Thursday, 18 July 2019

The Story of Whistlebare: Natural Yarns From Northumberland

Daisy Snood image courtesy of Whistlebare
My first encounter with Whistlebare, a family farm in Northumberland that produces yarn from their flock of sheep, was early last year when I bought a skein of their 4ply Yeavering Bell in light grey to knit the Daisy Snood.

I've had lots of wear out of the snood and have found it's perfect for in-between seasons when I need a bit of neck warmth but not a full-on thick scarf.

The latest Whistlebare product on my 'to knit' list, particularly after seeing and feeling a knitted-up sample at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March, is their Bubble Jersey. It was originally knitted using the fluffy Yeavering Bell 4 ply but has since received a new lease of life as part of their Canny Lass Collection, knitted with the less-sheddy Cheviot Marsh 4ply.

Alice from Whistlebare kindly agreed to be interviewed to give me an exclusive interview about her farm, yarn and colour inspiration.

The Farm

"Whistlebare is a small (about 60 acres), very beautiful farm in North Northumberland.and, a stone's throw from the beach in one direction and the fabulous Cheviot Hills in the other. We moved here in 2004 bringing our small herds of Aberdeen Angus Cattle and Large Black Pigs with us. These we farmed to organic standards until 2012 when a variety of factors converged to mean we needed to a find a new direction. In that time I had learnt to crotchet and was picking up knitting needles again after a 25 year break. I was loving the creativity and the peace induced by an evening's crafting. It was when I started to visit some of the fantastic Yarn Festivals around, notably the very first EYF, that the idea of producing our own, British, local, ethical yarn began to take root.

Image courtesy of Whistlebare
As at teenager I had spent my holidays helping my Aunt on her goat farm in Cornwall. She had a few Angora Goats and I had always loved them and the amazing lustrous mohair they produce. After a lot of investigation and seal searching I was delighted when Angora Goats appeared to be the way forward. Our first nine Angoara Goats arrived in 2013 to great excitement. I wasn't the only one who was excited: our four songs, then ages 6 to 11 years-old, were very keen to get involved. My husband and I decided that this was an opportunity for the boys to begin their own flock of sheep. Again, much research ensued. Wensleydales with their beautiful long locks of high lustre wool, as well as being a rare breed from my husband's native Yorkshire, seemed to be the perfect compliment to our goats. The boys' first three ewes arrived, in lamb, at the beginning of 2014. It has been a very steep learning curve as goats and sheep require very different care but now, four years later, we have a herd of 150 goats and a flock of 50 sheet and are loving every minute of it!

Since then the boys had shown themselves to be interested and capable shepherd. They undertake all of their sheep's care and soon will be shearing too as the oldest boy is attending a shearing course this year. Rather than pay 'rent' for the sheep's grazing our boys work in lieu so the weekends see all six of us working together trimming goats' feet, worming and vaccinating or bringing in bales of hay etc. Or course at the end of all this the boys will sell their fibre to mum and dad at an exorbitant price!"

Yeavering Bell Yarn

Bubble Jersey image courtesy of Whistlebare
"We were clear about our aims from the outset. Our yarn would be British, from animals kept to the highest welfare standards and have the smallest carbon footprint we could manage. Mohair and Wensleydale have a number of special features not least that they are both high lustre. In order to make the most of the shine we decided that our yarn should be worsted spun and were delighted to discover that scouring, combing and spinning could all happen in Yorkshire We have the yarn plied into three different weights, 4ply, double knit and aran, which is returned to use for dyeing. Mohair has long, smooth fibres that are not able to absorb dye particularly well, Then, because they reflect light very well, the result is real clarity of colour and shine. it is hard not to enjoy doing something when the result is so stunning. Wensleydale shares many of the characteristics of mohair, dyeing beautifully as well, so our yarn Yeavering Bell positively glows with rich colour. I only dye Yeavering Bell into solid or semi-sold colours as I feel that multi-coloured dyeing would detract from the yarn's own simplicity and beauty. That said I produce over 30 colours and am adding to our palette all the time!

Yeavering Bell is a unique yarn spun from 80% mohair and 20% Wensleydale. It is soft and sleek with rich colour and very high lustre. Mohair is a hollow fibre so is very insulative whilst being very light weight. The addition of Wensleydale, which is a much heavier robust fibre, gives the mohair enough weight to drape beautifully. Another of mohair's characteristics is that it has the highest rub test of all natural fibres so, when knitting with Yeavering Bell,  you can be sure that your project will last for years. Whistlebare's patterns are comtemporary classics all designed to make the most of mohair and Wensleydale's special features.

Our other mohair and Wensleydale yarn is Cuthbert's Sock. It is entirely natural fibre: 80% kid mohair and 20% Wensleydale wool spun tightly to be robust. Mohair is the perfect sock fibre. It has the highest rub test of any natural fibre and so won't wear out. The fibres themselves have very few scales and what scales there are lie smoothly - as a result bacteria has nowhere to cling on and so mohair socks don't smell! As the mother of four boys, two of whom are teenagers, I can tell you that works for me."

Colour Inspiration

Image courtesy of Whistlebare
"Northumberland must be one of the most beautiful and varied counties in Britain.

Within a very few miles of Whistlebare we have dunes, beaches, the sea, castles, moorland and forestry. The inspiration for colour is all around and endless.

When planning a new palette I have to focus on a theme or particular location as the possibilities can be overwhelming otherwise. I try very hard to produce groups of colours that work well together and are truly wearable as well as being eye catching in your stash!"


A big thank you to Alice for answering A Woolly Yarn's questions and giving us an insight into small-scale all-British yarn production.

Yarn can be bought directly from Whistlebare, with a 350m 4ply skein of Yeavering Bell costing £24.50 plus P&P. The Bubble Jersey kit I have my eye on retails between £33 and £49.50 plus P&P depending on the size you require. There are lots of other patterns to choose from too including hats, scarves and the Canny Lass Shawl designed by Karie Westermann.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Exclusive Interview With An Caitin Beag + Simpler Sinister Cat Sweater

I mentioned in my review of this year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival (I'm still sad that it's taking a break in 2020) that I bought An Caitin Beag's Simpler Sinister Sweater pattern and Northiam DK wool from Kettle Yarn Co to knit it with.

The pattern was one I was itching to get started with and therefore it leapfrogged over others on my 'to knit' list. Fast forward to June and, even though I'd been working on other projects as well, I'd finished it. I love the way the cats eyes pop out in the pattern, plus Northiam wool feels so soft next to the skin and yet is incredibly warm.

Here's a picture of the whole sweater:

When I emailed a picture of my sweater to Marna, aka An Caitin Beag, she was delighted to see my colour interpretation of her design (although actually it was Linda of Kettle Yarn Co who suggested the two colours would work well together, pushing me slightly out of my sartorial comfort zone) and agreed to a mini interview.

Q. When and how did you come up with the idea for the pattern?

A. I came up with the Sinister Catdigan first, by that's knitted in 4ply, and has three-colour colourwork, so it's not the easiest or fastest knit. So this one was invented to simplify the catties and make for a faster, funner, knit - plus the very simple yoke meant I could easily grade it down to child and baby sizes.

Sinister Catdigan image courtesy of An Caitin Beag
Q. The cats' eyes are really striking - were they hard to chart?

A. No! But I've been sketching these cats for years, so I know what I want them to look like. The charting for this took about four iterations - that's really quite quick for one of my designs.

Q. Where does your fascination with cats come from?

A. Ah, that's like asking 'Why is the Moon?!' I've always loved cats, and I've been lucky enough to live with quite a few. I like their belligerent independence - reminds me of me.

Q. You launched some new patterns at Edinburgh Yarn Festival - can you please tell me about them?

A. Yes I'd love to! I launched two new patterns. The Catwing Sweater is a batwing sweater with cats on the sleeves (or wings). It's not as complicated to knit as it looks: there's some simple intarsia and it's a sideways knit.

Catwing Sweater diagram courtesy of An Caitin Beag
The other pattern I launched was (I never promised you a) Cat Garden, which is a pretty, fitted cardigan with a slightly retro-70s flowery yoke - but the flowers are tiny, budding cats.

Cat Garden image courtesy of An Caitin Beag
Q. Can you give A Woolly Yarn readers any clues about what you're designing for the future?

A. It will involve cats! I'm right now knitting up a version of the Sinister Catdigan graded won to a child size, but I have the Sinister socks (socks with so many cats!) on the needles too, plus a couple of surprises in the pipeline.

Peeky Catsocks image courtesy of An Caitin Beag

Many thanks to Marna for answering our feline-themed questions. Go to An Caitin Beag's website to see what other catty things she has on sale, from fab stitch markers to enamel pins and project bags.

All Marna's patterns are available on Ravelry. I'm fancying channelling my inner 1980s (without the ill-advised curly perm and frosted pink lipstick) by knitting the Catwing sweater. A little bird has told me that there may be more shades of Kettle Yarn Co's Northiam DK and 4ply in the pipeline - hopefully they will be perfect for choosing yarn for Catwing.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Review Of Sticka - The Tithe Pattern Collection

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
The Little Grey Sheep is a small wool business run from a family farm in Hampshire. After they bought the farm in 2004 Emma, Neil and their three daughters re-introduced sheep with the aim of producing their own yarns. Says Emma, "I believed that we could produce a world-class British yarn, that was soft enough to be work next to the skin but that had its own unique character."

Shepherdess Susie manages and shears the flock, the fleece is washed and spun in Yorkshire and then hand-dyed back on the farm by Emma who is inspired by the colour of the surrounding countryside.

To support the wool they produce and showcase the farm's beautiful landscape The Little Grey Sheep has released Sticka: The Tithe Collection, containing ten patterns, each named from fields on an 1840 map of the farm.

A tithe was the amount of produce, later money, that a tenant had to give to the lay owners of the land. Sticka explains such details along with the importance of the shearing process to the welfare of the sheep, the layout of the farm and lots of instagrammable photos of the landscape - and of course the patterns.

They are:

Bricklands Cardigan

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Knitted in Hampshire 4-ply, this cardigan is knitted in the round and then steeked.

Bricklands Cowl
Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Using a similar pattern to the cardigan, the Bricklands cowl is knitted with Stein Fine Wool 4-ply.

Bricklands Sweater

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
This high-neck raglan sweater again uses Stein Fine Wool 4-ply.

Cherry Plum Cardigan

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
The Little Grey Sheep describes this as a 'relaxed-fit, boyfriend-style cardigan worn with positive ease' and knitted in Hampshire 4-ply.

Cranstone Hat

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Again knitted in Hampshire 4-ply, this colour-contrast beanie will keep your head warm all winter long. Mini-skeins are available for the contrast colours.

Hangers Hyle Shawl

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Knit this shawl in Hampshire 4-ply or Stein Fine Wool 4-ply. Says The Little Grey Sheep: 'This cosy and elegant shawl features garter stitch with panels of colour work, with slipped stitches in contrasting colours forming geometric patterns".

Minchin Croft Sweater

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep

This cosy, v-necked sweater uses Hampshire 4-ply and is knitted from the bottom up.

Minchin Croft Tank Top

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Also knitted with Hampshire 4-ply, this tank top's contrast colour cable neckband uses the Japanese short-row technique.

No Man's Land Sweater

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Look at the lovely fringed hem and cuffs on this bi-colour sweater, which is knitted with Hampshire 4ply. It's knitted with the yarn held double.

The Chequers Sweater

Image courtesy of The Little Grey Sheep
Finally this sweater is knitted in mesh stitch worked flat in pieces from the bottom up.


At the back of Sticka there's a handy glossary of all the knitting abbreviations used in the patterns.

It's a gorgeous collection and, because they use 4-ply wool rather than a thicker DK or aran, the garments and accessories are suitable for wearing in-between seasons and not just for Winter. At the moment my favourite is the Bricklands Cowl to get me used to the colourwork pattern before I attempt the sweater. What I like too is that when buying wool from The Little Grey sheep you know the sheep are well looked after and that you're supporting a small family business.

See all the patterns on Ravelry here where you can download the e-book for £18.94.

Alternatively buy a paper copy directly from The Little Grey Sheep for £18.50 plus P&P.

Many thanks to The Little Grey Sheep for the review copy. All views are A Woolly Yarn's own.

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 ...

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Warning When Buying Yarn From Abroad

Image courtesy of cornbreadandhoney
One of the great things about the internet is that it has democratised the craft industry and allowed small producers and designers to reach a worldwide audience. Craftsy and Etsy showcase marvellous products that you can't find in the shops in your local area. But watch out - you could get caught out.

For a while I've been looking for wool to knit Andrea Mowry's So Faded jumper. I hadn't found a colourway that really popped out at me until I came across the Starry Night three skein set from cornbreadandhoney, a seller based in the US, on Etsy (see photo on the right).

Look at those gorgeous yellow and blues. They ticked all my boxes and I placed my order. The yarn worked out pretty good value with the dollar/pound sterling exchange rate and I was happy to pay to a larger than average postage charge considering the seller was posting from the US.

All seemed well until a Royal Mail bill for £20.87 arrived on my doorstep this morning.

It was for a £12.87 customs charge plus an eight pound 'handling fee'. The need to pay customs duty on the yarn because I'd bought it from abroad hadn't occurred to me. It wasn't mentioned on the seller's page although to be fair I wouldn't expect an owner/maker who sells all over the world to know the customs laws for each country.

Next I looked on Etsy to see if customs charges were mentioned anywhere. I went to the 'help' page and typed in 'customs duty'.  In the information for sellers there's a page stating that buyers are responsible for paying customs charges - as you would expect.

However I couldn't find any information for buyers warning about potential customs charges. There was no mention of them on my receipt or despatch notification.

Considering I'd already spent quite a bit of money on the yarn, and if I didn't pay the charges it would be sent back to the seller, I paid the customs charges. Now I'm waiting for the delivery. I'm sure the yarn will be fabulous and I mean no disrespect to the seller at all but I do think I should have been warned about extra charges. This was Etsy's reply when I contacted the company:
"Customs fees vary greatly from country to country, and fees aren't applied until the item reaches your country. Because sellers aren't able to predict what customs fees, if any, will be applied, we're unable to hold them responsible for unexpected fees or taxes."
The reply dodges my original question, which was why Etsy doesn't warn buyers about potential customs charges, at the checking out stage, when they are buying items from abroad.

Buyer beware!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Tin Can Knits Launches Four Summer Patterns

I'm a great fan of Tin Can Knits, the designer duo where Emily is based in Scotland and Alexa in Canada, therefore it was great to hear today that they have published four new knitting patterns for summer. Having just finished knitting Karie Westermann's Vinterskov aran-weight sweater it's time to cast on something lighter on my needles.

Love Note

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits
This cropped lacy sweater is my favourite out of the four new patterns. Tin Can Knits used a combination of single ply merino and mohair lace but the pattern would also work using a DK yarn. Rainbow Heirloom is selling a yarn kit for Love Note.

Penny Sweater

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

Choose whether to knit the Penny sweater in full or cropped length. There's a sweet lace pattern on the back as well as the front and it's knitted in DK yarn.

Penny Hat

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

Knitted in sock weight yarn this hat has a delicate sculptural lace pattern.


Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

This shawl/oversized scarf has a delicate floral lace pattern. Choose to either knit it in light or heavyweight yarn.

All the patterns are available on Ravelry at approx £6.68. There's a discount of 25% off until the end of May 2019 if you buy all four together.

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