Sunday 26 May 2019

Review of John Arbon Textiles The Annual

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Instead of publishing the usual catalogue of yarns, this year John Arbon Textiles, a family-run business in Devon that spins yarns for its own range and other clients, has taken a different approach.

It's harking back to the 1970s and 80s with issue one of The Annual - a collectable, entertaining read that even includes a word search!

A lot of John Arbon's sales to customers are done via the web, therefore it's handy for would-be-purchasers to have background information on their yarns, particularly its composition and specifications.  Yet this isn't just a mere catalogue (and readers would expect more than that to justify its £5 plus P&P price tag when bought directly from John Arbon Textiles). The Annual goes behind the scenes at the business with information about the staff, what the machinery does, and for light relief there's a spot the difference puzzle featuring John himself.

The stand-out highlights of The Annual are the four exclusive knitting patterns that aren't available anywhere else. These are:

Chapman Socks by Rachel Atkinson

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
These use Exmoor Sock 4ply yarn.

Boyd Hat by Sonja Bargielowska

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Viola DK is the yarn of choice.

Drucilla Shawl by Fay Dashoer-Hughes

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles
Knitted in Alpaca 2-3ply.

Cuthbert Scarf by Francesca Hughes

Image courtesy of John Arbon Textiles

This pattern requires Knit By Numbers 4ply mini skeins.

The only thing missing is a feel of the actual yarn itself. British people old enough to remember the early years of the Next Directory (a clothing catalogue) when it launched at the end of the 1980s will know that it included little cloth samples from some of the designs, which was great for colour-checking and feeling the quality of the material.

I'd have loved there to be a strand of each yarn in the John Arbon range included in the annual. That'd be so helpful for those of us who have now idea how a Zwarbles feels differently from an Exmoor Blueface or Merino. Perhaps something for John Arbon's team to consider for issue 2?

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Stylecraft Yarns Open Day Closed To Physically Disabled People

I've mentioned in this blog before that I was born with a physical disability. Nowadays I use a wheelchair pretty much all the time I'm out of the house which, contrary to misery stereotypes of the 'wheelchair-bound', greatly improves my quality of life as opposed to not being able to walk far and being in pain when I do so. In a wheelchair I can get out and about a lot further and longer than I could do otherwise.

Spend an afternoon with me though and you'll find out the numerous barriers there are to my freedom and how they exclude me, and others in a similar position (think other wheelchair users, mums with prams, those who use mobility devices such as sticks or walking frames, and elderly people who find it difficult to walk) from places non-disabled people think nothing of going to.

The knitting community is renowned for being friendly and inclusive, which is why recently I was aghast to find that physically disabled people are excluded from a day Stylecraft Yarns is holding to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

Image courtesy of Stylecraft

On Facebook the company ran a competition to win one of fifteen pairs of tickets for a 30th anniversary celebration day at their mill in Huddersfield, stating that "the day will kick off with some fun and games before a mega yarn-tasting session featuring new yarns from the Autumn/Winter collections. After a prosecco lunch, the winners will spend time in workshops with some of our Blogstars ... every winner will also receive an amazing goodie bag to take home."

Sounds great, right? Except there was no need to try your luck in the draw if you're physically disabled. The small print said that the mill is not accessible for disabled people. Stylecraft didn't specifically say not to apply if you're a wheelchair user but putting two and two together I deduced that it was pointless if I couldn't get in the building to use the tickets. No prosecco or goodie bag for me!

Stylecraft yarn image courtesy of Black Sheep Wools
Stylecraft is a huge player in the UK knitting industry. I haven't featured it on A Woolly Yarn because this blog focuses on wool and most of Stylecraft's yarns are either synthetic or have a low wool content. That aside it's a popular, much-loved company and was a winner in the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2018. Surely for the purpose of the celebration day they could make what the Disability Discrimination Act calls a reasonable adjustment and hold it in their business areas that are accessible or even rent a room somewhere else for the day? Stylecraft is a fair-size company which, unlike a sole trader, will have the funds to do so.

The pointlessness in applying for tickets left me feeling excluded from their business and the knitting community. I can't help comparing the experience with that I had with Sirdar last year. As one of the winners of Knit Now magazine's Knitter of the Year 2017 awards I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Sirdar. Both the magazine's Editor, Kate Heppell, and the Sirdar team were extremely welcoming. They said it was fine for me to bring a friend to push my wheelchair and there was a stairlift to access the upstairs areas. Another of the winners was also a wheelchair user and our physical ability just wasn't an issue, as it should be. What mattered was our love of knitting.

The purpose of this blog post isn't to name and shame Stylecraft, but to raise awareness of exclusion in the knitting community. In the last few months the issues of lack of representation of people with colour, the bias towards smaller pattern garment sizes, and access to patterns for people on low incomes have been hotly debated within the knitting community on social media.

Yarn image courtesy of Sirdar
To me the marginalisation of disabled people is important too. If you're not part of the demographic affected you might not be aware it exists.

I also experience exclusion with some yarn stores, although to be fair they tend to be small businesses without the cash or the means to move or alter their premises. A broken lift, more than one step up or a huge step and no portable ramp means that I can't go in. I've come across very friendly staff who have told me to knock on the window and they'll come to the door and bring to me what I want to look at. Sounds good in theory but in practice when it's raining, the staff are busy serving customers and have to wait a while to come and see me, I'm not sure what I'm after and then feel obliged to buy something after a member of staff has helped me, it's not.

I miss out on the joy and freedom of browsing, squishing and smelling yarn, comparing colours and chatting with other customers, never mind not being able to attend any workshops or social knit and natter nights. Plus the yarn stores lose out on my cash and repeat custom. To people who tell me to buy online instead I say I do sometimes when I know what I want but any knitter will tell you the benefit of being able to browse, see and feel wool first before buying. Why should I be any different?

Pattern image courtesy of Stylecraft
Those who have experienced social exclusion will know that it has a drip effect on someone's confidence and ability to join in with the world.

Of course it's not just yarn companies I've faced it from but shops, pubs, restaurants and other businesses too. Yet the days have long gone when I've felt grateful to a shop for taking me to their upper floor in a goods lift or meekly accepted that businesses and services open to all are out of bounds for me. It saddens me greatly that anyone should miss out on their favourite hobby, knitting, just because of physical ability beyond their control. It's hard enough sometimes dealing with disability anyway, without added unnecessary exclusion from society.

I contacted Stylecraft for a quote to hear their side of the story and this is what they said:
"We are very sorry that it will not be possible for people with a physical disability to attend the Purl Anniversary party. The building is normally accessible for wheelchair users, however, at present our lift is undergoing renovation work and we are not able to guarantee that the lift will be in operation by the time of the party. To prevent disappointment nearer the time, we felt it better to state that it would not be accessible. In retrospect we could have expressed this more clearly in the hopes of avoiding disappointment."
Here's hoping Stylecraft's lift will be fixed soon and they'll host another party for those who missed out.

Now just don't get me started on the lack of representation of disability in pattern photography. Knitting companies and magazines are certainly improving the representation of their customer base by including models of colour, different ages and larger sizes in their images. But have you ever seen a wheelchair user advertising the latest jumper pattern? A model with a hearing aid, guide dog or even something as everyday as wearing spectacles? That's a blog post for another time ...

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Warning When Buying Yarn From Abroad

Image courtesy of cornbreadandhoney
One of the great things about the internet is that it has democratised the craft industry and allowed small producers and designers to reach a worldwide audience. Craftsy and Etsy showcase marvellous products that you can't find in the shops in your local area. But watch out - you could get caught out.

For a while I've been looking for wool to knit Andrea Mowry's So Faded jumper. I hadn't found a colourway that really popped out at me until I came across the Starry Night three skein set from cornbreadandhoney, a seller based in the US, on Etsy (see photo on the right).

Look at those gorgeous yellow and blues. They ticked all my boxes and I placed my order. The yarn worked out pretty good value with the dollar/pound sterling exchange rate and I was happy to pay to a larger than average postage charge considering the seller was posting from the US.

All seemed well until a Royal Mail bill for £20.87 arrived on my doorstep this morning.

It was for a £12.87 customs charge plus an eight pound 'handling fee'. The need to pay customs duty on the yarn because I'd bought it from abroad hadn't occurred to me. It wasn't mentioned on the seller's page although to be fair I wouldn't expect an owner/maker who sells all over the world to know the customs laws for each country.

Next I looked on Etsy to see if customs charges were mentioned anywhere. I went to the 'help' page and typed in 'customs duty'.  In the information for sellers there's a page stating that buyers are responsible for paying customs charges - as you would expect.

However I couldn't find any information for buyers warning about potential customs charges. There was no mention of them on my receipt or despatch notification.

Considering I'd already spent quite a bit of money on the yarn, and if I didn't pay the charges it would be sent back to the seller, I paid the customs charges. Now I'm waiting for the delivery. I'm sure the yarn will be fabulous and I mean no disrespect to the seller at all but I do think I should have been warned about extra charges. This was Etsy's reply when I contacted the company:
"Customs fees vary greatly from country to country, and fees aren't applied until the item reaches your country. Because sellers aren't able to predict what customs fees, if any, will be applied, we're unable to hold them responsible for unexpected fees or taxes."
The reply dodges my original question, which was why Etsy doesn't warn buyers about potential customs charges, at the checking out stage, when they are buying items from abroad.

Buyer beware!

Thursday 9 May 2019

Tin Can Knits Launches Four Summer Patterns

I'm a great fan of Tin Can Knits, the designer duo where Emily is based in Scotland and Alexa in Canada, therefore it was great to hear today that they have published four new knitting patterns for summer. Having just finished knitting Karie Westermann's Vinterskov aran-weight sweater it's time to cast on something lighter on my needles.

Love Note

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits
This cropped lacy sweater is my favourite out of the four new patterns. Tin Can Knits used a combination of single ply merino and mohair lace but the pattern would also work using a DK yarn. Rainbow Heirloom is selling a yarn kit for Love Note.

Penny Sweater

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

Choose whether to knit the Penny sweater in full or cropped length. There's a sweet lace pattern on the back as well as the front and it's knitted in DK yarn.

Penny Hat

Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

Knitted in sock weight yarn this hat has a delicate sculptural lace pattern.


Image courtesy of Tin Can Knits

This shawl/oversized scarf has a delicate floral lace pattern. Choose to either knit it in light or heavyweight yarn.

All the patterns are available on Ravelry at approx £6.68. There's a discount of 25% off until the end of May 2019 if you buy all four together.

Monday 6 May 2019

Do You Know Your Worsted From Your Woollen Spun?

However long you've been knitting, whether it's a few months or most of a lifetime, there's some knitting jargon and woolly processes that you think you know but when it comes to explaining them, well ... that's where the things start to fall down.

When I went to Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March I thought one of the most interesting stands was that of The Woolist. Its the brainchild of uber wool lover Zoe Fletcher, whose recently completed PhD was on the subject of British sheep and wool characteristics for knitwear.

Zoe Fletcher image courtesy of The Woolist
For her studies she travelled the UK to see all the different sheep breeds. At Edinburgh Yarn Festival she displayed the results of her research along with some very interesting wool facts. There were also samples of different wool breeds to squish.

The Woolist stall at EYF

With thanks to Zoe, here are five interesting woolly facts:
  1. Worsted and woollen spun refer to what happens to wool before it is spun. Worsted-spun yarns have their fibre straightened and aligned before spinning, resulting in a smooth yarn. Woollen-spun yarns, however, aren't straightened before spinning, trapping air and resulting in a matte surface with a soft halo when knitted up.
  2. Superwashed means that the wool has been chemically treated to either remove the wool fibre scales or smooth them over with a coating. This helps to prevent felting and shrinking when cleaned in a washing machine.
  3. 72 is the number of British sheep breeds in the UK according to the British Wool Marketing Board in 2011.
  4. The most predominant British breeds are the Shetland, Bluefaced Leicester, Herdwick and Jacob.
  5. Wicking is a term that means taking water away from the skin. Wool is able to absorb up to 30% of its weight without feeling damp.
Thanks to Zoe Fletcher, The Woolist and the EYF guide.

Read about Edinburgh Yarn Festival in The Knitter magazine

My feature on this year's EYF, along with lots of photos of sumptuous yarn, is in the latest issue of The Knitter magazine, which is issue 137.

Image courtesy of The Knitter

© A Woolly Yarn. Powered by