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!

Friday 25 July 2014

Edward's Menagerie Crochet Book Launched

OK, it's crochet and not knitting, but I've found that hooking up one of these cute animal patterns from Toft Alpaca is a great way to learn to crochet.

Toft sells its own brand yarn to make these snuggly toy animals. Kerry Lord, the Toft Alpaca Shop's founder, was 39 weeks pregnant when she first picked up a crochet hook. She hooked 14 animals in the 14 days she had left before her son, Edward, arrived and that was the beginning of an animal obsession.

Edward's Menagerie brings together previously existing animal patterns that were available in at Toft, along with new additions specially for the book. The patterns are grouped into three different levels, the first, for beginners, uses only one colour and chain, slip stitch and double crochet; Level 2 adds basic colour changing and Level 3 has more complex colour changes and loop stitch. The book give instructions on how to do this.

It's a beautifully-photographed book, which makes me want to dive right in and start crocheting. I found that, what with crocheting and sewing up and stuffing, each animal takes me about ten hours - that's five evenings of two hours in front of the television. I've made two, keeping one for myself and giving one away to a new baby.

Of course the book advises you to use Toft yarn and this is where the project becomes rather pricey. A ball of DK is £15 - not a bargain basement price. The yarns, however, are all top-quality British and in natural alpaca colours. If you're planning on making quite a few animals rather than one it will work out more cost effective as ball ends can be used as contrasting colours on Level 2 or 3 designs.

Emma the Bunny
My favourite? My first name is Penelope and I was surprised to find that's the name of the bear in the book. Each animal has a character and I rather like my namesake: "Penelope is a career bear at the top of her game ... her signature drink is a complex champagne cocktail that no barman has ever heard of, but she is no party animal and has a reputation for always being the first to leave having secretly paid the whole bill. Her partner is an equally impressive character, and together they will scuba dive the world."

I also love one of the original patterns, Emma the bunny. She no doubt will be beloved of many a tot around the country. If you use chunky yarn instead of DK you can make a large version of her - that's on my to-do list for a relative's baby due this Winter.

Order the book and you will also receive a PDF in your email inbox with ten extra patterns. This week Toft is offering free postage and packaging on all orders including Edward's Menagerie.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Talking Vintage With Susan Crawford

Picture courtesy of Susan Crawford
I've long been an admirer of Susan Crawford's books and designs. I first came across her at a Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show where her stand with lots of garments knitted up from her A Stitch in Time books drew me in. This was my first foray into vintage fashion and the make do and mend movement and Susan was very happy to tell me about her patterns, yarn range and which colours would suit me.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting her again and hearing her vintage fashion talk at Toft Alpaca. It seems that Susan was born to be a vintage knitwear designer. Both her grandmas taught her knitting and sewing, and hers was a house where make do and mend wasn't a trend but a way of life. After school she took various art, design, textiles and teaching courses, which led her to a job at Rowan. When she decided that what she really wanted to do was update the book A Stitch in Time with its original 1970s author Jane Waller she set up her own publishing company with husband Gavin and hasn't looked back since then.

Shrimpton Collarette
Susan created her own yarns, Excelana, Fenella and Coquette, to support her patterns. The colour schemes echo those of vintage fashions, and the 2 ply and 4 ply yarns were vital to recreate the type of yarn our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to knit with.

Self-publishing isn't easy and Susan is the first to say that it has involved lots of time, stress and effort. Yet the A Stitch in Time books helped kickstart the renewed interest for British knitters in vintage (or did it ever go away?). I'm in awe of her ability to take an old pattern and rewrite it for modern sizes and yarns. Susan now has legions of fans who are eagerly awaiting her next project, Vintage Shetland, due in early 2015, which will feature the patterns for and history of 25 knitted items from Shetland Museum's archive.

I'm writing a piece for The Knitter magazine about Susan's Vintage Shetland project. Look out for that in a few months' time.  Right now I'm getting started on a pattern I bought today, the Shrimpton Collarette, knitted in Excelana DK. Susan said it's a one-night knit, so let's see if she's right!

Friday 18 July 2014

Win Two Tickets to Toft Alpaca's Party on 25th July!

To celebrate the launch of Edward's Menagerie, a fun book of crochet animal patterns, Toft Alpaca is holding a party at its base in Dunchurch, Warwickshire on Friday 25th July. This is a ticket-holders only event and I have two tickets to give away to one lucky winner!

Picture courtesy of Toft Alpaca
The fun starts at 1pm with a farm tour to meet this year's new baby alpacas, known cria. At 2pm there's a learn to crochet for adults workshop with finger crochet for the under 13s. At 3pm there's another farm tour, followed by a Menagerie Masterclass hosted by pattern designer Kerry Lord, and a Monkey Mask Making activity for children.

At 5pm there's another chance to learn to crochet for adults or finger crochet for children. Then at 6pm the finale is a speech and book signing.

Throughout the day there will be additional activities including pinata, pin the tail on the donkey, pass the parcel and of course plenty of opportunities to meet the alpacas.

Meals, cakes and cream teas will be available, along with covetable goody bags.

For a chance to win the pair of tickets follow this blog then leave a comment below telling me your real name and the name with which you've followed A Woolly Yarn. The competition closes at midnight on Tuesday 22nd July. I'll pass the name of the lucky winner on to Toft Alpaca and your tickets will be waiting for you on the day when you arrive at Dunchurch.

Please note that travel isn't included in the prize, so you must be able to travel to Dunchurch yourself on Friday.

Good luck everyone! - home of competitions and prize winning.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Rowan Knitting & Crochet Magazine 56 Review

Rowan Knitting & Crochet mag 56
It's a beautifully hot, Summer day and I'm fantisising about chunky sweaters and fair isle cardigans. Yes, it's the time of the year that before you've even had chance to wear a swimming costume on your Summer holidays the new Rowan magazine asks you to consider all things warm, woolly and Winter. There's even snow on the cover photo.

There are 41 designs in the oversized pattern book, split into three themes: Wilderness, Craftwork and Essentials. As you'd expect, some of the designs showcase Rowan's latest yarns, such as felted tweed and mohair haze. Wilderness has a Scottish theme full of muted greys, browns, greens and purples, a colour palette and look particularly suited to the tweed yarn.

Craftwork, as suggested in the name, celebrates the arts and craft movement. There's a plethora of colour here too and most of the patterns are intricate, with lots of colour changes. My favourite in this collection is the huge, slouchy, roll-neck sweater Franziska that looks perfect for wearing on an a Boxing Day walk to cover up a multitude of Christmas dietary sins. The model's hair in Craftwork, a perfect brown curly bob, caught my attention as much as the knitwear. How does she stop it going frizzy? I suppose that's why she's a model and I'm not!

The Essentials range Rowan says is "a collection of the key shapes and textures on trend, designed into more simple, easy to wear styles that will complement the season's essential looks". Here the onus is on stitches rather than colour change, with the patterns creating the style. These garments look like they could be pulled on over a pair of jeans for a stylish look. It's also the section that less-experienced knitters should start at, with a few of the patterns being suitable for beginners.

I love how Rowan adds interesting articles about knitting in with the patterns, the type which you won't find in your average high-street knitting magazine. The two that struck me are a piece on sanquahar knitting, and one about the importance of hand knitting to World War One troops.

The big question is, is there anything I want to knit here? One pattern, Laide caught my eye. It's a woman's jumper knitted in felted tweed with a particularly interesting neck and yoke construction. I love the muted colours and it's the sort of jumper that would look great with jeans or a dress.
There's so much in my 'to do' knitting pile though that it's unlikely that I'll get around to knitting it. For me, the attraction of Rowan's knitting and crochet magazines is the photography. They're lovely coffee table books, perfect for browsing for knitting inspiration.

Along with the magazine came Rowan's latest subscribers' newsletter. Here there are details of the smaller pattern books to be published in the Autumn/Winter 2014 season. One really got my knitting juices running: Big Wool Colour Collection. I love Rowan Big Wool because it's colourful and knits up really quickly. I have a jumper with a heart pattern from a previous collection that I often wear in the Summer. I've also knitted it for two friends and am about to knit it for a third who liked it so much she wanted her own. The latest incarnation of Big Wool is multicoloured - perfect for a quick, fun, Winter knit.

I'll be keeping my eye out for Big Wool Colour and look forward to getting my hands on a ball. Meanwhile, back to the sunshine and the lacy scarf I'm knitting with 2 play
yarn I bought on my recent trip to the Norwegian Knitting Museum.
Big Wool Colour

Thursday 10 July 2014

Get On Your Bike For Wool Week 2014

Cycling is the sport du jour: less than a week after the rip-roaring success of the Tour de France's Le Grand Depart in Yorkshire the Campaign for Wool has announced that a London cycle ride will kick off this year's Wool Week.

The Wool Ride will take place on Sunday 5th October at 9am sharp. Cyclists with a woolly bent will start and finish at Potters Fields, passing the capital's highlights of of London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Knightsbridge, Park Lane and Regent Street.

Yarn bombing bicycles will be part of the fun also taking place in Potters Fields, along with There will be a host of entertainment and activity to make it a day to remember with demonstrations and talks on sheep shearing and the story of wool.

Wool Week 2014 officially runs from the 6th to the 12th of October. To register your free place for the Wool Ride go to the Campaign for Wool's website.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Scottish and Norwegian Knitting Similarities

A few weeks ago my husband and I had a long weekend in Bergen, Norway. For the locals it was Summer, albeit Summer with woolly scarves and hats added! Bergen is a compact city that grew from Hanseatic trading roots to the prosperous, hi-tech place it is today.

Whilst in Bergen and particularly the World Heritage Site area of Bryggen, which once was the wharf's trading centre and is now a tourist shop and cafe area showcasing the sloping, 18th century buildings, I made a point of nosing around wool and knitted garment shops to see what's on offer. What struck me was the similarity between the thick, fair isle jumpers for sale and those that stem from the northern Scottish tradition.

This led me back to a history book. Due to Viking expansionism Norway and the northern isles of Scotland had a shared history and culture until the middle of the 15th century when King Christian I of Denmark and Norway pawned Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish King. Yet Norwegians and northern Scots carried on living similar lives until well into the 20th century. Theirs was a hard existence farming and fishing to make a poverty-level living.

Doing manual labour outdoors in frequently cold and wet conditions meant that warm jumpers were a must and for material the Scots and Norwegians could make use of the byproducts of their sheep farming. As knitters know, wool keeps you cool in the Summer and warm in the Winter, perfect for the northern Scottish and Norwegian climates.

Jumpers knitted in the fair isle style had different patterns to show which area the wearer was from. In the case of fisherman the individual pattern on their jumper could be used to identify the wearer.

The picture on the left shows a jumper and hat I spotted in one Bryggen knitwear shop. The pattern reminds me of Kate Davies' Paper Dolls pattern.

Just outside Bergen is a fascinating museum dedicated to the Norwegian knitting heritage, based in an old knitwear factory. The Museum of Norwegian Knitting Industry explains the craft's importance to the local economy and the reasons for its decline in the 20th century.

For knitters, Bergen is well worth a visit.
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