Friday, 12 October 2018

Fibre Focus: Alpaca

Alpaca fibre comes from alpacas, which are closely related to, but distinct from, llamas. They are adorably fluffy creatures native to South America, and have also been known to thrive in the Scottish climate! The yarn produced from these fibres is well known for its softness and its excellent warmth.

Alpaca fibre naturally contains two types of hair: the softer, shorter undercoat hair, and the longer, scratchier guard hairs. Usually, the guard hairs are removed during the spinning process but sometimes a few can slip through and give the yarn a prickly feel. If you find any of these while you’re working with the yarn, you can just pull them out and carry on!

Most alpaca yarns have a lovely drape to them, but no natural stretch. This means that they will produce a beautifully floppy, slightly heavy fabric perfect for loose fitting garments, scarves, blankets etc. The flip side of this, however, is that these same yarns often lack the elasticity required for items which are mostly ribbed, or which need to stay upright e.g. socks, skirts or the dreaded 2x2 ribbed boob tube. To introduce a greater measure of elasticity, some alpaca yarns have a chainette construction, which makes them more stretchy. Similarly, Rowan Alpaca Soft is blended with wool, which gives the yarn more bounce and makes it suitable for a huge range of projects.

Here are some of our favourite alpaca and alpaca-blend yarns:

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Fibre Focus: Merino

Merino is one of the most popular fibres on the market right now, and it’s not hard to see why. Here’s the super fine lowdown on this soft wool:

Merino comes from merino sheep, like the little guy pictured above. The fibre is graded according to how fine its diameter is, using a measurement called micron (or micrometer). The finest fibres have the lowest micron value. Once the fibre has been spun into yarn, the micron value determines whether the yarn should be classed as fine, extra fine or super fine. Super fine merino contains the finest fibres and will usually feel the softest next to your skin. This can sometimes cause a bit of confusion, as ‘extra fine’ merino could be 4 ply, DK, aran or chunky - the name is no indication of the yarn weight!

Merino is an incredibly soft fibre, which does mean that it is not the most hard-wearing. For items that are going to see a lot of use, such as socks or bags, this fibre will start to show the wear, so it may be best to go for a merino blend, or perhaps a different fibre altogether.

On the other hand, merino has a light and bouncy quality to it, and can be great for people who find other types of wool too rough. Most of our merino yarns have also been treated so that they are machine washable, so they are also an easy-care wool option. This means they are great for baby items, or items worn next to the skin, like luxurious scarves and cuddly snoods.

Here are some of our favourite merino yarns:

Friday, 18 May 2018

Squill Stole by Heather Peterson

Squill Stole by Heather Peterson. Photo by Knit Now magazine

In January, I posted about a 1 ply lace project I was working on, and now I can finally reveal what it was: my first published design is appearing in print this month! My Squill Stole is featured in Issue 88 of Knit Now Magazine, so I thought I’d share the story behind this design.

St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland
Squill Stole photograph from Knit Now magazine

I’m getting married this summer, and I knew I wanted to wear something I’d knitted myself (and I thought, “well, if I’m going to knit it, I may as well design it myself… and if I’m going to design it, I could look into getting it published…”) and that really gave me the motivation to get cracking on the project.

Eshaness cliffs, Shetland
My dad is from Shetland, and our family has always had a lot of strong ties to the islands. We would spend summer holidays adventuring with our cousins, visiting our grandparents, aunties, uncles and listening to my dad’s stories of growing up helping on neighbouring crofts and experiencing snow in every month of the year (not all in the same year, mind you). My grandma was also an amazing Shetland knitter, so I knew I wanted a design with a Shetland connection.

Shetland ponies are found all over the islands. This little guy was near the Cake Fridge, an unstaffed fridge full of home baking with an honesty box
The motifs I picked, therefore, are fairly traditional patterns found in Shetland lace designs. I chose, however, to work them in stocking stitch rather than the more conventional garter stitch. Squill is knitted in 1 ply cobweb weight yarn, so Jamieson & Smith Shetland 1 Ply Cobweb weight was a natural choice. Despite being pure wool, the knitted fabric is ultra lightweight, so hopefully it will not be too hot for a July wedding!

Squill Flower
The name Squill comes from a wildflower of the same name, which is native to Shetland. Knit Now magazine is available in the UK from Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda and Morrison's. Issue 88 is on sale from 17 May 2018.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Yarns We Love: Wendy Traditional Aran

Back in March I got received an unusual knitting commission from a friend who is one of the Beltane Fire Society performers. The conversation went something along these lines:

 “Would you be willing to make part of a costume for me? I need some really warm leg and wrist warmers.”
“Of course. Did you have any particular ideas in mind about the design?”
“Yes - I like the idea of the warmers being cabled or having some kind of repeating leaf motif.”
“Okay, that’s no problem to design. We’ll need a fairly thick yarn for warmth, and something that will have good stitch definition - that shouldn’t be too tricky to find. Anything else?”
“Yep, there is one last thing I should mention: the yarn we choose will need to be flame-retardant. I’m part of the fire-spinning group at Beltane this year…”

And it was thus that I discovered Wendy Traditional Aran.

Wendy Traditional Aran’s 100% wool content makes it extra cosy (and fire resistant!) and gives it a rustic feel, so it was perfect for creating Celtic-inspired warmers for Beltane. The traditionally spun fibres gave excellent stitch definition, making it the perfect yarn for cabling: I can certainly see why it’s popular with our customers who make traditional cabled jumpers. I opted for the natural, undyed shade to match the rest of Hannah’s Beltane costume, but the wool also comes in a fantastic range of classic, tweedy colours to suit almost any project.

I used 4.5mm Symfonie DPNs for both of these projects: the laminated coating on the needles helped me to knit much faster than normal.
It was lovely stuff to knit with: some 100% wool yarns can be a little brittle and prone to snapping but Wendy Traditional had none of these problems and knitted up wonderfully quickly*. Better still, this yarn is incredibly good value for a 500g ball of 100% wool and it had a good meterage: as a result, I’ve got plenty left over for starting another project and so I’m wondering whether to cast on the lovely cabled cardigan from pattern 5863 or the simple raglan from 5199. It’s also a great wool for felting projects…

Have you knitted with this wonderful wool before? Here in the Edinburgh shop we love to see the different ways in which yarn bought from us is used, so please do get in touch with pictures of your finished or work-in-progress Wendy Traditional Aran projects!

*Which is lucky because I accidentally made two left-handed wrist-warmers rather than a pair and ended up having to make the right-handed one in just one evening - oops!

Post by Emily

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Lace Knitting

1ply Cobweb Yarn

This month, I’ve been working flat out on a 1 ply lace shawl (using beautiful 1 ply cobweb lace yarn from Jamieson & Smith, very similar to the 1 Ply Cobweb Weight), so I thought I’d share some of my top tips for lace knitting on the blog.

Metal tipped needles like Zing or Karbonz are best

When working with fine yarns, knitting needles with sharp points will be much easier to insert into the delicate stitches. I started out with KnitPro Zings, but have switched to Karbonz as they have a pointier tip. While there is a join between the metal tips and the carbon fibre shaft of these needles, I’ve not had any issues with the yarn snagging or getting caught. If you think that could be a problem for you, the Zings might be a better option. I’ve avoided wooden needles as they tend to be a bit blunter and can wear down slightly over time. With yarn that’s 4 ply weight or heavier, that wouldn’t be a problem, but with these tiny stitches I wanted the smoothest, most slippery needles I could get.

Stitch markers (specifically the Clover Locking Stitch Markers) have been invaluable. By placing a marker between each repeat across the row, they act as a handy checkpoint for making sure that everything is coming out right. If I get to a marker one stitch too early or too late, I can isolate the problem to that section within the row, which makes troubleshooting a lot easier! The locking markers are more useful than the closed ring ones as they can be unclipped and repositioned if I merrily knit right over them, and there is no risk of them working themselves loose and making a bid for freedom (as has been known to happen with split ring markers…).

Finding the right tension for lacework has taken a little bit of practice. My initial feeling was that I wanted to keep it loose so that I didn’t risk snapping the ultra fine yarn. I also wanted to maintain an even look to my knitting, avoiding big sloppy stitches. I’ve settled on a tension I feel happy with and I find that after a row or so, I can really pick up the pace and get a good rhythm going. It’s a little looser than I would normally knit (which makes p3tog or p2togtbl a LOT easier), but not so loose that I have to knit in slow motion to achieve it.

Finally, please do take the time to block/dress your lacework after you’ve cast it off! It will make your knitting lie beautifully flat, and will open up all the lacework to show off your knitting at its best.