Wednesday 27 February 2019

Review of Pompom Quarterly Number 28 - The Botanical Issue

Image courtesy of Pompom
Pompom Quarterly magazine does what it says on the tin - it issues four editions per year, one to coincide with each season. Published in London with contributors from across the globe, each issue has a theme, the latest being botanics. Think plants, flowers and a recipe for a classic Jazz Age cocktail with home-infused gin.

Number 28 certainly is an issue with Spring in mind, with patterns mainly featuring sportweight/light fingering/4ply yarns. The A5 sized book oozes quality with its stunning photography (great to see models of different ages and races represented), freshly-printed smell and thick paper.

And so to the patterns!

There are nine in this issue, six knitting and three crochet. That's great if you are proficient in both crafts but personally, as a keen knitter whose crochet skills languish the bottom of the beginners' level, it's disappointing to see a pattern in a knitting magazine that you'd love to knit, only to find out it's crochet. I'm assuming that Pompom has done market research and that's why it's trying to please fans of both crafts, but Pompom is primarily known as a knitting magazine and in my opinion, long may it stay that way!

For me the stand-out pattern this issue is Kelly Ordemann's Adiantum.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter
Described as 'the consummate spring layering piece for unpredictable days', this 4-ply jumper is inspired by sprigs of thyme and I adore the foliate motifs on the neckline and yoke. Adiantum has jumped straight onto my 'to knit' list. The yarn is Woollenflower Masgot Fine, naturally dyed by Julia Billings in Glasgow. She's currently selling a yarn kit from £49 plus P&P, depending on the size you want to knit. I confess I've bought one and intend to make a cropped version of the jumper.

Next is the cover pattern Woodwardia by Lydia Gluck.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter
My first impression is that it's quite similar to Kate Davies' Carbeth sweater that took the knitting world by storm last year. If you look closely, however, Woodwardia isn't as cropped and also has a lovely geometric fern-like stitch pattern that follows the raglan shaping. It's knitted in worsted weight yarn.

The botanical theme continues with Liza Laird and Kate Maddens' Sweetfern.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter

This adorable hat, knitted from the bottom up, uses two colours of 4-ply yarn and has a slouchy fit at the top. The body of Sweetfern has a garter stitch and brioche pattern, complemented by the light, leafy front design.

Aurea by Stella Egidi is a rectangular stole.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter
The magazine says the design is inspired by Soleirolia soleirolii aurea, which 'commonly grows alongside ferns in damp, dark places'. It's knitted in fingering/4-ply weight yarn.

Amber Platzer Corcoran's Vivarium is bright, DK weight sweater for Spring days.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter
The magazine says that 'Our Vivarium pays homage to the ingenuity of the ethical gardener and the everyday magic of the humble garden.' It's a boxy, oversized jumper with folky, plant colourwork.

The final knitting pattern is Ginkgophyte, a lightweight top that will keep you going throughout Spring and Summer.

Image courtesy of Pompom and Carolyn Carter
It's knitted in lightweight yarn and uses lacy columns of eyelid ribbing to form the large gingko leaf shape across the bodice.

Which is your favourite?

Click through to Ravelry to see the three crochet patterns:

1. Isa Catepillan's Water Clover, a boxy floral lace top
2. Judith Brand's Filix wristwarmers
3. Isa Catepillan's Davallia cardigan come shawl with tassels.

Pompom Quarterly Number 28 costs £12.50 plus P&P direct from the publishers, which includes access to the digital version.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Review of Coopknits' Socks Yeah! DK Vol 1 + Yarn

Image courtesy of Coopknits
Having previously bought sock afficianado Rachel Coopey's Socks Volume 2, and knitting the starter Dave socks, I was pleased to see that she has published a book Socks Yeah! Volume One DK in January to support her own Socks Yeah! DK yarn.

The book contains eight original sock designs in various degrees of difficulty to suit both the new sock knitter and those who love to combine colour, lace and cable in one design.

The print book costs £12 plus P&P and is available from Coopknits' own shop and other retailers. If you're happy just with an ebook version you can forgo the P&P and download it for £12 at Ravelry.

I bought the book from AC Knitwear who at the time I bought it were selling the book and three 50g skeins of Socks Yeah! DK at a discount. It was difficult to choose which three colours to go for but in the end I plumped for Sphene, Tyburn and Fleet to knit the stripy sock pattern Zlonk.

The darker colours are described as grey but look a lot bluer in the photos and real life. They really make the mustard yellow of Sphene pop. My plan was that the socks' stripes would be a gentle introduction to the knitting the patterns from the book and that once I've mastered them I can move on to something more difficult such as the pink-toed Pow.

Coopey says that as the socks are knitted in DK weight they're perfect for keeping your feet cosy in colder weather. Using a 3mm circular needle rather than the usual 4mm for DK weight means that the knit is slightly denser and sturdier than usual.

At the end of book are very helpful photographic tutorials covering the long-tail cast on and Kitchener stitch - although I've used the grafting technique plenty of times I always need a quick refresher.

It's a pleasure to knit with Socks Yeah! DK as it doesn't split and is smooth to the touch. The yarn is a blend of 75% merino and 25% nylon. A 50g skein costs £6 plus P&P. At present there are 16 shades to choose from, some of which are pictured below:

Image courtesy of Coopknits
Here's where I'm up to so far with sock number one!

I'm taking a little holiday and am hoping that I'll be going from cold England to something akin to this:

I'll be taking Socks Yeah! DK with me to keep me occupied in case the reality is more like this!

Coming soon

When A Woolly Yarn's holiday is over we'll be reviewing

  • West Yorkshire Spinners' latest yarn releases
  • Erika Knight's Wool Local.
If you enjoy reading A Woolly Yarn then a nomination for the British Knitting & Crochet Awards 2019, in the knitting blog category (question 20) would be much appreciated. It's also your chance to support your local yarn store, favourite designer and wool brands. Plus everyone who nominates has the chance to win a year's worth of yarn!

Saturday 16 February 2019

Is It Cruel To Sheep To Knit With Wool?

It's a topic that provokes fierce opinions on all sides and one that, as 'Veganuary' has come to a close, is becoming important to a growing number of people who choose to avoid meat, dairy and animal products in the name of animal welfare. Two A Woolly Yarn readers separately requested that we cover the issue: is it cruel to sheep to knit with wool?

Image courtesy of PETA
In August 2018 the topic hit the headlines with the release of a video taken in the UK by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) capturing abuse of sheep by sheep shearers, which caused outrage in the media and was criticised alike by those within the farming industry.

According to the National Sheep Association, sheep are shorn once a year, usually in May to "ensure sheep do not get too hot and start to attract flies". On 22nd August 2018, as a reaction to PETA's video, British Wool, the Farmers Union of Wales, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, the National Farmers Union, NFU Cymru and the National Sheep Association released a joint statement stating that "Farmers and contractors within the sheep industry take animal welfare very seriously and any behaviour that is found to fall below that standard is not tolerated. Shearing is an absolutely necessary activity to ensure that wool can be removed safely to protect sheep from heat stress and disease."

Elisa Allen, Director of PETA UK, however, disagrees about the ethics of shearing. She told A Woolly Yarn that "claiming that shearing is 'just a haircut' is like saying that amputation is 'just a paper cut'. In the wool industry, time is money, and since most shearers are paid by volume, they're motivated to work as quickly as possible with little regard for sheep's welfare. In their haste, they cut animals' body parts right off - including ears, teats, tails and testicles".

Image courtesy of the National Sheep Association
Farmers argue that it would be cruel NOT to shear sheep. The board of directors of the American Society of Animal Science say that "as long as there are sheep, shearing must be practiced for the health and hygiene of each animal. Unlike animals, most sheep are unable to shed." The problems that can occur if a sheep goes too long without being shorn, they say, include the sheep becoming overheating and dying; infections caused by urine and other materials becoming trapped in the wool and attracting pests; and lack of mobility making sheep more susceptible to predator attacks.

The majority of wool shorn from sheep in the UK goes to the co-operative British Wool, where it is graded and sold on to the international textile industry. The best quality clips may be selected to be processed and spun for hand knitting. Allen argues this is wrong, saying "sheep's wool, just like foxes' fur, is not 'fabric', and it doesn't belong to us. It had an owner who was violently robbed of it. With warm cruelty-free fabrics - including cotton, bamboo, hemp and soya-bean fibre - readily available, it's easier than ever to ditch wool and other animal-derived materials."

Not all knitters, however, want to ditch wool and argue that knitting with wool doesn't have to be incompatible with supporting animal welfare. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal stated that wool advocates "say they have been unfairly lumped in with crocodile hunters and mink farmers by overzealous do-gooders who fundamentally misunderstand what goes into sheep farming, not to mention the superior properties of wool". 

Image courtesy of PETA
When PETA put up billboards in Times Square, New York, and also Boston, displaying "a nude picture of actress Alicia Silverstone with the phrase 'Leave Wool Behind' across her backside", it angered some in the US knitting community. As the Wall Street Journal reported, author and knitting enthusiast Clara Parkes hit back saying "I know smaller producers who care for their flock better than they do their own family". The article went on to state that "The wool community says a big part of its problem is small US farms are taking the fall for rougher treatment and controversial practices employed by a few large wool producers."

Many knitters and small business have since spoken up in support of wool, for example the UK online yarn store Laughing Hens wrote in its newsletter "we know the importance of wool and natural fibres. In today's day and age, people are more conscious of their own environmental impact on a changing earth. Wool is renewable, biodegradable, and one of the warmest, most insulating natural fibres available."

Yet the reported maltreatment of sheep doesn't end with shearing. PETA's Elisa Allen points out that "once sheep have outlived their usefulness for wool production, they aren't given a peaceful retirement - instead, they're sent to slaughter, often packed by the thousands onto enormous ships bound for unregulated Middle Eastern abattoirs, where their throats are slit whilst they're still completely conscious."

image courtesy of Izzy Lane
Here in the UK there's a growing movement against this treatment of sheep. Izzy Lane is a British farmer who rescues sheep so they can live out their lives on her land in the Yorkshire Dales. As well as fashion produced ethically from wool from her flock she sells her own yarn range to raise awareness of animal welfare. Lane says that she launched her Izzy Lane brand in 2007 "to help save the British textile industry - and closer to my heart - to give animals a voice in the fashion industry, as they had none. Up until now, there had been no traceability whatsoever of animal fibre." On her website she describes how she grew her flock of 600 rescued sheep, including saving ewes that had miscarried or missed a pregnancy, male lambs and some she intercepted on their way to a halal abattoir.

How can a knitter ensure the wool they buy comes from sheep that are well-treated and haven't been harmed during shearing? Izzy Lane advises to choose wool produced by a small business that can trace the fleece back to the farm it came from. She says: "There are lots of small breeders now whose principle reason is to produce wool, rather than it being a meat by-product, so I would seek out those small producers. And then ask the questions you would like to know about their welfare and their slaughter policy."

Businesses such as Daughter of a Shepherd and Uist Wool are other examples of yarn vendors with strong traceability. Wool from such small businesses may work out more expensive than that from large companies who do not give the provenance of their fleece, but for those who want to knit with wool and appreciate its eco-credentials it's a small price to pay for the knowledge that the product comes from a farm that has high sheep welfare standards.

Vegan-friendly yarns

Ultimately whether to knit with wool is down to an individual's own conscience.  Knitters who do not want to knit with animal fibres have a great deal of options to choose from, but these must be weighed up against the environmental costs of their yarn choice's production: for example the WWF warns it takes 20,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of cotton. Yarns that are made with petrochemicals, such as polyester and acrylic, use up finite fossil fuels.

One answer for vegan knitters could be to use recycled yarns, with the caveat that the recycling process itself requires energy and some yarns only contain a partial amount of reused material.

Wool and the Gang's latest launch New Wave Yarn, is created from 53% cotton and 47% recycled polyester.  The company says that each 100g ball contains the equivalent of three recycled plastic bottles.
Image courtesy of Wool and the Gang
Other recycled yarns on the market include Erika Knight's Studio Linen, a blend of 15% premium linen and 85% recycled rayon-linen fibre; and Hoooked's EkoYarn, consisting of 80% recycled cotton and 20% other recycled fibres.

Can you recommend any other recycled yarns? Let us know in the comments box below or A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Which Are Your Most-Loved Knits?

Is there a pattern you've knitted that you've really, really loved?

With Valentine's Day coming up, it got me thinking Carrie Bradshaw-style about the hand-made knits I've loved, whether they're a long-term relationship like my Big Wool heart jumper or something new that I'm still in the early throws of delight with.

Going through my wardrobe of knitted clothes and accessories for this article I differentiated between the ones I enjoyed knitting and like the look of and the ones I've actually worn lots. I don't know if you're like me, but although I haven't got oodles of clothes, although I'm certainly not in need of any more, I tend on an everyday level to stick to a small selection of them and keep others for 'best'.

The jumper

Quite a few years ago I knitted Rowan's heart jumper using their Big Wool. The pattern was from the now discontinued Easy Winter Knits collection, and, after some internet searching, I found that at the time of writing there's one copy left at the online yarn store English Yarns

I'm very fond of this jumper. It's very warm, is roomy enough to fit over other layers, and goes very well with jeans. Indeed I liked it so much I knitted two more for my friends. I was a beginner then to intarsia and three goes at knitting the heart taught me a lot about stranded colourwork and twisting the two yarns so there are no holes - although my technique at sewing in the ends still leaves a lot to be desired! 

I've worn the heart jumper so much that it has become bobbled and, to use a euphemism, rather 'well worn', but it's still my go-to warmer on very cold days around the house when I want to put on an old favourite.

The socks

I actually took these off my feet today to photograph them. They were one of my earliest attempts at sock knitting, made with a one-off yarn colour Knitterbocker Glory that West Yorkshire Spinners released for Yarn Shop Day in 2015. Being DK weight the socks are slightly too thick to wear in the summer with trainers but they hit the spot in the Winter when it comes to wearing them with boots or just on their own in the house to keep my feet warm. They've been washed and worn so many times that they've moulded themselves to my feet shape.

The scarf/cowl

When I came back to knitting in adulthood I discovered the yarn at Toft Alpaca, whose HQ is about a 20 minute drive from my house. Nowadays the company is concentrating on its very popular crochet animals range but back then, before the publication of Toft's book Edward's Menagerie, which spawned many sequels, their focus was firmly on knitting. This scarf/cowl's (a thin knitted scarf sewn up at the cast on and off ends) pattern included ladder stitch. As a relative beginner it seemed to me totally counter-intuitive to drop a stitch but I quickly learned the technique.

I've knitted many other cowls since then - and have published my own patterns for a few on A Woolly Yarn - but when it's a bit chilly this is the one I reach for most. It's knitted in a grey lace weight yarn (sadly Toft no longer produces it) and goes with absolutely everything.

The festive knit

I finished knitting Ginger Twist Studio's Vintage Winter jumper last Spring having bought the kit at Christmastime 2017. After wearing it near-constantly in December 2018 I'm still in the throws of adoration for its boxy fit, the incredible warmth of the green aran yarn and the sheer fun of the design. Because it has Christmas trees on it's now back in the wardrobe until December 2019, but I'm currently knitting a non-festive version in Ginger's Sheepish Aran pink Trixie Mattel.

The cushion

Finally, as love affairs go this cushion, from a Debbie Bliss pattern book, is the woolly version of a pipe and slippers. When I got back into knitting as an adult I first knitting accessories and this cushion has been a mainstay on my sofa for many years, way before I tried knitting socks, in the round or intarsia. It doesn't have to impress, it's happy in its own skin and it's very comfy to cuddle up to.

A Valentine's treat for yourself

Want a quick woolly purchase for a treat? In this freezing weather I can recommend this fleece-lined bobble hat from Herdy.  I bought in one in the purple colourway in the January sale to match my new coat - whilst I have  quite a few hats I've knitted myself, none really went with my purple coat. The Herdy hat is keeping my head extra warm in icy and snowy weather.

Image courtesy of Herdy
Herdy gives a percentage of its profits to the Herdyfund, which supports Cumbria's rural communities, Herdwick sheep and upland fell farming, which means you don't have to feel guilty about buying a hat instead of knitting one yourself. I haven't received a freebie or been paid to plug the hat - I just love it so much I want to spread the word!

Which are your most-loved hand knits? Please post a pic on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page. It'd be great to see what they are!

Sunday 3 February 2019

Can A C Knitwear Help Boost Your Knitting?

Knitting clubs where the customer pays upfront to receive a pattern by email every week and a print book of them all at the end of the run are proving very popular at the moment. Kate Davies has used the format a number of times and is currently running her Knitting Season club, and other designers such as Ysolda Teague sell versions where yarn comes with the patterns.

It's easy to see the draw of these clubs from both sides: the designer gets cash up-front and a rough knowledge of how many books to print/yarns to order, whilst the knitter has the thrill of seeing the new patterns before others and the feeling of being part of a special club community - often designers run Ravelry forums for their clubs.

Now A C Knitwear, the married couple Jen and Jim who are based in Frome, Somerset, have announced a sequel to their A Year of Techniques club and ebook.

Image courtesy of A C Knitwear
This time the emphasis will be on boosting your knitting skills. Making the announcement the pair said "we have twelve new techniques, twelve patterns from twelve fabulous designers, twelve sets of photo and video tutorials, and most importantly, twelve opportunities for you to experience the joy of learning something new!" Prior knowledge of the first year of techniques isn't required.

Image courtesy of A C Knitwear
Despite the enticement of learning new knitting skills, my hesitation in joining such clubs comes from a financial standpoint. I'm dubious about paying money upfront without knowing what I'm paying for. Like most knitters I have a limited budget for patterns and I want to ensure that I'm going to want to knit what I buy. I don't like shawls or wraps (a personal preference), have lots of hats, cowls and mittens I've knitted already and am picky about the styles of jumpers and cardigans that suit my short body shape.

Therefore it's great to hear that before the club membership goes on sale on Thursday 7th February (£30 including P&P, a digital pattern a month for 12 months and a print copy of the patterns in September 2019) the duo will be announcing the techniques that will be covered in the book along with the list of designers the pair have worked with to create the patterns. To keep the air of excitement and exclusivity though, the designs themselves will still remain secret.

Post-Christmas finances plus a trip to Edinburgh Yarn Fest in March, where I'm bound to be tempted to buy something, mean that I'll have to think heavily about whether to subscribe. I can say though that I have knitted with A C Knitwear's own yarn Something to Knit With 4Ply, a blend of 70% highland wool and 30% superfine alpaca, and am impressed with its softness, stitch definition and lack of splitting. If the patterns use this yarn, which also comes in aran weight (leading me to wonder whether a DK version will be coming soon) then that'll certainly be a point in its favour.

The Boost Your Knitting club will be available to buy from A C Knitwear's online shop from Thursday, 7th February.

What do you think of knitting clubs? Have your say in the comment box below or on A Woolly Yarn's
Facebook page.

6th February update

These are the techniques the club will explain:

  1. Brioche knitting, including increases and decreases
  2. Choosing colours for stranded colourwork
  3. Correcting mistakes in lace knitting
  4. Tubular cast-on in the round
  5. Dip stitches 
  6. Double knitting, including decreases
  7. Finishing techniques for toy knitting (sewing together, stuffing and embroidering faces)
  8. Gusset short row heel for toe-up socks
  9. Intarsia in the round
  10. Joining in yarns for colourwork
  11. Marlisle
  12. Tuck stitches.

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