Tag Archives: susan crawford

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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