A Yarn Story

Happy Holidays 2016 December 28 2016

The year is drawing to a close and I hope everyone has had a lovely holiday season. My sister has been here visiting from the States and I have had the chance to show her around Bath and London and we've also had some fabulous lazy knitting time. 

Over the weekend three project were cast-on. My sister was inspired a shop sample of Alice by Antonia Shackland and got herself some gorgeous Road to China Light in Cobalt to knit it in. I joined in the Little Bobbins Christmas Eve Cast On #lbkchristmasevecaston2016 and started Helen Stewart's Vintage Fairy Lights Socks in the brand new La Bien Aimée Tough Sock. I just had to snag a skein of this yarn in Peanut Butter Jelly before it was all gone - I love this colourway! The yarn has been fantastic to knit with and I'll tell you more about it in the new year. And my friend Sarah started Enso by Renée Callahan in beautiful John Arbon Textiles Knit by Numbers.

Just a reminder about out opening hours over the holidays, we are taking a break from Saturday 24. December - Sunday 8 January, 2017. The shop is re-opening on Monday 9 January 2017. We are sending out online orders during this time but not with the frequency we do when the shop is open so please allow an extra couple of days delivery.

I get to go visit my parents in Oregon during this time and I'll be back in the shop on January 17th. You'll find Amanda and Helena in the shop until then, happy to help you with anything you need. Any questions, you can always reach us via e-mail: hello@ayarnstory.co.uk

Happy New Year everyone, may 2017 be filled with yarn and beautiful projects.

- Carmen


I Wish I Was an Octopus: Chunky Knits December 01 2016 1 Comment

As usual there are so very many things out there that I want to knit and only two hands with which to do this. The saving grace this time of year though is chunky yarn. Chunky yarn creates beautiful, quick knits that will keep you cozy warm during these frosty winter months.

I finished off my Sonder Shawl by Helen Stewart a couple of weeks ago which I have been wearing non-stop since. This was the last pattern in her Shawl Society collection and it's knit using The Fibre Co. Tundra and I just love it. It's actually the only pattern in the collection that I've managed to knit so far despite having yarn set aside for at least two of the other patterns. I am inspired to knit up another of these shawls, as Dani of the Little Bobbins podcast knit up her Sonder Shawl and then attached TOFT alpaca pom poms instead of tassles to her shawl! Now I need a version like this, so I'm thinking Petrel with black pom poms. Totally doable in the next week of so, yay!

Helen has several great quick knit pattern in Tundra, including the Ice River Hat and Cowl from her Knitvent collection last year. Or if you want something a bit different I love Julie Weisenberg's Stranded Cowl. I made a version of this using Tundra and Knightsbridge last winter, then made one for my sister as well. There are several version on Ravelry using Malabrigo Rasta as well. Then there is the einter Nordlándda collection by Rachel C. Brown. Super cute cable hats that will knit up quickly and make great gifts for either yourself or loved ones. 

We've just added Mrs. Moon Plump Superchunky to the shop, which is a soft, smooshy chunky yarn. Great for a cute bobble hat for kids or adults. My plan was not to knit any Christmas presents this year but now I'm tempted to whip up some hats for my little cousins as I could make something from Tilly's Hat Snood and Mitts Set. I'd also really like to get better at crochet (one of my personal goals for 2017) and Mrs. Moon has some great crochet patterns for this yarn. Hmmm...

Malabrigo Rasta is the ultimate of the chunky yarns. It's a Super Bulky, 100% merino hand dyed in both some lovely semi-solids and some crazy variegated colourways. I've made a Red Rasta Cowl in this yarn already and I love it but I've been eyeing up the Bushwick hat pattern as I really want a big warm funky hat for the winter. Maybe in Baya Electric and Whale's Road? or Laguna Negra and Plomo? So many choices, how is a girl to choose!?! Or what about the cheeky Julie Weisenberg pattern Smitten - it's a two handed single mitten design so you and your loved one can hold hands and stay warm. 

 Ok and totally not on the chunky front but something I want to cast on immediately nonetheless is from the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life revival that Netflix released last weekend. I don't know about you but I was quite excited to sit in my jammies with my knitting and binge all four episodes. I was then blown away by a couple of the scarves featured on Paris and Rory in the first episode and even more blown away when I found out they were handknit in The Fibre Co. yarns and the patterns are available on Ravlery! Paris wears Eponymuff in Road to China Light while Rory is wearing Dots n Dashes knit Knightsbridge. What colors to use? I've got a few ideas, so I'll at least stash some yarn for these and then hopefully find some time to knit one over the Christmas holiday.

As usual too many awesome things I want to knit and too few hands and too little time, though I do have a glimmer of hope in getting some of this accomplished this month as it is mostly chunky projects.

Happy Making!

-Carmen


Walcot Winterfest! November 15 2016

For the past few months I've had the opportunity to work with a great group of small business owners on a community event here on Walcot Street in Bath. For those of you unfamiliar with Bath and the Walcot area, it has a long history of irreverence and was once the high street of old Roman Bath. Anchored at one end by the Cattle Market and Corn Exchange and a small round-a-bout at the other which was once where all Roman roads merged to Bath. There is a lot to love about this street both historically and in it's present form and I was so thrilled to be able to open A Yarn Story on Walcot Street. 

Walcot Winterfest

Walcot Winterfest was born out of a desire to bring the community together and remind both Bathonians and visitors that a strong presence of independent businesses thrive here on Walcot Street. It's easy to stick to the glitzy high street chains that are prolific throughout our city centers and on many a high street this is all that is left. Fortunately Bath is full of independent shops, restaurants and businesses and Walcot has the quirkiest of the bunch. Known as the Artisan Quarter many creative businesses reside here, including several artist's studios, a stationers specializing in letter press and hand calligraphy, a glass blower, a weaver's studio and such much more. 

I could go on about my love for this fabulous street and how it has been fabulous to get a chance to work with so many talented and enthusiastic entrepreneurs but I'll instead tell you what will be happening this weekend during the (first annual) Walcot Winterfest.

The weekend kicks of with Foodie Friday and many of the street eateries will be showing off their best starting at 4pm. We have a special event at the Walcot Chapel, which we've turned into a Piano Bar with food served by special guest Burgers & Barrels. Sam's Kitchen is pulling out all the stops with an on street grill of whole lamb shoulder, flat bread, tzatziki and a halloumi option for vegetarians. The street will be filled with music by local performers and several of the local pubs have special musical acts planned for Friday night. 

Saturday is Small Shop Saturday with special offers and late night shopping. There is a Secret Winter Cinema planned at Nexus Methodist Church, a film for the whole family is promised (hint: it won't be Frozen). Face Painting, calligraphy tattoos and a photo booth will be fun for the whole family as well. I'm excited to see the new exhibition by Fringe Arts Bath opening this weekend as well, it's a long term collaboration between art and science students at Bath University and Bath College and it sounds amazing. They've also got some spectacular light projects planned.

Artisan Sunday is all about showcasing the talented crafts people along the street. Many shops, including A Yarn Story, will be open on Sunday from 11 - 4pm and many will be hosting demonstrations and mini workshops. We will be hosting a drop spindle demo from 12 - 2pm where you can come along and give the ancient art of spinning yarn a try. This is open to children and adults and is a free event. 

Lastly, you can get to know Walcot with a fun scavenger hunt, it's on the back of the Walcot Winterfest programs and there is a larger hamper of items from Walcot businesses to be won. Light, fire, music and general festive cheer will also be available in abundance this weekend and that is actually my favorite part. It's been a rough few months in the world and I know many of you, myself included, are feeling a bit down or depleted in the aftermath which is why its all the more reason to get together with your community and support those close to to you. 

Hope to see some of you this weekend, I know for many Bath is maybe a bit too far to journey to but I wish you too a weekend of joy and celebration.

- Carmen


Inishmeane - Designer's Perspective October 26 2016

Last Friday we released the brand new pattern Inishmeane, a men's sweater designed in The Fibre Company's newest yarn Arranmore. I wrote about the sweater and a bit of the design process on the blog last week but I thought it would be fun to share the designer's perspective as well, as really, Rachel did most of the work. So, in her own words - here is what my friend and talented designer Rachel Brown of Porpoise Fur has to say about designing Inishmeane:

Early this past summer I got a ping from Carmen at A Yarn Story saying "Have you seen this new Fibre Company yarn Arranmore? It's luscious and glorious and I want a men's sweater design for it!" Before I knew what had hit me we were looking at a Pinterest board and discussing constructions and yarn colours and motifs. We debated henley style versus gansey, raglan versus set in sleeve...the possibilities were endless!

Most importantly, we wanted to come up with a men's sweater that would appeal both to men and the knitters who knit for them. The stereotype is that men want plain, boring, miles-of-stockinette navy or black or brown or dark green pullovers. That's it. But honestly, who among us wants to knit that? I can envision a scenario in which my brain was so fried that I would be good for nothing but plain stockinette in the round, but the prospect is just a bit too blah to be appealing for very long.

So we decide on a mostly stockinette sweater (to cover the standard insistence on "plain") which would highlight the tweedy rustic nature of the yarn, but with some interesting details to keep the knitter of said sweater from going nuts in a sea of blank canvas. A couple of serious cables for example, and a saddle shoulder construction. A tall collar and a henley neckline. A cozy sweater in a glorious Aran yarn that wraps around you like a big hug.

Then there was swatching and knitting (in the ludicrous heat that was Washington DC this past summer when we were there) and a frantic round of button choosing, and some pattern writing. And now, Carmen and I are thrilled to present Inishmeane, named for a small island off the coast of County Donegal.

A dog almost as cute as The Wee Ridiculous Dog that lives in my house

Worked in seven sizes (finished chest measurement from 96.5-157.5 cm/38-62"), Inishmeane is worked in the round from the bottom up, starting with a turned hem. The body is worked in the round to the underarms, and then the front and back are worked flat. Sleeves are worked (also with a turned hem) with a mirrored cable panel on each, and then the cable continues across the shoulder, getting attached to the front and back as you work. Then the collar is worked flat, with the cables continuing on either side, and the front button bands are picked up and worked flat.

I am super thrilled with how this sweater has come out, but it wouldn't have happened without the support of a lot of people: first off, Carmen, who asked me to come up with something for her, and was an absolute pleasure to work with from start to finish (let me know when the next one needs to come through, ok?), my lovely tech editor Deb for her eagle eyes (!), Daphne and Ian at The Fibre Company for yarn support and being generally all around some of the most lovely people it's been my pleasure to meet in this industry, and Tommy Martin who takes unbelievably phenomenal pictures of knitwear in the Lake District (as evidenced by these photos and the gorgeous shoot he did for Nordlándda last year).

The pattern is available now from Ravelry and from A Yarn Story directly, along with oodles and oodles of gorgeous Arranmore. I'm already contemplating what colour to pick for my, I mean Alex's Inishmeane!

Thanks so much for sharing Rachel and thanks for creating such a beautiful garment!

- Carmen


New Pattern Release: Inishmeane October 21 2016 1 Comment

There was a pub very near our house in Ireland called Roches. It was one of those local pubs that showed it’s history on the walls. The pub was set on a bog and had been sinking for decades and every few years they would pump some concrete under which ever side was sloping the worst and thus angled doorways and crooked windows were created. We loved this pub, it poured the best pint of Guinness it was full of welcoming locals and there was always a comforting peat fire on the go. We spent many an evening there listening to local trad music, including one during which a local woman was asked to sing. The musicians started to play and she began to sing and within seconds the entire pub had fallen silent and the musicians had stopped and the most glorious music I have ever heard was filling the room. Our collective breaths were taken away.

This sweater is dedicated to that pub, as I imagine this is where it would be worn. After a long day, with a pint in hand chatting with your mates and a fire in the background. This is what hand knit sweaters are made for and we really wanted to create something that would be both lovely to knit and to wear.



A Yarn Story has had the pleasure of having The Fibre Co. Arranmore on the shelf since the Spring when we launched it to the world as part of Yarn Shop Day. It has started many a conversation and inspired many a knitter in this time. And one of this conversations I was having often was with husbands who had come into the shop with their wives - hinting that they would like to have a their next sweater knit in this beautiful tweedy yarn. I have often had conversations with customers, either women looking for a pattern to knit for a man or with men looking for a pattern that they would like to knit for themselves. Let’s be honest, the pickings are much slimmer for men’s knitting patterns and thus an idea was born.

Inishmeane


I am not a designer, so this is not an endeavor I could take on on my own, but I knew just the woman for the job and she thankfully said yes. My friend Rachel Brown of Porpoise Fur was very excited when I approached her about the idea and very luckily she had time in her schedule. I love collaborating with people in general, I love bouncing ideas around and seeing things from the perspective of others.

We both wanted a sweater that the men in our lives would be happy to wear and we’d be happy to knit for them. Arranmore screams CABLES! so we knew there would be some cables but not too many.

Innishmeane

We spoke and Rachel went away to make some sketches and swatch some yarn and then the idea was a go and Rachel began knitting and writing the pattern. I felt slightly guilty about this part of the process as I had nothing to do at this point and Rachel set off on summer vacation to the East Coast of the US in a humid heatwave with a cosy aran weight sweater to knit. I suspect she sat right next to an air conditioning unit while knitting.

So we bring you Inishmeane, a sweater you’ll love to knit and you’ll love to wear. I’ve been pretty much living in the sample since I finally got my hands on it last week. Arranmore creates the most beautiful and cosy fabric, this yarn wants to be a sweater. It feels like a great hug from an old friend. I will absolutely be knitting one for my Dad because he is totally knit worthy and he’ll love this sweater!

Inishmeane

Inishmeanne is worked in the round from the bottom up with turned hems. The body is worked first in stocking stitch to the underarms, then the front and back are worked flat. The shoulder stitches are left live on holders while the sleeves are worked. The cable detail running up the outside of the sleeve is then worked with the live shoulder stitches to form a saddle shoulder. Finally, the tall collar and front plackets are picked up and worked flat.

You can find the pattern available for purchase on via Ravelry or on the website or in the shop of course.

Inishmeane

I’d also like to extend a big THANK YOU to The Fibre Co. for photographing Inishmeane alongside their own collection Innisfree with the fabulous Tommy Martin behind the lense. The images are simply stunning.

We hope you fall in love with Innishmeane as much as we have and next week Rachel will share her thoughts and process on creating this pattern, so stay tuned.

- Carmen


Your Yarn Story: Mark of Midwinter Yarns October 18 2016

If you've ever encountered Midwinter Yarns at a fibre show, you'll probably have met Mark. He can usually be found knitting away on the stand and usually chatting up a storm or in quiet moments making sure the yarn is organized and tidy - he has a thing about this. Mark is the other half of the Midwinter Yarns story, we chatted with Estelle last year; both equally passionate about their yarns and their knitting. 

Caption: Mark knitting away at Yarndale Photo by Victoria Magnus

I encountered Midwinter Yarns for the first time at the first UK fibre show I attended a few years ago. It was Wonderwool Wales and I believe it was their first show as well. It was Mark I met on the stand - not yet a knitter at the time but very enthusiastic and helpful and I was convinced to walk away with enough yarn to knit several sets of mittens. He has since become an avid knitter and has quickly expanded his repertoire, though as you'll read below, he has a favorite he goes back to again and again.  

 So here is Mark's story, I think you'll enjoy it:

Q: What is currently on your needles?

Currently there is yet another Linus shawl on my needles! It's my 5th or 6th one now, but we had some new colours come in just ahead of the pop-up and they just looked so good together. It's the Dark Crocus combined with the new Cerise on Grey.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?

It's quite a funny story, actually. One of the first shows we attended after setting up Midwinter Yarns was Unwind in Brighton. I didn't yet knit at this point, but approached yarn-selling from my retail background. I was familiar with the weights and lengths and prices and was serving two gentlemen when they asked...."But what is it like to knit with?". I had to admit that I didn't knit and they took a step back and looked me up and down with raised eyebrows. I had no choice but to ask Estelle to teach me once we got home. My learning project was a garter stitch cowl which is somehow much looser at the end than the beginning, and has some short rows in places where there really shouldn't be any.

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?

I enjoy creating with a medium that I had not really considered before (I have degree Mixed Media Fine Art) and seeing the colours and textures develop. I also enjoy keeping my hands occupied and am starting to reach the stage where I feel restless if I'm sat with nothing to do.

Q: Do you have a favorite thing to knit?

I do most of my knitting while on the stand at wool shows, so I prefer simpler knits that allow me to keep talking to customers. This is why I've ended up making so many Linus shawls! They're very simple to knit, but the ever-changing gradient colours keep them exciting.

Q: What is the last project you completed?

eeeeeeerrrrr.....a Linus? I have knitted other things, honestly, but the last one was the "Funky" Linus. It was a colour combination picked up by a customer: the very bright Cerise-Orange with the equally unsubtle Blue Blend. We were a little skeptical at first, but when she sent us pictures through, it actually looked fantastic and is now part of the standard kits.

Q: You are part of a yarny business, how did you get started with Midwinter Yarns?

I was only supposed to be the help! But then my many years in retail kicked in and I started to get more and more involved. I really enjoy talking to customers and have found the yarn business to be full of very passionate and creative people. It's different from selling someone, say, a pair of shoes. Each hank is something that someone will spend time working with, maybe as a treat for themselves, maybe as a thoughtful gift. It's just more involved and I like that.

Q: Where do you get inspiration from?

I knit whatever Estelle tells me we need on display!

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?

I'm still fairly new to the craft, so I've started by familiarising myself with the Midwinter range and have mostly worked with that. I do have a small stash from various shows though, and one of my favourites at the moment is from Dye Ninja. I like her deep saturated colours and we've bonded over our love of Terry Pratchett as the proceeds from some of her colours go to an Alzheimer charity in his name.

Q; How has knitting effected your life? or What role does knitting play in your life?

Knitting has become very central to my life - almost all my traveling and a whole new set of friends has emerged from working with Midwinter Yarns. I've also discovered that there is a great nerd community amongst the knitters where I feel right at home.

The Midwinter Yarns Pop-Up runs from 15. October - 22. October in the shop with a wide selection of their scrumptious Scandinavian yarns, including a super special kit for the iconic Baa-ble Hat by Donna Smith, which you can see modeled here by both Mark and Estelle. 

Happy Stitching!

- Carmen


Tour de Fleece Round-up July 27 2016

Hello all! It’s Freya here, taking over the blog once again to update you all on my Tour de Fleece!

Firstly, I have a confession to make: I did not manage to spin every day during the TdF. “For shame!” I hear you cry!  Well, it turned out that my birthday and my birthday trip to London both fell within the time limit – for the former I spent a lot of time making my bungalow respectable for visitors, and the latter was spent mostly dressed up as Han Solo and running around Star Wars Celebration Europe, so very little spinning was done there either!

I did manage to finish a couple of things, though, and I am pretty darned proud of how they turned out.

The first was shade no.2 in a gradient set that I’ve challenged myself to spin from just three different fibres: a silvery Norwegian, a darker grey Icelandic and an almost-black Norwegian.  Here’s a picture showing how I’ve split the fibre, with the one I spun up during the TdF highlighted:

It’s my first 3-ply yarn and only the second time I’ve ever used my beautiful Kromski Lazy Kate to help me ply. Here it is under the first shade, which really shows the difference:

I’m very happy with this. I also spun up some of the darker singles ready for the next shade too!

My second yarn is one I’d been meaning to work on for a while, as a companion to some I’d already spun earlier in the year. I originally started a Boneyard shawl with the first yarn only to find I didn’t have anywhere near enough, so decided to spin a contrasting colourway – while the first yarn used red-purple fiber plied with some beautiful turquoise mohair/cotton singles, this time I chose to use blue/turquoise fiber plied with a red/purple kid merino/silk single.  Here are some photos!

I am very, very happy with the way that this has turned out, and I can’t wait to see my Boneyard finished.

What did you spin in this year’s Tour de Fleece? Why not let us know! You can email me at Freya@ayarnstory.co.uk or use the Ravelry group for the shop to show off all your hard work.

Until next time!

- Freya


Do I have to swatch? July 13 2016

We’ve all asked this question at one time or another. You’re in the grips of the excitement of starting a new project, and you just want to get going immediately. But then comes those dreaded phrases – “adjust needle size as needed to get gauge”, “please swatch to ensure adequate yarn”, “swatch to avoid disappointment”. Argh!

Even though I am firmly in the camp of Swatching Is Good, I still get frustrated by having to pause in my casting on frenzy, knit a square, block it, wait for it to dry, measure it, and repeat ad infinitum until I get close to the recommended gauge. In this post I’m going to talk about why swatching is important, how to swatch, and then discuss three factors that will play a big role in whether or not your swatch tells the truth.

Why swatching is important:
You certainly don’t have to swatch – there are no swatching police. But if you want your project to end up the correct size and match the schematic measurements, swatching is critical!

Some years back when I was at university and had gotten back in to knitting (there is not much else to do in northwestern Massachusetts in the winter), I embarked on a grand project to knit myself an all-over cabled jumper. I went to the yarn shop, stocked up on yarn, got my pattern and started to knit – gauge was not even on my radar. I got through the back and halfway up the front before I ran out of yarn. Back to the yarn shop, more yarn and on I went. Three-quarters of the way through the first sleeve I ran out of yarn again, and headed back to the shop (you can see where this is going, right?). I ended up with a beautiful sweater encrusted with gorgeous cables. It was truly a work of art and I was justly proud of it. The only problem was that it fit me with 16” of ease. For those of you on the metric system, that’s 40 cm. I could have fit myself, my entire crew team and a couple of cats in there for extra measure.

Please learn from my mistake: swatch. Particularly if you are starting a project for which fit is essential (jumpers or socks for example), swatching can save you hours of wasted time and considerable heartbreak!

How to swatch:
There’s no gold standard protocol for how to swatch correctly, but there are some general guidelines. Most importantly: make your swatch big enough! The minimum size for a swatch is 4 x 4”/10 x 10 cm, but I’d definitely recommend making one bigger then that if you can stand it. Casting on 10 sts, knitting for 12 rows and casting off does not make an adequate swatch, even in super bulky wool.

Work a garter stitch border around your swatch so it will lie flat when it’s finished. For all the swatches pictured below I cast on 26 sts and worked the first and last three stitches of each row in garter stitch, with 6 rows of garter to start and finish.



If you project is knit in the round, please swatch in the round! You don’t actually have to work a tube – use circular or double pointed needles, cast on and work one row. Slide the work to the other end of the needle and work the next row, leaving a long float across the back of the swatch so there’s plenty of room for it to lay flat when you’re done. Keep going until the swatch is the size you want, bind off, and block. You can cut the floats if you like, but just be sure to fasten them off at the edges in some way so that the stitches are even along the edges.

Also make sure to finish your swatch as you are going to finish your finished project. If you plan to steam block the piece, steam block the swatch. Pin or smooth it out as you will the final project. Let it dry. Then go back and measure the gauge.


To measure the gauge lay the swatch out flat without stretching or pulling. Take a ruler or a measuring tape and lay it across the portion of your swatch between the garter edges. Measure this section and then divide it by the number of sts in the swatch (not counting the edges). Do the same for the row measurement. Then you can extrapolate to sts/rows per inch/cm.

A word about interpreting measurements: swatches with looser gauge will have fewer stitches or rows per unit measure. Swatches with tighter gauges will have more stitches or rows per unit measure.

OK, let’s take a look at some factors that will affect your gauge and how those factors can be used to your advantage.

Stitch pattern:
This may seem completely obvious, but the stitch pattern that you use for your swatch will affect your gauge dramatically. Case in point: the three swatches below were all knit on the same needles with the same number of stitches cast on and the same number of rows.  They were all blocked the same way.

The swatch knit in stockinette has a gauge of 20 sts/10.8 cm and 26 rows/10.3 cm. The cabled swatch has a gauge of 20 sts/8.3 cm and 26 rows/10 cm. The lace swatch has a gauge of 20 sts/13.5 cm and 26 rows/10 cm.

Swatch

20 sts

26 rows

Sts/rows per cm

Stockinette

10.8 cm

10.3 cm

1.85 sts/4.38 rows

Cables

8.3 cm

10 cm

2.41 sts/2.6 rows

Lace

13.5 cm

10 cm

1.48 sts/2.6 rows

 

Cables draw fabric in dramatically, while lace patterns open the fabric up and give fewer stitches per cm, as you would expect.

Now there is certainly a problem when the pattern you’re working is in a stitch pattern of some kind but the gauge is given in stockinette. In that instance, you may need to swatch both patterns and see how your gauge changes between the two. If they’re the same, you’re good to proceed.

Tools:

Strangely enough, the type of needles you use may have an impact on your gauge. The four swatches below were all knit with 5.0 mm needles, but the type of needle varied. One swatch was knit on metal needles, one was knit on plastic needles, and two were worked with wooden needles – one set smooth and polished, the other set rougher and stickier.  All swatches were knit over the same number of stitches for the same number of rows, and were blocked.

Here’s how the gauge came out:

Swatch

20 sts

26 rows

Sts/rows per cm

Metal needles

12.8 cm

11.7 cm

1.56 sts/2.22 rows

Plastic needles

11.8 cm

11.6 cm

2.20 sts/2.24 rows

Wooden needles (smooth)

11.4 cm

10.5 cm

1.75 sts/2.47 rows

Wooden needles (rough)

12.5 cm

11 cm

1.6 sts/2.36 rows

 

You can see that the plastic needles gave the tightest stitch gauge, while the rough wooden needles gave the loosest stitch gauge. Metal and plastic needles gave similar row gauges, while wooden needles had looser row gauges. Generally speaking, smoother needles will give tighter gauges, while rougher needles will hold on to the yarn and give a looser fabric at the same needle size.

The take home message from this experiment is that if you are swatching and having trouble getting correct gauge, but changing to a different needle size is too dramatic a difference, try a different type of needle.

Fibre choice:
I wrote in my last post (link) about the importance of fibre choice and how it can affect your finished object, and all of those suggestions still hold true. But this also comes in to play when answering the second most common question I hear about swatching: do I really have to block my swatch?

Yes, you really do have to block your swatch. For some fibres this is more important that others, but very often yarns will change when they’re washed. Many commercial yarns are treated to make them easier to skein or wind into balls, and washing that stuff out in blocking makes the yarns bloom and can change the gauge. Similarly, some particular fibres (even untreated) will change with washing, becoming plumper or developing a halo. There isn’t always a huge gauge change when the fabric is washed, but you should always wash and block your swatch exactly as you plan to wash and block your finished object.

Superwash wools are an example of how blocking can really influence gauge. The three swatches below were all knit on 4.0 mm needles over the same number of stitches and the same number of rows but they were all finished differently. The swatch on the left wasn’t blocked, the swatch in the middle was wet blocked but left to air dry flat, and the swatch on the right was wet blocked and dried in the clothes dryer.

 

Swatch

20 sts

30 rows

Sts/rows per cm

Unblocked

10 cm

11 cm

2.0 sts/2.73 rows

Blocked, air dried

9.9 cm

10.7 cm

2.02 sts/2.8 rows

Blocked, machine dried

9.6 cm

9.6 cm

2.08/3.13 rows

 

For this particular superwash yarn, blocking slightly decreased the stitch gauge, but really changed the row gauge, particularly when the swatch was dried in the machine. Since superwash yarn is marketed as being machine washable and dryable, this is going to have an affect on your project.

But not all superwash yarns are the same! Here’s another example, swatches knit on 5.0 mm needles and worked/finished as the previous set.

Swatch

20 sts

30 rows

Sts/rows per cm

Unblocked

10.7 cm

11.6 cm

1.87 sts/2.58 rows

Blocked, air dried

11.6 cm

11.6 cm

1.72 sts/2.58 rows

Blocked, machine dried

11.2 cm

9.9 cm

1.76/3.03 rows

 

For this particular superwash yarn, blocking reduced the number of stitches per cm. When the blocked swatch was then dried in the machine, the stitch gauge increased slightly but the row gauge tightened up dramatically.

While the variations in all these measurements may seem very small, keep in mind that over the body of a jumper for someone my size (bust circumference of 101.5 cm), a difference of 0.1 st/cm works out to just over 10 cm of difference in the size of the finished garment.  Not quite up to my 40 cm standard, but enough to make a serious difference in the fit! As is evidenced by the photo above - this is the back piece of the first sweater I ever made for myself, I was at Uni and when completed myself and two roommates fit into it... So with that in mind, get out there and swatch!

- Rachel

You can find Rachel as @porpoisefur on Twitter and Instagram.


Tour de Fleece 2016 June 29 2016

Hello everyone! It’s Freya here, taking over the blog to get excited about this year’s Tour de Fleece!

What is this, I hear you ask?  The Tour de Fleece is an annual spin-a-long that takes place during the Tour de France. The concept is simple: spin some fibre, every day, for the period the cyclists are spinning through France.  You can use wheels, drop spindles, supported spindles – anything you can spin yarn with!

This year, the Tour rides from Saturday July 2nd to Sunday July 24th. The idea is to try and spin every day, aside from the days of rest - Monday, July 11th (which happens to be my birthday!) and Tuesday, July 19th (just like the real tour).  Try spinning something challenging on the Tour challenge days (usually the toughest mountain stage: this year, it’s Stage 8, on Saturday, July 9th, when they will climb 4 mountains, including the 2115m high Col du Tourmalet, and Stage 15, on Sunday, July 17th, when they take on the Grand Columbier!

On Sunday July 24th, wear yellow to announce your victory!

If you don’t manage every day, don’t worry – it’s not a hard and fast rule. The TdF is for enjoying yourself and maybe pushing your abilities a little! I will be working on an undyed gradient set of Icelandic and Norwegian fibres, and some lovely turquoise hand-dyed top that I’m going to be plying with some pre-spun singles.

The shop will have a specially themed window for the length of the Tour, which I will be installing on Friday – and we have a variety of SweetGeorgia Yarns, Malabrigo and Porpoise Fur fibres as well as drop spindle kits in stock if you’d like to join in!

Looking forwards to seeing you over the course of the Tour!

- Freya


Welcome Freya! June 14 2016

This introduction is a bit overdue and many of you have already had the chance to meet our new Shop Assistant in person but I would like to officially welcome Freya to the A Yarn Story team!

Freya is an enthusiastic knitter, spinner, sci-fi geek and fellow startitis sufferer and I'm very excited to have her on board. If you're planning on attending the Bath Knit & Crochet Guild World Wide Knit in Public Day event this coming Saturday then you'll get a chance to meet her, in the meantime, she's kindly shared her Yarn Story with us:

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: At the moment I am working on several things! I always have multiple things on the needles, but the one being carried around in my handbag is a Halftone Cowl by Sminé.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?

A: I learned how to knit as a child but never got past stockinette, and got bored. In 2007, after my first serious break-up, my Nan got me knitting again to distract me, and I haven't stopped since.

Q: I know you like to spin too, which do you prefer - knitting or spinning and why?

A: Spinning gives me the instant gratification that knitting doesn't, as I am quite a slow knitter - but it leads to having yarn that then needs knitting! I don't think I can choose.

Q: What is your favorite fibre to work with?
A: I love to knit with alpaca, it's just so soft and snuggly. For spinning I love blends with a bit of silk in.

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting?
A: Learning new stitches! I am very much a process knitter as opposed to a finished-object knitter, and will put something down as soon as I've figured it out to try something else. That said, there's nothing like that slightly proud feeling when I tell someone I've made what I'm wearing!

Q: What is the last project you completed?

A: The last project I completed was a Pebble Beach Shawl in some Hedgehog Fibres sock, in the Dragonfly colourway. I chose the yarn because it matches my hair!

Q: What has you most excited about joining the AYS team?
A: I love being surrounded by beautiful yarns all day! Tidying the shelves is probably my favourite thing to do - I get to squish the yarn AND indulge my need for neat shelves! And Peaches of course, she's such a cutie.

Q: Anything else you would like to share about yourself?

A: I have two cats, four goldfish, and my favourite book is Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Isn't her Pebble Beach Shawl lovely!?! I can tell she's going to fit right in here :)

-Carmen


Your Yarn Story: Justyna Lorkowska May 24 2016

A few months ago I received a really lovely e-mail to my inbox from a designer that I had been following and admiring for a while now. That designer is Justyna Lorkowska of Lete's Knit whose elegant yet fun designs are a pleasure to knit and wear. Justyna is an incredibly versatile designer and creates equally sophisticated shawl patterns as well as chunky cabled accessories. It is this range of designs that I particularly admire.

Justyna will be coming over from her home in Poland in a few weeks and teaching a couple of her very popular classes Eastern Uncrossed Knitting and The Beauty of Knitted on Borders. She'll also be in the shop for a Trunk Show on Saturday 11 June from 11-1pm to show of her beautiful samples and sign patterns. I asked Justyna if she would answer a few questions about her knitting journey for us and she happily obliged, so here is her yarn story:

Q: What is currently on your needles?

A: 
I’m a very polygamous knitter, which means that my needles are constantly busy. At the moment I’m working on several different projects. I’m finishing a new shawl design.  I’m also knitting a simple striped sweater in my husband’s first hand-dyed yarn. I’m working on a couple of collaborations, as well as a very special project that's particularly close to my heart. As you can see, there’s no room for boredom.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?

A: Actually I began crocheting first when I was a young girl, but watched my mom with her knitting needles all the time, and my transition to knitting somehow happened on its own. I observed her and tried to copy what she was doing, and this is probably why I knit a little bit differently. She had been taught by her mother-in-law (my grandma) whose family came from the East.  Thus I've knit Eastern Uncrossed style since childhood. 

3. What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?
You want to know the truth? It is largely the pride I feel when I wear something I have made with my own hands. There is just something magical in every stitch you’ve created yourself. Knitting also gives me an outlet for my creativity. Actually, it’s not only knitting. I love spinning, weaving and sewing as well. All of them give me a sense of accomplishment and joy.

Q: Do you have a favorite thing to knit?


A: Recently I’ve been knitting lots of shawls. They are so much fun to make. Probably like most knitters I often fall in love with an irresistible yarn so I buy a single skein and then nothing happens. Shawls are perfect for using those lonely skeins. I also enjoy knitting for my kids, but mostly because their knits are cute and fast to make. My most dreaded knits are endless seas of Stockinette, sleeves, and simple scarfs.

Q: What is the last project you completed?

A: That’s a dress! I started it in January just for fun and because I saw a gorgeous lace motif in one on my stitchionaries. I was knitting it on and off for a couple of months (yes, the dreaded endless Stockinette!), but now it’s done and I can’t wait to wear it.

Q: Do you have a design philosophy that guides you?

A: I’m not sure if it’s a philosophy, but I always try to make something I would gladly wear myself. If I wouldn’t, I just don’t make it. I like simple knits with a twist, and I always try to achieve a balance in colors and patterning.



Q: You are very versatile in what you design, everything from shawls, garments and hats, to children's clothing: do you have a favorite item to design? Why is it your favorite?

A: 
Not really. I like everything, and the things I make come straight from my heart. If I stop loving it, I just rip it without hesitation. As I said, if I don’t want to wear it, I won’t make it.


Q: Where do you get inspiration from?

A: Mostly from my stash and knitting books. The ideas from both mix in my head and then are transferred onto the needles. Sometimes I do draw a sketch, but that’s mostly when I’m discussing the final ideas for collaborations.

9. 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?

That’s a very hard question. I have a couple of yarn crushes which won’t go away - not that I’m trying to fight them ;-)  I love everything dyed by Vikki of Eden Cottage Yarns. I’m fascinated by the colors from Triskelion. I’m closely observing Snail Yarn. And now I’m almost “swimming” in yarn as my own husband has begun dyeing.



Q: How has knitting affected your life? or What role does knitting play in your life?

A: Knitting has had a huge impact on my life, and at the moment it seems my whole family is “infected”. I knit every day, and it has become my profession (I used to teach in my previous life).  My husband plays with yarn and acid dyes. My son is trying to talk me into buying a sheep, and my daughter is begging me to teach her crochet. One crafty family, huh?

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is just starting out as a designer?

A: Work hard. Talent is just 1%; the rest is just work.  

If you'd like to join us for one of Justyna's classes you can sign-up here.

-Carmen


Choosing the Right Yarn May 12 2016

This week's post is brought to you by Rachel Brown of Porpoise Fur. She'll be writing a monthly guest blog series of tutorials for us as she is a proper knitting, spinning and fibre guru. You can read more about Rachel's story here. We're kicking this off at the very beginning, with an in depth look at fibre and how it plays a big role in the outcome of your project.

Choosing the right yarn
Have you ever spent weeks or months working up a beautiful handknit sweater only to have the finished object pull out of shape and be unwearable within a few outings? Ever wondered why everyone else’s gorgeous crocheted market bag looks great and holds up when yours comes back from the store with snags and holes? Today we’re going to talk about why it’s important to think about yarn choice for projects, and what factors you can control to make sure that your finished object is a success.

Usually a pattern will specify using a particular brand of yarn. This does not mean you must use that yarn, but it’s important to choose a replacement that has similar characteristics to the yarn used by the designer – they’ve usually chosen that yarn for that design for a reason! The designer will have swatched with the yarn, thought about what stitch pattern will work well, and will have tested out alternatives. If you choose a cotton/bamboo blend with almost no elasticity for a pattern that uses 100% wool and includes lots of cables, you’re going to be disappointed.

The natural fibres used in yarns fall into two main categories: protein fibres and plant fibres. Protein fibres include wool, mohair, cashmere, alpaca, llama, and silk.  Plant fibres, as the names suggests, are derived from plants. These include the obvious candidates like cotton and flax, but bamboo, Tencel, Rayon and acetate are also plant fibres. These fibres all have certain characteristics that define their yarns, and affect the resulting knitted or crocheted piece that you make. I’d like to go through two of the key features that vary between yarns made from different types of fibre, and talk about what characteristics need to be considered to get a successful finished object.


Elasticity

Have you ever picked up a skein of yarn and thought “Wow, this yarn is really bouncy and squishy”? Some yarns are super plump and elastic, and will stretch and return back to their original length easily. Most often these yarns are made from wool, which has a number of traits in the individual fibres themselves that contribute to the yarn’s elasticity. The major contributor to wool’s elastic nature is crimp, which is an indicator of how wavy the fibres are in the fleece. Wools with high crimp have many bends over the length of the fibre, while wools with lower crimp may have only one or two. You’ll probably recognize some of the breeds associated with high crimp, such as Merino, Cormo and Polwarth, to name a few. High crimp wool tends to be finer (smaller in diameter) then low crimp wool, so not only are these yarns elastic, they can also be very soft.

The other determining factor in the elasticity of a yarn is the way it’s been spun. Yarns that have lots of twist and are tightly plied tend to be more elastic and stretch-resistant then yarns that are lower twist, or are more loosely plied. This is due to the extra energy stored in high twist, tightly plied yarns, which enables them to resist stretching and bounce back to their original length and shape.

Usually these super bouncy, elastic yarns will be 100% wool or have a very high percentage of wool. They may also be tightly spun and plied. These yarns a great for patterns needing lots of stitch definition (cables, textured patterns), and will keep their shape through multiple wearings without stretching out too badly.

Drape

The second characteristic to consider, both in the yarn and the finished fabric, is drape. I think of drape as the fluidity of the fabric, how it moves in space and how it flows over the body. Some yarns lend themselves better to drapey, slinky fabrics – think of yarns containing linen, silk and bamboo, for example. This is because of two factors: these fibres have virtually no crimp, and the length of the fibres used in the yarns is very long, so they require very little spinning twist to stay together. The results are yarns that flow like water in the crafted fabric. Rayon and acetate also fall into this group of long, drapey fibres. In addition to many of the plant fibres, protein fibres like mohair, alpaca, and llama tend to have less crimp and elasticity then most wools, so they will also contribute a drapey factor to their resulting yarns. This is also true for wool yarns made from longwool sheep breeds like Wensleydale and Teeswater; although these wools still have crimp, the crimp is very loose, giving these yarns drape far above their crimpier cousins.

Drapey yarns are ideal for shawls, for lace, for flowing sweaters that don’t need to be form fitting. They are not great for things like socks or closely tailored garments that depend on keeping their shape to looking good.

Cotton

Cotton is a bit of an oddball out in this discussion. Although it is a plant fibre with no, if any, discernable crimp, it’s also a very short fibre, so it tends to be spun and plied tightly to keep the yarn together. This means that cotton yarn tends to very low on the spectrum of elasticity and drape. The yarn doesn’t bounce back once stretched, and it also tends to be very dense, so cotton items are quite heavy, leading to a greater tendency to sag and fall out of shape. The shortness of the fibres means that, except when worked at a very fine gauge, cotton yarns don’t have great drape either, and the resulting fabric is stiff and unweildy. This leaves cotton as a good candidate for things that need to be sturdy and strong, but don’t necessarily need to hold their shape or fit particularly well: dishcloths, baby blankets and bags spring to mind as good candidates for cotton yarns.

That being said, cotton is great in blends with other fibres. When combined with crimpy wools, cotton gives a yarn that can be great for warmer weather tops and accessories, as the wool adds some bounce and memory to the yarn. Go the other direction and blend cotton with bamboo or silk, and you’ve got a strong yarn with excellent drape and swing.

The key to choosing the right yarn for your project is to try to match the yarn characteristics of the original sample as best you can. Take a look at the fibre content and construction of the suggested yarn and think about why that yarn was chosen by the designer. Find yourself a close cousin to that suggested yarn and you’re on your way!