Britain's Brilliant Regional Knitting Styles
We're only a small nation, a little island, but we are fortunate to have a plethora of different regional knitting styles. Here's our quick guide to regional knitting styles in Shetland, the Yorkshire Dales, the Aran Islands, the Channel Islands, and Fair Isle.
About Shetland knitting
Shetland sweaters, made from local wool, are not bulky like cable knits or thin like merino. They're wonderfully light and airy, knitted to keep them warm in without weighing you down. No wonder woollies are so popular here – the islands are home to 400,000 sheep, out-numbering humans twenty to one.
Knitting is more or less in local people's DNA, done for centuries to make money and make warm clothing to keep the harsh weather out. Locals once traded knitted hats and socks with passing fishermen. And every island had its own unique knitting traditions. Unst, for example, is still famed for delicate lace-work and Fair Isle for its rows of colourful, intricate patterns, so very popular that these days youngsters who live on the islands actually wear knitted Shetland hoodies!
About Yorkshire Dales knitting
Sheep have been domesticated in the Yorkshire Dales since the Bronze Age, as long ago as 200BC, which means Dales farmers have had a very long relationship with the animals. In 1590 a knitting school was set up in York to teach the children of the poor to knit, a good way to make a living. But York was wealthy and there was plenty to do there as far as work was concerned. As a result, it disappeared into the countryside and thrived there. Throughout the 17th century, knitting spread faster across the Dales. 'Carriers' from larger towns like Kirkby, Richmond and Kendal would collect the knitted stockings made by residents and deliver a new load of wool, a 'bump', for the next batch of socks.
Everyone in the household knitted – men, women and children. Stockings were the most important product but they also made bonnets, hats, gloves and vests from the thick, greasy local wool called 'bump'. Some gloves and stockings made from fine wool were produced too, and it was these that featured distinctive Dales patterns. You can see some pictures here.
About knitting on the Aran Islands
The Aran jumper takes its name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Traditional Aran jumpers are usually cream in colour and feature dramatic cable patterns on the body and sleeves. They were originally made from rough un-scoured wool full of natural lanolin, which meant the jumpers were water resistant. You could wear yours wet and stay lovely and warm, very important for fishermen.
Knitting on the Channel Islands
Originally made on the islands for passing fishermen, so-called gansey sweaters – also called jerseys or guernseys - are still knitted to this day. It's even possible that the word jersey comes from the island of the same name. Worsted spinning was once a staple industry on the islands, and it didn't take long for their wonderfully warm, close-fitting garments knitted in worsted-spun yarn become popular with sailors and fishermen. The Guernsey is another version, this time a very simple square-shaped wool sweater with a famous straight neck, which meant it could be reversed and worn either way.
Fair Isle knitting
Fair Isle knitting is a traditional technique for creating complex patterns with multiple colours, vivid and bright. It comes from Fair Isle, one of the Shetland islands, and was most popular of all with the locals until the Prince of Wales decided to wear them, which made them particularly popular during the 1920s. Original Fair Isle patterns have a small colour range of around five colours, using just two colours a row, but these days the term Fair Isle refers to any coloured knitting where the stitches are knitted alternately in various colours, with the unused colours stranded across the back. No wonder it's also sometimes called 'stranded colourwork'.
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Love to knit? Know your needles
You adore knitting? You really do need to know all about knitting needles to do the best job first time, every time.
Why are there so many kinds and sizes of knitting needles?
Different needle materials are designed to support knitters by helping them handle the yarn efficiently and comfortably, with minimal repetitive strain on their hands. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they're made from a wide range of materials because each material works best for a different kind of yarn. In fact the choice of often made by feel – what 'feels' best often works best.
What are knitting needles made from?
Knitting needles are made from a wide variety of materials, everything from the ordinary plastic and plastic-coated metal ones we're used to seeing to sustainable bamboo knitting needles, glass ones, even knitting needles made from bone. The more knitting experience you get under your belt, the better you'll understand, instinctively, the best needles for the project you're working on.
Three kinds of standard knitting needles
There are three types of standard knitting needles, each with their own special function, designed for knitting in a specific way. Every needle is classified according to its circumference and length.
- Single point needles, AKA straight needles – This is what we're used to seeing, a plain and simple straight needle with a point at one end and a knob at the other end to stop your stitches falling off. They're perfect for flat knitting, where you work one row after another. You finish one row, turn it round and go back again to finish the next row.
- Double pointed needles, AKA DPNs - Double-pointed needles let you knit tubes of fabric, for example socks and sometimes sleeves. Some people use four or even five needles to knit round in a circular movement to make a tube with no seams. Every row is counted as a 'round', and the final stitch in one round leading directly to the first stitch of the next round.
- Circular needles – A circular knitting needle is made up of the shortest needle tips just 4-5 inches long. They're joined together with a flexible cord and can be used exactly like everyday straight needles to knit back and forth, and also knit in the round to create seamless tubes. You can make long rows of stitches on the needle so it's brilliant for knitting large shawls and adult-size seamless jumpers.
Having said that, circular needles come in two flavours. Fixed circular knitting needles have their ends permanently fixed to the cord or line, and you buy them in a specific length and needle size combinations. The joint between needle and cord is smooth so your stitches can move smoothly from the cord to the needle itself. Interchangeable circular knitting needles are different, featuring separate tips and cords, where the tips screw into the ends of the cord. You can join them up in any combination of needle size and cord length, delivering an awesome amount of flexibility – you can knit a massive range of things this way.
When to use plastic knitting needles
Plastic is nice and warm, which means it's comfy for people with carpal tunnel syndrome and makes knitting a pleasure if you suffer cold hands. They have a flexible core that strengthens them, and because they come in bright colours they're great for kids learning to knit.
When to use metal knitting needles
Smooth and fast, the metal knitting needle is a classic. It's ideal for hairy or textured yarns because they slip over the metal smoothly instead of getting caught, and because metal needles have the sharpest tips, they're perfect for complicated lace work and cable knits, as well as ideal for making very fine stitches.
When to use wooden or bamboo knitting needles
Bamboo is 100% sustainable, always good to know. Wood is 100% natural. They're both smooth and strong but have a very slightly rough surface that means they work really well for hairy yarns, stopping the wool from sliding off the needles. They also happen to be warm to the touch, and the small amount of 'give' they offer means they're good for knitters with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
When to use carbon fibre knitting needles?
Carbon fibre is very light, high-tech stuff with a clever non-slip surface, ideal for keeping hairy yarns under control. It's also very strong indeed, which means you get extremely fine, non-bendy needles that are exactly what you need to work with very fine, silky and lace weight yarns. If you're sensitive to nickel, they are perfect.
About knitting needle lengths
- Straight, single point needles come in a wealth of lengths: 18, 20, 25, 30, 33, 35 and 40 cm. In old money that's 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 inches
- Double-pointed needles come in three lengths: 15, 20, 23 cm, or 6, 8 and 9 inches
- Circular needles are usually 20cm, 40cm, 60cm, 80cm,100cm, 120cm or 150cm long, very occasionally a whopper of 2-3m long
Now all you need is wool!
Now you know which needles to use, you need wool. Our popular wool shop, Little Wool, is home to loads of gorgeous yarns, some from our own herd of friendly alpacas. Go explore!
Baaaah! Why does Britain have such good wool?
Is it the weather? Maybe it's the geology, or the quality of the land, the way the land lies, our location on the face of the planet. Whatever the reason, Britain has long been known as the home of particularly good quality wool.
These days the nation is one of the world's biggest wool producers, generating a massive 22,000 tonnes of wool every year. There are 45,000 sheep farmers in Britain, between them looking after around 34 million sheep, which fall into 60 breeds, 25 of which are rare. But at the same time the country only has two wool scourers these days, people who clean the raw wool to remove grease, sweat and muck so it's lovely and clean. In total you have to go through ten different processes to transform wool to fabric, but despite the hassle an increasing number of people and organisations are starting to champion 100% British wool in all its beautiful glory.
Useful for a lot more than mere carpets and rugs!
Traditionally the idea is that British home grown wool is only any good for carpets. British wool is indeed very strong, with a high micron, but it's also brilliant for tweed and upholstery fabrics. There's more – a particular wool's use tends to depend on the breed it comes from, and where the sheep live.
As you can imagine because of the harsher weather, wool from northern and Scottish sheep breeds produces coarser yarns which are great for tweeds and interior textiles. The sheep living in warmer, dryer places like Dorset and Devon produce finer wool, softer stuff that's less harsh, the ideal for yarn for clothes. No wonder the UK's finest wool comes from the comparatively gentle, warm, calm landscapes where the Blue Faced Leicester breed thrives.
We've been breeding sheep in the UK since 4000BC or maybe even earlier, originally horned brown sheep like today's Soay. Preserved wool from the Bronze Age has been found, and it looks very like Soay wool. You don't spend at least six thousand years with an animal without getting to know it very well, becoming an expert in everything that keeps it happy, fit and healthy. Poorly or unhealthy sheep have poor wool. It takes experience and expertise to breed healthy sheep and keep them that way, and as a nation we've got plenty of that!
Where does British wool go?
Specialist wool merchants still trade British wool across the planet. More than half of it is sold to China, a fast-growing market that doubled between 2013 and 2015 and remains healthy. The remainder is mostly bought by other nations. Because the wool preparation process is so long and complex, comparatively little British wool stays in the UK from start to finish. It's often scoured and spun in China then sent back here to be woven.
A growing trend for wool from dedicated flocks
Cherchbi, which insists on gorgeous British Herdwick wool from a particular flock, isn't alone in its love for British wool. They also keep their entire supply chain in the UK. As Cherchbi says on its website:
" The Herdwick has a 1,000-year heritage and worthy reputation as Britain's hardiest mountain sheep. Reared primarily for it's specialty meat, the breed has EU protected food name status and appears on menus of many of the country's best restaurants. However the fleece is considered almost worthless and is sometimes burned.
Over four years and nine weave trials this low value fleece was transformed into a high quality cloth. Herdwyck No.10 is a pure wool, it's colour and texture derived from the distinctive Herdwick fleece. It is spun, woven and finished entirely in the British Isles.
The fleece originates in the Cumbrian Lake District and is spun into yarn in Kilcar, County Donegal. The spinning process is slowed giving the yarn greater strength. This is woven into cloth in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Extra picks are added into the loom creating an unusually dense weave. The tweed is sent to Galashiels in the Scottish borders where it undergoes specialist finishing. Finally, in Lancashire, the finished wool tweed is bonded to its cotton lining with a natural rubber core."
Buy British alpaca wool
We sell the most deliciously soft, gorgeous alpaca wool, 100% British from the field to our shop. If you fancy knitting something lush, it's perfect!
Canada's Salish women and their amazing wool dogs
What do you do when there are no sheep or goats, they live so far up the mountain it's too dangerous to catch and shear them, or the local tribes herding them are not keen to sell you the wool? You get creative. You make your fabrics out of dog fur.
The Salish Wool Dog was also called the Comox dog or Woolly dog. Now long extinct, it was a small, white, long-haired dog rather like a Spitz, bred by the native people who lived in what is now Washington State and British Columbia. So far, so ordinary. But the extraordinary thing about these dogs was their fur, which was unusually beautiful, soft and pale. In fact it was so good the tribe wove it into a beautiful, soft fabric.
The Salish Wool Dog was kept in packs of as many as twenty animals and fed on luxurious raw and cooked salmon, a precursor of a modern scientific discovery. These days we know for sure that fish oils are really good for a dog's coat. It's used widely by breeders and people who show dogs.
To keep their coats pure and white the dogs were prevented from cross-breeding, confined on islands and kept in gated caves, then sheared like sheep in May or June every year.
Incredibly thick wool and a strong fleece
The Wool Dog was selectively bred to create wool, while other dogs kept by the tribe were treated the same way we treat dogs today, as companion animals and hunting partners. In fact their 'wool' was so thick that the explorer Captain George Vancouver reported one could pick up an entire dog fleece by one corner and it would still hold together, something a sheep fleece just wouldn't do.
No wonder Salish blankets, made by the tribe from the fur of their dogs, were so highly prized by Native American tribes. In fact they cost almost as much as a slave, the ultimate in luxury. While the yarn quality of the pure dog wool was pretty good, the tribe often improved its quality and made short supplies go further by blending it with mountain goat wool, feathers and plant fibres.
Goodbye to the wool dogs
When the Europeans finally arrived in North America, the Salish Wool Dogs started to decline. There was better access to sheep. Hudson Bay blankets became a popular staple, sold widely across the new nation. And the Native American tribes were destroyed, displaced, forced to leave their homelands. The Salish Wool Dog eventually interbred with other dogs and lost the precious traits that made it so popular. By the mid-1800s there were no pure bred wool dogs left. And in 1940 the breed's last known descendent died.
All this happened so long ago that people eventually started to doubt the Salish tribe's oral history. But recent DNA analysis has proved dog hair is an ingredient in historic fabrics made by Salish weavers. Today all that remains is a strong oral tradition commemorating the dogs. A wool dog pelt was found in Washington D.C's National Museum of Natural History, a dog called Mutton who accompanied a scientist studying the tribes long ago. And a few photos of Salish people with their dogs have been unearthed. Other than that they're a lost doggie tribe all of their own.
Could you knit with your dog's fur? Have you tried? If so, what breed are they? We'd love to know!
Sheep of the month – The rugged, tough Herdwick breed
You might think that Brighton, in sunny East Sussex, is a balmy place where every breed of sheep can survive. But the Downland behind the city is home to a council-run conservation flock of almost 1000 sheep, many of which are Herdwicks and Herdwick crosses. The South Downs are not as harmless and pretty as they look – far from it – which means Herdwicks, Swaledales and cross breeds of both are the only sheep hardy enough to remain high up on the Downs, in the teeth of the westerly winds, all winter.
Welcome to our first sheep of the month feature. Introducing the Herdwick.
All about Herdwick sheep
The Herdwick is a domestic sheep native to the Lake District in Cumbria. The name comes from the ancient Norse herdvyck, which simply means 'sheep pasture' and reveals how old the breed is, dating back to the tenth century, maybe a lot longer. The Vikings brought their Herdwicks with them when they invaded the north, and by the end of the 1200s Herdwicks were a familiar sight in The Lakes.
Grazing these sheep keeps the fells bare, without trees, and the dry stone walls dividing the fells and valleys were mostly built to keep the sheep corralled. No wonder so many of the area's ancient words relate back to sheep and sheep farming. In fact to this day 95% of Britain's 50,000 or so Herdwicks live in the Lake District.
Herdwick lambs are called hoggs or hoggets, born mostly black then slowly getting paler as they age, ending up either pale or dark grey. Unlike many sheep breeds they have particularly stocky, sturdy, wool-covered legs. They don't have many lambs and their unmistakable grey wool is not as popular as wool from other commercial breeds, but Herdwicks are widely prized for their robust outlook, good health, ability to thrive on poor quality forage and tendency not to stray far. Their meat is famously strong-flavoured.
These are one of the slowest-maturing sheep breeds, no wonder when they spend their time as high as 3000 feet up the fells in all weathers. They spend the entire winter up there, in the open from December to April, grazing freely in their own 'heaf', a heaf being the familiar, small area a Herdwick won't move away from.
These sheep are so tough that they've been know to survive for several days underneath the snow, eating their own wool. And Herdwick wool is as tough as the beasts it grows on. It comes with coarse, thick, bristly fibres that stick out and can feel all prickly. The advantage of this is clear when it's cold, when you appreciate the most amazing protective barrier layer full of cosy, warm air, working on the same principle as a dry diving suit.
The Herdwick breed survives thanks to farming subsidies, and it is still widely found on National Trust properties, Places of Historic Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These days the breed is iconic, so typical it's hard to imagine The Lakes without it. They remain more common in Cumbria than their fellow high country breeds, the Swaledales and Rough-Fells. But there's more. 2008 saw one Oregon sheep farmer importing semen from Herdwick rams into the US for the first time. In response, during 2013, Lakeland Herdwick meat was awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Union.
Because it's so hard to dye Herdwick wool, it is mostly used for carpets. And because it is such an excellent insulator, it is often made into natural insulation for buildings, fireproofed first for safety. When they're crossed with Suffolk, Cheviot, Charollais and Texel sheep, the resulting lambs are worth more than pure bred Herdwicks.
What's your favourite sheep breed?
Do you have a breed of sheep you'd like us to feature? If so, we'd be delighted to hear from you.
What is Bohus Knitting?
Bohus knitting is a thing of wonder and beauty. But what's it all about?
It comes from a vintage Swedish knitting co-operative named Bohus Stickning, which operated as a cottage industry between 1939 and 1969. Designed to provide income for poor families in Bohuslän, Sweden, during the Great Depression, the resulting knitwear was sold to shops all over the world, with designs by people like Emma Jacobsson proving particularly popular. The work of the women of Bohuslän Province remains highly desirable, a knitting style loved by millions.
How Bohus Stickning started
Emma Jacobsson was the wife of the governor of Bohuslän. In 1937, when times were hard, a group of local women asked her to help set up a co-operative to improve economic opportunities for local low-income families. After some experimentation they decided on knitting, which didn't require special equipment, large amounts of space or much training.
Hand knitted clothes became their focus, and Bohus Stickning was officially opened on 12 th September 1939, led by the inspirational Emma Jacobsson. In the early days they made mittens and socks, sold by Emma to department stores in Stockholm and beyond. The wares proved so popular the women soon started making scarves, hats, sweaters, and jackets, specialising in women's clothing.
Bohuslän didn't have a tradition for knitting, so they started from scratch. The 1940s saw the characteristic Bohus Stickning style emerging, a series of gorgeous multicoloured patterns in lightweight wool or angora created using a unique combination of knit and purl.
As more women joined, more luscious designs appeared
Over the years Emma was joined by Vera Bjurström, Anna-Lisa Mannheimer Lunn, Annika Malmström-Bladini, Kerstin Olson and Karin Ivarsson, Mona Reuterberg and plenty more, with Göta Trägårdh acting as a fashion advisor. It didn't take long for the Bohus Stickning brand to take over Swedish fashion, worn by famous women like Helena Rubinstein, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.
1995 saw Wendy Keele publish a brilliant book, Poems of Color: Knitting in the Bohus Tradition and the Women Who Drove This Swedish Cottage Industry. It drove a dramatic revival in the craft, and Bohus Stickning style work went international. In 1999 a master dyer working with the Bohusläns Museum, Solveig Gustafsson, decided to recreate a number of original designs and offered both the patterns and dyed yarns for sale. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A tradition that has spread the world over
Ever since then the tradition has carried on, through different people. At one point an angora rabbit farmer, Pernille Silfverberg, took over and expanded the number of patterns available. In 2009 Susanna Hansson and Wendy J. Johnson curated an exhibition called Bohus Stickning. Radiant Knits: An Enchanting Obsession, which opened at the USA's American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it drove even more publicity.
These days knitters all over the world are creating Bohus knit masterpieces, and the style has become a legend in its own lifetime. You'll be glad to know what alpaca wool is the perfect yarn for the job!
Les Tricoteuses de la guillotine - The knitting women of the French Revolution
Knitting is innately peaceful. Or is it? Not when there's a revolution in the wind...
Tricot is a plain, fine, warp-knitted fabric, either natural or man-made. A Tricoteuse is French for a 'knitting woman', both a nickname and a specific term to describe the women who sat beside Paris' deadly guillotine while people were publicly executed, calmly knitting. They apparently carried on knitting right through the executions, and knitted all sorts of items including the infamous liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian bonnet, a conical cap whose top bends forwards, worn in ancient times and not dissimilar to the Roman cap of Liberty, a 'pileus'.
Knitting can be political - When the market women marched on Versailles
One of the earliest signs of rebellion was the famous market Women's March on Versailles, which took place in early October 1789, intended to rail against rocketing food prices and chronic shortages. Thousands of poor women from the markets of Paris spontaneously marched to the Palace of Versailles to protest, and their efforts gained them a great deal of respect. King Louis XVI met their demands and was even forced to abandon Versailles and return to Paris, to rule from the nation's spiritual home.
The march wasn't expected to be a success. Louis was egotistical and edgy, and many predicted revenge-fuelled carnage. But the market women fast gained an almost magical status and soon became famous in their own right. They didn't have a leader as such. But their powerful group identity, and the way they took the moral high ground with ease was celebrated far and wide. The so-called Mothers of the Nation were the celebrities of the time, and their opinions were widely sought by politicians for years afterwards.
Sadly the women's ongoing straight talking, rebelliousness and disrespect for those in power eventually made them a political liability, and the increasingly authoritarian revolutionary government became totally fed up with them. In 1793 the revolution began in earnest and the market women, by that time seen as dangerously unpredictable, were not made welcome. In May the same year they found themselves excluded from their seats in the spectator galleries of the National Convention. A few days after that they were prohibited from joining any political gathering, of any kind, and their voices were finally silenced.
The veterans of the march and their supporters didn't go quietly, though. They met at the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution, these days the Place de la Concorde, and performed the role of disapproving onlookers as people's heads rolled. The knitting they did while they sat there led to them being named Les Tricoteuses, the knitting-women.
Next time you pick up your needles and yarn, remember that knitting isn't always the peaceful pastime we imagine it to be. It can affect politics, change lives, and drive cultural and social change.
Knitted lace traditions from around the world
Many countries have their own distinctive style of lace knitting. Britain is no different. The most famous British lace knitting of all is probably from the Shetland Islands, which lie on the shipping route between Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, the Mediterranean and the United States. Here's some insight into an ancient tradition that can be broken down into three categories: Orenberg lace, Shetland lace, and Estonian lace.
Lace Knitting on the Shetland islands
Knitting on the Shetlands goes back at least as far as the 1600s. By the 1700s the islanders were profiting from their skills, exchanging their work for money and goods, and by 1901 around 30% of all islanders were involved in the hosiery trade.
Lace knitting on Shetland kicked off in the 1840s, thanks to better transport links between the islands and the mainland. Islanders brought in the latest, most fashionable lace articles to copy, and the northernmost island of Unst profited thanks to its legendary finely spun yarn made from the neck of sheep, perfect for delicate, expensive lace shawls and scarves.
Shetland lace was expensive and luxurious. It was also unique, with no casting on or off. You'd simply start off with one stitch then knit the edges diagonally on the bias. No wonder it was loved so much by Queen Victoria, who often commissioned it for herself and as gifts.
Shetland lace tends to be either garter or stocking stitch, and the pattern is worked on the right and wrong-side rows.
Russian knitted lace from Orenburg
Orenburg lace can be traced back to the Orenburg region of Russia, at the remote, dramatic southern tip of the Ural Mountains. It's an oral tradition passed down through countless generations. The industry was so vital to the area that the Russian government subsidised the production of lace for many decades, something that only came to an end in 1995.
Traditional Orenburg knitted lace features ten main motifs: peas, honeycomb, fish eye, mouse print, strawberry, large strawberry, cat's paw, accordion, chain heart, and diagonal. In Orenburg lace, the pattern is worked on both right and wrong-side rows. The lace tends to be knitted in garter stitch and the holes in honeycomb, sometimes with two and sometimes three rows.
Estonian knitted lace traditions
Estonian lace has its own set of unique stitches, used to create the Lily of the Valley pattern that's so famous in the region. They're also hot on edging. Estonian scarves and shawls usually have a scalloped edge, made via the region's special nupp stitch, and often feature flower motifs.
The town of Haapsalu, on the west coast of Estonia, sat at the hub of all this activity, which started around 200 years ago when Russia ruled Estonia. The women in Haapsalu, on Estonia's west coast, started a lace shawl knitting tradition that remains to this day.
The lace they make features dozens of complex patterns including twig, leaf, ash leaf, birch leaf, blueberry, ligonberry and lady bug, and the famous nupp – a bobble-shape – completes the picture. They also create interesting and unusual textures thanks to varying the placement of knitted-together stitches.
Can you learn to knit lace?
The simple answer is yes, you can learn to knit lace. There might even be a class in your area. There are certainly plenty of books to start you off, including the First Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel, first published back in 1972 and still available second hand at Amazon.
Fun with wool - Continental versus British knitting styles
You go to Europe, and people knit in the exact same way we do here in Britain... or do they? In fact knitters don't all knit the same way, and the difference is about much more than simply the way you hold the needles. Every individual knitter has their own unique way of placing and holding the yarn, and creating the right tension. It all goes to create your own knitting style. And we tend to do things very differently over in Europe than we do over here.
What's the difference between continental knitting styles and the way we do things in Britain, on our lovely little island? The first thing to say is that neither one is right or wrong, they're just different. There's no rivalry, and learning both styles will liven up your knitting life no end.
What's the difference between continental and UK knitting?
The main difference in English vs. Continental knitting is the way the yarn is wrapped around the right needle before you pull it through to create a stitch. English-style knitting is sometimes called 'throwing' or 'American knitting' while continental knitting involves 'picking'. Continental knitting is also called German knitting, left-handed knitting, or European knitting. Here's how the two methods differ.
About English style knitting:
- You hold the wool in your right hand
- You throw the wool when wrapping
- This style is a lot easier when using chunky yarns
- You hold the wool in your left hand
- You pick up the wool when wrapping
- This style makes for much faster knit stitch, but a slower purl stitch
- Because it's easier to alternate between knits and purls, continental knitting is perfect for alternating seed stitch and ribbing
- People who already crochet tend to find this style easier to learn that English knitting
Which to choose?
Some say knitting continental style is faster than English style, and plenty of the planet's fastest knitters use the continental style because it takes fewer movement to make a stitch. It's also popular with people who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. And while some believe continental style knitting is best for the left-handed amongst us, both methods are fine for both hands. After all, one always knits with the right and left hands!
Changing your knitting style has physical benefits
Knitters, like anyone else who makes lots of repetitive movements, can suffer from RSI, repetitive strain injuries. Changing your knitting style can relieve your wrists and hands, reducing the pain and strain. English style demands a completely different hand and wrist action than continental, where the yarn is 'picked'.
Both can leave you with RSI, but combining the two means the effect of all those repeated actions is lessened. Plenty of people also find that the continental method demands a different tension, which also helps reduce pain.
However you like to knit, our stunning wools and yarns will help you make something totally stunning. Why not explore our collection and get inspired?
Get Hooked on Crochet – Spring into action with alpaca wool!
Do you like knitting? How about crochet? If you're looking to make beautiful garments and accessories from our lovely, soft, warm alpaca wool, crocheting is just as fascinating as knitting, with the same much potential. Here's a potted history of crochet to inspire you.
What is crochet?
Crochet is a means of making complicated fabrics using interlocking loops of yarn and a crochet hook. It comes from the French word crochet, a small hook, which in turn comes from the German word for hook, croc. It differs from knotting in that every stitch is finished before moving on to the next one, while knitting involves keeping a long string of stitches open until the garment or other item is finished.
When was crochet invented?
The Dutch women's magazine Penélopé mentioned crochet in 1823, also featuring a colour illustration of three silk thread purses made using it. One was made using the very simplest open crochet, merely a mesh of chain-stitches. The second alternates chain stitch with long slip-stitch, and the third is made entirely from double-crochet.
In the UK garments made from crocheted cloth – often called Shepherd's Knitting – were mentioned in the memoirs of a Highland Lady, a book written by Elizabeth Grant in around 1812 but not published until 1898. The 1840s saw a flurry of books published on the subject, one of which mentions that crochet was originally a Scottish craft, practised by the peasants in Scotland and says, "This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention."
The end of the Victorian era saw trendy Edwardians adopting crochet as their own, and between 1910 and 1920 it was incredibly popular, becoming more elaborate and complex in response. It was popular through the WW2 years, when making do and mending was the done thing, and again in the 1970s, when super-skinny models wore super-short dresses and tabards made from colourful crochet squares. And now, in 2018, it is fast becoming a trending topic again thanks to a resurgence in handicrafts and DIY, along with today's strong trend for recycling and up-cycling.
Who designs with Crochet today
The British design team Body Map has used crochet to explore the appeal of 'home made' inspired clothing. Irish designer Lainey Keogh uses crochet widely in her wonderful work. Vivienne Westwood is a big crochet fan and Jean Paul Gaultier has combined knitting and crochet to subvert fashion. Helen Rodel, Celia B, Katie Jones Knit, Anna Kosturov, Dolce and Gabbana, and John and Simone Rocha all use crochet in their couture collections.
7 basic crochet stitches to learn
There are seven basic kinds of crochet stitch apart from your initial foundation chain, which is how every piece of crochet starts life
- Chain stitch
- Slip stitch
- Double crochet
- Half treble
- Double treble
- Triple treble
You can also do longer basic stitches, called Quadruple Treble, Quintuple Treble, Sextuple Treble and so on, created by winding your yarn multiple times over the hook at the start then wrapping / drawing through two loops several times to finish complete the stitch.
There are some advanced stitches too, many of which are made using combinations of basic stitches, or by inserting your hook in unusual places. Once you've mastered the basics you can move on to exciting things like shell stitch, V stitch, spike, Afghan, butterfly, popcorn, cluster and crocodile stitches.
Things to make using crocheting
You can crochet with really fine silk thread if you like, for a stunning delicate result, or go big and use really chunky wool, even string, twine, rope, unravelled winter woollies, even strips of thin fabric knotted together. And crochet can be used to create a huge range of lovely things, including:
- Beautiful hats and scarves
- Thick, warm throws for beds and settees
- Gloriously colourful winter coats and jackets, lined for extra warmth
- Dresses, skirts and jumpers
- Headbands and leg warmers
- A cup holder to keep your coffee cosy
- A case for your smartphone or spectacles
- Baby blankets
- Cushion covers for settees
- Pet beds
5 easy places to get crochet inspiration
Here are some links to great places stuffed solid with excellent crochet ideas.
Have you seen our lovely art deco Brittany Birch crochet hooks- why not treat yourself. If you are just learning you can use any wool or yarn from your stash to practice with. However once you have mastered it wouldn't it be lovely to tackle your fist project using our lovely Chilla Valley Alpaca or one of our other luxury yarns from the range.