Category Archives: Reviews

Wherein I test things out

Yarn Review: Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage

Here is a particularly timely yarn review. Did you know Shetland Wool Week is currently in progress? If ever Jamieson & Smith’s latest range deserved a closer look, it’s now!

Shetland Heritage is a true historical reproduction yarn, created after studying pieces of traditional 19th century fair isle knitting preserved in the Shetland Museum and Archives. How neat is that? I love my fair isle and I like a good lightweight yarn and I like nerding out about history a little so this yarn already sounded great to me as a concept. Then they had to go and make it available in this blue:

You can see the colour range here, and it is a well-chosen selection of 6 traditional colours, but oh my god that blue would not quit. If I review it then it doesn’t count as an impulse buy right?

So here are the facts. Shetland Heritage is a light fingering weight, or 3-ply equivalent ‘wursit’ spun wool, made from 100% Shetland sheep fleece (of course!). This hard to find weight of yarn is particularly important to vintage knitting fans, as every other jumper pattern up until the 1950s used it.You get 110m/120yds per 25g ball.  And the colours are brilliant. Particularly the blue.

This test swatch below uses ‘Indigo’ (the blue!), ‘Flugga White’ (natural cream) and ‘Auld Gold’ (yellow). I had some fun playing around with different needle sizes and patterns, but at some point I had to make myself stop. The gauge for the 3mm stockinette is 7 sts and 9 rws per sq inch, for the fair isle it is 8 sts and 9 rws and for the 2.75mm stockinette it is 8 sts and 10 rws per sq inch.

Shetland Heritage is smooth and very soft on the ball, but feels a little bit crisp running through your fingers. There is a distinct ‘bite’, although it’s so fine and light it’s not uncomfortable. Actually it’s almost necessary to remind yourself you have wool in your hands! I found it a bit hard to keep the stitches even on the plain 3mm section, but then I moved on to the colourwork. Close up time!

Stranded knitting is very enjoyable in this yarn! The smoothness gives it great stitch definition, and makes forming those stitches an absolute breeze. I thought 3mm might be too large, but the yarn sits neatly next to itself. It behaves so well, and it’s easy to unravel as a bonus. Moving on, I was determined to find a good needle size for stockinette stitch. 2.75mm was perfect.

It is a strange fact of wool that it softens considerably with repeated washing and this seems particularly true of Shetland wool. The completed swatch had a stiffness that disappeared after washing. I could happily wear this next to my skin without it itching, especially at the tighter gauges. (I should point out that I don’t have particularly sensitive skin. T does, and he concluded he would not) The drape on the fabric is fantastic at all points, even the tighter end of the square. This is really is the main physical property to keep in mind when considering what to knit with it. Drape, drape and more oh-so-soft drape! It’s not a particularly springy fabric although it resists distortion very well. There is less of that tendency to ‘bloom’ that other woollen yarns have. It very much feels like a piece of knitting, rather than a piece of fabric.

As for wear, it pills a little easier than I would’ve expected, but the stitch definition is extremely hard to muss up. Believe me, I tried!

May I take a little liberty with the descriptions? I would compare this yarn to very good dark chocolate – it’s intense and fine, soft and sharp at the same time. It’s a perfect yarn for vintage lovers. No more do you have to faff around trying to recalculate the gauge of that 1940s cardigan pattern! I’m genuinely looking forward to see what colourwork other knitters use it for. But I’d be just as happy with a fine expanse of that spectacular blue yarn! A vintage blouse on 2.75mm needles maybe?

You can buy Shetland Heritage directly from Jamieson & Smith here.

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More of my yarn reviews can be found here.

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Yarn Review: Erika Knight Vintage Wool

This review comes as the direct result of yarn envy.

For the last few weeks, Faye of Buttons and Beeswax has been bringing the prototype of her latest design along to our local Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group. It uses Erika Knight Vintage Wool and I have been shamelessly coveting the heck out of it.
Faye has very kindly given me some of her leftover yarn and now I am gonna review this delightful stuff!

Vintage Wool is Aran-weight, 100% British wool and is also spun in Yorkshire. It’s as British as a nice cup of tea and a sit-down. This wool is very soft and silky which makes it an instant winner, and  it’s quite loosely plied as well. The combination gives a result that I just love getting my fingers into (hence the coveting). I mean seriously, this yarn is freakin squooshy!

The colourway here, ‘Wisteria’ is a somewhat unusual lilac which I admit I struggled to photograph accurately. I’m not a fan of lilac, but it’s a surprisingly versatile shade; There’s a whole lot of  pink and grey undertones, which can be seen through the entire range, keeping it all nice and cohesive for colourwork.

I had absolutely no quibbles with Vintage Wool whilst swatching; it’s incredibly easy on the fingers because of how silky it is. No splitting either!

The swatch was knitted on the recommended 5mm needles.

Before washing

And after washing!

As you can see, it doesn’t relax a great deal after washing, but it does ‘bloom’ a little. I make the final gauge to be 18sts and 26 rows in a 4″ x 4″ square.

What fabric properties stand out? Well, this is a very soft, warm and drapey swatch, with only a little fuzzy halo. The stitches have blended together quite well after washing, but were quite easy to unravel prior to that.

Of course, I always make sure to do a thorough stress test of my swatches! I stretched it out with weights and gave it a whole load of friction to see how it wears…

One of the more notable characteristics is that the fabric seems to be quite inelastic for wool. It took a fairly long time to snap back after being pulled down by weights. A quick shake sorted it right out though, so no permanent distortion was caused.

My totally scientific friction test showed that Vintage Wool doesn’t actually pill very quickly, which is good. Obviously, it does eventually, as wool is wont to do, but for such a soft and loose yarn it’s quite tough.

It’s hardly original but I would use Vintage Wool for scarves and hats – I think it’s just the thing to wrap in large quantities around your face! It strikes me as very good for colourwork, in the way the stitches blend after washing. The thoughtfully planned colour range helps a great deal too. I can also picture making a giant cosy cardigan in Vintage Wool. Garments with negative ease may not work so well though, just because of that slight inelasticity.

All in all, I had a lot of fun playing with this stuff! Maybe I could squeeze a hat out of the rest of that yarn cake??

Erika Knight Vintage Wool is available in various online stores, such as:

Loop Knitting

Deramores

The Yarn Cafe

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More of my reviews can be found here.

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Yarn Review: Cornish Organic DK

I’m still checking up on my British Yarn Guide from time to time, adding new companies as I find them, but it’s a rather dangerous list to maintain. It causes me to buy more yarn.

Here is a lovely acquisition from Cornish Organic Wool I will be testing out for you today. This particular company does exactly what it says on the label. The wool is certified organic, and from Cornish farmers. I bought some because a) the colourways are right up my alley and b) I like the idea of knitwear that’s never been out of Southwest England at any point in it’s life.

The sheep breeds used are mostly Lleyn crosses and the exact origin of your wool is printed on each label. This particular skein comes from the Home Farm in Tetbury. That’s right – this is Duchy Original wool! I hope that makes a difference. Happy sheep certainly taste better but that’s neither here nor there is it?

Here it is knitted up on 3.75mm needles before blocking. I found it a perfectly pleasant knit. It’s not too ‘sticky’ as pure wool goes but I would recommend well-polished needles all the same.

Relaxes nicely after washing doesn’t it? I found my gauge of 22sts/ 4in made the fabric a bit too stiff for clothing, but I am hoping to make gloves with this yarn, and it feels pretty much ideal.

It also doesn’t distort significantly after stretching, nor pill easily. As I review more and more yarns I’m finding this to be a characteristic of a good pure wool. I’m sure more experienced knitters could have told me that but it’s nice to see it for yourself.

It’s softly textured and slightly uneven, which gives it this mushy, semi-felted appearance you can see in the pictures. It’s not felted at all though, I can assure you!
If I was to sum up this yarn I would describe it as ‘charmingly rustic’. Nice stuff!

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Book Review: 200 Fair Isle Motifs

Everyone loves a good stitch dictionary, and this is a good stitch dictionary.

200 Fair Isle Motifs

Over the last year I’ve done a whole lot of knitted colourwork and I’ve really grown to enjoy it. It’s like making clothes out of pixels! I think I enjoy it because it takes me back to my childhood days of making patterns in MS paint to tile over the background of Windows 93. Apologies to any old folk; that legitimately counts as nostalgia now!

Anyway I’ve been looking for something inspiring to put on the bookshelf. I picked 200 Fair Isle Motifs by Mary Jane Mucklestone. When I saw the awesome behind-the-scenes photos of this book on Kate Davies’ blog I was completely sold.

The patterns are ordered from the very simple to the extremely elaborate and every single one has been beautifully charted, swatched and photographed. Not only that but each motif comes with multiple colour scheme suggestions and the occasional tip for combining motifs together. Some larger motifs have expanded chart variations that allow them to be tiled over an entire jumper.

200 Fair Isle Motifs inside

Now I have seen decidedly less impressive stitch dictionaries where a mere colour variation counts as a whole new stitch design, seemingly just to bump the numbers up. But in this case, 200 motifs means 200. And then some!

At the start of the book is a good and broad overview of Fair Isle. The virtues of Shetland wool are thoroughly extolled and various techniques (e.g. holding the yarns, steeking) are shown with good clear photographs. There is also a section on colour theory for the uninitiated and tips for applying these patterns to jumpers.

200 Fair Isle Motifs is aimed squarely at the intermediate knitter; the aforementioned overview is certainly well laid out and nicely written, but it doesn’t coddle you. That’s not a criticism from me though. Technique is not the focus of this book, nor should it be.

The focus is all on the miles and miles of pretty knitting.

If you’re already confident enough in your knitting skills to apply patterns and stitches onto otherwise blank projects this book is well worth a look. It may not be the be-all and end-all of Fair Isle but it’s a an absolute well-spring of ideas.

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Yarn Review: Knitshop Mercerized Cotton 4-ply

The second of two yarn reviews…

This week I have knitted up Knitshop Mercerized Cotton 4-ply. Mercerized cotton isn’t a material I’ve used before, quite honestly. Cotton in general is touted as more suitable for crochet, especially lighter weights. Maybe one day if I get into crochet I will pay attention to that convention. For now, let us knit!

Needle size: 3mm

I assumed this was going to be a slippery pain in the butt to knit up but in the end only the first few rows were fiddly. I think this swatch came out pretty neat!

Knitshop Mercerized Cotton 4-ply

The colourway here is ‘Oyster’. The fabric is rather smooth and not particularly soft or drapey. Less than I was expecting anyway. Maybe some washing would sort that out?

…not really! There’s little change after washing as you can see. It was certainly easy to block into shape though. 28 sts and 36 rws to a 4″ square.

Note: This swatch took forever to dry!

Mercerized cotton is super-tough and does not fuzz up much at all so there’s no need to worry about loss of stitch definition over time. However, I found it very easy to distort. This is one of those cotton yarns that just stays where you put it, even once it’s dried.

I also get the impression that the recommended needle size of 3mm might not be the best for knitwear. If it was at a larger gauge it might hang better and the lack of elasticity might not be so noticable.

Knitshop cotton comes in some really nice colours (lots of jewel tones) so I’d like to say if you were going to knit with this stuff, it would be ideal for glamorous fitted summery tops. It’s shine would also make for some spectacular lace – maybe something like this pattern?

Previous Yarn Reviews:

Excelana 4-ply
Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK
Rowan Kid Classic

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Yarn Review: Excelana 4-ply

A while back I got some little sample skeins of yarn with my pre-ordered copy of A Stitch in Time Vol. 2. I think it’s about time to review them!

This is Excelana 4-ply, a reproduction ‘vintage’ yarn brand owned by Susan Crawford, which complements the many, many reproduced vintage knitting patterns she has under her belt.

Excelana

It is 100% British wool, spun from the fleece of the Exmoor Blueface, which is a cross between the Exmoor Horn and the Bluefaced Leicester. It’s extremely soft and light for pure wool and it has a slightly silky sheen to boot. The long fibres make it smooth and also very tough; almost impossible to break with bare hands.  If I didn’t know better I would assume some fancier fibres had been mixed in. Also, it smells pleasingly sheepy!

I knitted it up on the recommended 3mm needles. Excelana behaved itself very well during the knitting. It sticks to itself like most pure wools, but it’s smoothness makes it flow off the fingers nicely. Having recently done a whole lot of knitting with Shetland wool, I quickly noticed how warm Excelana is by comparison. The resulting fabric is quite plump at a gauge of 28st/36rws per 4in. A pretty versatile thickness; something for both spring and autumn and indoor winterwear.

Here’s the swatch before and after blocking. Quite a difference isn’t it? That ‘before’ picture was the flattest I could get it to lie!

Washing it actually changed the feel of fabric quite a lot. The wool bloomed and didn’t form a ‘halo’ so much as a ‘protective mesh’. I suppose this is down to the long fibres again. The fabric stayed soft, but took on a faintly steely quality.  As you can see the washing also did nothing to reduce the silky sheen or the crisp stitch definition.

Now I like to put my yarns through a stress test as well and this is where Excelana showed it’s more interesting qualities. You can stretch this stuff to hell and back! I hung 400g (a full jumper’s worth of wool) off the square overnight and it snapped back to it’s original gauge with a quick shake. I’ve distorted it every whichway and have nothing to show for it.

The stretchiness is part of what makes it ‘vintage’. Most older patterns rely on negative ease to shape jumpers – think the clingy sweaters of the 50s – so of course you would need a wool that holds it’s shape.

I tested for pilling as well.  Excelana does not pill easily, but the surface fuzz did start to roll up after a judicious application of friction. The stitches themselves however, remained untouched. So, nothing you couldn’t fix with a razor.

Excelana, in conclusion, is soft and delicate with an iron constitution. As well as vintage jumpers I think this would be great for winter gloves. I’m quite certain anything you made with it would last and last, in the true spirit of bygone days when that’s what clothes were supposed to do.

I should note here that I also own some Excelana in ‘Ruby Red’; the dyeing process produces a slightly harsher wool. It’s still perfectly nice mind you, but the difference is there.

Of course, I got two samples in the post so look out for the second yarn review soon!

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Book Review: A Stitch In Time Vol. 2

It’s arrived! The mightiest tome of vintage knitting patterns to date! Like just about every other knitter with a taste for vintage clothing, I’ve been looking forward with great anticipation to A Stitch In Time Vol. 2 by Susan Crawford and Jane Waller. It’s been a long time in the making but that time was well spent. This book is huge! It’s like a door!

A Stitch in Time Vol. 2

Why yes, I did rip it open immediately!

The binding and print quality of is fantastic – filled with thick matte pages. Oh and just look at the cloth cover hiding under the dust jacket!

A Stitch in Time Vol.2 cover

Beautiful!

That spine looks good and strong too; a very important quality in a book that’s going to be propped open relentlessly by readers everywhere…

A Stitch in Time Vol.2 side

Count those pages!

Because I pre-ordered my copy I also got this lovely little pack of goodies:

ASIT 2 preorder pack

From right to left: Excelana 4-ply, Knitshop Cotton 4-ply, discount vouchers for both of those yarns and one handy project bag (just what I needed!).

I might just test out those sample skeins at some point, but those are posts for another day.

Vol. 2 contains a grand total of 80 patterns and every single one has been re-made and given the lush photography treatment that made the last book so unique! The patterns are all knitted (though some have a little crochet finishing). Apparently there are plans for a dedicated crochet volume some time in the future, so there’s that to look forward to if you’re into that kind of thing. You can see the patterns here and also on Ravelry for yourself (although they won’t all be up straight away).

Ranging from 1930-59, the patterns are divided by decade, with a little detail on the decade’s fashions before each one. The patterns include all sorts, from classic cardigans and blouses to fezzes and shawls. I’m also pleased to see a couple of items that make up in historical value what they lack in practicality!

Each pattern includes both the original and a modern, multi-size reproduction for you to take your pick from. I always enjoy reading old pattern descriptions because you just don’t see phrases like “the most fascinating collar!” and “just so appropriate for summer!” anymore.

On the technical side of things, the modern patterns get an A+. All lace, cabling and colourwork has been fully charted. Even the schematics are a cut above the usual standard. How many modern patterns give you the underarm-to-waist measurement? That stuff matters when you’re trying to get that perfect vintage fit that hits you right on the narrowest part of your waist.

On top of that, an incredible amount of re-sizing has been done. There’s a good range of sizes on offer, typically 32″ – 46″ bust size, although not all patterns have the same range. This is because some items are clearly grading nightmares, but wow, they got recalculated and put in anyway. I can’t begin to imagine the determination you’d need to edit some of the (decidedly gorgeous) lace patterns in there! Susan’s blog has some more detail on the pattern resizing process (and limits) which is an interesting background read.

But what really jumped out and impressed me was the opening sections of the book: An in-depth guide to the intricacies of knitting vintage patterns. There are photoguides to proper finishing, tips on adjusting patterns to fit your own body better, even how to pick authentic looking buttons! No basic ‘learn-to-knit’ instructions here, there’s advanced tips on swatching and grading too. Yet it’s laid out clearly enough that the book could make vintage knitters of us all.

A Stitch In Time 2 tips

Just a hint of what you get here!

Now for the really important issue: What am I going to knit from this book?

Well for starters I’ve had my eye on this fine gauge ‘Blouse with Gathered Neckline’ ever since I saw previews of it. All it takes is 100g of cobweb lace yarn! I have some lovely stuff from Old Maiden Aunt set aside especially.

A Stitch In Time Vol.2

I wasn’t struck by the ‘Golden Eagle Ladies Jumper’ much at first but the more I look at it I think “Hmmm…maybe if it was monochrome…and the bows were moved around…oh hey, I could totally wear that!”

A Stitch in Time Golden Eagle

And I’ll keep the modern version of this ‘Star Time Dressy Top’ a secret for now…but suffice to say this is exactly everything I love about 1950s eveningwear concentrated into one top. So pretty!

ASIT2 Star Time Dressy Top

Others I’ve already put on the maybe list: ‘One never tires of ribbing’, ‘Warm Jacket with unusual bobble-stitch yoke’, ‘Trimmed with Roses jumper’, ‘Victory Cardigan’, ‘Middy Jacket’,’So Neat and Sweet’…oh let’s just say 50% of the patterns and at leave it at that shall we?

If it isn’t obvious, I’m kind of in love with the book! So many thoughtful details have come together here, both asthetically and technically, that the end product is an absolute treasure. This really was worth the wait! You’ve never seen a knitting book quite like this before, I guarantee you.  I kinda hope this volume does well enough to justify giving Vol.1 the same binding treatment. Can you imagine how gorgeous two cloth hardbacks would look side-by-side on your bookshelf?

A Stitch In Time, Volumes 1 and 2 are available to buy here.

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