Monday 24 June 2019

Read This Before Taking Your Knitting On Board A Flight

Whilst it gets you to where you want to go relatively quickly, flying can be a pretty boring (and unenvironmentally-friendly) mode of transport. There's the journey to the airport, all that hanging around to check your bags in and go through security, and then hours of sitting down mid-flight with nothing to keep you occupied other than movies you've already seen and the person behind periodically kneeing you in the back of the seat.

All rolled up and ready to be knitted into socks
So it goes without saying that taking a small knitting project with you could be a great way to get more rows in and pass the time until the flight attendant prepares for landing. With security rules stricter than ever however, and varying between countries and airlines, here's how to err on the cautious side ...

1. Take nothing sharp in your carry on bags. Pack scissors, yarn snips and sewing-up needles in your suitcase that's going in the hold. It seems counter-intuitive that you can't take a razor through security but can buy one in Boots when you've passed through but that's the rules.

2. Only take a small project such as socks - unless you're lucky enough to be flying first class that is. With the minuscule amount of room you have in an economy seat a sweater or blanket will end up spreading over to your unhappy neighbours. You'll take up less room using circular needles.

3. Wooden needles are a better bet than metal ones, whether they're straight or circular. When you check your luggage in ask an airline staff member if you can take your needles onboard. If they say no then pack them in your check-in suitcase.

4. Forgotten to ask an airline staff member and a guard says you can't take your needles through security? Carry a stamped, self-addressed envelope in your hand-luggage, pop the needles in and ask security to post it for you. Make sure you have a piece of spare yarn to hold the stitches on (although this will be difficult without a needle if you're knitting with lace or 4-ply yarn).

5. When knitting on board try and keep the needle-clacking to a minimum - if you're a noisy knitter it's polite to switch to reading instead on a night flight when the lights have been switched off.

Forgotten to pack any knitting at all? That's a great excuse to visit a local yarn store wherever you're going. A ball of yarn you can't buy in the UK makes a better souvenir than a macrame camel or bag of spices!

Monday 17 June 2019

Successful Debut For Sheffield's The Wool Monty

Wool, wool and lots more hand-dyed wool (with a spot of tea and a piece of cake thrown in) - that's what visitors to the inaugural The Wool Monty show had the delights of discovering on the weekend on 15th/16th June. A Woolly Yarn was there to browse, squish and seek out new knitterly wonders.

The FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield usually is home to bands, comedians and the local ice hockey team but for two days it was taken over 60 stands run by both local vendors and those from further afield. The emphasis was firmly on small businesses you might not have come across before (four of which are featured in this post), along with bigger names such as Nathan Taylor aka Sockmatician, and Elaine Jinks-Turner from Baa Baa Brighouse.

Elaine Jinks-Turner
A Woolly Yarn visited on the Sunday afternoon and Elaine, taking a moment to knit in-between customers, said that the Saturday had been very busy and she'd certainly exhibit again next year.

The popularity of hand-dyed yarns, particularly for one-ball projects such as socks and shawls, seems to be going from strength to strength. Look at the fabulous array of shades on offer from Ducky Darlings, a Derbyshire-based business that sells on Etsy:

Chatting to vendors it was great meet people who'd recently started businesses, spurred on by their love of yarn and curiosity to try dyeing their own.

Claire Nettleship launched her venture last year.

After visiting Yarndale she decided to learn how to knit socks and then tried her hand at dyeing sock yarn herself. She specialises in self-striping yarn and aims to have up to ten colours in each skein. Claire showed me photos of her dyeing in action - let's just say it involves lots of buckets - and it looks very impressive!

Claire Nettleship with her own yarns
Another 2018 starter is Mad Scientist Yarns. This husband and wife duo, Scott and Michelle - who used to be scientists but now work in IT - started yarn dyeing after Michelle went to Edinburgh Yarn Festival and decided she wanted to create her own yarn colours inspired by chemistry.

The couple run their company as well as keeping their day jobs and give a proportion of their sales to charities such as MIND. The Wool Monty was their first foray into yarn shows - and very professional their stall looked too.

I already have a huge stash of yarn to use up and was trying to very good but I did buy one thing - a jumper kit from Hot Butter Yarns. I hadn't heard of the business before and was impressed by the samples they had on display of their own patterns knitted up from their own-dyed wool.

Nerrit from Hot Butter Yarns
I ordered the Nerrit kit which is made to order and I'm replacing the teal blue shade with a vibrant pink.

Well done to Debbie, Mand and Rosie, the trio from Woolfull who organised the The Wool Monty and also displayed at the show and sold cute, sheep-embossed merchandise. When it was less busy the venue seemed a little large for vendors, but it certainly scored ten out of ten for accessibility, free parking, disabled access and lots of room to sit and drink refreshments in between shopping.

Keep an eye out on The Wool Monty's website to see whether the show will run again next year.

Did you go to The Wool Monty? What did you buy and which vendors did you most like? Let us know in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Kate Davies Targets Beginners With Her Latest Pattern Book

Kate Davies' knitwear patterns are perennially popular and currently on her website she's tantalisingly trailing designs for her forthcoming book: Bold Beginner Knits.

Image courtesy of Kate Davies
Back in the day when I learned to knit as a child the starting point was a dishcloth (doesn't matter if there are holes or uneven tension because it's only wiping muck off plates) or perhaps a chunky scarf. Since then knitting has become a hobby people are learning as adults and they want to aim bigger and brighter in order to create something instagram-worthy.

Upstream is the second pattern Davies has teased, the first being the blanket on the cover of the book.

Image courtesy of Kate Davies
It has a patterned yoke using slipped stitches. Says Davies, "This intriguing pattern is actually just a series of basic stripes, in which slipped stitches (when held at the front of the work) create an undulating effect which travels, in highly satisfying waves, around the yoke. When working the pattern, only one shade is ever in use."

Now it took me a about two years of adult knitting before I attempted a sweater and for my first attempt I stuck to one colour in order to concentrate on the construction. That, however, was a garment knitted in four pieces (back, front and two sleeves) and when I moved on to knitting in the round I found that technique easier than having to sew finished pieces up. Ysolda Teague sells a pattern aimed at jumper beginners, Ravelston DK, at a 'pay what you can' price between £5 and £12.

Image courtesy of Ysolda Teague
The pattern is all one colour, includes lots of sizes and a choice of necklines.

Keep an eye out on Kate Davies' blog to see when she releases details of more patterns from Bold Beginner Knits. The book is available for pre-order at £15 plus P&P.

What did you knit when you were a beginner? Let us know in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Sunday 9 June 2019

Review Of Erika Knight's Wool Local

"From fleece to finished yarn in less that 50 miles" is the streamline for Erika Knight's most recent yarn launch, aptly named Wool Local, which hit yarn shop shelves earlier this year.  But is it worth knitting with?

Wool Local image courtesy of Erika Knight
Wool Local's eco-credentials come not only from its (lack of) transport miles but also because it's spun with fleece from British Bluefaced Leicester and Masham Yorkshire sheep. The wool is scoured, combed spun, dyed, steamed and handed in the same county. Says Knight "The catalyst for creating my own yarn collection was to support the British heritage of textile mills and to promote native sheep breeds."

There are six shades to choose from:

A Woolly Yarn received one 100g hank in the blue shade Bennett to review (all opinions are our own). A quick sniff revealed a pleasantly subtle, sheepy aroma and when squeezed the hank bounced back straight away. Wool Local is 4ply weight and, though wool is thought of more of a Winter knit, it's also suitable for Summer projects including t-shirts and lightweight cowls.

If you're after a softish yarn with a proper woolly feel then Wool Local is a great choice. It feels that it has the strength and resilience of a more workhorse wool but is soft enough to be worn next to the skin in cowls and hats. Wool Local has a subtle colour variation that almost resembles tweed. Knitted up it has a slight halo and does shed a little so it's perhaps one to avoid if you find that to be an irritating quality.

All in all for people who want to knit with British wool and know its provenance Erika Knight has come up trumps again with Wool Local.

How much?

Each 100g skein costs £13 at McA direct plus P&P.

Saturday 1 June 2019

The Debate About Pattern Pricing - Too High Or Too Low?

Recently on social media the thorny issue of knitting pattern pricing has come to the fore. Some members in the knitting community have pointed out that the cost of buying a pattern from a designer can be off-putting to those on low incomes and may lead to knitting becoming an elitist craft only open to those who can afford it. The counter argument is that a lot of work goes into creating a pattern and that designers deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work.

Designer Ann Kingstone published a blog post pointing out that "very few handknitting designers make a liveable income from selling patterns. With so many free patterns available, and a huge amount of choice in pay-for patterns, hand knit designers face an uphill struggle to attract buyers."

How much cash would you pay for a pattern?
She goes on to argue that lowering prices could prevent designers from earning a living wage: "I want to make design a viable self-employment choice for folk who have creative talent and want to make a living from it. With current industry pattern pricing averages that is not going to happen. So for many years I have deliberately priced my patterns at the top of the range of what other designers charge, feeling able to risk losing sales in order to support a move to more sustainable pattern pricing across the industry. As my patterns are quality products, I have felt justified in doing this, and almost nobody has complained."

Many designers have sales to stimulate interest in their products and also offer free 'taster' patterns, although these are usually from their back catalogue and not their new releases. Kingstone states "I consider it ridiculous to worry that knitting is being 'gentrified' if designers increase their prices".

There's also the issue that if great pattern designers can't earn a living wage from their craft then the profession itself may become a 'hobby job' only open to people who have enough income from elsewhere to live on, which itself would discriminate against talented people without a rich partner or a trust fund.

Elaine Jinks-Turner, owner of internet yarn business Baa Baa Brighouse, said in her blog post that social media can be open to abuse and misuse, when referring "to the ongoing furore regarding pattern pricing ... it's quite heartbreaking to see designers feeling as if they have to justify themselves to customers by detailing all kinds of personal and private events, to show that they are not being 'greedy' nor that being a knitwear designer is a 'choice' or 'privilege'."

Ravelston image courtesy of Kate O'Sullivan
Edinburgh-based designer Ysolda Teague is trailing a 'pay what you can' pricing mode, saying 'I've often felt like that "standard" price of knitting patterns is both lower than other similar products (eg. indie sewing patterns) and doesn't really reflect the amount of work that goes into them. At the same time it's totally fair to worry that rising pattern prices will price people out ... as a community it can feel exclusive and like you have to spend a lot to fit in. I'd like to find a price that balances valuing the work in a pattern, and being inclusive."

Teague's trial consists of two patterns, Ravelston and Thebe. Both have a higher trial price combined with lower 'pay what you can' options. Kingstone says if this improves overall profitability, whilst making a pattern affordable for those on low budgets, she will use this model herself for her next pattern release.

The 'pay what you can' pricing model itself is, however,  open to interpretation. Is it right for someone to pay more to subsidise a pattern for someone else (for example we all pay the same price for a tin of baked beans depending on where you shop) and how do you police the system so it is not abused? What qualifies as a low income? What about people who earn more than the average salary but feel cash-strapped due to their outgoings? In his book Status Anxiety Alain de Botton explains that how rich or poor you feel can be influenced by how well you are doing compared to your peer group and neighbours - for example a person earning £20,000 a year may feel well off if surrounded by people earning £18,000 but someone on £30,000 can feel poor if their neighbours can afford foreign holidays and a new car and they can't.

There could be an option, rather like Food Banks, where satisfied customers donate money to a designer's fund to give out free patterns to those on low incomes who otherwise couldn't afford to buy them. Yet, like state benefit means testing, it's embarrassing for someone to declare themselves in need of financial support and very intrusive for the designer to police.

Says Jinks-Turner, "there are days when I'd quite like to wander round Brighouse dressed in Chanel but my budget won't allow it and that's fine, there are plenty of alternatives. The same goes for knitwear patterns. There is an abundance of free patterns available on Ravelry."

The result of the 'pay what you can' trial will be closely watched by many designers.

Do you think knitting pattern prices are too high? Would you be prepared to pay the highest price in the 'pay what you can' model? Have your say in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.
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