Monday, 19 August 2019

What To Do If You've Spent All Your Cash On Your Yarn Stash

Some women like to buy shoes, some clothes, some handbags. I do have a penchant for a retro-style handbag but for me my spending triggers are books and yarn. Books because, well, they're educational aren't they? I have piles of novels in my bookshelf and teetering on top of my bedside table just waiting to be read. As the author of a novel, which I hope to find a publisher for, I tell myself that my profligate book habit is market research.

Then there's wool. For this blog I follow designers and the latest trends, the result being that I have a huge favourites list on Ravelry.  I see patterns I love and don't resist temptation to buy the yarn for them, particularly if the wool is limited edition, hand-dyed and won't be available next year, despite the fact I have a chest full of unstarted projects already along with about five sweaters and accessories I've already begun and switch between as my fancy takes me.

Stash costs cash!
But now it's reckoning time. I hit this with books last year when there was just no more space on the shelves or available wall to put a new bookcase against and I felt frustrated every time I saw my huge pile of books, which resembled the leaning tower of Pisa, on the floor. The moment came for me to 'woman up' and have a cull, selling online or donating to charity those I knew I wouldn't read again or hadn't read and didn't really want to. It was tough but I did it and made a reasonable sum in the process. Yet I slowly but surely kept discovering something new I wanted to read and now there are again very few spaces again in my shelves. In attempt to keep my reading habit under control I've now rejoined the local library and am starting again borrowing books for free.

Now it's time to do so with my yarn. Previously I have periodically sorted through my stash and sold or given away anything I know I'm not going to use. I donated all the odds and ends of balls I'd kept to charity. I matched my yarn with patterns I own and have even a few balls MORE so I'd have enough to knit the top I wanted (talk about false economy!)

I bought the kit to knit this jumper at The Wool Monty
Yet there's no more room. My wardrobe nearly has more bundles of yarn in it than clothes. Zipper bags contain the jumpers and tops I've knitted already. I've more than enough jumpers to keep me warm for the next ten winters and then add on top the ones I haven't knitted and I'll be about up to point of being able to wear a different sweater or top every day for a couple of months.

So I don't need any more yarn. Wanting, however, is a different kettle of fish. Patterns launch that scream 'knit me!' and indie dyers and makers bring out a glorious range of new yarns. The free time I have to spend knitting can't catch up with my intake of projects. My bank account is shouting at me to stop. It's time to go cold turkey.

When I first heard about Marie Kondo and her theories of tidying and throwing stuff out, I was rather sniffy about her concept. I'm not a minimalist. I want to have things in my house that bring back memories whether it's a photo in a frame, a souvenir brought back from holiday or a cross stitch I crafted on a wall. Yet Kondo advises to ask whether something you have 'sparks joy'. At first that phrase sounded far too hippyish for my liking, but, after mulling on it for a while, I saw where she was coming from. The photo of my husband and I on holiday makes me smile every time I see it because we look so happy and I remember the fabulous time we had. The pile of magazines, flyers and bills waiting to be filed on the kitchen worktop, however, pricks me with annoyance every time I see it; partly because it looks a total mess and partly because it's my fault I haven't got round to doing the household admin yet.

One of the 'buy now or you'll miss out' balls of hand-dyed yarn in my stash
The last time I had a clearout of my yarn stash, mentioned above, I did get rid of everything I knew I wasn't lusting to knit. Now, since I've bought more, it's time to put a lock on my purse and follow these self-made rules:

  1. Don't buy any more patterns or yarns this year. No ifs, no buts.
  2. 'Favourite' any patterns I really like in Ravelry. They'll still be there when my yarn and pattern ban is lifted.
  3. When tempted to buy more yarn open my wardrobe and remind myself THERE'S NO MORE ROOM. 
  4. Don't be sucked in by the promise of one-off yarns. There will be other one-off yarns produced next year that I'll love just as much.
Will it work? Hopefully by next Summer I'll have thoroughly enjoyed knitting up most of the stash I do have and will feel super-smug with more room in my cupboards and a bigger bank balance.

Of course then I'll probably treat myself for being so good by going to one of the larger knitting shows and blowing it all on more yarn ...

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Review Of Art Deco Knits By Jemima Bicknell

Image courtesy of The Crowood Press
The 1920s and 30s were a golden age in knitting, with Art Deco's decorative style adding a distinctive look to handmade clothing. Jemina Bicknell's in-depth and informative guide to the period includes essays on fashion history and knitting techniques as well as a range of patterns written for modern knitters.

Bicknell writes that the book "aims to encourage this joy and self-expression in the modern knitter who is drawn to the glitter of the 1920s and the elegance of the 1930s."

A Woolly Yarn received a digital copy for review from The Crowood Press. All opinions are our own.

Bicknell obviously loves and has thoroughly researched her subject. Art Deco Knits has lots of pages interspersed with both photographs of the garments whose patterns you'll find in the book and period illustrations of fashions of the time.

The book is split into three parts. Bicknell explains it well in Art Deco Knits' introduction:
"The first section, 'Style and Materials', introduces the fashionable silhouettes and design details fo the 1920s and 30s, and shows how they were interpreted in the knitting patterns of the period. The second section, 'Techniques', covers everything you need to know to create beautifully patterned and embellished fabrics, and includes a stitch dictionary of Art Deco-inspired stitch patterns. Finally there are nine patterns inspired by various aspects of the period. These patterns are designed as a starting point for your own creativity."
I was particularly interested in the description of fabrics and colours popular in the period and the changing silhouettes that hand knitters aspired to create.

Bicknell gives tips on combining vintage style with modern-day wardrobes, including adjusting styles such as the dropped waist to suit your figure. Embellishments, such as with beads, were a key element of Art Deco style, and the book gives tips and ideas of how to add these into your knitwear, plus the very comprehensive stitch directory shows how lace and cables can also create the signature look.


In section three Bicknell gives nine patterns, including garments and accessories, to start your hand knitted Art Deco collection. Here are two to whet your appetite.

The Margaret Cardigan pattern is inspired by the straight intersecting lines of Art Deco architecture. The 4ply wool used is John Arbon's Devonia.

Margaret Cardigan image courtesy of The Crowood Press

The Parelli Shawl can be knitted with or without beads. It's inspired by evening shawls from the 1920s and uses lace weight yarn.

Parelli Shawl image courtesy of The Crowood Press
Art Deco Knits is a very satisfying read with sections to dip in and out of. The recommended retail price is £25 but it can be bought direct from the publisher for £20 plus P&P or £20 for the ebook edition. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Rowan Autumn/Winter 2019 Launches: Part 1 Patterns

Although it is still early August Rowan has been quick off the mark in launching its yarns and patterns for the Autumn/Winter 2019 season. In Part 1 of this post we look at the pick of patterns -  British Made, with patterns designed by Lisa Richardson. Look out for part 2 where we'll be reviewing Rowan's new British yarn Island Blend.

What's exciting about British Made is that all the patterns use Rowan's British wool and not yarns sourced from abroad. The two featured yarns Rowan's British yarns Valley Tweed, pure wool which is spun and dyed in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and Moordale, a blend of British wool and alpaca.

The full collection of 13 patterns costs £12, or each pattern can be bought individually for £4. A Woolly Yarn received a review copy on request but all opinions are our own.

British Made image courtesy of Rowan
British Made is a beautifully-photographed paperback book. The photos were takin in a North Yorkshire village called Malham and for those who like to cosy up in the countryside (think stone walls, hedges and thick, woolly knits) the book contains great patterns across the knitting ability range.

There are a couple of slight drawbacks with British Made. The first is that the charts are in black and white and are rather small. You may want to buy a digital download version so you can scale up the chart to print out. The second is that Rowan is now owned by the German company MEZ Crafts and half the book is in English whilst the other half, including the same patterns, is in German. It fools you into thinking you're getting a lot more for your money - perhaps Rowan would have been better printing separate copies for each language.

The patterns

Yet it's a big thumbs up to the patterns.. My favourite? It's a toss up between the Glamarama scarf, knitted in six shades of Moordale (you couldn't fail to feel happy wearing all these colours):

Glamarama image courtesy of Rowan
Or the Helvellyn cardigan, again using Valley Tweed, with just enough stranded colourwork to make it interesting but not too much to put off knitters new to the skill:

Helvellyn image courtesy of Rowan
The patterns are all fashion-proof, being interesting in a timeless way. Here are the rest of the bunch:


Fleetwith image courtesy of Rowan
An oversized sweater good for lots of layering.


Scafell image courtesy of Rowan
This hat aimed at beginner knitters uses up two balls of Valley Tweed.


Fleetwith image courtesy of Rowan
There are four shades of Moordale used in this long, v-neck cardigan, which is a more challenging knit.


Wetherlam image courtesy of Rowan
Who wouldn't want to wear this  knitted hoodie on brazing country walk?


Grasmoor image courtesy of Rowan
The cable pattern on this long scarf is much easier to knit than it looks - there are no charts to follow.


Lingmoor image courtesy of Rowan
The intarsia technique is used to create the pattern on this cowl.


Bowfell image courtesy of Rowan
An oversized sweater with a unisex look.


Whinlatter image courtesy of Rowan
Knitted with Moordale, this fitted sweater is aimed at beginners.


Skiddaw image courtesy of Rowan
Even on a grey day you'll be full of colour wearing these boot toppers.


Lingmell image courtesy of Rowan
A long jumper with a Fair Isle pattern down the centre.


Bowfell image courtesy of Rowan
This cowl is knitted in muted shades of Moordale.

Which pattern is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

To see all of Rowan's new season launches, including new patterns from Kaffe Fassett, go to Knitrowan.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Rowan Autumn/Winter 2019 Launches: Part 2 Yarn

In Part 1of this post we reviewed British Made, Rowan's new pattern book using its British yarns. Now it's the turn of its latest British yarn Island Blend.

Island Blend image courtesy of Rowan
Apart from its long-missed British Sheep Breeds range, Yorkshire mega yarn brand Rowan has been pretty poor in recent years when it comes to offering wool from its own country. That changed in January when the company launched a British wool and alpaca blend called Moordale. Now, as part of Rowan's extensive yarn and pattern launch for the Autumn/Winter 2019 season, fans of British wool have even more to be happy about.

A Woolly Yarn received a review skein of their latest product Island Blend, a yarn made from British-governed Falkland Island wool, baby alpaca and silk. All opinions are our own.

Rowan says Island Blend "will create insulating and cosy knits with a subtle sheen". There are ten shades in the range and each 50g skein is approximately 125 metres long.  I couldn't find the name of the shade on the label but, researching online, I think this chocolate-brown hue is 'leather'. It certainly passes the squish test, being soft and springy. It's strong too and Rowan is right about the soft sheen.

This is not a budget yarn, with stores selling each skein around the £14.95 mark, making it a more luxury purchase. I'm looking forward to knitting it up. As yet I can only find one supporting pattern book: Rowan Focus - Natural Fibres.

Rowan Focus- Natural Fibres image courtesy of Rowan
There are three patterns in the book using Island Blend. However the yarn is DK weight and should substitute well with other patterns. Watch this space to discover what I knit with it!

To see all of Rowan's new season launches, including new patterns from Kaffe Fassett, go to Knitrowan.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Should Knitters Avoid Superwash Wool?

Every now and then I learn something that seems so obvious I wonder why I've never realised it before. The latest occurrence was when I read Kate Davies' blog post featuring an interview with Yasmin Harper, owner of the French knitting store Laine des Iles (roughly translated as Island Wool).
In the interview, talking about the wool she stocks, she says:
"I am certainly not in favour of superwash yarns. I find it quite frustrating that there is no requirement to label a yarn as super wash or for manufacturers to explain on their labelling what this means (essentially, that it is plastic coated). I still find a lot of customers who react with surprise when I tell them this - they just don't know."
Superwash image courtesy of Patons
I didn't know either. I knew that superwash wool tended to be softer and machine-washable, but I never gave a thought as to WHY.

So I did some online research to find out what exactly goes on to turn wool into superwash. This is what I found from The Spruce Crafts:
"Superwash wool can be made using an acid bath that removes the scales from the fibre, or it can be made by coating the fibre with a polymer that keeps the scales from being able to join together and cause shrinkage."
The American website Knitting The Natural Way says that chlorine is used in acid baths and because of that the waste water is not accepted by the majority of water treatment facilities in the USA. So where does it go? It's sent to be processed in other countries including China and the UK. Lucky us taking other countries' toxic waste.

Quite a lot of wool brands sell superwash yarn whether it's labelled as such or not. Clues that your wool may be superwash are that it feels slicker and denser than regular wool and looks slightly shiny.

If you're choosing to knit with wool because it's a natural fibre and you've purposefully avoided man-made yarns such as acrylic and polyester due to them being produced from oil, then buying superwash flushes those environmental principles straight down the loo.

I asked Jess James-Thomson, prolific knitter, yarn dyer and owner of Edinburgh yarn store Ginger Twist Studio, for her opinion on the matter. She says prefers to go for non-superwash wool whenever possible because it is environmentally-friendly and she likes the way it takes the dye.

Splendor 4ply image courtesy of Ginger Twist Studio
Fans of superwash wool say that it's easier to wash and is softer against the skin, particularly for babies. Arguments against this are that superwash garments can stretch when machine-washed. Also there are lots of non-superwash yarns on the market tailored for babies, including Debbie Bliss Eco Baby and Sublime Baby Cashmere.

Sock knitters may like superwash wool so the socks can be easily washed to get rid of foot pongs, but again there are non-superwash wool yarns on the market, a leader being West Yorkshire Spinners' Signature 4ply.

To those who say non-superwash wool is itchy, think of the multitude of wool and fibre blends to choose from.  James-Thomson says that "my Splendor 4ply is a mix of non-superwash merino and silk, and I would challenge anyone to find that itchy!"

There is an alternative to superwash but few wool producers use it, as Yasmin Harper points out on her own blog.  "A new superwash treatment called EXP that has been developed by Schoeller Wool in Germany - a GOTS certified treatment that does not involve chlorine washing, and only minimal amounts of ecological polymer. However it is currently used by only a very small number of knitting yarn companies."

If you want to avoid superwash and aren't sure if your chosen wool has been treated then ask the yarn retailer. If they don't know then don't buy it. The more people who raise the issue at their local yarn store the better, as to stay competitive yarn companies have to produce what the public want to buy.

Now what else don't I know that's blatantly obvious??

Thursday, 25 July 2019

July Indie Pattern Round-up

As I write this in the UK temperatures are reaching record-breaking highs. Cocooned in a room with the curtains shut to keep out the heat it feels too hot to do much at all, never mind knitting. Daft really that we pay so much money to travel abroad on holiday to countries with good weather but when the thermometer soars at home we moan it's too hot. I suppose that's because in the UK we have to work in the heat, don't have air-con on demand nor a sea breeze or cool pool with waiter drinks and snacks service!

With my knitting needles temporarily idle I've instead been enjoying researching this month's new pattern and yarn releases. July is a funny month for British knitting businesses. The big hitters, such as Rowan and Sirdar, are gearing up for an August launch of their Autumn/Winter season. It's the small business indie dyers and designers who are carrying on releasing new products to soak up in the sunshine.


Her latest release is Inverleith, a boxy T-shirt pattern, priced at £7. Ysolda prides herself on inclusivity and she has designed Inverleith in 12 sizes. She says about the knit: "Inverleith is a top down tee with beautiful drape and a simple construction - no short rows... the shoulders are worked in one piece and then divided for front and back. The front and back are each worked flat and then joined in the round at the underarm. Folded cuffs are worked by picking up stitches around the armhole and the neck is finished with a simple edging."

Inverleith image courtesy of Ysolda.
The pattern uses Sedum, Ysolda's own merino/linen/silk-blend yarn, which is currently out of stock. More will be available soon and Ysolda offers ideas on suitable alternatives.

There's also a knit-along taking place from now until September 16th. To find out more and join in go to the Ysolda's Inverleith forum on Ravelry.

Kate Davies

Davies has revealed that Downstream is the final design from her Bold Beginner Knits collection, due to be published in print form in August priced £15. Pre-orders don't pay P&P and if you order now  you'll receive pattern downloads before the print book is published.

Downstream image courtesy of Kate Davies
I love the easy-throw on ability of this buttonless cardigan. It's knitted in Davies' own yarn Ard-Thir. Look out on A Woolly Yarn in August for a view of Bold Beginner Knits when it is published.

Arnall-Culliford Knitwear

This month the crafty couple released a sock pattern, Hedera Helix, downloadable at Ravelry for £5.

The pattern was originally part of the company's A Year of Techniques pattern book, and is now available to knitters who don't want to buy the whole collection. Socks, because of their portability, tend to be a popular summer knitting choice. This pair is knitted in sport-weight yarn.

Baa Ram Ewe

Look at the goldfish on this bright knit! Fishing for Compliments has options for short and long sleeves, was designed by Manja Vogelsang and is downloadable on Ravelry for £6.49.

Fishing for Compliments image courtesy of Baa Ram Ewe

Baa Ram Ewe is promoting their 4ply Pip Colourwork yarn for this pattern. Pip Colourwork comes in cute 25g balls and is available in 15 shades.

Kay F Jones

Have you heard of The Swish and Flick Collective? It's a collection of seven Harry Potter-themed patterns designed by Kay F Jones released between May and November this year. The Choose Your House Socks is a bonus pattern.

Image courtesy of K F Jones
Which house do you want to be in at Hogwarts?? The Swish and Flick Collective costs £20.40 to download on Ravelry.

Blacker Yarns spoiler

Blacker Yarns has announced that this year's one-off anniversary special yarn will be called Cornish Garden. It will go on sale on September 20th and there will be five dyed colours. Watch this space nearer the time for A Woolly Yarn's review!

What are you knitting in the heat? Let us know in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

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.

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