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Stitch Solihull

I do like to visit independent yarn stores so while I was staying my in-laws recently I asked on a couple of Facebook groups if anyone knew of any good ones nearby and Stitch Solihull came up, so on a rather rainy Sunday, I paid a visit.

Stitch Solihull was opened just three years ago by Ana, who told me she had no previous experience running a yarn store, so what she has created is all the more impressive. It’s a gloriously colourful space with a fabulous welcoming sofa generously adorned with cushions and crochet blankets, and the biggest Heidi Bears’ Dinosaur if have ever seen (Ana made him in aran). Ana has also made a more normal size Heidi Bears’ Hippo. Isn’t he fabulous!

 

Now, I do like a yarn shop (well, any shop really) with a big comfy sofa and if I hadn’t been accompanied by my husband and children (who refused to play outside in the rain) I might have lingered there, knitting in hand. But there was an extensive range of yarn to be squished, including a favourite of mine, Fyberspates Scrumptious, a merino/silk 4 ply in gorgeous colours with a particularly lovely twist, and Noro, which I’d always thought was a bit rough and scratchy until a friend of mine filled me in on how soft it became after washing.

  

 

Ana also stocks a range of hand dyed yarns, as well as undyed yarns and can arrange to have yarn hand dyed to order.  It’s always interesting to see what the owner has on his or her needles and Ana did not disappoint. She had not long cast on a pretty shawl in a lovely yarn from Juniper Moon Farm.  

But it’s not just yarn. Ana stocks gorgeous fabrics, an extensive collection of buttons, needles, hooks, kits, thread and wool wash. And, Ana is the owner of the most impressive wool winder I have ever seen. Now, wool winders aren’t usually terribly attractive things, don’t take a good photograph, so consequently would not normally be a subject of my blog, but, just check out this big boy!

 
So, eventually, with my children getting restless, I signed up to the news letter, made my purchases and made a mental note to return. You can find Stitch Solihull in a ‘cabin’ in the outside plant section of Notcutts Garden Centre just off junction 4 of the M42 and if you are ever passing, and need an excuse to break your journey, it’s well worth popping in.

 

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Trip to Toft

I could barely contain my excitement last weekend when I wangled a detour to Toft on the way home from visiting my in laws. Visiting Toft has been a long held ambition of mine and it did not disappoint.  As it happened they were having an open day, so after admiring the alpacas, I parked my husband in the cafe, my kids on the craft table with a helpful pva glue and tissue paper loving Toft employee , and plunged headlong into the shop. 

 

You might think Toft is an odd choice for someone who struggles with amigurumi as much as I do (see my recent post on crocheting Easter eggs) but I just adore their animals and their crazy looking birds. I bought a robin kit at the yarn show Unravel in Farnham Maltings two years ago (and have 3/4 made him – only beak eyes and general assembly to finish him -although trying to produce two legs which could reasonably be called a pair nearly defeated me)  and I’ve wanted to see base camp ever since. 

Now, in my mind, Toft doesn’t just sell alpaca yarn, Toft is alpaca, and I spent a long time squishing yarn and amigurumi animals in a sort of trance, before I started to actually read labels and it occurred to me that the majority of what they sell is not actually alpaca but, pure wool. Certainly, all the animals and birds I squished in store were made from wool.   

But it’s not just any wool. Toft proclaim their wool yarn to be seriously luxurious and indeed it is very soft and squishy and it has a lovely shine almost as if it were spun with a silk mix. It is spun in the UK which ticks a lot of my boxes re buying local and supporting British business but I notice they are quiet on whether the fleece is grown here too, so I’m not so sure I’m supporting British Farmers. 

Toft also say their yarn is great if you are time poor (aren’t we all!) as it knits up really fast and, until recently,  I might have thought this was an odd thing to say. How can a particular yarn knit up more quickly than another? Surely it’s the speed of the knitter that’s the variable? But I recently knitted with some lovely yak yarn from Devon Sun Yarns and that was a speedy knit so I have a new appreciation of these qualities in a yarn.

One thing I had not previously realised is Toft produce a range of clothing and accessories kits and, to my mind, it’s in wearable garments that alpaca really comes into its own as its so soft against skin. As you know, I’m going through a hat phase at the moment so I just adored their hat kits. 

There are a couple of things that set Toft apart from other yarn stores. The first is they only sell their own product. The second is their display. It’s really clear to see that every aspect of the store is carefully considered and reflects their brand. This attention to detail appears right down to their mannequins and the crates they use for their display. No ikea shelves here! This gives the entire store a cohesive and very organic feel which was extremely seductive to me from a purchasing perspective. 

The one thing Toft is not, is cheap. Although amongst all this luxury, you wouldn’t expect it to be. And the kit for say the robin I already own will set you back £24 which, even in my book, is quite a lot of money for an amigurumi bird that you still need to (struggle to) produce yourself. But the thing I wouldn’t have realised had I not made the robin is, in the kit, you will get enough yarn for several robins, or a robin and say, an aardvark. So it was with this in mind that I made my purchases.

  
As you can see, I’ve bought the book of bird patterns and a flamingo kit. But, with the left over white from this, and the left over red from my robin, I should be able to make a stork too. I also bought some sock weight alpaca because, well, I couldn’t visit Toft without buying some alpaca. My last purchases were two lovely chunky French knitting dollies which I plan to teach my children to use this summer.

One thing I would like to have heard about was the story of Toft. It’s possible this was displayed elsewhere in the complex and I spent so long squishing yarn that I didn’t get the chance to explore the rest of the facilities. But, all in all, I enjoyed my trip. I came away feeling delighted with my purchases and keen to return when we were next in the area. If you haven’t been,  and you get the chance, go! Just remember to take a bit more than just your pennies with you,

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Egg-gate

I ended my last post with the words “even I can manage an egg”. And really, how challenging can it be to produce a faceless vaguely oval shaped crochet object? As it turns out, for me, quite challenging.

The first challenge to overcome was pattern selection. This necessitated a good deal of time scouring Ravelry (for my non knitting crocheting readers, it’s a website containing hundreds of thousands of patterns for everything you’d ever want to knit or hook). The trouble with Ravelry is that it’s very easy to get distracted. You start with the best of intentions, type in the word “egg” and press the search button and before you realise what has happened, an hour has passed, you are perusing shawl patterns and are nowhere near having an egg pattern selected. So, I buckled down and eventually picked a pattern

Pattern selected, the next decision was yarn. Clearly, I don’t want to buy any more yarn just to crochet a couple of Easter eggs (although as excuses go, I’ve used some which have been much more feeble than this) so I looked in my stash. Some time later, I realised I’d been horribly distracted again, by squeezing and squishing all my beautiful colourful hand dyed yarn, and so eventually settled on 2 shades of Stylecraft Special DK, an acrylic which I don’t especially love but I have loads left over from a previous Attic 24 blanket obsession, and a hand-dyed yellow from Cuddlebums, which I’d been saving for some daffodil brooches but thought I could probably spare an egg’s worth.

So, on to the pattern. It assured me an egg would take about an hour to make, and it is true to say, the second and third ones were much quicker than that. The first one however took me the better part of an evening. It turns out that one of the reasons I’m not very good at amigurumi is that I can’t count. At least, not reliably, when there is good TV to watch.  

And counting, it turns out is the key to producing an object that looks at least a little bit like the pattern. About the first 10 attempts were frogged (translation for the benefit of non crafting folk: to unravel your work, or “rip it, rip it” back) or simply abandoned, when I decided that reusing yarn that had been previously crocheted wasn’t helping my cause.    

Eventually, and after a good deal of sighing, I did manage three egg shaped objects and I do have to say, I think they look really sweet. Now I’ve mastered (ahem!) the pattern, I may make some more but I think the Easter bunnies will need to wait until next year. However, I am now thinking surely all eggs need a nest? So, I’m off to have a scroll through Ravelry…. 

Have a happy Easter everyone xxx

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Postie Stalking

It’s always the way isn’t it? You decide to do something, make a big announcement, get everyone enthused, then have to wait what feels like a small eternity for the things you need to get started, to arrive in the mail. This is the story of the dye I need for my blanket. I’ve spent hours of fidgety torture each day waiting for the postie to arrive only to be disappointed as he zooms past our house and up the lane in his van without giving my letterbox a second glance. So, in an effort to distract myself, I’ve been doing other things…

 come on postie 

It was a surprise to me when I realised it was Easter this weekend. This means two things 1. I will need to occupy my children for a month before they return to school again, and 2. I have, yet again, not produced any Easter related craft items. This happens to me every year with almost every event in the calendar. If I actually start something, the event usually overtakes me and well, it just feels weird making Easter bunnies after the event, even though they can be safely stored for decorations next year.

My children are five years old (I have twins) and I appreciate, in a few years (who am I kidding? Next year), the only thing they will be interested in will be the chocolate, but for the moment they are really keen on painted eggs and little birds to hang  up so I’ve focused  this week and found some contorted hazel sticks and have the very best of intentions to crochet some little eggs, which along with some hasty purchases in our local John Lewis and some other bits and pieces, should make us nicely festive. 

  
I am not, it should be pointed out, very accomplished at amigurumi (weird word so, for non crafters reading this, see here for an explanation). Most of the animals I make end up with slightly demented expressions. At Christmas, I crocheted the Toft robin and I had to make 5 separate legs in order to end up with two that could reasonably be called a pair. Needless to say, he is not finished (beak, eyes and assembly still outstanding). 

 It takes real skill which, like anything, can only be mastered with many hours patient practice. But not having many hours and Easter being only a couple of days away, it really will be best crochet hook forward and, surely, even I can manage a crochet egg?