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Monday, 30 April 2012

A Wonderwool weekend

Following a late night packing our van to the roof with yarn, fleece and buttons we made a very early start off to Bulith Wells on Saturday morning. Far more important than our usual stock, this time we had two pet boy alpacas onboard.

It's been a while since we took alpacas into an exhibition with us (they're not too keen on it in central London!).

Linda the Toft Alpaca Stud herdswoman selected 'Orsino' and 'Qel-Droma' for this mission into rural Wales. We wanted to take both a Suri and a Huacaya with us to allow all the spinners and knitters to see and feel the difference between the two alpaca breeds.

The boys went down a storm, and attracted fans of all ages- especially these alpaca superfans who helped us load them on for the trip back on Sunday evening.

We had a wet and cold but very enjoyable weekend at this great show with everything you could possibly want to see and buy that's 'woolly'.

It's great to be at an event that reminds people where yarn and wool comes from- and lovely to meet so many sheep and craftspeople working with British fibre.

We will certainly be back next year and we hope to see you there.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Coming LIVE from Toft Studio...

To top off what's been a really BIG week at Toft we've packed our waxy jackets and wellies ready for Wonderwool this weekend.  Despite the weather we will be taking two of our boys with us to meet the crowds and of course lots of fleece and yarn. So here's a quick update (excuse the phone photos!) before we hit the road...

What a week it has been here.  We have successfully now uprooted the whole company from Toft Manor, and we have moved across the yard into the gorgeous Toft Studio.

Following some very late nights we got the yarn store and workshop area unloaded yesterday.  Complete with antique jewellery making benches and tractor seat stools we think it's looking pretty awesome. 

In the entrance to The Studio we are currently in the process of knitting up two sofas and eight tub chairs to create a realizing chatting area to sit and read the latest knitting magazines, and Albert is busy making us some giant button tables to rest our coffee cups on.

Through to the main workshop room and we are still awaiting a few pieces of furniture, but it is really taking shape.  These old sewing benches we perfect- providing a good height to work at and lots of built in storage too.  Next week they will be finished off with steel tops to give them a new lease of life as the 70s surfaces have seen better days.

We've acquired a few singer sewing machine bases along the way and knocked up some side tables- and a draughtsmans board to hold all our latest design collection ideas on.  The space is very light and airy and perfect for enjoying all craft and textile workshops.  The added luxury of underfloor heating means that we can see it being very cosy this winter and we'll be putting workshop dates in the diary very soon.

So next time you come up to Toft for a workshop, or just for your latest yarn fix, you'll be able to hang your coat on the old iron pegs and take a seat for a while to enjoy this fantastic new space.

The big coffee pot is on in the staff kitchen as all our knitters and regular customers drop in to say hi and look at the new building.  Come over to meet the new team soon.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Knitting for your Home

Although this week it does feel a bit chilly again, and here in the new office we've got our heating on pretty high, before too long we should be enjoying the gentle heat and long days of British summer time proper. Due to the expectation of shorts and sandals weather (unless you're a very organised knitter and have got your Christmas gift list on the needles already) it can be a time when you're a bit stuck for things to knit.

Although some of you will be the dedicated four-season knitter, others seem to regard knitting and crafting in general as a winter sport. In the summer the nights are longer and there just seems to be far more to 'do' so a knitting habit can fall by the wayside.

We find that summer is a good time of year to knock out some fast projects for instant gratification. Don't start a 50hr garment project, but instead embrace a few short 5-10hr projects to get done when there's a rainy evening or two.

A great idea is knitting for your home. Sofas and cushions need woolly jumpers too- and right now chunky knitted interiors are everywhere.  This White Company blanket and cushion is gorgeous and oh so simpleOr this even chunkier cushion and throw is also lovely and a serious knitted statement.
Beginner Blanket from Toft Alpaca

Knitted blankets can be as laborious or quick to knit as your diary allows. Something like this beginner blanket takes advantage of big needles (20mm) and you knit using multiple strands of yarn together.

For those who are a toft subscriber this will be this week's free pattern so sign up now.

In contrast a blanket like this herringbone one is in our chunky yarn. A stitch that takes you two steps forward and one step backwards so it is a much slower grower.

When knitting blankets in one piece rather than in panels or squares we would recommend using circular needles with a long cord circumference. If you knit straight on these it allows you to cast on lots of stitches, and also helps you manage the weight of your project. Holding up 2kg on broomsticks is hard work on the shoulders!

We now stock 25mm needles for just such projects- stash bust by running strands together. Cushion covers make great beginner projects too.

If you're looking for something a bit smaller these striped cushions are very simple and high impact. Choose two natural colours, get your big needles out and knit knit knit. No shaping required.

See our HOME section for more ideas. 

Or if you wait a couple of weeks we'll be doing to big reveal on some interiors of our own for Toft Studio. As we speak three of our knitters have been entrusted with massive quantities of yarn and some very funny sketches and measurements.

They're very big- and will be the perfect place to relax, enjoy a cup of tea, and flick through the latest knitting magazines on your trip to Toft Studio

Friday, 13 April 2012

School’s Out Craft workshops with Toft Alpaca

We know it's only the Easter Holidays, but that means just one more term until school's out for the summer. Book now to get on one of our special summer holiday workshops- and don't forget to add our CRAFT OPEN DAY to your diary. Saturday 4th August. Don't miss out!

School’s Out Craft workshops with Toft Alpaca

Wet Felting Craft Morning
Children age 5-10 (accompanied by one adult)

This summer we will host two 3hr craft workshops aimed at mums, dads and their children. We are opening up our doors on Friday 10th and 24th August 9.30am-12.30pm.

The session will include a short farm walk to meet the alpacas including all the babies here at Toft at this time of year. We will then spend time doing wet felting in alpaca fleece. We will be making alpaca pictures in the fleece with traditional techniques using soap and water. At the end of the session there will be a chance to get your photo taken holding an alpaca on a halter lead.

The cost for the session will be £25 for one adult and a child.

This will include all materials, equipment and refreshments of tea, juice and cakes.

Places will be very limited so book soon to avoid disappointment.

Knit a Phone Sock
Young people age 11-18

This summer we will host a 3hr craft workshops aimed at getting young people knitting. We are opening up our doors on Friday 17th August 9.30am-12.30pm for this new workshop. We will teach knitting in a non-traditional way by not prescribing a knitting pattern to simply follow, but instead helping demonstrate how to create a pattern by measuring what you want to knit and make up your own design.

The session will include a short farm walk to meet the alpacas including all the babies here at Toft at this time of year. We will then spend time learning to knit from scratch. Attendees are invited to bring a phone or ipod that they would like to knit a sock for.

The cost for the session will be £25 per person.

This will include all materials, equipment and refreshments of tea, juice and cakes.

Places will be very limited so book soon to avoid disappointment.

To book online today visit here.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Knitting causing you tension??!

Knitters tend to approach tensions in several ways. Some knitters never knit a tension square - whispering with a giggle that belies the fact that they know how naughty they are, but "I just want to get on with my knitting, it seems such a waste of time". Other knitters can get slightly obsessive about tensions, worrying that anything they are knitting, from a scarf to complex jumper, something to be felted or a hat can't possibly be attempted without a tension square.
At Toft we like to think that we fall somewhere in between. Yes, giving tensions in patterns is very important and most if not all of our patterns now have them, but whilst we tend to knit tension squares for garments quite religiously, we don't tend to follow this rule when knitting scarves, snoods and other accessories.
Now you may call us reckless but if you have been knitting for a while you probably know whether you have a tight or loose tension and you adjust your needles accordingly and when knitting a scarf for instance it doesn't matter too much if it turns out a little smaller or bigger than the sample piece that we have. There again if you are a newbie knitter, as many Toft fans are, we want you to feel comfortable that the first pieces of knitting you attempt are quite easy; they grow nice and quickly on large needles giving you lots of confidence to continue knitting and you shouldn't have to worry about getting too technical with tensions. In fact our beginner patterns are designed with this in mind.
When talking about knitting, tension covers not only the amount of stitches and rows within a given measurement, it can also refer to the weight of the yarn and therefore a measurement of tension or gauge. We occasionally get calls from worried knitters querying which needle size to use for their pattern because the needle size given on the yarn band is different to that given in the pattern. Again call us reckless but who doesn't love a beautiful lacy snood knitted in fine yarn on huge needles? This effect is very different to that you would achieve by sticking to the guide needle size of 3mm for instance. Likewise when knitting for something that will be later felted, like the Bulb Bag you need to use large needles (bigger than the 8mm indicated on the yarn band) in order that your bag will then felt correctly in the washing machine once completed.
You will find lots of references to the amount of stitches and rows per 10cm that should be achieved when using a particular yarn with a particular needle size in patterns books, magazines and on the web. These are very useful and all Toft yarns do knit to their given weight, Lace or 2 ply, Fine (3-4ply), Double Knitting, Aran and Chunky, but they shouldn't be taken as the complete gospel. Knitting would look very boring if we didn't experiment, use huge needles to knit a rib snood for example or a moss stitch blanket with several strands of chunky yarn.
Toft Tip: Some references and patterns class Toft Aran as Chunky and Toft Chunky as Super Chunky, if the needle size recommended is around 5-5.5mm then you need Toft Aran and above around a 7or 8mm you would need Toft Chunky - of course this all goes out of the window depending on the effect you want to achieve and the stitch you are using. Toft's Herringbone Blanket for example is knitted on 12mm needles (10mm needles recommended) because we found after experimenting that this size gave the best stitch definition in our Chunky wool alpaca blend yarn, we did start off with an 8mm needle!
The tension of a yarn weight is actually a very subjective thing, two DK yarns made by the same producers, in the same fibres, will have a slight variation in their knitted tension depending on something as small as the different dye colour used. Therefore it stands to reason that DK yarns of different fibres, dyes and even natural colours will also have a variation in their tension. It took a couple of years of spinning with alpaca (not to mention the sweat and tears) to know just how to spin the perfect Toft Alpaca Shop yarn for you and this isn't necessarily the same way that other alpaca yarns are spun.
I guess what we are saying is, don't let knitting tensions get you down.
We would recommend as a rule that you should knit a tension square definately for garments, but if you don't want to, or think you know your own knitting tension quite well then don't worry so much for accessories.

Some Toft Tension Tips
* If you are knitting with Toft yarn to a non-Toft pattern then work a tension square. You might need a different yarn weight to the one given on the pattern, yarn weights vary between producers as does the meterage of yarn, so worry less about the weight in grams and more about the meterage within your ball of yarn.
* If you are a knitting newbie your tension is likely to be either really really tight or really quite loose. Don't panic, with practise this will sort itself out and you will discover your actual knitting tension. Just be aware that your first piece might not be perfect - but it's your first piece of knitting so be proud of your achievement! You could always book on one of our beginner knitting workshops to hone your skills
* When knitting intarsia and fairisle your tension and something called yarn-dominance will be very important. If you have a loose tension definitely use smaller needles than required when knitting intarsia, you will probably also have to compensate for your loose tension whilst you are knitting between colours by tightening the yarn as you go, and fairisle, that a whole other story! Why not book a place on our colour workshop to learn more- we guarentee you'll love colour work.
* If you are going to knit a tension square, knit more than just the amount of stitches and rows stated in the pattern's tension square. Never be tempted to measure from edge to edge of your knitting. You should also, if you are being serious about this tension malarky, block (i.e. wash and press your little square) just as would do the final item. Knitting will relax and settle once blocked and this will affect your tension measurement. (A blocking blog post will be coming soon).
* Don't sweat it - to paraphrase knitting guru Elizabeth Zimmerman be the master of your knitting and don't let it cause you tension!