Tuesday 30 December 2014

Casting Off 2014

So here we are at the end of 2014, which is also the end of A Woolly Yarn's first blog year. And what a year it has been for the British wool industry and knitwear designers!

Amongst the year's highlights are: in February Debbie Bliss launched her Blissful Life website; March saw the sell out of Knit Now magazine's best of British special; in April ex-Rowan staffer Marie Wallin self-published her pattern book Windswept; the British Knitting Awards asked for your votes in May - you can see who won here; we took our knitting to the streets in June for World Wide Knit in Public Day; August saw me review Rowan's Big Wool Colour and its supporting pattern book; Yarndale knitting festival in Skipton had a second successful year in September; companies lined up to enter Wool Week's design competition in October to show how stylish wool can be; and in November I showcased eight patterns perfect to knit in time for December's Christmas Jumper Day to support the charity Save The Children, although sadly I didn't finish my own, Susan Crawford's Perfect Christmas jumper, in time!

Poster on display at Bletchley Park
This year marked the centenary of the start of the First World War. The commemorations reminded us of the importance that the public played on the home front, something which I was reminded of when visiting Bletchley Park museum earlier this month. A poster from the Second World War highlighted the soldier's need for knitted socks and the part civilians can play in the war effort by knitting them.

I look forward to blogging more about modern British knitting in 2015. What type of things would you like to read about here next year? Please let me know in the comments section below.

In 2015 I have resolved to use up the wool and patterns in my 'to knit' list before I buy any more. Will I be able to stick to my resolve? There's lots of wonderful British yarn hidden away in cupboards and under a sofa in my house to get through.

Wishing you all a very happy and knitty 2015.

Ps Pick up the latest The Knitter magazine, issue 79, to read my feature on how the new British brand Yarn Stories was conceived and developed.

Monday 8 December 2014

Review of A Stitch In Time Vol 1

Photograph courtesy of Susan Crawford
In my last post I reviewed Kate Davies' Yokes. Now it's the turn of the beautifully-photographed coffee table book A Stitch In Time Vol 1 by Susan Crawford and Jane Waller. First published in paperback in 2008, this new edition has been rewritten and updated to include updated yarn requirements, vintage styling and lots of information behind the history of the changing styles.

Its sumptuous images and layout scream quality publication, worth every penny of its albeit expensive £35 price tag. Like Yokes, A Stitch In Time Vol 1 is more than just a collection of patterns - it's a treasury of social history. Black and white prints of the original patterns from vintage magazines sit beside contemporary photographs of the garments with vintage styling.

Patterns are grouped together in chronological order in themes starting with 'The Tubular Look' from 1920 - 1932. Each theme starts with a short essay explaining the reasoning behind that 'look' - great for vintage fashion fans and also helpful in choosing the styles that would suit your body shape.

See all the patterns on Ravelry.

Some of my favourites are:

Fair Isle Jumper

Frilly Sleeves

Sun-Ray Ribbing
A Stitch In Time Vol 1 is available in hardback, ebook or both from Susan Crawford's website.

Friday 5 December 2014

Review of Yokes by Kate Davies

It's Christmas time for knitters with not one but two pattern books by an outstanding British knitwear designer published this week. The first to plop through my letter box was Yokes by designer, writer and historical researcher Kate Davies.
Picture courtesy of Kate Davies

Before she changed career to full-time knitwear design, following a stroke, Davies was an academic specialising in the eighteenth century. Her questioning mind and academic rigour shine through Yokes, which is much more than a conventional book of patterns.

Yokes have always been a favourite of Davies, and in her book of eleven original patterns of jumpers and cardigans with distinctive yokes she writes: "Yokes are a kind of knitted jewelery. They adorn the shoulders and frame the ace in ways that can work from delicate to dramatic. A carefully blended colourwork yoke might seem virtually kaleidoscopic, a textured oke worked in neutral cables or lace can be a beautifully subtle way of decorating the upper torso."

The reader will certainly see the yoke in a new light after reading this book. Before the patterns Davies writes a number of essays looking at the tradition of the yoke in countries such as Greenland, Norway and Iceland.

Keith Moon (modelled by Kate Davies)
And so to the patterns. The one most suitable for beginner knitters is Keith Moon: a 1960s-inspired Mod sweater with a fabulous red, white and blue yoke. The sweater has a long body and there are delightful red stripes at the bottom of the sleeves and the sweater. The waist has shaping and, if you're like me and have a short and straight torso, it would be easy to adjust the pattern to shorten the body and miss out the shaping.


My personal favourite is Bluebells - a wonderfully-coloured jumper with a bluebell pattern around the yoke, hem and bottom of the sleeves. I am an intermediate knitter and think that I could successfully attempt this pattern. Bluebells is a close-fitting, shorter-length sweater knitted in Jamieson and Smith 2ply jumper weight.

Yokes also contains a number of patterns for cardigans. Take the cover design, Cockatoo Brae, which takes its name from Cockatoo Brae in Lerwick, Shetland, an island where hand-knitted yokes have been produced for over a half a century. The body and sleeves for this cardigan can be either machine or hand-knitted.

Foxglove is another cardigan in the collection. The local flowers seen on summer walks around Davies' Scottish highland home inspired this design. Again it is a traditional Shetland yoked cardigan but she has designed amore contemporary fit, being a shorter length and having bust and waist shaping.

I love the colurs and intricate yoke pattern on this design, but what slightly puts me off is the necessity of steeking. I have yet to learn the technique and the thought of cutting through my knitting fills me with fear.

The beauty of the cardigan's design, however, gives me impetus to go on a 'learn to steek course' in 2015 and improve my knitting skills!

Yokes is a delightful resource for knitters interested in knitting history and perfecting their art. It's a coffee table book that readers will dip into again and again to read the essays, look at the beautifully-photographed images, and work out which design to knit first.  All the designs in the book are on Ravelry here.

In my next blog post I'll be reviewing the latest edition of A Stitch In Time by Susan Crawford.

What do you think of Yokes? Why not add your comments below?

Monday 24 November 2014

Knitting Christmas Gifts

Have you started or indeed even finished your knitted Christmas gifts yet? It's rather like when you pile your plate with Christmas dinner - the mound of food on your plate seems eatable until you get half way through and start struggling. A list of knitted gifts to complete seems a great challenge in August, but by November when there's a load still to be knitted that's when the panic sets in!

Delilah by Louisa Harding
I have a guest column piece published in this month's The Knitter magazine, issue number 78, talking about the highs and lows of the year I decided to eschew bought presents and knit something for my family and friends instead. You'll have to read the magazine for the full story, but needless to say that some gifts were more appreciated that others, and my dad had to wait until January for his tank top ...

This year I'm knitting a few choice gifts for people I know who will appreciate them. Top of my favourite list is Louisa Harding's Delilah - a cowl that can be knitted in short or long sizes.
Little Miss Moss by Sublime

I finished this two nights ago and it's going to my best friend who gave birth to her baby daughter Delilah a few months ago. Louisa Harding always produces feminine designs and I am in love with her Noema yarn. It's a swirl of colour and shine. Knitted up in the lacy Delilah pattern the yarn looks a million dollars, but thankfully only costs £5.95 a ball.

The short cowl takes two balls and the long cowl, pictured above, four.

For Delilah herself I'm knitting Little Miss Moss, a gorgeous pattern from Sublime knitted in Baby Cashmere Merino Silk 4ply. It's a beautifully soft yarn that's perfect for little ones.

For a male relative I've knitted a charcoal colour chunky jumper and am hoping that I can't go wrong with that. A friend's little daughter, who is a huge fan of Peppa Pig, will be unwrapping a jumper with Peppa's face on, that is if I finish the intarsia in time.  Finally my husband will be receiving at some point his annual knitted jumper, but when depends on whether I finish the second glove of a pair and Susan Crawford's Christmas jumper for myself first!

What are you knitting for a Christmas gift? Let me know in the comments section below.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Review of Pom Pom Quarterly Winter 2014

It's always a treat when Pom Pom Quarterly pops through my letter box. Underneath the bland, brown envelope is a veritable knitting treat, wrapped up in tissue paper with my name hand written on.

Photo courtesty of Pom Pom Quarterly
The latest edition of this collectable series channels all things public house - not that we need encouragement in the winter to sup by a roaring fire - with nine new patterns from homespun designers whose work you don't usually see in your average knitting magazine on the newsagent's shelf. Interspersed between the gloriously-photographed garments and the patterns themselves are short featues on subjects such as a project to visit quirky English pubs and how to make a whisky tirumasu.

My favourite design is that featured on the cover - a 1950s-inspired sweater called Fairchild. It's deceptively simple-looking, with sharp lines of pleats. Fairchild would look stunning paired with jeans for Sunday lunch down your local.

None of the patterns are aimed at beginners, but there are smaller projects suitable for knitters wanting to master a new skill, such as cabling in the Curio Mitts.

The warm jumper Cidre looks itself like a pint of the frothy apple nectar.

Photo courtesy of Pom Pom Quarterly

Plus I adore the quirkiness of the pom pom-bedecked hat Into Trees. 

Photo courtesy of Pom Pom Quarterly

The most moving article is Katie Green's cartoon story of how knitting saved her life when she suffered from depression. As anyone who has ever walked in those shoes knows, the repetitive and creative motions of knitting can help when the outside world seems too much to bear.

Pom Pom Quarterly issue 11, Winter 24, costs £8 if downloaded from Ravelry or £9.50 for both print and digital when bought direct. A four-issue subscription costs £30. 

What's your favourite pattern from this issue?

Read my reviews of previous Pom Pom Quarterly issues:

Sunday 16 November 2014

Wool And The Gang Joins John Lewis Christmas Penguin Mania

The battle of the Christmas televison adverts has well and truly begun! Sainsbury's first world war trenches advert tugs at the heartstrings and M&S offers lots of magic and sparkle, but it's the John Lewis advert that stands out, even if it there's no mention John Lewis in it. At all.

The ad is a touching story, if you're the sentimental type, of a boy and his penguin friend Monty. When the boy notices that Monty looks sadly at couples, he gives him his own penguin friend for Christmas.

Picture courtesy of John Lewis

London-based company Wool and the Gang has joined in with the John Lewis Christmas spirit to celebrate all things penguin in wool form.

Picture courtesy of Wool and the Gang

Wool and the Gang was invited to create a woollen wonderland in the John Lewis Oxford Street and Peter Jones store windows. Visual designer, Emma Davidge, who has the fabulous job of being responsible for the stores' window displays, spotted Wool and the Gang's Knit Kits. Wool and the Gang rose to her challenge, creating festive versions of their chunky jumpers and knitting up gorgeous penguin-sized versions of their signature hats, snoods and scarves.

Picture courtesy of Wool and the Gang

There's even a knitting penguin. Monty is not just a pretty face after all!

Picture courtesy of Wool and the Gang

Wool and the Gang's knit kits appear in John Lewis's Christmas gift guide. A zion hat knitting kit costs £39.50. Not cheap, but good quality, and will probably be used longer than a Monty soft toy, which will set you back £35 for the large version.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Get Knitting For Christmas Jumper Day

The charity Save The Children has declared that Friday 12 December will be Christmas jumper day, encouraging everyone to get in the festive woolly spirit and raise money too.

Full details, how to sign up and a downloadable craft guide are on the Save the Children website. The suggested donation to the charity is £2 per adult and £1 per child. Why not get your workplace or children's school involved? Just two pounds can pay for life-saving antibiotics to treat three babies with infections.

Of course Christmas jumper day is also a chance to support British wool and designers, eschewing high street chain store tat made in poor conditions abroad with acrylic yarn. Knit your own jumper to your taste, whether bright and bold or festively subtle, and you can guarantee you'll want to wear it year after year. I've browsed the best of British patterns to bring you my list of the top eight Christmas jumper patterns.

1. Susan Crawford's Perfect Christmas Jumper
This is currently on my needles. Two sleeves down with the back and front to go! I love the 1940s puffed sleeves and the reindeer intarsia motifs. I'm using Titus wool from Yorkshire yarn shop extraordinaire baa ram ewe. Crawford's pattern costs £4 in downloadable PDF format.

Photo courtesy of Susan Crawford
2. Rowan's Sasha Snowflake Jumper For Men
This is a great freebie from Rowan's website. The jumper is knitted in big wool and therefore is quicker to knit up. The snowflake on the front is rather subtle and is perfect for a man who wouldn't be seen dead wearing Father Christmas and pom poms over his chest. Download the pattern straight from Knit Rowan's website. The designer is Marie Wallin.

Photo courtesy of knitrowan..com
3. Sirdar Country Style Sweater
Another subtle Christmas jumper, this time for women. The pattern from Sirdar costs £2.95 and has a lovely Christmas tree motif around the yoke. This one is for Winter and not just for Christmas! Sirdar's Country Style DK isn't 100% wool, having nylon and acrylic spun in too, but it is a more affordable yarn if you're stuck for cash.

Photo courtesy of Sirdar
4. Wendy Sweater Knitting Patterns For Men And Women
Turn the kitsch factor up to the max with Wendy's his and hers reindeer sweaters. The pattern costs £2.69 and if you knit them up quickly you and a chap will be sporting them in style on Christmas Jumper Day. Just don't forget to mention that you're making an ironic statement! Wendy Mode DK is 50% merino and 50% acrylic and like Sirdar Country Style DK is pitched towards the budget end of the market.
Pattern courtesy of Wendy
5. Love Yarn Christmas Jumper by Fiona Bennet
I'm loving the Christmas pudding, snowman or reindeer yokes on this design by British Army wife Fiona Bennet. The pattern is pricey at £7.50 but it's good to know the money is going to an artisan designer rather than a faceless company. Sizes range from small to extra large. Bennet recommends using Rico Essentials Soft Merino Aran. One of the benefits of this pattern is that the body is plain, meaning that it's easy to alter the length to suit your body size and shape.

Photo courtesy of Fiona Bennett

6. Stylecraft Children's Sweater
Stylecraft yarns hail from West Yorkshire and this Christmas jumper pattern for children will keep them bright and warm on Christmas Jumper Day. Choose from Father Christmas or a snowman to adorn the front. The pattern costs £2.99. Sizes range from age 1-2 years to 10-11 years. Stylecraft DK contains 25% wool.

Photo courtesy of Stylecraft

7. Coats Crafts Christmas Jumpers For All The Family
They're free, loud and proud! Knit comedy Christmas jumpers for all the family with these patterns from Coats Crafts. Sarah Hatton designed these jumpers using Patons Fab Big DK. The 100g balls retail for around £1.79 and offer great value, although sadly they contain no wool, being 100% acrylic. You could ask your local yarn seller for a wool yarn to substitute instead.

Photo courtesy of Patons
8. Purl & Jane's Child's Reindeer Sweater
Purl & Jane's Knitting Emporium is based in Skipton, North Yorkshire, and they publish their own range of patterns. This child's reindeer sweater is perfect for the Christmas period and the best news is that there's also a woman's version too! Both patterns cost £3.95. The recommended yarn is Mirasol Miski aran weight yarn, although it can be substituted for a British version.

Photo courtesy of Purl & Jane
What do you think of these Christmas jumpers? Do you have a favourite I've missed off my list? Please let me know in the comments box below.

Friday 31 October 2014

Understanding Yarn Weights

For the last couple of weeks I haven't felt like knitting, thanks to food poisoning coupled with a chest bug that's going around. Whilst I've been resting, however, I've been browsing through my knitting books and trying to come to terms with what different yarn weights are. I've found this particularly confusing when looking at books written for both the UK and US markets, which mention hitherto unknown to me terms such as 'sport weight'.

So here's my quick and hopefully easy guide to different yarn weights and the needle sizes to use (the size you choose will depend on the outcome of your knitted test square):

  1. Lace weight/feather weight - the thinnest yarn, used for shawls and very delicate items. Check the pattern for the needle size.
  2. 2 ply - a thin yarn not often used in modern patterns. Knit with 1.5 - 2.5 needles.
  3. 4 ply - also known as fingering weight and sport weight. Used for more delicate knits with 2 - 3mm needles. Great for socks - you may see this yarn marketed as sock yarn.
  4. DK (double knitting) - This is a common yarn weight in the UK and is usually knitted with 4 or 4.5mm needles. It is known in some other countries as 8 ply.
  5. Worsted and aran - these are heavier than DK but not as thick as chunky.  Worsted may also refer to the way the wool is processed. usually knitted with 4.5 - 5.5mm needles.
  6. Chunky - 12 to 16 ply, great for knitted garments and accessories speedily. Use with 5.5 - 8mm needles.
  7. Super chunky - for very big knits! Requires a needle size larger than 8mm.  

I've treated myself to some killer flamingo yarn from Rainbow Heirloom, custom dyed in the UK by Emily Wessel. It is a pinky/orange yarn I spotted at Yarndale, but didn't buy. It has been on my mind ever since and I'm looking forward to knitting a hat and cowl with it when my three skeins arrive.

Monday 13 October 2014

Vintage Knit Review

I love a freebie and today the postman brought me one thanks to a competition win. Vintage Knit is a lovely hardback book by Marine Malak with Geraldine Warner, filled with 25 knitting and crochet patterns from yesteryear refashioned for the modern knitter.

Now I have to say that my first foray into vintage knitting was when I came across Susan Crawford's patterns and samples at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show a few years ago. There began my admiration of her work adapting 1930s/40s/50s patterns for today and also creating new ones on a vintage theme. I've got used to her style, but it was very interesting with Vintage Knit to see how others have approached the genre.

The cover image instantly attracted me. Marine Malak has a graphic design background. Her work on Vintage Knit combines her love of knitting and fashion with her passion for publication design. There are lots of colour photos in the book alongside with the original black and white shots from decades ago. Otherwise the design is quite sparse. The pattern instruction pages are set out in two columns, which I found slightly odd, but no doubt I'll quickly get used to when knitting.

Photo courtesy of marinemalak.com

The book is aimed at intermediate knitters, although there are a range of projects from easy to difficult. Many of the designs use elements of crochet as well. If you're not handy with a crochet hook this may be a turn-off.

Co-author Geraldine Warner, a life-long knitter, says that "one of the most interesting elements of mid-20th century knitting is the way it was allied so closely to the fashion of the time, and yet the quality and style give the designs an everlasting longevity". For me, some of the designs, such as the first in the book, '12 polo mode hats' opened my eyes as to the gulf between what was fashionable then and what is today.

Photo courtesy of marinemalak.com

Others, however, screamed 'knit me!' I paricularly like the 'twinset in simple stitches (sadly I don't have a photo of it), brought up to date by knitting a fuschia cardigan and bright orange short-sleeved jumper. The way it's photographed is simply stunning and certainly follows the current colour-blocking fashion.

Also fabulous if you aspire to becoming a Hollywood screen siren is the 'fashionable housecoat'. I love the idea of lounging around my home on a wet Sunday wearing this rather than my PJs. The colours chosen in the book are a bit too 1970s for my taste but can easily be altered.

Photo courtesy of marinemalak.com
I would have liked more information on where the original photos and patterns were sourced from, and I had to google what 'fingering' yarn is: 3ply or otherwise known as sock yarn.  However all in all I'm very pleased with the book, which works well as a coffee table tome to flick through as well as a source of patterns.  Vintage fans will love it.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Wool And The Gang Wool Week Competition and Designs

Wool Week 2014 is upon us! The Campaign For Wool, which encourages us to use British wool in our textiles and fashions, is once again running events this week to showcase how green, versatile and fun wool can be.

Eek beanie
The fashion wool company Wool and the Gang is joining in the fun with a competition to win £200 of its yarn. Whilst the yarn is Peruvian, it is made from upcycled t-shirts and the company is based in London. To enter the competition go here. If I don't win I hope you do!

The company has recently become known for its catwalk collaborations with the designer Giles Deacon. Remember the Giles eek beanies as modelled by Cara Delavigne? I recently received one to review (my opinions are my own). Despite having a few years on Cara I love the beanie's fun element. It's big enough to fit all size heads but not too big as to to look enormous on those with smaller heads - instead it slouches at the top.

The yarn is chunky and soft. You wouldn't know it's recycled and its eco credential gives it extra brownie points. To buy ready-made the beanie costs £85 which is, even for a designer item, very expensive. Instead buy a kit for £40 plus P&P and knit your own.

Emoji beanie
Wool and the Gang has designed a couple of patterns especially to celebrate Wool Week. A number
of brands across the spectrum of age,style and taste were invited by the Campaign for Wool to showcase designs that sum up how fabulous, stylish and versatile wool is.

Womenswear brands taking part are: Brora, Christopher Raeburn for Barbour, Daks, Harvey Nichols, Christopher Wijnants, Jigsaw, Jaeger, John Lewis, John Smedley, Johnston’s of Elgin, Pringle of Scotland, Richard Nicoll, Sibling ,Viyella, Caroline Charles and of course Wool and the Gang.

For menswear there's: Austin Reed, Brora, Barbour, Daks, Gieves & Hawkes, Jigsaw, John Lewis, John Smedley, Johnstons of Elgin, Lyle & Scott and Richard Nicoll.

Wool and the Gang's, contribution, an emoji beanie, is a fun beanie with a smiley face design that will be familiar to texters. There's also a sloppy, oversized wool jumper that will be donated to an auction organised by the Rainforest Foundation (UK) for their 25th birthday in order to ensure that rainforests will be still standing for another 25 years.

WATG Campaign for Wool jumper
If you're near Oxford Street London's John Lewis on Thursday at 2pm or 7pm then head to the fourth floor where the Gang will show you how to knit your own Zion Lion beanie or Lil Snood Dog. Everyone who comes along will be given a free Lula Hoop pattern.

For details on other events taking place for UK Wool Week see their events calendar.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Millamia's Naturally Soft Aran Yarn

Ida cowl knitted in naturally soft aran
Trying a new yarn is always a thrill, especially when it's so smooth and knitable as Millamia's latest product - naturally soft aran. 

The pattern and yarn company Millamia is based in London (hence me including it as British) with a Scandinavian design heritage. I've knitted baby cardigans and a blanket before in the company's naturally soft merino and, being pleased with that, I had high expectations of the aran yarn launch.

In the past I've sometimes found aran to be slightly prickly and scratchy, which has put me off using it for knitting anything that sits next to the skin. Millamia's aran, however, lives up to its naturally soft name and is a joy to knit with. It's £5.50 for a 50g ball bought direct from Millamia, and comes in lots of bright colours.

I received a review sample of four balls of naturally soft aran yarn in magenta and the accompanying pattern book Finishing Touch to review. All opinions are my own. The pattern book contains lots of delicious winter knits including scarves, cowls, hats and wristwarmers. It also includes a slightly inconguous pattern for a pencil case, which I turned the page over from quickly.

Finishing Touch pattern book
Top of my list is the Ida cowl. I quickly got my knitting needles out and within four nights had happily completed it. It was a dream to knit - the yarn doesn't split - and the pattern was easy enough to knit whilst watching TV yet had enough variation to make it interesting. It feels a joy to wear and I'm sure will be a staple to keep me warm this Winter.

The photography Finishing Touch is stunning and the patterns will interest both beginner and more advanced knitters. Whilst the book is comprehensive on accessory patterns I'd like to see in future some women's jumper and cardigan patterns to support the yarn.  Naturally soft aran does what it says on the tin and would knit up a wonderfully pleasurable to wear garments.

Both the yarn and pattern book are available at millamia.com.

Sunday 28 September 2014

The Gloves Are Off

Yesterday I spent a wonderful afternoon in Skipton Auction Mart at Yarndale, a two-day festival of wool, spinning and designers, with a particular focus on companies and small traders from Yorkshire. Being a Yorkshire lass myself I admit I am rather biased towards the county. Yorkshire, however, with its centuries of woolly expertise and so much modern talent in the knitting industry certainly deserves to be the focus of a knitting show.

My review of Yarndale will appear in The Knitter magazine in a few months' time. Meanwhile, as well as having my journalist's head on I was also on a knitting mission for myself. I want to knit a pair of gloves. Easy to find a pattern you would think? Not so. I deliberately didn't want to search for one on Ravelry, hoping instead to support a British designer at the show and buy a pattern and yarn all in one go.

Fashion, however, is fickle, and apparently gloves this year are the sartorial equivalent of spandex hot pants and acrylic jogging suits. No-one wants them. Now wristwarmers/handwarmers are another story - stands were heaving with patterns for those. Along I went from stand to stand asking whether they had a pattern for a pair of gloves. A lovely lady from Purl & Jane said that had written a pattern in a book but it was now out of print. Rachel Coopey, whose Catterick hat I knitted back in April told me she has a gloves pattern in a forthcoming book but it's not published until next year.

Madonna and her fingerless gloves
Back in the 1980s when I was a child I remember turning up to visit my Grandparents wearing Madonna-inspired fingerless gloves. My Grandma immediately asked me if I was too poor to afford a proper pair. Handwarmers and fingerless gloves are great if it's not very cold but as Grandma knew, they're not much use when the temperature drops. Last year the ends of my fingers went white because I continued to wear my home-knitted handwarmers because I didn't want to pay to buy a pair of gloves made in an Asian sweatshop with acrylic yarn when I could knit myself a pair in British wool instead. Except I never got round to it. Too much to knit, so little time ...

Finally, on my last try, I found a gloves pattern at Susan Crawford's vintage stall. The pattern doesn't appear to be on her website at the moment, but it's for a pair of 1940s-style gloves and a scarf knitted in her 4 ply Excelana yarn. Beauty and functionality combined.

Perhaps nowadays wristwarmers are seen as an easier sell by yarn companies because knitting them isn't as complicated as knitting gloves? Or are gloves so cheap to buy in the shops that no-one wants to knit them anymore?

Although I have a multitude of items in my 'must knit' pile, and Christmas is looming, I'm going to fast-track the gloves to the top so as not to spend another Winter wearing gloves that don't do their job properly. How Grandma would be proud of me if she were still here today.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Yarn Stories Launch of Yorkshire Wool - Updated!

October's Knitting magazine reports that a new global wool brand, named Yarn Stories, will launch at London's Knitting and Stitching Show on 8th October.

Yarn Stories is manufactured in Yorkshire and the brand will be available exclusively online. That's a bold decision for a new brand considering that knitters love to feel their wool in person before purchasing, but no doubt appearances at knitting festivals and shows will increase brand awareness.

Further information about the brand, including colours, weights etc, are very sketchy. At the time of publishing this post the brand's website - Yarn Stories - wasn't working. There's not even a picture of what knitters can expect.

Here's hoping that the website is fixed before the brand is launched. With a Yorkshire heritage the yarns offer great promise - but only if knitters can find out more about it!

28th September update
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the Yarndale show in Skipton and there I met a couple of lovely ladies behind the Yarn Stories brand. I'm delighted to report that the website is now up and running, containing details of the fine merino DK and 4ply yarn the company is launching with.

The yarn is beautifully soft - perfect for scarves and jumpers - and comes in lots of lovely bright colours, a few of which I got an advance preview of. At the moment there aren't any patterns on the website but some will be unveiled at London's Knitting and Stitching Show.

Although the merino is sourced from Australia, due to the high-quality product available there, the yarn is dyed and spun in Yorkshire, earning its 'made in England' moniker.

This looks like an exciting launch into the British wool market. Here's hoping that the supporting patterns will be bold and innovative, not just the same old handwarmers/scarves/hats that most yarn companies seem to churn out a version of.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

My First Big Knit

Way back in January when I first started this blog I mentioned that the first major piece of knitting I tackled, at the tender age of nearly 13, was a zipped cardigan whose pattern featured in the pages of the now defunct Just Seventeen magazine.

Just Seventeen, January 21 1987
It was 1987 and batwings, shoulder pads and big hair were still in vogue. I was in an out of hospital with preparations for major spinal surgery. Knitting was something I could do in bed, and when I finished it I could look like the model on the magazine's cover. Well ... maybe.

To my delight I came across the magazine last weekend whilst looking for something else. Isn't it true that things always turn up in the last place you think of looking? As well as the cardigan there's a pattern for a beret, pom pom scarf and knitted skirt. I love the introductory text to the pattern that says "What's the point in forking out a fortune on knitwear when all you need is a pair of knitting needles and a bundle of wool?" Not an ethos that nowadays appears outside the pages of Woman's Weekly magazine! But back in 1987 teenagers didn't get much pocket money and fast fashion made in the sweatshops of Bangladesh had yet to take off.

In the magazine the cardigan was grey with red stripes, I decided to go for yellow with grey stripes. The wool used was something called Emu snowball, a chunky yarn that knitted up quickly. Sadly though the pattern was incorrectly printed and mum needed to go out and buy more balls of wool to make up the shortfall.

I did finish the cardigan but it turned out to be rather too big to wear. It stayed in the bottom of a chest of drawers for a few years until it found its way to a charity shop in the early 1990s. How I wish I still had it!

Back in the magazine there was a profile on George Michael, a look at an A-ha concert, a review of coloured mascara, and a feature about choosing not to have a boyfriend. Those were the days.

What was the first major piece you ever knitted? Please do share in the comments section below.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate

I'm English through and through. As far as my family knows our ancestors were English working people, tilling the land, gardeners, or doing whatever they could to make a living. Despite my lack of Scottish heritage I've been keenly following the run up to the Scottish referendum for independence, which will take place on 18th September. I have Scottish friends who moved to England and English friends who moved to Scotland. Life in the 21st century in Britain is very much a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures.

Scottish Blackface Sheep
It's up to Scottish people to decide their own future. I, however, would be very sad to see Scotland go it alone and break away from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have a shared culture, history and purpose that comes from living on the same island in the north of Europe. Together we are stronger and more tolerant.

Knitting-wise I've very much been influenced by techniques hailing from Scotland such as fair isle and the knitted gansey. Way back when I was a young child we went on a family holiday to visit friends in the Shetland Islands and I remember then loving the sheep in the landscape and all the knitwear in the shops. It's one of my ambitions to go back during Shetland Wool Week.

There are also some wonderful wool shops in Scotland I've heard of and are on my 'all the best yarn shops I've never visited' list. Take, for example, Ginger Twist Studios, an indie yarn shop. Their selection of hand-dyed yarn looks extremely tempting.

I don't want to see border posts in between England and Scotland, or a rise in nasty nationalism on either side. The decision is in the Scottish people's hands, but the outcome of voting on 18th September will affect all of us in the UK.

What should be my blog's tag line if Scotland does go independent? An amusing note amongst a serious online article about what the UK could be called without Scotland suggested the 'former UK' until it realised the unfortunate abbreviation. Whatever happens, I'll still go on championing yarn and designers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Let's Knit Magazine Knit British Special

October 2014's issue of Let's Knit magazine is dedicated to what readers of this blog love - knitting British. It's a celebration of British yarn and design talent and comes with two gifts: a kit to knit a penguin or bow wrist-warmers, and a pattern book with seven knits for Christmas.

As I love to find out about new British yarns and designers I went out straight and bought the issue. Certainly I wasn't disappointed. Let's Knit is aimed at new and intermediate knitters, and sometimes I've found that, as someone who already has enough hats, scarves and gloves, there's not much in there to interest me. This issue was different. I doubt I'll knit the penguin or Christmas gift patterns, but the editorial in the magazine excels with its array of knitting news and the latest British wools, some of which I hadn't heard about before. There are also some wonderful shopping pages with ideas for gifts for knitters (I want nearly all of them myself) and an abundance of competitions.

My favourite section is the Beautifully British review of eight UK yarns. I've already used Titus and Excelana, but have yet to sample the delights of Jillybean's hand-dyed yarns - I adore the look of the shade pink passion - or King Cole's Masham DK.

There's also a great round-up of what's new in the Autumn-Winter 2014 season from your favourite knitting companies, although this feature does include brands from overseas as well as home-grown ones.

In next month's issue there's knitted Christmas jumper patterns. I'm just about to cast on Susan Crawford's Perfect Christmas Jumper, having had the pattern and yarn for over a year. Hopefully it will be finished in time for the festive season. Watch this space!

Sunday 31 August 2014

Catwalk Gives Thumbs Up To Knitwear

Opening up Grazia magazine this week (issue 489) I came across fashion spread featuring the 'wonder of woolies'. Apparently this season knitwear goes head to toe as a skinny model sat on a horse, frolicked in a field and looked sultry next to a tree.

Picture courtesy of Stella McCartney
The knitted jumper has always been an Autumn/Winter staple but now designers are favouring knitted dresses, bags, jackets and even trousers. I must admit that even I draw the line at knitted trousers: they look OK on the model, just, but baggy is not best for every woman's figure.

It's great to see British designers embracing the woolly look. Knits feature heavily in Stella McCartney's collection, with lots of black and neutral shades as well as a vibrant blue. My favourite is the chunky knit asymmetric sweater, but at £550 you've got one of Stella's celebrity friends to be able to afford it.

So how can you knit the look yourself? I did a quick search for patterns online and came up with the lovely Louisa jumper on Ravelry and a great asymmetric pattern from Rowan's Farmhouse Knits. Depending on the quality of yarn you choose - and in my opinion it's worth plumping for the best you can afford to ensure the finished make is soft and ever-wearable - you should be able to knit one for around £50.

And the knitted trousers? Well virtually all the patterns I found were for children under two years old, unable yet to voice their protestations about wearing them. I did find, however, one pattern on Ravelry for casual bootcut pants that look just about wearable. Sadly Grazia magazine's pictures of knitted trousers aren't online to show you.

Is wearing knitted trousers a step too far for you? Or will we all be wearing them this time next year? Let me know what you think in the comments box below.

Friday 29 August 2014

Learning About British Wool

Want to put your needles down for a bit and read about your favourite hobby? I've come across two interesting features on the internet recently that promote and teach about British wool and its heritage.

Images courtesy of Loveknitting
The first is a blog post from the online wool store Loveknitting. Complete with some lovely photos the post tells that wool traditions date back to 10,000 BC - that's a very long time ago - and that wool shearing and production have been an integral part of the British economy for centuries. In the Middle Ages we exported our wool to many countries across Europe.

During the Industrial Revolution the wool industry and its mills rose to the fore with the mechanisation of the spinning and weaving process.

Over British Wool Learning there's a curriculum-based resource for teachers to pass on our heritage to their pupils from early years to age 11. There's also a family section with craft ideas and games. The activities there are great to help a child while away a rainy afternoon - and to introduce them to crafting with British wool of course. For an addictive game yourself why not play 'count the sheep'? The challenge is to do it without falling asleep!

Thursday 21 August 2014

Debbie Bliss Knitting Magazine Issue 13

Debbie Bliss is a powerhouse: her brand goes from strength to strength with the regular launch of new yarns, pattern books and her twice yearly knitting magazine, which is published on both sides of the pond we call the Atlantic Ocean. On top of all this in the Spring she launched a homewares collection with great gifts for knitters who have enough yarn in their stash to keep them going for some time. Stitch mug and tea towel - check! Knitting aid apron - check!

The latest issue of Debbie Bliss Magazine, issue 13, is in the shops now. As well as showcasing the many facets of Debbie's business it contains some great articles and patterns. The only way a British reader would know that the magazine also caters for the American market is by the mention of 'fall' instead of 'Autumn' and adverts for wool stores in the US.

Now here comes a confession: I'm slightly biased when it comes to reviewing this edition because I've written an article in it all about the ways to keep in touch with Debbie Bliss via social media. Reader, I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you like that feature or not. Elsewhere there's a great round-up of Debbie's new pattern books and yarns, without giving them the hard sell. Luscious photography certainly makes the yarns look attractive. I also like the 'Ask Rosy' page with knitting questions. I was glad to see I'm not alone in wondering how to tell if a small amount of yarn will last for another row or not. The '25 ways to be a better knitter' article contains some good tips.

Pattern-wise there are lots for women and children, with a range of garments, accessories and gifts. My favourite is the Ombre Sweater that channels the on-trend ombre look with varying shades of blue at the bottom of a cream, cosy jumper.

It's great to see this British designer (who is just as lovely in person as her designs are) going from strength to strength and conquering America! In the UK you can buy a magazine subscription online from GMC Publications.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Follow the Herdy

Picture courtesy of Herdy
A short Summer break in Northumberland has meant that I've not updated the blog for a while. Now I'm back, full of praise for the county's wonderful coastal scenery and general sense of spaciousness you feel driving along its country roads, past fields and fields of sheep.

Whilst I wouldn't want to be in the field with one I do love pictures of sheep and the crafty versions. Sheep, in all their different breeds, appear to be such British, cuddly animals, with their fleeces bringing much joy to knitters.

The British company Herdy has a sheep on their logo and sells a craft line of wool and patterns. They've recently added a sheep crochet pattern to their range, along with patterns for fabulous adult or children's hats.  Herdy is short for Herdwick sheep from the Lake District. As well selling a fun yarn line made from Herdy sheep, sourced from a cooperative of Herdwick farmers, the company supports rural and community projects both at home and overseas.

Picture courtesy of Herdy
I'd love to visit one of their shops in Grasmere, Hawes or Keswick, but until then I get my crafty sheep fix from their website. Herdy is great example of a modern British wool company. Next year I'd like a North Yorkshire Summer break to visit the Hawes shop. Until then I'll have to make do with crocheting a Herdy sheep - but which colour to choose from Herdy's signature green, grey, light blue, dark blue, pink or orange yarns?

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Rowan's Big Wool Colour Collection

When I first got back into knitting, about a decade ago, some of my first projects were with Rowan Big Wool. As it's so chunky it knits up quickly and it's possible to knit up a bag or hat in a night - perfect for the born-again beginner who wants to see quick results.

Big Wool Colour - Carnival
I've used Big Wool sporadically ever since, most notably to make a heart jumper, which some of my friends liked so much they asked me to knit one for then. Now there's a new Big Wool variation in town: Big Wool Colour.

Rowan kindly sent me a ball of Big Wool Colour and the supporting pattern book, Big Wool Colour Collection, to review. My opinions are my own. Big Wool Colour is the same weight as Big Wool but is twisted with lots of different shades. There are six colourways: Fete, Fairground, Carnival, Jamboree, Waltzer and Carousel. I received Carnival. It's fun and bright, with the same knitting qualities I'm used to with Big Wool.

Me modelling Rumba
The supporting patterns in Big Wool Colour Collection use both Big Wool and Big Wool Colour. To try out the yarn I tried out the looped scarf pattern Rumba. The pattern uses two balls but as I only had one I made a shorter version. After casting on, Rumba only has one row of instructions which is continually repeated. The looped scarf knitted up like a dream and looks great. Big Wool does have a tendency to split, being so thick, but using size ten (UK) needles it's easy to avoid.

Big Wool Colour Collection gets the thumbs up from me too. Published for the Autumn/Winter 2014 season, it includes 13 patterns with both quick and easy knits (like Rumba) and slightly less quick knits including a jumper or cardigan. Big Wool Colour doesn't come cheap, retailing at around £10.50 per ball, so beginners may want to start with a two ball hat or scarf project. The medium size of the wonderful sloppy joe jumper Cancan, which I have my eye on to knit, uses nine balls.

All in all Big Wool Colour and the Big Wool Colour Collection are a great addition to Rowan's yarn and pattern range. My guess is that they will be particularly beloved by beginner and younger knitters who will be charmed by the yarns' bright colours, the patterns' funky designs, and the short amount of time they take to knit up.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

How To Get A Straight Knitted Edge

Sometimes something so simple can change the way you knit. That's what happened to me in the last week: I can't believe I've knitted for years without knowing this. It wasn't until I started on two new patterns that I discovered how to get a straight knitted side edge.

Usual knitting leaves a slightly bumpy horizontal edge. Of course this doesn't matter if this is the side of the back of a jumper and you are sewing it up, but if it's a blanket you're knitting then a straight edge looks sleeker.

It's so easy, as I learned from the two patterns: all you have to do when knitting garter stitch is slip the first stitch on each row over to the right hand needle then keep knitting as usual.

The first pattern I discovered this on was the Susan Crawford collar that I mentioned in a previous post. The curved edge looks very neat with the sl 1 technique. The collar took the length of seven episodes of Grey's Anatomy on DVD to knit over two nights. Here's me modelling it:

Here's a close up of the edge:

The other pattern I started that uses the sl 1 technique is a MillaMia baby blanket. The sisters who run MillaMia are Swedish but as they are based in London I'm including them under modern British knitting. The blanket is wonderfully colourful and the sl 1 technique gives it a sleek edge. Where I may have gone wrong though is the one stitch that 'bleeds' in to the next colour, however I did follow the pattern.

I'm currently crocheting a Toft Alpaca elephant whilst I take a break from the two jumpers I'm working on. How come the men in my life all wear size extra large? It would be much quicker if they were a size small instead!
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