Friday, 28 February 2014

A double book review and a giveaway!

You can imagine my excitement the other day when not only one, but two review copies of new spinning books arrived at my house. As a keen hand spinner I am always pleased when new books are published to meet the needs of today's spinners and present the craft in a fresh and modern way without compromising on solid, traditional techniques.

The first is Yarn Works by W.J. Johnson, first published in the United States. According to her biography, 'W.J. Johnson has been a spinner and artist for more than thirty years. She is the founder of Saga Hill Design, a design business through which she produces her own dye line, creates designs and teaches fiber arts'. The book is presented in soft cover and has 192 pages, priced at £20.

The second is Spinning and Dyeing Yarn by Ashley Martineau. According to her biography, 'Ashley Martineau is a self taught yarn spinner based in Boston USA. As well as working full time in her fibre art studio, she is also the creative guru behind Neauveau Fiber Arts and . This book is published in hardback with 207 pages, priced at £25.

With both of these books under my arm I headed out to lunch with my friends Nic and Mary. both talented and experienced spinners who were only too delighted to offer their opinions.

The first thing to mention was that we all really liked both books but whilst they inevitably both covered some of the same ground, particularly on the technical side of things, their focus was very different. Yarn Works is very much geared towards the spinner who wants to make high quality, beautiful yarn to knit with. The step by step photographs of the various processes involved with producing yarn are clear and concise.

Spinning and Dyeing yarn is more about making beautiful yarn being an art in itself, encouraging the spinner to own the whole process from start to finish - even including instructions on building your own spindles and spinning wheel!

It also gives over several pages to celebrating the beauty of hand dyed fibre.

There are also clear instructions on how to create art yarns, once again with plenty of inspirational photography.

Yarn Works on the other hand is presented as a no nonsense, informative manual which ensures that every page is full of clear instructions, appropriately supported by technical photographs.

The major difference between Yarn Works and Spinning and Dyeing Yarn is that Yarn Works offers a set of simple knitting patterns specifically designed with the hand spinner in mind. I think that this is a particularly useful section as whilst there are countless knitting patterns on the market, it is sometimes difficult for the new spinner to approach adapting them for the yarn that they have spun themselves.

However, I couldn't resist adding another image to show the way that Spinning and Dyeing Yarn celebrates the intrinsic beauty of hand dyed and spun yarn.

In conclusion, all three of us would have no hesitation in recommending both books. If you are looking for a good, solid, sensible and well written manual that takes you from raw fibre to finished item then Yarn Works is for you. If, however, you are looking for inspiration to create yarns that are simply beautiful objects in their own right underpinned by good technical information then I would recommend Spinning and Dyeing Yarn.

I would have a hard job if I had to decide which one to part with but thanks to the generosity of Aurum Press I am delighted to say that I have a copy of each of these books to give away. Simply leave a comment on the blog saying which of these books would suit you best and why and we will have a draw for the lucky winner this time next week.

Images used with permission of Aurum Press.
Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of Yarn Works and Spinning and Dyeing Yarn  by Aurum Press.

Monday, 24 February 2014

A little of what you fancy....

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Unravel Fibre festival in the lovely but labyrinthine Farnham Maltings. This is quickly becoming one of my favourite fibre festivals as it brings together a number of exhibitors who are really doing a huge amount to produce yarns which really link the knitter to the whole process of creating yarn. Just as importantly they are producing yarns that are interesting and characterful which is a real breath of fresh air amongst the yards and yards of smooth, worsted spun  merino which have dominated the market for the last few years.

One of the producers which for the last three years has proved the highlight of my visit is The Little Grey Sheep, who sell beautiful yarns from their own flock of Gotland and Shetland sheep. I have to say that they continue to go from strength to strength; a fact which the contents of my shopping bag will confirm.

Lots of independent dyers are currently producing ranges of mini skeins for colour work and for me these have to be some of the best. I think the fact that the base yarn includes coloured fibres in it means that the shades are complex and sophisticated but still really easy to combine as they share a common undertone.

This is a set of the Stein lace which is actually a light 4ply weight with 85m per 20g skein. Stein sheep are a cross breed of Shetland and Gotland.

This is a set of pure Gotland skeins. It is a very lustrous yarn with more pronounced grey tones and less  'bounce' than the Shetland. 

I may only have come back from Unravel last night but I just couldn't help myself and needed to try out the Stein lace weight. I decided to knit a pair of mittens using my own Fairlee Mittens pattern as the thinking behind the pattern is for when you have fallen in love with a yarn of any weight. This pattern will work for any yarn from Chunky to sock weight and provides a simple framework within which the knitter can express his or her own creativity.

On this occasion I wanted to work some simple graduated colour blocks so I divided each skein into two balls and cast on. I noticed that there was more resistance when I came to break the yarn compared with a pure Shetland so am wondering if it will make the mittens more durable.

The yarn feels very light and airy to knit with but has enough of a halo to make a warm fabric despite its lightness. I wanted quite a close fitting mitten so I chose the small size sock weight version.

I had to show you the label as it really demonstrates how the whole process from sheep to yarn can now be done within the UK by small companies which I think is really encouraging.

Off to carry on knitting my mitten - I'm on the second colour now and am really excited to see how they turn out.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Secrets of the sock drawer

As someone who discovered the addictive skill of sock knitting some ten years ago you can imagine that despite giving many away I have a sizeable collection at my disposal. I have to admit to being an enthusiastic sock wearer. I tend to dress in quite neutral colours so hand knitted socks give me an opportunity to add a bright pop of colour to any outfit.

Mind you, the size of my collection can lead me to become rather slack in the regularity of my hand washing. I have posted pictures of my washing line full of socks before. I can reassure you that my habits have not changed.

This time, however I thought I would have a bit of a closer look at the collection. I washed over thirty pairs which, whilst not the entire sock drawer full, is a pretty representative sample.

First I looked at the colours. 

Five blue pairs

Two grey pairs

Four yellow and orange pairs.

Two red pairs

Five purple pairs

Three pink pairs

Three brown pairs

Five green pairs.

It would appear from my sock knitting habits that I really haven't met a colour I didn't like!

The collection is also divided pretty equally between vanilla socks and those with patterns, whether it be knit and purl combinations, cables, lace or colour work.

Overall I think my sock drawer speaks rather eloquently about why I continue to find knitting socks interesting and satisfying. They can be colourful, comforting, challenging, decorative but above all, warm and useful.

I'd love to see what's in your sock drawer.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Big sisters are allowed to brag

Especially when they are lucky enough to have very crafty younger sisters. I've been meaning to show you this since Christmas when my sister gave it to me. Ever since I can remember in our family we have been encouraged to make things. We were always surrounded with wool, needles, scissors, paints and pencils, worked our way through plasticine, Play Doh, pipe cleaners and glitter and never threw anything away in case it came in handy for some Blue Peter inspired crafting project.

As we've grown older we've continued to make things when we've had the time and my sister has specialised in making felt from discarded garments and turning them int really beautiful and useful things like this tea cosy. We both love exchanging hand made gifts at Christmas as they are so much more personal and truly one of a kind. This makes me particularly happy as it has been made with bits and pieces that might otherwise have been thrown away.

If you look very carefully you can see that the body of it was a cabled sweater in another life.

I love the simplicity of the design and how beautifully it has been stitched.

But most of all I am charmed by the button on the top!