Purl Britannia

Published on November 29th, 2009 in: Current Faves, Issues, OMG British R Coming |

By Chelsea Spear

For a land-locked American knitter, London seems like a fairyland of the fiber arts. Enterprising crafters hold impromptu knitting circles at pubs, on the Tube, and even at special cinema matinées where theatre owners keep the lights on for them (a practice poo-pooh’d by Alison Goldfrapp in a recent issue of Bust). Waggish knit-bloggers post self-written patterns for unusual objects from slices of cake to hand grenades to (blush) anatomically correct genitalia. While the cost of a round-trip plane ticket to Old Blighty could keep one in cashmere for a year, many of England’s finest yarn manufacturers make their products available to crafty Yanks with an Anglophilic streak.


No less an authority than Stitch & Bitch author Debbie Stoller dubbed Debbie Bliss the “Queen Mum” of knitters. Her yarns—squishy jellybeans of fibers culled from Kashmir goats, alpacas, and Merino sheep, folded into a distinctive cream ball band printed with an all-too-familiar script—hold a prominent place in your local yarn store of choice, and you may have even squirreled away a pastel-colored skein or two from a recent sale.

Debbie Bliss brand yarn is notable both for its soothing feeling (knitting with her Cashmerino Baby yarn felt like pressing a string of lotion between my palms) and the skillful use of man-made fiber. While many brands’ use of microfiber makes the yarn split on the needles, Debbie Bliss-brand yarn is wound with enough hand that splitting has rarely been a problem for me. Admittedly, as a knitter who’s fond of bold colors, I’m not as excited about the light palette Debbie Bliss offers, and I find the big sweaters for which the brand frequently publishes patterns a bit too redolent of unfortunate ’80s fashion. Still and all, Debbie Bliss’s Cashmerino was the first cashmere blend with which I knitted, and I treasure the gauntlets I made from that yarn.

While Debbie Bliss makes beautiful, baby-friendly yarn and patterns that do not personally appeal to me, Rowan has the opposite issues. Their quarterly catalogs—filled with sumptuous patterns for fine-gauge sweaters, photographed so perfectly they’d put mainstream fashion magazines to shame and printed on satisfyingly thick glossy pages–—hold tremendous appeal, even though the cost of a single book is about the same as a two-year subscription to Lucky. However, while their yarn comes in a dizzying array of gorgeous jewel-toned skeins and hanks, just the thought of knitting fine-gauge cotton is enough to make one’s wrists ache. I’ve only ever knit with Rowan’s Kidsilk yarns, a spiderweb-fine line of fluffy mohair/silk-blend yarns. The scarf I’ve made is so fine and smooth that it barely makes me itch (a common occurrence with mohair blends), and the cloche I made by holding a strand of shiny Kidsilk Night with old faithful Cascade 220 is one I always look forward to wearing in the winter.

louisa harding

My first exposure to Louisa Harding came through her pattern catalog Deco, a book of twenty patterns for the jazz baby who’s handy with the needles and yarn. With some pattern alterations, I made a boat-necked, lace-hemmed shift in simple crimson cotton that became one of my favorite knitted garments. Not long after that, I bought several skeins of Kashmir DK, her cashmere/silk blend, in a deep midnight blue. These decadent skeins of possibility have sat in my stash, awaiting the day when I will knit them into another much-loved garment with a retro feel. Her patterns have an old-Hollywood/jet set allure, and her yarn is soft to the touch and has excellent drape. What especially amazed me about Louisa Harding (the brand) is that its namesake is not a corporate figurehead but a real person—an inventive Brit as known for her impish appearance, gamine style, and eccentric color combinations as she is for her knitting.

One Response to “Purl Britannia”

  1. Alex:
    December 3rd, 2009 at 9:39 am

    You wanna try Fyberspates, which is a Welsh company!

    Oh, and Colinette!

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