Tag Archives: Yarn

Let me tell you a Secret

I’ve been hinting about this for a few months but the time has come to share, I’m doing a brand new yarn, Nua! I’ve spent the last year planning the yarn and colours with Fyberspates and last weekend I went to Birmingham to launch the yarn to shops. So if you want to see it in your local yarn shop tell them to get in contact with Fyberspates.
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If you want to get your hands on the yarn I’ll have a small amount of it up for sale on Wednesday 1st of March here on my website. But the following week (10th and 11th March, 2017) I’ll be at Edinburgh Yarn Festival with as much yarn as I can bring :-)….plus I’ll have kits and the Nua Collection Volume 1.

Bare Necessities

Bare Necessities


So now that you know how to get the yarn I want to tell you a little bit about it. It’s a non-superwash yarn (I prefer this for garments) in a sport weight with 50g skeins. I love this weight of yarn as it’s useful for so many things; garments aren’t too heavy but it still doesn’t take forever to knit and it’s light enough that colourwork looks really good in it. By keeping the skeins smaller it’s much easier to combine colours without ending up with too much leftovers.
The fibre blend of the yarn is 60% merino, 20% yak and 20% linen and it’s spun in south America. The addition of linen and yak create a very unique yarn. Yak is very, very soft and linen as a plant fibre adds some durability. These two additions to the fibre blend also have some very nice side effects. Yak is a darker fibre (the colour, Bare Necessities shown above is the undyed colour) which means that the whole colour palette of the yarn becomes more muted and subtle. Linen fibre absorbs dye differently which means that the lighter specks of linen show through the yarn which creates a natural tweed effect. My friend Evin described the yarn as ‘sophisticated yet rustic’ which I think sums it up nicely.
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Some of you may recognise Ravi above. This is one of 4 patterns in the Nua Collection Volume 1 that will be released next Wednesday at the same time as the yarn. It is a redesigned version of Ravi (Ravi Nua) as I’ve changed the short rows to German, added extra length and due to the extra length added some increases at the bottom of the hip. If you’ve previously purchased Ravi (on my website or Ravelry) you’ll get €3.00 off either Ravi Nua or Nua Collection Volume 1 (digital version only).
Over the coming days I’ll reveal details of the new patterns coming Wednesday. For anyone curious about names the yarn name NUA means ‘new’ in Irish so it seemed like a very appropriate name!
So does this sound like a yarn you’d like to knit with?
Rolling Bales

Rolling Bales

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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New year sort out

I don’t like sorting and organising myself any better than most people but the time has come to grab the bull by the horns. My office has been accumulating yarn, samples and paper since I started designing and I’m about to be buried under the mountain. I didn’t realise quite how bad I was as keep stuff ‘just in case’. It would appear that I’ve got the yarn remains of EVERY item I’ve designed since I began.

I’ve started by pulling the boxes of yarn into the hall and while I’m doing that my husband is in the office clearing rubbish and reorganising the furniture. It’s a big space but very badly used with several corners that are effectively inaccessible by me due to the furniture placement.

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This is the selection of partially used skeins, some with ball bands but a lot without. I think tomorrow I’ll divide this into colour blocks and willing parties can request what they want!

20151230_160023-1_resizedEspecially as a designer it is so hard to get rid of yarn. What if inspiration hits and you need THAT yarn? Although as I’m discovering, in reality if a yarn has been buried in your stash for a couple of years it is pretty unlikely you’ll dig it out to use.

So I’ve been posting to twitter with the yarn that’s coming out of my stash. Here is some of it; if something interested you just leave a comment and make an offer :-)

First is a huge 250g skein of Cascade Eco + that I use to make Vivido.

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3 skeins of lovely Cascade Sierra:

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2 packs of alpaca yarn direct from Peru; 2 skeins are a fingering weight alpaca/acrylic blend and the other 8 skeins (4 complete and 4 partial) are 100% alpaca in a dk weight.

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Schoppel Leinen Los 70% wool 30% linen which has a full skein of each colour and a partial skein of each.
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A collection of sock yarn; Regina, Mirasol and Wendy Happy.
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And finally…definitely not for sale, the super sweet Lizzie decided that she needed to help out as well :-)
20151230_162822-1_resizedThis renovation of my office is very necessary – I’ve got lots of big new plans and they’re not going to happen in a cluttered space!

Knit Nation

I arrived home from Knit Nation on Monday, exhausted but very happy! I met so may knitters and fondled so much yarn that my head’s on information overload. Of course I manage to forget my camera so my photos of the weekend are non-existent unfortunately. You can however see a few photos at Anne Hanson and Clara Parkes websites to get some visual of the weekend. I do however have yarn that made it home with me that I have photos of!

Before the classes started I got to go to the Victoria and Albert museum and have high tea with the other tutors.  I was very honoured to be included with this bunch, which included Alice, Cookie A (the 2 organisers), Ann Hanson, Lene Alve, Susan Crawford, Elise Duvekot, Franklin Habit, Susanna Hansson, Marjan Hammink, Carol & Pete Leonard, Judith McCluin, Clara Parkes, Merike Saarniit and Julie Weisenberger.  I hadn’t met many of them before but they were lots of fun to spend an afternoon (and weekend) with.  Judith lead the tour of the museum and she is just a font of information, it was just a pleasure to hear her speak so knowledgeably on textiles through the ages.

Just before travelling over to London on Wednesday last week I had the start of a sore throat.  Unfortunately by the time I had finished talking for 3 days solid I was sounding pretty croaky.  My apologies to any knitters who had to listen to me on Sunday afternoon, I suspect I was sounding pretty bad!  I had the most wonderful knitters in my class from all over the place with a huge variety of knitting styles.  It’s not often you get English knitters, Continental Knitters, Portuguese Knitters and mirrored backwards knitters (to name a few) all in one spot.  It was very informative to see just how many different ways you can produce the same knit stitch.  Knitting is definitely not a one size fits all kind of pursuit.

The first class I had I got a wonderful gift (just like last year!) from the Portuguese knitters.  It was a little skein of wonderful hand spun yarn, a lavender sardine, pins, a sample of Yarn Adventures yarn and a handmade project bag.

In addition to these wonderful gifts Filomena also gifted me a bag of her wonderful yarn ‘Yarn Adventures’.  You can find her also on ravelry and facebook.

The rest of the weekend passed in a blur, I met some friends from Ireland, met a few other designer friends that I only get to see at different events (including Woolly Wormhead, Ann Kingstone and Marleen van der Vorst) as well as tons of new knitters and designers.  I spoke for a while on the way back from high tea with designer Stephen West who is now based in Amsterdam.  Who knows, we may actually get to meet up again as my sister lives there!  And for anyone wondering, Franklin Habit is indeed as funny as his blog!

With all of this teaching and fun I did get a few chances to slip into the marketplace and pick up the odd hank of yarn..

the first is The Yarn Yard ‘Clan’ in a delicious shade of green.

The second yarn that sneaked into my bag was Easy Knits ‘Deeply Wicked’ in Sands of Time Colour.  How could I leave it behind?

It’s getting really close to my book actually coming out; as we speak it’s being printed!  I brought the cover cardigan from the book with me to my classes (it was the perfect example for top down set-in sleeve designs) and some bookmarks to make sure everyone doesn’t forget the name….

Not too much longer now before you get to see the full book.

Buttons and yarn

I’ve recently developed a great love of buttons.  I find myself in local shops buying up buttons – sometimes to finish a project, other times because I think they might find inspiration. So now I own a box of buttons, plastic, wood, shell, bone (the boys think this one is great!), metal – but don’t have any glass.  I even now own a few diamante ones (for when you feel like that little bit of extra bling).

I was trying to be good about buying new yarn but couldn’t resist a few to try from Garnstudio.   I got few balls of Ice to make a lacey summer shrug (I am finding these so useful, some gorgeous rust coloured Paris (don’t know what this will be yet) and a ball each of Eskimo and Silk Alpaca.  I have a feeling I’ll be getting more of these.  This yarn seems really reasonable for the materials uses….may be seeing more of it!

Slow but steady knitting progress

I’ve been knitting very slowly for the last few weeks.  I have enjoyed and really want the items I’m knitting to be finished but I haven’t been so excited by them that I have been in a crazy rush to finish them.  Life seems so busy right now that knitting is playing a very small role.  However I’m sure that won’t last for too long!wisp finished

I have finished Wisp for my mother’s birthday next week.  Unfortunately it is not perfect – it took me quite a while to stop dropping stitches at the start and a lace mohair pattern is not too forgiving of that!  They are very carefully concealed for the photo but hopefully she will turn a blind eye….

And I’ve finally settled on what to use my Rowan Tapestry for …. a Clapotis

clapatis

This was my progress as of last week before my camera died – I have actually just now finished the straight rows so I should be finished but the end of the week.  I am so in love with this – I love the colour, the feel of the yarn and how soft it is.  It will be perfect for the freezing cold spring we are having.  What are the chances though that by the end of the week we will have sun splitting the rocks??

I think that it is knitting so slowly as it isn’t very involved knitting.  Great for in front of the tv!  I think I need to get my teeth into a cable or lace project.

I’ve been playing with a few more knitting designs some summer tops and cardigans, I’ve got a few skiens of Araucania Patagonia that I think that could make a really good summer cardigan for our Irish summer.  Must get thinking and swatching.

Some of the yarn sitting and taunting me

Rowan Cork

I got the Zoe Mellor ‘Adorable Knits for Tiny Tots’ for Christmas last year and have been dying to knit it for my youngest.  However the Rowan Cork yarn has been discontinued.  I managed to pull a few balls of it together from Ebay but not enough for the pattern – I think I might try it without the hood, should just about scrape by.  (However will probably have to wait until next winter as we are nearly in Feburary!)

memoirsclose up of memoirs

I got 10 skeins of Berroco’s Memoirs yarn from Elann a few months ago.  It feels so nice I’ve been trying to figure out what to knit with it.  I think that I’d like to do something with some lace work,  the subtle colours would work best with that I think.

Rowan Tapestry

Another lovely yarn that I’ve got stashed here in the office is the Rowan Tapestry in Pot Pouri.  I love the colours and the feel of the yarn and I’m trying to figure out what to use it for to do it justice.  I guess that’s the problem with having such special yarn, you find yourself almost afraid to use it as the end product needs to be a beautiful as the yarn.

One sock finished

finished lana grossa sock

I am so pleased that I have eventually finished this sock. I know it’s not much of a birthday present, but surely one sock is better than none! The finished product feels very substantial but not sure I’ll be choosing Lana Grossa again. I need to psych myself up to get started on the second one now. Please send words of encouragement my way.

As a slight diversion I have started on another pair of socks – this time for my 2 year old ds. There was some of a ball of Opal yarn left from last years socks for my mother and I have been meaning to make him a pair since then. I just love working with this yarn, it knits up so effortlessly. Maybe by the time I have the second one finished it will give me the courage to get started back on making the mate for the above sock.

Selfish knitting

After the last several weeks spent knitting for Christmas presents I’ve had a chance to get started on a project for myself this week. I got some Rowan Chunky print yarn in a lovely dark chocolate and have started on the Blackberry shrug from Knitty.

Blackberry

I am knitting it from the top though with a few more changes. Having recently gotten a copy of Barbara Walkers ‘Knitting From the Top’ I am finding as many excuses in my knitting to work from the top down. Especially when it is for yourself it means that you get a great fit. (Not so important if you don’t have the person around who will be wearing it …or if that person doesn’t want to try it on daily for fitting!)

I have put in a slightly different cable on the arm and left out the bobbles. Also I am tapering the arms a little more and increasing the length of the arms and body. I think I’ll probably do some short rows at the back of the next, I like cosy necks. Will post some photos as I start making a bit more progress.

Hello world!

I have finally managed to make it into the blogging world!  I’m new to all this so it will probably take me a while to get used to keeping it updated regularly but I’ll try my best.  Last month I had my first pattern published in Knitty called Doddy
This pattern really came about by accident, I had a couple of balls of Knit Picks Shine Worsted delivered to me from the States and it felt so soft I couldn’t wait to get knitting.  However I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to knit so I just started making interesting shapes.  Before I knew it I had knit this:

Doddy