Free Colourful Cowl Pattern!

OK, would you like the free pattern for this fairisle cowl that I designed?

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You would? Well there’s a link to the pattern near the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

It’s a fairly generous one size, that would fit an adult or teen.

The version in the pictures was made using all 16 shades of Stylecraft Batik, but of course you could use fewer colours, or indeed a different DK/light-worsted yarn entirely. The cowl is worked in the round, so although you’ll have a fair few ends to weave in, there’s no purling fairisle and no seams. Hurrah!

So what are you waiting for? Apart from yarn, and more time, and the opportunity to finish all your other projects first. Oh, and I’m sorry to have to tell you but I think the cat has just pooped behind the sofa…

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You want to see the reverse/inside of the cowl? Here ya go:-

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Anyway, to the pattern! Drum-roll, please:-

Click here for the pattern!

OK? Shout if you have any problems. I may not necessarily be able to solve them, but I can nod sympathetically…

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Giveaway Winners? Giveaway Winners!

So, to the Stylecraft giveaway. Do we have some winners? WE HAVE SOME WINNERS, OH YES!

Wow, a big fluffy THANK YOU for the 232 entries you submitted here and on the ‘Yarn’s Facebook page, and for the enthusiastic/kind/funny/interesting comments that you left in your entries. And THANK YOU to Stylecraft for providing the prizes.

So that means that the pattern for THIS COWL will be coming next post...

So that means that the pattern for THIS COWL will be coming next post…

So at midday on Sunday, the giant gong sounded, signalling the end of the giveaway. Did you hear it? I guess not, given that it’s made of yarn – a fatal design flaw that I should probably have foreseen – and is thus almost completely silent.

As I did for previous giveaways in these ‘ere parts, I allocated each entry a number, and then used the random number generator at random.org to pick the winners. Would you like to see the results?

Well, of the 232 entries, 136 were for the UK contest, and 96 were for the non-UK contest*. Let’s find out who’s won the UK prizes (£10-worth of Stylecraft vouchers) first…

Wa-hey! Rolling the 136-sided dice, we have…

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So who is the mysterious, shadowy Person 19, and the equally mysterious Person 96?

Step forward into the spotlight, Rainbow Junkie, and Sue Jameson! Congratulations! Would you like to make a speech? No, please don’t cry! I’ll be in touch to request your contact details (unless you get on the keyboard to thetwistedyarn@outlook.com first), and will then pop your prizes in the post. Happy yarn shopping!

Now for the non-UK contest. Two winners each win two Stylecraft bags and Stylecraft keyrings. Where’s that 96-sided dice when you need it? Ah, here it is. OK, ready?

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Look! It’s entrant 5 and entrant 75! So who are the people hiding behind the numbers?

Take a bow, Jan Wilesmith, and Sandy! Again, I’ll be in touch today to request your contact details so that I can post those happy prizes out. Congratulations!

And to everyone else, I’m sorry that you weren’t successful this time, but I have plenty more Stylecraft vouchers sitting here just longing for a good home, so there’ll be more giveaways coming soon.

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Prizes!

∗ The teeny-weeny number of entrants who forgot to say whether they were UK or non-UK were placed in the non-UK category, as the UK prizes aren’t valid in the rest of the world whereas the non-UK prizes are just fine and dandy anywhere.

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Stylecraft Batik Yarn Review

It’s about time I published a review of Batik, Stylecraft’s brand new yarn. (Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for the yarn, so clearly my fickle head has been turned by this freebie and not a single word of the following is to be trusted.)

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I wanted to thoroughly road-test the yarn before I wrote this, so I got the knitting needles out and started designing something that incorporated all sixteen shades:-

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You know what you need in the heat of August? A nice warm, fluffy cowl, that’s what. So I designed one, just in case the sun disappeared behind a cloud and it started to SNOW. Stranger things have happened. The cowl pattern will be available very soon, in case you want one too.

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We were away for ten days, you see, first staying in a cottage in the wilds of the North York Moors, and then – after a seven-hour drive – staying with dear friends in their beautiful old south west Wales cottage. The perfect opportunity to knit without guilt. The perfect opportunity to let my imagination off the lead, so that it could scamper about in the undergrowth and come up with lots of nature-inspired patterns.

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I knitted everywhere.

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And then I re-knitted, over and over again, because I kept changing my mind about the pattern. But that was part of the fun.

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Anyway, let’s talk about the yarn.

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Batik is a DK-weight (i.e. light worsted) blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool. Just to cover the basics, it’s available in 50-gram balls, with a recommended hook/needle size of 4mm (US size 6), gauge 22 sts per 10cm/4 inches. But that’s not what you came here to read, is it?

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There are 16 shades in the range, and they do work rather well together.

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The yarn has a painted effect, each shade mottling with white. I think this makes it ideal for fairisle/stranded colourwork – much better than solid colours – but the mottling effect is not subtle, so I needed to make sure that for each section of the pattern, I picked two shades that really really contrasted, to avoid the pattern looking like a blurry muddle.

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There’s a high degree of twist to this yarn, which was a deliberate decision by the folk at Stylecraft HQ to create a product that’s ideal for crochet as well as for knitting.

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And I have to say that it’s a pleasure to work with, although I do hope they expand the colour range further. If you want a very affordable (£1.99 in the UK) acrylic-based yarn, I absolutely recommend Batik. It looks good, the colours are rich and intense, and Stylecraft are super-hot on the consistency and quality of their products (I saw their testing lab) so you can trust what you’re getting.

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Right, I’d better go and write up that cowl pattern, hadn’t I? Is it snowing yet?

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Quick And Easy Hack For Controlling Bobbins In Colourwork

In this post, an easy hack for how to control all those bobbins when you’re doing complex colourwork, especially intarsia. 🙂

Colourwork is a fantastic thing in knitting and crochet: it’s like painting with yarn – even painting in three dimensions, should you choose to engage in that level of crazy. I love most colourwork – stranded/fairisle especially, but also, slipped stitch work, and stripes. But I do not love intarsia*. Intarsia hurts my sanity. It’s a technique in which even the tiniest increase in the complexity of motif leads with terrifying speed to an exponential rise in the number of bobbins dangling and tangling in a hideous hairy heap in your lap, and needing to be painstakingly separated from each other every row because they just wanna mingle. Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve got the fluent facility with swear words to prove it.

Here's a stranded piece that I'm designing at the moment. See? So civilised that you can knit whilst you walk. Bet you couldn't do intarsia whilst on the move.

Here’s a stranded piece that I’m designing at the moment. See? So civilised that you can knit whilst you walk. Bet you couldn’t do intarsia whilst on the move.

Stranded/fairisle work, on the other hand, is a lot more civilized in my un-humble opinion, because even if your finished object is a wonder of many-hued complexity, you only have to wrestle two shades within any given row. Two! I can cope with two. I even have two hands: look! So I’ll leave the intarsia to octopuses and millipedes, thank you very much. Also to spiders, as long as they keep the hell away from me whilst they’re doing it.

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But despite the sanest of intentions, I still occasionally end up making something that involves a lot of different mini-balls of yarn, all at once. I know you can buy or make those mini-bobbins to control your wool, but they’re not much use for larger quantities of yarn and they’ve never completely saved me from the need to de-tangle. Elastic bands or hair bobbles can work quite well for larger quantities, if you remove the band from whichever ball of yarn is ‘live’ and then replace it when you swap to the next colour.

But the easiest technique that I’ve found to control the mess is to use small butterfly hairclips. AND they can cope with both larger and smaller quantities of yarn.

Some people think these are for hair. They're not: they're for YARN.

Some people think these are for hair. They’re not: they’re for YARN.

See?

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Quick to take off and then put back on as you swap each colour in and out, you can even use them to clip the yarn to the actual knitting so that there’s NO WAY it can sneak off for a group hug with its neighbours. Your knitting will still move happily along the cable/needle when you do this. Result! Problem solved!

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So far, I’ve only discovered two disadvantages to this technique. First, when I’m doing intarsia, I CAN NEVER FIND ANYTHING TO CLIP MY FLIPPIN’ HAIR. And second, if you leave your knitting lying around like this, you risk coming back to find all the clips missing, and several small children running around giggling at the clips on their hair, their ears, their noses, the curtains… I haven’t yet found a good technique for managing tangled children, sorry.

And look, you can pick the whole thing up and NOTHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS!

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I still don’t like intarsia, though.

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  • Just in case you’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ (by which I mean ‘soul-wrenching torment’), intarsia in knitting or crochet involves working a picture or motif by swapping in and out different shades of yarn as needed, without carrying them all the way across the work as you would in stranded work. OK, that’s not the best description: go take a look at THIS.

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Village Knitting

I love our village.

It’s the type of place where you can sit in the pub with knitting and crocheting friends talking about anything, whilst people play cards at the next table and a dog snoozes near the door. There’s a fair-to-middling chance of bumping into someone you know when you haul your rear out of the sofa and get up to fetch more drinks. Occasionally there’s even a rival knitting group around.

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Look! On the table, between the wine glasses! Gorgeous self-striping yarn in my friend’s jumper-in-progress for her son. There she is on the left, beginning the next section.

People here talk to you because they’ve seen you around. They usually want to know exactly which house you live in, which tends to freak out folk who’ve only just moved here from London and who aren’t yet accustomed to revealing such incredibly personal information to anyone who isn’t their legal spouse. Anyway you get talking, and quite soon you can’t remember a time when you didn’t know these people. That said, you probably should have paid more attention five years ago when they introduced themselves, because this many conversations down the line, it’d be kind of awkward to admit that you can’t actually remember their name.

Most people say hello or at least smile when you pass them in the street, although it’s important to remember to switch off that habit when you venture anywhere more urban, to avoid looking like an oddball country bumpkin. (I call it ‘flight mode’, because all non-essential communications are turned OFF.)

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Look at my friend’s cabling! Is that fabulous or what?

I love going running on the various tracks out into the countryside, and witnessing the seasons played out across the Oxfordshire landscape.

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One day recently, I’d just landed back in the village after a run, and as I turned onto the High Street, out of breath, hurty of lung, sore of foot, and malodorous of lycra, I noticed somebody meddling with a signpost in the distance. What outrage was this?! Some n’er-do-well spoiling our neighbourhood? Surely not!

Getting closer, there was a certain familiarity about the miscreant, and also about their bicycle, which was leaning against a nearby fence, its basket adorned with crochet. Hmm, could that be a clue to their motive?

I limped closer. (Have I mentioned the sore foot?)

And then I realized that the brazen daylight misbehaviour I was witnessing was yarn-bombing in progress, and that the perpetrator was my friend and allotment-mate, whom I am forbidden to name here by the terms of the Yarn Bombers’ Charter. Totes soz, but that’s one of her hands on the left in the picture below.

Our village lanes have long been the background to some pretty lovely yarn-bombing, but witnessing the act in progress felt a little like catching Banksy at work. What could I do, but go over and offer to help? (Out of consideration for my friend’s welfare, I did try to stand downwind of her – it had been a tough run.)

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She was sewing beautiful knitted panels around lamp-posts. Each year, her pieces have a theme (buttons, for example), and this year, it’s tassels.

How gorgeous and cheering is her work?! Look at those textures! Look at the colours! She also knits twiddlemuffs for dementia patients at the nearest hospital.

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So we got chatting, whilst she sewed up the knitting, but there was also a tiny problem. It was the day of the Open Gardens in the village, when owners of infinitely grander plots than ours throw open their wrought iron gates for anyone who wishes to come and see. Maybe we should have opened ours, as a sort of deranged, toy-strewn parody. We could call it ‘Future Garden’. Or possibly ‘Past Garden’. It’s still very much a work in progress, but in a year’s time, it’s going to be AMAZING.

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Anyway, as part of this event, there was to be an exhibition of wedding dresses from times past at the church, so the call had gone out for anyone who owned a tailor’s dummy to come and lend it for the day so that the dresses could be displayed. (I’m getting to the point of all this, really I am. Or at least, I’m limping slowly in its general direction – I’ve got this painful foot, you see…)

We happen to own a very basic tailor’s dummy, so I’d already offered it for the exhibition. There was plenty of time to get home from my run, shower, dress in more appropriate clothing, and saunter along to the church, humming a tune, with the dummy under my arm, doing a convincing impression of someone who is calm, dignified, and whose hair isn’t feral.

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Or at least there would have been, had I not spent ages chatting to the village yarnbomber, holding her work in place so that she could sew, and taking photographs. Suddenly it was five minutes before the dummy deadline, and I hadn’t even made it home. Oops. (I knew the Stoic Spouse wouldn’t be worried: when I roll in late, he just says ‘I assumed you got talking to someone’. He’s generally correct.)

There definitely wasn’t going to be time for everything.

All of this is a very lengthy explanation of why, just before 1pm, I sprinted the entire length of the High Street, listing slightly to starboard because of my busted foot, sweating revoltingly, and with a large tailor’s dummy gripped under my arm like I was kidnapping it. Dignity? Meh, dignity’s for wimps.

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And no, there are no photographs. Or at least I don’t think there are. And if there are, could we please meet at the pub to discuss what you would consider to be a reasonable fee for their destruction? Thank you.

The open gardens were splendid by the way, even in the rain.

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And I got to climb the church tower…

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…to see the old church bells…

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…and the view from the top, albeit in the drizzly gloom…

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As I said, I do love this village, yarn-bombing and all. 🙂

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The Easiest, Tastiest, Cake Recipe Ever, Or My Name’s Not Hieronymus Winklebottom

A knitter’s gotta eat, yeah?

There is a reason why this cake is green, and it's a good reason.

There is a reason why this cake is greenish, and it’s a good reason.

You need fuel in order to retain your grip on sanity when you get to that part of the pattern. You know, the part that the designer wrote when they were having a really bad day because they’d just accidentally boil-washed their cashmere, so they decided to give free rein to their inner sadist because if they were suffering, then you should sure-as-eggs be suffering too. So instead of the easy, restful garter stitch they’d been suggesting for the body of this top-down cardigan, they decided to introduce such monstrosities of yarnery as repeated p7tog tbl for the last 20 rows. For those of you who are hookers not knitters, just trust me: that’s not a stitch that you’d want to meet in an alley on a dark night, unless you had some very sharp knitting needles with which to defend your honour.

So although you thought that the fiendishly complex lace band at the bottom edge of this cardigan pattern was a lovingly thought out design feature, it was really just the sadistic result of the designer’s BAD DAY. Still, it’s a nice-looking cardigan, isn’t it?

But I digress. I was discussing food.

Oh! A courgette plant. I wonder what's hidden amongst its leaves.

Oh! A courgette plant. I wonder what’s hidden amongst its leaves…

If you’re into growing your own dinner, you’ll be familiar with the issue (especially at this time of year) of lurching from a glut of one type of produce to a glut of the next, and then the next. It certainly challenges your creativity as you master a hundred and four ways with broad beans one month, and then a tomatoes the next. Broad bean curry, anyone?

At the moment, we’re in the middle of courgette season. (Translation: zucchini.) We have a lot of courgettes. You’re supposed to pick them often to ensure that a steady supply keeps coming. “DON’T ENCOURAGE THEM!” the Stoic Spouse yelped when he saw me rummaging amongst the plants with a watering can. There was a look of panic in his eyes that suggested he wasn’t approaching my courgette sorbet recipe with an entirely open mind. But honestly, you’d have thought he’d caught me feeding the local rats, not growing harmless vegetables. He can’t win, though: if you don’t pick them, they get their revenge by growing into super-sized marrows, which still need eating but don’t taste half as nice.

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So the courgette thing has been getting difficult, especially as I have to grate them into oblivion before hiding them in any foodstuffs destined for the twinnage’s plates as courgettes aren’t on my sons’ Official Approved Vegetable List. I don’t feel too guilty about this subterfuge: a friend used to do it to her 30-something veg-averse partner, too, after which he started looking healthier and got himself an allotment.

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But then I came across a courgette CAKE recipe of such deliciousness that the poor courgette plants can’t keep pace with demand. I’ve made courgette cakes before: there’s a delicious chocolatey one in the original (and sadly out-of-print) Green and Blacks chocolate cookbook. The one I’m going to tell you about started out as a courgette-and-orange cake, but in my kitchen, it’s gradually morphed into a courgette, lemon, and poppyseed cake. And it rocks. 🙂 Also, it’s very very easy. And I’m happy to tell you how I made it.

Or you could use what's known in this household as a 'whizzer'.

The original recipe is here. I didn’t make the icing, though, mostly because as a cheese-phobic, I wasn’t going anywhere near that culinary abomination. Anyway, the cake tastes fabulous without any icing.

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So here, with respectful acknowledgement of the original recipe in the link above, is the modified (and slightly simpler, cheaty, look-guys-I-haven’t-got-time-to-faff) Twisted Yarn version: COURGETTE, LEMON, AND POPPY SEED LOAF.

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Ingredients

  • 350g courgettes, the smaller the better
  • Rind of approximately a quarter of a lemon
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 125 ml vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, beaten (although as you can see from one of the photos below, I’m sometimes a little lazy about pre-beating the eggs)
  • 100g raisins
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds

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Method

Set oven to 180°C/350°F, or 160°C/325°F fan oven, or gas mark 4.

Grease and line a one-pound loaf tin.

Prepare the courgettes and lemon rind. I used a little gadget that’s known in this house as a ‘whizzer’ to mix both together and pulverize them into mushy oblivion. (See pic higher up this post.) But an alternative is to grate the courgette and lemon rind.

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Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat for approx two minutes or until your arm aches a little bit but not unbearably.

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Pour mixture into tin and place in centre of oven.

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Bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

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Remove from tin after a few minutes and leave on a rack to cool. Or you could just munch the lot: I won’t tell. 😉

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this delicacy goes very well with green tea and knitting. Or crochet. I know, because I’ve tested extensively.

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Now, onto the next glut…

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Giveaway? Giveaway!

Shall we have a giveaway? Wa-hey, let’s have a giveaway! Start sharpening those typing fingers in order to enter, because details are coming later in this post.

This is the third and final part of my triptych* of posts about the exciting Yorkshire/Stylecraft/Blogstars shenanigans. (Previous parts: the mill tour, and the first evening.) But it’s very hard to produce an even mildly amusing post when absolutely nothing about the experience was catastrophically disastrous or weird. The closest I came to problems was when they interviewed each of us on camera (yikes! …with a side order of yikes!!) and I stupidly sprinted down and then up several flights of stairs at the mill immediately beforehand (mills are tall), thus ensuring that 103% of my attention (I have a lot of attention) was on trying to look as though I wasn’t hyperventilating, leaving a mere -3% of my attention for the questions that were being asked. Please forgive the number of sub-clauses in that sentence. And don’t expect to see me anchoring the six o’clock news any day soon after that bumbling on-screen performance.

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Anyway. Yes. Right. T’was was the morning after the night before, and those of us from the previous day plus a few more assembled again at the mill, although the weather was no longer as shiny as in this picture:-

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In addition to the nine of us I showed in my last post, I should tell you about the other three Blogstars who seem to think that things like living-on-the-opposite-side-of-the-planet-whilst-just-this-very-second-having-given-birth constitute an adequate excuse for non-attendance. 😉 Allow me to introduce Angela of Get Knotted Yarn Craft, as well as Emma Varnam, and Jane Crowfoot. They were there in spirit, at least. Here again are the rest of us (excluding me, because, well, camera).

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Fine fibrous folk, L-R: Julia (Hand Knitted Things), Lucy (Attic24), Kathryn (Crafernoon Treats), Sarah (Annaboo’s House), Sandra (Cherry Heart), Juliet (Stylecraft via Blue Bear), Sue Pinner, Heather (The Patchwork Heart), Helen (The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten).

So, those of us there in person got to attend the most delightfully colourful meeting ever (and I say that as someone who’s attended a lot of meetings in the past two decades). Imagine a meeting where you walk into the room and there are bowls of yarn laid out for you to squidge and squoosh, and you’re positively encouraged to knit/hook throughout. Oh well, if you insist:-

Needles: lovely Karbonz. Yarn: Batik.

Needles: lovely Karbonz. Yarn: Batik.

Annabelle and Juliet told us all about forthcoming developments in yarnery** in general and at Stylecraft in particular. (Sock yarn! I want to tell you about the sock yarn!)

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Annabelle (sales director at Spectrum Yarns), Juliet (Blue Bear, working with Spectrum and Knit Pro, amongst other brands).

See those shelves full of yarn in the background? That’s Yarn Stories, the gorgeous 100% merino and merino-alpaca blend range that I’ve written about before. It’s made here at the mill. Shall we take a closer look?

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Anyway, back to the meeting. Concentrate, Twisted, concentrate. Colour trends are identified a year or more in advance. Want to know what we’ll all be knitting soon? Well autumn/winter 16/17 in yarn is all about the “World Marauder”. Here’s a mood board:-

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See those luscious, rich colours? Get your needles and hooks ready to maraud, folks.

And coming soon after, a cluster of colours and loose, unstructured shapes termed “The Humble Labourer”:-

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I lurves these soft, natural shades.

There are professionals whose sole reason for crawling out from under the duvet of a Monday morning is to go and forecast the colours, shapes, and styles that folk will be buying 18 months or more down the line. Their expertise can be bought by companies designing clothes, homewares, and in this case yarn. I guess these forecasts become self-fulfilling prophecies, but they’re still interesting.

So how does this translate into the bundles of fluff that’ll be available in your local yarn shop? Well, in keeping with World Marauder, Stylecraft has just this moment launched Batik, a DK-weight range of 16 intense shades of 80% acrylic, 20% wool, recommended needle/hook size 4mm. They wanted to develop a yarn that was suitable for crochet as well as knitting, so Batik has quite a high degree of twist, meaning it hooks up rather nicely. Look!

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They gave us a ball of each shade. Mine seem to be settling in quite happily at home:-

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I’m thinking a fairisle scarf, after which I’ll write a proper review. The list price is £2.15 for 50g, in case you’re wondering. Available now.

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And coming next month is A RANGE OF SOCK YARN! Hurrah! 75% wool, 25% polyamide, named ‘Head Over Heels’ as it’s good for shawls as well as socks. I won’t lie – I’m properly excited. Stylecraft make high-quality acrylics but it’s good to see them also going in a more woolly direction, especially with yarn produced in this ol’ Yorkshire mill.

We adjourned to the very top of the building for lunch.

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The day was greyer than its predecessor:-

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View through a rain-spattered window.

And then far, far too soon, it was all over, although the blow was softened somewhat by the generosity of the goody-bag they gave us, with many treats including the whole Batik range and an interchangeable set of my very favourite needles (Knitpro Karbonz). Here’s some – but by no means all – of it:-

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And at the end of all this fun, after the goodbyes? Well before beginning the long drive south towards home, I met up with my friend who lives but a few miles from Slaithwaite. We sat in a wine bar by the river, sipping green tea, knitting, and talking feminism and politics. It was very good to see her. She’s dyed her hair bright red and it looks AWESOME.

So, do you want to know about this little giveaway?

Well, one of the treats in the goody bag was a fat bundle of vouchers for money off Stylecraft yarn, intended for you, dear readers. So let’s get on with giving out the first four. (There’ll be more to come, later.) Each voucher is worth £5 off any Stylecraft product(s) AT BRICKS-AND-MORTAR SHOPS ONLY, NOT ONLINE, and two lucky people will win two each (i.e. £10-worth each). Now – and this is where you need to pay attention – these vouchers are only spendable in the UK and I’m aware that more than half of you live elsewhere and I really don’t want to leave you out, so two lucky readers from outside the UK will each win two Stylecraft bags like the one in the photo above (perfect for projects or for shopping) and one pink Stylecraft keyring.

With me so far? Good.

To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post, stating whether you’re entering the UK competition or the non-UK competition. For an additional entry, ‘like’ the ‘Yarn’s Facebook page and leave a comment (UK or non-UK, AND some way of contacting you if you win, eg Ravelry name) on the Facebook post about this competition.

The competition is open from… ready, steady…. wait for it… NOW, until noon GMT on Sunday 14th August. After this, two UK winners (£10 in vouchers each) and two non-UK winners (two bags and a keyring each) will be randomly selected, and prizes despatched. Good luck, and may the gauge consistency be with you.

 

I know, the panels of a triptych should be attached by hinges. This one is a little more… unhinged.

** I shall not rest until I make the word ‘yarnery’ happen. My friend works on new words at the Oxford English Dictionary – on my to-do list is asking her whether she’s accepting bribes…

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Blogstars

Last weekend I was in West Yorkshire at the invitation of Stylecraft. The occasion was the inaugural meeting of their ‘Blogstars‘ programme, in which a dozen of us yarny bloggers/designers get the chance to work closely with Stylecraft and hear whispers about new yarns that are on their way. (Clue: there are some very interesting and unexpected developments afoot.)

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They kindly asked me to take part. ‘Would you like to come up to the picturesque valleys of West Yorkshire, tour our old woollen mill, stay in a luxurious hotel with fabulous food/wine, talk yarn with fellow designer-bloggers, and attend a meeting that’s all about yarn and at which you’re allowed, nay encouraged to knit throughout, at the end of which we’ll give you a giant sack of Stylecraft and KnitPro freebies?’

“Hmm,” I said, frowning. “I’ll need to take some time to think about that.”

Approximately one fortieth of a nanosecond later, I squealed “YES PLEASE!”

So I set off in the grimy ol’ Stinkwagon, its ancient axels grumbling under the weight of enough knits-in-progress to keep me going if I accidentally got stranded in Yorkshire for three months… even though I was heading for a woollen mill which could reasonably be expected to supply some knitting materials if Armageddon happened and we had a lock-in. The journey was slow. I suspect that knitters and crocheters are the only people who like traffic jams (proper ones where you have to completely stop and you may as well turn off your engine for the next half hour), but sadly there were no traffic jams, so I didn’t get to knit en route.

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Four hours later, I was in Slaithwaite. The first treat was the mill tour that I described in my last post, and then there was a muchly fun evening with some of my fellow Blogstars and a couple of Stylecraft folk at the hotel. When I came down to the bar and saw one of the group knitting, I knew that I’d found my people. See these folk? They’re all thoroughly lovely (except me):-

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart blog, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo's House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and - knitting! - Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft).

Left to right: Heather from The Patchwork Heart, Helen from The Knitting Exploits Of Josie Kitten, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, me, Annabelle (Stylecraft), and – knitting! – Juliet (Blue Bear / Stylecraft)

The views from the hotel weren’t too shabby. I took this shot from the hotel’s helipad: fortunately I managed not to get squished by any incoming helicopters.

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The views were charming, especially as the day faded…

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…to near-darkness:-

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Anyway, back to the yarn. The main event was scheduled for the following day, back at the Stylecraft mill in Slaithwaite. This was where we got to meet up not just with folk from the previous night, but also with the rest of the Blogstars (excluding a couple of people who couldn’t make it this time). Here we are:-

Here we are. Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. :-) ) Left to right, back row: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia Marsh (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo's House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

Image courtesy of Sophie at Stylecraft (a fellow RUNNER-AND-KNITTER! I LIKE this woman. 🙂 ) Back row, left to right: Sandra (Cherry Heart), Julia (Hand Knitted Things), Helen (The Knitting Exploits of Josie Kitten), Sarah (Annaboo’s House). Front row, left to right: Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), me, Lucy (Attic 24), Sue (Shropshire Scrappers).

I’d met Lucy (Attic 24) before when we co-judged the Stylecraft yarn competition at the mill last year, but I’d never met the other bloggers, so it was fabulous to chat to fellow people who like to do stuff with yarn and then talk about it online. There was frustratingly little time, though, so I hardly got to speak to some of them at all.

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Another shot of the view from the hotel.

So we got down to the heady business of yarn. There really are some very exciting developments coming soon from this ‘ere mill, so I’ll devote a whole post to telling you about them next time. Trust me, you’ll like them. 🙂

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To The Mill!

Evenin’. We all here? Good, good. Do have a seat… NO, NOT THAT ONE! Sorry, didn’t mean to shout, but that’s the chair the twinnage have booby-trapped. What’s that you say? Oh, um, trust me, you don’t want to know, but… you’re not scared of worms, I hope?

Help yourself to some wine. You’ve brought yarn? Ha, silly question: of course you’ve brought yarn.

Speaking of yarn, would you like to see round an old woollen mill? It’s just that a few of us knit/crochet bloggers* were invited to Yorkshire at the weekend by the fine fibrous folk at Stylecraft for the inaugural meeting of the Blogstars programme. (More on that over the next few posts, including a giveaway, and some rather exciting insider gossip about future yarny developments…) So I loaded up the ol’ Stinkwagon with knitting paraphernalia, a toothbrush, and a change of socks, and headed up to Slaithwaite. Look!

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The first thing we did on arrival was tour the mill with Richard Brown, owner of Spectrum Yarns (which produces Stylecraft, Yarn Stories, and some luxury merino clothing treats). Want to see? The mill is oldish – 1907. Spinning skills in this area run deep amongst local families, so it’s no accident that Spectrum’s spinning happens here, whereas its knitting operations are over in Derbyshire. (Their acrylic is made under licence in Turkey, just in case you were wondering.)

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Considerably more than fifty shades of grey.

If you’ve ever knitted with Yarn Stories yarn (as I have), it was spun here.

See this stuff in the picture below? It’s ‘tops’ – undyed, untwisted, sheep fluff. Yes it does feel as nice as it looks.

Mmmmmmmm......

Mmmmmmmm……

The yarns produced here are worsted-spun, i.e. comprising tightly twisted, neatly parallel, same-length fibres, producing a smooth, dense, hard-wearing yarn. (Stop me if you know this already, but the alternative is woollen-spun, in which fibres are all over the place prior to spinning – making a fluffier, wilder, warmer, but less hard-wearing product.) I remember reading all about the two processes in this book, but it was interesting to see worsted spinning in action.

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So yeah. The machines here can combine up to ten feeds of tops, mixing light with dark shades as required. By the way, some of the tops is sent off for dyeing as soon as it arrives, and the rest is dyed as yarn.

Richard Brown explains.

Richard Brown explains.

Next, the spinning frame draws the fibre out to its correct width, and applies twist. So by this stage we’re dealing with something resembling yarn, rather than just a hairy bucket o’fluff. Progress!

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The exact width and quality of the product is monitored electronically. Also, there’s a whole lab dedicated to micro-assessing of the quality of yarn.

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They take their work seriously in the lab:-

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If I had a job there, I’d demand to see a lot of yarn samples:-

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Or I might just sit and drool at the display on their wall:-

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Anyway, back to the shop floor. After spinning, the yarn is twisty – a little too twisty, to be frank. If you hold up a length of yarn, it fights you to ravel itself into a spirally knot. So the next stage of the process is to pop it in a steam oven to persuade it to calm the heck down.

The steam oven.

The steam oven.

The result is a lot calmer and more biddable.

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I could look at this yarn all day.

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On one floor of the mill are boxes (and boxes) of yarn, ready for dispatch. I tried to linger behind the group as they left, hoping to get locked in with more yarn than I could conceivably knit in a lifetime, but unfortunately somebody noticed.

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Oh, and d’you see that lovely wooden floor there? Richard had a tale to tell about that. The six-floor building was originally constructed as a cotton mill. Cotton dust (‘fly’) is a notorious risk for explosion, so in order to prevent any irritating infernos and loss of life, the floors were made of beautiful solid maple, which carried a low risk of sparking.

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Meanwhile workers at the time wore iron-soled clogs, and over the decades, their footsteps wore two deep dips in the sandstone staircase:-

Look, d'you see how those steps have worn?

Look, d’you see how those steps have worn?

So that, my friend, is the basics of the process. More soon on the Blogstars programme, and a giveaway!

 

∗ Lucy from Attic24, Julia from Hand Knitted Things, Sandra from Cherry Heart, Sue at Susan Pinner, Kathryn from Crafternoon Treats, Sarah from Annaboo’s House, Helen from The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty, Heather from The Patchwork Heart… and present in spirit if not in person, Jane Crowfoot, Angela from Get Knotted, and Emma Varnam.

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Filed under Yarn

And Then Suddenly, Dinner Was Ready.

Gosh, thank you for your kind words on the crocheted garden. I’d best get on with the next section, then…

Meanwhile, let’s talk about food. Way back in April, I promised you dinner. Yeah, yeah, you’ve probably worked up quite some appetite by now: sorry for the delay. Well the good news is that dinner has finally finished growing, muchly helped by this mad sun-rain-sun-hail-sun-apocalypse-sun weather we’ve been a-having. Even the clouds have been a little crazy. Here’s a few I snapped during my run the other day:-

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Forgive me: you’re hungry. Let’s get back to the food. We’ve reached that splendid time of year when all those stroppy, diva-like plants at the allotment actually begin producing dinner. But you know what it’s like with allotments: you wait all year for a runner bean and then eleventy billion come along at once, thus ensuring that you properly hate runner beans by the end of the season. I mean, there’s only so many ways with runner beans before you get sick of them boiled, fried, on toast, and steamed under the light of a full moon with dill. Actually, the runner beans are some way off being ready, but we have an insane abundance of broad beans at the moment, here being shelled by the Stoic Spouse. We have so many that I suspect our neighbours are starting to deliberately not answer the door when we knock.

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And the potatoes! I love digging up potatoes – it’s like finding buried treasure. Of course the twinnage enjoy helping.

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If you’re short on space and skill (that’ll be me, then), rocket is the easiest, tastiest thing in the world to grow. Oh, and courgettes (that’s zucchini to you folk over there). Peas are fab, too, because they’re easy and kinda vertical, so you don’t need much space. There’s nothing nicer than wandering into the garden/allotment to collect what you need for dinner:-

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So with this luscious haul, I think it might just be time to get cooking. Do help yourself to some of that wine. This is going to be one of those dishes that just sort of designs itself as you cook it. Onions and garlic… (OK, I didn’t grow the garlic.)

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Some chicken. OK, I didn’t grow the chicken. Diced courgette.

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Oregano leaves from the garden.

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Shell those peas. Try not eat all of them before they hit the pot. Almost fail. Pop a few broad beans from the allotment in there, too, and hope nobody notices that this is the squillionth meal in a row with broad beans in it.

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Some wine. And some stock.

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And some luscious Pommery mustard.

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Puy lentils. You can’t go wrong with puy lentils. Well you probably can, if you serve them with chocolate or something, but in this type of dish, puy lentils are heaven.

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And right at the end, the rocket.

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Let’s have a stir…

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Bit of black pepper, and I reckon we’re done. Enjoy.

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Whaddya mean, you don’t like it?! Are you one of my sons or summat?

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