Friday 27 September 2019

West Yorkshire Spinners' Christmas Sock Yarn 2019 Revealed

Just like putting the tree up and leaving mince pies out for Santa there's a relatively new festive tradition in town: knitting a pair of socks in this year's West Yorkshire Spinners' Christmas sock yarn.

WYS designs a self-striping yarn each year to add to its Signature 4ply range blended from 75% wool and 25% nylon. This year's design is ....


The yarn has brown, red, white, grey and yellow/orange speckles reminiscent of its festive bird namesake.

Once again sock knitting pattern designer Winwick Mum has collaborated with WYS to publish a pattern especially for the yarn. The pattern comes free with every yarn purchase and is in the form of a Christmas card:

I haven't had time yet to knit up the socks. Let's put it this way, I still haven't finished the second sock knitted with last year's Fairy Lights special edition. Thankfully WYS has a pair knitted up and here is what the socks look like in all their finished glory:

Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Spinners
Each 100g ball costs £7.50 and should be available from your local yarn store. If yours doesn't stock it then you can order directly from WYS.

Here are details of previous WYS Christmas sock yarns:

WYS' 2018 Christmas sock yarn - Fairy Lights

Christmas Gifts For Knitters 2017 - Contains Candy Cane WYS Sock Yarn

WYS' 2015 Christmas sock yarn - Holly Berry

Which is your favourite?

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Five Favourite September Jumper/Cardigan Patterns

It's the season to start knitting winter woolies and UK companies are busy competing with each other to get your custom. Here's a round-up of the cream of this month's jumper and cardigan patterns they hope will entice you to part with your cash.

1. No Frills Pullover

Perfect for in-between weather, this short-sleeved pullover by the company Mrs Moon is knitted with their own Plump DK yarn.

Image courtesy of Mrs Moon
The pattern costs £5.50 downloadable from Ravelry.

2. Wythop

Sari Nordlund's delightful jumper with a rosebud bobble and lace design on the yoke is one of the designs from The Fibre Co's Foundations Autumn-Winter 19/20 collection.

Image courtesy of The Fibre Co.
It's knitted with The Fibre Co's own Arcadia yarn and the pattern is approximately £7.03 on Ravelry.

3. Cascadia

Originally published in a knitting magazine, Cascadia by EastLondonKnits is now available to buy from Ravelry for £7.20.

Image courtesy of EastLondonKnits
The yarn used is Daughter of a Shepherd's 100% British Ram Jam worsted.

4. Dexter

Baaramewe, the Yorkshire company whose Leeds store closed this month but which is continuing as an online business, is promoting German designer Isabell Kraemer's Dexter cardigan.

Image courtesy of baaramewe
Dexter showcases broken seed stitch and is knitted using baaramewe's 4ply British wool Titus. The pattern on Ravelry costs £5.08.

5. Flora

Mary Henderson's stranded colourwork yoke jumper is part of West Yorkshire Spinners' latest The Croft collection, called Shetland Country. The book costs £9.90 plus P&P.

Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Spinners
Flora uses both existing and new shades of The Croft, which is an aran weight yarn. We hope to review the yarn and collection soon on A Woolly Yarn.

Which is your favourite and are there any new releases you think should be included? Let readers know in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Friday 20 September 2019

First Look At Blacker Yarns' 14th Birthday Yarn Cornish Garden

It's 20th September and it's launch day for Blacker Yarns' limited edition 14th birthday yarn Cornish Garden. Here's what we know about it already ...

There will be two weights available

Says Blacker Yarns, 'Like all our birthday yarns Cornish Garden is woollen spun to achieve a light, fluffy, bulky yarn with a strong memory to increase elasticity and resilience. This year we have used fine fibres, so have been able to make a fine 3ply yarn as well as a thicker sport weight yarn.'

Cornish Garden will come in six shades

Here's the shade card. There are four vibrant colours - Bononnoc Pink, Trebah Blue, Heligan Green and Cotehele Gold - along with two more neutral shades of Hepworth Natural and Tremenheere Dark Grey. All are named after Cornish gardens.

Each 100g skein contains a whopping 460m of wool

To make the blend, Blacker Yarns says 'we have combined some soft fine and rare English merino with a few other special things. The yarn is blended from 40% natural white and fawn English Merino plus 17% fawn and grey Shetland, 26% Blue-faced Leicester and, to add some texture and help the planet, we have also recycled 17% pale nails from our frosted combing processes.

There will be pattern support

Blacker Yarns told A Woolly Yarn that there will be two new patterns especially for Cornish Garden. One is a pair of socks using two colours of sport weight, and the other is a shawl knitted in the 3ply yarn.

It passes the squish test

A Woolly Yarn received two sample skeins for review in the shades Hepworth Natural and Heligan Green. All opinions are our own.

First impressions are that the Heligan Green is a vibrant, jewel-like shade and Hepworth Natural is a solid shade of grey - not too light or dark.

The wool is squishy and bounces back to the touch. There's a satisfying slight sense of sheep reassuring the consumer that the yarn is all wool.

Cornish Garden has a slight halo and is woollen spun. One thing to bear in mind is that I snapped the fibre easily. Knitters with tight tensions beware!

What we don't yet know

The price. This will be revealed at launch on Blacker Yarns' website and local yarn stores.

Interested in Blacker Yarns' previous birthday yarn launches?  Delve into the A Woolly Yarn archive:

Monday 16 September 2019

Exclusive Interview With The Woolist's Zoe Fletcher

Image courtesy of Zoe Fletcher
She's the queen of sheep after dedicating her PhD research to British breeds and their fleeces' properties. A Woolly Yarn met Zoe Fletcher at this year's Edinburgh Yarn Fest and we're thrilled that she has since taken some time away from all things sheepy to answer our nosey questions!

Q1. How did your PhD research come about?

A. I've always loved making things and studied Textile Design for Fashion at Manchester School of Art for my BA. I became increasingly aware of how using different materials in hand and machine knitting affected my design outcomes.

I wanted to explore this further. Whilst studying for my Masters at London College of Fashion I focussed on finding out more about the ethics and sustainability of my raw materials and their journey - 100% wool is great, but the more I know of their properties and backstory the more I can be in control of the yarn and design outcome.

After graduation I worked in industry for a few years before deciding to continue my test for further understanding the different qualities of wool from different British breeds, undertaking an AHRC-funded PhD at Manchester School of Art. My practice-based research aim was to find out more about these pure breeds of sheep, which have all been developed over generations for specific land, weather and breed management practices. So I set my self a challenge. I wanted to collect a sample of yarn (and fleece) from each of the 72 pure breeds I had amassed. I met with designers, knitters, farmers and production mills amongst others and began to build up my collection. I sampled and documented each stage of the journey, with the aim of creating a practical database of knowledge.

Q2. What were the highs and lows of the project?

A. Getting to meet so many amazing people and connecting with farmers, producers, makers, designers and attending shows and fairs across the country was really exciting, and I gathered so much knowledge and collected such great data.

However I was still tied to the constraints of the PhD format and writing up in the last year was quite a lonely and challenging experience - continuing to sample and thinking through my practice work helped me (along with my really supportive supervisor team and the support of all the contributors I had met along the way!)

Q3. Why do you think hand knitting is so important?

A. Hand knitting connects you to the whole process of making - you are in full control of how the 'fabric' and 'end-product' will turn out. Each and every stitch is considered and due to it being such a tacit experience you get to understand the qualities, handle and feel of the different properties of the wool as you are manipulating each stitch. I do machine knit as well and this has its own set of positives and challenges when working with the different materials.

Q4. Most people think that wool is wool. How do different British breeds differ in their knitted up qualities?

A. There are 72 pure breeds of different British sheep found across the UK today. They have been farmed for generations and adapted to different geographical locations that vary in weather conditions, soil quality and land management. They have been bred to highlight different qualities - some farmers want easy-to-rear breeds, some want good mothering abilities, some want fast growers for meat, some want to keep the traditional qualities alive.

Wool samples image courtesy of Zoe Fletcher
From the hardy Herdwicks of the Lake District with their distinct 'teddy bear' like face and grey tonal wool (which has a high micron count, so relatively thick fibres which can feel a bit harsh, sometimes prickly because of the kemp, next to the skin - but keeps the sheep nice and dry thus these qualities are transferred to the knitted qualities), to the fine Southdown with its dense and short-stapled fleece (said to be one of the finest clips) which creates a crisp, fine yarn. So they all have different colourings, handle qualities, staple lengths (that affect the processing of Woollen or Worsted spinning), elasticity and fineness that depict how differently the knitted stitches will turn out.

Q5. Do you have a favourite wool?

A. It depends what I want to use it for! Each wool has a purpose, but if you wanted to make a beautiful draped silky scarf a Scottish Blackface's wool would not highlight these qualities, whereas using Blueface Leicester wool would. So I can't choose a favourite as it would depend too much on what I wanted to make it into!

Q6. What do you think will happen in the next ten years to the British sheep industry and the hand knitting industry?

A. Looking at it positively, hopefully with the public's awareness of welfare standards, natural fibres and renewable/sustainable principles being challenged and heightened (we have seen it in the food industry with locally-sourced, organic and fair trade being more widely available) and their awareness of the damaging impact the fast fashion industry has across the world, we'll begin to see the benefits of slowing down the fashion cycle and investing in quality 'local' products that benefit the communities they are grown/produced/made in as well in the consumer - that's in the perfect world!

Digital media as a positive tool can be (and is being0 used to connect people - giving them access to patterns, materials, communities, information that doesn't always have to be about fast consumption but connecting with like-minded people who can take inspiration from each other and find out about individuals and small companies doing amazing things with local wool that might have been hard to find before Hopefully this will continue to be positively strengthened.

Q7. Is there a favourite jumper/accessory pattern you like to be knitted up with British wool?

A. You can't beat a nice thick pair of stripy stocks for Winter - one of my favourite patterns is a Winwick Mum DK one. I use up all the different colours I can't resit buying and mix them with all my leftover DK weight naturally coloured yarns!

Q8. What's the current state of The Woolist Project?

A. The Woolist Project is continuing to be worked hard upon behind the scenes. Summer has been a great time for getting out and about to different shows and fairs and talking to lots of different people about future ideas. Now that Autumn is creeping in it's time to get hibernating and start getting all these things online. 

The Woolist exhibition on tour image courtesy of Zoe Fletcher
There are a couple more big outings of the practical research before Christmas  - workshops and pop-up exhibitions of work and products across the UK which I update for Instagram (@thewoolist).

Q9. What are you aiming for for the future?

A. To develop and create an online resource that allows people to find out more about British wool, that can act as a bridge to connect people wanting to learn more and use more local materials, and materials with a significant historical story, to producers, makers and designers who are using them today.

Thanks so much Zoe for answering A Woolly Yarn's questions! Find out more about the project at The Woolist website.

Friday 6 September 2019

Toft Turns To Earthy Shades For Autumn 2019 Knit Collection

Image courtesy of Toft
Toft, based in Warwickshire, has announced its Autumn knit and crochet collection to correspond with the latest publication of its Quarterly magazine.

These days the company is probably best known for its crocheted animals range but its own brand 100% wool is brilliant for garments and accessories too. The wool comes in a multitude of natural colours, such as greys, beiges and browns, plus there are a few bright colours in 25g balls, which although they are intended to be used for the crocheted animals are also great for stranded colourwork and Fair Isle.

For its Autumn/Winter knitwear patterns Toft has chosen to go for a very autumnal beige and brown colour palette - though of course if brown isn't your thing you can knit them in silver, cream or black instead.

Here are the new designs. Buy Toft Quarterly Autumn 19 at £8 plus P&P for the patterns only or alternatively each is available as a yarn and pattern kit:

Dovecote Jumper
Image courtesy of Toft
This is my favourite from the collection because I'm very partial to a decorative yoke. Toft has used the shades stone, cream and cocoa in this design.

Mill Headband
Image courtesy of Toft

More stranded colourwork with the shades mushroom, cocoa and stone to keep your head warm this Autumn.

Linhay Hat
Image courtesy of Toft

Geometric colourwork using the colours cream and cocoa. Make your own pom pom or buy a ready made one from Toft for an extra £10.

Granary Shawl
Image courtesy of Toft
Knitted in the shade stone, this shawl can be worn in the traditional fashion with the point at the back or instead with the point at the front to keep your neck warm!

Oast Scarf
Image courtesy of Toft
This is a great project for beginner knitters. The scarf uses the shades mushroom, cocoa and cream.

There are lots of pattens and wool being launched for Autumn from many knitting companies - keep an eye out on A Woolly Yarn for the latest news.

Monday 2 September 2019

Why Is September A Top Month For Knitting Shows?

As knitting as a hobby continues to soar in popularity you can nowadays find a knitting show to go to every month, or even every weekend in the summer months (I've never heard of someone visiting two shows in one day but it's hypothetically possible!)

A Woolly Yarn's blog post back in January listed the bigger shows to look out for in 2019.  We've already enjoyed some of the big names, including Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March (sadly taking a break in 2020) and Wonderwool Wales in April. September though is host to two huge knitting show favourites that have become much-loved over the last few years: Yarndale and Shetland Wool Week (which runs from 28th September to 6th October).

Image courtesy of Yarndale
Smaller, local knitting shows tend to showcase local talent, mainly consisting of small businesses and people who combine working with yarn along with a regular job. The bigger shows like Yarndale, although they also support small businesses, have the pull to entice bigger indie businesses that knitters can usually only buy from online, such as Toft, Di Gilpin, Moel View Yarn, John Arbon Textiles and Baa Baa Brighouse. There will be over a whopping 200 exhibitors at Yarndale this year!

Shetland Wool Week's USP on the other hand is its classes and events based both in the capital Lerwick and also around the island. Rather than just buying products from stallholders - although with the wonderful quality of wool Shetland produces there's plenty to buy and pack in your suitcase - it's a destination event. As well as learning new knitting skills Wool Week gives an opportunity to explore the culture and hospitality of the area.

Why September?

The summer holidays are over, the climate in Shetland is still promising and, more importantly, with colder weather moving in knitters' thoughts turn to knitting jumpers and accessories. Plus it's the time to start planning knitting Christmas gifts.

A few yarn companies launch their Autumn/Winter season in August (see our post on Rowan), but the majority do so in September. New products tempt knitters to increase their pattern and yarn stash and exhibiting at knitting shows is a great way to reach out to new and existing customers. Expect to see businesses saving their launches for Yarndale, and at Shetland Wool Week there being a plethora of yarns, kits and other souvenirs available especially for the event.

If you can't make Skipton for Yarndale or Scotland for Shetland Wool Week there's also the Perth Festival of Yarn on 7th/8th September and The Handmaid Fair at Hampton Court from 13th - 15th September.
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