Thursday, 25 February 2016

Blacker Yarns Releases Tamar Range

One of the great pleasures of knitting is squishing yarn, feeling its qualities and the noting the pleasurable difference between a cheap acrylic and proper, natural wool.

Tamar, the latest DK and 4ply yarn range from Blacker Yarns, passes the squish test straight off. I was fortunate to receive a sample before its release date of 3rd March and appearance at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival on the 18th and 19th of March.

Image courtesy of Blacker Yarns
Blacker Yarns prides itself on only using fleece from regional and rare British sheep. The yarns are spun at their mill in Cornwall. A big tick there for the company's British credentials.

My Tamar sample is reply in the colour Loveny, which is a beautiful dark purple shade. Immediately I'm imagining socks or a cable-patterned hat. Blacker Yarns describes the yarn like this:
"Tamar is a lustre blend yarn with a fluid sheen, reminiscent of flowing water and the river which gives this blend its name. This luxurious lustre yarn has been worsted spun to enhance the fibre's inherent drape and shine."
It's certainly shiny and there is an array of shades in both DK and 4ply. Gwindra is a natural, undyed off white. There are 15 other shades to choose from in reds, picks, purples, browns, blues and and greens.

Tamar shades courtesy of Blacker Yarns
The yarn itself is a blend of Wensleydale, Teeswater, Cotswold and Black Leicester Longwool mixed with 30% Cornish Mule. It feels soft to the touch but the company advises that it will get softer with every wash. This makes it perfect for people who may have previously avoided wool thinking that it will be itchy against their skin.

Each 100g skein is priced at £14.70. One skein is enough for many shawl, handwarmer and hat patterns on Ravelry. There will also be some Blacker Yarns patterns to accompany Tamar's launch. I'm looking forward to buying a full skein of Lovely myself and making the post of its beautiful deep lavender colour.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Thoughts On Austerity & Knitting

Nearly two years ago I wrote a blog post, Passing Knitting Skills On, talking about how both my grandmothers knitted but that for Granny B it was a hobby, whereas Grandma H knitted out of financial necessity.

Grandma H's needle holder - an reused girdle box
I've been thinking about that recently, mainly due to having so many projects stacking up to be knitted that I started to feel overwhelmed, as if knitting was a chore on my 'to do' list that I had got behind on. I certainly don't want my hobby to become a duty burden. Grandma H didn't have a choice, though, for if her growing children needed clothing in the cold weather then she had to knit a jumper because there wasn't any money to buy go out and buy one. Clothes were handed down and remodelled. My grandpa's old jumper would have been unravelled for the wool and reused to make something else. Grandma and grandpa H lived in their council house for over 50 years and only had central heating fitted in the early 1990s. Warm clothes were essential, as I discovered as a young girl when sleeping over at their house under a multitude of blankets and eiderdowns.

A Stitch In Time by Susan Crawford & Jane Waller
I feel blessed that for me knitting is a pleasurable hobby. I passionately believe in supporting British designers and yarns and thankfully I have the financial ability to do so. I take pride in wearing jumpers, hats etc that I've knitted myself in a way that would probably puzzle my grandma if she were still alive for she had no other option. Knitting and making your own clothes these days is much less for necessity and rather more about making a political statement: I want to wear British, choose not to support companies that exploit overseas workers and prefer to avoid mass-produced items when I can. It sounds a little holier than thou, but of course everything I wear isn't homemade or British - take my M&S knickers that say 'made in China' on the label or my chain store jeans.

Like many other knitters I adore vintage fashion. Past blog posts have reviewed Susan Crawford's A Stitch In Time books reclaiming vintage patterns, the book Vintage Knit, and Liza Hollinghurt's Vintage Knitting. I adore the style and glamour of the 1940s and 1950s and enjoy adding that look into my wardrobe. What can often be forgotten, however, is that for many women that era wasn't particularly stylish or glamorous at all. It was a time of war and rationing, when women stained their legs with tea because they couldn't buy nylons and the government prescribed clothing styles so as not to use excess material. In the first few years of the 1940s no-one knew the British would win World War 2. All they did know was that many civilians had lost their lives during bomb raids at home, and that of the millions of able-bodied men who had gone to fight, some hadn't come back.

Eilis (right) wearing a fetching knitted jumper in Brooklyn
A few months ago I went to see the excellent film Brooklyn at the cinema. It's a tale about a young Irish woman in the 1950s, Eilis, who, helped by her sister and priest, moves to America to find work and escape financial hardship at home. It's beautifully shot with great period detail. The clothes particularly caught my eye, with a what looked like hand-knitted cardigan of Eilis' taking centre stage. Sadly I can't find an image of it on the internet, but imagine a retro cardigan that would take pride of place in any vintage knitting book.

It's worn a lot in the film in Ireland then in Brooklyn when Eilis arrives in New York. That's because she hasn't got many other clothes. When she has been working for a while Eilis' clothes change to New York ready-made outfits with colour and an in-your-face-style. She goes from wearing garments of austerity to those of modernity and possibility.  In a piece by Sharon Clott Klanter for In Style magazine, the costume designer for the film, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, talks about her choice of cardigans for Eilis:
"She would have had quite a few cardigans, hand-knitted from Ireland. Then she would have some that she acquired in America that were slightly more stretchy and machine-knit, which wasn't as much available in Ireland. I wanted to show that there were just different things in America that you could buy."
My mum remembers her childhood with great fondness, but she also can recollect the joy and advancement she felt as an young adult when she was able to afford to buy a jumper rather than have to knit one.  I own Cath Kidston 1950s-print napkins and have a 1950s-style sofa. Mum sees them as kitsch - why hark back to things her mother had, with all their austerity connotations, when you can look to the new?

Image courtesy of
I take her point. We have some different tastes in clothes and decor, probably due to the generation gap and the eras we grew up in. Still, I may look at the 1940s and 1950s vintage era with fondness, but I wouldn't want to have lived then. Grandma H did a full day of housework - my mum remembers washing day and the mangle at home - then took in sewing to earn more cash. She was a children's nurse in the war but had to give it up when she married and had children herself. Besides, if I was born back then I probably wouldn't have survived very long having been born a month early into a world without special care baby units.

In his new book, The Ministry of Nostalgia, Owen Hatherley sees the rise of the 'make do and mend' and 'keep calm and carry on' culture as the political right's attempt to placate any reaction to enforced welfare cuts and austerity. It harks back to the romanticised Blitz spirit of us all being in it together when in fact the current cuts are hitting the poor and disadvantaged hardest. The 1940s and 1950s were actually a time, he argues, that socialist policies were implemented to improve the ordinary person's working lot: for example the creation of the NHS and the welfare state, and a rapid increase in council housing to rid the country of bombed-out squalor, but those are not things we think of when we wear our hair in a victory roll and sew a Cath Kidston cushion cover.

The book has opened my eyes to the vintage industry. I'll continue enjoying my hand-knitted retro knits and vintage styling along with admiring the values of prudence, community and shopping locally, but will remember to appreciate how women's lives have improved since the mid-twentieth century and the opportunities I have that were closed to grandma H. It's great for the planet and our bank balances to be thrifty, but it's not much fun if it's imposed on you because of poverty and/or gender.

What's your opinion? Please share it in the comment box below.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Katya Frankel's Four Patterns + Knitalong

February sees knitwear designer Katya Frankel releasing four new accessory patterns and, to celebrate, an accompanying knit along - her first ever!

The patterns - two shawls, a hat and and pair of socks - all have her trademark attention to detail, making them a fun challenge for intermediate knitters. They cost £3.50 each from Ravelry. Use the code anythinggoeskal on Ravelry to get an extra 20% discount on any of Frankel's self-published patterns. Why not join in the knitalong too, which runs from 8th - 26th February? To join in, go to the Frankel's knitalong Ravelry thread.

Here are the patterns:


This top-down knitted shawl is knitted in 3ply. The pattern is both charted and knitted out. Frankel says "tiny diamonds grow symmetrically off the spine of the shawl on the mesh ground. The main body is framed with a wide band of garter that beautifully offsets the negative space and highlights its delicate gauzy fabric."

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel

Brixham Socks

My favourite out of the four patterns, these gansey-inspired socks are knitted from the cuff down and include a knit and purl diamond pattern. The socks are knitted in DK yarn. Frankel's blog has a useful post on how to shape the star toe used in the pattern.

Image courtesy of M Harper


Again knitted in 4 ply, this shawl had a diamond-shaped border. Says Frankel, "the stocking stitch centre lends the mesh border a little stability, simultaneously creating the perfectly arcing-ribbon shape. The centre part is knitted from the border towards the neck, which means that the rows diminish in length as you knit on.

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel

Slip Cable Hat

Look at the fabulous design on the top of this hat! What a shame that when you are wearing it you can't see it. Ravelry says this pattern was published in December 2007, but Frankel is including it in her latest pattern releases. Knitted in worsted yarn, it's suitable for an advanced beginner who wants to practice slip-stitch cable columns.

Image courtesy of Katya Frankel

Regular readers will know that shawls are not for me but I love the hat and socks. Sadly I"ve too much currently on my needles to join in the knitalong good luck to all and happy knitting.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Review of Knit Now Magazine 100% British Edition

Image courtesy of Knit Now
Every year the mainstream knitting magazine Knit Now devotes one issue to British designers and yarns. As you can imagine, with my love of all things knitty and British, it's an issue I can't wait to get my hands on.

This year this proved to be difficult. I'm not currently a subscriber, so had to go to the ships to buy a copy. I much prefer to have physical copies of knitting magazines rather than a digital one, firstly because with digital copies you don't get the free gifts, and secondly because I want to be able to mark my progress on a pattern when I'm knitting it, without having to print out a copy first.

I live in a small town. First stop was Sainsbury's where there weren't any knitting magazines. Waitrose only had another knitting magazine title. WHSmith finally came up trumps and I bought my copy, which came with free baby book. After having knitted multiple baby blankets for friends I'm taking a break from kiddy knitting, therefore will be giving the baby book to my local charity shop. Has anyone else had trouble finding a copy of their favourite knitting magazine?

Patterns in the 100% British issue courtesy of Knit Now.
As well as containing lots of patterns this issue goes behind the scenes at West Yorkshire Spinners to report on how their yarn is made; gives the results of the magazine's knitter of the year awards (congratulations to fellow blogger Louise Scollay, creator of KnitBritish,  your fabulous site is an inspiration to me and I can only dream of reaching the number of readers you do); and a useful tutorial to making i-cord edges that are needed for my favourite pattern in the magazine, the editor Kate Heppell's Kitty Mitts.

The designers featured in the magazine and those interviewed are a veritable who's who indie British knitwear. These include an interview with vintage aficionado Susan Crawford as well as her beret pattern; a spotty blanket by Erika Knight; patterns using West Yorkshire Spinners yarn and Blacker Yarns hit release of last year, Illustrious. BritYarn, a website dedicated to British wool, offers readers 10% off Illustrious, an offer I have already availed myself of!

Downsides? Due to my personal taste there is only one 'must-knit' pattern for me, which is the Kitty Mitts. I'm not interested in knitting the St George and the Dragon characters or baby clothes. There is a great range of patterns though, from sweaters to toys or scarves. For me, however, the interviews and information about British yarn and designers make the cover price of £5.99 worthwhile. The BritYarn discount on my Illustrious purchase itself nearly paid for the copy.

What did you think of the issue? Please let me know in the comments section below.

My Knitting Update

It's time to finish half-completed projects. At the end of January I finished Kate Davies' Owligans using the fabulously-soft Toft DK. I knitted the largest child size on bigger needles to fit me. The cardigan's construction is in the round, a technique I much prefer to sewing the arms to the body. I went slightly wrong with the grafting under one armhole but, due to its position, no-one can see.

Now I'm a ball away from completing a summer sweater in Blacker Yarn's linen-blend Lyonesse. I knitted half of it last year and then was distracted by other projects. With just the end of a sleeve and a second one to knit I've run out of yarn - cue emergency internet order with the Illustrious thrown in so as not to pay a delivery charge. What do knit with the aforementioned Illustrious will be the subject of a future blog post ...

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Nationwide's Woolly Advert

Last month I blogged about a knitted version of Jane Austen's characters called Pride & Preju-knits. I loved the way its British designer, Trixie von Purl, used wool creatively with more than a lashing of fun thrown in.

Image courtesy of ITV and Nationwide
Since then an email from my bank popped into my inbox. Little did I expect knitting to be amongst it contents, nestling between savings rates and loans. Before Christmas Nationwide was one of six companies to create a knitted advert to be shown during the ITV1's charity appeal Text Santa's commercial break. It recreated the company's real life advert.

I hadn't seen Text Santa, nor the knitted or real life Nationwide advert.

Speaking of the advert's creation, Paul Hibbs, Nationwide's Head of Branding & Advertising said that "a team of highly-talented textile artists from across Europe worked with model makers Mackinnon and Saunders to create the knitted characters and backdrops for all six ads, which were filmed using stop motion animation over just two weeks."

The Nationwide advert features a 'best dad' scarf that a son gives to his father. Years pass and when the son becomes a father himself his dad gives him the scarf only for it to be left on a bus ...

It's amazing how the designers have conveyed emotion through the knitted characters' facial features and bodies.

See it for yourself on YouTube here.

A quick internet search led me to the other five woolly adverts featured on Text Santa. They are:
  1. A woolly celeb and cheetah promote BT's infinity broadband
  2. The bed superstore Dreams encouraging viewers to buy a new mattress
  3. Cute knitted horses promoting Amazon's delivery service
  4. Woolly workers getting ready for the DFS winter sale
  5. British Gas' penguin returning to a toasty home.
Got five minutes to spare? Watch them on

Next stop - a knitted feature film? Yes please! Which would you suggest? Answers below please ...
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