Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Review of Knit Now Magazine's 2018 British Knits Issue

Image courtesy of Knit Now
Every year Knit Now magazine publishes a British special featuring all British yarns and designers. Since we've been up-and-running A Woolly Yarn enjoyed reviewing these - and this year is no exception. Rest assured that being awarded an Online Innovator knitting award from the magazine this year hasn't affected our impartiality.

What proved difficult with this year's review is finding a copy of issue 86, and therefore there are only a few days left before issue 87 comes out on the newsstands. In the small town where I live the supermarkets don't stock Knit Now but a well-known high street newsagents always has done. This month that newsagents didn't stock the magazine and nor did a larger branch a few miles away.

Finally I managed to buy a discounted second-hand copy on eBay. Knit Now's publisher, Practical Publishing, does sell copies online but charges a £2.49 P&P fee on top of the cover price. If you have the same difficultly finding a copy it may be worth your while signing up for the current subscription deal, which offers three issues for £6.

Image courtesy of Knit Now
Back to the review. The issue comes with two free gifts, a plastic row counter and a classic knits supplement  with a cute exclusive child's Paddington jumper on the front. The classic knits supplement contains the Pandora jumper pattern from West Yorkshire Spinners, which I already have as it's taken from WYS' Illustrious Pattern Book, but I don't recognise any of the other patterns in the supplement.

For me the standout article in this issue is the feature by Louise Scollay, who runs the KnitBritish website and podcast. She busts myths about British wool, such as that it's scratchy, expensive and always brown. The magazine also challenged real knitters to test British yarn at different price points and score them on areas such as enjoyability to knit with and the colour.

The news pages are good too with a round up of book reviews, expert advice (how do you stop your cat from ruining your work?) and latest releases from British wool brands.

Image courtesy of Dots Dabbles
Apart from the Paddington jumper (if you have a child you could knit for), however, none of the patterns this issue stood out, with the possible exception of a pair of socks called To The Lighthouse made with Kettle Yarn Co. Baskerville (see left).

It goes to say that a knitting magazine's patterns can't please all of the people all of the time and each knitter has their own personal taste and preferred projects. For me April isn't quite the time of year to start knitting heavy duty scarves, hats and cowls and, not being a knitted toy fan, I won't casting on the shepherd or horse and rider. There have, however, been lots of patterns in previous issues I've knitted up and I've certainly enjoyed reading the news and features in issue 86. The row counter will come in very handy too.

All-in-all it's great to see British designers and yarns being championed and not overlooked for cheap acrylic imports.

Previous Knit Now Best of British special editions

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Take Five British Yarns For Summer Knits

Today it's seven degrees celcius where I live in middle England and to keep warm I'm wearing Karie Westermann's Scollay cardigan. Surely soon Spring will finally leap into action? But what should I knit on my needles to wear in the sunnier months when it's time to pack up the aran and DK wool knits until the Autumn?

Here's a round up of five British yarns for lighter knits.

1. Erika Knight Studio Linen

Studio Linen Image Courtesy of Erika Knight
Available in 17 colours this DK weight yarn contains 85 per cent recycled rayon-linen fibre.

Knight describes her yarn as 'durable, soft, lustrous and flexible and will naturally soften with wear and washing'.

The range offers muted shades alongside dark ones and each 50g hank costs around the £5.99 price mark depending on which retailer you buy from.

Laughinghens offers 17 patterns to support the yarn including Porcelain, a classic baggy v-neck sweater to pull on during cool evenings, and Positano, a stocking-stitch vest top. Each pattern costs £2.90 to download.

2. Blacker Yarns' Lyonesse Linen Blend

Lyonesse image courtesy of Blacker Yarns
I used the now discontinued dusky pink shade to knit a free West Yorkshire Spinners' Summer Palace Cropped Sleeve Jumper pattern. Knitted up Lyonesse feels substantial yet cool on the skin and is pleasurable to wear.

It's a 50/50 blend of linen and Falkland Island Corriedale/Merino wool that's available in both 4ply and DK weights. The 50g balls cost £7.20 each directly from Blacker Yarns.

Lyonesse comes in a pastelly/summery shade range. Says Blacker Yarns, 'The wool adds presence and memory to the yarn, while the linen contributes crispness and strength. The combination creates a light yarn with good stitch definition, which will retain its block wonderfully.'

3. Eden Cottage Yarns' Titus Lace
Summer Petals Titus Lace image courtesy of Eden Cottage Yarns

Wanting a shawl for summer nights? Eden Cottage Yarns' Titus Lace is hand-dyed by Victoria in the market town of Wetherby, West Yorkshire and, as she dyes in small batches, shades available may vary. Check the website to see when the next yarn update will be.

Titus Lace is a 2ply blend of 75% superwash merino and 25% silk. Each luxurious 100g skein costs £20.

The Braithwaite shawl pattern on Ravelry supports the yarn and costs £3.

4. Triskelion Yarns' Branwen 4-Ply

Captain Cat Branwen image courtesy of Triskelion
This mix of Falklands Merino and silk would make be ideal to knit a t-shirt or tank top for the warmer months, although at £23 per 100g hank it's certainly a luxury purchase. Branwen is spun in Yorkshire from British sources.

Triskelion says that Branwen knits up quite fine for a 4-ply and 'has a great depth of colour, combined with an extra soft, cosy handle'.

Why not knit the t-shirt Waterlily with it? As a 100g hank of Branwen is approx 500 metres, all six sizes can be knitted with three hanks, with only two required for the smaller sizes.

5. Three Bears Yarn Cotton DK

Lavender Cotton DK image courtesy of Three Bears Yarn
The cotton comes from America but it's spun in England, dyed in Blackburn, Lancashire, then sent to Yorkshire for balling.

Cotton is a great summer yarn due to its breathability. Each 50g ball, available in lots of bright colours, costs £3.50 directly from Three Bears Yarn.  The company says 'English Fine Coons yarns are produced using extra-long staple (ELS) cotton varieties, which make some of the highest quality yarns produced in the world today'.

If you're substituting cotton for wool in a pattern remember that, because cotton is heavier, you're likely to need more of it than the pattern suggests.

Over to you ...

What have we missed? Which Brit summer yarns do you recommend? Let us know in the comments underneath or on our Facebook page.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Review of Susan Crawford's The Vintage Shetland Project

Image courtesy of Susan Crawford
It has been a long wait but it felt like Christmas when my copy of The Vintage Shetland Project by Susan Crawford arrived in the post.

It was back in 2015 when Susan Crawford set up a crowdfunding campaign to publish the book, inspired by her love of knitting history and Shetland traditions. Since then she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which delayed her work on the project. Happily Crawford is now cancer free and her many years of work have come to fruition.

The Vintage Shetland Project is a very weighty hardback book with 27 patterns and essays on Shetland social and fashion history over the decades.  It's Crawford's best work yet, which is saying something considering the high publishing standards and critical acclaim of her previous books A Stitch In Time Volume 1 and A Stitch in Time Volume 2.

At £48 the book not cheap but the quality is that of an heirloom. Feel the glossy paper and waft the bookish smell under your nose. The photography, all shot on the island of Vaila off the coast of Shetland, is stunning. It's obvious the whole project has been a labour of love for Crawford.

The Patterns

Crawford first saw the garments featured in the Shetland Museum Archives, some of which were degraded and missing parts. She, with the help of her husband Gavin, a computer programmer, transcribed the designs into patterns suitable for the modern number in a range of sizes.

Rose image courtesy of Susan Crawford
Each pattern has a handy schematic and the charts are printed in colour with different charts for most sizes. This is incredibly sensible and practical for the knitter: a couple of times I've bought knitting pattern books and been put off knitting a garment due to the charts being in black and white on a small grid, almost impossible to decipher.

Most patterns use Crawford's own vintage-feel yarn Fenella, although some offer an alternative or are solely knitted in Jamieson and Smith yarns.

Here are A Woolly Yarn's top three patterns from the book:

Rose Cardigan

The charming rose motifs in red and white pink on this short-sleeved cardigan make this a standout garment.

Rose is is knitted in the round from the bottom up. There's a necessary steek at the centre front and I think this may well be the pattern that challenges me to face my fear of steaks. To me there feels something dreadfully wrong in cutting knitting, but if that's what it takes to make Rose then it's a mental hurdle I'm determined to leap over.


Jeannie image courtesy of Susan Crawford
An essay in The Vintage Shetland Project explains Crawford's investigative journey from first seeing the child-size top in Shetland Museum to finding more about its designer Jeannie Jarmson.

Jeannie is worked in the round from the bottom up and knitted in silk with tiny, delicate motifs. The tiny delicate motifs are knitted in silk. Having not seen the garment knitted up I can only imagine how soft and luxurious it must feel. Kits to make Jeannie have already sold out on Crawford's website.


When Shetland sweaters are mentioned Ralph is probably the sort of jumper that will pop up in your imagination.

Ralph image courtesy of Susan Crawford
It has standard Fair Isle patterns and is knitted in traditional grey and brown shades. Whilst it will be a labour of love to knit this unisex jumper will become an eternal classic in your wardrobe.

Best of the rest ...

Of course all the patterns in The Vintage Shetland Project are covetable, but three highly recommended by A Woolly Yarn are the lemon lacy short-sleeved sweater Dorothy; Ripple a short-sleeved sweater with a black background and ripples of pastel colours; and Paterson, the bright Fair Isle top with a found neck that's featured on the book's front cover.

Which is your favourite pattern and why? Let us know below or on our Facebook page.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Let's Talk About Socks: Rachel Coopey and Verity Castledine

The mini beast from the east is set to hit us over the Easter break with cold weather and possible snow - certainly a good reason to wear warm, woolly socks.

Sock aficionado Rachel Coopey has added new neon colours to her Socks Yeah! 4ply yarn range, shades so bright that rescuers will surely find you if you end up stuck in a snowdrift with just your toes sticking out.

Image courtesy of Rachel Coopey

The shades take me straight back to middle school in the 1980s when there was a brief fluorescent sock trend. The trick was to wear odd socks, say one lime green and one florescent yellow, until the teachers got wise and banned them. Seeing Coopey's shades makes me feel nostalgic and happy, longing as I am for some colour amidst the UK's seemingly everlasting cold spell.

Image courtesy of Rachel Coopey

Dig out or buy a copy of Coopey's Socks Yeah! Volume 1 or Volume 2 pattern collections to find something to knit with your neon (I have all the yarn to knit Otis but still haven't got round to it yet because mermaid blankets for one of my goddaughters and her sister are currently taking up all my knitting time).

If it's something new you're after then sign up for Coopey's Neon & Neutrals Socks Club. For £100 plus P&P subscribers will receive five parcels through the post from May to December, each containing a pattern plus a neon yarn paired with one or two of Coopey's existing Socks Yeah! muted shades. She's also hinted that there may also be a few surprises.

Whilst I haven't seen the new neon shades in person I have knitted with Socks Yeah! yarn before and found it to be soft and hardy with excellent stitch definition.

The Sock Drawer

Verity Castledine's pseudonym is Truly Hooked, the company she founded to sell her hand dyed yarns in an array of colours. She's now branched out to writing knitting patterns and The Sock Drawer is her collection of ten sock patterns, which won the 'Favourite knitting book' category at the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2017.

Image courtesy of Truly Hooked

Like Coopey's Socks Yeah! books The Sock Drawer is a classic both for newcomers to sock knitting and those who want to take their skills further. Ravelry shows all the patterns for you to see what you are getting before you buy. Castledine's designs are dainty and elegant, all knitted from the top down.

Suvena image courtesy of Truly Hooked

My personal favourite is 'Suvena', a travelling cable design inspired by fish tail hair braid.  The Sock Drawer is available to buy at Etsy and costs £15 plus £1.50 P&P.

Which is your favourite sock pattern to knit? Let us know below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Who Is This Year's Shetland Wool Week Patron? Plus Free Hat Pattern

The patron for Shetland Wool Week 2018 was revealed at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival - and it's Elizabeth Johnston, professional knitter, dyer, spinner weaver and owner of the yarn company Shetland Handspun

Elizabeth Johnston image courtesy of Shetland Wool Week
As has become tradition for Shetland Wool Week the announcement of the patron was accompanied by a hat pattern designed by them. The hat is called the 'Merrie Dancers Toorie' and is based on a fisherman's kep (hat) in the Shetland Museum and Archives' Boat hall. 

Merrie Dancers Toorie image courtesy of Shetland Wool Week

Says Johnston: "I have loved designing the Merrie Dancers Toorie. The kep has a dark background with colours that remind me of the northern lights, or 'merrier dancers', and a familiar sight to fisherman."

The pattern is free to download here. There are two size options and each uses a different yarn weight. 

Previous Shetland Wool Week hat patterns

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Review of Baa Baa Brighouse's March Birthstone Box + Daughter of A Shepherd News!

Monthly boxes are growing in popularity at the moment. Beauty boxes, where you pay a monthly fee and receive some surprise goodies in the post, started the trend and now many more have sprung up, such as stationary, books and even one for your period. Yes, really.

I usually like seeing what I'm going to get before I buy. Die hard fans of them say they love the surprise when they open their box each month, but I don't want to be disappointed if there's nothing that floats my boat inside.

One yarn company that so far has hit the spot for its wool boxes each time is Baa Baa Brighouse. Last month I reviewed their Valentine's box and this month I was thrilled to receive their March Birthstone Box for review.

Each month Baa Baa Brighouse hand-dyes 200g of of their Baa Baa Brew British Bluefaced Leicester DK yarn in an exclusive colourway inspired by the birthstone for that month. March's is aquamarine.

The first thing I noticed when opening the box was a wonderful soapy aroma coming from a little bag containing two bath bombs. The wool even smells of it too! The other non-wool goodies inside the box are:

  • A traditional oat flapjack baked in Yorkshire (delicious)
  • A bag of small buttons in the colourway
  • A birthstone fairy
  • Two aquamarine stitch markers.
The birthstone fairy is the only item I won't use but that's a matter of personal taste. Now to the main item - the wool!

The colours that make up the skeins really are beautiful. The aquamarine hues have shaken me out of my usual reds, pinks and greys yarn shade choices and are perfect for Spring. The skeins are soft and squishy and I'm looking forward to knitting them up. The difficulty when you buy yarn without a pattern is thinking of what to knit with it. I'm told that Baa Baa Brighouse have some patterns suitable for their yarn boxes waiting in the wings.

The Birthstone Boxes cost £37 each plus P&P. Baa Baa Brighouse sells a number of yarn boxes on different themes. See the currently available ones here.

Daughter Of A Shepherd Pattern News

Rachel Atkinson, who really is the daughter of a shepherd, has won many fans with her Hebridean/Zwartbles DK and 4ply yarns in their natural colours. In her email newsletter she has announced the exciting news that her first pattern book to support the yarns is now available for pre-order.

Image courtesy of Daughter of a Shepherd

Volume 1: Beginnings will contain 10 knitting and crochet patterns designed by a host of favourite names such as Rachel herself, Rachel Coopey and Sarah Hatton. The patterns will be accompanied by essays and photography of the flock.

Pre-orders are now open priced at £19.99 plus P&P on the Daughter of a Shepherd website. Each print copy comes with an ebook download code. People lucky enough to be going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival between March 15th and 17th can buy their copy there.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Let's End Knitting Stereotypes For Good: International Women's Day Special

Today, Thursday 8th March, is International Women's Day - 24 hours to honour everything that women bring and contribute to society. As the website says, the day celebrates 'the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women'.

Lesley Manville image courtesy of Radio Times
A recent interview in the Radio Times magazine with actress Lesley Manville got me thinking crossly about how anti-feminist outdated and patronising stereotypes about knitters have survived into the 21st-century and are even uttered by women themselves.

When asked about how she felt about reaching a milestone birthday, Manville said:
"It's OK to be 60. You can have a lover at 60. You don't have to be shoved in a cardigan doing knitting."
OK, it was no doubt meant to be a light-hearted, humorous comment, but it perpetuates the trope that knitters are elderly, sexless, sitting in God's waiting room and have nothing better to offer society than a knitted teddy bear or jumper.

Firstly, it's incredibly patronising to women of a certain age who knit. Many of these women learned to do so from their own grandmothers and mothers and, bringing up their families in the 1950s and 60s, knitted out of economic necessity. Their houses didn't have central heating. Ready-made clothes were expensive to buy in the shops. These women poured their love for their families into every stitch they knitted, whether they were creating a jumper, cardigan or pair of socks. They had the skills to darn well-loved garments and re-use wool for other accessories - techniques that are becoming more popular nowadays with the advent of an anti-consumerist backlash.

Image courtesy of
Now, in their later stage of life, these knitters pass on their knowledge to younger generations and keep traditional crafts alive. People may scoff at the idea of knitted toys or scarves being sold at a school fete or church bazaar, but they're forgetting the many hours of volunteering that goes into the creation of them and the funds their sale raises for charity. A more recent example includes knitted hats and scarves being given to refugees in Europe to help them cope with biting winters. For them these gifts could help keep them alive - I would imagine the recipients would be very grateful to the women who knitted them and would not poke fun at their age and appearance. Nor would the parents of premature babies gifted tiny knitted hats to keep them warm in their incubators.

And let's not forget that there's a growing interest amongst men of all ages in knitting too, as reported on this blog last year in an interview with Lewis Ryan, the founder of ManKnit. Creating warm garments from natural products is a survival skill: even Bear Grylls can't expect there to be a branch of Mountain Warehouse in the middle of a wilderness. Knitting is a technical skill, where an awareness of maths helps greatly. Wool doesn't care which gender knits with it.

Of course knitting as a hobby isn't for everyone. We all have different interests and that's part of the beauty of diversity. Yet society doesn't stereotype traditionally-male pastimes such as woodworking and car maintenance. We don't say that a man who chooses to whittle in his spare time is styleless, past it and will never have fun in the bedroom again.

The elderly female knitter stereotype also ignores the fact that lots of girls and women of all ages like to knit. It's a creative, expressive, sociable hobby that has been proven to help those dealing with depression, cognitive function impairments and anxiety. It's women who organised the Pussyhat Project, marching to protest against the curtailment of women's rights, using knitting as a powerful political tool. It's mainly women who, appalled to see the waste of good fleece, have fought to raise the profile of British wool in this country and across the world, helping to secure the future of British sheep breeds and their farmers' finances.

Lush photo courtesy of Tin Can Knits
So Manville, with respect, knitting might not be for you but please don't add fuel to the ancient knitter stereotype fire. As women, let's stick together. Here's a thought on International Women's Day: you mention you don't want to be shoved in a corner wearing a cardigan, but perhaps if you took up a pair of needles and learned to knit a stylish one such as Tin Can Knits' Lush during your acting breaks, you might be tempted to cross over to the dark side.
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