Saturday 23 June 2018

Support Countess Ablaze's Tits Out Collective

Image courtesy of Countess Ablaze
On July 1st Countess Ablaze will launch her Tits Out Collective together with a group of like-minded indie dyers who want to say no to commercial exploitation and support women's groups at the same time.

Says the Countess, "I will produce a Big Ass Master List of Certified Tits Out Dealers and where you can find them. Everybody is donating a portion of their proceeds to a charity that means the world to them. We have got participants worldwide! Including UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Hungary, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, USA, Canada ..."

So what is it that has brought all these dyers together and what has it got to do with boobs?

Back in March Countess Ablaze dyed two special colours, 'Shit Tea and Tray Bake', and 'If I Want Exposure I'll Get My Tits Out' in response to a 'collaboration' proposed to her by a local cafe. It wanted her to provide her time and £800 for free and in return, says the Countess, she "would be given 'exposure'. They went on to say that the customers would be (paraphrasing) middle aged women who would bring their girlfriends, we can serve them shit tea and tray bakes which would cost the restaurant very little but the ROI would be massive."

Image courtesy of Countess Ablaze
Countess Ablaze gave £3 to the charity Women's Aid for every skein sold. These one-off colour ways were a hit ... so popular that an indie dyer, whom the Countess doesn't want to name, produced a knock-off with no contribution to charity.

At the time of writing over 200 indie dyers and makers have signed up to the Tits Out Collective to create their own version of 'If I Want Exposure I'll Get My Tits Out' and donate at least £3 (or their currency equivalent) per skein to a women's charity of their choice.

A quick search of #titsoutcollective revealed that Baa Baa Brighouse, Giddy Aunt Yarns, The Urban Purl, Old Maiden Aunt, Hand Print By Celine, Queen of Purls, Huckleberry Knits, Joma Yarn and Serenity Fibers are amongst the dyers taking part.

Set your alarm for 1st July when Countess Ablaze's list of all the Tits Out Collective will go live.

Holiday knitting

I'm going on holiday for a week and have packed Wool and The Gang's Total Eclipse sweater to knit whilst I'm away. I saw the variegated yarn whilst on my Sirdar Knit Now prizewinners day nearly a fortnight ago and bought the kit on sale.

It's a cotton yarn (sadly not made in the UK) with a vibrant mix of pink, black, white and orange colours.

Whilst the pattern knits the sweater in garter stitch I've changed it to rib and stocking stitch because I think it suits the yarn better.

The sweater is knitted on 5mm needles. The circular 5mm needle I have has metal tips. I've taken wooden circular knitting needles on board planes before but I suspect metal may be on the banned list, so I'd rather not risk it and am packing the project in my suitcase.

What are you taking to knit on holiday this year?

Thursday 21 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom

The afternoon session of our behind-the-scenes tour of Sirdar started in the showroom. This white, beautifully-curated room is the place to go to see future Sirdar, DMC and Wool and the Gang knitted-up designs and yarn. White mannequins wear display collections that are fashionably-styled as a full outfit. At the foot of the mannequins lie the balls of the yarn used in the garments.

The showroom is the place where reps and retailers come to see what next year's collections will bring. Trouble is it's:

We weren't allowed to take any photos of the designs but needless to say there were quite a few that caught my eye, including a forthcoming sweater from the Sublime range with a retro feel. It was very exciting getting a sneak preview of the ranges, seeing the colours forecasted to be on-trend next season and, of course, having a good squish.

As I can't show you the outfits I'll instead offer another photo of Sirdar's current yarn range on display in their meeting room:

Knit Now editor Kate Heppell then gave a presentation in the showroom explaining how the magazine is produced - it was so fascinating and thorough I'll cover it in a future blog post. Then it was time for all the winners to receive their certificates.

Here's mine!

It was fabulous to meet such a great, creative and friendly bunch of women.

I came away from the day very impressed with Sirdar and its combination of heritage and forward-thinking. As someone, however, who doesn't live near a decent wool shop and is used to buying online, my one tip to the company is to improve their website.

At the moment it's merely a shop window for their products with no opportunity for customers to purchase them. All you can do is browse. If Sirdar sold direct or at least provided a one-click link straight to online retailers who do sell the customer's product of choice it would be extremely beneficial, as would making their patterns available to buy and download on Ravelry.

Image courtesy of Sirdar
A massive thank you to Kate Heppell and all the Sirdar employees who generously gave their time to us on the day and sent us away with goodie bag containing magazines and yarns from the Sirdar, DMC and Wool and the Gang ranges.

Coming home with a goodie bag, it felt like Christmas in June!

Read the other posts in this series:

Behind the Scenes At Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room

Sunday 17 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room

Have you ever dreamed about being paid to test new yarns before they're in the shops and also knit for a living? If so, then a role in the design room at Sirdar should be at the top of your job hunting list.

The first thing I noticed when my fellow Knit Now magazine prize-winners and I toured the design room was the staff happily clicking away knitting up patterns or sample squares to go to retailers.

Julie, the design manager, gave us an introductory talk all about the design process covering the initial idea all the way through to the final pattern production. The team produces hundreds of patterns a year.

Armed with feedback from shops, customers, reps and surveys, the forthcoming yarns from Sirdar's product development team plus future forecast trend forecasts and their knowledge of the knitting market , the designers produce mood boards with swatches and ideas.

When themes are agreed the designers draw an initial sketch for a pattern. Sirdar's different sub-brands, including their luxury Sublime range and the more budget-conscious Hayfield, need to be taken into account, as well as providing for beginners all the way to experienced knitters. Plus the team make sure there's a mixture of catwalk trends, classic and vintage designs to suit all of their customers.

Each sketch then goes into a folder and makes its way to a pattern writer whose job it is to - yes you've guessed it - write the pattern up and check that the measurements correspond to the initial brief.

Says Julie, "There's not always one way to write a pattern, you have to get it right for the design and level of knitting ability." She checks the knitted sample and often makes suggestions for tweaks to the design, such as a few extra stitches on a collar. The pattern itself is checked by different eyes a vast number of times on its journey to be turned into a Word document. The original pattern writer is responsible for the final once-over.

It's not just clothes that the team designs - accessories and toys are popular too. Above is a cute toy knitted up go to a yarn shop. Julie explained that knitted samples on display in stores massively increases that yarn and pattern's sales.

Samples are knitted either in house or outsourced to home knitters. Each garment/accessory/toy is photographed for the pattern cover.

There are two pattern seasons: Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. New patterns are drip-fed to stores throughout the season ensuring that there's always a reason for a customer to come back and browse. "We have to provide people with what they want to buy", Julie emphasised, "... if we get it right the customers are happy and the stores are happy."

The archive

Sirdar has a long history and the archives contain a copy of every pattern published over the years. On the outside the folders don't look much, but they contain engrossing knitting, social and fashion history.

Browsing the folders unearths many gems, from 1970s psychedelics to baby patterns from times gone by.

The little girl on the left doesn't look very happy in her romper suit does she!

I could have spent much longer browsing through the files but time was short. The archive is not only a snapshot of Sirdar's history but is also used regularly when customers ring up to query a pattern. The team will then find the pattern in the archives and do what they can to help.

In the next post I'll be reporting on Sirdar's showroom, which was the last stop of the tour.

See also:
Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Behind The Scenes At Sirdar: Part 1 - The Warehouse

My prize for winning an Online Innovator award from Knit Now magazine in their Knitter of the Year 2017 awards was a trip to Sirdar's headquarters in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. It was such a packed and interesting day that it'll take three blog posts to tell you all about it. I'll be reporting on the design room where the patterns are created, the showroom which features garments from future collections, and today's post is all about the warehouse full of thousands upon thousands of balls of yarn. My request for a five minute trolley dash was politely declined!

After all the winners had arrived we congregated in Sirdar's meeting room along with Kate Heppell, Knit Now magazine's editor and various super-friendly Sirdar staff members from their design and marketing departments. The first thing I learned is that Sirdar is part of the DMC group and consists of three brands: Sirdar itself (and its sub-brands Hayfield and Sublime), DMC, which I previously knew made embroidery and tapestry threads but also makes knitting yarns too, and Wool and the Gang, a more fashion-forward company.

This was not just any old meeting room, this was a yarn-filled meeting room containing a ball of all the colours and varieties in the Sirdar range, including a few planned for next season. These are top secret but what I can tell you is look out for the new colours and additions to the Sublime range in Spring/Summer 2019 - two are especially exquisitely covetable. Whilst all the winners started off in best behaviour mode it didn't take long before we were having a good squish and inhaling all that yarny goodness.

Then it was time to head to meet Darren, the logistics manager, in the warehouse. At the beginning of the century Sirdar sadly stopped spinning its own yarn here. Like a lot of manufacturing businesses Sirdar found that increasing globalisation meant that it was no longer competitive to produce its products in this country, so they had to restructure and outsource to survive. A factory in Turkey bought a lot of their machinery and today 80% of Sirdar yarn is manufactured there. It's the job of the product development and design teams to decide which yarns and colours they want to include in the range, based on feedback and future forecast design trends.

When the manufactured yarn arrives at the warehouse in containers it is quality checked to ensure it's up to standard and then sorted into shade and blend numbers. Once the team are happy the yarn is taken out of boxes and onto wooden trays. Each consignment is inputted into the computer system and allocated one of the thousands of positions in the warehouse so it can easily be found when a customer places an order (Sirdar sells direct to retailers and not currently to individual members of the public).

When Sirdar receives an order the products are retrieved from their designated shelf positions and then moved to the packing room where a huge machine bundles the yarn together in plastic and seals it with heat. A number of team members study the pick list to double check the customer receives the correct invoice, packing note and products. The order then is put on a van to be sent out to the depot and shipped anywhere around the world. From September onwards is their busiest time of the year.

It's not just yarn that Sirdar stores in the warehouse, it's pattern leaflets too. These are produced upstairs in the design room (more of that in the next blog post) and printed in house. There's one colour machine for the garment photograph and a black and white one to print the instructions.

There's a ready-made selection of leaflets on numerous shelves ready and waiting for trade customers. Like the yarn, each has its own designated position on the computer system.

The tour of the warehouse opened my eyes to the complicated logistics behind a successful international yarn and pattern business. Though A Woolly Yarn champions British wool and in an ideal world their yarn would still be produced in the UK, Sirdar has done a great job in adapting to stay alive and thrive in a very price conscious and competitive market and is an important part of the UK's knitting industry.

How are knitting patterns designed? Find out in the next post Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 2 - The Design Room. Then discover what goes in the showroom Behind the Scenes at Sirdar: Part 3 - The Showroom.

Friday 8 June 2018

Balls V Skeins: Which Gets Your Vote?

Going round yarn shows and looking at knitting websites over the last few years I've noticed  the rise and rise of the skein, otherwise known as a hank.

It seems that, apart from with budget brands, the days of expecting that wool will have already been rolled into a ball for you when you buy it have long gone. Nowadays the skein reigns - it gives an image of luxe, artisan handcraftsmanship as opposed to a cheap, bulk buy.

Doulton Flock DK Yarn image courtesy of
A quick, unscientific poll amongst knitting friends reveals they are divided on the issue. One says she can't stand the faff of unravelling skeins and rolling them into a ball - she finds it incredibly annoying spending time doing this when she'd rather be knitting. She doesn't want to splash out on a yarn swift and frankly some of them look more complicated than the old technique of winding wool round your arms.

Bobbin Birch yarn swift image courtesy of Wool Warehouse

Another said she finds buying a skein much more of a treat than a ball. They're more pleasing visually, she thinks, and when buying you get to see more of the wool.

The Croft - Shetland Tweed Aran image courtesy of West Yorkshire Spinners

It's not just small yarn companies who sell by the skein, some larger British brands, like West Yorkshire Spinners, have introduced new ranges in this format, shunning the traditional ball. Designer and author Susan Crawford is redeveloping her own wool ranges to become skein-only.

Fenella image courtesy of Susan Crawford Vintage
One person whom I asked is visually impaired and she pointed out she never buys skeins because she can't see well enough to wind them into a ball. That dislike of skeins was seconded by an older knitter who says she gets into tangles.

Mohair image courtesy of The Loveliest Yarn Company
Whereas another woman I spoke to says that skeins are a sign of quality and are easier to squish and smell then yarn wrapped in a ball.

In my experience it's certainly true that the most of the more interesting, one-off and small-scale wool brands come in skeins, and generally have a higher price tag, as opposed to those from international companies although there are exceptions to the rule such as Louisa Harding's Yarntelier Lace that's already wound into a ball.

Cashmere Lace image courtesy of Yarntelier
At first I found skeins time-consuming and rather irritating and I've had my fair share of knots, but now I've grown used to them - particularly as they've grown in prevalence in wool shops.

I'd love to hear what you think - which do you prefer? Have your say below or on our Facebook page.

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