Category Archives: Inspiration

Customer service, shops and woolly fairs…

I think that title about covers it.

I said in my last post that I was looking forward to visiting Loop when I was down in London (and living virtually next door), as I’d previously been a bit ‘meh’ about it. Well. I went in, with a list of things I wanted to look at – and most probably buy, given that I’d checked them out on Rav. A couple of issues of Laine magazine, some of Jared Flood’s books, Marie Wallin’s Shetland. Probably would have come to about £100.

Did I buy any of them? I did not. Could I find them? Some, yes. Did anyone show any interest in serving me? No, they did not. Speaking to me? Nope. I know I wasn’t wearing an invisibility cloak because one of the five people who seemed to be members of staff said ‘bye’ as I left. Still, that meant I had more to spend at Wonderwool on Sunday.

And I did. That fine strip of blackness was a completely unnecessary purchase which was down to brilliant customer service.

It’s a wrist tape measure. It’s fifteen inches long, is measured off in both inches and centimetres, and goes round your wrist twice where it fastens securely. It’s leather, and it was – well, let’s just say ‘not cheap’. An unbought issue of Laine magazine not cheap. I was merely intrigued, but the woman on the stand took me through the logic (indisputable: my friend had been doing tension squares in the wine bar the night before without a ruler – I know, I know – which led to some speculation on accurate guessing, length and much coarse laughter), and the available options. Obviously I was attracted by the almost-black one – very popular in Scandinavia, apparently – but I resisted. I went back twice before I gave in. But I gave in. And each time I had fabulous service.

Then there’s this:

This, my lovelies, is Colinette Banyan. Colinette! Colinette who went out of business a couple of years ago! And it was on sale! I also bought the five balls of bright red Juniper Moon Zooey from this stand – in part, again, because of brilliant, informative, friendly customer service. Even though the stall was heaving with people.

John Arbon got my money for some fibre (the orange) even though I swore I wasn’t buying fibre – and guess what one of the factors was? Yup. And the people on the stall who sold me the silvery blue were great too. In the teeth of a freezing cold and very busy Wonderwool Wales.

Customer service: it costs nothing. It doesn’t even cost your pride. When I was a baby bookseller I was once told ‘don’t grovel, don’t be snotty, just treat your customers as you would want to be treated,’ and I think that just about sums it up.

Oh, and IMO a good local yarn store in a provincial (or market or small) town can knock socks off one with a high opinion of itself in central London. It’s not just customer service where the LYS can easily win (why annoy people who might turn into regulars?), it’s range as well (you have to cater for the baby wool market, as well as the addicts who will pay £35 for a single skein). Enthusiasm – that’s another factor. Encouragement. Inspiration. Even help. Yes, there are exceptions, but there are more who match. There. I’ve said it. And as someone who lived in London for 20 years, I never thought I would. Yay for great wool shops in the provinces. They can win. And often do.

As a footnote: the eight balls of Shetland DK were brought down to Wales specifically for me to collect at the show by Jamieson’s. From Lerwick. Customer service!

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What makes a good wool shop?

I’ve been considering this – and I’d better fess up, because I work in one, half a day a week, to get me a) out of the house, b) working with all sorts of yarn fabulousness, and c) to give me an excuse to make the most enormous fuss of the individual who really runs Knit one… in Dolgellau, the lovely and somewhat bossy imperious Bramble:

I’m abandoning North Wales briefly next week, as I have a meeting in London. Conveniently close to Loop. I mean, it would be silly not to investigate, wouldn’t it? Even though I have been before?

So, what does constitute a good wool – for wool, read yarn – shop?

First, I suppose, that it exists. There are not as many wool shops as there once were, but I do think the ones which have made it through are an enormous improvement in terms of quality. The first wool shop I remember was a dark cavern of a place in York, where my mother took me in despair when she saw the ‘easy’ object I had picked as my first garment to knit. It was beige. It was a tank top. It was super chunky. I have no idea why, and neither did she. After one horrified look, she stuffed me in the car and drove to a then-notorious area where, in a brutalist block of shops, stood a wool shop. It was stuffed. Stuffed. You couldn’t see in (or out). Ma showed the woman behind the counter what I had been knitting and they both became slightly hysterical. I was allowed to leave, eventually, with a cardigan pattern and some mohair in peacock and jade and purple. I loved that cardigan.

That leads on to the second point: inspiration. Inspiration and colour. Here is Jamieson’s in Lerwick:

and I defy anyone not to be inspired by this. I certainly could not resist, which led to the most complex of my (many, ahem) WiPs, a Fair Isle cardigan, colours chosen to reflect the landscape of Shetland. I am amazed that I managed to restrict myself to enough wool for just one, really.

Texture is part of this as well: you need to be able to fondle those balls (ooo, matron). Even if it is just to stroke them, as on the Oliver Twist stand at Wonderwool Wales:

Which reminds me, it’s Wonderwool next weekend. I will be there, or be square and deprived of yarn, on the Sunday. I have to go, no really I do, because Jamieson’s will be there and I have to collect some more of the yarn for the cardigan. Forced to go, basically. Life is hard.

Next, and maybe it should be right at the top, comes customer service.

I remember a wool shop, now unsurprisingly closed, where the owner spent all her time leaning on the counter and moaning. About the tourists (her bread and butter); about parking; about the weather; about how hard it was to run a wool shop because people would keep coming in wanting to buy stuff (not to worry – they soon went elsewhere); about politics (anyone to the left of Attila the Hun); about the bad service she had received elsewhere – the woman had no sense of irony – and about how the people who went to the local knit and natter groups failed to buy all their yarn from her. Really? You surprise me.

There’s another, too, I’ve encountered. In this one the problem wasn’t lackadaisical service but rather the opposite: you WILL knit this, and you WILL knit it in this yarn. What do you mean, you want to make your own mind up?

Ideally, the service should be just at the right level, and that means being aware of what customers are happy with – some people want to chat, some people want to look in silence (and some people come to see the cat rather than the yarn, but that’s fine). I think it should also involve help where necessary and if required:

(like me being taught magic loop, yet again, yes, I know, I’m blaming my hand surgery). Though there is a fine line between providing help and people who expect you to finish their knitting…

So where, I wonder, will Loop fit in? I’ve not been wildly impressed so far, but I’ve been there with non-knitters – which doesn’t really give you the chance to get a proper impression. We will see. If nothing else, I’m going to enjoy the pattern books. Laine magazine particularly.

And, as a final note, look what we found on the inside of a Zauberball label:

They’re not wrong.

 

Well, hello (again)

I am, finally, back. Or so I think. I’ve been working on a huge project, completely unrelated to knitting or wool, and am beginning to come out from under. Beginning is the word, though. But, yes, it’s definitely a beginning. I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging while spending so much time nailed to the laptop doing Other Stuff, so here I am. Back. Back, with a revamp. So hello – again!

It may have been snowy over Easter but three of us huddled together in a pop-up craft-makers’ shop (I sat next to, and occasionally on, the radiator) which gave me a c-c-chance to shiver leave the aforementioned major project and think about wooly things instead. And about how fabulous knitting is in detail:

This, natch, is Noro. Taiyo Sock. I’m in love with Noro, which is odd for someone who habitually dresses in black, but hey ho.

and how wonderfully splendid a variegated yarn looks with stitch detail:

This is a skein I picked up at Wonderwool a few years ago, hand-dyed by Ripples Crafts. The colourway was called ‘lichen’: bang on.

This is another Wonderwool find (which reminds me, the 2018 Wonderwool Wales is very, very close), but I can’t find the label. I think it was dyed by Nimu. Actually, I’m sure it was dyed by Nimu. Beautiful – and the pattern is Stitchnerds’ TGV:

It was refreshing – after spending so long editing and writing and considering and checking and and and and and – to spend some time in the close company of wool. Beautiful wool. And it’s also interesting, when you normally work on your own, to work with other people. No, I did not bite anyone. It was fun.

And, as a final note, some more Noro:

Kureyon Sock, I think. Fabulous colours, just fabulous!

Knitting Shetland

In, ahem, 2015 I was in Shetland – not for Shetland Wool Week, but for a holiday. While there I went a bit mad in Jamiesons revamped Lerwick shop, with the intention of knitting myself a Fair Isle in colours which I thought would remind me of Shetland, and I wrote about the colour choice I had tried to make at the time.

That was then, and this is now:

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It’s coming along – I’ve reached the stage where I have to decrease for the armholes at the back (I’m knitting it in pieces rather than in the round; I like the stability of seams… sorry about that). The pattern is Marie Wallin’s Orkney, from Rowan 52; the charts are some of the most confusing I have ever come across and I’ve knitted a lot of Fair Isle, but then there are thirteen colours involved. Thirteen…

And, and, one section has three colours in a row. In traditional FI, that is frowned upon, but this isn’t a traditional Fair Isle. It is, however, not being knitted in the wool for which it was designed – naturally, why make life easy for yourself – but in Jamieson’s DK, from their fab shop (sigh), which has to be a contender for most tempting yarn shop in the known universe.

Jamiesons

This is slightly thicker than the Rowan Felted Tweed used in the original. So not only have I had to allow for the difference in the size I’m knitting (gauge was carefully measured), it also means that a three-colour section is just too bulky. Plus – of course – this row will fall right over the boobs. Hm. So that’s been redrawn.

Still, I am loving the texture and colour of the wool:

img_4286

and its natural stick-with-it-ness means I am getting away with a float across five stitches, as it will felt in enough. Excellent!

I’ve been diving into some of my photographs from Shetland, seeing if my colour choices have indeed worked, and I think they have. Sort of.

Eshaness

The bright green of the seaweed below (and to some extent the grass above, at Eshaness lighthouse) – Jamiesons colour ‘Leprechaun’ – hasn’t been used yet, but it will be. Just a flash.

Mousa ferry

The previous time I was in Shetland it was all about sunsets. On balance, I am happy I went with the more subdued colours from the latest trip. Eighteen months ago. Must be time for another expedition!

Green goddesses (and some wool)

I’ve been sorting out my stash. I know, I know, I said I had lots of work on and I do – I haven’t yet been reduced to cleaning out the freezers as a displacement activity, but their time will doubtless come. Once the stash is dealt with. I have two, essentially: one of wool for pop-up shops, craft fairs, etc., and one for me. The latter was surprising, when I spread it out. It’s full of green.

There are olive greens, lime greens, greens with blues,

yarn

yellows, even purples; there are the greens of pine trees, greens of ivy, greens of the bright new birch leaves in spring. There are greens in cotton (bit flat, that, it might have to move into the pop-up stash), alpaca, all sorts of wools. There’s green fluff for spinning and there’s even some green acrylic (shh, don’t tell anyone).

All this greenery got me thinking. I know where it comes from: the old thing about red hair and green, so guess what I was always put in as a child, when I couldn’t persuade my mother that black would look good too? Fair play to her, she didn’t do baby pale greens; she did emerald, and I did love my party dress which was bright emerald shot with a darker bottle green, and with long sleeves – most odd, in retrospect, in a sea of small girls in pink powder puffs. When I asked her about this many years later she just shrugged and said pink would have looked ridiculous with my red plait and she hated pastels anyway. I wasn’t brave enough to ask if any of the other mothers ever said anything about it.

I began to think about the symbolism of green, about its ambivalent nature. It’s the ‘fairy colour’ (of the dangerous Sidh and not, originally, of Leprechauns), the colour of Bridget and of course the colour of the Green Knight. But in Islam it’s been called ‘the colour of safety and permission’, representing a verdant paradise, and it’s the colour of environmental movements worldwide (Incidentally, the first recorded green party was a political faction in sixth-century Byzantium who took their name from a chariot team). It’s also the colour of the snake in the Garden of Eden and the associated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, because lots of greenery was taken into homes. And in the first illustrations to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Christmas Present wears green robes.

i-am-the-ghost-of-christmas-present

Greens began to leap out at me. I had a lovely time over the Christmas break, binge-watching films and eating chocolate, and there was green everywhere. I’m ignoring here the green of Eowyn’s dress in Fellowship of the Ring, or of Shrek (and of Fiona), or of the Incredible Hulk or of Loki’s costumes in the Thor films (though I might come back to the use of greens in the MCU at some point, as it’s interestingly more complex than you’d think), because I did watch some classics as well, honest I did.

In classic movies, green is often shorthand for self-confidence, and a certain disconcerting boldness. Take Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara – please take Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t stand the woman – OK, she’s of Irish origin and we all know that means red hair and green eyes and a difficult temperament: yeah right, and all clichés emphasised through the use of green. There’s the dress made out of curtains, which is ‘symbolic of her will to survive’ (Walter Plunkett). Boy, is that green:

curtain dress

and then there’s the dressing gown (like no dressing gown I’ve ever owned, mind) which she wears when she, essentially, tells Rhett to piss off:

dressing gown

It’s not just Scarlett O’Hara, either, green-clad and temperamental. There’s Cyd Charisse in ‘a tasselled green number’ seducing Gene Kelly in a dream sequence in Singing in the Rain; there’s Tippi Hedren wearing a green suit in The Birds (Hitchcock felt the artificial green colour would enhance the viewers’ sense of discomfort); Kim Novak as Judy in Vertigo. The latter is particularly interesting when it comes to symbolism: it’s ostensibly sweet, but it’s also very tight and therefore, er, ’emphasises her earthiness’, especially as Novak was quite clearly not wearing a bra (which she has spoken about).

Vertigo

But it’s not just the classics. Perhaps the most famous green costume in recent years has been Keira Knightly’s dress in Atonement.

It was actually voted the best film costume of all time (gods, I hate these things, they put so much stress on the recent and the blockbuster) in a poll commissioned by Sky Movies. The whole film has a green tone: the countryside, the kitchen and bathroom of the villa, even the flooded tube station. One commentator said ‘Its colour becomes the symbol of the night that affects the lives of all the main characters’.

I love it. In fact, I’m knitting in just this colour at the moment. I may be looking at my stash in a new light…

(and a heads up for the Clothes on Film website – a great resource and fantastic time-waster when you’re supposedly working.)

 

Book review: Yarnitecture

YarnitectureI’m often sent books to review, and I find myself thinking ‘nooooo’. Many don’t make it onto Woolwinding; they are either inappropriate or just uninspiring, or maybe they are reinventing a wheel which doesn’t need redevelopment – or maybe they are just dire. But sometimes I open a parcel and find myself doing a little dance round the room. This is one of the latter occasions.

Excuse me. Ahem.

What can I say about this gem by Jillian Moreno? it is a spinning book written, hooray, from a knitter’s perspective. It focuses on spinning ‘a yarn that fulfils a purpose’: one that works its best for whatever knitted project you have in mind.

Once upon a recent time, handspinning was almost an end in itself, and it still can be, of course. Once upon a recent time, it was assumed in books about spinning that the spinners were inevitably dealing exclusively with fleece. Raw fleece. Fleece possibly from their own sheep. And, also of course, some people do work exclusively with fleece (I love it myself, except on days like today when the wind suddenly gets up and blows most of my freshly washed Cheviot x BFL fleece away, possibly taking it as far as England). But many of us are not purists: we buy prepared fibre, maybe hand-dyed, delicious fibre; maybe undyed but fully processed and still delicious fibre. And some people – I know several – actively dislike working with anything else. Very many of us spin fibre in order to knit with it, to produce something unique, something we control from (almost) start to finish. This is our book.

It starts with a basic vision; goes through fibre breeds and the impact choice there can have; explores prep, drafting, plying, working with colour, finishing… and, ta dah, knitting with handspun. It’s beautifully illustrated. And it even has some patterns.

Ok, let’s have a look inside. Take this page: it illustrates the different effects you can get by blending colours at plying or blending those colours before spinning:

colour spinning

It is often good to do things intentionally, instead of accidentally. Intentional, and you can get the same effect again, should you want to do so. Accidental? You might be lucky…

Or take finishing a spun yarn. I almost always whack my finished yarn to set the twist (I find it helpful; I can imagine I am whacking the person at the Fibre Fair who said ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to, it’s so boring’). But what about the alternatives? There’s snapping, swirling it around like a cowboy with a lasso, even fulling it. What difference would a different process make, and what impact would it have on a particular yarn?

finishing

Here four different yarns are compared – merino, corriedale, BFL and silk – after having undergone eight different approaches (menaced, incidentally, doesn’t mean you sitting in front of the yarn like Michael Corleone confronting the men who tried to kill his father; it means felting it deliberately).

And how about ply affecting what you want to knit?

plying

That’s covered at length; above focuses on singles, but there are equally detailed examinations of two- and three-ply yarns. It’s excellent, and the ‘knitting with your handspun’ section is invaluable, covering things like ensuring you will have enough yarn (been there), and simply planning a project from a pattern which specifies a commercial yarn.

Finally, there are twelve patterns. There are two cardigans, a moebius cowl / shawl, four more varied but normally constructed shawls (of which this, by Romi, is one),

pattern

socks, two sweaters, a necklace and a pair of mitts.

I have been waiting for a book like this – thank you, Jill Moreno!

 

Spin it!

There’s this thing, you see. It’s this big cycling race thing. This insane thing called the Tour de France, to which I am slightly addicted. And then there’s this other insane thing: the Tour de Fleece. Really.

It’s a Ravelry thing, and I joined it last year but got swept up by the spinny equivalent of the voiture balai, the broom wagon, and had to give up as my hands didn’t let me carry on. Not this year. This year I may not be wearing a spotty jersey, a green jersey or a yellow one (I am, in fact, wearing a black polo-neck as the weather is pretending it’s October), but I am spinning or plying every day:

on the bobbin

I’m doing at least 30 minutes every morning, before work, while my porridge is cooking and cooling (yup, it’s porridge weather; should be croissants or a tartine but I need something warming).

Right, so what is the Tour de Fleece?

Apologies if you already know, or indeed if you are already participating… essentially it’s a challenge for spinners. You spin every day the Tour riders ride; you can have rest days as the Tour does – there are two – and you can also do something especially demanding on the challenge days, if you wish. You can join one of the main Rav teams, or you can join what’s known as a ‘wildcard’ team, and some of them are pretty wild. You share what you’ve done, either just with your team or on the various stage posts in the Tour de Fleece group. It can be really inspiring, and really motivating, and if you’re stuck with your spinning, it’s a great way to get going again.

I needed, for instance, to press on with the lovely Haunui I’ve got. Judging by the current weather – my heating has clicked on; this is JULY, for heaven’s sake – my need for the big sweater replacement will hit sooner rather than later, so I need to stop being distracted by colour. I’ve got about 900g which needs spinning up now, and though I know it won’t all get done before the Tour ends, I will be able to make a serious dent in it. First two bobbins of my Tour:

bobbins and mag

which, after taking things carefully for once (I swear I can feel the voiture balai behind me after last year), turned into these:

skeins

Spinning a consistent yarn for a garment is interesting – I think I’m getting there; I’ve got my little sample tied to the wheel, and keep stopping to pull the thread back on itself to see what it will look like when plied. Of course, if I’d taken better notes in a Guild workshop on ‘spinning to the crimp’ I’d probably have a better, more methodical way of doing it – but then again, maybe I wouldn’t: the workshop presumed you’d know the fleece in its unwashed state. Anyway, it is a thickish DK or a fine Aran, in most places – sport weight, in fact. Yup, I’m sharing the passion, as the poster says. Only not the unpleasant habits (really – my last year TdF, with details, ergh).

TdF route

And the Tour rides on. In glorious weather. Hrrumpf. Wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that.