Wednesday 28 August 2019

Review of Kate Davies' Bold Beginner Knits

Popular knitwear designer Kate Davies has turned her attention to beginners for her latest pattern book. Not just beginners though - bold beginners who already can cast on and off, knit and purl, increase and decrease plus knit in the round.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
Davies trailed the patterns online over a few weeks to encourage pre-orders for £15 including free postage and packing. Although I would describe myself as an intermediate-level knitter I bought one for myself, attracted by the prospect of simplish patterns that look more complicated than they actually are!

The paperback book contains six patterns, which are:


Slipped-stitches create graphic waves on this three-colour hat.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
There's a very handy chart in colour to explain when to slip stitches and after reading the pattern the design certainly looks more difficult to knit than it actually is. I'm not sure though when I was a beginner I could have managed knitting in the round, changing colours and slipped stitches all at the same time.


You've practiced on the hat, now transfer those skills to knitting the jumper Upstream (which surprisingly is before Corryvreckan in the book).

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
Upstream is knitted from the bottom up, meaning that jumper-knitting newbies will get to practice their stocking stitch until they reach the more complicated part of adding in the sleeves and knitting the yoke. Again there's a very helpful coloured chart.


Is it a scarf or is it a wrap? The beauty of this one-size design is that it can be either.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
However the construction of triangular shawl knitting is new to me and, combined with the lace design and reading from the chart, I think a beginner would have to be extremely bold to attempt to knit Footfall. Perhaps it's a pattern to try last once you've conquered the other five.


I love the colours in the blanket and its modern, hexagonal design.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
It's garter stitch only and each of the 36 hexagons are knitted individually before being sewn together in strips and then the strips together to form the blanket. The pattern is relatively simple.


One size fits all (hopefully, though not me being rather short) for this textured shrug.  The pattern requires knowledge of the three-needle bind-off technique and the ability to follow a chart.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
Again, this pattern requires a very bold beginner to follow the rectangle construction which is then folded, secured and a border added.


I've saved my favourite pattern until last. Downstream is the reason I bought Bold Beginner Knits. I have some aran yarn in my stash and can see me getting a lot of wear out of this cardigan, with or without a decorative safety pin at the front to hold it together.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
Davies says you can knit Downstream with or without the stripes. It's knitted from the top down and there are five sizes to choose from.

What's the verdict?

It's a beautifully-photographed, well set out book with a foreward from Davies herself who says that learning to work from a chart is important in expanding your knitterly horizons.

The book was inspired by Davies' friend and employee Jane Hunter (the model in Bold Beginner Knits) who had taught herself to knit but was unsure how to progress from the basics. Davies believes that beginners shouldn't be put off by patterns that look difficult, "even if a project seems beyond your skill level, you are more likely to surprise yourself with your own resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of knitterly frustration than you are likely to every truly fail."

Davies places great importance on swatching and finding the right needle size for your tension. Therefore she doesn't give needle sizes to use but rather specifies 'gauge' and 'below' gauge where you might be expecting 4mm and 3.25mm. Not great if you usually skip swatching and hope for the best but it's certainly a good habit to get into.

This is not a book for absolute beginners, I'd recommend that they start with Pom Pom Press's Knit How, but it's certainly a reasonably-priced one for bold beginners and intermediate knitters to add to their collection.

Lastly, a word about the yarn specified for the patterns.

Image courtesy of KDD & Co
All the patterns in Bold Beginner Knits use Davies own aran-weight yarn Ard Thir, a blend of 60% Peruvian wool and 40% alpaca. I've not seen the yarn myself and it certainly sounds good quality but at £8 per 50g skein it's not cheap. Beginners may not want to spend that much (for example Downstream requires 12 skeins) if they're not sure they'll be able to complete the project to a wearable standard.

Cheaper alternatives could include West Yorkshire Spinners' Aran Bluefaced Leicester wool, at £8.69 per 100g skein, or Blacker Yarns' Limited Edition Tor Lanlavery Aran, currently on special offer at £6 per 100g skein.

Which is your favourite pattern in Bold Beginner Knits? Tell us in the comments section below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page

Monday 19 August 2019

What To Do If You've Spent All Your Cash On Your Yarn Stash

Some women like to buy shoes, some clothes, some handbags. I do have a penchant for a retro-style handbag but for me my spending triggers are books and yarn. Books because, well, they're educational aren't they? I have piles of novels in my bookshelf and teetering on top of my bedside table just waiting to be read. As the author of a novel, which I hope to find a publisher for, I tell myself that my profligate book habit is market research.

Then there's wool. For this blog I follow designers and the latest trends, the result being that I have a huge favourites list on Ravelry.  I see patterns I love and don't resist temptation to buy the yarn for them, particularly if the wool is limited edition, hand-dyed and won't be available next year, despite the fact I have a chest full of unstarted projects already along with about five sweaters and accessories I've already begun and switch between as my fancy takes me.

Stash costs cash!
But now it's reckoning time. I hit this with books last year when there was just no more space on the shelves or available wall to put a new bookcase against and I felt frustrated every time I saw my huge pile of books, which resembled the leaning tower of Pisa, on the floor. The moment came for me to 'woman up' and have a cull, selling online or donating to charity those I knew I wouldn't read again or hadn't read and didn't really want to. It was tough but I did it and made a reasonable sum in the process. Yet I slowly but surely kept discovering something new I wanted to read and now there are again very few spaces again in my shelves. In attempt to keep my reading habit under control I've now rejoined the local library and am starting again borrowing books for free.

Now it's time to do so with my yarn. Previously I have periodically sorted through my stash and sold or given away anything I know I'm not going to use. I donated all the odds and ends of balls I'd kept to charity. I matched my yarn with patterns I own and have even a few balls MORE so I'd have enough to knit the top I wanted (talk about false economy!)

I bought the kit to knit this jumper at The Wool Monty
Yet there's no more room. My wardrobe nearly has more bundles of yarn in it than clothes. Zipper bags contain the jumpers and tops I've knitted already. I've more than enough jumpers to keep me warm for the next ten winters and then add on top the ones I haven't knitted and I'll be about up to point of being able to wear a different sweater or top every day for a couple of months.

So I don't need any more yarn. Wanting, however, is a different kettle of fish. Patterns launch that scream 'knit me!' and indie dyers and makers bring out a glorious range of new yarns. The free time I have to spend knitting can't catch up with my intake of projects. My bank account is shouting at me to stop. It's time to go cold turkey.

When I first heard about Marie Kondo and her theories of tidying and throwing stuff out, I was rather sniffy about her concept. I'm not a minimalist. I want to have things in my house that bring back memories whether it's a photo in a frame, a souvenir brought back from holiday or a cross stitch I crafted on a wall. Yet Kondo advises to ask whether something you have 'sparks joy'. At first that phrase sounded far too hippyish for my liking, but, after mulling on it for a while, I saw where she was coming from. The photo of my husband and I on holiday makes me smile every time I see it because we look so happy and I remember the fabulous time we had. The pile of magazines, flyers and bills waiting to be filed on the kitchen worktop, however, pricks me with annoyance every time I see it; partly because it looks a total mess and partly because it's my fault I haven't got round to doing the household admin yet.

One of the 'buy now or you'll miss out' balls of hand-dyed yarn in my stash
The last time I had a clearout of my yarn stash, mentioned above, I did get rid of everything I knew I wasn't lusting to knit. Now, since I've bought more, it's time to put a lock on my purse and follow these self-made rules:

  1. Don't buy any more patterns or yarns this year. No ifs, no buts.
  2. 'Favourite' any patterns I really like in Ravelry. They'll still be there when my yarn and pattern ban is lifted.
  3. When tempted to buy more yarn open my wardrobe and remind myself THERE'S NO MORE ROOM. 
  4. Don't be sucked in by the promise of one-off yarns. There will be other one-off yarns produced next year that I'll love just as much.
Will it work? Hopefully by next Summer I'll have thoroughly enjoyed knitting up most of the stash I do have and will feel super-smug with more room in my cupboards and a bigger bank balance.

Of course then I'll probably treat myself for being so good by going to one of the larger knitting shows and blowing it all on more yarn ...

Thursday 15 August 2019

Review Of Art Deco Knits By Jemima Bicknell

Image courtesy of The Crowood Press
The 1920s and 30s were a golden age in knitting, with Art Deco's decorative style adding a distinctive look to handmade clothing. Jemina Bicknell's in-depth and informative guide to the period includes essays on fashion history and knitting techniques as well as a range of patterns written for modern knitters.

Bicknell writes that the book "aims to encourage this joy and self-expression in the modern knitter who is drawn to the glitter of the 1920s and the elegance of the 1930s."

A Woolly Yarn received a digital copy for review from The Crowood Press. All opinions are our own.

Bicknell obviously loves and has thoroughly researched her subject. Art Deco Knits has lots of pages interspersed with both photographs of the garments whose patterns you'll find in the book and period illustrations of fashions of the time.

The book is split into three parts. Bicknell explains it well in Art Deco Knits' introduction:
"The first section, 'Style and Materials', introduces the fashionable silhouettes and design details fo the 1920s and 30s, and shows how they were interpreted in the knitting patterns of the period. The second section, 'Techniques', covers everything you need to know to create beautifully patterned and embellished fabrics, and includes a stitch dictionary of Art Deco-inspired stitch patterns. Finally there are nine patterns inspired by various aspects of the period. These patterns are designed as a starting point for your own creativity."
I was particularly interested in the description of fabrics and colours popular in the period and the changing silhouettes that hand knitters aspired to create.

Bicknell gives tips on combining vintage style with modern-day wardrobes, including adjusting styles such as the dropped waist to suit your figure. Embellishments, such as with beads, were a key element of Art Deco style, and the book gives tips and ideas of how to add these into your knitwear, plus the very comprehensive stitch directory shows how lace and cables can also create the signature look.


In section three Bicknell gives nine patterns, including garments and accessories, to start your hand knitted Art Deco collection. Here are two to whet your appetite.

The Margaret Cardigan pattern is inspired by the straight intersecting lines of Art Deco architecture. The 4ply wool used is John Arbon's Devonia.

Margaret Cardigan image courtesy of The Crowood Press

The Parelli Shawl can be knitted with or without beads. It's inspired by evening shawls from the 1920s and uses lace weight yarn.

Parelli Shawl image courtesy of The Crowood Press
Art Deco Knits is a very satisfying read with sections to dip in and out of. The recommended retail price is £25 but it can be bought direct from the publisher for £20 plus P&P or £20 for the ebook edition. 

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Rowan Autumn/Winter 2019 Launches: Part 1 Patterns

Although it is still early August Rowan has been quick off the mark in launching its yarns and patterns for the Autumn/Winter 2019 season. In Part 1 of this post we look at the pick of patterns -  British Made, with patterns designed by Lisa Richardson. Look out for part 2 where we'll be reviewing Rowan's new British yarn Island Blend.

What's exciting about British Made is that all the patterns use Rowan's British wool and not yarns sourced from abroad. The two featured yarns Rowan's British yarns Valley Tweed, pure wool which is spun and dyed in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and Moordale, a blend of British wool and alpaca.

The full collection of 13 patterns costs £12, or each pattern can be bought individually for £4. A Woolly Yarn received a review copy on request but all opinions are our own.

British Made image courtesy of Rowan
British Made is a beautifully-photographed paperback book. The photos were takin in a North Yorkshire village called Malham and for those who like to cosy up in the countryside (think stone walls, hedges and thick, woolly knits) the book contains great patterns across the knitting ability range.

There are a couple of slight drawbacks with British Made. The first is that the charts are in black and white and are rather small. You may want to buy a digital download version so you can scale up the chart to print out. The second is that Rowan is now owned by the German company MEZ Crafts and half the book is in English whilst the other half, including the same patterns, is in German. It fools you into thinking you're getting a lot more for your money - perhaps Rowan would have been better printing separate copies for each language.

The patterns

Yet it's a big thumbs up to the patterns.. My favourite? It's a toss up between the Glamarama scarf, knitted in six shades of Moordale (you couldn't fail to feel happy wearing all these colours):

Glamarama image courtesy of Rowan
Or the Helvellyn cardigan, again using Valley Tweed, with just enough stranded colourwork to make it interesting but not too much to put off knitters new to the skill:

Helvellyn image courtesy of Rowan
The patterns are all fashion-proof, being interesting in a timeless way. Here are the rest of the bunch:


Fleetwith image courtesy of Rowan
An oversized sweater good for lots of layering.


Scafell image courtesy of Rowan
This hat aimed at beginner knitters uses up two balls of Valley Tweed.


Fleetwith image courtesy of Rowan
There are four shades of Moordale used in this long, v-neck cardigan, which is a more challenging knit.


Wetherlam image courtesy of Rowan
Who wouldn't want to wear this  knitted hoodie on brazing country walk?


Grasmoor image courtesy of Rowan
The cable pattern on this long scarf is much easier to knit than it looks - there are no charts to follow.


Lingmoor image courtesy of Rowan
The intarsia technique is used to create the pattern on this cowl.


Bowfell image courtesy of Rowan
An oversized sweater with a unisex look.


Whinlatter image courtesy of Rowan
Knitted with Moordale, this fitted sweater is aimed at beginners.


Skiddaw image courtesy of Rowan
Even on a grey day you'll be full of colour wearing these boot toppers.


Lingmell image courtesy of Rowan
A long jumper with a Fair Isle pattern down the centre.


Bowfell image courtesy of Rowan
This cowl is knitted in muted shades of Moordale.

Which pattern is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

To see all of Rowan's new season launches, including new patterns from Kaffe Fassett, go to Knitrowan.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Rowan Autumn/Winter 2019 Launches: Part 2 Yarn

In Part 1of this post we reviewed British Made, Rowan's new pattern book using its British yarns. Now it's the turn of its latest British yarn Island Blend.

Island Blend image courtesy of Rowan
Apart from its long-missed British Sheep Breeds range, Yorkshire mega yarn brand Rowan has been pretty poor in recent years when it comes to offering wool from its own country. That changed in January when the company launched a British wool and alpaca blend called Moordale. Now, as part of Rowan's extensive yarn and pattern launch for the Autumn/Winter 2019 season, fans of British wool have even more to be happy about.

A Woolly Yarn received a review skein of their latest product Island Blend, a yarn made from British-governed Falkland Island wool, baby alpaca and silk. All opinions are our own.

Rowan says Island Blend "will create insulating and cosy knits with a subtle sheen". There are ten shades in the range and each 50g skein is approximately 125 metres long.  I couldn't find the name of the shade on the label but, researching online, I think this chocolate-brown hue is 'leather'. It certainly passes the squish test, being soft and springy. It's strong too and Rowan is right about the soft sheen.

This is not a budget yarn, with stores selling each skein around the £14.95 mark, making it a more luxury purchase. I'm looking forward to knitting it up. As yet I can only find one supporting pattern book: Rowan Focus - Natural Fibres.

Rowan Focus- Natural Fibres image courtesy of Rowan
There are three patterns in the book using Island Blend. However the yarn is DK weight and should substitute well with other patterns. Watch this space to discover what I knit with it!

To see all of Rowan's new season launches, including new patterns from Kaffe Fassett, go to Knitrowan.
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