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!
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