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Friday, 14 September 2012

Socks away

It's been a very busy time here as ever at Toft towers.  We've been working away at the new collection which was eagerly anticipated and has now been viewed and ordered lots of times over, fantastic news since it's only 10 days old.

So in this blog we wanted to walk you through a few of the highlights many of which are adventures into new areas for us and about which we are very excited!

The first and possibily the most popular item already is our Butterfly shawl.  Knitting in our limited edition extra fine yarn this shawl is dainty yet not to girly, it's pretty, stylish and very versatile.  Worn over the shoulders or with all three points to the front it's an instant update to your autumn wardrobe, not to mention being a gorgeous to knit up item.

Next up we'd like to mention our new crochet kits.  We've totally fallen for the way of the hook and although knitting will always be our first love we're very pleased to have some fabulous new designs with Toft's usual take on classic with a twist.  It's so hard to choose between crochet granny bag, giant crochet scarf and our new baby blanket, plus these cute slippers (make two pairs from one kit) and crochet square wristwarmers, we want to crochet them all!

You might be wondering at this point why the title for this blog post since we've been ranting away about everything but socks, well here we go.  We have three exclusive new socks designed by some very talented ladies with whom it's been a pleasure to work.

First up are these beautiful lacy ankle socks, designed by Emma of Manfield Crafts (a beautiful yarn and craft shop in Rushden, Northamptonshire).  The simple and elegant lace design has been admired by all our sample knitters - we nearly had a rucus over who would get to test the pattern first (it was resolved with tea and cake you'll be unsuprised to learn). 

Next up were a pair of cabled socks designed by Laurie-an D'Alderley who creates all manner of knitting patterns, complex and simple but all very desirably knitable.  After some discussion over the type of style (which was very amusing thank you Laurie) she came up with this cable that sits so neatly around the foot, we just love them.  Not only did she come up with the cable design but to tie in with her workshop here in a next week(22nd Sept) Laurie also created a pair of toe-up socks in Aran featured below - can't wait for that workshop.

Last but certainly not least are a combination of cables and lace designed for us by the talented Mandy Yates (whilst studying for her Btec in fashion design, how does she find the time?).  Without knowing each others designs these three talented designers have created a perfect trio which compliment each other perfectly.  Mandy's socks combine a stunning lace back panel with a cable along the front of the foot. 

We'd like to thank all three designers for their time, patience (we know it took quite a bit of ripping back on occasions Mandy!) and for working with Toft.

We are sure to blog about the collection again quite soon but remember it's available online now and the Toft tour is back on the road with Manchester this weekend for Creative Stitches and Hobbycrafts show at Event City.  Closely followed by Spirit of Christmas Olympia, Ally Pally and Harrogate so hopefully we'll see you soon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Festival of Quilts 2012

The Festival of Quilts last weekend at the NEC Birmingham was a colourful and impressive show. The show took up two massive arena halls and had a presentation of over a thousand quilts.  The rooms were packed full of buttons, threads, fabric, sewing machines (some very impressive) and enthusiastic craft lovers.

This was the first show for Claire, Charlie and Harriet the new members of Team Toft.  It was a wonderful show and we all thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone who came to say hello to us.

As ever the Toft Stand was full of bulb bag kits, yarn and our softer than soft teddy bears (which people just had to stop and touch). We also took our 20% summer sale with us, ponchos, cross over dresses and snoods which proceeded to fly off the stand.  We did however, manage to get some time to have a wander and pick up a few treats for ourselves.

Claire was able to meet Kaffe Fassett, she brought his new autobiography and got it signed too which was a highlight for her.  The Cotton Patch stand was gorgeous, full of colour and patchwork kits including Kaffe Fasset and Amy Butler.

Magee was an exciting find of tweed patch work kits, they are Ireland based company but the colours of the tweed were beautiful.  Fabric Galore were selling Liberty Fabrics showing off there attractive designs and even had some Manolo Blahnik fabric for sale (not for long we’re sure).  The amount of fabric showcased was amazing!
The four days were very exciting for us at Toft we always enjoy meeting new and existing customers and helping them get on to the next Toft kit. As always it was a pleasure to meet some new customers who found us for the first time at this show.

We are looking forward to next year’s show already.  Look out for Toft coming to a venue near you, next stop Manchester 13th to 16th September.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

An awesome August day at the farm...Toft Open Day 2012

Firstly I would like to apologise for how long it has taken to publish this post. Since our open day earlier this month we have been really busy here at Toft.

This year our Open Day was better supported than ever with over 500 people enjoying some alpaca action over the 6 hours. We had activities for all including alpaca halter walking, farm tours and knitting lessons.

Due to the success of the day and the wonderful feedback we have received since, we have decided that in 2013 we shall host not one but TWO of these days.

So... EASTER MONDAY. Get it in your family's diary right now- you're coming to Toft for a full day of alpaca activities.

It is guaranteed to be bigger and better than ever and full catering and refreshments will be available.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Round up of this Year's New Additions to the Toft Herd

It has been quite a short birthing season here this year at Toft- with the first one kicking off in mid May, and the last one waiting to go any day.  So now we have just short of 50 cria on the ground- and what a spectacular line up.

So make sure you have the Farm Open Day in your diary and come and meet them all on Saturday 4th August 2012 10am-3pm. 

Ready to POP!


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A very crafty afternoon in the Studio

This Saturday we enjoyed a very busy day here at Toft with a visit from the Knit Now magazine editor, followed by a taster workshop for 18 ladies keen to learn all they could about alpacas and knitting in three hours.

Kicking off at 1pm just after lunch we welcomed the group and then set off on a farm walk while the sun was shining. As ever the cria didn't fail to please and there were plenty of photo opportunities as they all played with each other in the field.

For those more advanced ladies who already knew their knit from their purl they set off knitting a phone sock- or upgraded to another one of the Toft knitting kits. 

This coming weekend we have our Intro to Knitting workshop.  Speand a whole day on farm knocking the rust off your skills or learning to cast on for the very first time for just £50 per person including all your materials and lunch. 

The next date in the calendar is a first for us- in the form of  Giant Knitting workshop learning to use two very big sticks!  This is an afternoon workshop and just £33 per person including lots of cake and your very own set of 25mm knitting needles! Suitable for total beginners. 
FRIDAY 13th JULY 2012.

If you've always been intimidated by cables and boobles but loved that traditional texture in knitting then our Aran Workshop is the one for you.  You will need to know your knitting basics (cast on, knit, purl, inc, dec, cast off) but we will take you through getting to grips with a cable needle and getting proper texture into your work.  This is an afternoon workshop and costs £35 including your aran weight yarn.
FRIDAY 20th July 2012.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A colourful knitting day at Toft

Here at Toft Towers colour work (in a selection of natural alpaca colours of course) is something we are really starting to encorporate into our knitting.  Be it intarsia or stripes, fair isle or slip stitches, we love working with colour combinations to create unique patterns.
Jubliee jumper with intarsia diamond.
So Saturday's colour knitting workshop at Toft Studio was an excuse to share this love as we welcomed several workshop regulars, as well as some new faces. 

We covered intarsia - did you know that this term originates from woodwork and the inlaying of different colours of wood to make a pattern, but in knitting it refers to using blocks of colour.  With intarsia knitting is not stranded or carried across the back of the knitting as with fair isle, instead a pattern piece is knitted effectively in columns and therefore bobbins of yarn are used for each column.

Toft's jubliee jumper is a brilliant example of intarsia with swiss darning or duplicate stitch detailing (see our website for our swiss darning help video). The key to tip top intarsia is your tension, in fact the talk of tension was a running theme of the whole day.  Too loose, you'll get holes where the colours join and too tight, joins will be puckered and out of shape. 
Colour work means lots of yarn, not all of it alpaca to practice with.
Stranding or floats behind fair isle work.

The day started with a slightly soggy dash around the farm to meet and greet the newest additions to the herd and then it was back to the comfort of Toft Studio for tea and biscuits before a full day of knitting.  After a warming lunch (it might be June but we needed it on such a rainy day - it felt more like March!) the afternoon was spent tackling fair isle and learning to knit with a strand of yarn in each hand, one continental style and one English style. We chose between the fair isle beanie kit or a brand new Toft design, the houndstooth fair isle wrist warmers kit, which is available to purchase online or at the farm now!
Sneak preview of Toft's new Houndstooth wristwarmers

Toft tips for fair isle are to give continental knitting a practice before tackling fair isle, if you are determined to do it properly that is. Fair isle never uses more than two colours in any one row and knitting using this method of one strand in each hand, rather than picking up and dropping colours as required will give your knitting a better chance of looking tip top. This latter method can play havoc with your tension (I did warn you about the prominence of that t-word!) and also yarn dominance. In brief, yarn dominance means which strand is carried above and which below according to how they held when knitting and this must be consistent because one colour will appear to recede and one will be dominant. 

There is more to fair isle than first meets the eye - it's pretty involved and incredibly interesting!

Even the history of fair isle was discussed during the day, did you know for example that sleeves are traditionally knitted from the shoulder down in order that the well worn cuff can be unravelled and re-knitted as necessary. Shetland islanders were also proficient on-the-go circular knittters, many ladies had knitting belts enabling them to knit whilst doing their daily work, probably with a baby on their back at the same time, multi-tasking and portable knitting all in one!  Puts our knitting on the go with knit pros a little in the shade! Those kind of facts are perfect examples of knitting know how providing ingenious solutions to practical problems. Indeed learning intarsia and fair isle, traditional knitting methods for use in modern designs of the like found at Toft give us (and I'm pretty sure all knitters) a warm fuzzy glow.


Lots to discuss about colour work.
We haven't got another colour workshop in the diary yet but do let us know if you'd be interested in learning. Helen and Carrie got very excited about lots of new ideas after their first brainstorming session together that the diary until Christmas is chocablock full of new topics. Take a look at the website to book your place on one of our new workshops, some are even in the diary for a Friday afternoon like the lace , aran and giant knitting workshops, should you fancy a cheeky afternoon off in the relaxing surroundings at Toft.

From autumn onwards crochet workshops feature highly alongside spinning, quilted patchwork and firm favourites like the button bag and several seasonal felting workshops. Why not let us know if you have any workshop ideas that you'd like to see at Toft.
Little Cria hiding the grass at Toft.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Toft's Open Farm Craft Day - Roll On Summer!

Today at Toft we finally got some sunshine after a week of high winds and heavy rain. It got us all excited for summer's arrival, and doubly keen for the 4th of August to swing round - because we're having a party!

Between 10am and 4pm Toft Alpaca farm will open its doors for a summer open day where visitors can meet our beautiful alpacas, tour the farm and enjoy taster sessions in an incredible variety of crafts. 

You can try your hand at knitting, felt-making and crochet under the supervision of our expert tutors, and talk the hind leg off an alpaca about all things crafty. The best part is it's completely FREE. We'll even be laying on one of our scrumptious cream teas.

Activities will be suitable for all ages and all levels of experience - we're all about passing skills between people of every background and every generation.

You'll get a chance to find out exactly what goes on here and meet the entire team (including some of our hairier members).

Make sure you save the date in your diary: August 4th. Come and soak up the sunshine - even as I write this, the ladies from today's crochet workshop are standing on Toft Manor's terrace with bulging bags of newly purchased yarn, looking out over our rolling fields at Draycote Water shining in the distance. I can't think of a better way to spend a day - hurry up August!  

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Bags of Big Button Style

Helen reports on the latest workshop at Toft...

From talking to visitors to Toft studio it seems that a lot of people discovered us by eying up the Giant Button Bags at the craft shows we attend, a definite fashion statement- they certainly stick in the mind.

Ooooh, where did you get that bag?!
As soon as I started working here I quickly formed a mental note of all the Toft patterns I wanted to make, and there's a lot of them believe me, but this was the one at the top of my list so I was very glad to support Carrie during this workshop as I got to learn all her top tips!

The Button Bag is a fun project to make as it uses a number of different techniques, none of which are overly complicated but they're enough to provide a little challenge to build up your skills bank, such as knitting straight on circular needles, working in the round, decreasing decoratively to create its beautiful bulb shape and knitted felting. The chunky size needles used means that it knits up really quickly, so it satisfies all requirements for speed, interest and unique finished product!

Knitting on circular needles has a number of benefits, firstly there's less sewing up involved (which in my book is always a bonus!), but also the weight of the project is always balanced in the middle resting on your lap which is handy, especially if you're making the Giant Button Bag! It's also convenient for knitting on the move as it fits in your bag easily, stitches are less likely to accidently slip off the pins and when knitting on the bus, for example, you don't repeatedly jab the person sitting next to you in the ribs. You can see our range of circular needles for sale on our website if you fancy giving them a go.

Top tip for newcomers to circular knitting:

Knitting Stockinette Stitch in the round is super easy as all you do is knit, knit and then knit some more! Because you're working around in a circle (or rather a spiral) you're always on the right side of the work so you don't have to do purl rows like you would on straight needles. However, if you want to make Garter Stitch you have to knit 1 round, then purl a round, then knit a round. It's just the opposite of working on straights - simple.
Circular needles - nothing to get wound up about

If you try the Button Bag for yourself you'll notice that the needle size you use is much bigger than the one recommended for the yarn type this is because the bag is felted once you've knit it. So it starts off really loose, open knit and floppy, then in the magic of a 2 hour 40 degree wash cycle the fibres shrink and compact down to create the dense, firm felt structure.

Top Tips for Knitted Felting:

Now, normally we'd recommend you to handwash your alpaca knits with a gentle wool detergent and dry flat away from heat, but because we want to deliberately shrink our knitting we need a more vigorous hotter wash and a standard non-biological detergent, be sure to use a non-bio though or your bag might turn out a little fuzzier than you expected! You'll also want to avoid using soapflakes like Lux as these will hinder the felting process.
Once the bag is felted, future washes can be done on a 30 degree wool cycle.
The finishing touch

Lots of workshop attendees decided to upgrade and go for the Big Bag size, rather than the workshop's standard mini size, and after choosing colours and a beautiful handturned Toft Button they set to it. Although the workshop isn't quite long enough to knit the entire bag (unless you are a very confident quick knitter!) everyone left having had experience and tuition of the techniques involved, feeling confident they could finish up and felt it when they got home.

The next Button bag workshop is on Sat 15th September so do go to our website and book a place if you fancy a go yourself or know someone who would like a fantastic gift day experience.

If you can't wait that long to visit Toft in our brand new studio, we have lots of other workshops you can try before then, such as our new Intro to Crochet on Sat 9th June, and our Intro to Colour Work on Sat 16th June. Visit our website for a full guide to our exciting new workshops, including sock making, quilting and spinning.