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Olla No.2 - an Irish Yarn Ideal for Colourwork

LBHandknits

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{Quick Links}
Olla No.2 Yarn & Kits
Tea Room Pullover Pattern
Original Olla Review
Scéal Grá Pattern

Last year I was extremely fortunate to be among the first to try Olla - the new Irish-milled yarn from the Dublin-based indie dyer Townhouse Yarns. To my delight, I was invited to design a garment with this yarn, and the result was the Scéal Grá pullover. You can read my impressions of working with Olla here. And one of the questions I was asked most often after that review, was: How suitable was the yarn for colourwork? Because demand has been steadily growing for hand-dyed yarns which used non-superwash, woollen-spun bases - and Olla was exactly that. Playing around with some leftover scraps of the yarn I had in different colours, my impression was that indeed it was suitable. In fact, I was quite looking forward to making something in colourwork for myself to wear out of Olla, as soon as I had free time …which of course never happened!

Fast forward a year, and imagine how pleased I was when Townhouse Yarns once again invited me to design a garment - this time, in colourwork! Needless to say, I was itching to do it. And having learned that they had tweaked the Olla base since its inaugural release, I was also curious how Olla No.2 compared to the original. Well. Having completed an all-over stranded colourwork garment with the yarn, I think my curiosity has been satisfied!

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The new iteration of Olla has several key features in common with the original yarn: It is spun for Townhouse Yarns by Studio Donegal. It is fingering-weight. It is woollen-spun. It is not superwash-treated. And it benefits from the same signature Townhouse Yarns colour pallet beloved by fans of this indie dyer..

As for the differences: The main one is that Olla No.2 is noticeably softer to the touch than the original. That is not to say that I found the original harsh; not at all. It was more like the original had a crispness to it, which the new yarn does not. Olla No.2 is a fluffier, more buttery, rub-your-face-in-it sort of yarn.

Is this a good thing? Part of that answer is subjective: If you prefer softer yarns as many knitters do, then obviously yes.

But speaking more objectively, it depends what you want to do with the yarn. That ‘crispness’ in the original Olla translated into jaw-droppingly sharp stitch definition, which is what made the lacework on my Scéal Grá samples ‘pop’ the way it did. When worked in Olla No.2, lace still has plenty of definition, just not quite as much as the original batch.

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On the other hand!

Those same features that make Olla No.2 a ‘blurrier’ yarn, make it an ideal choice for stranded colourwork. And the more I worked on my stranded sweater design, the more I came to realise how deliciously appropriate Olla No.2 was for the task.

To explain in brief: When you work in colourwork, you want the yarn to be ‘sticky’ - so that the differently coloured strands create an impression of fusing together for the benefit of the motif. Olla No.2 does this amazingly well. Once knitted together, the strands of yarn attain the look of a smooth printed fabric - as if the motif was painted on after the fact.

The airy manner in which this yarn is spun, also makes it exceedingly forgiving as far as gauge - meaning that you can knit it in a much looser gauge than typically recommended for fingering-weight yarns. This is quite handy for stranded colourwork, as it makes it possible to knit a lighter-weight garment. It also makes the yarn more economical, since working in a looser gauge means using up less yarn.

Finally, all of these properties also make Olla No.2 quite bouncy and stretchy - which can prove a life-saver if your colourwork technique is less than perfect (i.e. uneven, or floats too tight), and needs to be ‘massaged’ into a more presentable state after the fact!

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In short: the original Olla was suitable for colourwork. Whereas Olla No.2 is incredible for colourwork. It has the same colourwork-friendly qualities as Shetland, Norwegian and Icelandic wools, while being remarkably soft to the touch.

Of course, the added benefit of being hand-dyed, is the colour pallet. Townhouse Yarns offers Olla No.2 in semi-solid, as well as speckled colours, which can be used in seemingly infinite combinations to ad interest to what might otherwise be a rather conservative, and repetitive, 2-colour motif. I knitted the original sample of the Tea Room Pullover (pictured here) in the delightful combination of ‘Port’ and ‘Bad Girl RiRi’… but I am already picturing myself wearing other versions in a variety of colour combinations! Ah if only there was time to cast on all the colour combinations!

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And speaking of the Tea Room Pullover… As you may have already deduced, this is my design with Olla No.2. It was released at this year’s Woollinn Yarn Festival (which, alas I could not attend due to being very uncomfortably 8 months pregnant!).

Having replenished their stock, Townhouse Yarns have now launched pre-orders for kits - which you can peruse and purchase here. The pattern is available in sizes 35" - 51", and it’s worth noting that the larger sizes are discounted.

The Tea Room Pullover is my third design with Townhouse Yarns (see also: Scéal Grá and Pale Fire Socks) and I absolutely love working with this unique and wonderful dyer. While in my ideal world, I would have loved it if they kept both the original and the updated Olla bases, if I had to choose between the two at gunpoint I would opt for Olla No.2. It may not be as razor-sharp for lacey stitch definition as the original. But being a yarn that is both soft and rustic, it is more versatile. And if colourwork is your thing, then really it does not get any better than this… You can have your cake, and eat it too, and drink it down with tea.

Tea anyone?

Neckband Too Loose (or Too Tight)? Make Sure You Are Meeting Gauge

LBHandknits

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Whether browsing project pages, or watching podcasts where knitters show their finished sweaters, I have noticed the recurring problem of the floppy/ overly wide neckband. (And I call it a problem, only because the knitter themselves will usually complain about it; if you intentionally wish to make your neckline wider than intended in the pattern, obviously that is your choice and perfectly fine.)

I posted a shorter version of this in the Woollinn 2019 Make-Along group (which features my Inse pattern), but thought it might be useful to also write about it here.

The cause of this is so obvious and easily avoidable, that I wanted to share - especially now that so many folks are starting my Inse pullover pattern as part of the Woollinn 2019 Make-Along, which incorporates a K1,P2 ribbed neckband section into the top-down yoke. When a garment is constructed in this manner, it is especially important to get the neckband right, because re-doing it after the fact is not as simple as it would be with a neckband that’s picked up around the neckline and worked at the end.

So. How do you avoid the loose neckband problem?

Short answer: Work the neckband on smaller needles than the rest of the yoke. Even if the pattern does not state a different gauge for the neckband.

And here is why:

The majority of knitters work ribbing at a looser tension than they do stockinette. Therefore, if they use the same set of needles for both, their ribbing (once stretched flat) will have a looser gauge than their stockinette. Some patterns assume this, and simply tell you to go down ‘1 needle size’ or something to that effect, for the ribbed sections. Other patterns tell you to swatch separately for stockinette and ribbing, and determine what needle size you need to meet gauge for each.

But regardless of how the pattern phrases it, it has been my experience that a good portion of knitters gloss over such recommendations, and simply knit the entire sweater on the same set of needles. Which means that, unless they are in that minority of knitters who knit stockinette and ribbing with identical tensions, their ribbed sections (i.e. the neckband) will be too loose.

Of course the opposite problem is also possible. Say a pattern assumes you are like ‘most knitters,’ and tells you to go down a needle size when working the neckband. You diligently follow this advice, only to discover you’ve made the neckband too tight. This is because you are in fact not like most knitters, and knit your ribbing as tightly (or tighter) than you do stockinette.

This is why, the best course of action is, always to swatch separately for different stitch types. If your pattern features stockinette, garter, and ribbing, be sure to swatch for all of these to determine what needle size you need to use for each to meet gauge. It could be, you can do them all on the same set of needles. It could be, you need to use three different needle sizes. You will not know unless you swatch.

So, alas, dear reader, this entire post was apparently just to trick you into more tiresome swatching advice! But the truth of the matter is: If you want your garment to fit according to the measurements provided in the pattern, you need ensure that you meet gauge. And if the stitch pattern used for your neckband is different to that of the rest of the garment (i.e. ribbing, or picot), you need to swatch for it separately. .

Garment Patterns: Selecting Your Size

LBHandknits

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Note: This is a Pattern Support article. I am posting it here in order to help knitters who are working on my garment patterns choose their correct size. If you are knitting somebody else’s pattern you might still find this information helpful, and you are of course very welcome here. Just be aware that some references will pertain to my patterns as opposed to patterns in general.


So you bought a garment pattern, and are trying to decide which size to knit? Follow these steps!

Step 1: Find the Sizing Info, Schematic & Measurements

These will normally be at the very start of your pattern. And the main thing to understand when studying the sizes, is that the measurements provided refer to the garment and not to the wearer’s body. In other words: If Size 3 specifies a Chest Circumference (in some cases labeled Bodice Circumference) of 95cm/38”, this means that the actual sweater itself measures 95cm/38” around the chest/bodice. It does not mean, that if you have a 95cm/38” chest, this is the size to knit (unless of course you are after a fit with zero ease - but more on that in a bit).

Step 2: Measure Around Your Chest & Hips
Do this with a cloth tape measurer, and err on the generous side. Then write down these figures and keep them handy.

Step 3: Decide on How Much Ease You Want
The word ‘ease’ seems to terrify and confuse some knitters, but really this is just another way of saying: Decide on how loosely or snugly you’d like this garment to fit you. The more ease, the more relaxed the fit. The less ease, the snugger the fit. Zero ease (garment’s measurements same as your actual measurements) means a skin-tight fit!

As a very basic guideline:
For a figure-hugging fit, opt for up to 5cm/ 2” of ease.
For a standard fit, opt for 5cm/2” - 10cm/4” of ease.
For a relaxed fit, opt for no less than 10cm/ 4” of ease.

Step 4: Add the Ease to Your Relevant Measurement

Depending on the design of the specific garment you have chosen to knit (i.e. whether the Bodice is shaped or straight), my pattern will instruct you to either (A) go by your chest measurement, or (B) go by your widest measurement, which is either your chest or your hips.

To determine your size, you then add the ease you’ve decided on (see above) to this relevant measurement.

Then, referring to the Chest/Bodice measurements, choose the nearest size.

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Example: Mary and the Inse Sweater
Let’s use the fictional Mary as an example. Mary measures 36” around the chest and 37” around the upper hips. Mary would like to knit Inse with approximately 2” of ease. The pattern instructs her to select a size with desired amount of ease around whichever of these two measurements is wider, so in her case the hip.

So Mary adds up 37” + 2” and the resulting number is 39”. She then refers to the Bodice measurements: Is there a size with a 39” or so Bodice? Why yes! That would be Size 4. Mary is going to knit Inse in a Size 4.

There are, of course, many nuances to size selection not covered here - in particular if your figure deviates from the so-called average proportions based on which pattern grading is done. But that is a topic for another post. The purpose of these instructions was to communicate the very basics of size selection, and I hope in that sense they have been helpful!

Why Designers Decline Yarn Support

LBHandknits

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An old acquaintance of mine has recently opened a yarn shop. She approached a couple of local-to-her designers, offering them yarn support to design some patterns for the shop. To her surprise, both designers declined, and she asked for my insight as to why they might have done so. Surely designers would be delighted at the opportunity to receive free yarn, as that covers their expenses?

Oomph. This is a tricky one to explain, as it involves frank discussions of money, which tends to make people uncomfortable. But I think this is an important topic, so I will try to at least explain it from my own perspective.

At the heart of the matter is the belief that yarn is an independent designer’s biggest expense. I can understand why it might seem logical to assume this. But for myself and most other designers I know, that is actually not the case. My biggest out of pocket expense as a designer, by far, is tech editing. Followed by overhead costs. Followed by modeling fees. And as far as yarn… well, like most designers, I have stashes of it, purchased wholesale - so really I would very rarely need to spend money on new yarn in order to design. So, while yarn support is a kind and generous gesture, it offers me something I do not, strictly speaking, need. And it doesn’t cover my actual out of pocket costs.

Much like the designers the new yarn shop owner approached, my own policy is generally to decline offers of yarn support. This is not because I do not love the yarn, and not because I do not appreciate the offer. It is simply because I cannot afford to design in exchange for yarn support.

For anyone curious what exactly I mean by that, I can elaborate further:

Pattern design is my main source of income. When I make a decision to design a pattern, I must therefore be fairly confident that the income that pattern generates will not only cover the expenses incurred in the process creating it, but make a sufficient profit on top of that to compensate for my time at a rate that at least approximates minimum wage. If I cannot make this happen, then let’s be honest: pattern design is not a job, but a hobby - and an expensive one at that.

If I am serious about making pattern design my job, I must be very careful in committing to publishing patterns independently - which is why I do so very infrequently. If you’ve ever purchased my patterns, you will have probably noticed that most of them say something like ‘designed by Ailbíona McLochlainn for [Insert Yarn Company Name]’. This is because most of the patterns I design are originally commissioned by one of several yarn companies I work with. Typically, the yarn company pays me a fixed modest fee for creating the pattern, purchases rights to print and sell paper patterns in booklet form, and often purchases the original design sample as well, for display in their shop and at festivals - while I retain rights to self-publish the digital version of the pattern on ravelry. This system works well for me. The fixed payment from the yarn company covers my out of pocket costs, and compensates for at least some of the time spent on creating the pattern and knitting the sample. Then any ravelry proceeds are income. In agreeing to create a commissioned pattern, I can therefore relax knowing that at the very least my expenses are covered and I will not be out of pocket, whether or not the pattern sells well on ravelry.

An offer of yarn support, on the other hand, provides none of these financial safety nets, while still requiring a commitment on my end to publish. So essentially, when I am invited to design and self-publish a pattern in exchange for yarn support, I am invited to spend an average of 150 Euro out of pocket (assuming this is a garment design), and about a week’s worth of work hours, on making that design happen - without any guarantee of compensation.

Now, if I were confident that the pattern would generate sufficient sales to make this all worthwhile, agreeing to this would not be a problem. But the realty is, I am a small-volume, relatively unknown designer. A few of my patterns have done very well. But most of them do okay. And some patterns, sadly, fail to justify their production costs. This is why I cannot risk having a business model that relies solely on self-publishing, and why instead I opt to work with yarn companies who commission patterns, giving me the financial security I need.

To be sure, my experience is not universal. Being a knitting pattern designer can imply any number of arrangements, from working under contract for one yarn company exclusively, to only publishing independently. And within the realm of independent publishing, there are likewise many possibilities. At one end of the spectrum is that handful of designers who are so popular, that publishing a pattern - any pattern - guarantees them sufficient sales to earn a very comfortable income. On the other end of the spectrum are hobby designers, who do not count on their pattern sales for income at all and design for the fun of it. It is very possible that designers at either of these extremes are likely to benefit from, and agree to, yarn support. But for many of us who fall somewhere in between, it might simply not be feasible.

I have a great deal of love and respect for independent yarn producers, dyers, and vendors. I try to support my favourite ones by buying yarn from them whenever I can. But yarn support is a different kettle of fish entirely, and I hope I’ve explained clearly why a yarn designer might not be in a position to accept this type of offer.

As for my acquaintance, the new yarn shop owner: My suggestion to her, was to commission a pattern and set up a mutually agreeable profit sharing arrangement (for example: The designer sells on ravelry and the yarn shop sells paper patterns). This will support a local designer and ensure they can commit to the work, while being likewise profitable for the yarn shop.

What Is St. Patrick's Day Like in Ireland?

LBHandknits

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Every year people ask, so I thought it might be interesting to share. What is St. Patrick’s Day like in Ireand? Are there parades? Does everyone wear green? Are there special traditions, rituals, or activities? As a non-Irish person living here, I will try to describe my experience.

And to start with, it is worth pointing out that Ireland is not culturally homogenous - so whether, and to what extent, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated will depend on what part of the country you are in. I was watching the Hawthorn Cottage Craft podcast the other day, and found it interesting when Kate commented that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated abroad more than it is in Ireland. No doubt this is true where she lives. However, we are on the border of Donegal and Derry, and St. Patrick’s Day is huge here. Considering that my main ‘elsewhere in the world’ point of comparison is Boston, that is saying something! Having attended the famous parade in South Boston a handful of times, and likewise the big parade in Derry, I can say that the Derry parade definitely ‘wins’!

In our region at least, St. Patrick’s Day parades are also not limited to the larger cities and towns. Even the tiny local-to-me town of Falcarragh holds their own parade down the main street.

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I have noticed also that the atmosphere of the St. Patrick’s Day parades here, is different to what I remember from the US.

Granted it has been a while, but I remember the Boston parade having religious elements, and also being quite heavy on the marching bands. The big Derry parade here, in the years I have attended, has been entirely pagan. Pre-Christian mythological characters coming alive as giant floats, that sort of thing. There are also political elements, relating mainly to LBGT and environmental issues. But nothing religious as far as I recall, except when done for ironic effect.

The parades in the smaller towns on the Donegal side of the border do feature pipe bands, but not so much the parade in Derry (I am trying to describe all this without delving into the deeper historical context, as that would make this post unmanageably long!).

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As far as rituals, traditions, and general behaviour… Well, people definitely wear green. Those celebrating the religious aspect of the holiday wear shamrock sprigs on their lapels. These are sold as tiny potted plants in many local shops and I always enjoy seeing them this time of year.

As far as drunken rowdiness, which some have asked me about as well… Interestingly, I really have not experienced much of it in Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day festivities here are very child-friendly and family-oriented. So I suppose some people do drink, but it’s not about the drinking - in the way it tends to be in, say, American urban St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. It is a different vibe here, and it is definitely not a ‘let’s use this as an occasion to get drunk’ type of holiday.

When attending the parades and other festivities, it is popular for people to paint their faces and dress up. Mostly it is children who do this, but sometimes adults as well. People wear wreaths upon their heads, fairy wings clipped to the backs of their coats, various capes, fascinators in the style of leprechaun’s hats, that sort of thing. In that sense, St. Patrick’s Day here is not unlike Halloween - only without the dark, spooky elements. More than anything else, I suppose it feels like a festival to greet the coming of Spring.

Being neither Irish, nor Christian, I would have thought my own participation in St. Patrick’s Day would be limited to that of an observer. But the spirit of it does draw me in. And the secular nature of the celebrations - at least in my corner of Ireland - make me feel entirely included. I have been to the parades a few times, and enjoyed them pretty actively. And I do wear green every year (which I never, ever did before moving here!).

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Design-wise, my contribution to St. Patrick’s Day this year is Móinéar. I am normally terrible at timing patern releases to coincide with special occasions, but I’m trying! Alas, this lovely green sample does not live with me and so I won’t be wearing it this Sunday. But I will muster up something green and hand-knitted for the occasion if we go out.

More than anything, St. Patrick’s Day in our corner of Ireland makes me feel as if spring has arrived. The flowers are in bloom, the land sheds its heavy winter atmosphere, and we all come out to celebrate… naturally, in the freezing rain and bone-chilling wind! But that is what wool is for.