A Yarn Story

Knitting in Public June 07 2017

We all know there are projects that are great for taking along to knit group or out to the pub with friends and there are projects that aren't so great for group activities. Some of us might very well be able to work black lace weight yarn in a complicated lace chart pattern in near pub darkness but I think for most of us we prefer a project that doesn't require as much concentration and has less risk of mistakes. With World Wide Knit in Public Day coming up this Saturday 9 June, I thought it'd be nice to talk about projects that are great for taking along to public outings.

Everyone has their own take on what they consider an easy or difficult project, so it's not about difficulty level, it's about concentration level I think. For me the perfect project for group knitting activities has three requirements:

1. It should fit in my hand bag

2. I shouldn't have to look at the pattern

3. No more than two colors are needed for a two hour knitting session

Now, rule one about my hand bag - I have several different size hand bags, so I'm not specific about which hand bag it should be able to fit in, but it does need to fit in one. I don't want to have to take and extra bag out with me. Now, I love a pretty project bags and I have several scattered around the house with various projects in them and I will throw one of those in my hand bag and head out to knit group but I also love a ziplock style plastic bag for a project on the go as well. It's water proof, I can squish all the air out of the bag and I can see what I've brought with me. Practicality is my friend.

Rule two doesn't mean I I will only take projects that require long rows of garter stitch, it just means I need to be far enough into a pattern that I don't have to look at it every few minutes to see what I'm doing. So a simple lace repeat that I've already been working on or a repeating colorwork pattern is fine, I just don't want to to have to concentrate on looking at the pattern, I want to chat with my friends.

The third rule relates to the first and it's about storage space. I'm happy to have two balls of yarn with me because I'm working on something with stripes or I know I'm about to have to change colors but I don't want to want to carry five balls of yarn around with me. That not only probably won't fit in my hand bag it could easily become a tangled mess and I really hate untangling yarn. 

With my rules in mind, here are a few patterns I think would work really well as public knitting projects. The Before and After Bias Scarf by Churchmouse Yarns is a super simple and elegant knit which can be made in any number of yarns. Our Tuesday morning knit group has made at least five between everyone. Pictured above is one of Fiona's versions using Midwinter Yarns Lithuanian Linen

I quite like to take socks out with me for knitting in public. I only ever really knit what I would call a vanilla sock, so I find it easy to just knit around and around while enjoying everyone's company. I mostly knit socks for my Dad, who really just wants a plain sock so I've been using Rachel Coopey's pattern Dave as my starting point for those. A good solid vanilla sock great for showing off pretty yarn and great for knitting in public. I made a pair of Helen Stewart's Vintage Fairylight Socks over Christmas, this was a great pattern and totally knitable in public. Hermoine's Everyday Socks are also a fan favorite at our knit group, free pattern, a bit of interest, great for showing off hand dyed yarn and easy to knit while chatting. 



A garter stitch shawl of some description is also always a good choice. So very many options in this category really. I love the pattern Joji Locatelli just released Ebba's Garden Shawl, it ticks all the right boxes for me. Stephen West's Garter Goodness is a great choice, though this one does get a bit big at some point and doesn't tick all the boxes anymore. 

What do you like to knit when you're out with friends? What will you be knitting this Saturday out in Public?

If you're in Bath this weekend we'd love for you to join us at the Boston Tea Party from 10-12 as we join forces with the Bath Knitting & Crochet Guild this year. After the morning event we invite you to come down to Walcot Street and continue knitting with us. For other WWKIPD events in your area you can check out their website here.

Happy Knitting everyone!

-Carmen


I Wish I was an Octopus: Spring Flings May 19 2017

I don't about you but I feel like there is a plethora of amazing designs out there at the moment and I want to knit them ALL. And I mean all of them. I haven't written a post in the "I Wish I was an Octopus" serious in a while so I thought it was time to talk about some of the many patterns inspiring me at the moment.

Who hasn't been totally caught up in the "fading" craze? The talented Andrea Mowry captured our imaginations with her Find your Fade shawl at the beginning of the year (I do have one of these on the needles but more on that at a later date) and then last month she released the So Faded sweater pattern in both an adult version and a pint sized version. And just look how amazing her and her daughter look in their sweaters? Lots of great fading versions have been created already and it is just a great little summer sweater. 

The yet to arrive second Issue of Laine Magazine is full of gorgeous patterns including another shawl pattern by Andrea called Bird of  Feather. But that's not the pattern I'm clambering to start knitting, no it's Morning Fog by Laine co-founder Jonna Hietala which is an elegant light weight cardigan knit in Shibui Knits Silk Cloud. This cardi just looks so cozy and relaxed and would just be the perfect item to dress up my summer uniform of jeans, a tank top and sandals. It will work well into the autumn and winter as well as a light layer. I can't wait to see more pics and dig into the pattern when the magazine arrives next week.

Have you seen the Pom Pom Quarterly Summer 2017 preview on Ravelry yet? It's full of cute patterns and I love the bright cheerful photographs they've taken for this milestone 5th Anniversary edition. The magazine should be arriving in the shop next week, which means I could in theory cast-on the Bash hat by Linda Dubec. I love everything about this hat, the geometric design, the colors used (though I have been playing around with altering that so that I could replace the yellow with pink)  and the yarn. I love working with The Fibre Co. Cumbria Fingering yarn and a hat is a reasonably sized project that I may even manage to complete in the nearish future. Maybe even in time for Pomfest in July, watch this space...

I came across this adorable kids pattern in a friend's Ravelry favorites the other day; it's the Teddy Bear Sweater by PetiteKnit and it's just so darn cute. It's a simple top down raglan sweater with some cleverly placed embroidery on the front. I have lots of friends with young kids at the moment and I'd love to make this for at least one of them. 

And last but not least for this edition of "I Wish I was an Ocotopus" is a shawl pattern by Melanie Berg. Melanie will be here teaching in June and I'd love to knit another of her designs before she arrives and I'd love the chance to use Shibui Knits newest yarn Lunar which makes Whiteout the perfect choice. Melanie used Pollen and Ivory which is a stunning combo but not a color combo I can wear. I've been playing around with color choices all week and I might so for a darker version in Abyss and Imperial. 

Let's see how many of these, if any I manage to get on the needles. I'm trying to finish up several projects at the moment including a pair of Dave socks for my Dad, the Enso sweater I started for myself last Spring, the Joji Locatelli MKAL and at least five other projects I can't think of at the moment. 

-Carmen


Yarn Shop Day / Anniversary Wrap Up May 11 2017

Just a quick one today to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who joined us last Saturday for Yarn Shop Day and our 3 year anniversary party! It was amazing to see everyone and chat about yarn, patterns and of course the super yummy cake provided by Didicakes!

What's really lovely about having an event like Yarn Shop Day is we get to see so many of you all in one place and all at the same time. It just really warms my hear to see so many passionate knitters and crocheters all in the shop at the same time. Peaches was here for the celebrations as well and did her part playing hostess :)

 I didn't take any photos during the day it turns out, too busy chatting and eating cake. There were a few beautiful snaps by customers of the shop and their purchases on Instagram so I'll share those here. Our good friend Allison from Yarn in the City snapped this gorgeous collage below - I love when the shop looks this tidy (and believe me it did not by the end of the day...)

The lovely Dani of the Little Bobbins podcast came out with Bobbin himself. So both Peaches and Little Bobbin were in the shop at the same time eyeing each other up - it was adorable and yet we took no pictures. Dani took this great photo when she got home. If I'm not mistaken the SweetGeorgia Yarns skein is going to be included in her So Faded sweater she's working on. She had the sweater with her and it's going to be so cute when it's finished. 

And last but not least I love this flat lay that Alli took of her goodies from the day. She snatched up a couple skeins of Walcot Yarns, a box of the new Letterpress Cards and a copy of Cocoknits fab new book Sweater Workshop

Again a heartfelt thank you to everyone who joined us last Saturday and a thank you to Let's Knit magazine who organizes Yarn Shop Day. It's so great to see so many people supporting local yarn shops. There are a lot more images from all over the country on Instagram if you check out #yarnshopday and #yarnshopday2017

Until next time, happy making everyone.

-Carmen


Cast Ons Part II April 26 2017

This time around we’re going to talk about Questions 3 and 4 from the previous cast on post:

3. Do I need a provisional cast on?

4. Do I need a centre-out/circular cast on?

For both of these questions we’ll be dealing with projects that can’t be started with a simple straight edge cast on, which can be a daunting prospect sometimes! For example, a circular shawl that starts from the middle or a toe-up sock. Another example would be a cardigan or a long rectangular stole worked sideways from a central point.

Provisional cast ons

Let’s start off by defining what is meant by a provisional cast on. Casting on provisionally means you start your knitting by creating two sets of stitches, one of which is worked and the other of which is held to be used later in the piece. The provisional cast on is used in toe-up socks, and in pieces that have a knitted on edging added at the end. It is also very useful if you’re not sure if you have enough yarn for a sweater: use a provisional cast on for the sleeves, work the body and yoke, and then go back to finish the sleeves with the remaining yarn.

In the last post I mentioned using this cast on for a turned hem that is knit closed instead of being sewn down afterwards – in this instance you would provisionally cast on the stitches for the body of the sweater (or the sleeve), knit the hem and the turning ridge, then work until you had the same length of sleeve as the inside hem. You would then take another needle and pick up the provisionally cast on stitches (the second set) and then k2tog one stitch from the working stitches and one stitch from the provisional cast on all the way around to close the hem.

There are many, many ways to do a provisional cast on, and the choice of cast on to use will be driven by what you’re working on. For example, for a rectangular lace stole that is worked from the centre out in two halves, you could use a provisional cast on with waste yarn. This can be done with the knitting needles only or with a crochet hook.

The knitting needle only version uses a scrap of waste yarn in a cast on that uses the waste yarn as a kind of life line – you end up with one edge where the stitches are held in place by the waste yarn running straight along the bottom. (written tutorial here and a video here).

With the crocheted version, you use a crochet hook and the waste yarn to crochet over the knitting needle, essentially creating a row of stitches that are then worked. When you need to go back and work the other set of stitches, carefully pull out the crocheted chain and pick up the live stitches as you go (written tutorial here or video tutorial here).

These provisional cast ons are also useful for turned hems and for situations where you’re not sure about yarn requirements or length – provisionally cast on with one of these techniques and you can easily come back and work in the other direction when needed.

Toe-up socks are best done with a slightly different technique. Both of the cast ons above  result in a tiny gap in the fabric right at the tip of the toe, which some people find annoying and which is a potential weak spot. But don’t worry – Judy Becker has come up with the solution! Judy’s Magic Cast-On (written version here and video tutorial here) allows you to cast on for the toe of your sock provisionally (so there’s no gap or seam) and then lets you start working in the round immediately.

The result is stitches flowing invisibly over the toe with no seam or gap. Judy’s Magic Cast-On (sometimes abbreviated as JMCO) can also be used in other situations where you need a provisional cast on detailed above. In those instances, you would work flat instead of in the round.

Centre-out or circular cast ons

To be fair, there aren’t too many instances in which you want to cast on in the middle of a piece and work outwards in the round. I can think of three obvious ones: circular shawls, blankets (either in one piece or as modular units) and top-down hats.

The fact that this type of cast on is relatively uncommon is not a bad thing, as it can be quite tricky to execute well! The standard circular cast on is one popularised by Elizabeth Zimmerman – Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast On (photo tutorial here or video tutorial here). This cast on uses a crochet hook to cast on the initial round of stitches. If you’ve ever crocheted a granny square and used the magic circle cast on, this is the same. In essences, after crocheting the required number of stitches, you transfer them to a circular needle or dpns. The tail left from the loop at the beginning of the cast on is pulled tight and closes up the hole in the centre.

An alternative to Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast On is the Disappearing Loop Cast On (photo tutorial here or video here). This cast on is the same in principle, but doesn’t use crochet for the first round so all the stitches are the same from the very beginning.

I don’t know about you, but I am not good with things that are fiddly. So my favourite way to start centre-out knitting is by cheating. TECHknitter’s blog refers to this technique as the Umbilical Waste Cord Method (photo tutorial here) which describes it very well (although it isn’t terribly appealing!)

For this cast on you start with some waste yarn and work a length of i-cord – the length worked is up to you, but at least 2-3 cm is a good starting point.

When you’ve got your i-cord well established, split the stitches on to 2 dpns and begin working with your working yarn as follows:

Set up round: Leaving a long tail, work 1 round of i-cord.

Round 1 (increase round): *K1, M1; repeat from * to end. 

Round 2: Knit.

You now have twice as many stiches, which can be distributed over multiple needles for working in the round.

Repeat these two rounds until you have the number of stitches needed to work as directed in the pattern.

At some point you’ll need to cut the cord so to speak, and get rid of the piece of i-cord sticking out from the front of your work.

Thread a yarn needle with the tail from the working yarn from that very first round, and pick up each loop from that first round one at a time as you remove the waste yarn.

At the end of this process you’ll have a hole in the middle of your work, with the cast on tail run through all of the live stitches.

Pass the tail once more through the first stitch only, and pull carefully to close up the middle hole. Ta da!

This cast on results in the same finished look as the more fiddly versions, with much less effort and stress (at least for me)!

Hopefully you’ve now got a grasp on a few more cast on techniques to add to your arsenal. Happy knitting!

- Rachel porpoisefur


Welcome Anna! April 05 2017

Anna joined the AYS team in February and here's your chance to get to know her a bit better.

A weaver and recent graduate of Bath Spa's renowned Textile Design for Fashion and Interiors program, I'm thrilled to have Anna in the shop. With an amazing eye for color and a sleek modern design aesthetic she's a perfect fit. You can usually find Anna in the shop a couple days a week, so if you get a chance stop by and say hi, in the meantime she shares a bit of her Yarn Story below.


Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: I am just about to start the final section of Brenna from The Fibre Company’s Fell Garth Collection. I also have a moss stitch draped jacket which I started literally years ago but I am determined to finish it soon!

Q: When did you start knitting/crocheting? Who taught you?
A: I think I was about 14 when my Mum taught me to knit as a way to switch off my brain in the evenings. This pig from Laura Long’s book Knitted Toy Tales and was the first thing I knitted that wasn’t a flat rectangle! I taught myself to crochet a few years later but it’s never stuck in the same way as knitting.

Q: You recently graduated with a degree in textiles and have specialised in weaving - what drew you to weaving in particular?
A: I was torn between specialising in print or weave at university and chose weaving partly as it was the less popular option! But the main reason was that I like the balance between the technical skill and creativity. There is also nothing quite as satisfying as taking a length of cloth off the loom which started as (often quite a tangled) collection of yarn.

Q: What is your favorite fibre to work with?
A: I love working with merino and alpaca as a base and then adding in different textures such as a silk mohair- the softer the better.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the textile crafts?
A: I love colour- choosing the colour palette for a new project is always my favourite stage which may seem odd as I am nearly always wearing black or grey! 

Q: What is the last project you completed?
A: I have just completed my first big weaving project since graduating which was for a National Trust Competition. It was quite daunting but it felt good to be designing and making again.

Q: What has you most excited about joining the AYS team? 
A: I feel very lucky to have a job which I look forward to going to in the mornings! I have particularly enjoyed learning more about all the different yarns (which has proved a good test for my self restraint) and getting to know the customers.

Q: Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
A: I have a worryingly large collection of nail varnish, I enjoy taking a book down to the Crescent on sunny evenings and I have a tendency to name inanimate objects; I have a new houseplant called Fergus, my car is called Mildred and my sewing machine is called Sybil.

If you'd like to see more of what Anna creates with her loom you can follow her on Instagram here.
-Carmen

Your Yarn Story: Dani Sunshine March 24 2017

Dani is a knitwear designer and pattern writer living on the south coast of England with her lovely family. She designs everything from hats and shawls to adult garments but some of our favorites around here are her adorable children's designs.

I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Dani on a new pattern. She wanted to create something for her youngest daughter, Juliette who they lovingly nicknamed "Jelly" and so of course we had to create a something using the Hedgehog Fibres colorway of the same name. We are totally in love with Juliette - both the pattern and the adorable model.

Here's a little more about Dani and her knitting life and design inspiration as she kindly shares her Yarn Story with us.

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: I always have about a dozen things on the needles. I get bouts of start-itis followed by inevitable WIP overload followed by a ripping & finishing spree. I'm in finishing mode right now. I've just cast off a lightweight sweater for Jelly (the model in the Juliette pattern), a Juliette cardigan for my 7 year old daughter, and am nearly done with a sweater in The Uncommon Thread yarns.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?
A: I learnt to knit as a child. I guess my mum taught me but I don't remember, I remember knitting a Spurs scarf for my dad. I picked it up again when my friend gave me a pair of handknit socks, I was blown away and asked her to teach me. I'm sure she rues the day, haha!

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?
A: I think it has replaced smoking for me! I never really could kick the habit until I took up knitting seriously. I always need to have something to do with my hands.

Q: Do you have a favourite thing to knit?
A: I like to knit sweaters for my kids. It makes me so happy to see them wear them! I really enjoy learning new techniques and incorporating them into my designs.

Q: Where do you get inspiration from?
A: I usually knit something to go with clothes that are already in my wardrobe or my kids' wardrobe. If my daughter gets a new dress I suddenly have the idea for the perfect thing to go with it! I'm definitely a product knitter, I visualise the outcome and enjoy the puzzle of figuring out how to make it happen. The problem is what inspired me.

Q: If you could only knit with one yarn for the next year, what would it be? In other words, what is your current yarn crush?
A: Always 100% Merino DK, hand dyed, preferably speckled :)

Q: How has knitting affected your like? Or, what role does knitting play in your life?
A: I was always an arty, crafty kid, always drawing or making something and I've always liked puzzles, so knitting is the perfect hobby for me. I love the maths and problem-solving in it.

You can find Dani on Instagram as Lionessarts and you can see more of her designs on Ravelry.

Thanks for sharing Dani and for creating such a beautiful and fun design for us. 

-Carmen


Stash Enhancement March 08 2017

We are now well underway on the wool festival season, so it seems like a good time to talk a bit about how to keep our stashes well-curated and (sort of) under control.

There is a continuum among yarn crafters as to the level of stash that they are comfortable holding, ranging from only buying yarn for the next project when the previous project is finished to Stash Amassed Beyond Life Expectancy (SABLE). Most of us lie somewhere in between these two extremes, but lots of people talk/worry/feel guilty about their stash.

The goal of this blog post is to share some tips on how to have a guilt-free stash, of whatever size best suits you, and how to get the most out of the yarns you have. After all, you must have bought them for a reason, right?

Step 1: Stash Assessment

One of the biggest problems I run into when thinking about my stash is that I don’t know exactly what’s in there! So the first key step to thoughtful stash enhancement is to take a bit of time to look through everything and make sure you know what’s there.

Go through your stash (I try to do this once a year, usually over the winter holidays) and take a close look at everything. This is a great opportunity to make sure that no little critters have found their way into your precious skeins, and also to take stock: that skein of gorgeous teal laceweight that you’ve had for five years – are you really every going to knit it? What about those wildly variegated skeins of sock yarn that you couldn’t walk away from, but you know you’ll never use? This is a chance to do some stash pruning, and find a new home for those yarns that you know you’ll never use. Some of these can be put up for sale, some can be donated to the charity shop or other yarn-taking organisations like Knit for Peace. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice pile of things to clear out, and a stash that has a bit of breathing room for upcoming purchases.

Find a way that works for you to keep track of your stash that you can refer back to and identify what you’ve already got without having to unpack everything again. I like to keep track of my stash on Ravelry but am very bad about keeping it updated and current – you may find a different method that works well for you. It may also work better for you just to keep a list of gaps in your stash that you might like to fill. However you do it, having a method for knowing what you’ve got in your stash and what you need at any given time is key!

Step 2: Prioritise Future Projects

The next step after sorting through your stash but before being overwhelmed by yarn fumes at your next show is to think a bit about upcoming projects. What are you aching to start – a new jumper? A glorious lace shawl? A mini-skein project? Make a list of your to-do projects and prioritise them so you have a clear vision of what’s going to be next on your needles or hook.

Then go back to your stash (either in person or via your record keeping system): do you have anything that will already work for any of those projects? If so, you are golden! Get started right away, or put the yarn aside with the pattern and tools so as soon as you are ready to start, you have everything together in one place.

If there’s a project you have on your list and you don’t have any suitable yarn in the stash, that yarn can go on a new list – the shopping list. Make sure you note down any key characteristics needed: weight, yardage needed, particular fibre content you want to match, and maybe a few notes about the project.

Another good tactic for using your stash is identify if you have any yarns that might work for part of a project – for example, a skein of 4-ply that would be great as the main colour for a shawl that uses mini-skeins. Then you can put the mini-skeins on your shopping list, knowing that you’ve already got the rest of the shawl in stash.

Step 3: The Shopping

Now comes everyone’s favourite part: yarn shopping. Whether you are going to your LYS or to a festival, there’s always the danger of being overcome by all the inspiration, so here are a few tips that may help.

  • Take a look at the LYS website or the show website and see what’s available. If there’s a particular vendor at a show that has a yarn on your list, make sure you know where they are so you can find them easily.
  • Remember to take your shopping list, maybe with purchases prioritized
  • Stick to your list (this is the hardest one!)
  • At a show: if sticking to your list is going to be tough, set aside a set amount of money that you can splurge with on things you just can’t walk away from. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
  • Only take cash and leave the credit cards at home.

More generally – really think about what you’re buying. You don’t have to have a specific project in mind, but now that you know you already have five skeins of blue and purple 4-ply yarn in a box at home, it will be that much easier to put that lovely skein that’s calling to you back on the shelf.

The bottom line is this: take a bit of time to sort through what you’ve already got on hand and get rid of yarns that aren’t calling to you any more. Armed with a better knowledge of your existing stash, you can then go out and fill in the gaps that you’ve identified for upcoming projects.

-Rachel aka PorpoiseFur


New Venture: Walcot Yarns March 02 2017 1 Comment

Last summer I received a phone call and that phone call started a wonderful new venture for me: Walcot Yarns. On the other end of the phone was Sharon Spencer of Great British Yarns and she had an idea. Sharon and I had spoken a few times about potential collaborations but this particular time she had a concrete idea for us to work on. 

Now you might think it strange that owners of two different yarn shops in the same relatively small town would decide to work together. There is a lot of competition in this world of ours, the yarn world included and so I get the double take of our story of Walcot Yarns but I firmly believe in collaboration and working with good, smart people that complement my own skills and Sharon is absolutely one of those people.

So, for the last few months we have been working hard behind the scenes to launch Walcot Yarns and now the debut date is nearly upon us. We'll be debuting our first yarn and pattern collection at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival next week! Our first yarn Opus, is a truly lush blend of 70% Falkland Merino and 30% Baby Alpaca with a handle and loftiness more similar to cashmere than a typical merino/alpaca blend. 

 Opus is a versatile 4-ply weight with 325m to 100g, spun here in the UK and will be available in 11 shades initially. Nine of the 11 shades are over dyed on the natural Grey base, giving a rich smokey undertone to the color palette, something I love. For the launch at EYF next week we will have the two undyed shades of Splashed White and Grey available.

The first collection of patterns will also be launching next week, On the Surface: A Study in Texture contains eight patterns by four designers. Our own Amanda Jones has designed two stunning garments, Rachel C. Brown designed a Hat & Mitts set, Sharon created a simple cowl and beautiful shawl and last but not least Jo Smith designed two crochet shawls. We'll get to have all the samples here in the shop after EYF, so stop by and have a look if you get a chance.

If you want to hear a bit more about setting up a yarn business you can check out the interview I did with the Yarn in the City ladies on their podcast a couple of weeks ago. You can also follow our Walcot Yarns adventures over on our website.

We hope you enjoy Opus and the On the Surface collection as much as we do, we're really excited to finally show it you!

-Carmen


New Shop Hours March 01 2017

With lots of new plans, new items and new classes planned for the shop, we are also changing our shop hours. Starting March 1, 2017 our shop hours are expanding to seven days a week and longer opening Monday - Saturday.

New Hours:
Monday - Saturday 9:30 - 5:30
Sunday                    11 - 4

 

In addition to being open on a Sunday, we are offering a weekly drop-in Knit Surgery every Sunday afternoon from 2 - 4pm. This is a great opportunity to get a helping hand on a tricky project or new technique you've been working on. You can find out more information about the weekly Knit Surgery here

Keep on the look out for new classes being added to the schedule all the time.

-Carmen


Welcome Amanda! February 24 2017 1 Comment

As introductions go this one is so long overdue that I shouldn't really call it an introduction. The lovely Amanda Jones joined the AYS team last Autumn and it's just been so busy we haven't had a chance to officially share her story.

Amanda is an avid knitter and crocheter and has been designing knitwear for most of her adult life. Among her many accomplishments, she has knit a sweater for and personally presented to the Queen! I'm super excited to have Amanda on board to share her wealth of expertise with us. You'll find her both in the shop a couple days a week and teaching lots of classes for us. She's part of my master plan to properly learn to crochet this year. Amanda has kindly shared a bit of her Yarn Story with us below.

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: I have just cast on a commission for The Knitter magazine. All I can say is that it is a jumper knitted in John Arbon Knit by Number 4ply. A lovely yarn.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?
A: I was about seven when I started. It was my mother who taught me as she was always knitting jumpers for my brothers and me. I wanted to copy her. I was fascinated by what she was doing.

Q: You've been designing knitwear for a while, what's your favorite project or pattern you've created and why?
A: Over the years I have produced so many things but I have to say the gloves I knitted last year are probably my most favourite things as they were so complicated to do but they worked really well and I`m wearing them every day as they keep my hands so warm. I have actually knitted two more pairs and gave them away for Christmas gifts.

 

Q: What is your favorite fibre to work with?
A: I love knitting with wool – a good merino with maybe a small blend of Alpaca or silk or both.

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting?
A: I love being able to create different textures with yarn. Turning yarn into garments of my own design is great.

Q: What is the last project you completed? 
A: I have just completed two garments for Walcot yarns. I`m very excited about these as the yarn is beautiful and the designs I have produced have worked really well.

Q: What has you most excited about joining the AYS team? 
A: I really enjoy working in the shop and meeting all the people who come in. I like being able to help people with their yarn choices and also, if I can, help them out with any knitting problems.
Being part of the team has also meant doing workshops – I love teaching people and get a real buzz when a beginner goes away happy with a new skill.
And of course, who wouldn`t want to work surrounded by so much wonderful yarn.

Q: Anything else you would like to share about yourself? 
A: As well as yarn crafting, I love cooking but I`m no good at following recipes. I always think that I know what will make it taste that little bit better or maybe if I don`t have the right ingredient I will substitute it with something else. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong! (but usually it doesn`t)

Aren't those gloves just stunning? Welcome to the team Amanda!

-Carmen


TO BLOCK OR NOT TO BLOCK, THAT IS THE QUESTION February 15 2017

(with apologies to Shakespeare)

Allow me to set the scene: a knitter triumphantly casts off the last stitch, puts the needles down and gleefully admires the glorious handknit before them. All the hours spent, all the stitches counted, all the tinking back and making sure every single bit of the project was right, and now the crafting is finished. It’s time to show off that new project to the world!

But put the brakes on for just a moment, and look at the pattern finishing instructions . Usually there’s a phrase there that many of us like to overlook in that victory lap of finishing a long-time WIP: “block item to schematic measurements”, “block aggressively”, block, block, block…

OK, we get the picture: we’re supposed to block our new FO. But what exactly does that mean and how do you do it?

Simply put, blocking is the process that allows your knitted and crocheted stitches to finish settling in to their proper places. It evens out wonky stitches, and makes textures pop and lace sing. Blocking is the ultimate finishing touch for making your knit and crochet pieces look their best.

Blocking is also critically important for lace and stranded knitting, as it makes the lace open up and evens out uneven tension and floats in colourwork. It’s also just a good idea to block to get rid of any muck that might have gotten into your project as you’ve been working on it – think of it as a final primping before the big debut!

How you block will vary depending on the item and the fibre content of the yarn. I usually wet block everything; I soak the item in cool-to-lukewarm water with some wool wash (Soak is my favourite for many reasons but a big one is that no rinsing is required!) for at least 15-20 min. Longer is ok too - more often then not I forget its in the sink and come back to it several hours later…

The next step is to squeeze out as much water as you can. In my blocking, this usually means putting it in a lingerie bag and running it through the spin cycle on my washing machine, which gets rid of almost all excess water. If you’re nervous about doing that, you can wrap the item in several towels and stand on the roll to squeeze out as much water as possible. It’s very important to avoid moving your project around too much – don’t wring it out! – because this can cause felting if you’re working with wool.

When you’ve gotten rid of as the excess water, the next step is to lay out the piece and leave it to dry. For things like jumpers, socks and most other accessories, I like to spread the item out and pat it into shape, making sure it’s as symmetrical as possible. For jumpers, I will measure at critical fit points – bust, hem, sleeve – and check against the pattern schematic to make sure its going to be the size I want it to be when it’s dry! The Gauge Cloth from Cocoknits makes this dead easy as it's a 1" square grid you can lay your garment on. I sometimes use pins and blocking wires (if needed) to help get the right measurements.

Blocking wires and pins become very important if you are knitting lace and want it to look its best. As anyone who’s ever knit a lace shawl can attest, unblocked lace looks like a pile of overcooked spaghetti. However, after a soak and a good strong block, the yarn overs of the lace open up and the inherent dynamic structure is revealed. Lace should always be blocked, and stretched out farther then you’d think is possible, to show off all that hard work you’ve put into it.

 To block a lace shawl, blocking wires are a great investment: these are semi-flexible wires that can be threaded through the edges of your lace and pinned out, thereby removing the need to use forty million pins on each point of your edging, and making it easier to block evenly.

You can thread the blocking wires through your piece before you soak it or afterwards, but it’s usually easier to do when the item is dry. Just make sure you can still get the whole piece wet with the wires already in place! Use the same procedure for soaking and getting rid of the excess water, and then find a good big space and stretch that lace out.

Some types of fabric don’t benefit from wet blocking. If you’ve got a fabric that is very highly textured, you may want to steam the piece instead of wet blocking and risking losing some of that texture. To do this, use a steamer or iron with a steam setting, lay the piece out and let the steam penetrate the fabric. Move back and forth until the entire work has been exposed to the steam and then let it dry.

Wool blocks beautifully and will hold its blocked shape well (at least until it gets wet again). Wool blends will also block well, whether the wool is blended with silk, plant fibres or a small proportion of synthetics. Cotton should be blocked, not necessarily to get the correct shape or measurements (cotton has very little memory), but to even out any uneven tension in the piece. However, things made out of 100% acrylic will certainly benefit from a wash, but they can’t be blocked out and stretched the way wool fibres can.

In the end, the choice of whether to block or not is entirely up to you, but if you want your finished objects to really shine give them a bit of extra TLC with a bath and a bit of a primp, and you'll be amazed by the results!

-Rachel of PorpoiseFur


Yarn Review: The Fibre Co. Luma February 07 2017 1 Comment

There seem to be new yarns popping up all the time, and every season I take a look at what's on offer and decide what I like best and what's going to fit into the shop well. I always get excited when I hear that The Fibre Co. has created a new yarn as they always seem to come up with something beautiful.

The latest yarn from The Fibre Co. is Luma a DK weight blend of 50% wool, 25% cotton, 15% linen and 10% silk. Each 50g hank is 125m / 137 yards and should be hand washed. As is typical for a yarn from The Fibre Co. it is hand dyed and "intentionally crafted with subtle texture and colour variances."

Luma arrived in the shop a couple of weeks ago and the first thing I noticed was the art deco feel of the color palette. Sure, I had seen the shade card and some images beforehand but its just not the same as seeing it all in person. The palette really works together and there are several possibilities for interesting color combos in a project. Because of the fibre content the shades are all slightly muted versions of themselves while still retaining good color saturation if that makes sense. For example, Flamingo (used in my swatch) is a pastel at first glance but it also has a depth of color, something I quite like.

I got to swatching the other night and was knitting away without really thinking about it. I suddenly thought to myself 'ooops, I was supposed to be concentrating on the feel of the yarn so I could write about it later' but then decided that the fact that I had zoned out so quickly was actually a really nice quality of the yarn. It wasn't splitting and was moving with ease along my needles. It got softer the more I worked with it, a lovely result of the linen content and the swatch held it's shape well after I blocked it. (Yes, I absolutely blocked my swatch!) The resulting fabric is lovely and lightweight; perfect for for creating garments to be worn as light layers or a spring shawl. 

The Fibre Co. also released the April in Paris Collection last week which has some great pieces in it. I quite like the cardigan pattern Rue Cambon and the sweater pattern Rue St. Antoine, I could see both fitting into my wardrobe well. Galerie d'Apollon is also stunning and you can so clearly see the inspiration of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. In addition to be stunning with a red ball gown, I would love to see it with some cropped black trousers, a crisp white blouse and black loafers - perfect outfit for sitting in a Parisian cafe enjoying a glass of wine in April. Galerie d'Apollon is FREE for the whole month of February too, just use the code "lumalove" at checkout on Ravlery

So all in all, I'm once again impressed with what Daphne and the team at The Fibre Co. have produced. Luma is a truly year round yarn with it's unusual blend of fibres and the totally wearable fabric it creates.

You can see all the shades of Luma and a trunk show of the April in Paris collection next week at the AYS stand at Unravel.

- Carmen