Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Northumberland's Whistlebare Yarn & Daisy Snood Pattern Review

Why haven't I come across Whistlebare yarn before? It's right up A Woolly Yarn's street, producing yarn from British animals kept to the highest welfare standards, and is a family-run business.

On their farm in Northumberland Alice Elsworth, her husband and four sons keep Angora goats and Wensleydale sheep. The fleece is scoured, combed and spinned in Yorkshire then returned to the farm for dyeing. I tested Yeaving Bell, their 4ply 100g skein, in a barely-there grey called 'Willo' the Wisp', and knitted up their Daisy Scarf/Snood pattern that comes free with a yarn purchase.

On first impression this 80% mohair and 20% Wensleydale yarn looks delectable: a delightfully-nuanced pale grey that catches the light, wrapped in a squishy skein held together in a cute, cardboard label. When rolling the skein into a ball by hand I could feel the softness of the yarn and see its slight halo, collecting little tufts as I rolled. Yeavering Bell 4ply is delicate and can tangle easily but has a surprising toughness when pulled - no snapping here.

Here's Whistlebare's photo of their Daisy snood:

Image courtesy of Whistlebare

The pattern was fun to knit, the daisy stitch being challenging to knit yet not too difficult that it couldn't be knitted in front of the TV. It passed my EastEnders test! One 100g skein created a snood that can be wrapped around the neck twice. Knitted on 6.5mm circular needles you would think the pattern's lack of density would make it not very warm. Not so, for it certainly keeps my neck cosy on cold days.

Here's a snapshot of the delicacy of the stitches in my version:

Yeavering Bell costs £18.50 per skein plus P&P. It's available in 4ply, DK and Aran weight, in full skein or mini skein lengths. There are 21 colours to choose from: think natural, pretty and bright.

Whistlebare also sells two other yarns I've yet to test: Cuthbert's Sock, 80% mohair and 20% Wensleydale, and Cheviot Blue in 4ply and DK weight, a blend of South Country Cheviot and Blue Faced Leicester.

I asked Alice to tell us a bit more about her business.

Q: How did Whistlebare come about?

A: Whistlebare is a small (around 60 acres) very beautiful farm in North Northumberland, a stone's throw from the beach in one direction and the fabulous Cheviot hills in the other. We moved here in 2004 bringing our small herds of Aberdeen Angus Cattle and Large Black Pigs with us. These we farmed to organic standards until 2012 when a variety of factors converged to mean we needed to find a new direction. In that time I had learned to crochet and was picking up knitting needles again after a 25-year break. I was loving the c creativity and the peace induced by an evening's crafting. It was when I started to visit some of the fantastic yarn festivals around, notably the very first Edinburgh Yarn Festival, that the idea of producing our own, British, local, ethical yarn began to take root.

Q. How did you choose the fleeces to use?

A: As a teenager I had spent my holidays helping my Aunt on her goat farm in Cornwall. She had a few Angora Goats and I had always loved them and the amazing lustrous mohair they produce. After a lot of investigation and soul searching I was delighted when Angora Goats appeared to be the way forward. Our first nine Angora Goats arrived in 2013 to great excitement. I wasn't the only one who was excited, our four sons, then aged six to 11 years-old, were very keen to get involved. My husband and I decided that this was an opportunity for the boys to begin their own flock of sheep. Again, much research ensued. Wensleydales with their beautiful long locks of high lustre wool, as well as being a rare breed from my husband's native Yorkshire, seemed to be the perfect compliment to our gats. The boys' first three ewes arrived, in lamb, at the beginning of 2014.

Q. Tell me what makes your yarn ranges special.

A: Yeavering Bel lis a unique yarn ... it is soft and sleek with rich colour and very high lustre. Mohair is a hollow fibre so is very insulating whilst being very lightweight. The addition of Wensleydale, which is a much heavier robust fibre, gives the mohair enough weight to drape beautifully. Another of mohair's characteristics is that it has the highest rub test of all natural fibres so, when knitting with Yeavering Bell you can be sure that your project will last for years.

Our other mohair and Wensleydale yarn is Cuthbert's Sock. It is entirely natural fibre, 80% kid mohair and 20% Wensleydale wool spun tightly to be robust. Mohair is the perfect sock fibre ... the fibres themselves have very few scales and what scales there are lie smoothly, as a result bacteria has nowhere to cling on and so mohair socks don't smell!

Q. Where do you get your colour inspiration from?

A: Within a very few miles of Whistlebare we have dunes, beaches, the sea, castles, moorland and forestry: the inspiration for colour is all around us and endless. When planning a new palette I have to focus on a theme or particular location as the possibilities can be overwhelming otherwise. I try very hard to produce groups of colours that work well together and are truly wearable as well as being eye catching in your stash!

Saturday, 20 January 2018

A Woolly Yarn Wins Knitter Of The Year 2018: Online Innovator Award

Image courtesy of Knit Now
Today I can announce the fabulous news that A Woolly Yarn has won Knit Now magazine's Knitter of the Year 2018 award in the Online Innovator category.

It's the fourth year that Knit Now has run the awards, crowning winners in five categories: Charity Hero, Designer of the Year, New Designer of the Year, Local Superstar and Online Innovator. The lucky winners' prize, as well as mention in the magazine, is a day out at knitting company Sirdar's in Yorkshire to find out what happens behind the scenes, meet the designers and receive a sneak preview of their new season yarns and patterns.

I set up A Woolly Yarn three years ago to champion British yarns and designers whilst also delivering knitting news and reviews. I'm excited, honoured and thrilled that the blog has won this award and am grateful to everyone who reads it, follows us on Facebook and to all the companies and designers who have agreed to reviews and answering my nosey questions. A big thanks too to Kate Heppell, Knit Now's Editor, for choosing A Woolly Yarn as a winner; and not forgetting Denise Burrows who designed our new logo that launched last year.

I'll be reporting back from the Sirdar day on the blog later in the year. Is there a question you'd like me ask or something you've always wanted to know about yarn production or the design process? Please let me know via the form below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

The list of all the winners is in Knit Now's issue 84, which hits subscribers' doorsteps today and goes on general sale in the Uk next week.

Right, time now to have a break from knitting and crack open the champagne. Bottoms up!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Fears For The Debbie Bliss Brand As Designer Yarns Goes Bust

Logo courtesy of Designer Yarns
Yarn shops have expressed their fears about restocking British wool brand Debbie Bliss as Designer Yarns, a Yorkshire-based company that distributed yarn and accessory brands, closed on 18th December 2017.

Elaine Jinks-Turner, owner of online yarn shop Baa Baa Brighouse, said she had "attempted to place an order and discovered that since January 3rd the company's affairs were being managed by Rushton Insolvency. I'm afraid this will most likely affect our future supply of Louisa Harding and Debbie Bliss yarns."

Designer Yarns' Facebook page gives no mention of the insolvency and its website homepage has changed to give an email address for queries. Insider Media reported that the company went into administration on 14 December, that 12 people lost their jobs and although a buyer is being sought for Designer Yarns' stock the business itself is not being marketed.

Logo courtesy of Debbie Bliss
Currently Debbie Bliss doesn't sell yarn on her website Debbie Bliss Home. Responding to knitters and shops' concerns about getting hold of her yarns, Debbie Bliss, who herself is an unsecured creditor, said:

"I was sad to hear that Designer Yarns had ceased trading, having enjoyed working with the team there for many years. It was very difficult news for everyone: customers, suppliers, employees and myself. I am doing all I can to ensure that the Debbie Bliss brand will continue and will update all my knitting friends when I have more news."
Until wool shops can restock customers may find it difficult to get hold of their favourite Debbie Bliss yarns. If you know you need more of a certain colour or yarn the advice is to buy now whilst stocks last.

The full list of brands affected by Designer Yarns' closure is:

  1. Debbie Bliss Yarns and sister brand C&B
  2. Louisa Harding (the company that bears her name, not Harding's most recent venture Yarntelier)
  3. Noro
  4. Mirasol
  5. DY Choice
  6. Amano
  7. Brittany Needles.

* Blog post edited 12th January.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Kate Davies' Carbeth Sweater + Sock It To You Swap Challenge Recommended Patterns

Scotland-based designer Kate Davies was quick off the mark this year with her latest pattern release. Carbeth is a cropped, boxy sweater she describes as perfect for beginner jumper knitters. It's knitted bottom up in the round and uses her own-brand Buachaille yarn. 

Image courtesy of Kate Davies
Davies calls this her Boxing Day jumper. Knitting kits containing yarn, pattern download and tote are available in her online shop from £68 plus P&P. A Woolly Yarn is a fan of the warm and hard-wearing Buachaille. Whilst the roll neck and short body of Carbeth might not suit everyone, the pattern can be easily modified to make it longer in the body and have a shorter neck if required. 

Socks Swap Challenge

Louise Scollay, Editor of the KnitBritish blog and podcast, has launched a Sock It To You Swap with her pal Louise Hunt from Catithness Crafts.  The idea is this: sign up in the Caithness Craft Ravelry Group by Friday 12th January and you'll be paired up with another sock knitter. Cast on date is 22nd January and the deadline for casting-off is March 11th. You'll then post your pair of socks to your partner and vice versa - or, if you're both going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival between 15th and 17th March, the two Louises recommend you meeting up and swapping socks there. 

Looking for a sock pattern? Here are four of our favourites:

Image courtesy of Rachel Coopey
Basic sock tutorial for beginners from the Queen of Socks. Costs £17 from Ravelry for the full Socks Yeah! Volume 1 download containing 12 patterns.

Image courtesy of Baa Baa Brighouse

Learn how to knit rib socks with this pattern created by the prolific blogger. Currently in the sale, a printed pattern costs £1.68 plus P&P.

Image courtesy of The Knitter magazine

This pattern originally appeared in The Knitter magazine and is now available as a £3 download from Ravelry. It requires DK weight yarn and has a knit and purl diamond pattern at the cuff to challenge basic sock knitters. 

Image courtesy of Blacker Yarns

This download is free. The socks have a cable pattern running up the side and use two colours of 4ply yarn. Great for intermediate knitters. 

Which are your favourite sock patterns? Let us know below or on our Facebook page. 

Monday, 1 January 2018

Wool Shows To Look Forward To In 2018

The excitement surrounding the burgeoning number of wool fairs and shows in the UK looks set to continue into 2018. With old favourites such as The Knitting & Stitching Show joined by newcomers   including Wool Is The Festival, there are a lot of venues to choose from right around the country.

Wool shows offer the perfect opportunity to meet small, independent wool companies and traders, squish their yarn first hand and stock up on British brands you may not be able to buy at your local yarn store. On top of that they're a great day out and very economically important to small producers so you can shop in the knowledge that you're contributing to keeping your favourite British designers and yarn makers in business.

Memories of Yarndale in Skipton

This list includes all wool shows that have definite dates announced for 2018. 

January 2018

21st January - Waltham Abbey Wool Show
Essex-based show with bookable workshops.


16-18 February - Unravel
Go to Farnham in Surrey for this three-day stall and workshop extravaganza.


Olympia in London is the venue for this popular favourite. 

15-17 March - Edinburgh Yarn Festival
This styles itself as 'the UK's premier urban hand-knitting show'. Classes have already sold out.


7-8 April Spring Into Wool
Head to The Grammar School in Leeds for this show that as well as knitting embraces crochet, weaving, feltmaking, spinning and dyeing. 

28-29 April Wonderwool Wales.
Wales' leading yarn show is based at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, Powys.


11-13 May The Handmade Fair.
Ragley Hall in Warwickshire is the venue for this Kirstie Allsopp-fronted craft event.

12-13 May Wool@Junction13
Head to Staffordshire for this celebration of all things woolly.


Armley Mills Industrial Museum hosts this woolly day, which also gives an insight into the history of textile production in the area.

22-23 June Woolfest.
Cockermouth in Cumbria is home to this perennial favourite that calls itself the original British wool festival. 

22-24 June The Handmade Fair.
Bowood House in Wiltshire is the venue for this Kirstie Allsopp-fronted craft event.


14-15 July Yarningham.
Birmingham's own yarn festival.

28-29 July Fibre East
Bedford's annual event focussing on the finest-quality British wool.


This show in York supports The Campaign For Wool in raising the profile of British wool.  


1st September Southern Wool Show.
New for 2018 is this crafty show based at Newbury Racecourse.

1st September Wool Is The Festival.
Another new for 2018 show, this one's venue is Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln. Expect stalls, sculptures and yarn bombing.

8-9 September Perth Festival Of Yarn.
Perth in Scotland will bring together independent dyers, knitters, spinners, felters and weavers.

14-16 September The Handmade Fair.
The Green at Hampton Court Palace is the venue for this Kirstie Allsopp-fronted craft event.

22-30 September Shetland Wool Week.
This Scottish island show is the holy grail for many knitters who want to visit the home of some of the finest Fair Isle knitwear.

29-30 September Yarndale
It's the sixth year of this popular wool show in Skipton, Yorkshire.


Another chance to visit Alexandra Palace in London for this long-lasting show.

13-14 October Bakewell Wool Gathering.
This Derbyshire event is dedicated to the best of yarn, knitting and crochet.

19-21 October Loch Ness Wool Fest.
One of the newest wool shows on the block, this one in Inverness gives you the chance to search for the Loch Ness monster as well as snap up yarn bargains.


2-3 November Yarnporium
A London festival of sweater weather, yarn, friends and fibre.

It's Harrogate in North Yorkshire's turn to play host to this famous yarn show.

Do you know of any UK yarn shows that aren't included here? Please let us know either in the comments below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Purl & Jane's Pattern Each Week Challenge To Continue Into 2018

For most of us a New Year's resolution is to give up alcohol for a month, join a gym or cut down on the chocolate. On 1st January 2017 Jane Ellison, designer and owner of the Purl & Jane yarn store in Skipton, Yorkshire, decided to publish a knitting pattern a week. She aimed to bring simple designs to her customers, perfect for those who are learning to knit or want to graduate from accessories to garments.

On 22nd December 2017, however, she announced that the patterns had had to take a rain check for a few weeks due to training up a new member of the Purl & Jane team. Despite this, the good news is that the new designs won't stop at the end of 2017 ...
"While I am still knitting a row or two a day, I am working on our new routine for me to write and layout the new patterns. I have the designs so 2018 will continue with a new pattern every week!"
Purl and Jane specialises in only stocking yarns from natural fibres. Its limed-edition own-brand yarns,  Skipton Swaledale Aran, and Malham Mule Superchunky, from Yorkshire sheep and spun in the county, sold out quickly. Knitters will be looking out in 2018 for the launch of the next clip to knit the latest designs with.

Ellison's patterns for 2017 are listed here.  Most are £4 whilst a few are free to download. Here's a round-up of our favourites:

Tory The Cowl

A free download that teaches blackberry stitch. The pattern uses three 50g balls of Knoll Soft Donegal.

Dorothy Jumper

This stylish yet simple-to-knit jumper requires four to six 100g DK hanks of wool depending on the size needed. To download the pattern costs £4.

I Heart Baby Jumper

New mums will love this gorgeous baby jumper. It's £4 to download and uses two to four 50g DK balls of yarn depending on size.

Gael Socks

This is a design for the more experienced knitter and has the option of choosing a short or long version of the sock. The pattern uses two or three 50g balls of Knoll Mohair Tweed.

Like Purl & Jane's patterns? Read our review from 2015 of Jane Ellison's Simple Knits.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Devonia Review + FREE Simple Rib Cowl or Scarf Pattern

Devonia is a blend of three local Devon breeds of sheep - 50% Exmoor Blueface, 30% Devon Bluefaced Leicester and 20% Devon Wensleydale. John Arbon Textiles, its creator, sent A Woolly Yarn two DK skeins to review - all views are our own.

Firstly, Devonia gets a big tick for being 100% British wool and using local sheep breeds. The skein feels soft to the touch and yet has enough springy toughness in it to be a workhorse yarn, lasting a long time and keeping the wearer warm. The wool has a slight halo and an attractive slight variation in colour as you knit it up.

I created a simple pattern (see below) to test Devonia out. It knits up easily with no splitting and there was no colour transfer. People with sensitive skin may not want to wear it directly next to their skin but it's certainly soft enough for me to wear as a cowl against the neck - perfect for this cold winter weather!

Juliet Arbon explained that the colour inspiration came about after a visit to an exhibition in France of the renowned tapestry artist Jean Lurcat. Apart from the cream and grey shades the colours are all warm and bright - nothing muted here.

All in all Devonia is a pleasure to knit with and I love the retro design of the skein band.

Devonia DK costs £15 per 100g skein plus P&P when ordered directly from John Arbon textiles. There are 14 shades in both DK and 4ply to choose from.

Simple Rib Cowl or Scarf Pattern

As you can see from the photo the rib in this pattern works well with the stitch definition and slight haze of Devonia. One 100g ball creates a snug cowl when wrapped around the neck twice. For a scarf or a looser cowl you will need two balls.

With 5mm needles cast on 50 stitches.

Row 1:*  K2, P2 - repeat * until the end of the row.
Row 2: * P2, K2 - repeat * until the end of the row.

Carry on until you have your desired length. Leave enough yarn to cast off.

For the cowl neatly sew the short ends together to create a tube.

For the scarf sew in the cast on and cast off ends neatly.

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