Dovestone Hills – The Interview

In case you missed it, January is Dovestone Hills month here in the land of Stolen Stitches. I’m very excited to get to share a wonderful interview with the founder of baa ram ewe LYS, Dovestone & Titus yarns; the lovely Verity Britton.  Carol asked her a few choice questions so that you could meet the person behind the yarn:

 

How did baa ram ewe get started? 

We opened baa ram ewe in North Leeds, Yorkshire, back in 2009 with the main aim of being a yarn store that people felt was part of their community and celebrated Yorkshire’s rich wool heritage, whether that was through local sheep breeds, spinners or the many hand knitting companies that are still based here like Sirdar, King Cole and Thomas Ramsden. It was mind-boggling to discover Leeds did not have a yarn shop that wasn’t selling mostly acrylics, or that had modern, wearable designs. So I left my career in radio production and opened baa ram ewe! I had no business experience and it was a bit of a gamble, but from day one we’ve had such incredible support and wonderful customers, many of whom have stayed with us over the years.

What prompted you to begin your own yarn line?

It was a natural progression really. We have always had a passion for beautiful Yorkshire sheep breeds like the Masham and the Wensleydale, and we always dreamt of being able to showcase these to their full potential in our own yarn. But it was a struggle at the start finding a mill that would spin a small enough amount for us, as we only imagined we would sell a little from our shop. The response we had to our Titus when we launched it was incredible, largely down to Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Review, which meant we sold out within days! I always remember us being amazed at getting calls from Times Square in New York with people asking to buy our yarn! It was then that we took the decision to scale up production so that we could meet demand globally. The idea that our passion for showcasing luxurious Yorkshire wool along with the superb quality of local spinners and dyers now resonates across the world still gives me a massive thrill.

Titus Mini Skeins

Titus Mini Skeins

How many different yarns are you now producing?

We have two different ‘brands’ of yarn: Our original Titus which is a 4 ply/fingering weight and a blend of Wensleydale, Bluefaced Leicester and British Alpaca. Then there’s our Dovestone range which is a blend of Masham, Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester. We have a DK in a lovely shade range which matches the Titus, and our new 5 shades of Dovestone Natural Aran, which celebrates the stunning- and rare- black and brown fleeces of these breeds and makes use of them when traditionally farmers would find them harder to sell.

Your yarn lines are very inspired by Yorkshire, what inspires you about where you live?

The unique combination of landscape and industry is what historically made Yorkshire the centre of the universe when it came to wool production, and what continues to be our inspiration today. On the doorstep of our shop in the city of Leeds are buildings that were once the largest spinning mills in the world, with huge banks of windows and chimneys which still define the skyline. But drive half an hour or so up the road from us and you are in the Yorkshire Dales, a beautiful landscape still peppered with sheep and lush green fields, which provide the fleeces we use for our yarn. All of this inspires us for our signature shade palette, whether it’s the teal green of Eccup, named after the Reservoir up the road from us here or the treacle and ginger mixture of Parkin, a delicious Yorkshire cake which I recommend everyone tries at the earliest opportunity!

The New Yarn Shades

The new yarn shades in Dovestone DK and Titus

Any more in the pipeline that you can share?

Ooo well, we are just about to launch our new products for Spring Summer 2017, so this is good timing! We have three gorgeous new shades of Dovestone DK and Titus: a mustard called Brass Band, a gentle pale lavender called Heathcliff and a perfect Raspberry rose called Rose Window, named after the circular window at York Minster. We’ve used these shades in a brand new design collection from Alison Moreton called the Titus Vintage Collection! The collection is a reworking of vintage Sirdar patterns which we found when given exclusive access to their archive. It’s such a lovely book.

We are also VERY excited about a brand new product we are launching, called Titus pick n mix: a tube of six 12 gramme Titus mini balls in 4 different shade combinations, all inspired by traditional sweets including Liquorice Allsorts, Kali (a Yorkshire word for Sherbert!), Wine Gums and Gobstoppers. Each tube comes with a free fingerless mitt pattern to make too, and they’re a brilliant way of introducing people to our yarns, using just a small amount of each shade, rather than having to buy full 100g hanks.

 

Where can knitters find your yarn?

We always offer a warm welcome to visitors who can make it to our store in Leeds, but we also have an online shop on our website, and now have over 250 retailers around the world, making one big happy baa ram ewe community! We have a store locator page on our site too where you can put in your post or zip code and find your nearest retailer. We sell all over North America, Europe and as far as Japan and Israel, so hopefully, you’ll be able to find somewhere close to you!

Thank you, Verity, for finding the time to answer these questions.


Until the 14th of February if you use code HAPPYDOVES you’ll get 15% off any of the Dovestone individual patterns or off the digital book. As an extra special bonus from baa ram ewe you’ll also get a discount code for 10% off their Dovestone DK yarn for the same time period. That code will be available when you purchase the patterns or digital book.

Carol is also blogging about each of the techniques used in the seamless construction of the garments in the collection. In case you missed it the first up was Caelius and Carol talks in-depth about it here.

So which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments and to be one of the first to know about releases, KAL’s and discounts why not sign up to the newsletter. 

Nadia

Top Down Raglan Construction

Dovestone Knits
In August 2015 I released the book, Dovestone Hills, that coincided with the release of baa ram ewe’s Dovestone DK yarn. Up until now these patterns have only been available as part of the book but over the coming weeks I’ll be releasing the individual patterns one at a time!
Until the 14th of February if you use code HAPPYDOVES you’ll get 15% off any of the Dovestone individual patterns or off the digital book.
As an extra special bonus from baa ram ewe you’ll also get a discount code for 10% off their Dovestone DK yarn for the same time period. That code will be available when you purchase the patterns or digital book.

So watch out for all the patterns, there will be a new one added ever couple of days!

(And the code works for all of them…..)

Top Down Raglan Construction
This seemed a perfect opportunity to talk a bit about different types of seamless construction as there are 4 different seamless methods used in Dovestone Hills. The first that I want to talk about is top down seamless raglan. This was traditionally the most common method of top down knitting as it’s very easy to knit. It doesn’t always create perfect results but with a little bit of knowledge you can easily adjust patterns to suit your body and taste.

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Caelius is the sweater in Dovestone Hills that uses this shoulder construction method. It starts with a cowl neck, uses short rows to shape the back of the neck and then uses raglan increases on either side of a decorative seam. This decorative seam continues down into the a-line body and forms the focus of interest for the sweater.

Top Down Raglan Techniques

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A ‘raglan’ is a shoulder construction where the sleeves come all the way up to the neck. For a raglan to fit correctly you would typically increase/decrease on each side of the body (and at the front and back) and on each side of the sleeve on every right side row or every other round if working in the round. This gives you 8 increases (or decreases).
If you are knitting from the top down the raglan seams are all increases but if you were knitting bottom up the will be decreases.

Increase Types
When you are creating your raglan seam you can use any type of increase that you wish. The most basic would be a kfb (knit into the front and back of the stitch), for a bit more refinement you could have a mirrored M1R and M1L and if you were working on a lace cardigan you might opt to use a yo (yarnover) increase as it would fit with the lace.

Adrift uses kfb increases

Vivido used M1L and M1R increases.

You can change the way increases look also by adjusting the number of knit stitches between them. This creates a wider or narrower ‘seam’ along the raglan.
While it looks like Caelius uses yarnovers as the increases it’s actually got a centered decrease with yarnover and then the increases are outside this. The reason for this is so that the pattern can be continued down the body when you no longer need raglan increases.

Rate of Increase
In a traditional raglan you start with neck size you want, increase the body and sleeves every second row or round until you get close to the body stitches you want. The final stitches are then cast-on across the underarm. For some body shapes this works just fine BUT on the smaller and larger end of the spectrum you can have problems. Most body shapes don’t increase the size of their upper arms as fast as the bust size increases. This means that for larger bust sizes using traditional construction the sleeves will be too large.
To correct this I write my patterns with two rates of increases. You start with full raglan increases and then move on to alternating body only rows with full raglan increases so that everything fits right at the bottom of the yoke. If you do a few calculations you can adjust for yourself in the same way to fit a pattern exactly to your body shape.

Short Row Back of Neck

If you work your raglan straight down from the neck you will have the front of the neck the same height as the back. However generally a neckline is more comfortable to wear if the front is a little lower than the back. You can do this by adding short rows across the back of the neck. If you’ve got pattern work near the neck you can even put those short rows lower down the back as well.

Underarm Cast-on

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When you are finished the raglan yoke increases you still need to join the body together. You do this by knitting to the sleeve, using a tapestry needle threaded with waste yarn and slipping all of the sleeve stitches on to the thread (tie it together so you don’t loose the stitches!!)
Now you need to join the underarm. To do this neatly you cast-on the underarm stitches and then join up the back of your body and work on to the other side. Typically patterns suggest a Backwards Loop Cast-On. This is because you can keep working in the same direction with that type of cast-on. However it doesn’t really give the most stable underarm area. I prefer to turn to the wrong side of the work and using a Cable Cast-On which is lovely and firm.

Examples
I’ve designed an awful lot of top down raglan sweaters and cardigans. You can find them on here.
Dusty Road and Santa Rosa Plum are both from last summer and I’m still in love with them both :-)

Santa Rosa Plum

Santa Rosa Plum

Dusty Road

Dusty Road

Do you have a favourite?

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Ridgeback Mountain Giveaway!

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Last summer I designed a hat and cowl set, Ridgeback Mountain Set, for Craftsy. I picked their Highland DK as I really liked the natural brown color and the firm hand. This yarn isn’t soft like merino BUT it feels very comfortable to both knit with and wear and most importantly it will be durable enough to look good for several years.


Both the hat and cowl are knit in the round which has the lovely bonus of all stitches being knit with no purl! The pattern stitches are a subtle 1×1 series of cables. You can knit these directly on the needles without ever needing to grab a cable needle as there are only 2 stitches involved! I love how with just a simple left and right crosses you can create some beautiful textures.

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The hat decreases are all worked into the pattern – you can see that the ‘leaf’ pattern on the crown has the decreases at either edge.

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The cowl is double thickness as it’s knit in the round from side-to-side. This extra thickness gives it great stability so it stands very nicely around the neck. One side of the cowl is stockinette stitch and the other is dense textured stitch. This means that you have a tighter cowl at the back where you want it to tuck inside your coat! When the cowl is finished you undo the provisional cast-on and graft the start and end stitches together for a totally seamless finish.
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Now for the giveaway! Everyone that purchases the pattern for the set in January will be entered into a draw for 3 skeins of the Cloudborn Highland DK yarn that craftsy gave me. Entry is automatic.
I’ll draw the winner on the 1st of February so you can get knitting when the weather is still cold enough to need it!

A Little bit of Luwan: A Round up Post on the Luwan KAL.

Luwan knitting pattern by Carol Feller Stolnstitches

Luwan Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee.

As the fun and laughter of another garment knit along have come to a close, I thought we could have a look back on the highlights and what got us from our needles and yarn to wearing those finished sweaters.

Fun Facts

First up let’s have a look at some fun facts. You loved this KAL so much that you had a staggering 1,349 forum posts alone on Ravelry. That does not include any posts on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. That also doesn’t include forum posts outside the KAL itself. So it seems you like to talk, which is fantastic because around here we encourage it, mostly with tea and baked goods.

Wondering how many times certain words were mentioned? I got you covered. Wine was mentioned in 102 posts but mostly as a reward while help was only mentioned 67 times.

But you are a bunch of knitters with heart as topping the boards was Love at 1036 and Thanks or Thank you at 217!

Knitters Unite

Interestingly the toughest part of knitting Luwan was in clue one. Starting the dot pattern and keeping it in pattern while working the increases appeared to be tricky. But working together as a team and some helpful diagrams from Carol and you were on your way. Now I’m not one to point out things but maybe there was a connection with the number of times a certain alcoholic beverage was mentioned. See paragraph above.

HazelS you were worried about posting too much in the threads. Let me put your fears aside, you have a grand total of 156 posts and there can never be too much posting in the threads.

Finished Luwan Sweaters

There are some fancy FO’s floating around and this post wouldn’t be worth its weight in salt without an FO show:

Dyeshavei's Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (Thraven)

Dyeshavei’s Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (Thraven)

Vivcrest's handknit Luwan

Vivcrest’s Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (Cranberry Bogged)

 kikukat's Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (blue moonstone)

Kikukat’s Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (blue moonstone)

Davenlori98's Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (Winter Solstice)

Davenlori98’s Luwan in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Single Silky Targhee (Winter Solstice)

Aren’t they just fabulous! A huge thank you to all of you who took part and kept the forums a fun and friendly place filled with banter. I’ve already been asked about the next KAL and don’t worry Carol always has something up her sleeve!

If you want to be one of the first to find out about the next KAL taking place in the group then just add your email address to the newsletter. Along with being a VIK (Very Important Knitter), you also get exclusive discount codes on pattern releases, prizes and extra treats.

What do you think of the finished Luwans?  Stay in touch by using the #stolenstitches on your posts on all social media and drop a comment below because we would love to hear from you!

New Year, plans!

happy-knitting-in-2017Well a new year appears to have started. The beginning of every year is equal parts relaxing and chaotic in our house. The lack of routines makes life much easier as the daily rush is gone. However having so many people around the house (with teens that won’t get up before noon) as well as guests floating in and out adds more than a little chaos!
I think now at this point my head is ready to start planning for the new year. I’ve downloaded all of my year end bank and paypal statements. I’ve added all receipts to the spreadsheet and  I’m ready to tidy up last year and put it away in it’s little box. Once that’s finished my head is ready to indulge in new year planning.

Last Year

KWR COVER

The last 12 months have been busy. I often don’t acknowledge quite how busy unless I go back and review. It looks like I released 37 pattern in total in 2016 (you can take a look at them easily on ravelry here). These included the Irish Yarn Club 2016, a new book (Knitting With Rainbows), 7 patterns with books and magazines, a kit with Craftsy and of course a yarn collaboration with Love Knitting!

ridgeback-hat-and-cowl-kit-1On top of that I had quite a few teaching trips in Ireland and abroad. So it was a busy year for my business but also on a personal level my oldest headed off to college this year as well. Fortunately he was very ready to go and Ireland is small enough that he can visit whenever he needs to!

2017

I don’ t think 2017 will be any quieter than 2016. I’ve already booked tickets for Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cologne and Columbus over the next 5 months so I’ll have lots of fun traveling for work to start the year out. I’ve got a stack of knitting that’s ready for photography that I can share with you in the next few months. Irish Yarn Club 2017 is underway with the patterns already started. I have a HUGE surprise that I can reveal by the end of February. I’m terrible at keeping surprises though so I might leave a few hints sneak out before then!  And of course no year is complete without some fun KALs along the way!

At the end of 2016 I did a series of cable tutorials and a blog post on the topic here. In the coming months I wanted to do a set of tutorials on seamless knitting. There are lots of tips and tricks that make seamless knitting much easier that you usually have to learn the hard way so hopefully I can make the learning process a little faster.

What would you like to see?

So I’ve told you as much as I can of 2017 plans. What would you like to see? Is there any special tutorials you’d like covered? Pattern type you’d just love to see? Leave me a comment and let me know what you’re thinking! Happy 2017 to you all!!

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Happy Holidays everyone

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Well it looks like we’re almost at the end of another wonderful year. I’m getting ready for a relaxing few weeks where I can indulge in the things that I love and plan for the coming year. This year we’ve got a quieter Christmas than usual, my parents and sister’s family are in Amsterdam so it’s just our 6 for Christmas day. When you get used to several years of 13 plus for Christmas then 6 feels tiny! It will make for a very restful holiday I think though, which can’t be a bad thing.


Last Christmas I did a giveaway for Aeschne on Christmas day. This felt like such a Christmas sweater that it made the perfect gift.
This year I did the Gingerbread hunt which was a wonderful success. In fact on the final day every one of the codes was used within 5 minutes!! I felt though that I really wanted to give back to you wonderful knitters before the end of the year. At the start of this year, in January, we had a very rough month. Both cars broke down and we had a very sick little puppy who recovered badly when she was neutered. I did a big ‘fix my car’ sale and you guys bailed me out when I was really in need. I’m grateful for the kindness of the extended knitting community in times of need so it seemed like a good time to give a little back.

For the next few weeks I’m planning on knitting, hopefully reading and playing lots of games with the family. We’ve got shelves and shelves of games in our house that never get enough use but at Christmas they come into their own. I hope that stepping back for a few weeks from normal operation mode will allow my brain to dig up a few exciting design ideas! I’ll be checking in online every few days but bigger queries will be dealt with after the holiday season. The coming year is going to be very busy; I’ll be bouncing from Birmingham to Edinburgh, on to Cologne and hitting Columbus by June. There will be fantastic sales, lots of teaching, and a great big surprise that I can share with you within a few months.

What are your Christmas plans? Do you have any holiday traditions in your family that you just love?

The Great Gingerbread Hunt

 

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Today’s blog post comes with a lovely note from Carol :

‘So I wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer this year so I decided to do a little scavenger hunt for clues! For 4 days (December 19th to 22nd) I will scatter 3 pattern photos with codes in the photo on my ravelry patterns. Every day I’ll put them up around 5 hours before the codes goes live and I’ll take them down that evening. New codes will be put up in different locations on each of the 4 days. This is just a little pre-Christmas gift for you all!’

Are you all excited! To make it fair the release times for the codes will be spread throughout the day so that no one timezone has an advantage.

So what are the prizes?

First Prize (one only): €24 coupon

Second Prize (one only): €12 coupon

Third Prize (60 available): €6 coupon

Every prize is a single use coupon only, so you can’t go back and use one again if you have already won a prize. Also, it has to be used in a single purchase so if you have unused credit in the coupon you can’t go back and use it a second time.

Want some ‘hints’ come check out the ravelry thread!

Timing:

Monday 19th: Live 5pm Irish time
Tuesday 20th: Live 10 pm Irish time
Wednesday 21st: Live 5pm Irish time
Thursday 22nd: Live 10 pm Irish time
For anyone outside the Irish time zone find your local equivalent here.

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How does it work:

  1. Find the code hidden in the pattern pages.
  2. Fill your Ravelry shopping cart.
  3. Fill in your coupon code in the ‘use coupon code’ of your Ravelry shopping cart.
  4. Enjoy your pattern!

 

Note: The coupon won’t be valid until the ‘live’ time for that day. Do be warned the first 2 prize codes will probably be used very quickly!!

Are you ready for some fun? If you don’t have a Ravelry account don’t worry it’s free and you can sign up here. Don’t forget to show Carol what you chose with your coupon and you can share the excitement on all social media with the #gingerbreadhunt. 

 

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Interview with S Twist

Back in 2010 (although it was released in 2011) I wrote the book, Contemporary Irish Knits, that looked at the Irish mills that spun yarn commercially for hand knitters in Ireland as well as the Irish hand-dyers that were operating here at that time. However no market stands still and the yarn industry in Ireland continues to change and develop. Over the coming months I wanted to do a few interviews with people in the Irish yarn industry to find out what’s going on right now.

A few weeks ago I asked Diarmuid from S Twist Wool if he’s answer some questions on the Irish sheep, spinning and yarn industry. I met Diarmuid at This Is Knit when he was doing a spinning demonstration and his knowledge of the Irish yarn industry from farmer up to the mill is very in-depth. As a spinner he’s got a very unique perspective on the industry that he’s shared with you all here.

Sheep have been with us humans for over 10,000 years. One of the earliest animals to be domesticated, they can now be found on terrains ranging from rocky, Irish mountainsides to Sudanese deserts. Valued for their meat, milk and wool, they have enabled civilisations to develop and cultures to flourish.

According to the ITWO, worldwide sheep population in 2014 totalled aprox. 1.157 billion sheep and clean wool production was around 1,163 million kg. For a long time, most wool went to the clothing industry. These would have been the finer fibres which would have fetched higher prices. However, a few years ago, the scales tipped and now most wool goes to the interior textiles industry, which would use more durable wools. Irish wool for the most part is collected up by the wool merchants and exported for further processing. While exact figures are not available, most of this wool would be Blackface mountain wool. This would mean that the wool would be used for more durable items and would go at a lower market price.

At the same time, Ireland had a sheep population of around 3.6 million spread over 35,000 flocks. The average flock size was 104 sheep, with 69% of flocks having less than this and 42% having less than 50 sheep. Less than 2% of flocks (661) belonged to the largest grouping, over 500 sheep. The following map shows the population density by county.

Know Your Neighbours

In case you’re wondering, that white bit at the top does not mean that they don’t like sheep.

From these figures we can see that, in general, the Irish flocks will be of a small size and only a very few farmers would dedicate themselves purely with sheep.

This year, farmers were being paid from 0.60 -1.30 per kilo. Shearing costs can be between 2 and 3 Euro per sheep, or even higher depending on flock size, and we would be looking at about 2 – 3 kilo per fleece. Add onto this, costs of transport and any additional labour involved. This means that in most cases, farmers barely break even on selling fleece.

Of course, shearing is just the first step in the process.

Sometimes more steps than this, sometimes less, and not necessarily in this order

Sometimes more steps than this, sometimes less, and not necessarily in this order

These are by far not the only steps, and they may not always be done in this order, but this would be generally how the process goes in large scale industries.

Shearing

The sheep are brought together and the shearer (or team of shearers) remove the fleece, preferably in one piece. If you ever get the chance to see shearing up close, you really should. Here’s a short clip from showing a tutor from the British Wool Board giving a class to the Irish Sheep Shearers Association in Camolin, Wicklow.

Skirting

As the sheep is shorn, the underbelly of the sheep becomes the outline of the fleece. This part of the fleece is usually the dirtiest part, with encrusted dirt, twigs and other VM (Vegetable material). It is usually the part with most kemp, long coarse hairs, if present.

Sorting

Wool from different parts of the sheep has particular characteristics. For example, wool at the shoulders will be finer than the rest. A skilled sorter will be able to divide a fleece up to 14 different grades.

Washing / Scouring

Sheep’s wool contains dirt and grease. The grease is secreted by the sheep to waterproof its fleece. It is called lanolin and is used in skin-care products. Getting the dirt out of the fleece is relatively easy. Getting the grease out, scouring, requires a large amount of hot water and chemicals to break down the grease. Anywhere from 15 to 35 litres is used to scour one kilo of wool. The sludge from the dirt and the grease from the lanolin can be recovered from the effluent, although only up to about 40% of the lanolin. From an Irish perspective, scouring is probably the most troublesome step of all and we will touch upon this later.

Carbonising

After the wool has been scoured, it is immersed in a Sulfuric acidic solution. This is to help dry ouy the vegetable matter. After the wool has been dried, the wool is baked at 95 – 120 degrees. This carbonises the the VM. The wool is the passed through heavy presses and all the carbnised matter crushed to a powder and shaken out from the wool.

Blending

In order to achieve the uniformity that is needed to help the following processes run smoothly, wool of the same characteristics from different batches are blended together.

Bleaching

To get a uniform, final colour, the wools need to have the same tone as a starting point. The wool is put in a bleach solution, ph balanced, rinsed then dried.

Dyeing

Great care is taken to ensure that batches are as uniform and repeatable as possible.

Carding

A small amount of lubricating oil is added to the wool and passed through a machine comprised of rotating drumes covered in fine, metal teeth. This serves to seperate, open up and align the fibres.

Spinning

The fibres are drawn out and spun. 2 or more of these threads may then be spun together to form plied yarns.

Packaging

After washing and drying to remove the oil added in the last step, the yarn is made into balls, skeins or wound onto cones and is ready to move on to the yarn user.

Currently what does the production process for Irish yarn look like?

At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, those who produce yarns with Irish wool can be loosely put into three categories. On one end of the scale, you have the handspinner who will scour and card by hand and produce small amounts, usually in conjunction with other related business activities such as classes or farm products.

At the other end of the scale, you have the larger scale industrial mills who will spin small amounts of Irish wool and import the rest from New Zealand, Australia or the UK. In the middle you have companies, like S Twist Wool, who work with Irish wool only. One of the things that we all have in common is the fact that we are all hobbled by the lack of scouring facilities in Ireland. When wool is sent abroad to be scoured, it will get mixed together with wool of other origins and when it comes back, it can no longer be sold as Irish wool. This is the case with one mill, who make the effort and care to use Irish wools, but simply cannot label it as Irish. Most Irish mills have the facility to scour small amounts for their own use.

S Twist Wool gets around this by doing its own scouring on-site in Tipperary using an alternative method called suint fermentation. This method uses no energy, no chemicals and a fraction of the water that other methods use. However, I need the wool to be sent abroad to be spun for me.

Is it possible, and how much would it cost approximately to operate that part of the production in Ireland? Would it be a stand-alone industry or something that was part of an existing mill?

By looking at recent trends, both here and abroad, I think that the future of Irish wool will resemble the development of the slow food industry. When a customer walks into a shop, they will have a choice of yarns from different parts of the country with different fleece options available. Of course, while I am focusing on yarn, there are also other products being developed in Ireland from wool. It is being used for a variety of products from Baavet  duvets with wool filling to insulation products for buildings.

The one factor which is essential to having a domestic wool industry that can stand on its own feet is a scouring facility. This is not a novel idea and many people have worked on it over the years. The main challenges are finding a plant of the right size that would serve the demands of the Irish market and the economics of having to compete with massive plants. There is not enough wool on the Island to warrant a large scale plant, but having smaller facilities would make it difficult to compete on an even footing. It will be interesting to see what solutions we will come up with to deal with this problem over the next years.

I know that the bureaucratic barriers in place for small scale scouring are considerable, which is understandable considering the effluent that is produced.

This, the future involves a lot of this

This, the future involves a lot of this

How do Irish farmers view and approach wool production currently?

There is an amazing amount of enthusiasm and willingness on the farmers side to have more done with their wool. I think the main reason for this is that for so long there has been a feeling that the wool is a byproduct of taking care of the sheep and not a product in its own right.

Surprisingly, there can be a massive difference between fleece quality and handling from one year to another in the same flock and this can be due to how the fleece are handled after shearing.

Farming is, of course, a business and while there is little to no financial recompense for better handling of fleece, it is difficult to place the blame on farmers for not treating wool with more respect. As the market changes and farmers can be offered a fair price, this will also change.

What types of wool is currently available and are they suitable for knitting uses?

This is a very interesting question. We have a large range of different fleeces available in this country. This year alone I have worked with Blackface, Galway, Shetland, Welsh and Jacob. I will have a small amount of Blue Faced Leicester which should be available in February.

My best selling yarns, by a long shot, are made from blackface mountain wool. For the Irish knitting market, this would be seen as unsuitable. However, they are popular in foreign markets. Looking at trends in other countries, as people get more interested in local yarns, we should see a move away from the softer, ‘luxury’ fibres and instead of Irish wool, people will be able to experience Irish BFL, Galway, Jacob, Shetland etc.

What needs to happen for farmers to prioritise wool production?

It’s difficult to know where to start with this, it’s an involved question. The short answer would be to make it worth their while.

The long answer involves building up an industry basically from scratch and changing people’s awareness of wool. In a concrete sense, the biggest barrier to developing the Irish wool market is a lack of scouring facilities here. Having these would open many possibilities of increasing the value of fleece instead of it being sent abroad for the lowest price going. This would provide the knock on effects needed to build up the wool industry again.

A big thank you to Diarmuid for sharing his knowledge with us!

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Bloomsbury DK

I’ve been hinting over the last few months about some secret projects I was working on. Well now at last the time has come to reveal one of those secrets to you – Bloomsbury DK!

A few months ago Love Knitting asked if I’d like to be involved with a new project with some other designers; the creation of a new yarn line, The Yarn Collective. This venture was completely new to me, I’ve been on the other end of the process, working on finished yarns only before now. This time I was able to be involved from the start, trying out the yarn and picking the colours. The Yarn Collective involves several designers, each getting their own yarn to design the colours for. The first to launch was Melanie Berg last week with the Portland Lace and her lovely SecretKeeper shawl.
It’s my turn this week and I want to introduce you to Bloomsbury DK and the 3 patterns I designed for the yarn. When I started designing the yarns I had a few different things in mind; first I wanted each colour to be one I loved that could stand alone but I also wanted the colours to work together in harmony. To do this I began with a visual inspiration for each set of colours that I worked around.

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Violet, Dango in Fuchsia and Soot

The first set was inspired by the Fuchsia flower. Fuchsias grow wild in west Cork and in fact are often uses as the west Cork symbol. I love the mix of pinks, purples and greys. In the photos you can see a version of the Dango hat in Fuschia that hasn’t been photographed yet. You can see the different colour tones much more easily in the knitted fabric than in the skein.

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Moss, Oz, Indigo and Surf

The next set was based on the deep blues and greens of the sea, especially the deep colours you get when it’s at full swell with huge surfing waves. These are the colours I’m always drawn to; greens and blues.

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Russet, Sand and Copper

The final set is probably knitters (and my!) favourite season, Autumn. Browns, golds and coppers with some subtle dusty beiges. I love how the tones in these three colours just lead into each other.

So that gives you an outline on how I started the colour design process. From there I also wanted to make sure that each individual set related to the others so the neutral tones from each form almost a bridge between them.

Do you have a colour favourite?

Indigo

Indigo

I didn’t expect to love this deep Indigo blue from Dango so much. Knitted up it feels like a gently faded denim jacket, just lovely subtle variations in the navy blue. It’s got so much depth.

Now we can take a look at the patterns I designed for the yarn. There’s no better way to see how  yarn colour behaves then by knitting so I’d suggest giving them a try!


Russler
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First we have Russler, an oversized, side-to-side shawl that is super warm and generously sized. The chevron stitch pattern is great for showing off the interaction between the three different colours – so it’s a bit like wearing Autumn wrapped around your shoulders!


Lignite
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Next we have Lignite.  This is a top-down raglan tunic, with a gentle v-neck. Designed to fit loosely the stripes of grey lace combine with a gentle a-line shape and an asymmetrical short row hem slope. This creates an easy-to-wear top that can be modified for different sizes.


Dango
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Dango is a great uni-sex hat that combines a very subtle spiral cable with a dramatic central focal cable. I can see one of the boys robbing the sample over Christmas!

Yarn for all these patterns is available exclusively through Love Knitting. Keep an eye on the Yarn Collective over the coming days for some more revelations!

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In Search of Creativity

(c) Nadia Seaver

(c) Nadia Seaver

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with creativity. When all is going well and ideas are flowing it is the most wonderful feeling in the the world. You come up with an idea, work it through to the end and if you’re lucky it’ll turn out even better than you imagine. It’s a feels great, you don’t need anyone to tell you it’s turned out well; you just ‘know’.

Inspiration

Obviously this isn’t always the way it works. It’s an illusive thing and the more you search for it the harder it is to pin down. Frequently in interviews I’m asked where I’ve found my inspiration. I find this a really hard question to answer because the truth is that it’s different every time. Sometimes I might pick up a yarn and stitch pattern book and start experimenting. This is great if you’ve got a particular yarn you need to design for as you can see what kind of stitch patterns work best for the yarn.  For me often inspiration comes from clothes. I might have seen a detail on a sweater in a shop but hated the rest of the sweater or I’ve got a mental image of something I want to wear and as I can’t find it anywhere so I’ll knit it instead.

Mental Blocks

The times creativity get difficult are when the ideas just won’t flow. You sit down to swatch and every single swatch turns out wrong. Or maybe you’ve got a lot of ‘busy work; answering emails, sending out bills, writing blog posts and updating social media. These make it impossible. In my head to create I’ve got to feel like I have all the time in the world. Creativity is slow but the rest of the world moves quickly. So then the question is, how do you slow down enough to create?

New Ravi sample in progress.

New Ravi sample in progress.

Finding Head Space

To create I need to feel that no one is waiting for me and there are no deadlines. Swatching is slow and I’ve got to allow myself to make mistakes and learn. I think that’s often why I do my initial idea blitzing on weekend mornings. If I’m up before everyone or if they all go out for a few hours my head thinks of it as free time. I don’t need to do the busy work, so my mind is relaxed and it feels like the day is open ended just for me to explore. I think that’s also why working in time blocks helps. If you’ve got a creative morning or two blocked off you don’t feel like you should be doing something else so it allows you space.

Getting Over the Block

The times I find most difficult to deal with are when you just have a creative slump. It doesn’t matter what you touch, design or finish the end result just feels ok to you rather than magical. It usually means for me that I’ve taken on too much work and I”m tired and burnt out. I use that as an indication that I need to say ‘no’ for a while until I find my balance again.

For any creatives out there, what do you find kicks starts your creativity again when you’re overworked and feeling a little burnt out?

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