Thursday, 27 February 2014

Debbie Bliss Launches Blissful Life Website

The British knitting designer with her own magazine and yarn ranges has updated her online presence with a lusciously-photographed website, Blissful Life.

Debbie Bliss photographed in 2013
The website shows all her own yarn ranges and colours along with washing instructions, tension and needle information. Sadly as yet there isn't the ability to buy directly from the website.

Debbie's books have their own website section showcasing her own back catalogue. To introduce knitters to her work there are a number of free patterns downloadable in PDF format from the site. People who subscribe online to Debbie's email newsletter will also receive a free pattern.

For Summer 2014 I'd like to try knitting with her self-patterning Angel Prints yarn - a delicate silk/mohair blend that creates lightweight knits.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Bliss last year for The Knitter magazine and was impressed by the range of her work and her passion for ensuring that her yarn and patterns cater for knitters across the spectrum: from beginners to advanced knitters who are happy to pay for sumptuous yarns. This new website enables knitters to browse her whole range.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

All The Best Yarn Shops I've Never Been To

I love a good yarn shop - an inspirational respite from the busy world with colour, choice and lots of modern patterns to choose from. Sadly I don't even bother going into my local yarn store (naming no names) because it relies heavily on one particular brand, still insists in selling patterns reminiscent of the 1970s (and not in a deliberate retro way) and whenever I went in I felt as if I were putting the staff out by actually looking in their shop.

Needless to say when I find a fabulous store that offers great service, modern yarns (preferably British) and I find myself salivating over the choice of patterns (oh which to knit first?) I'm in seventh heaven. A town I used to live in, Leamington Spa, had a great quirky yarn store called Web of Wool that specialised in sock knitting. The owner, Anna, was always on hand to recommend wool and patterns and help me out with any tricky stitches I wasn't sure about. She changed the shop window to reflect events and the seasons. Sadly the shop began opening intermittently and then shut its doors permanently. It's still there but in rather a Miss Haversham state.

When I came across baa ram ewe during a family visit to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, I was back in my, although rather expensive, element. A whole wall stocked with modern yarn! Knitted up samples to try before you buy! The latest releases of pattern books by British designers! A trendy, comfy sofa that I recognised from the website!

The shop specialises in higher end rather than bargain basement knitting. Whilst this doesn't come cheap it means that the knitter ends up with a quality garment to treasure rather than a bit of Chinese acrylic that will be fit for the bin after a couple of hand washes.

There must be so many quality local, independent yarn shops around the country that would set my heart racing. Here are three that are on my 'to visit' list:

  1. Loop. I've heard great things about this shop based in Islington, London. It has had good reviews in the knitting press and stocks a good selection of small, indie yarn brands as well as the bigger names. Its website leaves a lot to be desired, being hard to navigate round and find you want, therefore this for me is definitely a shop to visit in person and perhaps take one of its knitting classes on offer.
  2. Purl & Jane Knitting Emporium. I'll hopefully visit this Skipton store in September when I go to the Yarndale festival in the town. Its website is enticing and colourful and the shop only sells natural yarns - a great plus in my book. The yarn range is quite limited but Purl & Jane's own brand yarn is on my 'to buy' list, it being British and spun in Yorkshire.
  3. Marmalade Yarns. Frome in Somerset is a picturesque town I've never visited. As well as having a fun name, Marmalade Yarns champions smaller British brands such as Susan Crawford's Excelana. The shop's website, at the time of publishing this blog post, was out of date and basic, with little enticement to buy. However, get me in the bricks and mortar shop and I reckon my credit card would be out in a flash!
Which independent knitting stores do you recommend? Please leave a comment and help me add to my 'to visit' list.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Toft Beehive Hat Quick Knit

I'm still putting off picking up my needles to carry on knitting Kate Davies' Catkin jumper despite the fact that I love wearing the matching hat. I'm coming up to a difficult part in the pattern, and I want to make sure that I'm in the mood for some serious concentration when I attempt it, as I'd hate to have to frog what I've done already!

In the meantime my latest 'quick knit in front of the telly' distraction was Toft Alpaca's beehive hat using their new Ulysses aran yarn in silver. The yarn is incredibly soft and although I really like the company's stock trade alpaca yarn the aran certainly trumps it for me.

I received the pattern as a postcard tucked in with my first year of yarn package in January. Toft was kind enough to send me a review ball of Ulysses and seeing as the hat is only a one ball knit it was a no brainer. As the yarn is so smooth and snug it's a delight to knit with and there were not problems with yarn splitting that has occasionally occurred when I've knitted with their alpaca.

The hat is knitted on a circular needle and took me less than four hours to complete. I topped it off with a Toft furry pom pom that adds that certain quirky vibe.

Unlike most knitted hats there is no ribbing at the bottom. I wondered if this may mean that the hat wouldn't be very secure on my head, but on a trip to the shops yesterday in the wind and rain it stayed put admirably.

For people who don't live near Dunchurch in Warwickshire, where Toft is based, or want to have a squishy feel of the yarn before you buy, baa ram ewe now stocks some of the range.  Baa ram ewe has shops in Leeds and Harrogate. Now, I really have no excuse not to get back to Catkin ...

Friday, 14 February 2014

Baa ram ewe Launches Three New Titus Shades

Titus, the yarn created by the lush Harrogate and Leeds knitting shop baa ram ewe, is launching three new shades on 19 February.

Image courtesy of baa ram ewe
Titus is a blend of Blue Faced Leicester and Wensleydale wool with a touch of UK Alpaca and is 4 ply. It is named after Yorkshire mill owner Titus Salt. I've had the good fortune to see my favourite of the new shades - a light blue called Bramley Baths - and have plans to knit a hat and snood with it. As its 4 ply it does take a while to knit up but the results are impressive. The other two new shades are Filey - a summer yellow - and Milo, that looks russett brown in the picture.

I'm currently knitting Kate Davies' Catkin sweater in Aire, having previously used the yarn to knit the matching hat (I'm wearing the hat in my profile picture on the right). I'm shortening the length of the jumper and removing the shaping to suit me.  It's one of those projects that, as it takes a long time to knit, I keep picking up and putting down in between shorter projects.

My only quibble with Titus is that it comes as a skein and takes a long time to unravel and roll into a ball, with the risk of getting it tangled. When I mentioned this to the lovely Katherine in baa ram ewe's Harrogate store she used their machine to wind my skeins into a ball for me. This was just before Christmas 2013 when I bought their special edition Wesley Bob Titus to knit Susan Crawford's Christmas jumper with. I've had the pattern for a few years now - I'm hoping I'll get it knitted to wear for Christmas 2014!

Titus retails at £14.99 for a 100g skein and is 100% British.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Three Cheers for Pom Pom Quarterly

At the end of last year, whilst doing some research for a knitting feature, I stumbled across Pom Pom Quarterly on the net and was immediately hooked (good job this isn't a crochet blog or that would be a terrible pun).

Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 8
This is the website of a funky, creative knitting publication that's more like an art book than a conventional knitting magazine. Reatailing at £9.50 it's handbag sized with lush photography. In fact it's a work of art in itself, and one that won't disgrace your coffee table.

This month sees the publication of issue eight, filled with eight contemporary patterns and journalism on a number of yarn and art topics. It's lavishly styled - the oh so hip models with purple hair or tattoos wear the candy coloured items as if they're about to hang out in Hoxton. The patterns aren't half bad too. No baby cardies or boring jumpers here. This magazine is for intermediate and experienced knitters who want to have fun with their needles and yarn, trying out new techniques or creating something different with the old ones.

I've written before in my review of Rowan's Knitting & Crochet Magazine 55 about my lack of enthusiasm for Summer knitted items such as shawls and lacy scarves. If you're a fan then the patterns Brill, Brolly and Aroha won't disappoint. My favourite though is a delicate pastel cardigan called Confetti. With aqua polka dots against a pale pink background, this short sleeved and bodied cardigan looks good enough eat - perfect for a cover up on a late Summer's evening.

Sadly I only discovered Pom Pom Quarterly on issue seven. Previous issues are available to download for a charge, however I've never been able to knit from an on-screen pattern and much prefer to get my hands on the printed version. I'll be scouring ebay ...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Yarn Clubs - A Shot in the Dark?

Blacker Yarns, a company that sells only 100 per cent British yarns and patterns, is launching a Knit a Gift Club with a choice of three or six kits.

Each kit will include a choice of two patterns and the Blacker yarn to complete either of the projects. Blacker Yarns will send out a parcel every two months, therefore the six kit membership will keep knitters going for a full year.

A three kit membership costs £67 and the six kit subscription will set you back £134. Those subscribing to the six kit subscription will also receive a free bonus kit: the pattern and yarn to complete a pair of fingerless mitts.

What marks this subscription out from others I've seen is that Blacker has published in advance the projects that subscribers will be able to choose from. There's a great variety (not just gloves, hats and scarves!) of items on offer, enabling potential subscribers to decide whether the up front cost is worth it for them.

What has put me off mystery yarn clubs in the past is not knowing whether I will use or like the designs on offer. Schemes such as mystery blanket clubs, where subscribers receive the pattern and yarn to knit a few squares each month, are popular with knitters who like a shot in the dark. For me it's too much of a monetary and time commitment unless I know in advance what the finished result will be!

This year I plumped to buy Toft Alpaca's 2014 year of yarn package in the post-Christmas sale. Sadly now out of the sale, this package offers seven one-ball projects for £140 including postage. It was like Christmas again when the first package arrived last week. The yarn is Toft's new aran yarn, Ulysses, with four patterns across the full spectrum of skill range to support it. I'm going to knit the simple teddy bear for a friend's new baby, but the other patterns, a cowl, headband and beret, are equally enticing and I'll file them for later when I want to knit something with my yarn stash.

So it's a thumbs up for Toft's package and I'm extremely tempted by Blacker Yarn's offering. For me, the key for yarn companies to entice new customers is to give them a foresight of what they'll be knitting for the next year.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Campaign for Wool Goes Stateside

Campaign for Wool, a British organisation whose patron is Prince Charles, has launched a US website to promote the benefits of wool.

Image courtesy of advocates wool's natural, renewable and biodegradable properties. A new brand for wool in the US, the 'green sheep'.  "The brand has emerged from the internationally successful Campaign for Wool" the website says, and "it will represent all origins of wool and is endorsed by the leading wool organisations of the world including those in Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa and America."

The Campaign is also hoping that its One Wool initiative will galvanate publicity for wool in the home interiors industry. Since it launched in 2010 the Campaign has helped farmers to receive a threefold increase in the price they receive for wool.

Here in the UK Campaign for Wool is probably best known for its annual wool week, with events such as creating a sheep pasture area in Savile Row and inviting UK hand knitting industry people to knit in the window of London's John Lewis department store.

When you're next buying a British wool carpet or hand knitting with British yarn it's great to know you're supporting local farmers' businesses.

The brand has emerged from the internationally successful Campaign for Wool and which has His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales as Patron.  It will represent all origins of wool and is endorsed by the leading wool organisations of the world including those in Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa and America. - See more at:
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