Edinburgh Yarn Festival plans 1: vendors

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My little EYF haul from last year. The Blend No. 1 and the Buachaille were birthday gifts.

Despite being an Edinburgh native, and despite my mother telling me repeatedly how good it is, I only made it to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival for the first time last year. It was good, oh yes, but it was also pretty overwhelming. I wasn’t prepared for how large the marketplace was, and how hot and busy the Corn Exchange would be, and I spent most of the festival wandering about feeling rather shell-shocked, texting Lucy at intervals: “OMG I am literally a yard away from Kate Davies in the flesh! Unreasonably excited!!!”

Although seeing a lot of fibre celebrities in real life was pretty cool, I don’t feel I made the most of the day, and so this year I am making some plans before I go.

First up: what vendors do I especially want to visit? Like a lot of fibre fans, it seems, I’m getting really interested in the provenance of yarns, and their environmental credentials, so I’m particularly keen to check out British-raised/rare breed/small batch/naturally dyed/minimally-processed yarns at the festival. Vendors who fit this description include (in no particular order):

Home Farm Wensleydales – yarn from the farm’s own flock of Wensleydales (and some Blue-Faced Leicesters). Wensleydales are brilliantly eccentric-looking sheep.

Garthenor – undyed organic yarn from British sheep breeds. How gorgeous is their website?!

Cambrian Wool – a community interest company set up to develop products with Welsh wool.

Uradale Farm – organic wool from Shetland

The Border Tart – a Scottish indie dyer specialising in indigo.

Polo & Co – rustic French yarns in natural shades or plant-dyed.

Shetland Handspun – natural and dyed yarns spun by hand in Shetland.

Ardalanish Weaving Mill – yarns and accessories from a farm on the Isle of Mull that uses fleeces from its own and other local sheep.

Daughter of a Shepherd – undyed yarn from the proprietor’s father’s flock of Hebridean sheep.

Woollenflower – plant dyed yarns, and accessories made from reclaimed tweed.

Uist Wool – a cooperative company spinning undyed yarns from local sheep in the Outer Hebrides.

Black Bat – British rare breed wools.

The Border Mill – undyed and naturally dyed alpaca from a lovely small operation in the Scottish Borders. Apparently they have a new 4-ply alpaca-silk tweed range – sounds nice!

Iona Wool – yarn spun from sheep on the island of Iona.

The Little Grey Sheep – Gotland yarn from Hampshire dyed by hand on the farm.

Whistlebare – yarn from Northumberland, dyed on the farm it’s raised on.

Bigger British companies that also produce this kind of yarn include:

Kettle Yarn Co – ethically sourced, hardwearing yarns, some of which are naturally dyed.

John Arbon Textiles [https://www.jarbon.com/yarns-wools] – a Devon mill that produces lots of interesting yarns, including local and single-breed yarns.

Laxtons [http://www.laxtons.com/shop/undyed-yarns-for-hand-dying] – undyed yarns in large quantities.

Blacker Yarns [https://www.blackeryarns.co.uk/knitting-wool-yarns] – spinners of all sorts of British wool, including lots of single-breed yarns.

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Skeins of Border Mill naturally dyed alpaca aran that I got last year after seeing them at EYF.

Whew, that’s a long list! (Well done, EYF organisers, for bringing in so many interesting small producers.) Are you wondering whether I intend to buy from all of them? Of course I don’t; I couldn’t possibly afford to. I want to keep my yarn acquisitions very small and purposeful this year, so I may not come away with much yarn at all. But visiting these sellers, feeling their yarn and learning more about the sheep and people who produce it will be a) pleasurable in itself, b) a good way to learn more about different yarns and their properties, and c) a way of building up a reference index of yarns I like so that next time I need a whole sweater’s worth of wool, I know where to go for it.

This is not a comprehensive list, so if you know of other vendors like this who are coming to EYF, please leave a comment! What vendors are you excited about seeing at the Festival?

wip-down for Lent

img_20170227_150605_676This is a simple idea, not really deserving of a whole blog post, but we thought it made sense to articulate it somewhere more fixed than an Instagram post. So what does everybody think about doing a wip [work in progress]-down in Lent? That means we spend the next six weeks working on finishing off projects that we have hanging around, rather than starting new ones.*  Most of us probably have a sad wasteland of half-finished projects and it’s easy to be tempted by new projects instead of revisiting that place and giving the old projects the attention they deserve. Let’s encourage each other to go to the desert of unfinished things and spend some time working on them this Lent!

Lent is a season for fasting, self-examination and preparation before Easter, and a wip-down is not the only way we will be trying to fulfil those Lenten demands (Hanna will also be attempting to give up sugar – yikes!) But it is an appropriate Lenten challenge  because it will involve both discipline, in forcing yourself to pick up that boring old half-done sock. and self-denial, in ignoring that luscious new skein that’s begging to be cast on.

There’s nothing religious or denominational about the wip-down, sp whatever your reasons for wanting to keep Lent (or tackle the wip mountain!), you are more than welcome to join in with us in resolving only to work on old unfinished projects from 1 March until Easter (Sunday 16 April). We can use the hashtag #lentenwipdown on social media to cheer each other on, and we will check in here intermittently to keep a record of our own progress.

So who else is in? Let us know in the comments, or pop over to Instagram, where we are @hannapatchaesthetic and @lucypatchaesthetic. And good luck!

*Unless they are urgent gift projects – Lent is about denying yourself, not denying others. And if you have so few wips that you finish them all off before the end of Lent, you are entitled to feel very smug and then of course do what you like afterwards .

 

on the awesomeness of the Sasha Kagan Sweater Book

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I picked up The Sasha Kagan Sweater Book (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1984) in a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway on my Easter vacation. (Incidentally: go to Wigtown. It’s tiny, peaceful, set in beautiful countryside and has dozens of bookshops, a kind of unpretentious rural Scottish version of Hay-on-Wye).

I couldn’t believe the quality of the designs inside (especially after that unpromising cover!) I mean, I was vaguely aware of Sasha Kagan as a name and at a push might have associated the name with Kaffe Fassett, Rowan, and the designer-led British knitting revival in the 1980s and 1990s. But I really had no idea what a tremendous designer she was until I read this book, which in my humble opinion is a knitting version of Madonna’s Immaculate Collection – a truly great ‘greatest hits’ published while the artist was still at the peak of her career. So many knitting books from the 80s are full of shapes and yarns I’d never touch, like batwing sweaters, lurex and mohair, but Kagan’s designs are all realised in a capsule of classic, wearable shapes (crewneck sweaters, V-neck vests, waistcoats and cardigans, and boatneck sweaters) and they are almost entirely knit in pure Shetland wool. Kagan seems to have been a major advocate for Shetland wool at a time when few others were, using Jamieson and Smith 2-ply jumper weight for most her designs.

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And such colourwork! Her training as a painter and printmaker shines through in shimmering colour combinations and in graphic surface designs which make for some of the most inspired knitwear I’ve ever seen. Kaffe Fassett’s instantly recognisable geometric patterns in rainbow colours have a subtler and more wearable counterpart in Kagan designs like Mosaic (above left) and Leaves (above right). Kagan is equally strong on flowers, especially in this book, where the flower patterns are typically presented in bands broken up by stripes of contrasting textures, like the Wallflowers sweater below.

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As for her brilliant, cartoonish animals and figures: well, I was practically speechless when I first saw designs like (below, clockwise from top left) Raingirls, Prowling Cats, Winter Scotties and Seagulls. They’re so skilfully done: playful to the point of kitsch, yet also perfectly balancing shape and colour.

Of course, designs this delectable (and beautifully presented; can we all take a moment to appreciate the flatlay styling in these pictures?) produce an instant desire to KNIT ALL THE THINGS. Kagan’s recommended construction is, unfortunately, typical of commercial knitting patterns of that period: everything knit flat in pieces, which for colourwork of this complexity (see Willow Pattern, pictured below) gives me the shivers, though I have to say that the striped ribbed backs she favours for waistcoats and cardigans are rather attractive. Obviously it wouldn’t be too hard to convert the patterns to be knit in the round, but still, choosing what to do first is going to be a problem. Don’t wait up…

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One thing I’d really love to know more about is Kagan’s influence on the knitting designers of today. Both her graphic style and love of Shetland yarn reminded me strongly of Kate Davies when I first read the book – Davies’ playful Tortoise and Hare, for example, seems to share both Kagan’s penchant for stripe-based patterns in closely-related colours and her skill for making  animal designs that are humorous without being cutesy, and her Paper Dolls motif (which adorns one of the most popular adult-sized pictorial sweaters on Ravelry) has a cartoonish quality similar to Kagan’s Raingirls, Boys or Dachshunds.

These are of course fairly superficial visual similarities: Davies’s design process and favoured techniques make her colourwork by and large very different to Kagan’s. But still, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen Davies, or any other contemporary designer whose blog I follow, mention Kagan,  I wonder whether they’re aware of her work. I’m no knitting historian, but from her oeuvre it seems like she must have played a key role in mediating a 40s-inspired colourwork and graphic tradition to the 1980s knitwear revival of which she was part, and which itself had a huge influence on contemporary designers (however much the modern, indie-dominated scene has moved beyond Rowan, most of its big names, at least in Britain, have been influenced by the distinctive aesthetic of the Yorkshire house, which carried the torch of good knitwear design more or less alone through the 90s in this country). That same 40s aesthetic thrives all over the contemporary knitwear scene, both in individual designs like Ysolda Teague’s Little Birds and entire genres, like the fair isle-led Shetland aesthetic shared by Davies, Teague, Susan Crawford, Gudrun Johnston, Ella Gordon (whose Crofthoose Hat has quite a Kagan vibe) and many others. Is it fanciful to attribute to Kagan some kind of role as ancestor of this trend?

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Kagan’s Chequer-Board: 1940s air, timeless appeal.

Whether it’s fanciful or not, I feel like a designer of Kagan’s stature and longevity should have a bigger contemporary profile in her own right. She still designs for magazines, including The Knitter and Interweave Knits, though I confess her work for them doesn’t seem to me to share the fresh quality of her early designs or her work for Rowan. Perhaps that’s why she is less popular than, say, Fassett, whose oeuvre is more consistent. Or perhaps she has chosen to enjoy a lower profile.

Anyway, if any readers know more than I do about her current work, her historic influence on the industry, or her connections with other British designers, please do share! And if you come across the Sasha Kagan Knitting Book anywhere, snap it up at once.

Chicken Carousel

I made this modified version of Kate Davies’s Sheep Carousel tea cosy while on writing retreat with Lucy in Lancashire last month. It was a present for our (absentee) hostess, who has kindly enabled four years of these splendid and productive retreats by lending us her cottage in the Silverdale/Arnside AONB. Dressing her teapot in the chickens she likes so well seemed like the least I could do as a thank you! The FO photos below were taken on a windy day outside the cottage with some very inquisitive farmyard animals.

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chickens_teacosy

I have posted the chart below as a .jpg image – you are very welcome to download it by right-clicking and choosing ‘Save this image’ if you want to make your own chicken carousel. You would need a copy of Kate’s pattern as well. The chicken chart calls for a larger stitch count than the original pattern, so be aware of that when planning your project. Mine still came out at about 20″ in circumference (i.e. similar to the pattern spec), but check your own gauge and adjust accordingly. The details of stitch counts and yarn are all on my Ravelry project page.

The Bantams Beanie on Ravelry (inspired by the logo of Bradford City FC!) supplied the basis for the chicken chart; I am very grateful to its designer, Miranda Jollie, for letting me publish this modified version.chicken carousel

Happy chickens everyone!

Dress WLTM Vest

grey cardiganIn the past week, it has been slowly dawning on me that my beloved denim dress is looking for another woolly partner in crime. If we hadn’t had an unusually cold April, the chunky grey cardigan would already be too heavy, and it certainly will be as we go on into May. That cardigan is also a little thick for wearing under coats, so doesn’t work brilliantly in – for example – very wet weather.

So, something else is required, and perhaps as a result of reading Karen’s (of Fringe Association) numerous paeans to the Anna Vest, my fancy quickly settled on a textured vest (a.k.a waistcoat/gilet for those in the house who don’t speak Transatlantic). It needs to have a high crew neck, and buttons that do up in the middle, and fall straight from the bust to the waist: we are looking, in short, for a textured, cropped, swingy, crew neck, buttoned vest preferably in DK or lighter weight yarn.

Despite Ravelry’s sophisticated search function and the huge number of patterns available, I haven’t found quite the right thing.

threevests

The DROPS waistcoat (left) is cropped but doesn’t button right; the J. short vest (centre) is gorgeously swingy and cable-y but has too scoopy a neck (plus it’s in Japanese!); the Tamaqua vest (right) has good texture but is crochet and too chunky.

threeveststwo

Some other cool vests that aren’t quite right: the Kraemer Yarns V-neck (left); the Decent Days vest (centre); the Rowan Glow denim vest (right)

What to do next? Modify one of the above patterns, or design my own? I’m leaning towards the latter, I think. I’ve never done a whole garment before, so this might take a while, but…wish me luck!

Self-control 2: eating my words

IMAG5185_1Anyone who follows me on Instagram might have seen a certain denim dress pictured on there several times recently. A suspiciously Warehouse-like denim dress, a denim dress that very closely resembles the despised high street dress I sort-of congratulated myself on not buying in my last post.

Yep, it’s the same one. In my defence, I did not buy it myself; my boyfriend bought it for my birthday and it was entirely his choice; I even had a go at dissuading him, since I couldn’t in conscience encourage him to do something I had decided it was unethical for me to do myself. But oh, I’m so glad that he did!

I love wearing it so much I’ve become addicted: it’s practically a uniform. I wore it eight times before putting it through the wash, and as soon as it was dry I put it on again and wore it four days in a row. Every time I have worn it just as pictured below: with very old, battered-but-sturdy tan boots, a chunky grey wool cardigan I knitted myself, and the dog-tag porcelain necklace I “liberated” from my mother’s jewellery collection. (Not the tan handbag, unfortunately – that was also a maternal loan, but its return was strictly enforced!)

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Again, I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is, apart from to ‘fess up. Perhaps to say that this garment, this rather plain blue dress which has aroused such a curiously strong passion, has been teaching me about my relationship with clothes in more ways than I expected. It feels like a style departure to wear something this old-fashioned and to wear it like a uniform, and yet it also feels like coming home; there’s a naturalness and a simplicity to getting up every day and putting on the same outfit that I had not at all expected to love as much as I do (I never liked my school uniform much!)

In fact, it feels like my expectations of clothing are shifting just as a result of this one dress: having seen that it is possible for one garment to be so comfortable, so stylish, so effortless to wear, so durable (I hope), so simple yet un-boring even when endlessly repeated, I hope I will be looking for the same qualities in any future RTW purchases, and from garments I make myself too. Perhaps I will even go as far as this woman and wear the same outfit every single working day? I doubt it, but I feel I understand the impulse now in a way I didn’t when I first read that article.

What about you, readers? Do any of you wear uniforms (voluntarily or not)? How do you feel about variety vs predictability in dressing?

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❤ H + denim dress 4eva ❤

Self-control

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Denim midi dress, £55 from warehouse.co.uk

So, yesterday, I walked past the Cambridge city centre branch of the high street women’s clothes shop Warehouse, and this dress was on a mannequin in the window. I don’t mind telling you, my reaction was a bit like this pug‘s (linked because you’d never get the rest of the way through the post if I put that GIF in it).  Instant enchantment, in other words.

Whoa – I haven’t had that reaction to a piece of high street clothing in a long time. Then today, I did something I haven’t done in even longer: I went into Warehouse. It was strangely bright and cramped in there, and there were lots of things made of polyester, but I found the dress and tried it on, and wow! it felt great and looked (I thought!) pretty great and I thought about buying it, I really did. I got some compensation money from my gas company this month for some historic billing f**k-ups, and it would have more than covered it. I was so tempted.

Then I thought: no, I could make this (simple bodice, elasticated waist, A-line skirt) and anyway, it didn’t have pockets, which seemed like a really stupid omission. A dress like that is begging for you to put your hands in deep pockets and slouch a little! In fact, I think the model below is trying to do it and that’s why her hands are hanging in that weird way…sorry, I digress.

warehouse denim dress

I came back and looked at my patterns, and chose two I could mash up (McCall’s 5927 for the bodice and sleeves, Sewaholic Saltspring for the waistband and skirt – with pockets because Tasia of Sewaholic is a sensible woman). I even started browsing for organic denim I could buy, since I don’t have a big enough piece in my stash; I reckon it would need at least 3.5m of wide fabric for a tea-length A-line dress with long sleeves. But in the course of that browsing I re-read So Zo’s musings on organic cotton and decided that it would be unethical to buy new fabric, organic or not, so I will just have to wait till I find something suitable second-hand.

In case you’re wondering what the point of this post is, sorry – and thanks for reading so far – but I don’t really know. It just felt significant that all I’ve read and thought about ethical textiles and conscious consumption and the global garment industry is now actually strong enough to overpower even the sudden mad rush of falling in love with a garment, a rush which took me over the threshold of one of the despised high street shops I usually avoid like the plague, and to the point of contemplating giving them money. I guess maybe I want to say that being part of an online community of thoughtful, caring, responsible makers (like Zoe and Felicia and Karen) can actually make a difference to behaviour, that actually we can encourage and support each other to consider the interests of exploited garment workers and the environment above our own selfish desire for clothing gratification.* Consciousness-raising FTW!

*obviously I don’t know who actually makes clothing for Warehouse and what their working conditions are – but since I don’t know that they aren’t exploited, I have to assume that they might be.