Wednesday 31 August 2016

Blacker Yarns Bonanza: Cornish Tin 2 + St Kilda Lace

Blacker Yarns is back with two more limited edition British yarns to tempt we knitters with.

The first is a rerun of last year's extremely popular Cornish Tin blend made to celebrate the company's tenth anniversary. Blacker Yarns has now turned 11, and has brought Cornish Tin back one final time, albeit with a slightly different blend. Says Blacker Yarns, of Cornish Tin 2:
"This steely grey woollen spun yarn is blended from a collection of the highest quality British fibres including Alpaca, Portland, Saxon Merino, Gotland, Jacob, Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain, Mohair, and English Merino. Tin 2 is a careful blend of lustrous, smooth fibres with slightly more bulky wools to create a lovely handle and give the yarn a delicate hello. The Gotland and Mohar fibres give the dyed shades a subtle pop of intensity."
The yarn is available in 100g skeins in both DK and 4ply weights. There are eight shades to choose from, one, named Levant Grey, being undyed. The price is TBC.

Cornish Tin 2 shade card

Last year I dithered around when it came to buying Cornish Tin, thinking it would be available for sale much longer than it was. This year I may well get in there early. I'm wanting to add the Hut 8 cardigan to my 'to knit' list and have my eye out for a 4ply yarn to knit it in. I already have a plethora of pink and grey cardigans but finding the right shade of raspberry has so far eluded me.

The Tamar range from Blacker Yarns is due to be refreshed soon. Isla from the BritYarn website told me that some of the original shades are like gold dust to get hold of now, but that a new batch should be available in September. I do like the Kensey and Shales Brook shades. The question is, however, should I stick with pink that I know suits me or go for a completely different shade? The other contender is Land Army Green from Susan Crawford's Excelana 4ply range.

The second treat for knitters that Blacker Yarns has up its sleeve is their St Kilda limited edition lace yarn in a collaboration with expert dyer Joy, aka The Knitting Goddess. Says the company:
"Blacker St Kilda yarn is a unique and rare homage to the Scottish archipelago and world Heritage site on the outer edges of the Hebrides. The islands' native Boreray and Soay sheep are two of the oldest and rarest of all the British breeds, so there is only enough wool to make a limited amount of yarn each year. These fibres and hand blended together with Shetland to create a beautifully delicate and textured yarn with plenty of bounce. Our St Kilda has a really grip, so it is exquisitely suited to lace knitting and textured shawls."
St Kilda shade card

Indeed, the lace yarn feels soft and smooth to the touch. Joy has dyed ten jewel-like shades, all of which pop with colour. For those who prefer their yarn in natural shades there are two to choose from: a silver, light grey Isle of Dun and a dark grey Stac Lee. St Kilda comes in 50g skeins and the price is TBC.

Monday 29 August 2016

Toft Launches Hand Dyed Yarns + Quarterly Magazine

Rieppeleon image courtesy of Toft
In celebration of its ten year anniversary, Toft Alpaca, the Warwickshire-based yarn retailer, is selling some very special yarns created by well-known British hand dyers.

The collection is a special 'one off' and once the skeins are sold, they are gone. For £30 plus P&P buyers receive two hand-dyed 50g skeins and a .pdf pattern to crochet Kerry the Chameleon and Robert the Dart Frog. Toft's crocheted animals series has been very popular but if, like me, you aren't interested in crocheting a toy, then of course you can knit whatever you like with the yarn. The price tag is hefty for just 100g of yarn but the exclusivity does add to its allure.

The expert dyers Toft has worked with include:

  • Skein Queen
  • Countess Ablaze
  • Kettle Yarn Co.
  • Eden Cottage
  • Hedgehog Fibres.
My favourite for its sunny orange hue is Kettle Yarn Co.'s Rieppeleon - I think it would make a fabulous scarf or hat to blow away the forthcoming winter blues. Second choice is Skein Queen's teal Furcifer.

Toft Quarterly Magazine

Toft's glossy new quarterly magazine was supposed to have been published by now but thanks to their first choice printer going bust the launch has sadly been delayed. I bought a year's subscription a few weeks ago when Toft was running a 10% off everything promotion and I'll be reviewing the magazine when it arrives in the post.
Image courtesy of Toft
In the meantime I received a special mini digital edition for subscribers. The photography is sumptuous and makes the magazine look like a classy publication. The content of the mini magazine, was, however, slightly disappointing. It contained a knitting pattern for block colour mittens, a crochet pattern for Matilda the Arctic Hare and a pattern to knit a twist beanie. None of the patterns shouted 'make me!' but of course that's personal choice and they are all not currently available on the Toft website. 

Further content included a PR puff piece about some of the staff who work at Toft, and a very lovely photoshoot of all the yarn colours Toft sells. This was my favourite part of the magazine - it's hard to choose yarn colours online and I found it very helpful to see all of the hues together in one lovely photo.

I'm looking forward to receiving my first proper edition of Toft Quarterly.  One copy costs £8 plus P&P or alternatively a one-year subscription plus the digital mini-magazine reviewed about is £24 plus P&P. A glossy magazine to flick through and keep on your bookshelf is much more appealing than a digital version to me. I'm probably in the minority of customers though for wanting less crochet and more knitting!

Saturday 13 August 2016

Three Articles Of Mine In The Knitter Issue 101 + Tin Can Knits Spoiler

Apologies for the little boast but I just wanted to let you know that I have not one or two but three features in this month's The Knitter magazine, which is issue 101.

Image courtesy of The Knitter magazine

Image courtesy of Di Gilpin
It's a great privilege to keep being asked back to write for the magazine - I was a subscriber long before I started writing for it and have a collection of every issue since The Knitter launched. I really enjoy coming up with ideas for articles and especially love writing profiles of designers because it's a chance for me to get to know highly-skilled knitters and also to be nosey!

Firstly I profiled the great knitwear designer Di Gilpin. She has made Scotland her home and, along with creating internationally-renowed knitwear designs, has also started her own Scottish yarn range. More details and a review to come soon on this blog.

Image courtesy of Linda Lencovic
Secondly I wrote a feature on Linda Lencovic and her up-and-coming business Kettle Yarn Co. Her latest dyed yarn, Baskerville, a 2-ply British blend, was used in a pattern in Pom Pom Quarterly's Autumn 2016 issue - Lencovic is certainly a rising star in the yarn world. Again, I hope to review her yarn soon. The Vellamo pattern in PPQ would be perfect to show off Baskerville's blue hues.

My final feature in this month's issue is a column about what to do with leftovers in your yarn stash. Even though I had a year of resolving to not buy any new yarn (well, I nearly stuck it out, and birthday and Christmas presents didn't count!) I still have lots of part-balls stored in colour groups in clear plastic shoe boxes.

I won't spoil it for you by giving away anything more about the features but I do hope you enjoy reading them. Now it's time for me get thinking of more ideas for forthcoming issues of the magazine.

Tin Can Knits Spoiler

It's so very hard to keep a knitting secret but a copy embargo is a copy embargo. All I can say is that I've had a very special sneak peak of Tin Can Knits latest pattern book, due to be released on September 10th. Let's just say that the future is bright ... find out more next month!

In the meantime, once I've finished my latest WIP I'll be starting their Lush cardigan in Rainbow Heirloom yarn.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

What's Happening At Rowan?

It has been a tumultuous year at Yorkshire yarn house Rowan. What we do know is that the company was taken over, although details about what has gone on are hard to find.

Rowan's website Knitrowan still lists Coats Crafts as the owner. Follow the trail to the Coats Crafts website and their 'about us' page says that Rowan is one of their brands. On the Rowan Facebook page 'about' tab there's no mention of Coats Crafts but no mention of any other owner either, just that the business was established in 1978 by two Yorkshire men.

So who owns Rowan now? Well on the 'contact us' page of the Rowan website there's information on how to contact MEZ Crafts UK (not the best company name I've ever come across). Google MEZ Crafts and you'll find a basic PR website for a multi-national company. Gone is the old Rowan base at Holmfirth, where the business started out, and in comes a new base at a mill near Halifax.

MEZ Crafts also owns the yarn company Patons and the embroidery brand Anchor. I tried seeing what results would bring and it led to a holding page for websites in Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. So I went back to the English website only to find no details about the company, its history, ethos or game plan.

When I contacted Rowan for clarification a spokesperson said: "MEZ actually bought the Rowan brand last year and is running as it normally did to keep the quality of the brand name that it has always been in the past."

There is one big difference, however, that the consumer will notice following Rowan's takeover. If you have seen a plethora of discounted Rowan lines in shops and online yarn stores over the summer it's because the company decided to slash their range to concentrate on a much smaller range of products.

Going out:

So it's bye bye to:
  • Big Wool Silk
  • Superfine Merino DK & Aran
  • Pure Wool 4-ply
  • Kidsilk Haze Stripe
  • Mohair Haze
  • Wool Cotton
  • Rowan Finest
  • Rowan Tweed
  • Fine Art & Fine Art Aran
  • Alpaca Colour
  • Tetra Cotton
  • Cotton Lustre
  • Panama
  • Revive
  • Pure Linen
  • All Seasons Cotton
  • Soft Knit Cotton
  • Truesilk
  • Lima & Lima Colour
  • Fazed Tweed
  • Colourspun
  • Thick n Thin
  • Alpaca Chunky
  • British Sheep Breeds
  • Creative Focus Worsted
  • Chenille
  • Big Wool Colour

Image courtesy of Rowan
Phew! That's a lot of balls of yarn. Of these I will mourn British Sheep Breeds as this yarn was British produced and spun and, for me, encapsulated Rowan's Yorkshire heritage. I loved it's real sheepy smell and, after buying it to knit some accessories, it introduced me to the whole idea that wool doesn't have to be shipped in from China when we have loads of it in our fields and centuries of experience of the wool industry in this country. In my opinion the axing of this is a real loss, but I presume it has got the chop because it wasn't bringing in enough profit. Could this be to the lack of updated yarn support though?

I still have a few balls left in my stash and will enjoy knitting them up. Look back at my earlier post to see the moss stitch cowl I knitted in British Sheep Breeds Boucle.

Coming in:

Rowan's July 2016 e-newsletter reports that the company is launching two pop up yarns for Autumn/Winter 2016. Called Selects, these are limited edition yarns that will only be available for a short period.

Fine Silk is a lace-weight yarn made from silk, wool and viscose. It's available in seven jewel-like shades.

Rowan Fine Silk image courtesy of Laughing Hens

Cashmere is a blend of 95% cashmere and 5% wool. Available in six shades there's also free yarn support containing five patterns from Martin Storey.

Rowan Cashmere image courtesy of Laughing Hens

At the time of writing this post the two yarns aren't on the Rowan website; however the 2ply fine silk is available from Laughing Hens - the cashmere is listed as coming soon. To the best of my knowledge both yarns are not British-made.

It's business as usual when it comes to Rowan's biannual magazines. Rowan Magazine 60 is out now priced £12.50 with 37 patterns for the Autumn/Winter 2016 season. I have yet to see a copy and therefore can't review the designs.

Image courtesy of Rowan

Sunday 7 August 2016

Wool & The Gang Billie Jean Yarn Review + Free Summer Scarf Pattern

The British company Wool and the Gang kindly sent me a couple of balls of their new Billie Yarn jean to test.  My review is independent from the company.

Whilst Billie Jean doesn't pass the British made test it does have eco-friendly credentials: it's made from up cycled pre-consumer denim waste. That's right, it comes from the factory offcuts of your pair of jeans.

The yarn comes in two shades: dirty denim, which I used to knit a summer scarf; and washed out denim - a variegated blue colour. Wooly and the Gang says of both shades:
"This waste is ground back into fibre and women into our new Billie Jean Yarn. Using no chemicals and no dyes, we manage to save 20,000 litres of water per kilogram of upcycled material."
Each 100g ball costs £4.95, which I think is pretty reasonable as many 50g balls of cotton yarn from other brands can cost that much.  But how does it knit up? Despite the yarn splitting easily on the needles - after lots of pulling out I just had to accept that there would be a few split stitches - I found it softer and easier to knit with than Rowan's denim yarn. That yarn turned my fingers blue when knitting it up. Wool and the Gang does warn that there may be a small amount of colour transfer, but I didn't experience this. The company also says that the knitted garment may fade, like a pair of jeans does, during the first wash.

To test the yarn I made up a pattern for a summer scarf. I'm very pleased with the result. One ball produced a decent length scarf, although if I knit again I will make it a couple of stitches thinner in order to gain a bit of extra length.

Here's the finished scarf modelled by my friend Catherine:

Close up you can see the lacy design:

The pattern

I had a look through my well-used Vogue Knitting book to find a stitch that I thought would be suitable for a summer scarf. And I did! It's basic faggoting stitch. As well as being a simple-enough stitch to remember it creates some lovely cool (using the temperature rather than the fashion meaning of the word) holes between stitches.

Using size 6 needles I cast on 18 stitches using the cable cast on method.

Row 1: K1 * yo, SSK (repeat from * until the last stitch), K1.

Repeat row 1 until the ball is nearly finished, then cast off knitwise.

Wool and the Gang's yarn support

The company sells its own patterns to use with Billie Jean, including tops and a pair of shorts (?). I've found in the past that whilst the patterns are good quality they are, for the adult garments at least, one size only. This may be fine if you are five foot eight size 10 model, but it's certainly not for little me. When I buy a pattern I don't want to have to do extra work figuring out how to make the proportions smaller. Therefore, sadly, there's no sale from me.

If the patterns were multi-sized this is the one I would choose. It's a baggy, slouchy, weekend-style jumper that I think would be a perfect summer cover up for when the sun goes down:

Image courtesy of Wool and the Gang
I particularly like the wide sleeves and the neckline. So please Wool and the Gang, release the pattern in a woman's size 6 for me and the full gamut of sizes to fit the array of women out there who'd like to wear it!

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