yarn only and would like to tell us about your work, or if you would like to commission an editorial feature for your blog or magazine, then please do email the blog editor at penjenkins@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading A Woolly Yarn - it's a non-profit labour of love with the aims of spreading the word about British yarn and designers and building a woolly-loving community. Every post you enjoy adds a smile to our faces.


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