For my sister Cathy's Christmas present this year, I wanted a project that I knew would not only be lovely, but practical, as well. I got a late start, so I needed a bulky yarn for quick knitting, giving me the excuse to splurge a bit and work with Rowan's Colourscape Chunky, a gorgeous single ply of pure, perfect lambswool. I am a fool over about anything baby but especially baby fiber, and it is not often that I happen across 100% lambswool! After checking out the patterns for this fabulous yarn at www.knitrowan.com, I decided on Solace, a design from the Colourscape Chunky Collection pattern book by Sarah Hatton. This casual cardigan is an easy knit and shows off the gorgeous long stripes of color in this yarn. The half sleeve sweater will easily slip over Cathy's scrubs, keeping her warm in the chilly recovery room where she works and without encumbering her as she tends to her patients. All of the colorways of Colourscape Chunky are quite appealing, but I chose the Cloud colorway (a blending of greens, pinks, periwinkle, gray, and lavender), knowing it will look great with most of Sissie's work scrubs.
Cathy's sweater in Rowan Colourscape Chunky
Before I knit Solace, I read through the details in the pattern book, describing how this artisanal yarn is produced. An understanding of the unusual process by which this yarn is milled, greatly enhanced my knitting experience. Kaffe Fassett, a renowned color expert - or "colour" as they spell it across the pond - lovingly describes how the lambswool fiber is first dyed, then added in measured (by weight) amounts to a carder, producing roving in a set progression of colors. This roving is then spun into Rowan Colourscape Chunky. This process is time consuming and each machine can only produce 300 kilos of yarn in a week, reflected in the price tag. At $24/hank, it is the most expensive 100% wool yarn at Rare Purls, but I have to say that this uniquely dyed, lofty lambswool is worth it. It offers the experience of knitting with a piece of fiber art!
Colourscape Chunky - Cloud colorway
Truly, I cannot remember enjoying a yarn quite this much in some time. First, it is soft in a fluffy way. On my # 10.5 US Addis, the rows of stockinette flew off my needles so easily, I did not even have to look at my stitches most of the time. Yes, occasionally where two colors joined in the progression, the ply tried to split a bit, but once noted, I made sure to cleanly catch the strand and had no further issue. The single ply at times varied in weight from one color to another, kind of like my attempts at hand spun. In one particular hank, a section of lavender skinnied down to worsted weight for yards, causing a slight difference in the look of my field of stockinette. At first, I considered cutting out that section of the skein, but that would have upset the color progression and it really was just a part of this yarn's character. I decided to judge this yarn like my hand spun and allow for some variation in the ply, for overall, it is a lovely yarn. The colors are magnificent and the way they progress, exciting. As I worked the rows of stockinette, there was an idyllic picture of gnome like workers in my head, adding fluffy batches of colorful fiber into an old fashioned carder. I was in a happy place.
The back yoke of Solace
Although I am looking forward to using this yarn again soon, it is worth noting that Rowan Colourscape Chunky requires a gentle hand. I don't know if it is a short staple length or the mere hint of twist in the fiber, but you will not need scissors to work with this yarn. It easily pulls apart with a soft tug. This is not a flaw in the yarn and is inherent to the composition. This soft, lofty composition is one reason why the 100 gram hanks of bulky wool each have a generous 175 yards. (A 4 ply wool yarn of the same gauge has only approx. 120 yards.) It only took 5 hanks to knit Cathy's cardigan.
Melissa, Park Cafe's sweetest server, models Solace
If you look through the Rowan patterns for Colourscape Chunky, you will notice that the projects are fairly simple, using few pieces and basic stitches. I applaud that in her designs, Sarah Hatton, the designer of this collection of patterns, allowed the yarn to be the star of the show. The fashionable pieces are very wearable and the colors are show stopping. Her Cora, a free pattern from www.knitRowan.com , consists of one huge cable repeated the length of the scarf, another example of this incredible yarn standing out front and center in a design. We chose Cora as the sample knit for display at Rare Purls, as it illustrates the beauty of this yarn perfectly in an impressive two hank design.
Our friend Melissa sports Cora
As for my sister's reaction to her sweater, she loved it! Cathy immediately noticed that her new sweater would match her scrubs and the fit was great. I always love how she reacts to her hand knit gifts, for as a crafty gal herself, she knows the love and effort that goes into them. She even said the gals would be jealous, which made this sassy sister smile
Copyright Jan. 2011
This last October, my eldest son, Will, and his beautiful bride, Vanessa, tied the knot. For the blessed occasion, I had several projects on my needles that needed to be finished by the big day. After all, our family owns and operates a specialty yarn shop, so I was doing my best to make hand knits a part of the blessed event. As the newlyweds were honeymooning in London with a side trip to hike in Scotland, I knew they could both use a warm hat. Great Britain is cold and rainy in mid October and this couple resides in sunny Southern California. I decided to design a hat for each newlywed and name the pattern to honor their U.K excursion - the Honeymoon Hiker Hats.
The happy couple in Scotland
Both Will and Vanessa usually opt for classic fashions that are tailored and practical, so with that in mind, I pulled out my sketch pad. I wanted the "for her" version to frame Vanessa's classically beautiful face in a simple, non-fussy, ivory lace. As my Will is a no frills sort, I decided to knit his hat in "blue jeans" blue, with the only similarity between the two hats being the choice of yarn, Calm Wool from Elsebeth Lavold's Designer Collection. The wool/alpaca/camel blend yarn is packed with luxury. If merino is butter, this aran weight, 3 ply blend of fibers is thick cream, rich and yummy! Dense but with a nice hand, this heavenly yarn quickly knits into plump stitches with great definition. (For more information on this specialty yarn, see the Kay's Korner archives for my previous post "Excited About Calm Wool.")
The handsome blue "for him" version starts with a twisted rib band that changes to rows of garter rib before decreasing to the crown. Yes, Will appreciates simplicity and this design fits the bill. That their honeymoon photos show that he wore the hat often (as captured in some great photos from Scotland,) I know that it was comfy, warm, and appreciated.
Will in his Honeymoon Hiker Hat
The "for her" version of the Honeymoon Hiker Hat is knit in a lovely winter white. The camel and alpaca softly halo on the openwork band. Stitches are picked up from the Old Shale lace band to form the crown of this lovely, yet practical hat. Vanessa actually preferred the nonpublic side of the design which shows reverse stockinette with the edge rolling outward. As you can see in the photos, this is a very nice look, as well. The lace band of the "for her" hat serendipitously inspired a Honeymoon Hiker Headband - a design two for!
Vanessa sporting the nonpublic side of her hat
Old Shale lace band that inspired a second project
The final wedding project was a shrug for my sister, Cathy. Her birthday was the day before the wedding and I always like to give her a special hand knit gift for the occasion. That she needed a black shrug to wear at the wedding, took any guess work out of what to knit. Her wedding outfit, a sleeveless Oscar de la Renta dress, needed a topper for the upcoming cool, fall evenings. As I did not think I had enough time to both design and knit a shrug, I sent Cathy several options from Ravelry that I thought met her parameters - cropped to just above her natural waist, half sleeves, and with a 2 inch gap between the front pieces. We decided on Kaya Cropped Shrug by Dawn Leeseman, a popular project among the gals in our Friday Knit Night group. A great basic piece, I knew the top down, seamless, raglan design would work up quickly on #11 needles, a must if I was to meet the wedding day deadline.
Kaya shrug on needles
After swatching a few yarns, I again decided on Lavold's Calm Wool. The gauge was spot on and from earlier projects, I knew it would knit up beautifully. Cathy, though a good seamstress, is not a knitter, evident in her request that the shrug be worked in black yarn, a color that many stitchers avoid. To aid my aging eyes, I utilized the trick of keeping a white background on my lap while knitting, making it easier to see my stitches in the black yarn.
A white background enhances the black stitches
Also, I was fortunate that the project was knit primarily in good ol' stockinette, a stitch pattern I can pull off with my eyes closed. The top down design was easy peasy and worked up with no problems. The simple construction made it a snap to add some inches to the sleeves and body length, as requested. I finished the shrug just a few days before the wedding, handing it over to my sister only one day prior. Happily, the fit was great and Cathy looked lovely in her wedding ensemble! Her choice of black did amp up the formality of the hand knit and I overheard her getting several compliments on her outfit. (Of course, my far more fit sister always looks great, even in her scrubs at work.) We all had a fabulous time in Savannah and thanks to my friend Randie, have some great photos to help us remember the happy event.
Cathy, Luke, and Mum in wedding attire
To see details on the Kaya Shrug, go to RarePurls profile on ravelry.com. The patterns for Honeymoon Hiker Hats and Headband will soon be available on Ravelry.
Copyright Nov. 2011
For over 20 years, my family lived on a small farm in rural Georgia and although I loved country life, there were some drawbacks. Where most of my neighbors complained that there was no mall in our county, what I missed most were the specialty yarn and fabric shops that I had so enjoyed while living in Atlanta. Sure, we had two feed stores not 15 minutes away, but I had to drive about 60 miles to get to my local yarn shop (LYS). As LYS visits were few and far between, knitting magazines were my connection to new yarns and designs. I would spend hours combing through the pages of patterns and photos, gleaning for projects. A few LYS owners, happy to take phone orders and ship my project materials, kept my knitting needles busy turning out my favorite projects - sweaters and hats.
Although eventually we did get a big box craft store in the area, visits there were most often disappointing. In their aisles, I never found the specialty yarns and notions that were advertised in my favorite knitting magazines and the yarns they did stock had little variety. So many of the craft store yarns were cheaply produced synthetics, most often acrylics. I disliked the flat, vat dyed colors and the squeaky feel of the acrylic plies. The yarns reminded me of double knit pantsuits and this gal has always preferred natural fibers.
These days, I still love my knitting magazines and luxury fibers, but rather than raising kids and feeding horses, I teach people knitting and crochet. I also help Luke decide which yarns will fill the shelves at Rare Purls. With the current economy, many crafters (including me!) are having to deal with a smaller budget. With this in mind, Luke and I decided to take a second look at some of the more affordable synthetic and synthetic blend yarns offered by our suppliers.
Through advances in technology, synthetic fiber yarns have come a long way. Though the crunchy, orlon acrylic yarns of the 70's were a far cry from a nice wool, now many of the man made fibers are more finely spun, producing a much softer yarn. Other technological improvements are the methods used for dying. In the early '70's, a gadget was invented to apply different colors of dye to the yarn in sections, giving us the wildly popular variegated yarns. These allowed knitters to make projects with multiple colors, without the work of fair isle, intarsia, and striping techniques. Now, new technology has taken us beyond simple variegated yarns! There is computer assisted machinery at many mills that can space dye yarns to self stripe, mimic fair isle, pattern, and blend colors in many new and interesting combinations. Even the look of a luxury hand painted hank can be approximated in a modern yarn mill and for a fraction of the cost.
Even with better synthetic yarns available, there are still considerations when choosing them. First, acrylic fibers are manufactured, usually in Turkey, from fossil fuel. They are highly flammable and when ignited, give off noxious fumes that are suspected of being carcinogenic. For that reason, they would not be my choice for infant's and children's sleepwear or bedding. Even the yarns that are treated with flame retardants concern me. Will multiple washes take away the effectiveness of the retardant? I simply cannot say and there are certainly more prudent choices out there. Another issue with acrylic yarns is pilling. Pilling is those little balls of fiber that accumulate on knit and woven fabrics. It is caused by abrasion, either through wear or laundering. Acrylic yarns are often utilized for easy care projects, those destined for the washing machine and dryer. The agitation, along with the company of towels and jeans in a washer, delivers a load of abrasion which causes pilling. I have found that my acrylic projects pill less when I hand wash them, then dry flat. If you do add your washable hand knits to a load, placing them in a zippered nylon bag will cut down on pilling.
As for how our customers like the new synthetic yarns, they are buying them, especially for charity projects and easy care gifts. Our best selling 100% acrylic yarn is Marble Chunky, distributed by SMC, previously Kertzer Yarns. The fibers are spun lofty to incorporate trapped air and the result is a nice, economical, bulky yarn with great yardage. The two marled plies work up into a lovely self striping colorway, giving garments and accessories interest with ease. The huge 341 yard skeins are only $13.98
Another 100% synthetic yarn that is getting good reviews is Fusion, a soft chenille, multicolor yarn with cheery colorways. The colors are eye catching and the knit fabric soft and fuzzy. The huge 200 gram skeins have a whopping 306 yards, keeping project costs for bulky garments to a minimum.
Of the new budget yarns we have stocked, my favorites are those that have a healthy portion of wool in the blend. The crimp and elasticity of wool, a protein fiber, combines with the easy care and economy of acrylic to make some very nice yarns. SMC Tweed Montage, an acrylic/wool blend yarn, delivers several desirable characteristics. The wool component supplies a hand more comparable to the animal fiber yarns we love. With long repeats of color and classic tweed flecks, this yarn quickly knits into attractive garments and accessories. My favorite yarn rep. gave us a free patten for a darling, self tie wrap that quickly knits up in the bulky acrylic/wool blend. I enjoyed the knitting, as have many of our customers. The wrap takes only 2 of the 247 yard skeins for a project cost of less than $32.
Another winner is Monsoon, a James C. Brett 70%acrylic/30% wool blend yarn, also distributed by SMC. The gorgeous, soft yarn is dyed in long stripes of saturated colorways, reminiscent of Noro's widely popular luxury yarns, but without the price tag. Woodlander DK, another wool/acrylic blend from James C. Brett, has more subtle colorways. The feel of this yarn is yummy and the color shading is perfect for classic vests and pullovers. SMC also offers an exciting collection of patterns that includes all of these yarns, single patterns starting as low as $3.25.
Bottom line, though I still choose natural fibers for small projects, I can see how the new wool/synthetic blends are good options for quick bulky sweaters and easy care throws. They keep the project cost low, so often a consideration these days, while offering a machine washable garment or home decor item. These yarns are also a good choice for charity knitting and gift knits when project cost is a factor. With more of our dollars going towards everything from gasoline to food, it is nice to know that when it comes to yarn, there are many economical options that are still a pleasure to knit and gift.
Copyright October 2011
This year's yarn shop hop is in full swing! Atlanta's knitters, crocheters, and weavers are turning out in car loads, trying to hit all nine of the participating shops in the allotted nine days. The crafters, many sporting gorgeous scarves and hand made bags, use this opportunity to visit the various shops in the Metro Atlanta area. There is ample motivation to hit every shop - a grand prize of $900 in gift certificates! But even if only one yarn shop is visited, when a customer turns in their stamped shop hop pass, they have a chance to win one of the many other prizes valued between $40 - $125. Each shop offers the hoppers a free original pattern with their $10 purchase, a purchase which qualifies them for that shop's stamp. The more stamps a shopper collects means a better chance at winning a prize. The prizes are awarded by a drawing the week after the shop hop. The winners are then notified of their good fortune.
This hopper stocked up on great new yarns
for several scarves and cowls
Sure, the prizes are awesome and plentiful, but there are no losers. There are other reasons to join the shop hop. The yarn shops get ready for this annual event with well stocked shelves, filled with many of the new fall yarns and latest patterns. The shops are all abuzz with happy crafters, checking out the wide array of sample knits in hopes of finding their next project. The Atlanta yarn shop hop is a happening! One look at the happy hopper's in the photos and you can see that this is not an event to miss.
These hoppers had custom, hand decorated
shopping bags and passport covers!
Kay Mather gives a knitting class on the Rare Purls Knitting Porch
during shop hop
The 2011 shop hop is from Sept. 17 - 25. For participating shops and more information on the 2011 Atlanta yarn shop hop, please visit www.shophopatlanta.blogspot.com
With daily temperatures in the 90's, I have not wanted a lap full of wool. I have put aside my sweater projects and am concentrating on accessory knits. The shop is filled with summery yarns and it has been great fun turning out some quick, cool knits. First, I chose a savvy scarf knit in a crisp linen/viscose blend, Classic Elite's Firefly Fringed Scarf, knit in a tomato red. The design is a long triangle that includes rows of stockinette on one edge, that at bind off are unraveled into long loops. After a wet block, the kinky loops relax into an exquisite edging. What a great technique for fringe!
After completing the eye catching Firefly scarf, those loops of fringe inspired another design, my Going Loopy Scarf. I love ribbon yarns and am always looking for new ways to showcase them in projects. I wrote the pattern for Going Loopy Scarf using the same fringing technique and in no time had knit up two versions. With novice knitters in mind, I kept the pattern simple - just twelve stitches worked in garter to the desired length. All of the interest occurs when only the two center stitches are bound off and the remaining ten stitches are slowly unraveled, one side at a time, to form long loops. (To keep things tidy, I held the second set of five stitches on a needle holder, while unraveling the first side.) The trick is to unravel only a few rows at a time, taking care to include all five stitches, then tie the resulting two loops in a knot. This process is continued for the length of the scarf, then repeated with the stitches on the other side. The end result is a scarf consisting of rows of loopy fringe. What fun!! And this pattern is as quick to knit, as it is easy.
For my first sample knit of Going Loopy, I used Zahir, a silk/cotton blend ribbon from Laines du Nord. This matte ribbon yarn rendered slim, lightly textured, whimsical loops of fringe. The loops of fringe in this project allow the yarn to be the center of attention, rather than a stitch pattern. You can see every characteristic of this beautiful, multicolored yarn. The lightweight scarf is a colorful addition to simple summer tees and tanks.
For the second version of Going Loopy, I chose Kristha Multi, a wide, drapey, nylon ribbon yarn by Filati FF, distributed by Knitting Fever, Inc. The riot of loopy fringe is more dramatic in this yarn, perfect for those times when "girls just want to have fun", whether a night on the town or cruising around a street fair. Where I chose ribbon yarns, smooth super bulky or bulky yarns held in a double strand can also be used for a different look. I would avoid mohair or boucle, as these yarns resist unraveling. The same #15 US needle is used for all weights and styles of yarns.
This pattern is available on the Rare Purls website at www.rarepurls.net along with several other of our free patterns. We would enjoy seeing your version of any of our Rare Purls Originals designs. All of our free patterns are linked on Ravelry. Ravel it!
Copyright August 2011