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Filtering by Tag: yarn

Yarn Impressions: Olla! From Townhouse Yarns



I don’t think I am revealing any shocking trade secrets here, in saying that indie dyers do not manufacture their own yarns. Rather, they purchase undyed bases from spinning mills, and use these as blank canvases upon which to work their colourful magic. To be sure, I find no fault with this system what so ever. It is only that I sometimes wish there were more variety, and more… local colour, if you pardon the pun, in the bases used by dyers. Because, as it stands, most tend to be sourced from the same selection, offered by the same several mills, located in the same general region. To me, it would be of great interest to see more region-specific bases, and more local dyer-manufacturer connections.

In that context, I was excited beyond words to learn that Dublin’s Townhouse Yarns were about to launch an Irish-spun base. And doubly so, because learning this news was part of an invitation to design a pattern with this new yarn!


And triply so, because said yarn was spun local-to-me (well, by country standards!), in Donegal. Needless to say, I was so excited when the parcel of yarn arrived, I had to lie down before I could even open it.

But I joke, I joke. What am I, a giddy schoolgirl? No. A professional, is what I am (or so I say). And I approached the yarn with utmost seriousness, proceeding to seriously play with it.

I received a 50g sample in a vibrant, variegated purple, which I attempted to use for this thing people call 'swatching,' but ultimately turned into a pair of ankle socks. And I received a sweater's quantity of a delicate, semi-solid mauve-pink (the 'Embrace' colourway), which inspired this wee pullover. The following are my impressions based on working with the yarn so far.

First, the facts: Townhouse Yarns Olla is a woollen spun, 2-ply, non-superwash, non-breed-specific, fingering-weight yarn. It is spun by Studio Donegal, in Kilcar. 

And as far as my subjective experience, it is as follows:

I found Olla to be an interesting combination of soft and crisp, not unlike BFL and Border Leicester yarns. For me, it is certainly suitable as a next to skin yarn. 

Olla is a true fingering-weight yarn, with 400m per 100g. In meeting gauge I found it predictable and well behaved: I met my usual sock gauge and my usual sweater gauge on the needle sizes I’d normally use with yarns of this weight. I must also note that, compared to other yarns of similar meterage I have worked with, Olla is mysteriously economical. For instance, my design sample sweater, with 36” bust circumference, used up less than 250g of yarn. For comparison, an almost identically sized project I worked on in parallel with a different yarn of the same metrage, is taking me a full 300g at the same gauge. How this can be I cannot tell you, but there it is.


Fabric Characteristics
In stockinette, Olla makes for a smooth, even fabric. When worked in lace, it looks beautifully defined and blocks out easily. It also makes for attractive, crisp cables (however, I do not like working cables at such a fine gauge, so I only gave this a brief try). As far as ribbing, it is visually well-defined, but not overly elastic (yet still sufficiently so to hold up a sock cuff). One thing I have not had the opportunity to try this yarn for, is colourwork. Based on its characteristics and behaviour, I suspect it is highly suitable and would love to give that a go.

Knitting Experience
Knitting with Olla was easy on my hands, and the yarn played well with both wooden and steel knitting needles. I would also describe this as a very fast yarn. What do I mean by that? Well. Knitters who knit a lot and value speed, notice that some yarns - holding all other factors constant - seem to knit up faster than others. No one knows why this is. But when we find such ‘fast’ yarns, they certainly tend to become our favourites! And Olla is a fast yarn, especially considering its fine weight.


Suitability For Socks
There are those who feel, quite strongly, that sock yarns must be superwash treated, or that they must contain nylon, or both. The Olla base is very definitely neither of these things. However, it is my opinion that most yarns can be used for socks if you knit them at an appropriately tight gauge and hand wash them. And Olla, knitted up at a gauge of 35 stitches per 10cm, makes for a splendid, bullet-proof sock yarn. I have worn the socks shown for several months now, mostly as ‘bootie socks’ (worn inside ankle boots) and cycling socks. They show hardly any signs of wear.

Suitability for Garments
I have not worn the pullover pictured as a personal garment, because it will be used as a sample at Woollinn - so I cannot yet say how it will behave in daily wear and how durable it will prove to be. What I can say so far, is that it drapes and holds its shape beautifully. I would absolutely love to have more of this yarn, and to fill my closet with garments knitted from it, for personal use!


In Summary… 
If I had to use one word to describe Olla, it would be ‘versatile.’ The yarn is minimally processed and natural in feel, yet soft. It is fine, yet knits up quickly. It looks good in plain knitting and in textured motifs. It plays nice with a variety of knitting needle materials. And it is as suitable for garments, as it is for socks (and no doubt accessories). What else can I say? I love it, and may I have some more please?

And if you are wondering about the name: Olla means 'woollen,' or 'wool' if used as an adjective, in Irish. An apt name if ever there was one!

As spinning mills everywhere become increasingly familiar with the indie dyeing culture, more local relationships are starting to form between yarn dyers and yarn manufacturers in different regions of the world. This is wonderfully encouraging to see. And I am extremely grateful to be part of this Ireland-based collaboration between Townhouse Yarns and Studio Donegal.

The Townhouse Yarns Olla base  will be launched at the Woollinn Festival in Dublin, where it will be available for purchase in dazzling array of hand-dyed colourways, along with my Scéal Grá pattern from This Is Knit.

I hope my feedback was useful, and I look forward to seeing some of you at Woollinn! {Remember that I will be there on Friday the 25th only; if you are interested in meeting up drop me a note.}


Hand Painting Yarn with Dye Candy


Last weekend I took part in a fabulous yarn dyeing workshop, organised by Row by Roe, with the popular local indie dyer Dye Candy

I discovered Dye Candy a few months ago, when I came across her yarns at Edel MacBride's shop. While her vibrant aesthetic is quite different from my own, I found it interesting. So when I heard about the workshop, I immediately signed up. 

To offer some background: I have dyed yarn a few times before on my own using commercial fabric dyes. I have also trained as a painter/printmaker in a former life, so colour theory, mixing and application are not new to me. But this would be my first formal instruction in yarn dyeing, and my first time using acid dyes - so it was pretty exciting!

I arrived at the yarn shop to find the whole place covered in cling film - not unlike a well-planned murder scene! - and a small group of women standing around sniffing and stroking yarns (so, nothing out of the ordinary, really).

The instructor was energetically sorting through heaps of supplies, and plugging in what looked suspiciously like a microwave oven. Would we be microwaving the yarns?? Why yes! she replied, jauntily donning her apron.

Approachable, charming, and (literally) colourful, Dye Candy is Lindsay Hutchison of Randalstown. After some years in Philadelphia and Canada, she returned to Northern Ireland, had kids, and became a yarn dyer. And I do not list that sequence of events haphazardly: Lindsay's foray into dyeing began 10 years ago, as a direct result of having children. A practitioner of baby wearing, she began to make - then dye - her own baby wearing wraps, first for personal use and later for others. A deeper interest in fabric dyeing followed. It morphed into yarn dyeing as Lindsay took up crochet, then knitting, three and a half years ago.

The rest, as they say, is history, and today Dye Candy is an award-nominated fibre artist well known on the indie dyers scene for her soft bases and super-vibrant colourways. . 


The method Lindsay taught us in this intro workshop, is known as hand painting yarns with acid dyes.

The 'hand-painting' bit refers to the fact that the yarns are not submerged in dye, but instead dye is applied by hand (in this case, with a syringe and not literally a paintbrush). 

The 'acid' part refers not to the dyes themselves, but to the fixative. In order for colour to set permanently, the yarn must be treated with citric acid (a very mild, natural acid that is essentially concentrated lemon juice). 

Now, I'll not provide you with step-by-step instructions - you'll have to take the workshop yourself if you want to learn! But the general idea is, to apply the water-soluble dye to the yarn. You can use a variety of techniques, depending on what effect you want to achieve - i.e. wide stripes, thin stripes, speckles, etc. You then heat the yarn for a specific temperature range and time, for the colour to set.

The heating can be done in pots on the stove, in the oven, outside (in very hot climates), or in the microwave. The latter is easiest in a beginner workshop setting, especially when the space is not a dedicated yarn-dyeing environment. Following that, the yarn is rinsed and hung out to dry. 

There were 6 of us taking the workshop, and we all had different tastes in colourways and colour distribution effects.

With my skein, I tried to achieve a non-striping, non-pooling, non-speckled blend of mauves and greens. 

Even though the look I had in mind was not 'Dye Candy'-esque, Lindsay was helpful in suggesting how I might achieve the effect I was going for. 

Much like myself, she is an intuitive maker, who goes by feel rather than calculations, so we were able to communicate well and I enjoyed her teaching style. She was also able to give precise answers to any technical questions I had. By the end of the workshop I had a notebook page filled with information, and I left feeling that I could dye up a batch of yarn on my own without further supervision - which was what I had been hoping to get out of the class. 

Once my hank dried and I managed to skein it up, it looked something like this ...a state of affairs that did not last long, as I have already started knitting with it!

Did the 'blended' look I was hoping for work out in the knitted-up fabric? Sort of, though not exactly. But I love the way it looks, as-is. And I think I know what to do next time, to get the exact result I want - which is, after all, what learning is all about. 

Speaking of 'next time' ...I will definitely dye yarn again. For personal use; I have no interest in becoming a yarn dyer. What I do have an interest in, is controlling the look of my finished knits. For example, sometimes I envision a very specific colour scheme for a design, and so I'd like to be able to create those colours on my own. This workshop was a good first step toward that skill, and I thank Lindsay of Dye Candy and Lisa of Row by Roe for making it happen! 


Yarn Impressions: Woolly Adventures


For both personal, and design / custom order projects, I have been trying out lots of new sock yarns this year. So I've been meaning to start posting about my experiences with the various yarns - focusing particularly on local indie dyers. And what better way to start, than with a dyer brand new to the scene? 

Based in Cullybacky, Northern Ireland, Woolly Adventures are Dani and Sam - two young ladies who make no secret of their ambitions: 'wool domination, one colourful skein at a time.' Having just dyed up their very first batch of sock yarn, they brought a sample over to Row by Roe for test knitting, and well - here we are. I think the yarn had barely dried when I started knitting with it!

Now, I should preface by saying that I am sort of ambivalent when it comes to variegated yarns. And the reason, is that I often love how they look in the skein, only to get disappointed by the knitted-up result. The Woolly Adventures 'Secret Lagoon' colourway actually looks better knit up than it does in the cake. So that cheered and impressed me quite a bit as I worked on the socks.

The yarn also most definitely does not look like a first attempt at dyeing! The 'Lagoon' is a vibrant (but not too vibrant) minty/seafoam sort of colourway - predominantly turquoise, with bits of white, green, and darkish slate blue. The colour distribution looks dynamic but well-controlled, with a lovely sense of movement throughout. The colours are crisp, with no 'dirty' looking patches where colours that weren't meant to mix, mixed.

If you are very observant, you can see that there are more dark patches in the first half of the skein (sock on the right, in the photo below). But, I have seen this same effect even in commercially dyed yarns, and some might consider this a feature rather than anything that warrants criticism. In any case: for their introductory batch this is beyond stellar, I think!


The yarn base itself is a fingering weight superwash merino/nylon blend. Of all the other sock yarns I've tried so far, it reminds me most of the yarn used by (Belfast dyer) Fine Fish. It is soft, and quite smooth - without feeling slippery, with a pleasant, faint scent to it. It is also definitely on the finer end of fingering weight sock yarn, so that my first test sock (on the right) - an experiment in 'old shale' lace repeats with a 54 stitch cast-on - came out tiny. So I revised the stitch pattern, allowing me to do a 64 stitch cast-on, and that is coming out spot-on for a woman's Small. I should add that I used 2.25mm DP needles for both socks - but my tension is a bit more relaxed than average, so that would be equivalent to a 'normal' person using a 2.50mm.

Overall I did enjoy working with this base yarn, and would knit with it again should they keep it as part of whatever range they eventually settle on. I cannot, however, comment on its durability at this time, as the test socks have not been finished or worn just yet.

What else... You can see in my photos how this yarn knits up in stockinette on the foot, in single rib on the cuff, in slip stitch on the heel on one of the socks, and in the lace repeats along the leg. The colourway is very versatile and looks just lovely throughout. So mainly I just want to reiterate that this is most impressive for a first attempt at professional yarn dyeing!

Congratulations to Dani and Sam on their new venture, and I wish them all the luck.  I believe they are in the process of setting up an online shop, and in the meanwhile you can visit them on instagram at @woolly_adventures, or, if you're local (defined by willingness to travel!), see the first batch of their work at Row by Roe in Limavady. 

Edited to add: the Woolly Adventures shop is now up online!

Also, the socks in the photos are my new Michelle pattern, which you can get here. The sample pair is on display at Row by Roe.