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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: 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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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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Yarn Review: Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK

Yarn reviewing time! Today I am putting Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK though the gauntlet:

Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK

You’ll be pleased to know that the yarn does in fact live up to its name. It’s very nice to handle and very drapey. That’s good because false advertising is an awful awful thing.

The swatch is knitted on 4mm needles. I know I went on about the importance of a garter stitch border in the last review but I’ve left it off on one edge so I can actually see how much rolling and stretching the yarn edge is subject to. I’ve not used a lot of cotton so its properties are a bit more of a mystery to me than all the animal fuzz I own. You can see it’s rolling a bit, but it’s not been blocked yet.

Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK Swatch

Knitting with it is pretty easy on standard plastic-coated metal needles. It’s a very loosely spun yarn so it requires blunt tips and a little bit of grip on the needles or you’re going to end up with stray loops of thread all over the place. I certainly wouldn’t go for anything rougher because it’s also a heavy yarn and that would be too much like hard work on the hands.

As a general rule, I will choose the needles that allow me to bust out the stockinette and still pay attention to some particularly tense televisual entertainment, like The Wire or early X-files (Oh Mulder! Can’t you see that getting too close to the truth only gets you punched in the face??).

But I digress. The yarn label states that it is machine washable at 40°C and it holds up well. Before washing the stitch gauge was 5.5 sts/7.25rws per inch. Then it stretched out to 5.7sts/8rws per inch…and after hanging the swatch up for a day, it sagged back to the pre-washing gauge. So I guess the lesson is, any horizontal blocking cancels out when you wear anything made from this?

So here is the swatch after getting good and busted up. It’s eeeeeeeever so slightly faded and it’s not rolling quite so much at the plain edge. Those loose ends got tatty quickly though, so I’ll be joining any ends with a decent Russian join.

Oh and here’s a closeup of the pilling…

I gave it a good ruffling and it wound up looking worn pretty quickly. I’m not sure how well the photos show this, but it seems like a yarn that isn’t going to stay pristine for long. Certainly not something to make clothes out of unless you aren’t bothered about stitch definition.

My verdict: Soft and casual-looking yarn that would be best for drapey clothing. Absolutely no point making anything hard-wearing like a bag out of this, but I am planning a nice T-shirt with it.

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