Next Saturday is Yarn Shop Day and I would urge you to visit your local yarn shop and show them some love.
I live in the countryside and, it really does have moments of pure perfection; the annual village fair on a beautiful sunny bank holiday; stopping stock still on a quiet lane while swifts dart all around you; watching the bats swooping over the mill pond on a warm summer evening; seeing the mayflies dancing above the water of the river, and seeing the trout jumping to catch them; children running free across the fields and through the woods.
But, before I make this sound too idyllic, there are, inevitably, downsides including over flowing septic tanks; freezing temperatures but no heating because the oil ran out and it’s going to be a week until the next delivery; squirrels chewing though the pipes to the calor gas tanks at 4pm on Christmas Eve, meaning you can’t cook a Christmas dinner; mud, lots and lots of mud, so your boots, the dog, the kids, your floors and the car are disgustingly dirty for at least 9 months every year; and, a lack of local shops.
It was this lack of shopping alternatives which was the biggest shock when we moved out from London, 8 years ago. For years, I’d worked a stones throw from Selfridges, with Marylebone High Street only a few minutes walk away. And suddenly we couldn’t even pick up milk on the way home from work; our local (community run) shop isn’t open in the evening or on weekend afternoons and popping to the supermarket now involves a 15 mile round trip.
In the past, every village would have had its own shop. I actually live in the building that used to fulfil this role – it was originally a bread and beer shop, then a general store and cafe, for at least a century until it finally closed in 1984. At one time the village also had a pub, a tannery, a mill, a blacksmith and a school. Now, that’s all gone. Even the church is closed. I’m not able to say with absolute certainty, but it not too much to suggest that each and everyone of these enterprises closed because they didn’t make enough money to provide an income (even the weekly church collection didn’t cover the cost of the heating oil for the Sunday service through the winter). Trade dwindled for village and local shops, countrywide, because rather than shopping frequently for the things they needed, in the 1980s, people started doing a big weekly shop in the new and shiny supermarkets. So village and local shops closed, and once closed, the properties were sold and almost, invariably, the amenity was lost for ever.
So, use it or loose it. Which is why I shop small and local as much as I can. And this applies to yarn shops as much as it applies to grocery shops and bakeries. It might be cheaper to buy your yarn online, and the online store might have a better range, but nothing beats going into a store, breathing in the yarn fumes and having a squish, talking to the wise and learned staff, seeing the inspiring samples, and even honing your skills by taking a class or two. And if your local yarn store doesn’t stock the sort of yarn you want to buy, tell the staff what you’d like to buy, and then if they start to stock it, make sure you buy lots of it. Do it next Saturday!
And if you are near Woodborough in Wiltshire, you can come and see me, because I’ll be showing my hand dyed British wool for the first time ever at Flockfest at Flock on the Plain. To say I am totally excited is an understatement! Details can be found here.
So, come and say hi, breath some yarn fumes and squish some delicious wooliness. It’s going to be super fun.
I’ve opened an etsy shop selling my hand dyed wool, and as you can probably tell, I’m a little bit thrilled about it.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but it’s a big leap from wanting to do something to summoning the courage and actually taking the plunge.
But I’ve done it.
I’ve been a big supporter of British food for a very long time, shopping small and local, at farmers’ markets, and at the farm gate, as much as I can. And I made a decision at the end of last year, to further support British farmers, by only buying British wool in 2018. I had a passing thought that this might have the added benefit of curbing the growth of my stash. I assumed there would be limited choice. I now realise just how naive I was. Buying British has opened my eyes to the enormous choice and variety in British wool. And its all just so wonderful, and I’ve been having so much fun dyeing all the different breed yarns, seeing how it responds to the dye, trying out different techniques, that I wanted to share.
I’ve started with two bases, Brazen DK which is 100% Jacob, and Audacious DK which is 100% Wensleydale. Both grown and spun in the UK and all hand dyed in my kitchen in rural West Berkshire. In addition to the 100g skeins, I’ve also dyed some 20g mini skeins in these two bases. These are just about the cutest thing ever. I adore them.
I’ll be introducing new bases and weights over the next few weeks; the ever popular Blue Faced Leicester, and after that, I have plans for Dorset Horn, British Falkland Island’s Merino, then Cheviot, Corriedale and ….. the list goes on and on. I think we are going to have a lot of fun exploring all the different breeds.
So pop over to the shop and have a browse, and let me know what you think. Are there any colours you’d especially like to see? Or any breeds you like me to stock? Please do let me know.
It’s taken me a while to write this post because I’ve found Edinburgh Yarn Festival a real challenge to describe. It stands apart in my mind from all other yarn shows and I wanted to explain exactly why that is.
For a start, it’s a big show. Much bigger than you would imagine from the size of the building that contains it. This year, I think for the first time, there was a marquee at the back of the venue which had space for 500 knitters and crocheters to sit and chat, drink tea, eat cake and knit, and crochet, and there wasn’t a single time when I ventured in there, where it wasn’t filled to that rafters with happy gossiping voices all cooing over each other’s yarn purchases and projects. It was a truly wonderful thing to behold. It was also nice to be able to get a seat whenever you needed one rather than having to squeeze your bum on the end of a sofa where there really isn’t a bum sized space.
This also has the added bonus of making the market place much less of a crush. There wasn’t a point where I couldn’t squeeze through the throngs or couldn’t get the see a stand. I had time to browse, time to read labels and time to squish, which made the whole experience rather relaxing.
There was also another smaller area for refreshment (my friends dubbed it the purple room) which contained the lovely podcast lounge where I wanted to linger but there was never a spot free – and I was, ridiculously, too shy to speak to Louise Scolley from Knit British, who hosts it – but no matter, there is always next year. Blacker Yarns and Garthenor were also here and I gathered lots of ideas for future online purchases.
So, to the market place. For me, this was a delight as there are so many vendors from the Scottish Highlands and Islands who so rarely get to shows further south. It was fabulous to be able to talk to so many passionate producers of yarn, who could tell you which farms their fleece comes from, describe the sorting process of the fleece and talk with love about their mill equipment and their product. It gave me a real buzz to know that my yarn purchases were supporting the employment of so many, often in quite rural locations where jobs are scarce..
Obviously, at this point, I was sticking to my 2018 resolution to only buy yarn that is grown spun and dyed in the UK, so my first purchase was from the Knockando Woolmill, who are based nearish to Inverness but not actually near to anywhere really. Their history stretches back to 1784 and they are still using some equipment dating from 1870. The mill is run by a charitable trust which was established in 2000 with the aim of “rescuing and restoring the mill to ensure its future survival and promoting and educating people about its unique heritage”. The restoration of the mill was completed in 2013 and they produce the most gorgeous textiles, but it was their yarn that interested me most. I was particularly drawn to an undyed North Country Cheviot double knit yarn which was grown on Dalrachie Farm, located just 12 miles from the mill. This news, together with their story, pressed all my sustainability and supporting British farming and industry buttons, so I bought a sweater quantity. And I’m now on the search for the perfect project to do justice to the yarn, and to the mill.
Then on to The Knitting Goddess and her One Farm Yarn was on my list. I’d previously purchased a set of grey and black mini skeins together with an undyed skein and then decided, for the shawl project I had in mind, I need a further set of mini skeins, and another undyed skein just to be on the safe side. The ply on this yarn is really pretty and The Knitting Goddess’s colours are gorgeous, plus the fact the yarn is NOT well travelled speaks to my eco soul.
Next stop was Uist Wool. I have been stalking them on social media for a while. The idea for the mill, built in North Uist in 2013, “emerged from a collective will to find a fresh purpose for local fleece that would reconnect the community with their cultural heritage of wool-working”. They have restored machinery that has its origins in mainland mills from the middle of the 19th century and the wool they produce is very individual. I wanted some buttons for my striped cardigan and they stock porcelain buttons from Shoreline Stoneware. The buttons take their inspiration from the shoreline of Uist and are just a joy.
I also had to have yarn from Uist Wool but I was aware that my carry on bag was filling up so I decided to restrict myself to just one skein. This makes the skein I chose even more precious.
I also visited Jamiesons Of Shetland and bought these gorgeous 25g balls of their Spindrift yarn, without a project in mind but I’m thinking a fairisle cowl.
Then we stopped at The Crochet Project and coo-ed over all the shawls and I bought the lastest shawl pattern book on a complete whim. At this point we stopped for a cup of tea and a piece of cake and I observed my now bulging bags and announced to my friends that I might not be able to buy any more yarn, otherwise I might not be able to get it home.
So, I think there might have been something in that tea, because I went to the Iona Craft Shop stand next and bought a cone of their gorgeous single origin double knit wool in the sea greeen colourway. Yes, that’s right, a cone. Not a skein but a huge, incompressible, how am I ever going to get this in my carry on bag?, cone. Still it gave my friends a huge laugh when I sheepishly unveiled it and just look at those colours, and I did eventually manage to arrange the bag to squeeze it in, so it all worked out well in the end. I think I’m going to knit a Tin Can Knits Windswept sweater with it.
Well, after that, the gloves were well and truly off. I decided to buy presents for a couple of friends who weren’t able to come to the festival so purchased a gorgeous alpaca and rose fibre blend from The Border Mill. It will be interesting to see if the rose fibre helps to mitigate alpaca’s desire to stretch. I also bought another friend a present but haven’t given that to her yet so I’m not going to talk about that one, to maintain the surprise.
Then we went to visit Ginger Twist Studios and I must admit with all the gorgeous colours and squishiness and with Ginger being so lovely and friendly, I completely forgot about my resolution to buy British and, in what I can only describe as a buying frenzy, grabbed these three gorgeous superwash merino beauties.
What can I say? It was late, I was overcome with yarn fumes. I am weak. But do I regret it? Not on your life!
And then after having our photo taken with the 8 foot high Toft crochet highland cow, I bought the yarn to make myself one. I have no idea about the yarn’s provenance. I just wanted it. This has been carefully stored away in my cupboard along with all the other kits I’ve bought from Toft and not yet made. I really really must get around it one of these days.
Finally, we stopped off at the Stephen and Penelope stand where my friend bought an armful of mini skeins and I had a little chat to Stephen West, who despite being a total knitting celebrity, was fabulously down to earth and just as chatty and smiley at the end of 3 days of festival as he had been at the beginning. We discussed strategies for squeezing my bulging purchases in my carry on bag and we agreed that I might need to leave all my clothes behind in the hotel room (although not the precious hand knits – I would wear all those – no matter how warm the airport might be). Thankfully, it didn’t come to that and I did manage to get everything in, for yarn is surprisingly compressible. Well, except when it’s on a cone…
Sadly, it wasn’t all fabulous. I’d taken some finished projects to show some vendors what I’d made with their yarn and one or two did not utter the words “ooh, it’s so lovely” or anything similar which was a bit deflating. One of my friends thought one vendor was downright rude about one of my makes, but you can’t please all the folks and maybe the vendor was a bit jaded by it being the last day. I’m not into naming and shaming, but I doubt I’ll be buying their yarn again.
But, it was almost perfect. It was brilliant to hear so many soft friendly Scottish voices and if you have never heard a Shetland dialect before, it is a thing of wonder! There was so much gorgeous yarn for sale, I could easily have spent 3 times as much so I think I’ll be returning next year, with a bigger budget and a case that is going in the hold.
Links to all venders patterns etc are detailed below:
To read more about the Knockando Woolmill’s story including a rather fun timeline, click here
To see One farm Yarn on The Knitting Goddess Website click here
Click here for Uist Wool and here for Jamieson’s of Shetland
To go to the Iona Craft Shop, click here and to see the Windswept sweater by Tin Can Knits, click here
I thought I’d share a few pictures of my Edinburgh Yarn Festival experience. I had the most amazing time, bought way more yarn than I should have done and then thought I’d lost it all when it didn’t come off the carousel at Heathrow (it did turn up eventually after someone was sent to hunt in the bowels of the plane 😅). I’ll write about the things I bought in a day or too, but in the meantime, feast your eyes….
As ever, mine was filled with yarn. I finished my Alocasia sweater and it is a delight, although rather to fine to be worn everyday. It’s a merino/silk mix so I can’t really see myself doing the housework or walking the dog in it (my two daily activities aside from knitting), so I haven’t worn it yet. I don’t really hold with saving clothes for best but, in this case, given the amount of work put into it, I’m willing to make an exception. This was also the first large garment I’ve made for myself from yarn that I dyed. So, I’m really not kidding when I say I’m saving it for best!
I also managed to finish my Dad’s team socks with self striping sock yarn from Devon Sun Yarns. They were a challenge as my Dad had polio when we was a child (in the days before vaccinations) and the disease as left him with rather odd shaped feet. So, consequently they aren’t my prettiest make ever but they were made with much love and my dad is delighted with them.
Last up was a hat made from Ryeland wool. Those of you who follow me on Instagram might know that I’m taking part in the Knit British Wool Exploration during 2018. Each month is a different breed yarn. March is Ryeland so I was getting a bit ahead of myself and I meant to cast on a swatch but by the time I’d cast on, I was making a hat. The yarn was so deliciously springy I knew it would be great for a hat. And being aran weight, it knitted up really quickly. The hat pattern is one that I wrote called Curlew. The hat, after being dipped in some blue dye, has been gifted to my brother and he was so pleased with it, he wore it home. Of course, this means I still need to knit a swatch and get trialing it’s wearability next to the skin (although I’ve a pretty good idea already as I’ve already worn the hat a bit).
I also have a confession to make. I got a serious attack of castonitis and actually had these three things plus another pair of socks on the needles at the same time. This was an interesting test to my usual monogamy and it’s not one I will be repeating for a while. I felt a disproportionate amount of anxiety about having extra wips hanging about. I also felt like it took ages to get things finished as I was splitting my knitting time between the various projects.
So what do I have on my needles currently? The forth project mentioned above are some Tin Can Knits Lumberjack Socks I’m making in a gorgeous British Falkland Islands Merino/Silk double knit but I’ve hit a snag in that I’ve lost all but three of the needles and this isn’t enough to knit in the round.
I’ve also cast on and knit a good part of a Siri cardigan. I’d like to finish this before I go to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival (squeeeee – I’m soooo excited) which is now in less than two weeks, so I need to get a wiggle on.
And on that note, I’m going to say goodbye and see you on the other side of Edinburgh Yarn Festival xxx
Unravel is my local yarn festival as it’s only about 40 minutes from my house and I go almost every year, but I missed last year due to my husband’s big birthday celebrations occurring on the same weekend. So I was super excited to go this year, especially as I was going with my lovely friends, the Possiwools.
This was the first yarn festival I’d attended since I resolved to only buy yarn grown, spun and dyed in the UK, and I think, when I made this resolution, I was expecting this would be a big limiting factor on my purchasing and that I might actually reduce my stash over the course of 2018. How wrong I was.
We all met up over coffee and by 10.30am had hit the Great Hall, and the first vendor I saw was The Little Grey Sheep who are based about 20 minutes from my home, so are very local to me and consequently hit all my buying local buttons. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I would want to make in their yarn until I saw their samples of the Raven sweater by Marie Wallin and was smitten. Emma really knows her colours so I was happy to let her guide me and very quickly came away with a sweater quantity of yarn in my bag. And it felt really good knowing I was supporting a small local business.
Then a good squish of yarns at John Arbon and New Forest Mohair, and a lot of admiration of Jon’s fabulous Dashounds Through The Snow Christmas Jumper at Easy Knits, and I purchased Alison Ellen’s great book, Knitting Colour, Structure and Design (expect to see entrelac in my future) and Rachel Coopey’s Socks Yeah! book because her gussets are just so gorgeous (not a sentiment you can generally express publicly without attracting strange looks, unless it’s within a group of knitters).
My next yarn purchase was from Daughter of a Shepherd. I just love her story and it was reading her blog, after listening to a Knit British podcast, about how little farmers are paid for their fleece and that it’s often not worth the transportation cost to market, so they bury it, use it as compost or burn it, that made up my mind to buy British. I’m so pleased she and her father took the decision to have their yarn spun because it is a beautiful product. I bought 400g of Brune, a double knit weight yarn with the idea of making a Bavaria shawl by Isabell Kraemer.
Next up was a squeeze of the yarn at Baa Ram Ewe in the Cellar Bar before we left the festival and took a short walk to a cafe in the town for lunch. Returning to the festival, we proceeded upstairs. In the Barley Room I discovered the Cambrian Mountain Wool CIC, who are a community interest company developing fine yarns from Welsh wool, and I was so impressed with their shearling yarn I bought a sweater quality with the idea I would dye it and make something gorgeous. Also in the Barley Room was Whistlebare whose mohair goats are just the cutest thing ever. They have a new no nylon sock yarn called Cuthbert’s Sock which I was keen to try and I managed to grab a skein in their Monk’s Journey colourway with a contrasting mini skein for toes and heels. A couple more skeins of 4ply may have also “fallen” into my bag, just because…
Into the Tindle Studio and I couldn’t miss the Garthenor stand. Even if you ignore the yarn, it’s a lovely display and it makes buying their yarn very easy. Each row corresponds to a yarn weigh from lace weight at the top through to chunky at the bottom. I bought 3 50g skeins of their 4ply yarn (although at 135 metres per 50g, it’s almost a sport weight), without a project in mind. Pattern suggestions gratefully received.
Just off the Tindle Studio is the Courtyard Kiln where I had a lovely chat with the ladies from the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop and saw the difference in loftiness between the ecru and darker natural Wensleydale yarn. I purchased a couple of balls of the dark undyed double knit, again, without a project in mind but I do have some cream undyed Wensleydale DK in my stash so this might become a monochrome fairisle project in the fullness of time.
Next up was Bigwigs Angora (oh those bunnies are soooo soft) and Hill View Farm who are on my list to buy from just as soon as some equilibrium has been restored to my bank balance (they have a peach colourway that I MUST have). Then a quick scoot through the Tannery to say hi to the guys at A Yarn Story and admire the incredible needle felt sculptures of Jenny Barnett (maybe next year I will try my hand at needle felting) before it was time to say goodbye to my wool buddies and head back to the car, bags bulging, slightly foot sore but very, very happy.