Friday, 21 January 2011

A Guide to Super Funky, Bulky, Chunky Yarns - Tried & Tested

I'm an impatient knitter - I like to see results quickly (It's all about the instant gratification...) - and for me the best way to achieve this is with using thick, heavyweight yarns from the Super Bulky / Chunky category.

I've been using a lot of different yarns from this category; here is a run down of some of the yarns in this weight:

Rowan Big Wool

This is not a cheap yarn - 100g is usually priced at around £8 (approx $13), it is 100% Merino wool spun 3 ply. It suggests knitting on 15mm needles, but this leaves a very open knit - for closer knit work I'd recommend 10 or 12mm needles. 

Plus points: It comes in a great range of colours, and 100g is about enough to make a good sized cowl or hat so you don't need lots of balls for a small project 
Downsides: It's expensive, a little itchy to start with (it does soften out with use) and is not as super chunky as "Big Wool" suggests...

Sirdar Bigga

This yarn really is super chunky - knits up on 12 -15mm needles brilliantly, is much cheaper than Big Wool at around £3 (approx $5) for a 100g wool (though with less yardage) - made up of 50% wool and 50% acrylic.

Plus points: On the bulkier end of the spectrum, comes in a selection of earthy tones, wears well with the acrylic content
Downsides: Getting harder to get hold of as Sirdar have discontinued a lot of colours (still available to buy on ebay in good quantities), 

Sirdar Big Softie

Available more widely, this acrylic blend is 51% wool and 49% acrylic, and softer than Bigga. It is spun single ply, so does stretch when knitting if knitted too tight. Knits up well on 10mm needles, and is a great low cost option for those on a budget at £2.50 (approx $4 ) a ball on average.

Plus points: Cheaper than most super bulky yarns, versatile, softer feel
Downsides: Limited colour options, sheds when knitting, acrylic content noticeable in finished product - fine for accessories, may make a very hot and sticky jumper...

Debbie Bliss Como

I've been raving about this yarn for a while - it has the consistency of cotton wool, and is 90% wool, 10% cashmere. It is not cheap at around £6 (approx $10) for 50g, but knits up on 10mm needles beautifully. I have made a beret style hat out of 50g, 100g would do a thin scarf or a bigger hat and headband. Felts great too!

Plus points: Feels gorgeous against the skin, comes in a wide range of colours, is widely available in store and online, and easy to work with.
Downside: It is really expensive! Look out for people clearing out their stash on ebay if you are on a budget, and is not hard wearing.

Twilleys of Stamford Freedom Wool

I found this one a little harder to get hold of in store, but is available on line. At £2.50 (approx $4) for 50g and 100% wool content, it felts well, knits up on 12mm - 15mm needles, and would be a cheaper alternative to Como.

Plus points: Felts well, good value, comes in a good range of colours
Downsides: Not that hard wearing (but nor is Como really!)

Jiffy Thick & Quick Lion Brand Yarn

This popular US brand is available widely in the US, but I have found a European supplier too! Jiffy is a mohair type 100% acrylic yarn - a good vegan alternative to wool, and knits up on 12mm needles

Plus points: Great choice for those who can't wear wool, harder wearing than some yarns tested
Downsides: Only comes in 8 shades, all multi coloured - not much choice

Wool Ease Thick & Quick Lion Brand Yarn

This acrylic / wool blend of 80% wool and 20% acrylic is available in over 30 colours, and knits up on 9mm needles, so not as bulky as other yarns, but at £6.50 for 170g of yarn it is a good choice for larger projects. 

(Note: It seems more expensive in Europe than in America, where I can purchase from Lion at $7.80 (approx £4.80) a ball...)

Plus Points: Versatile, comes in a wide range of colours, larger balls so better value
Downsides: I don't like paying more for the same yarn just because I live in the UK! 

Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky
This 100% acrylic yarn is great for those who can't wear wool - it is soft and won't split when working with it - it is a 2 ply spun yarn. Retailing at around $4.50 in a good range of colours, but is difficult to get outside the US. Knits up on 8mm needles.

Plus points: Great alternative to wool, knits up well, durable
Downsides: Hard to get here in UK - more expensive again to buy here at £6 a ball, not as bulky as some of the yarns reviewed

There are also lots of homespun bespoke yarns out there locally and online from artisans spinning and dyeing yarns which I've not covered here as they vary so much between suppliers - but I urge you to seek out your local spinners for special yarns!

There are patterns available for all of these yarns - I am useless with patterns and tend to make up what I'm doing as I go along! A lot of the time you can substitute yarns from the list above (for example you can substitute Como for Big Wool to good effect on some projects)
My Big Wool cowl & hat set using 200g wool
And as a final tip - for those of you on a tight budget, or have found your dream yarn but it's too thin - you can double or even triple the yarn up and work with it this way. It may take a tension square or two and a bit of trial and error to get it just right, but it's something I do a lot!

Giant Scarf - Sirdar Bigga doubled up for extreme knitting!
*** 15% off in store finishes 12 midnight GMT on 31st January so get shopping! (NEWYEAR15) ***

Thursday, 13 January 2011

How to do tassles, and other recent projects.... (& UK Silly Sale)

Back after a month of festivities and visiting family, I'm trying to catch up on all my work and creative exploits - it's been a great Christmas and new year. I've not been resting on my laurels though! (well....maybe a bit!)

Matching Christmas PJ's for the girls this year!

I've mastered the cabled hat pattern that took 15 attempts last month, and got it right first time on my last go. I loved the way my cream one looked, so knitted one up in duck egg blue and navy, using Debbie Bliss Como. Highly recommended Merino wool yarn - it's like candy floss, knits up on 10mm needles and felts up amazingly! You can make a hat similar to mine with around 75g of yarn, with some left over for say a headband or some fingerless gloves.

The most versatile hat ever - and keeps you warm in the Welsh snow!
I decided I wanted to make a matching scarf to go with my cream set. I had some left over yarn from the hat so I made a lace pattern scarf - I like that it has spaces in it so it's not too hot to wear. 

Easy knit lace scarf to match lace stitch hat
I've fallen in love with the autumnal shades of brown, mustard and rust that are all over the shops at the moment. I've had some rusty coloured yarn in my stash for ages now - I loved the colour but it was a bit thin, so I doubled it up and knitted a great seed stitch hat, and a single rib scarf. The scarf is lovely and warm, and could be worn by guys or gals!

To make tassels:

1. Decide how long you would like your tassels. I chose 5 inches for the white scarf and 7 inches for rust coloured one.

2. Double the measurement above (so 6 becomes 12) and cut strands to that length. I used 4 strands in each tassel for the rust coloured scarf, but as the white scarf used chunky yarn I only used 2 strands. You can make them as thick and chunky as you like. Group your cut strands together once cut.

3. Get your scarf and look along the edge above the cast on / off row, there should be a natural space to insert the tassel. Fold your strands in half and insert the folded loop end through the gap, then take the ends of the bundle and feed them through the loop, and pull tight.

 And that's it!

In fact, it took me longer to write the instructions than it does to make the tassels and put them on the scarf!! 

I'm waiting on some mustard coloured Rowan Big Wool to come - it is usually £8 for a 100g ball, but I managed to find some on eBay for less (Sunday night is the best night for people listing their leftover yarn!) I think I'll make another hat and if I have enough left maybe some mittens.

I've had a concession request from Aunty Nanna's in Norwich, UK. Amber the owner sells quirky handmade goods, vintage china, super cool homewear and refurbished painted furniture - definitely worth a look. Kitty hats will be available to buy in store later this month!

You can still shop online too - there is still 15% off in store until Jan 31st with code NEWYEAR15 - this includes custom orders! This is part of the Etsy UK Silly Sale - UK sellers join together to promote their stores - search for Silly Sale and you can find some bargains! The Silly Sale runs from 14th January - 21st January (but I'm extra generous so I'm going until 31st!)