Tuesday 29 August 2017

Review Of Marie Wallin's North Sea Collection

Image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Sit back, relax, put your feet up and be transported through the sumptuous, evocative photography in Marie Wallin's eighth stand-alone pattern book to Unst, the most northernly of the Shetland Islands. This collection of eight hand-knit designs screams lifestyle envy, with the beautiful model posing moodily on windswept beaches and even managing to look good accessorising the designs with a pair of wellies.

Wallin built her career and reputation as Head Designer at Yorkshire-based yarn and pattern house Rowan before going solo in 2013 and launching her own design company from her home in Leicestershire.

She runs workshops and a Fair Isle club but it intricacy and delicacy of her patterns that she's best known for.

The eight patterns in North Sea are knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed, a non-British merino, alpaca and viscose blend; or Valley Tweed, the 100% wool yarn spun in Huddersfield previously mentioned on A Woolly Yarn in this blog post.

Each pattern's beauty comes from the subtlety of the cabling and/or pattern design, knitted in cool, timeless colours.

A Woolly Yarn's favourite is Islay, with cabling around the yoke and shoulders contrasting with a stocking stitch body and arms. For knitters nervous about the difficultly of making an all-cable sweater this pattern would be a good place to start.

Islay image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Second favourite is Skye.  The cabling and yoke pattern in grey and blue recreate the colours of an Unst seaside day. Less experienced knitters could leave out the cabling and replace it with stocking stitch.

Skye image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Bute is a cabled cardigan with subtle shaping around the hips that's perfect for wearing with jeans or skirts.

Bute image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Soay's shorter length has boxy, tranquil feel created with a mixture of cable and rib.

Soay image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Eriskay, a muted grey sweater, also uses a mixture of cables and lines to create its subtle patterning.

Risky image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Tiree has a darker feel, reminiscent of thundery skies.

Tiree image courtesy of Marie Wallin
The Arran cardigan is a great cover-up for when the wind starts to blow.

Arran image courtesy of Marie Wallin
Finally the Uist v-neck cardigan has a longer body and mixes cables with a flower pattern.

Arran image courtesy of Marie Wallin
A Woolly Yarn received a review copy of this collection but it has not affected our review.

North Sea really is a coffee-table publication that's a delight to flick through and admire the patterns and the spectacular landscape of Unst. The designs live up to Wallin's high-standard reputation. The downside? There isn't an pattern here for beginners or less experienced knitters to tackle. The cable and pattern designs are charted and do not have the alternative option to follow them in written form. The charts are very small and would be difficult for even experienced knitters to follow: these aren't patterns to knit whilst watching television! Knitters who do complete a design, however, will have a quality garment to cherish forever.

North Sea is available to buy from Marie Wallin's website and costs £13.99 plus P&P.

Coming soon is Wallin's Shetland collection of eight garments and four accessory designs - watch this space for a review next month.

For A Woolly Yarn's review of Wallin's Springtime Collection Six, published back in 2016 go here; and for a review of her first stand-alone pattern book, Windswept, visit this page.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Battle Of The British Tweeds

Tweed looks set to be on trend this Autumn/Winter season with not one but three tweedy yarns launches this month by British yarn companies.

Rowan Valley Tweed

Image courtesy of Rowan
This well-known yarn company rarely gets a mention on this blog due to it sourcing its wool from overseas but A Woolly Yarn was  ]delighted to see that on August 15th it launched an all-British yarn, Valley Tweed.

Roden image courtesy of Rowan
Rowan says the yarn is inspired by the company's Yorkshire heritage and 'this 100% wool yarn is spun a stones throw away from the Rowan Design office. A selection of earthy, natural shades make up a colour palette inspired by and named after the surrounding valleys and Yorkshire landscape."

Valley Tweed is a 5ply/sport weight yarn and there are ten shades to choose from. Each 50g skein retails for around £8.95, depending on the stockist you choose to buy from.

I haven't yet seen a sample of the yarn to comment on its feel and knitted-up properties. Rowan, however, describes it as 'a very lofty yarn due to the special way it is spun'.

Rowan has published a supporting pattern book costing £12 and containing seven designs for women by Lisa Richardson using Valley Tweed. The patterns are for beginners and intermediate knitters, with my favourite being the sloppy-Joe Sunday sweater Roden.

West Yorkshire Spinners The Croft Shetland Tweed

The Croft image courtesy of WYS
This month also saw West Yorkshire Spinners' The Croft Shetland Tweed go on sale.

The shades in this aran-weight yarn are more delicate and pastel-like than Rowan's Valley Tweed colour palette. Again I've not had the chance to squish a skein in person, but its British credentials are solid: The Croft is spun from Shetland wool renowned for its fineness and warmth.

WYS says 'The Croft has a soft and silky handle that retains a lot of durability'.

At £8.95 for a 100g skein it's definitely a price-conscious choice.

Sarah Hatton has designed The Croft Pattern Book to support the yarn. Inside its very practical spiral binding - much easier to keep your page open when knitting than a conventionally-bound book - are 14 traditional-looking designs for men and women, including jumpers and cardigans. The book costs £12.95.

The Fibre Co Arranmore Light

I mentioned this new yarn in a previous blog post covering The Fibre Co's Fell Garth II pattern book. The Fibre Co is based in Yorkshire and Arranmore Light, launched at the beginning of August as a DK sister version of the company's Arranmore aran weight tweed yarn, hails from Ireland.

The Fibre Co kindly sent a sample and shade card for review. Although Arranmore Light is not made of British wool I'm giving it an honoury mention due to its superb, soft squish, jewel-like 18 shades and excellent stitch definition when knitted up.

A quick internet search told me that the yarn is as yet not available in many online stockists (The Fibre Co doesn't seem directly to customers), but I did find it on sale at Tangled Yarn. One 100g skein costs £22.50. This is definitely a treat purchase and yarn to potentially use for accessories rather than in large quantities for jumpers etc. I saw from my sample that Arranmore Light is definitely a quality yarn and even has a pleasing, lingering aroma of sheep.

Which aran yarn should you choose? Luckily the decision will be made for you depending on the weight of yarn required for your preferred pattern. Arranmore Light is DK, The Croft is aran weight and Valley Tweed 5-ply.

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Monday 21 August 2017

We're Now On Facebook!

Image courtesy of Facebook
A quickie post to let you know that A Woolly Yarn now has a Facebook page. As well as linking to all new posts there'll be a few news snippets about British knitting that don't make it to the main blog.

There's also a link on the A Woolly Yarn homepage to like the blog. Please do click on this if you are a Facebook user - you'll then get to see in your Facebook feed when new blog posts are published.

At the end of each post there's an option to share the content on your favourite social media platform, including Facebook. At the moment Facebook is the first social media platform A Woolly Yarn is on but if there's user demand for it then who knows, Twitter and Instagram may follow!

Coming soon is a new logo for the blog plus, of course, lots more content on the subject of British knitting news and reviews. Do three new British tweed yarns, a review of Wensleydale Gems DK, a feature on Louisa Harding's latest knitting venture and a profile of young British designers Conway & Bliss whet your appetite?

Readers' feedback is most welcome and will help shape the future of the blog. Please do use the comment box below or post a message on the Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/awoollyyarn. It would also be great to hear your news from your local knitting group or campaign, plus see photos of your makes using British yarn.

If you are a British designer or wool company that uses British yarn only and would like to tell us about your work, or if you would like to commission an editorial feature for your blog or magazine, then please do email the blog editor at penjenkins@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading A Woolly Yarn - it's a non-profit labour of love with the aims of spreading the word about British yarn and designers and building a woolly-loving community. Every post you enjoy adds a smile to our faces.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Ann Kingstone Announces Yorkshire Knitting Tour

Ann Kingstone image courtesy of Ann Kingstone
Knitting holidays have been around for a long time, usually entailing a weekend away at a seaside hotel with a few knitting classes thrown in for good measure. Craft holidays tend to be popular with solo holidaymakers who want to join a group and learn something new as well. The best knitting holidays, however, are run by well-known designers who can offer their expertise and turn a simple holiday into a one-off personalised experience.

Lovers of Yorkshire wool and people who would like to explore the county's crafting heritage will be pleased to know that local designer Ann Kingstone is running a week's knitting tour of Yorkshire from July 8th to 15th 2018.

Says Kingstone:

"We are going to explore the colour work, lace and cable knitting traditions of this historic county, with visits to Yorkshire's foremost heritage centres, fascinating presentations by knitting historians, and superb knitting tuition for all levels of knitting ability."

The trip doesn't come cheap, costing £1500 for a shared room and £1600 for a single, but excursions include trips to the Bronte Parsonage, Fountains Abbey, York and The Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Plus of course there's Kingstone's invaluable expertise thrown in.

Kingstone's patterns caught my eye a few years ago when I bought her Born & Bred pattern book from Baa Ram Ewe. The yarn to knit the Hild hooded jumper is in my stash and on my 'to knit' list. Kingstone's designs are inspired by Yorkshire's landscape and heritage. More recently her Tup Knits pattern book includes very covetable sheep designs.

Shetland Knitting Holidays

Further north the Scottish island of Shetland is a popular destination for knitters who flock yearly to Shetland Wool Week. Gudrun Johnston (aka The Shetland Trader) and Mary Jane Mucklestone lead holidays there showing local knitting delights. This year's dates have sold out - sign up to receive information about next year's holidays when it is released.

Knit for Peace in India

Much further afield the British charity Knit for Peace runs yearly knitting holidays at Mysore in India.  Places are still available for the 20th January to 2nd February trip in 2018, when designer Jane Crowfoot will join the group to provide knitting tuition and guidance.

Friday 11 August 2017

Exclusive Interview With ManKnit.co.uk

How do you flog yarn to a typical bloke, making knitting as desirable a hobby as football, real ale and X-Box? Now we A Woolly Yarn readers know that knitting is a unisex pastime - there's nothing girly or sissy about it - but sadly once boys get past primary school age, or even before, many reject knitting as something for girls.

Thirty-six year-old Yorkshireman Lewis (Lewy) Ryan is on a mission to change this stereotype by creating a community of knitters across Barnsley and launching a knitting portal for men, appropriately named ManKnit. He exclusively chatted with A Woolly Yarn about his values, plans and wool range.

ManKnit patterns and wool are unashamedly marketed towards men. Says Ryan: "The whole Manknit ethos is to try and get more males into knitting. The packaging, the names of the products (ManBowls for example), the pattern designs, even the colourways .. they're all aimed at encouraging more men to pick up the needles (or at the very least, want to wear the finished item if a loved one has knitted it for them)."

Image courtesy of ManKnit
ManKnit's own range of wool - Falkland Fine Merino and Blue-Mash, a Blue-Faced Leicester and Masham blend - come in natural colours in a blue wrapper. There's a reason for this explains Ryan: "With the ManKnit colourways and patterns I've tried to be rather plain ... most blokes don't really like anything to bright or flamboyant, even too much cabling can put some blokes off."

A 100g ball of ManKnit's Blue-Mash costs £12.99.  Supporting patterns on the website include beanies and an aran scarf.

It's not all manly colours though. Amongst ManKnit's natural plant dyed yarn range there's ... sshh ... Pink Ice Cream Aran and Pretty In Pink Aran.  Perhaps so the blokes can knit something for their girlfriends?

Offline Ryan runs knitting classes for men. How has he persuaded his fellow Yorkshiremen to pick up the needles? "Busting the gender myth is hard" he replies. "I think the men that I taught to knit have done so because they find it a skill and aren't worried what others think."

Lewis (Lewy) Ryan
He gives a case study: "There's a engineer that comes to my regular Knit and Natter evening. He's 6'5'', covered in tattoos, rides a motorbike and always has oil on his hands. On his first evening (he's never knitted previously) he compared knitting to welding, saying it was an incredible skill to have, once you have mastered it you can create anything! However he still hasn't told his friends at the engineering firm he works for that's he's knitting as he's worried about what they'll think."

Hopefully as ManKnit's community grows men will feel able to out themselves from the knitting closet.

A Woolly Yarn is delighted to see that ManKnit's wool range is British. No Chinese imports or acrylic here.

Image courtesy of ManKnit
Ryan says his wool is locally grown and spun, environmentally using free air miles. He notes that "there are so many breeds to choose from in the UK, each breed's wool having its own properties, be that colour, texture or feel. I myself prefer rougher yarns as they are more robust (I use them for hiking and camping so they need to stand up to the elements). There's an amazing choice in the UK and that's before you start to blend various breeds for their properties."

He's not a fan of synthetic fibres, which "are used without thought of what happens to them after they are worn. They just go into landfill and won't decompose for hundreds, if not thousands of years ... I really can't understand why more people don't champion wool."

Hear hear!

Wednesday 9 August 2017

A Salutary Reason To Knit A Tension Square

For a couple of months I've been knitting the lovely Lush cardigan designed by Tin Can Knits. A few years ago I bought three hand-dyed skeins of Killer Flamingo DK from Rainbow Heirloom.  They remained in my stash whilst I ummed and ahhed over what to knit with it. Finally I put the yarn and pattern together and - bingo! - knitted Lush in front of the TV most nights.

First you knit the lace shoulder border, block it, then pick up stitches to knit the collar and finally pick  up stitches on the underside of the border to knit the rest. I was very much looking forward to wearing it and bought rainbow buttons from Kate Davies' shop to give it a whimsical feel.

What I didn't do is knit a tension square beforehand. I'm size extra small in jumpers and cardigans. That's what I always am - right?

Wrong. I thought the cardigan looked suspiciously tiny. I tried it on before knitting the button bands and it was a stretch to pull it around my shoulders. Desperate to make it fit I doubled the size of one of the button bands (I couldn't do both as I'd run out of yarn) but of course this made the cardigan look skew wiff. The buttons pulled, the joins gaped and the shoulders screamed for more room. My Lush was sadly beyond saving.

Here's what Lush should look like:

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

And here's what my Lush ended up as:

The next two sizes up require four, not three skeins and I've ordered a custom-dye batch from Rainbow Heirloom, again in Killer Flamingo, because I love the colour so much and want a Lush cardigan.

As it's hand-dyed the yarn will be slightly different shade-wise from my leftovers. I've got my eye on the t-shirt Rosamund by Katya Frankel to knit with them. That's when I stop kicking myself for my daft mistake that is.

Heed my sorry warning. Knit a tension square!

Do you have any epic knitting fail stories? Do please let me know!

Wednesday 2 August 2017

The Fibre Co Launches Fell Garth II + 20% Discount Code

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
One of the wonderful things about the onset of Autumn is the release of new knitting patterns for wrap-up-warm jumpers and cardigans. Hot off the press on 1st August was The Fibre Co's offering for the forthcoming Autumn/Winter 2017 season - Fell Garth II.

The Fibre Co is based in Cumbria, in the north of England, and the rugged local scenery has inspired both the designs and the company's latest yarn Arranmore Light DK, a tweedy blend of 80% merino, 10% cashmere and 10% silk that's spun in Ireland. There are 18 colour shades in the range with the texture in the yarn comes from the nepps:  "small bits of tangled fibres in multiple shares that are dyed first prior to blending" explains The Fibre Co's founder Daphne Marinopoulos.

Arranmore Light is one of the five yarns featured in Fell Garth II. The collection contains 19 designs by ten talented designers. Patterns can be bought individually from The Fibre Co, which will redirect you to Ravelry.

NB - Until 8th August receive 20% off all patterns by using the discount code FellGarth2 at checkout!

All the sumptuous images of the 19 designs were photographed in Cumbria, a landscape that in July 2017 was awarded World Heritage Status.

Fell Garth II features two cowls, a hat and some mitts but I feel its strength is in its sweater patterns. Cowls, hats and mitts are great for beginners but, let's face it, most knitters who have been crafting for a few years probably already have more than they need. The sweater patterns really strike me as different from many on the market and the sumptuous photography of the garments sells the vision of a stylish outdoor lifestyle. I might not be about to hill walk in Cumbria, but the following are my favourite jumper designs to wear down the park this Winter:


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Look at the lovely texture of the design created using stitch patterns juxtaposed with the tweedy nepps of Arranmore aran weight yarn. Designed by Fiona Alice, this sweater is worked in pieces from the bottom up. For me I'd shorten the body but I do think the styling of this jumper looks good with the belt.

Howclose Gill

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
The 1930s-style of this design immediately caught my eye. It's knitted in The Fibre Co's Knightsbridge yarn, a Cornish blend of merino, silk and baby llama, and was designed by Francesca Hughes. Intermediate knitters will relish the challenge to knit with the two colours.

North Row

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
This jumper screams 'cosy' straight out of the photograph. Knitted in Arranmore Light, it's a stylish, slouchy cover up that will go with jeans or skirts alike. The soft shade of 'River Esque' will take you through to next Spring too and go with almost everything in your wardrobe. Holli Yeoh is North Row's designer.


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Ceciknits designed this boxy, on-trend sweater with twisted rib lines and an oversized silhouette. It's worked in pieces from the top down and seamed. I like the way it's a cross between a jumper and a cape - on cold Winter days I imagine wearing it over another jumper for another warm layer. Armathwaite is knitted in The Fibre Co's Cumbria yarn.


Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
Another oversized fit is Rathbone with its sloppy-Joe a-line shape and texture details on the sleeves. Holli Yeoh designed this throw-on sweater in Arranmore Light. It's a go-to garment that would be great to wear over a t-shirt and jeans - a forgiving, day-to-day wear that's cosy and stylish.

To see all 19 patterns in collection go to the Fell Garth II section of The Fibre Co's website. Don't forget that the 20% discount code FellGarth2 expires on 8th August.

Which design would you cast on first? Let us know in the comments box below.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Yorkshire Day Special - The Terrible Knitters Of Dent

William Wiberforce image courtesy
of Bridgeman Art Gallery
The first of August is Yorkshire Day, 24 hours to celebrate all that's great about this northern English region, from its history to its culture, food (Yorkshire pud anyone?) and its artisan beer. I may not live in Yorkshire any more but am proud to be born and bred a (South) Yorkshire lass.

This date was chosen to commemorate the work of Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, who passionately campaigned against slavery. The first of August is the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire, which legally took place in 1834.

Wool has long played a part in Yorkshire's commercial and cultural history, with the region's mills, particularly in West Yorkshire, becoming a backbone of the industry spinning yarns to send out across the Empire. Whilst by the 1990s the wool industry was on its knees due to globalisation and cheap, foreign competitors, the twenty-first century saw the rise of smaller companies - such as Baa Ram Ewe whose first Yorkshire 4ply wool Titus is celebrating its fifth birthday - seeking to cater to the growing army of knitters who want British yarns spun and dyed in this country using local fleeces.

The popularity of wool has come full circle. From the 1960s onwards the population may have been bedazzled by cheap yarns from abroad made with petrochemicals but now wool has won out with its natural properties, local provenance and not an oil barrel in sight.

The Terrible Knitters of Dent

To celebrate Yorkshire Day here's an abridged version of a feature I wrote for a magazine a few years ago about the North Yorkshire knitters of Dent whose entire livelihoods revolved around knitting:

From dawn till dusk; alone or communally around a fire during long, dark, Winter evenings; whilst walking to neighbours or lying in bed; for the men, women and children of Dent knitting was a round the clock activity.

In the North Yorkshire Dales from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century the domestic knitting industry was a vital source of income for rural communities. The village of Dent made a name for itself for producing high-quality hand-knitted stockings, jerseys, caps and gloves, knitted from local fleece. They used very thin needles for intricate lace and fair isle garments. Knitting, although not a lucrative business, provided much-needed income, usually on top of another family activities such as farming.

The economy of the area was heavily-reliant on sheep. Carriers would go round the Dales delivering wool (known as bump) and collect the items knitted from the last batch. Bump was oily and off white, marking the garments as from that region. Dent knitters' knitters reputation spread as far as the Poet Laureate Robert Southey, who said of them "They er terrible knitters e' Dent". In dialect this meant they were great knitters, not that they possessed poor knitting skills!

Image courtesy of Dent Village Museum & Heritage Centre
Children were expected to play a part in contributing to the family income and as such learned their craft at an early age whether they liked it or not. Adam Sedgwick, who hailed from Dent and rose to become a Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote in his 19th century memoirs that knitting schools were set up in farmhouses for local children. Poor children were taught knitting as a way of earning a living in those days when there were no factories or mines competing for workers.

Not all villagers relished their craft. In Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby's book The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales, published in 1951, one elderly lady, Mrs Crabtree, recalled that in her childhood she and her sister were given by the family a quota of knitting to complete each day.  She usually took two days. One Christmas day as a special treat her father finished her knitting for her so she could go out and play.

Knitting was a social as well as a solo activity. Neighbours would gather together in the winter in front of a peat fire to share warmth and the local gossip. Dent houses had a wooden gallery at first floor level where knitters could watch others go by.  Sometimes the knitters would sing, knitting along to the tune's rhythm.

Needles were known locally as 'pricks' and the villagers knitted in a fashion called 'swaving', rocking backwards and forwards as they knitted. This was a different method from how we conventionally knit today. Industrious villagers would even knit when walking to run errands or visit friends. Double pointed needles could be held in a wooden sheath (known as a stick) secured by a belt, leaving the knitter to knit solely with one hand. This left the knitter free to do another task as well such as butter churning. Surely this was the ultimate in multi-tasking!

Knitting sticks were often personalised tokens of affection. A custom for courting couples was for the man to make a personalised knitting stick for his betrothed as a love token. The aforementioned Mrs Crabtree may or may not have been offended when her father made her a knitting stick in case she didn't get married and didn't therefore receive one from a lover.

The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales gathered much of the information we know today about Dent's knitting history.  The authors told the stories of the last remaining Dent residents who remembered the customs and knitting practices of the region.  "It was the elderly people who knitted to the last and with them have gone almost but not quite all memories of the centuries-old industry". 

As industry mass-produced woollen items at a cheaper price and villagers found alternative employment the local knitting traditions began to die out. Yet Dent still holds its crafty heritage dear, celebrating its past. The parish church contains a wonderful wool embroidery of the Knitters of Dent and Dent Heritage Centre displays information and objects from the village's textile history.

Coming soon on this blog ...

UK knitting holidays - including a very covetable one in Yorkshire - and the Autumn pattern collection from The Fibre Co. 

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