fourth edition

An Unexpected Twist: Looking Back at 2014

shoes

One of the reasons why I love this blog is that it allows me to retrace my steps. 2012 was the year of throwing out all the I ought to.. and 2013 was the year of ‘what happens when I try to do the things I love’. 2014 offered an unexpected twist.

I started the year injuring my knee. As painful as it was, the injury also gave me some downtime to reflect upon my life and my work/life balance. Later in the year I was offered an opportunity to move into a new role with the yarn company I was working for .. and I decided to turn it down. Instead I became a fully self-employed knitting designer, writer and teacher. It was a very big, scary decision but I am yet to regret it.

July 2014 297

From Brighton to Belfast, I travelled a lot this year. Unwind Brighton coincided with my new career path and it remains an undisputed highlight of my year. I loved Brighton itself, I loved teaching my classes, and I especially loved meeting knitters from all over the world. I have so many memories from Unwind: the teachers’ dinner where I looked around thinking holy moly, this is like the knitting equivalent of a Nobel Prize dinner party, teaching in a Grade II-listed Georgian house, going on an impromptu photo safari of Brighton with Bristol, winning the Pompom Party pub quiz (I am still proud of my nano-second response of entrelac to an anagram question), teaching crochet to someone with the best sense of colour I can ever recall meeting, giggling hysterically over Sunday lunch with Joanne, and watching the Football World Cup finale in a craft beer pub filled with friends both new and old. And all while I was knitting a very woolly cardigan in the sweltering heat.

October2014 042

Design-wise, it was another bumper year, although most of the design ‘action’ took place after I turned self-employed.

+ I had patterns in two book releases this year: the Picycle Shawl in Bespoke and also The Juniper Hat and the Pinecones Shawl in The Knit Generation. The latter book was curated by Sarah Hatton and is just incredibly beautiful.
+ I had several patterns in knitting magazines this year. The Proserpine Shawl,  the Mirja Hat & Gloves set, the Wharram Cowl, the Scollay cardigan, the Dala Love hat & boot toppers, and the Koselig vest all appeared in Knit Now while the Stina Crochet Collar popped up in Crochet Now. I also had the Vintage Moments set appear in Let’s Knit.

July 2014 1058

+ Even more excitement as I collaborated with my good friend, Susan Crawford, on a design for her Knits in a Cold Climate collection, Noblesse Oblige. I also released the freebie Seaforth Hat as an exclusive download from LoveKnitting.

+ And probably the most exciting thing was finally finishing the Doggerland collection with Vedbaek, Ertebolle, and Storegga. I received so many messages and mails about Doggerland and I continue to be floored.

17 designs in one year. Last year I said I wanted to try my hand at garments and socks. I managed to publish two garments (Scollay and Koselig) and I have a sock club launching in January. I nearly made the deadline! I also had two magazine front covers which was equally bewildering and exciting.

I also managed to find time to write (including two articles for Knit Now about the Arts & Crafts Movement and Nordic knitting), teach, tech-edit, copy-edit and do some mentoring. Hardly any translation jobs in 2014! I went wholesale with my patterns which is a new adventure.

Yes, 2014 was a year of the unexpected twist and I think I’ll look back at it as a transitional period in years to come. I have no idea what 2015 will bring (my 2013 prediction was “So. 2014? It will look quite a bit like 2013, I imagine.”), but I think it’ll be another year of transitions and changes. We’ll see.

Finally, some of my personal favourites from 2014.

1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illes was my favourite read of 2014. I love my early 20th century arts and culture and 1913 was a really great take on cultural maelstroms and intermissions. It was very, very much up my street.  Stuart Murdoch’s Glasgow-set pop musical God Help the Girl was always destined to be my favourite film of the year: it is filmed in a five-minute radius from where I live, I love Murdoch’s band Belle & Sebastian, friends appear as extras and I freaking love musicals. Pure catnip, I tell you. Under the Skin was amazing too. The novel by Michel Faber is one of my favourites and I was relieved to see the film had not lost its otherworldliness. My favourite singer-songwriter, Neil Finn, visited Glasgow in April. I’ve seen him play live on mumble, mumble occasions, but this year’s concert was really quite special. Here’s some footage from the encore (not featured: me bawling somewhere in the crowd).

And 2014 was the year that Dave & I went to Arran for the day. And what a good, good day that was.

October 2014 148

Book Review: Kate Atherley’s Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

atherleyI get a lot of emails. Some deal with my own work, but a surprising amount of messages comes from people wanting to write patterns. Maybe my epic Twitter rants about poorly written patterns are to blame; maybe it is because when I teach I go on about things like gauge and chart symbols. Who knows?

What do you do if you didn’t fluke a background in technical writing? Up to now you had to rely upon your knowledge of others’ pattern writing skills and try to imitate their way of writing instructions. I understand why people do this, but it does not allow for reflection upon your own style and you may fall into adopting other people’s bad habits without realising there are other options. Or you asked people like me who does have a background in technical writing (and who is horrifically busy) or you ask in Ravelry fora with somewhat mixed results.

Anyway, it’s been really frustrating for me that I have had nowhere to send all these lovely people. There are some great pattern design books in the world (like Maggie Righetti’s Sweater Design in Plain English) but no pattern writing books out there. With Kate Atherley’s book, Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, that drought is now at an end. It is not a knitting book filled with patterns; it is a book telling designers how to write patterns that are clear, concise and easy to follow. Kate Atherley is one of the most highly regarded technical editors in the business and her wealth of experience shows.

The book is a master-class in how to think about pattern writing. She discusses everything from how to structure a pattern (and provides a pattern template), which abbreviations to use, how to think about communicating cables and deciding upon formatting to why a designer’s relationship with their technical editor is so important, working with and defining style sheets, how to self-publish, how to work with publications (and what they expect of you as a designer) and how to making easy-to-follow charts.  It is an incredibly comprehensive book.

atherley2

Kate’s voice is authoritative, but never condescending. She assumes the reader is clever, resourceful and able to think for themselves. Look at the excerpt above: the three examples of a repeat within a row have an identical outcome (in terms of how many stitches you have at the end) but Kate goes through the examples one by one, and lets the reader work out why some formats are more effective than others.

And she makes you think about how writing patterns means communicating to someone who is not you. I find this is a pitfall for many designers who assume knitters work in the same way as themselves and find it hard to write for others. Writing for an audience is a real skill – and writing technical instructions for others to follow is even harder. I really like the way Kate makes you consider your audience before you begin writing.

atherley3

In short, this book is a marvel. It is a technical and dry in places (which I obviously love), but after a dense paragraph about the taxonomy of cable stitches, Kate shows why you need to wrap your head about how to classify and name cable stitches – and she does so in a wonderfully down-to-earth manner. More importantly, she makes sure you will enjoy writing that cabled hat pattern of yours. Most importantly, Kate makes sure that your cabled hat pattern will make an enjoyable knit for knitters who will talk about your well-written pattern to others and keep coming back for more. Huzzah!

I should point out (in the name of full disclosure) that I am cited in the book and that I was asked to read an early draft of this book, but that does not alter my praise of this book. Whether you are an aspiring designer or an experienced designer/tech editor, this book will instruct and help you. I keep a copy next to me on my desk as it comes in handy on a daily basis. The book is full of great advice from other designers and technical editors – and has a great deal of links to useful resources. As Kate says, the book won’t help you come up with designs but it will teach you how to write great patterns people will want to make again and again.

And happy knitters make for a happy knitting world.

You can buy the book here and it costs CAD$25. A real bargain for what you’ll learn.

Test-Driving A Few Knitting Needles

Needles

Quite often I get asked which are the best needles out there. It’s never a straightforward answer because different types of needles do different kinds of jobs. Some knitting needles are versatile workhorses, whilst others excel at taming temperamental yarns. I’m a big believer in keeping my toolbox well-stocked, but I cannot always keep up with what’s on the market. So, when the lovely folks at KnitPro asked if I wanted to test-drive any of their needles, I asked if I could trial three of their more recent types of needles: the Karbonz, the Symphonie Cubics, and the Nova Cubics.

I tested the needles on a) lace knitting, b) magic loop, c) garment knitting (to see how the cables reacted to weight), d) very fine yarn, e) slippery yarn, and f) sticky double-knitting yarn. It was interesting to see how the needles behaved.

KnitPro Karbonz – as the name suggests, they are made from carbon fibre and have nickle-plated brass tips. They are very lightweight and while some people might need to adjust to the relative weightlessness, I enjoyed working with them. The carbon makes the needles feel warm and smooth in my hands, but the surface has a good amount of stickiness.

When working with them, I liked the long, pointy tip and the carbon’s intriguing mix of smoothness & grip. They did not perform as well as the other needles when I tried very fine yarn on them – the yarn kept catching on the transition between the carbon and the metal tips – but they worked a treat with regular yarns.

Verdict: The Karbonz are very good workhorse needles that will serve knitters well for most jobs (except working with cob web or laceweight). If you are not a specialised knitter, you can do much worse than invest in these.

KnitPro Symphonie Cubics – these needles are a variant upon the wooden, multi-coloured needles that made KnitPro so famous among knitters.  I was happy to see KnitPro had improved the cable as that was always the weakest point of the earliest Symphonie needles (I am hard on my needles, it should be said).  However, the most intriguing thing was the shape of the needles. They reminded me of the triangular pencils I used in school when I first learned to write – and yes, the needles were designed to aid a more ergonomic grip. I enjoyed working with them and quickly forgot all about shapes. They just felt good in my hands.

Verdict: The Symphonie Cubics were my favourites of the three needles, simply because I enjoy working with wooden needles. I am not sure I’d buy the Cubics over the regular Symphonies but I really appreciate KnitPro trying to deliver a product for people with arthritics.

KnitPro Nova Cubics: these are made from hollow brass pipes that have been coated with nickel. Out of the three needles, these took me the longest to adjust to using simply because of the disconnect between their solid appearance and their very light weight.

Again, great long tip that worked really well for lace knitting (these needles performed best at lace knitting out of all three) and a very smooth surface that worked equally well with fine/slippery yarns and rustic double-knitting yarn.The square shape seems more noticeable with these metal needles than with the wooden ones.

Verdict: I tested a 5mm needle, but will be buying a few smaller sizes as they are good alternatives to other metal needles in my toolbox. Definitely a ‘try before you buy’ needle but while not my favourite in this test, I’ll probably use these more than the Symphonie ones.

Needles

 

I do think it’s important to note what kind of knitter you are and realise that what works for one person isn’t necessarily what works for others. I like to have a wide range of needles in my own toolbox because I knit a lot of different things with different fibres. You may find that you are best off just buying one set of interchangeable needles or straight needles. I urge you to try friends’ needles (maybe set up a knit night with needle tasting?) to see what you enjoy.

PS. Photos? You try to photograph things in the middle of a Scottish winter!

Noblesse Oblige – Pattern & Brief Thoughts on Language

I have been collaborating with my good friend, the marvellous Susan Crawford, and Noblesse Oblige is my contribution to her “Knits in a Cold Climate” collection.

 

When I was given the design brief by Susan, I knew I wanted to use the wonderful colour range in Susan Crawford Fenella. Inspired by my recent forays into knitting archives, I began sketching Fair Isle bands but it was not until I uncovered a photo of a 1930s knitting pattern that I decided upon the colour scheme. The jumper is charming, but I fell in love with the red/green/yellow motif. Could I use these colours in a more traditional setting?

After several attempts, I hit upon a 1930s inspired hat and scarf using that red/green/yellow combination, but also tempered by a soft porcelain blue and a delightful creamy white. The jaunty beret features two Fair Isle bands that counteract each other to create a sense of dynamism.

The scarf comes in three sizes – you can make it a neckerchief, a small scarf or a full-sized shawl. To optimise knitting pleasure, the scarf does not use Fair Isle bands but features narrow stripes in a colour sequence that calls back to the beret. After much discussion, Susan and I agreed that small, felted pompoms would add a delightful finishing touch.

Naming the pattern was harder. I wanted to use one of Nancy Mitford’s book titles, but neither Christmas Pudding nor Pigeon Pie seemed appropriate! Finally, Noblesse Oblige seemed to suggest itself – it is a collection of essays and I rather enjoyed Nancy Mitford’s essay on the English language. So, Noblesse Oblige. A lovely hat and scarf set. I hope you will enjoy knitting it.

But let’s talk about Nancy Mitford’s essay briefly.

Found in Noblesse Oblige, “The English Aristocracy” is her most famous essay. Nancy Mitford had recently read an academic article by a British linguist and was inspired to write her own examination of how the British upper class (“U”) and the middle class (“non-U”) spoke. The essay is very much of its time – apparently only non-U people would speak of telephones! – but that is also part of its appeal. It is a snapshot of a world in transition where old notions of class and importance are slowly eroding. It is particularly interesting to compare Mitford’s essay to Grayson Perry’s TV documentaries about Class in Britain. The economic barriers between the classes may have eroded, but cultural markers such as language and taste have not.

“The English Aristocracy” is an early example of what we know today as sociolinguistics. A “sociolect” is a type of language associated with one socioeconomic class, age group or gender. The British 1990s sit-com Keeping Up Appearances uses Mitford’s little U vs non-U markers and sociolects to great comic effect. The main protagonist, Hyacinth Bucket, insists her surname is pronounced Bouquet, and she keeps grasping at big, fancy words in her attempt to sound more refined (something Mitford notes is the true mark of a social climber – why use the word “lavatory” when “loo” is perfectly adequate?). The underlying class anxiety so evident in Mitford’s 1950s essay is very much visible even forty and fifty years on.

If you have half an hour to spare, I suggest you read Mitford’s little essay in Noblesse Oblige – I assure you that you will notice amusing little things about how you and the people around you speak.

Now for the important pattern details: you can buy the pattern from Ravelry here. It is £4 and the pattern uses five shades of Fenella. Susan is planning on offering a kit which you will be able to buy from her shop.

It has been marvellous working with Susan on this pattern – she understands my shorthand descriptions so very, very well and has an incredible eye for details, style, and colour. I also really enjoyed working with Fenella which has a such lovely bounce in its step.

 

 

The Spirit of the Stairs

This is a non-knitting post, so if you are here for the knits & purls, feel free to skip this!

I live in the UK, but I was born in Denmark. This makes me an immigrant – an EU immigrant, to be precise. I settled permanently in the UK because I fell in love with a Scotsman. Luckily, I also fell in love with Scotland and this is my home now. My Bella Caledonia. However, I was racially abused yesterday in a manner that left me shaking and upset.davekarina

Nine years ago Dave & I were talking about wanting to live together and we had to decide where that should be. We decided the UK would be the best option because Denmark has huge problems with racism and xenophobia. The Danish People’s Party is a right-wing anti-immigration party which is considered mainstream in Denmark (it has just polled as the biggest party in Denmark, incidentally) and it sets the media agenda in Denmark. Did we want to live somewhere where Dave’s accent would always set him apart and he’d never really be considered welcome? No. Did we want to live somewhere where his name and lack of Danish language skills would affect his job opportunities severely? No.

I’ve now lived in Glasgow eight years now and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I was worried about racism before I moved across, but it has been manageable so far. I’ve had a few drunks shouting things about foreigners, but that’s easy to shrug off. The drunks also recant as soon as I point out I’m a foreigner: Eh, I didnae mean you, hen! I have one kind individual occasionally forwarding me anti-immigration articles (you know who you are) but I find that somewhat amusing.

November 2013 166In recent years the UK has seen the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric. From British Jobs For British People slogans to blaming foreigners for a National Health System struggling to cope with budget cuts. Britain even has its own anti-immigration party now which enjoys disproportional media coverage. I have a strong feeling of deja-vu as sentiments I recognise from Denmark have spread to the UK.  Encouraged by certain corners of UK media, it has become more and more acceptable to say things that are overtly racist. Being one of those pesky EU immigrants blamed for everything from how sandwiches are made to pot holes in the roads, it is rather disconcerting.

 

cumbrae

Yesterday I was travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh when I found myself next to a nice 50-something lady with nice hair, sensible shoes, a jolly yellow rain jacket and a posh accent. Without any prompting she began to inform everyone around us that Polish drivers were to blame for British road accidents, that Europeans had a different driving culture (“if you can call it culture“), that she once went to Germany and was shocked by how drivers did not stop for her when she crossed the street, and how foreigners coming to Britain needed to sit a driving exam before being allowed to drive on good British roads filled with decent Britons (although when challenged, she allowed that tourists may have a fortnightly exemption if they pledged to be law-abiding). This was the start of an hour-long monologue directed at different people around her. EU immigrants were welfare benefit cheats, killing people on the streets, stealing jobs from honest Britons, invading Britain under the cover of EU laws, intent on destroying Britain &c. The solution was clear, according to the nice lady. All foreigners should be thrown out of Britain! “What we need is a revolution!

At the beginning I was tempted to interject. I wanted to challenge her on what she was saying but I didn’t. Instead I started shaking. She noticed – oh, she noticed – as did a nice gentleman across from me who started talking to me about the sock I was knitting. Eventually I began laughing every time she said something particularly outrageous. It was a choice between laughter and tears – and I did not want to show her any tears. My laughter shut her up, finally, and she spent the rest of the journey reading a certain right-wing newspaper.

Today I have made plenty of speeches in my head. I’ve worked out all the things I could have said to her – “I am one of those EU immigrants you fear so much. Look at me. I hold two university degrees. I’ve never claimed any benefits. I run my own business. In my own country, people are saying all those things about my Scottish partner. What do you want us to do?” – but that is the spirit of the stairs talking. I have had racial abuse hurled at me before but it has always been by people I could dismiss as either drunk or incredibly stupid* – it is less easy to dismiss a a nice 50-something lady with a posh accent. It is scary because she is the type of woman who is recognisably, reassuringly an upstanding member of society.

Dolores Umbridge. Picture via Warner Brothers.

Picture via Warner Brothers.

(* a nod to the guy who shouted “go back to your pervert country, you terrorist” at me on the day after 7/7. I was biking through Copenhagen wearing a tank-top and shorts – both items of clothing not usually associated with Islamist terrorists, but I guess my dark hair & my light tan confused him.)

See you there?

trunk show

Thinking About The Future

KW_photo00For the past eight years or so, we’ve enjoyed a surge in quality indie designers offering amazing patterns for us to download. A digital revolution has changed crafting completely: knitters (and crocheters) came out as the winners because we suddenly had all these fantastic designers at our disposal with just one click of a button. From Ysolda Teague & Stephen West to Kate Davies & Gudrun Johnston, many designers started with a single pattern and gradually started growing as designers and businesses. I don’t know if you know, but the knitting & crochet community is going through a bit of a sea-change at the minute. Making that same journey is going to be awfully hard in years to come and the real losers are the knitters and crocheters.

It’s a dull and technical thing, really. The EU is changing laws about digital sales (in an attempt to stop Big Business from dodging taxes) but the UK is implementing the laws in a way that’s very damaging to small sole traders (if you want to learn more, Woolly Wormhead has written extensively about it).

Digital downloads have changed the knitting industry forever but incoming legislation will complicate things immensely. The knitting community I love and treasure so much will now become an bit of a gated community for many aspiring designers. It worries me and saddens me because I am a firm believer in diversity and innovation.

On a tangentially related note,  I found this essay by an American indie rock band interesting. They talk about the realities of going on tour and how they are “making it” rather than “having made it”. Sometimes it really hits you hard when you realise how much daily grinding is involved in creatives trying to make a reality of their dreams and talents.

Me? I wrote an article for Wovember about the relationship between sheep, wool and designer. Because that is where I am at and that is what I do.

ETA: I write this from a UK perspective because that is where I live. However, these law changes affect anyone who sells digitally online to EU customers – even designers living in Australia, the US or Easter Island.

Important Announcements

April 2014 879Folks, there are going to be some changes around here.

My work/life balance has been seriously dysfunctional for some time and I am feeling the toll. In order to avoid burning out and crashing out of my job, I’m simply going to make some changes to how I offer support. I am very sorry. I love hearing from you guys – I really, really do and I hope you know this – but I also need time to design and write stuff.

These are the main changes:

1. I am going to have set office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm, I will be at my desk dealing with emails, pattern queries, media requests and all the other stuff.

2. I will no longer be dealing with pattern queries via my Ravelry inbox. Likewise, I won’t be able to help with queries on Twitter or Facebook. Please use my email for pattern queries (the email address is on the Ravelry receipt).

3. I am going to encourage you to use my Ravelry group as much as possible because a) the people there are amazing, b) many of them have knitted everything I’ve designed several times, and c) it’s likely that your query has been answered there before. Really, go join the group. It’s great!

4. I am working on a FAQ which I hope to have finished in the next few weeks.

5. I cannot offer general knitting help – I only offer help with my own patterns, I am afraid. For general knitting problems, knittinghelp.com is a fantastic and undervalued resource. Likewise, if you have any technical issues with my patterns, try checking the Ravelry Help pages.

Hopefully these changes will mean a less stressed-out Karie which means a happier Karie which means more Karie-stuff from Karie! (And I’ll use pronouns more responsibly too.)

Another change is afoot:

I have been dragging my feet over this, but I have to adjust my pricing come January 1st. I haven’t adjusted my prices in years despite rising costs, but I can no longer afford to keep prices where they are now. This means that my £3 patterns will go up to £3.75 – I am trying to keep the ebook collections at the same price as they are now, but I will have to review this decision again come summer. I really do not like passing on costs to customers and I am very sorry about having to do this.

Thank you so, so much for your understanding.

Knitting Journeys

November 2014 099

I love travelling on ferries. I suppose I could blame my Viking blood, but I have always found sailing immensely enjoyable and relaxing. Last week I visited Northern Ireland for the first time which meant a long ferry ride across the Irish Sea as well as a long bus journey through the Scottish Lowlands. The journey home was especially lovely as the sun was out and I found myself a window seat where I could knit away and watch the waves without getting disturbed. Utter bliss.

I’ll write more about this towards the end of the year, but I have realised that knitting is both a journey for me as well as something that makes me travel to all corners of the British Isles.

At the heart of it, every knitting project is a journey. You begin travelling as soon as you cast on and the process of your project is the road you are travelling. The language of geography is intertwined with the language of knitting: the yarn travels through our fingers, we have travelling stitches and we consult charts to help us navigate a challenging pattern. Then, as we near the end of our project, we have the diary of our trip in our lap. Do you remember the day that you worked the rib section? How happy you were to cross that river or climb that mountain? Or the evening you sat knitting dreaming of future adventures as you traversed across an endless desert of stocking stitch?

And it also means something else for me personally.

November 2014a 146

Currently I am knitting socks. They are the perfect travel project and they kept me entertained during my stay in Northern Ireland (no internet connection! it was lovely!). I have designed three sock patterns for the Old Maiden Aunt Sock Club 2015 (also three exclusive never-to-be-repeated OMA colourways) and I really, really enjoyed the experience. A sock is a very different canvas to, say, a shawl and I relished playing with this new-to-me canvas.

I am currently on my second almost-vanilla sock. This pair is just for me and my journeys around these isles. Who knows what will happen next.

Shouting Loudly About Wool – An Interview with Louise Scollay

SCOLLAY528x352As I mentioned the other day, I named my first cardigan design after one of the most inspirational people I know in the knitting world: Louise Scollay.

Louise lives in Shetland where she writes and blogs fuelled by her passion for wool – and especially good quality, local British yarns. She champions small local producers, encourages big companies to support the British wool industry and she is especially keen on making knitters aware that knitting British (or local) does not mean you have to spend a fortune. We have some incredible local yarns in Britain and we should be shouting to the heavens about them.

Needless to say, Louise and I get on very well! We share that passion for honest, authentic yarns that have a strong grounding in a particular landscape. Some people think I am mad for loving “rustic” yarns so much, but Louise understands. This shared understanding led to a good friendship and now .. an interview.

IMG_2828-e1409136490440

What makes you so passionate about championing wool – and particularly local, British wool?

When I started KnitBritish I just wanted to shout loudly about the wool I was using and really hoped that someone might find it interesting, learn something along with me and try British wool for themselves. Until a few years ago it never occurred to me to look at where the wool came from. I was just drawn to texture and colours. When I realised that there were over 60 breeds of sheep breeds in the UK - not to forget alpaca, angora, mohair and cashmere –  I just knew that I had to try them all (spoiler: I haven’t managed yet).

What I am passionate about now is trying to move us away from the idea that British wool is not suitable for next to skin wear, or it is not suitable for hand-knitting. There are plenty of UK sheep whose fleece is more suited to carpets and upholstery, but we have an amazing resource of wool – varied in handle, texture, colour, and characteristics – which are not enjoying their place in the country’s stash next to the merino that many knitters are drawn towards. British breed wool is astonishing! Each is unique and different, e.g. Bluefaced Leicester and Wensleydale are both longwool breeds, but they do not provide the same kind of fleece. I urge more people to just jump over to Blacker, select a ball of yarn that they have never tried before and just give it a go.

IMG_1694a

 

Blacker Yarns, ah yes. Their selection is amazing. I got a sampler back recently and it’s mind-blowing just how different the various breeds knit up. I can see why it’s an absorbing project to try out all the various breeds. Along the same lines, I have to ask: What are some of your favourite British yarns?

Going into Jamieson and Smith is like entering the best sweetie shop ever! In addition to the vast range of dyed colours, you can’t beat those natural colours. The fact that the wool just gets softer and warmer the more you wash and dress it means your knitted item has longevity. I am also a big fan of West Yorkshire Spinners. Recently more commercial yarn companies are starting to think British and that is really heartening.
0022-e1413144406812

This is true. when I began getting into local yarns, there were very few available from commercial companies. However, in the last couple of years, even the commercial selection has become huge. You mentioned going into J&S – you obviously live in Shetland. Do you think the complex knitting heritage of Shetland plays a part in your desire to champion local producers?

Knitting here has had its big peaks and bigger troughs. When I think of Shetland’s knitting heritage I think about subsistence knitting, the exploitation and poor wages of many knitters. I think of Shetland knitting being the forefront of fashion trends through the beginning of the 20th century and declining again, until the oil industry into the 80s helped boost the industry and economy. Knitting has never gone away here – granted much of the industry knitting in the past was done with little pleasure for the craft – but you can’t really chuck a ball of wool here without hitting someone who can knit. Knitting was even a part of the curriculum in Shetland schools for many years (until recently). I feel very rooted to that heritage, coming from knitting and crofting stock, and maybe that is why I feel strongly about supporting our home-grown wool resources. ​ KnitBritish started because I bought a yarn that came from a farm just a short trip from my back door, so it definitely started here.

091-e1412678518959

 

Where can people learn more about local British yarns?

If anyone is interested in finding British breed wool there are three main havens for me; Blacker Yarns are a fantastic resource for British, organic, rare and specialist breeds. They source all fleece – and fibre for their alpaca and mohair yarns – from Britain and also from the Falkland Islands while all of the processing and spinning takes place in the UK. There is plenty of information on the characteristics of the wool, handle and information on the breed. Blacker is truly an invaluable resource and they are really committed to providing the best of British available. Garthernor is another excellent resource, particularly if you are looking for organic yarn. The website can be a little clunky to navigate, but it is jam-packed with information on sheep breeds and there is a shop. They do blends of British breeds as well, which adds new textural and colour interest. I always recommend that anyone interested in knitting with rare breed yarn, or in British sheep breeds in general, should look at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website. There is a watch list of the critical, endangered, vulnerable and at risk breeds  – if you are interested in doing some small part in helping these breeds, knitting with their wool is a good place to start.

MG_2631-e1401620501789

Finally, how has Knit British changed your knitting life?

…I think the most awesome thing is that I have been able meet such amazing people through what I do. I truly love the communities I find myself in through wool and knitting – particularly through social media. I count myself very lucky that someone I hadn’t met till this year (though I already called my friend) decided to name a cardigan pattern after me. That’s pretty awesome.

Well, you are pretty awesome, Louise.

Louise is part of the Wovember team and will also be cheerleading at the podcast lounge of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Go say hi to her!