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?

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