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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.