Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Going on a Yarn Diet?

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions for crafters is to go on a yarn diet. Our own stash has got to quite gargantuan proportions and we are running out of room. The trouble is that each season yarn companies launch such beautiful new offerings that it’s hard to resist the temptation. And often when you finish a project there is a little bit of yarn left over that would be a shame to throw away. If you are like us you probably think ‘There must be something I can do with that’. Before you know it a couple of bags becomes a basket, a trunk or even a cupboard.

But fear not. To help you make room for the new season’s yarns here are a few tips to help you destash.

Lay all your yarn out on the floor if you can and take a long hard look. Is there anything you don’t like any more, or like but know you will never use? Which balls or hanks do you really treasure? Which are you unsure about? So now you have 3 piles.

Be ruthless
There are so many charities that can make good use of yarn, or maybe you know of an old peoples home or lunch club that will find a good use any spare yarn. Be brave and give up the yarn that you don’t like or that you will never use to your chosen good cause. 

Be a good friend
Now look at the group of yarn you aren’t sure about. What would your knit/crochet friends think of it? Could they use it? Why not get all your yarnie friends together and organise a yarn swap. You’ll be amazed how much it will rejuvenate your stash.
Ravelry really is a great place to trade yarn you don’t want any more. All you need to do is photograph it and put it in your online stash. Maybe there is a particular yarn you would like to get your hands on. On Ravelry you can search for people who are ready to swap yarn.  You can approach them and invite them to choose something from your stash as an exchange. Then all you have to do is pay the postage.

Knitting for charity
There are always a number of charities looking for people to knit for them; for children abroad, an animal charity at home. Everything from blankets to toys, hats to tea cosies. This is a great way to use up our odds and ends of yarn. You can find a good list of worthy causes on the UKHKA site.

Small is beautiful
If you have odd balls and aren’t sure what to do with them why not find a small project that would use them up. You can knit/crochet a hat or a pair of mitts from a couple of balls, four or five for a scarf. If you don’t have complete balls, stripes are a great way to use yarn up. Small projects are also finished sooner so your you will get a great sense of achievement .The number of patterns on Ravelry for modular knitted blankets is amazing as well as lots of inspiration for crocheted blankets.

Super-size Me

The catwalks have been full of super-sized cowls, hats and scarves. You may not have a super chunky yarn in your stash but if you put together enough balls of yarn you can create exactly the same effect with a really unique style.

So, if reducing your stash is on your list of 2015 we hope we have given you some ideas to make it fun and a huge success.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Santa's Little Helpers

Christmas is just around the corner, a wonderful time to be with friends and family.  Knitting or crocheting gifts for them is a lovely way to show you care.  But all too often, making presents can just add to stress at this busy time of year.  Once or twice we have been up past midnight on Christmas Eve trying to get a pair of socks finished and it is not to be recommended.
So we have come up with some hints and tips for you to make the most of your time and make your gift knitting an enjoyable experience.

Make a list and then check it twice, just like Santa Claus.  Do you have the time to knit for everyone you want to?   We always make sure we are knitting or crocheting something for someone that will appreciate a handmade gift.

 If you knit or crochet we bet you aren’t often given knitted or crocheted presents.  We crafters are exactly the people who would appreciate such a gift more than anyone.  So which one of your yarnie friends are you going to make something for?

Small projects are a must but they needn’t be boring.  You could try out a technique you have always wanted to try while making something lovely such as Fair Isle, knitting in the round or even knooking. We love all the gorgeous patterns for mug cosies, place mats, hats, tea cosies, toys and even gloves that you can find on Ravelry

What about making something to decorate your home? At this time of year we always reach for our book of 55 Christmas balls to knit by Arne and Carlos. Taking traditional Scandinavian motifs, these baubles are very easy to knit and will be a treasured gift that will grace a Christmas tree every year – a real heirloom project.

Pompoms are a great way to use up yarn oddments.  You can hang them on your tree, add them to your gift wrapping or even make a wreath for your front door like this one from True Brit Knits.

And what about your Christmas wishes?  Now is the time to sort out your hooks and needles.  If you are missing any sizes let Santa know, because with all this knitting and crochet you have been doing he will definitely have you down on his list.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Making Your House a Fibre-filled Home

Knitting or crocheting projects for your home is immensely satisfying.  Not only does it bring an atmosphere of comfort and cosiness but it can be a real expression of individuality.  A humble cushion could be that sought after opportunity to try out a new technique when a garment is too much of a commitment.  
Had you ever thought that the back of most garments, if squared off, would make interesting cushion covers?  We have practised and mastered Fair Isle and complicated cables in this way and somehow a 40 cm square is so much less daunting. You can always make the back of the cushion plain and it will knit or crochet up in no time

Alongside technique is colour.  Maybe you have always wanted to experiment with bright accents but not wanted to commit paint to your walls.  What about a throw or a chunky crocheted basket to see if it works in your home? Here’s an example of what we mean.
Charleston by True Brit Knits

So far we have covered projects for a living area or a bedroom but the kitchen offers a huge amount of potential, especially if you have a spot of stash busting in mind.  Dishcloths are a great way to use up yarn and so practical as well as cheerful.  You could have one for every day of the week in cheerful colours and with humorous motifs. 
Cosies are always worth considering and come in all shapes and sizes keeping eggs, mugs cafetieres and teapots warm.  We love the designs by Loani Prior for her sheer determination to elevate the tea cosy to an art form.  Her creations are bold, irreverent and just a little bit tongue in cheek as you might guess from her latest book Pretty Funny Tea Cosies.
Just take a walk through your home, room by room and see where you might bring knitted or crocheted inspiration in and most of all have fun.

We’d love to see your images of home projects and we also have a free pattern for you.  This Felted Slip Stitch Bowl by Juliet Bernard can be downloaded from Ravelry.  Simply use the code KnitPro11 and join the KAL on our Ravelry group
Felted Slip Stitch Bowl

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Perfect Finish

Finishing a knitted or crocheted project brings a huge sense of achievement whether it is a small pair of gloves or a large blanket.  But for me one of the projects I most dread finishing is one that needs to be sewn up.  I have a couple of projects languishing in my craft basket.  One of them is an intricate Fair Isle project that I spent ages knitting and the other is a mass of small granny squares. They won’t take long to put together, not compared to the amount of time they took to make. It’s very common for knitters and crocheters not to look forward to putting a project together because they aren’t confident of their making up skills. I have seen many beautiful pieces of knitting ruined by poor finishing and sewing up.  But there are a few simple steps that will really help. 
Before you even think about sewing your pieces together we recommend that you block them.  Many of you will be familiar with blocking for lace shawls, but it is also very important for garments.  If your tension means that your knitted piece is not quite the same measurements as the pattern, you can use blocking to ease it to the correct dimensions, making the fit so much better. When making squares for blankets, some might not be the uniform size.   By blocking them you can make sure they are all identical making sewing up so much easier.  We recommend that you don’t put your iron directly on your piece of knitting but rather pin it into the shape you want, hold the iron above it and press steam.
Jane Crowfoot, who wrote the book Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitting recommends one technique very highly when it comes to sewing two pieces of knitting together.  It’s mattress stitch or ladder stitch and it is really easy to pick up. Your two pieces of knitting face you with the right side of your work facing and you zig zag your sewing between one piece and the other.  The reason it is so revered is that when you pull the yarn that you’ve been sewing with tight, the seam that is created is almost invisible. 

Have a look at this video.

For a really neat finish on a shoulder or to finish a pair of socks, grafting or Kitchener stitch is a really valuable technique to learn, giving you a really neat finish. The formula for Kitchener stitch takes a little memorising but once you get in to the rhythm it’s great fun to see your project looking so good.

So when you put so much time into practising and perfecting your craft or into creating a beautiful garment or project, isn’t it worth spending a little bit of time to learn how to finesse your knitting or crochet and make your project something you can be really proud of.

What is your favourite tip?  Leave a comment and one of you will win a prize.

Friday, 25 July 2014

For the Love of Lace

Rock Island by Brooklyn Tweed
Lace knitting can be addictive. Once you have the bug you can find yourself browsing more and more elaborate patterns and building a collection of wraps and shawls in a wide range of stunning colours.
But when you contemplate your first lace pattern it can seem that the whole process is full of arcane secrets you have winkle out the clues to.
So here are our top tips for lace knitting from knitters and designers who love it.

Choosing your first lace project

Start with something in 4ply rather than laceweight yarn. It will be easier to see your stitches while learning new techniques and easier to correct mistakes. Other than that the main criteria is something that you will definitely want to finish even if you get frustrated.


Most lace patterns will have charts. While you need to learn what the symbols mean, charts are useful because they give you an idea of what your lace should look like.
On a chart each square is a stitch and the symbol in the square tells you what to do – k2tog, yarn over, knit, etc. Rightside rows are read right to left – the same way you work the stitches – and wrongside rows go back the other way, left to right.
It is a good idea to tick off each row as you work to keep track of the pattern but it can be also be useful to find a way to only look at the chart row you are working on, for example photocopying the charts so they are larger and folding the complete rows under, or using Post-its to underline the row you’re working on. Or you can buy magnetic chart markers and chart keepers like these  where you use a magnetic strip to mark your place.


Most lace patterns are made up of a set of stitches repeated across the row or part of the row. On your chart the stitches and rows in a repeat will be outlined by a thick or coloured line.
One tip is to place a stitch marker at the start of every repeat and at the end of the final one. This means you will always know when you are starting the repeat and it is a lot easier to keep track of five sets of 20 stitches than 100. And if you make a mistake you are more likely to spot it.

Life lines

Life lines are another great way of keeping track of your lace and reduce the risk that a mistake will involve ripping out large amounts of your project. A life line is a fine thread (such as sewing cotton) run through all the stitches in a row so that if you have to rip back, the stitches from that row will be held by the cotton and easily slipped back on your needles.
Traditionally life lines are put in by threading a darning needle with the cottom through each stitch. But if you use KnitPro interchangeables there is an easier way. Before starting the row, thread the cotton through the hole in the right hand needle and knit as normal. As your stitches slide down onto the cable, the cotton will be fed through them.
Add a life line at the end of a repeat or chart or when you are starting a new stitch pattern.


Blocking brings out the beauty of your lace. It means stretching out your lace when damp so the pattern is flattened out and you have a lighter looking finished piece. It would take a blog post on its own so here are a couple of tips.
Firstly, “be brave”, your lace will stretch out a lot.
It is a good idea to block with an inch tape in hand so that you can check your piece is symmetrical. You can pin your damp piece to dry towels on a flat surface but your will get a more professional finish using blocking wires and foam blocking mats. You can thread the wires through stitches on the straight edges of your piece and secure them with pins at regular intervals giving you’re a straighter finish and a firmer base to stretch from.

So be brave – learning to knit lace opens up a whole new world of knitting.

We’d love to hear of any tips you’d like to share with us

We are running a KAL for the Lace Ribbon Shawl on our Ravelry Group and we love you to join us.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Toy Story

Amineko Crocheted Cat by Nekoyama

Knitting and crocheting toys is a hobby many of us enjoy.  You don't have to commit the time you would to a garment and there is something very satisfying about working on a small scale in a very precise way.  No matter who you make toys for we want to make sure you get the most out of it and we have asked our favourite toy designers to pass on some tips to help you get the most out of your hard work.

Make sure you have the right tools to hand.  Double Pointed Needles in a variety of lengths and sizes are an absolute must.  We always have a handful of stitch markers and a tapestry needle for the sewing up as well as a pair of good sharp scissors.

      Kirstie McLeod from Simply Knitting advises you to go down a needle or hook size from what you would normally use to make your fabric is firmer.  Whether you are crocheting or knitting, you don't want the stuffing to show through.

Block all the pieces of your toy before you start sewing them up.  It allows you to reshape your work and get it nice and flat to make sewing easier.

Girl Fox in a Flowery Flock

We are huge fans of Little Cotton Rabbits and Julie has some great ideas when it comes to stuffing;
“    Knitted fabric has a lot of stretch and unlike a firm woven fabric it will expand to the shape of the stuffing inside. No matter how good your shaping is on a knitted piece, the way in which you stuff will be more crucial in determining the finished shape. I find that putting in small amounts of stuffing and building up a shape works best for me rather than pushing in a large wad all at once.”

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Kerry Lord from Toft Alpaca who brought us Edward’s Menagerie likes her toys squidgy and gets the effect she wants by not putting too much stuffing in but making sure it is well distributed.

So whether you are trying for first amigarumi or your 20th Teddy Bear, we hope our tips will be helpful to you in your craft.