Saturday 31 March 2018

Review of Susan Crawford's The Vintage Shetland Project

Image courtesy of Susan Crawford
It has been a long wait but it felt like Christmas when my copy of The Vintage Shetland Project by Susan Crawford arrived in the post.

It was back in 2015 when Susan Crawford set up a crowdfunding campaign to publish the book, inspired by her love of knitting history and Shetland traditions. Since then she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which delayed her work on the project. Happily Crawford is now cancer free and her many years of work have come to fruition.

The Vintage Shetland Project is a very weighty hardback book with 27 patterns and essays on Shetland social and fashion history over the decades.  It's Crawford's best work yet, which is saying something considering the high publishing standards and critical acclaim of her previous books A Stitch In Time Volume 1 and A Stitch in Time Volume 2.

At £48 the book not cheap but the quality is that of an heirloom. Feel the glossy paper and waft the bookish smell under your nose. The photography, all shot on the island of Vaila off the coast of Shetland, is stunning. It's obvious the whole project has been a labour of love for Crawford.

The Patterns

Crawford first saw the garments featured in the Shetland Museum Archives, some of which were degraded and missing parts. She, with the help of her husband Gavin, a computer programmer, transcribed the designs into patterns suitable for the modern number in a range of sizes.

Rose image courtesy of Susan Crawford
Each pattern has a handy schematic and the charts are printed in colour with different charts for most sizes. This is incredibly sensible and practical for the knitter: a couple of times I've bought knitting pattern books and been put off knitting a garment due to the charts being in black and white on a small grid, almost impossible to decipher.

Most patterns use Crawford's own vintage-feel yarn Fenella, although some offer an alternative or are solely knitted in Jamieson and Smith yarns.

Here are A Woolly Yarn's top three patterns from the book:

Rose Cardigan

The charming rose motifs in red and white pink on this short-sleeved cardigan make this a standout garment.

Rose is is knitted in the round from the bottom up. There's a necessary steek at the centre front and I think this may well be the pattern that challenges me to face my fear of steaks. To me there feels something dreadfully wrong in cutting knitting, but if that's what it takes to make Rose then it's a mental hurdle I'm determined to leap over.


Jeannie image courtesy of Susan Crawford
An essay in The Vintage Shetland Project explains Crawford's investigative journey from first seeing the child-size top in Shetland Museum to finding more about its designer Jeannie Jarmson.

Jeannie is worked in the round from the bottom up and knitted in silk with tiny, delicate motifs. The tiny delicate motifs are knitted in silk. Having not seen the garment knitted up I can only imagine how soft and luxurious it must feel. Kits to make Jeannie have already sold out on Crawford's website.


When Shetland sweaters are mentioned Ralph is probably the sort of jumper that will pop up in your imagination.

Ralph image courtesy of Susan Crawford
It has standard Fair Isle patterns and is knitted in traditional grey and brown shades. Whilst it will be a labour of love to knit this unisex jumper will become an eternal classic in your wardrobe.

Best of the rest ...

Of course all the patterns in The Vintage Shetland Project are covetable, but three highly recommended by A Woolly Yarn are the lemon lacy short-sleeved sweater Dorothy; Ripple a short-sleeved sweater with a black background and ripples of pastel colours; and Paterson, the bright Fair Isle top with a found neck that's featured on the book's front cover.

Which is your favourite pattern and why? Let us know below or on our Facebook page.

Monday 26 March 2018

Let's Talk About Socks: Rachel Coopey and Verity Castledine

The mini beast from the east is set to hit us over the Easter break with cold weather and possible snow - certainly a good reason to wear warm, woolly socks.

Sock aficionado Rachel Coopey has added new neon colours to her Socks Yeah! 4ply yarn range, shades so bright that rescuers will surely find you if you end up stuck in a snowdrift with just your toes sticking out.

Image courtesy of Rachel Coopey

The shades take me straight back to middle school in the 1980s when there was a brief fluorescent sock trend. The trick was to wear odd socks, say one lime green and one florescent yellow, until the teachers got wise and banned them. Seeing Coopey's shades makes me feel nostalgic and happy, longing as I am for some colour amidst the UK's seemingly everlasting cold spell.

Image courtesy of Rachel Coopey

Dig out or buy a copy of Coopey's Socks Yeah! Volume 1 or Volume 2 pattern collections to find something to knit with your neon (I have all the yarn to knit Otis but still haven't got round to it yet because mermaid blankets for one of my goddaughters and her sister are currently taking up all my knitting time).

If it's something new you're after then sign up for Coopey's Neon & Neutrals Socks Club. For £100 plus P&P subscribers will receive five parcels through the post from May to December, each containing a pattern plus a neon yarn paired with one or two of Coopey's existing Socks Yeah! muted shades. She's also hinted that there may also be a few surprises.

Whilst I haven't seen the new neon shades in person I have knitted with Socks Yeah! yarn before and found it to be soft and hardy with excellent stitch definition.

The Sock Drawer

Verity Castledine's pseudonym is Truly Hooked, the company she founded to sell her hand dyed yarns in an array of colours. She's now branched out to writing knitting patterns and The Sock Drawer is her collection of ten sock patterns, which won the 'Favourite knitting book' category at the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2017.

Image courtesy of Truly Hooked

Like Coopey's Socks Yeah! books The Sock Drawer is a classic both for newcomers to sock knitting and those who want to take their skills further. Ravelry shows all the patterns for you to see what you are getting before you buy. Castledine's designs are dainty and elegant, all knitted from the top down.

Suvena image courtesy of Truly Hooked

My personal favourite is 'Suvena', a travelling cable design inspired by fish tail hair braid.  The Sock Drawer is available to buy at Etsy and costs £15 plus £1.50 P&P.

Which is your favourite sock pattern to knit? Let us know below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Monday 19 March 2018

Who Is This Year's Shetland Wool Week Patron? Plus Free Hat Pattern

The patron for Shetland Wool Week 2018 was revealed at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival - and it's Elizabeth Johnston, professional knitter, dyer, spinner weaver and owner of the yarn company Shetland Handspun

Elizabeth Johnston image courtesy of Shetland Wool Week
As has become tradition for Shetland Wool Week the announcement of the patron was accompanied by a hat pattern designed by them. The hat is called the 'Merrie Dancers Toorie' and is based on a fisherman's kep (hat) in the Shetland Museum and Archives' Boat hall. 

Merrie Dancers Toorie image courtesy of Shetland Wool Week

Says Johnston: "I have loved designing the Merrie Dancers Toorie. The kep has a dark background with colours that remind me of the northern lights, or 'merrier dancers', and a familiar sight to fisherman."

The pattern is free to download here. There are two size options and each uses a different yarn weight. 

Previous Shetland Wool Week hat patterns

Sunday 11 March 2018

Review of Baa Baa Brighouse's March Birthstone Box + Daughter of A Shepherd News!

Monthly boxes are growing in popularity at the moment. Beauty boxes, where you pay a monthly fee and receive some surprise goodies in the post, started the trend and now many more have sprung up, such as stationary, books and even one for your period. Yes, really.

I usually like seeing what I'm going to get before I buy. Die hard fans of them say they love the surprise when they open their box each month, but I don't want to be disappointed if there's nothing that floats my boat inside.

One yarn company that so far has hit the spot for its wool boxes each time is Baa Baa Brighouse. Last month I reviewed their Valentine's box and this month I was thrilled to receive their March Birthstone Box for review.

Each month Baa Baa Brighouse hand-dyes 200g of of their Baa Baa Brew British Bluefaced Leicester DK yarn in an exclusive colourway inspired by the birthstone for that month. March's is aquamarine.

The first thing I noticed when opening the box was a wonderful soapy aroma coming from a little bag containing two bath bombs. The wool even smells of it too! The other non-wool goodies inside the box are:

  • A traditional oat flapjack baked in Yorkshire (delicious)
  • A bag of small buttons in the colourway
  • A birthstone fairy
  • Two aquamarine stitch markers.
The birthstone fairy is the only item I won't use but that's a matter of personal taste. Now to the main item - the wool!

The colours that make up the skeins really are beautiful. The aquamarine hues have shaken me out of my usual reds, pinks and greys yarn shade choices and are perfect for Spring. The skeins are soft and squishy and I'm looking forward to knitting them up. The difficulty when you buy yarn without a pattern is thinking of what to knit with it. I'm told that Baa Baa Brighouse have some patterns suitable for their yarn boxes waiting in the wings.

The Birthstone Boxes cost £37 each plus P&P. Baa Baa Brighouse sells a number of yarn boxes on different themes. See the currently available ones here.

Daughter Of A Shepherd Pattern News

Rachel Atkinson, who really is the daughter of a shepherd, has won many fans with her Hebridean/Zwartbles DK and 4ply yarns in their natural colours. In her email newsletter she has announced the exciting news that her first pattern book to support the yarns is now available for pre-order.

Image courtesy of Daughter of a Shepherd

Volume 1: Beginnings will contain 10 knitting and crochet patterns designed by a host of favourite names such as Rachel herself, Rachel Coopey and Sarah Hatton. The patterns will be accompanied by essays and photography of the flock.

Pre-orders are now open priced at £19.99 plus P&P on the Daughter of a Shepherd website. Each print copy comes with an ebook download code. People lucky enough to be going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival between March 15th and 17th can buy their copy there.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Let's End Knitting Stereotypes For Good: International Women's Day Special

Today, Thursday 8th March, is International Women's Day - 24 hours to honour everything that women bring and contribute to society. As the website says, the day celebrates 'the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women'.

Lesley Manville image courtesy of Radio Times
A recent interview in the Radio Times magazine with actress Lesley Manville got me thinking crossly about how anti-feminist outdated and patronising stereotypes about knitters have survived into the 21st-century and are even uttered by women themselves.

When asked about how she felt about reaching a milestone birthday, Manville said:
"It's OK to be 60. You can have a lover at 60. You don't have to be shoved in a cardigan doing knitting."
OK, it was no doubt meant to be a light-hearted, humorous comment, but it perpetuates the trope that knitters are elderly, sexless, sitting in God's waiting room and have nothing better to offer society than a knitted teddy bear or jumper.

Firstly, it's incredibly patronising to women of a certain age who knit. Many of these women learned to do so from their own grandmothers and mothers and, bringing up their families in the 1950s and 60s, knitted out of economic necessity. Their houses didn't have central heating. Ready-made clothes were expensive to buy in the shops. These women poured their love for their families into every stitch they knitted, whether they were creating a jumper, cardigan or pair of socks. They had the skills to darn well-loved garments and re-use wool for other accessories - techniques that are becoming more popular nowadays with the advent of an anti-consumerist backlash.

Image courtesy of
Now, in their later stage of life, these knitters pass on their knowledge to younger generations and keep traditional crafts alive. People may scoff at the idea of knitted toys or scarves being sold at a school fete or church bazaar, but they're forgetting the many hours of volunteering that goes into the creation of them and the funds their sale raises for charity. A more recent example includes knitted hats and scarves being given to refugees in Europe to help them cope with biting winters. For them these gifts could help keep them alive - I would imagine the recipients would be very grateful to the women who knitted them and would not poke fun at their age and appearance. Nor would the parents of premature babies gifted tiny knitted hats to keep them warm in their incubators.

And let's not forget that there's a growing interest amongst men of all ages in knitting too, as reported on this blog last year in an interview with Lewis Ryan, the founder of ManKnit. Creating warm garments from natural products is a survival skill: even Bear Grylls can't expect there to be a branch of Mountain Warehouse in the middle of a wilderness. Knitting is a technical skill, where an awareness of maths helps greatly. Wool doesn't care which gender knits with it.

Of course knitting as a hobby isn't for everyone. We all have different interests and that's part of the beauty of diversity. Yet society doesn't stereotype traditionally-male pastimes such as woodworking and car maintenance. We don't say that a man who chooses to whittle in his spare time is styleless, past it and will never have fun in the bedroom again.

The elderly female knitter stereotype also ignores the fact that lots of girls and women of all ages like to knit. It's a creative, expressive, sociable hobby that has been proven to help those dealing with depression, cognitive function impairments and anxiety. It's women who organised the Pussyhat Project, marching to protest against the curtailment of women's rights, using knitting as a powerful political tool. It's mainly women who, appalled to see the waste of good fleece, have fought to raise the profile of British wool in this country and across the world, helping to secure the future of British sheep breeds and their farmers' finances.

Lush photo courtesy of Tin Can Knits
So Manville, with respect, knitting might not be for you but please don't add fuel to the ancient knitter stereotype fire. As women, let's stick together. Here's a thought on International Women's Day: you mention you don't want to be shoved in a corner wearing a cardigan, but perhaps if you took up a pair of needles and learned to knit a stylish one such as Tin Can Knits' Lush during your acting breaks, you might be tempted to cross over to the dark side.

Saturday 3 March 2018

Snuggly Sweaters Suitable For The Snow

Outside my window it still looks like the Arctic despite the fact that I live in suburbia in the middle of England. Today it hasn't snowed but the Met Office is warning people not to travel unless strictly necessary and forecasting that the white stuff will fall again tonight.

For the last few days I've thanked heaven for my Rowan Big Wool jumper I knitted a few years ago. It's extremely thick and warm, can fit other layers underneath and is my 'go to' sweater whenever temperatures plummet. In fact I've worn it so much it's now tatty and bobbly and could do with a good shave to smarten it up.

I no longer have the pattern and sadly a quick search online for it didn't prove fruitful. Here are some recommendations for other snow-worthy sweaters, whether I've knitted them already or they just look so irresistibly cosy ...

1. Karie Westermann's Scollay is a cardigan that doubles up as a jumper when all the buttons are done up. Mine is knitted Blacker Yarns' Westcountry Tweed DK British Wool that keeps the warmth in and the draughts out.

Image courtesy of Karie Westermann
2. Jane Ellison's Pengelly sweater has a high neck and front pockets to put your hands in when it's getting nippy. It's knitted in aran weight. Ellison's shop Purl&Jane sells a suitable The Croft Shetland Tweed Aran.

Image courtesy of Jane Ellison
3. Kate Davies' Owls is an oldie but goodie. The pattern that launched her design career is still popular and, thanks to its chunky wool requirement (I knitted a version using Toft's silver chunky wool) is very snug. Just add a cowl if your neck gets chilly.

Image courtesy of Kate Davies

4. Gudrun Johnston's Snarravoe is waiting in my yarn stash to be knitted. It's inspired by the homeland of its Shetland-born designer and if the sweater can keep you warm there it can keep you warm anywhere. The pattern requires aran weight yarn - a good choice is Erika Knight for John Lewis's 100% wool aran.

Image courtesy of Gudrun Johnston
5. Ann Kingston's Hild jumper has a hood for those days when you've forgotten to bring a hat. Choose a British aran yarn such as West Yorkshire Spinners' Aran Bluefaced Leicester. Scarf optional to keep your neck balmy.

Image courtesy of Ann Kingstone
6. Tin Can Knits' Flax is a basic sweater that is suitable for beginners and more experienced knitters can knit up quickly. I've knitted light version in 4ply. This DK versions is warmer and can be pulled on as an extra layer when needs must. Choose one of Garthenor's 15 natural shades of DK.

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

7. Ella Gordon's Crofthoose Yoke is knitted in Jamieson & Smith's 2ply jumper weight. The 100% Shetland wool traps air, keeping the wearer warm.

Image courtesy of Ella Gordon

8. If all else fails buy some 100% British extra-thick yarn from Chunky Row and create your own sweater like this one!

Image courtesy of
Which hand-knitted jumper keeps you warm? Let us know in the comments box below or on our Facebook page.

Thursday 1 March 2018

Online Store BritYarn To Close + Discount Code

Image courtesy of BritYarn
Sad news today for lovers of British wool - the online store BritYarn is to close on 28th March.

The website opened nearly three years ago to cater for knitters and crocheters who wanted to know the yarn they bought originated from Britain, not just spun or processed here. Isla, BritYarn's owner, brought together a cleverly-collated collection of big brands such as Blacker Yarns and West Yorkshire Spinners together with lesser-known companies like Garthenor and Dodgson Wood.

In her email to customers today Isla said:
"I can't tell you how sad I am to say goodbye to the business I started from scratch ... life takes us on lots of adventures and my BritYarn one has been amazing ... but my life is taking a different pathway and one that BritYarn ultimately can't be part of."
Small, independent yarn businesses are under pressure from the two big online players in the UK market - Deramores and Loveknitting. They have the clout to buy in bulk and ask for discounts from their suppliers, something that small businesses and sole traders cannot do. Also, so they can cater to the price-conscious customer, many yarns they sell are international, processed and contain non-natural fibres such as acrylic.

BritYarn gives a marketplace to smaller British brands you won't find on the behemoths and has introduced wool lovers to small, niche brands they otherwise may not have heard of. It will be missed.

Until its doors shut BritYarn is offering 20% off its existing stock with the discount code THISISNOTGOODBYE.


With the loss of BritYarn, where can you go online to buy British wool and yarn? If you have a favourite brand already you can usually buy direct from their own website. Try for starters:

For retailers that sell a number of brands, including British yarns, go to:

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