Sometimes it takes a while to find the right match. Yes, I did carry the boot around in my handbag, just in case I found a snippet of time to stop in at my local yarn shop.
When I finally did, I didn’t have the boot, but I did have a colour sample taken using the ColorMate App. I brought home another skein of that lovely Debbie Bliss Falkland Aran, and two 50g balls of Cool Wool from Lana Grossa.
The Cool Wool was a closer match. So, the case has been solved.
Now all I need to settle with my knitting-bestie, is which boot sock we’re going to knit together.
I’m knitting Pam Allen’s Sheep Sorrel hat using Falkland Aran by Debbie Bliss in Claret. This is a soft, shiny organic wool, from a farming community in the Falklands. It’s a three-ply, with a good amount of twist, stitch definition, and has a good amount of loft (ie very springy and squishy) and elasticity.
The pattern is clearly and efficiently written, even including instructions on how to do the cables with and without a cable needle.
Why bother You can knit faster. You know when sections change, and know what comes next. You can find (and correct) errors faster. With a recurring pattern, you reading your knitting means you understand what the designer intended, and you can actually let go of the pattern (which means portability). Many people often praise patterns for being easy to memorize. Reading your knitting means you don’t need to memorize at all.
How-to Read the general description in the pattern introduction first. This will not click at first. But we’ll come back to that later.
Then look at the pattern section. Make a rough stitch chart if there isn’t one. (If there is, then skip to the next step). It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough for you to understand. The Sheep Sorrel hat has a 15 stitch repeat over 4 rounds.
Do a mini-swatch
If you are a learning-by-doing knitter like me, making a swatch to learn a pattern isn’t such a hardship. Cast on the required stitch number plus 6 extra for a 3 stitch border on each side. Place stitch markers, so you don’t forget where your border sits. Knit three rows (for a garter stitch/ non rolling edge) and then get going. Once you’ve done two or three repeat, finish off with with three knit rows and bind off.
I wouldn’t bother cutting my yarn. This swatch isn’t to be blocked, so it is perfectly fine to rip it out after, and knit it into the hat.
I definitely am not a big fan of swatching in the round, however I wanted to see how quickly it would take me to learn the pattern on the fly. I took me four repeats, dear Readers. In my defense, a glass of red wine was involved.
On the fly
Once you’ve gotten into knitting the pattern, exactly as written (a stitch marker after each repeat will help you keep your place), stop and have a good look at what’s on the needles.
Now is the time to revisit that general description and compare it to what you have before you. Sheep Sorrel seems to be about panels and mini-cables (actually twisted stitches, but hey, let’s not quibble). We can see that the garter and patterned panels alternate and are separated by columns of cable. We also see that each column of cable has a p1 before and after it.
Once I realized this, I realized that one type of twist was used per column. Some columns twisted to the right and others to the left. That meant I could undo and repair any twist that was incorrect (if something looks like an S, then it’s wrong). I left one S, because nothing in this world is perfect.
At this point, I knit another round, without peeking, to see if I understood the pattern. Once I had done that, checked, then made my corrections, I knew I could let go the pattern and continue the required length of knitting. I wouldn’t say that I’ve memorized the pattern, but I’ve understood the logic behind it: I want to keep my panels going, and the cables twisting the right way round.
There are now a few brave independent yarn dyers doing amazing things with wool and various fibre blends. Here are a few that I know about:
Sock weight in Flaschenpost/ Message in a bottle.
Wollmeise is the nickname of Claudia Höll-Wellman (her husband is the Rohrspatz, and it’s a bit of a play on bird names plus their hobbies – she likes wool and he likes metallworking and Rohr is German for a metal tube or pipe), who just seems to have not only a hand for making lovely colours, but also very inventive colour names as well. She got started in 2002, when she couldn’t seem to find the colours she wanted to knit with. She has grown a very large and devoted following, and quite frankly has put her small town of Pfaffenhofen in Bavaria on the knitter’s world map.
She’s recently opened a brick and mortar shop and occasionally holds open days and sales, that have people all over Germany stopping off in Pfaffenhofen. If you can’t get there in person just yet, you can have a browse around her very modern and efficient web shop (in German and English) and look at the shop on her Panorama Viewer. Gorgeous!
Dye for Yarn & Dye for Wool
Gesplittete Kalk (silk merino DK weight) by DyeforYarn
Naughty Piglet (merino/baby camel fingering weight) by DyeforWool
foto source: DyeforWool Etsy shop
I love the story of how two scientists, met at work and discovered their shared love for shawl knitting. Cordula Surmann-Schmitt and Nicole Eitzinger also couldn’t find the laceweight yarns they wanted on the German market, so they decided to try their hand at importing and dyeing them themselves. Their Etsy shop DyeforYarn started in early 2010, while their second shop DyeforWool was started in October of the same year. They also opened an In Real Life shop in Fürth near Nürnberg (Nueremberg).
They have a quirky sense of humour, which comes out in their yarn names which often have to do with death, decay and things that may not sound so appetizing (Splitted Lime and Naughty Piglet above are good examples), but when translated to yarn are just lovely, show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They do fairly small batches in lace-, fingering- and DK weights, so it’s crucial to get a sufficient quantity of yarn all at once.
It’s quite a treat to browse through their Etsy shop, especially their Cabinet of Wonders and their Cabinet of Horrors, special sections with skeins they think are particulary beautiful, and not quite successful respectively. They also do a lovely Advents calendar in the runup to Christmas, which is also worth checking out.
Jule Kebelman is a textile designer and teacher who lives just outside Berlin. She also produces small batches of organic plant-dyed regional wools. HeyMamaWolf is small but is definitely worth watching, as Kebelman is working with and sourcing her wool regionally (ie in Germany), although many yarn companies prefer to source outside Germany as the wool isn’t considered fine enough. Plus she gets some amazing colours using plant dyes.
Not just footwear, but sock season. Because where there are boots, there are very often also socks.
My best knitting friend asked me if we could knit something together. #bestfriendbonding. At first she mentioned us knitting a Pullover together, but because I had been talking about my boots that I really want to wear more often this autumn and winter, she said we have to knit socks. My breath caught and that is when I realized that I have sock anxiety. Now technically, I do know how to knit socks. I’ve done it before. babysize and adult-size. As gifts. I just haven’t knit socks for me.
So I took a few deep breaths, and decided to puzzle out what I would like to knit to wear with my ankle wedge booties. I can’t find an exact picture of my booties. These are similar, and from the same company that sells organic and fair clothing, Waschbär.
top left: Boot in ‘bordeaux’ from Waschbär; Bottom left: Ankle boot in ‘chianti’ from Enna; middle: Wedge bootie in ‘vino’ from Punto Pigro; right: Alhambra bootie in red from El Naturalista
Now, according to Harper’s Bazaar magazine, the trends are basically sky-high boots, combat boots, slouchy boots, red, metallics, glitter, embellishments, white and so on.
Here’s my what if: What if I matched the red of my boot, and knit matching boot socks. Kinda like
… in effect elongating the line of the leg. They could be pulled straight like a sky-high boot or slouched like a slouchboot (in theory).
I know, I know! Anyone who knits or crochets, knows that the pieces above are crocheted. The point I want to make is, Oktoberfest is a THING in Germany. Yes, we love a good party. With lots of good beer and good food to soak up said beer. Bear with me here (excuse the pun!)
Oktoberfest is originally from Bavaria. It was exported to other parts of Germany (yes, Bavaria was once it’s own kingdom with a King, a mad prince, fairytale castles and the whole kit), and is still a great excuse to throw a party – the basic menu is so simple, it’s any host’s dream (beer, soft pretzels, done).
Be aware though, that Oktoberfest is only ever a Thing from late September to early November. It’s one of many Festivals taking place in western and southern Germany. Along the Rhine, for example, you’ll find more wine festivals (each village with their very own wine princess or the occasional prince).
However, we’re more interested in what to wear to Oktoberfest. And that brings us to the traditional costmes: Dirndls, Lederhosen and knits/crochets.
Traditional costumes (Trachten) differ from region to region. In the Black Forest, it’s mostly black, with red accents. Married women wear wide-brimmed hats with black pompoms, while single girls wear red pompoms on their hats.
The Dirndl is worn with a blouse, the overdress, a skirt and an apron in it’s simplest variation. How you tie the bow of the Apron, signifies your marital status (left, if you’re single and looking). Nowadays, you’ll also see young women wearing Lederhosen (from Hotpants to regular length).
October evenings do tend to get cold, so having something to layer on, is quite important. One option is a felted wool jacket called a Janker; others opt for a reverse stockinette stitch/ garter-stitch jacket. Not unheard of, is a nice big warm shawl (with a flounce, or an accent trim to match the colour of the apron).
This is a lovely alternative, if you don’t crochet, especially as it really calls back to the traditional knit jackets. And who doesn’t love a ruffle?
It occurred to me, that I hadn’t listed every yarn I knew of from Germany, so here are some more:
Is a bit more on the luxurious end of the market. They have yarns with fibre blends including Yak and Silk. They often are advertised as being produced to Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Productclass 1, however, this just means that there aren’t any harmful chemicals in the product. There are actually much higher categories/ labels (such as Standard 100plus, Standard 1000, Made in Green and STeP, the last two being an organic label and a sustainable textile production label). So Oeko-Tex100 is kind of a basic, if you ask me.
Here we’ve got the famous Zauberballs (Ann from MasonDixonKnitting has actually pulled one apart). I’m told they’re addictive. And I do not doubt it. Although they are originally made for socks with about 25% nylon, they make just about any project into a lovely explosion of colour. I’m particularly keen on trying out El Linio (next year, maybe).
If you’re in the area of the Swabian Alb (that’s southwest Germany), this yarn company also produces the Albmerino line made from local merino sheep in collaboration with a local shepherding company. The way I understand this, is that the majority of sheep are kept in Germany for the meat. So Schäferei Stotz produces lamb meat for sale directly to consumers and also to high-end restaurants like Traube Tonbach (three Michelin stars for a hotel restaurant tucked away in a tiny Black Forest village: the food is melt-in-your-mouth-good-then-look-for-postcard-to-write-home-about-it!). They also sell warm lamb and sheep fleeces, woolen duvets and pillows and the like. But rarely do they produce yarn.
It’s a fairly big deal then, that Schoppel is going back to locally-raised sheep.
Of course, once I wrote ‘rarely’, an exception popped into mind. That’s Finkhof. They started out in the 1970s as an alternative commune project which evolved into the Shepherding collective it is today. Their catalog is thick. Not like telephone book thick (unless you live in a very small under 3,000 soul village), but a substantial hommage to all the things one can do with sheep – from mattresses to blankets, wool, footwarmers, backwarmers, wools for weaving, spinning, fabric … The wool is organic, has a rustic feel. Definitely worth a look in. They have a Ravelry group.
from left: wool-silk mix onesie, felted wool sleepsack and merino fleece in background; right: Finkhof does two sizes of yarn: Thick (Aran) and Thin (sport) / Source: finkhof.de
*word of the day: This baby is goldig. That’s the German word for ‘too cute for words’.
Rosy Green Wool
This is just the last (for now), but by no means the least. Rosy and Patrick have managed to start a new yarn company in what may have seemed a fairly saturated market. They prove that there is always room at the top. Especially for an organic (GOTS certified) high quality wool for a fair price. Admittedly, the wool is sourced and spun in England. I’m hoping this will expand some day to German wools. Still, I cannot fault them on their work with working to protect rare sheep breeds via developing, promoting and selling limited runs of their yarns.
They’re on Ravelry, but I won’t lie: it was a sad day when they discontinued their blog. It’s worth getting onto their newsletter list, as the more popular colours and the limited edition yarns (great if you have a yarn bucketlist) sell out fast! Like Finkhof, they mostly do Aran and Sport Weights, while their rare breeds yarns are in fingering weight. (I’m holding back here, because a review is coming) They also do yarns for dying. Which is the perfect place to pause.
Do you know of any other German yarns that I still haven’t mentioned? Let me know. I’m trying to build up a Directory of German, and hopefully eventually European yarns.
Right, so we were talking about Berlin, Lala Berlin to be exact. Leyla Piedayesh is a designer who has been collaborating with a major yarn manufacturer here in Germany: Lana Grossa. And that was the point where this label fell back onto my radar.
In 2014, during the refugee crises, women’s Magazine Brigitte, launched a charity drive. Piedayesh designed a scarf to help raise money. This may have been Piedayesh’s first contact with Lana Grossa, a major sponsor. (I might have to do a separate post on knitting magazines in Germany*)
So for Fall/Winter 2014/15, Lala Berlin launched a 12-piece DIY capsule collection called Love your Wool in collaboration with Lana Grossa. There are kits, she now has her special Lana Grossa line of wools (see photo above) and has become a well-known name among German knitters.
At the time, I thought this was a big deal, because the large wool manufacturers put out a lot of marketing materials each season (women’swear, menswear, kids’, homeknits, accessories). The members of their design teams do not get any name recognition at all. Well that hasn’t changed.
Another sad thing, is that German yarn manufacturers have seemingly little or no interest in using social media. So, the American distributors may be on Ravelry, but the German yarn companies really have no clue.
End of rant (call me yarn companies! seriously!)
The photo above is from Lana Grossa’s yarn catalog. Looks like a Fashion magazine, but it’s really a catalog that you can buy on any supermarket magazine rack.
Other big yarn manufacturers in Germany:
Lang Yarns – This is a lovely yarn, middle of the road yarn, with a satisfying variety of fibres, fibreblends and colours (I couldn’t resist showing you one of their current moodboards here) one you’ll find in many yarn shops across Germany. Plus they have an awesome Trace Your Yarn Feature for those of us who like asking ‘Who made my yarn’.
Wolle Roedel – they have 70 plus stores all over Germany. Very budget-friendly yarns, a good assortment of knitting and crochet needles, hooks and other kit. Fairly easy to find, if you’re ever on the go in a German city and need stitchmarkers or a stitchholder or something.
Regia – So Regia, known predominantly as a sock yarn company, is owned by Schachenmayr. Doing my Research, I just found out that they are having the first ever Hygge-knit-event at the Augsburg textile and industry Museum. Next Weekend. Totally not pouting. So, if you’re in the Augsburg area. Check it out. (Not going to lie: This textile Museum is high on my list of must-visits. They have a modern take on textiles and handcrafts in Museum spaces. I just need to find a girlfriend who would be up for a roadtrip!)
In Part 3, we’ll have a look at a few indie yarnmakers/ -dyers and some cool yarn shops.
* There are specialist knitting magazines mostly given girls’ names (with the exception of The Knitter, which is a re-do of the British magazine of the same name, and recycles years-old Patterns from the latter) and then there’s Brigitte. One of the largest women’s fashion and lifestyle publications here. They put out a special knitwear edition in autumn for their knitting readership. I’ll let you know when I get my hands on it.
A friend of mine recently asked for my opinion on the best way to start knitting with wool. She’s been knitting for quite a few years with acrylics and has started wondering what was the fuss about all these natural fibres.
1 What’s good for you?
My friend just wants to put her toe in the water to test things out. I, on the other hand, decided that I needed to go cold turkey on acrylics, especially when I started making garments rather than just scarves.
3 Decisions Decide what you want to make, which natural fibres are right for you. Allergies to wool?then look to other animal- or plant-based fibres. What is your Budget?
4 Test & Evaluate
Test- small projects. Baby clothes, scarves, cowls, socks, wristwarmers are great small projects to get started. Nothing wrong with going with one ball, to get started. Make a large swatch, and see how it feels in your hands, against your skin, see how it drapes. Record your experiences in a Journal.
Get rid of the old stuff: donate, gift, use it up. Replace it with more natural fibres. Or you may consider blends.