Wovember: Small Batch Yarn

20151007_125641This week I wanted to write about the popularity of small batch wools. Like Gin, the profile  of small scale wool producers, who process and market their own product is on the increase. I’ve been really surprised this year by how many yarn bloggers and podcasters are featuring this “new phenomenon”. Small scale single breed production is not new, but discovering and accessing these yarns is certainly becoming easier and there is a growing market for wool with a local, traceable provenance.

In Cumbria we’re lucky to have the Wool Clip (which has been around since 2001), a co-operative of fibre producers, makers and artists, many of whom raise and process their own wool. One of my favourites is Ruth Strong’s Herdwick wool, a real bargain and it’s fabulous quality. If the Wool Clip name sounds familiar to you, it may be because they are the organisers of Woolfest.. But there are other small scale co-operatives and sources of small batch, local production wools if you know where to look. I’ve written before about the amazing quality and colours of Lily Warne wool, which I first discovered when the wool was featured in Country Living magazine. It’s definitely up there among my favourites. The felted wool bag, made a couple of years ago is still in daily use and is a real conversation piece. I love being able to tell people where the wool grew and who I bought it from.

lily warne bagFor a long time, the only way to discover local, single breed wools was to befriend your local Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers or to  visit local fairs. These days there are some brilliant online resources. My current favourite is the National Sheep Association, where you can find links to all the British Sheep Breed societies. Some, like the Jacob Sheep Society have a fabulous list of producers which make it very easy to track down  wool from specific breeds.

Malham Mule collarI must admit, a lot of the single breed wool I buy sits in a cupboard, part of a growing collection of mementoes from summer holidays, trips to woolly events and gifts from friends. But at Yarndale  this year I was thrilled to discover Malham Mule, a yarn which is raised and processed in Yorkshire. This “own brand yarn” is a new venture for Jane Ellison of Purl and Jane in Skipton. I couldn’t resist trying it out and I have tried knitting and crocheting with this plump, superchunky wool and I love it. I love it even more because I’ve watched the sheep graze, and knowing the story of how it came from field to shop is fascinating. You can read more about Malham Mule on Jane Ellison’s website.

The collar (Pictured above) took two hanks of Malham Mule wool and paired with some real leather straps it’s proper draught excluder. Sadly the weather has been too mild to road test it properly, but I’m off to Malham at the end of this month and I’m hoping for some “proper” weather to test it out. I may even get around to typing up the pattern for you all!

All through November I’m posting about real wool in support of the “Wovember” campaign and I’m pleased to say lots of other knitwear designers are getting involved this year too. Sarah Hazell has launched a Knitalong over on her blog featuring Wendy Ramsdale, which I wrote about in my last Wovember post – see photo below for a reminder of the lovely scarf (and lovelier model). Go and take a look at Sarah’s design and maybe join in?

wendy ramsdale scarf

 

 

 

New Pattern: Pumpkin Spice

pumpkin spice cowlI’ve just added a new knitting pattern to my online stores on Ravelry and Love Knitting. This simple knitted cowl is an updated version of the previous cowl knitted in Kidsilk Haze, this time I’ve used an aran weight yarn. I am rather pleased with how this one turned out, especially as I hand painted the yarn myself earlier this summer. The autumnal shades weren’t deliberate, I was bit like a kid in a sweetshop and the only reason it’s not just “muddy brown” was the result of great personal restraint with the paintbrush!

I’ve suggested a few suitable yarns in the project notes, and I would encourage you to raid your stash and find something you like (you could always use two strands held together if you can only find a dk yarn). Often a variegated yarn looks fabulous on the skein, but can be a disappointment once you start to knit – in such circumstances I always go back to garter stitch or reverse stocking stitch – these are friend of most variegated or self striping yarns.

I hand painted my yarn on a one day “special” organised by Jeni from Fyberspates, she recently moved to Chester and kindly ran a workshop for our knit and natter group. I’m told she’s also willing to run workshops for other groups and Guilds and I would definitely recommend it. I came away with some gorgeous  painted yarns, loads of advice and a rather full on obsession with hand dyed yarn (I think I ordered every book stocked in our local library!).

I think you’ll agree the cowl turned out rather nicely and photographed on a rather autumnal day, the name seemed appropriate! The pattern would be ideal for a new knitter, and if you’re looking for a festive gift for a new knitter, a skein of yarn, a pair of needles and this pattern would be perfect.

 

 

Welcome to Wovember

buttonWell, it seems a long time since I first wrote about Wovember way back in 2012 and it’s great to see how it has grown and become a feature of the knitters calendar. Over on Instagram I keep spotting photos tagged and shared which celebrate Wool (and for this month only, I’m talking about wool from sheep, not animal fibres in general). Back then, readers of Baking and Making might remember the ongoing conversation with the Wool Marketing Board about the labelling of British wool, I have to say things haven’t got much better and still, the best way to to be sure the wool you’re buying is 100% British wool is to ask the producer or retailer.

In some ways things have got easier, the Woolsack is still a great resource for anyone looking for stockists of British wool and there is the fabulous online retailer BritYarn, where you can check out the fibre content and provenance of some amazing yarns (and Isla is super helpful too). Some of my favourite independent dyers have also added a specific British section to their websites, making it even easier to choose British (special mention here to Eden Cottage Yarns). I would still love to see the major yarn producers show a real commitment to British wool, but at least most of them have at least one British blend or pure breed wool in their range these days.

You can read all about this years competitions, what hashtags to look out for  and information on the background over on the Wovember website. There is also a dedicated Ravelry group. I am really interested in Louise’s Knit British British Breeds Swatch Along, which is a fantastic opportunity to explore British (or local) breeds and to share knowledge about single breed wools – do check out her podcast for the full details of how to take part.

wendy ramsdale scarfAs my commitment to Wovember this year I’m going to focus on British wool and I’ll be sharing some of my favourites here on the blog. To start the ball rolling here’s a photo of the simple granny square scarf I designed in Wendy Ramsdale. This a 100% British wool distributed by Thomas B Ramsden (it’s marketed as “born, bred and made in Yorkshire) and you can find it online and in lots of “bricks and mortar” shops. One of the things I love about this wool is how all the colours work together, making it great for colourwork. It is also incredibly soft and easy to work with.

I’m going to try and post a new yarn at least once a week in Wovember, so look out for more beautiful wools, British breeds and new projects celebrating all that is great about wool.

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