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    The Woolly Thistle

    2020 ~ Recap of our year at The Woolly Thistle

    2020 ~ Recap of our year at The Woolly Thistle

    We all know how challenging 2020 has been for every one of us, and so I want to say thank you for your support of The Woolly Thistle throughout this difficult year.  I too turned to my knitting when things seemed extremely difficult and uncertain.  I am so grateful to be a Knitter and I know that many of you feel exactly the same. 

    We worked really hard to provide you with the best woolly wool to keep you knitting through all the challenges and difficult times. This year we experienced fast growth that kept us on our toes so we could meet your needs as much as possible.  We have grown as a team with many new hires and several key contractors who operate to support our business.  We have outgrown our space at the Mill and will be looking to relocate early in 2021. 

    We have crossed many milestones in this very long, yet short, year.  However perhaps the one thing I'm most proud of is that we created connections for knitters since the pandemic began with our Knitting Buddies program.  Since it started in April it has grown to have over 500 participants in 46 states and 17 countries and I could not be more proud that we were able to help and connect knitters in the fight to overcome isolation.  You can request to join a Knitting Buddy group right here!

    From all of us at The Woolly Thistle, we wish you a joyful holiday season, and that your pins keep clacking, we'll be seeing you in 2021!  Here's a wee recap of 2020:

    January - we donated $531 from shop sales to WWF Australia to help rescue animals affected by the terrible fires.

    February - we had our 5th Mitten KAL and had more participants and colorwork mittens than ever!

    March - we had our March sale just as news of COVID was beginning to penetrate our understanding of how life was about to change.

    April - Our Knitting Buddy program was launched to connect knitters and combat feelings of isolation during lockdown. The program continues and to date we have over 500 participants in 46 states and 17 countries.

    May - the Vanilla Sweater spoke to our need for a simple and wearable sweater and at your urging I wrote it up as a recipe.

    June - Sales from the Vanilla Sweater recipe and VS Kits raised over $5460 for Color of Change in direct response to the killing of George Floyd.  In much happier news we welcomed Kelsey to the team as our Inventory Coordinator and Willa to our order packing team!

    July - we thought we'd be quiet in July but it turned out to be one of our best month's ever.

    August - Our Summer Sock Sprint featured many wonderful sock patterns knitted at the height of summer when a small project is much appreciated. Our team grew and we welcomed Beverly to our Customer Service department!

    September - The team here at TWT wanted to do something positive to benefit BIPOC. As a group we decided that TWT would make a donation to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. We donated $2000!  TWT sponsored the CAN Retreat supporting Women of Color working in the fiber industry.  We welcomed Heather to our team of brilliant packers!

    October - Our TWT Sweater KAL was a huge hit with loads of great designers and knitters participating! Our team grew and we welcomed Sarah (who is also Beverly's daughter) to the team!

    November - our first ever TWT Selection Boxes were a hit! We added Kelsey P to our panel of Experts and she helps customers with pattern, color and yarn choices.

    December - we had our first ever Virtual Knit Night with over 75 people joining us for a knit and natter and we survived 2020!

    We look forward to connecting with you more in 2021 and sharing our passion for woolly wools and knitting.  We hope to share more stories from the farmers, shepherds, independent mills, designers, authors and knitters as we all hone our skills and connect over our common love of wool.  

    Embroider Your Knits! by designer Mona Zillah

    Embroider Your Knits! by designer Mona Zillah

    Duplicate Stitch and embroidery are my new favourite ways to show off my handknits. They add a  bit of colour and a beautiful finishing detail to a flower or say, a chicken! This post focuses on embroidery. 

    First of all, know this is a bit of fun and easy to sew and rip, so you can really experiment. Sometimes I go into a project with the idea of additions, but many times I just add a little something to take a break from ribbing or sleeve knitting. I am by no means a pro, I tend to use 3 sts – the Lazy Daisy petal, Straight Stitch, and Staggered Straight Stitch (basically a cluster of Stem Stitches). There are a  number of books and tutorials, if you would like to try some of the fancier elegant stitches. 

    Getting started (these will assume you are using a Shetland, Icelandic, or similarly sticky yarn): 

    I will refer to embroidery stitches as ‘sts’, embroidery yarn as ‘yarn’, and the knit itself as ‘fabric’ or ‘chains’. The needle refers to a sewing needle (rather than a knitting needle, leave those in your bag at the minute!). 

    1. Select the area to be worked, and a few details you would like to include – leaves, flowers, starburst, insects, etc. You may draw the motif out a bit, if you like, on paper. Since knit fabric is basically a grid, you may, more accurately, draw using graph paper. But feel free to just wing it and see where each st leads you. 
    2. You may want to block or at least steam press the fabric, so you can see the chains well and it lays flat. 
    3. Select your needle. I use darning and sharp needles depending on the st I am working. The darning needles (with a blunt tip) allow you to work inside a chain and open it up for an eyelet (and are ideal for Duplicate St). The sharper needle gets your working yarn within the fabric, rather than between chains. This will secure your embroidery without holes. 
    4. Select your yarn. Your motif should dictate the thickness of your yarn. For my TWT KAL sweater, I used a single strand of Shetland jumper weight on Plotulopi (a worsted/Aran weight) for everything but the ladybird beetle. For the ladybird, I held the yarn double and the face and spots single. As far as colours go – you may need to make a st or two to really  see how it looks on your fabric. Particularly with subtle differences. 

    Once you have your basic idea planned out, you are ready to thread your needle and begin. 

    I usually cut/break a piece of yarn 10 – 12 in/25.5 – 30.5 cm, but nothing longer; the yarn tends to  stick to itself (particularly that end that has gone through the needle and is just hanging there). I pull  the yarn through carefully and slowly as I work. I thread my needle and come from the back (WS)  and leave a bit of a tail - about 1.5in/3cm for my first st and hold it to the back, as I pull the yarn  through. This allows me to rip out easily, if this is not quite the place I wanted to begin, the colour is  not quite right, or it simply is a weird looking st. (Once I have the beginning st and am ready to get  going with the motif, I weave the yarn in to ‘knot’ the end in place and continue from there.) 

    I usually work small and build from the first element. I hold my piece gently in my hands, as this gives  me the ability to turn easily and have a ‘feel’ for the stretch of the fabric. Some people like to secure  their piece. You will find what works for you.  

    Work your sts rather loose, your fabric is elastic, and you don’t want your embroidery puckering your fabric, plus you can still stretch your knit fabric over any curves you have. When you do a proper blocking, the fibres will interlock nicely. 

    I've put together a pattern for the coaster pictured here called the Little Enchanting Object, which you can download free either from my Ravelry, Lovecrafts, or Payhip shops.

    The flower uses the Lazy Daisy st. The leaf uses the Staggered Straight st. And finally, the ladybird uses the Staggered Straight st and a number of small Straight sts. 

    Little knit square with embroidery in progress

    Once you have completed your bits, break your yarn, if you can without pulling the embroidery too tightly, or cut the yarn. Then, weave in the end as you would any end of your knitting. Block or gently steam press and you are ready to show it off out on the town or in the woods!

    Mona creates patterns for hand knitters blending traditional and contemporary styles. She focuses on colourwork and designs patterns that are easily adjustable for a personal fit. She draws inspiration from the world around us all and supports ethical sourcing and climate/people conscious yarns and notions!  

    Mona ZillahMona is seen here wearing her design "Hillary Muff and the magic fungi"

    Maker Q & A: Is it itchy?

    Maker Q & A: Is it itchy?

    Maker Q&A is a monthly feature here on TWT blog. We'll answer questions from our customers and explore all things yarn, fiber & knitting in an effort to better understand our yarns and knitting to help us all grow as makers.

    Question: Is it itchy?

    We get this question a lot from our customers and honestly, it's very hard to answer. Some yarns are easily described as rustic and more likely to cause itching. But there are many yarns that are itchy to some people but not others. It is very subjective. However, there are things you can look at when trying to calculate if you personally will find a yarn itchy.

    The first things you can look at is the yarn content and the preparation method used with the wool. Looking at the yarn content can be extremely helpful but it does require you to be a little familiar with at least a few breeds and their characteristics. If necessary, a quick google search can assist you. You should also check to see if any other fibers are blended in the yarn such as Alpaca or Linen since those additional fibers will impact the softness of the yarn. 

    The yarns that we carry here at the TWT fall mostly into the categories of fine, medium and long wools. A couple of examples of fine wools are Merino or Falkland Merino & Shetland*. Fine wools are generally very soft and easy to wear, even directly next to the skin. Medium wools, such as Finn, Dorset, & Suffolk, have a longer staple length than the fine breeds and each individual fiber is a bit thicker. Yarns made from these wools can still be fairly soft but they won't be as soft as the fine wools. They can usually still be comfortably worn close to skin by many knitters. Long wools, such as Wensleydale, Romney (some people count this as a medium breed), & Bluefaced Leicester, have a lustrous look to them and they vary in softness. Please note, this is not nearly a complete list of sheep breeds and classifications but merely a very basic start which hopefully is helpful if you're looking at the yarns we carry here in the shop. If you are interested in learning much more on this topic, I highly recommend both The Knitters Book of Wool and The Knitters Book of Yarn both by Clara Parkes. 

    Looking at the wool preparation can also be really helpful. Worsted spun yarns are made with all of the wool fibers laying in the same direction making for very smooth & dense yarn. Since all the fibers are smooth and going in the same direction, they tend to offer fewer opportunities for the individual fiber ends to poke the wearer thus making them itch. Examples of worsted spun yarns that we carry include John Arbon's Devonia & Knit by Numbers. If you're interested in seeing the spinning process for worsted spun yarns, I recommend watching the mill tour on John's Arbon's YouTube channel. 

    Woollen yarns are spun from wool fibers that have been carded before spinning. In the carding process, the fibers get jumbled up in all directions and air is incorporated. The resulting yarn is light weight with a very woolly look and feel. Woollen yarns have more potential fiber ends on the outside of the yarn because the fibers go in all directions during the spinning process. Over time, they soften up as those ends wear down. These yarns shine in stranded knitting, plus they are lightweight and warm.

    When looking at yarns you've not used before, it can be helpful to think about about what yarns you've used in the past that you really liked as well as yarns you found too itchy. If you know the wool/fiber content for those, make a note that you can refer to later on. If you know you really like Jamieson & Smith 2-ply, then you can use that information to look for yarns that use either the same breed of wool (Shetland) or at least a breed of the same classification (fine) and prep (woollen). When customers email us for yarn suggestions, those are the main things I look at first to help me make suggestions.

    Sometimes though, you won't really know if a yarn will be itchy to you until you try it. You can always knit a swatch and tuck it into your bra strap or waistband to see if you like it or find it irritating. I also think it's a good idea to swatch at different gauges since that will also effect the finished fabric. I think there's a place for all yarns in one's knitting life. You might really want a softer wool when knitting a sweater but what if you're making mittens or socks? What would you like for slippers? Let's not just ask if the yarn is itchy but is it also the right yarn for the project you have planned. 

     *Shetland fleeces can have multiple grades of wool in a single fleece depending on where on the sheep it grows. The Shetland wools we carry fall into the fine category. You can find out more information about Shetland wool on the Jamieson & Smith website if you're interested.

    Maggie Nichols is an avid knitter and hand spinner as well as an employee of TWT. She can be found on Ravelry & Instagram as Nestingmag. If you have a question you'd like answered on the blog, email us at info@thewoollythistle.com with Blog Question in the title. 

    Shopcast 126: Socks and Shawls

    Shopcast 126: Socks and Shawls
    Thank you for joining us this week. If you are enjoying this Shopcast, please be sure to subscribe and invite a friend to watch with you!

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    Being a Shopkeeper...

    Being a Shopkeeper...

    Here's a recent post from Instagram that I wanted to include here on the shop blog.  

    Being a Shopkeeper is in my blood.  My Grandfather was a POW in Italy during WW2 where he lost an eye.   Years later when visiting us for a few days he would pop it in a glass of water overnight.  I loved running into my Grandad first thing in the morning whenever he would stay with us so I could see his eye bobbing in the glass.  

    After the war he became a Shopkeeper.  He once owned a general store in the Scottish borders, then he owned a petrol (gas) station and by the time I came along he was running his own antiquarian Scottish books business from his home.  Every month he would crank out a newsletter with all the titles on offer and send the newsletter out to his list of customers from all over the world.  He was doing e-commerce before there was such a thing...in his day it was a good old catalog business where he’d niched down to specialize in something very Scottish.  

    As a child, I loved visiting him in Fortrose on the Black Isle where I would walk through the shelves of books that had taken over his dining room.  I’d breathe in the dust and hold the old books up to my nose (I guess I've been a sniffer all my life! #yarnsniffer).  I would stamp lots of dates on old envelopes and bash on his typewriter.  I wanted to do what he did when I grew up.  

    Decades (and decades!) later I am reminded of him because my business is very similar to his.  My monthly newsletter is a most important part of what makes TWT tick and it is sent out to my customers all over the world.  Instead of (purely) Scottish books, I specialize in yarns and knitting books from Scotland, England and Europe. 

    I think of myself as a Shopkeeper (it’s what I put on my tax return) and although everything we do is online and we don’t have a brick & mortar store, neither did my Grandad.  Yet he had lovely connections all over the world as well as a great relationship with his local Post Master!  This work that I do feels the most natural thing in the world to me, because it was always there, in my blood.