As we have discovered over the past few months, there is an awful lot to think about when designing and manufacturing a new yarn for hand knitting! There are many stages to consider, and many decisions to be made. It occurred to me that one of the processes that’s least visible to hand knitters is how the wool they work with actually gets clean. As anyone who has handled a fleece will know, cleaning raw wool is not particularly glamorous but it is certainly essential. I thought you might like to see a little about these early stages of our yarn’s manufacture.
The raw wool for our yarn was cleaned, its fibres blended, and the blended fibres processed into lovely combed tops here at Haworth Scouring. This large plant is based in Bradford, a short drive from where both Tom and I were born and grew up. The textile industries in Yorkshire and Lancashire have seen an awful lot of changes in the past 50 years, but Bradford is still the beating heart of the British wool industry.
This is a large operation, capable of scouring a million kilos of wool per week. That’s right – a million kilos. Our first order seemed enormous to us, but it is merely a tiny proportion of what Haworth Scouring can process here in a single day.
Much of the raw wool processed here is British, but Haworth Scouring processes wool from other countries too – these are Norwegian bales in the photograph above.
Customers have different requirements, and some of the wool arrives in a very raw state, needing preparation and grading by specialised wool sorters.
Wool grading is a really important, and sadly declining skill. (If you would like to learn more about wool sorting and grading and its importance to the wool industry, I recommend you visit Jamieson and Smith and meet Shetland’s top wool man, Oliver Henry)
The scouring process is designed to remove dirt and other impurities from the raw wool, along with suint (sheep sweat) and lanolin. At Haworth, its really important that this process is as environmentally friendly as it is efficient (more of this later). Here is some wool, prepared and ready for scouring.
The wool is put through a series of washes and rinses at several different temperatures.
It is repeatedly and carefully cleaned with swinging rakes. After every wash you can see the wool becoming gradually cleaner and cleaner . . .
. . . with the wool’s heat and moisture content being monitored at every stage.
After this, the wool goes through a gigantic metal detector. This is one of those processing factors that’s completely obvious when you think of it – sheep often pick up bits of wire in their fleece – but which I’d never previously considered. You don’t want bits of metal in your yarn, and you certainly don’t want it in the machinery that’s making your yarn. The work of the metal detecting machine is reinforced by this lovely chap, who double-checks there’s nothing non-woolly in the wool.
After washing, the wool is dried. As part of the drying process, the fibres are loosened and mixed, and blended together.
Just check out what’s going on in that huge machine!
After drying, the wool is beautifully clean. What a transformation!
For some of the wool that comes through Haworth’s doors, this is almost the end of the story. It is compressed and packaged into huge bales and prepared for the next stage in its journey elsewhere.
These large bales are compressed by an amazing machine, and, as you can see contain over 350kg of wool. It was at this point that the sheer scale of what goes on here started to astound me. This really is a whole lot of wool!
A significant recent investment in new jobs and machinery means that wool that’s not sent away at this stage can be expertly processed at Haworth into tops. There’s now a state-of-the-art combing operation here, and this is where our wool first started to resemble something like yarn. Our unique blend of fine Scottish fibres was developed and created on this machine!
The wool fibres are relatively blobby and clumpy at this stage – the worsted processing practised here, and which we felt was important to get the best out of our wool, enables the fibres to be opened up, smoothed out, and carefully combed to lie parallel to one another. When I observed the several different stages of combing, gilling and drafting, I was very intensely struck by the technological complexity of these machines, their skilled operatives, and the sheer magic both perform.
From raw wool, to lovely combed top!
Here is what is known as a bump top, at the end of the combing process. . .
And here are lots of bump tops, ready to go.
I mentioned previously that environment is as important as efficiency here. The whole purpose of wool scouring is to remove grease and impurities from fleeces: this is a relatively high-impact process, that creates a lot of waste, and Haworth’s verifiable green credentials were certainly important to us when making early decisions about our yarn’s processing and manufacture. The plant’s water monitoring is extremely careful and completely transparent, and we were impressed that very little in this process actually goes to waste at all! Lanolin removed here is sold to the cosmetics and vitamin industries, while other by-products are used as feed for shrimp and prawn farming (who knew?!)
One reason Haworth’s environmental credentials are so laudable is because it has ENco on site – an environmental testing company that does important work with the textile and farming industries. As well as ensuring the wool products produced at Haworth comply with strict environmental standards, ENco also acts as a consultant, testing many different kinds of finished textiles to check for levels of mothproofing agents and other chemicals. Carpets, military uniforms, knitting yarn, and the fabrics used in high-end fashion houses all receive environmental testing and certification here. If you needed to check whether a certain yarn contained 20% or 30% nylon; or discover for how long a particular moth-proofing agent would protect a certain kind of fabric; or wanted to ensure that the animals providing a batch of fleeces had not been treated with particularly harmful pesticides in their sheep dip, then ENco could find out for you. It was absolutely fascinating chatting to Mike and his team, and learning about their work.
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It has been an incredibly busy week here! As you might imagine, the imminent arrival of Buachaille means we have a lot to do, and I am hard at work creating a small collection of designs to accompany the yarn’s release (only a few weeks to go!) Then my friend and colleague, Jen, came to stay with us for a few days – together Jen and I are currently developing several rather exciting projects . . . one is a book which will appear next Spring, and another is a new volume of Cross-Country Knitting. Above is a sneak peak at the latter’s content, of which more very soon.
Jen and I got lots of work done, laughed a lot, and had time for a hearty post-photoshoot dinner at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. It was lovely to see her.
Meanwhile, In the Loop 4 was happening down the road in Glasgow (one year I will make it to this event, which always features a fantastic line-up of speakers and some important research). This year, the conference was hosted by my friends at the Knitting in the Round project (who you’ll remember I’ve mentioned before). I was really honoured when they asked me to provide some samples for the fashion show which closed the conference!
Jade Halbert selected three of my designs, and I styled them with the original garments I’d used when photographing Yokes. I genuinely love styling – visualising a look is often the starting point of the design process for me – and I really appreciated the thoughtful way that Jade styled the models to suit the work of each designer in the show.
The lovely model wearing Buchanan even had her hair in braids!
I loved the soft and subtle palette of the beautiful garments shown by Jade Starmore , and was blown away by their styling with these stunning leather skirts (also the work of Jade)
The show featured well-established names of Scottish knitwear design such as ERIBÉ
. . . and Di Gilpin
. . . alongside the work of emerging contemporary designers like Laura Muir
It was lovely to see the work of some of my friends and comrades in hand-knit design, like Gudrun Johnston . . .
I also came away feeling inspired by the work of designers I’d never previously encountered. This cashmere dress by Stephanie Laird was truly gorgeous.
And I loved the fresh take on colourwork in Hilary Grant’s bold machine-knit accessories
Thankyou, Lynn, Marina, Jade, and the whole team at Knitting in the Round and In the Loop 4 for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event! Thanks too to Tom, who took the great catwalk photos in this post.
We spent a couple of days in North Yorkshire, and took a walk up Whernside – one of the county’s ‘three peaks’. With its limestone pavement, familiar moorland flora and Victorian infrastructure, this is a landscape of which I’m very fond, and in which I love to walk. The Ribblehead Viaduct is such a spectacular piece of engineering, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the little aquaducts around which, higher up the moor, water had been diverted to accommodate the direction of the Settle-Carlisle railway line. After 8 miles and a very blustery summit, we treated ourselves to a hearty ploughman’s lunch in the always-welcoming Station Inn . . . this lunch inspired some discussion between Tom and I about the constituency and origin of the ‘traditional’ ploughman’s. Google revealed the intriguing, but perhaps unsurprising information that this ‘traditional’ pub fayre was in fact a 1956 invention of the Cheese Bureau, the same folk behind the 1970s cheese recipe books that I have on my bookshelf, and the coiner of immortal advertising slogans such as “great minds think cheese.”
Meanwhile, wedding preparations, such as they are, continue. Tom has made the cake, we have our rings, and I have knitted my thing (it is a cardigan, and I am very pleased with it)! I cast on a pair of kilt hose for Tom and am now steadily working away on those. The cardigan and the hose are particularly lovely and exciting to me as they are being knitted in our wool. That is to say that yes – we are making yarn. The yarn is 100% wool: it has been raised in Scotland, and has been expertly processed in Yorkshire (one of the reasons why we have been visiting that county so often of late). And the first things knitted from the yarn will be worn on our wedding day! I have been keeping the wool plans under wraps for many months and soon, at last, I will be able to say more about them. But for now I’d better get back to knitting those hose. . .
You may remember that last year, my friend and colleague, Jen and I, worked together to produce a pair of designs, which we published as Cross-Country Knitting Volume 1. Volume 1 focused on blokes’ knits, and for Volume 2 we challenged each other to re-design and re-size one of our favourite patterns for kids. I designed Wee Bluebells – a cardiganised version of one of my favourite adult sweaters from my Yokes book, featuring pretty colourwork motifs around the hem and neckline.
. . . and Jen designed Wee Bruton, an unbelievably cute miniaturisation of her Bruton Hoody.
Our aim was to create a pair of really classic patterns – the kind of children’s garments that we could imagine our grandmas knitting for us when we ourselves were small, and which we could imagine ourselves knitting for the wee ones in our lives for years to come.
Together, the designs have an undeniably nostalgic feel, but they are also eminently knittable and wearable.
Wee Bluebells is knit up in 5 shades of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. A quick and simple knit, it is worked completely in the round and then steeked up the middle to create the front opening.
If you have never worked a steek before, this (being small) would be a great project to try out the technique – which really is surprisingly straightforward. (You can read more about steeks by following the links from this page)
Wee Bruton uses Excelana 4 ply, is worked back and forth, features a pair of sturdy pockets, some nifty hood shaping, and fastens neatly with a zip.
Together, these are two easy-to wear cardis that are ideal for romping about in!
Sofia you have met before from the Wowligan photographs, and Toby is Fergus’s son.
We really wanted to show these garments being worn outdoors, by kids in a “natural” rather than a studio environment. It is notoriously difficult to photograph knitwear on little kids and Fergus has done a completely amazing job. Thankyou Fergus! And thankyou Toby and Sofia! We absolutely love these photographs!
In each Cross-Country Knitting booklet, we like to invite someone to write a short essay that speaks to that volume’s theme. For Volume 2, our friend Rachel Atkinson has written a lovely piece exploring the significance of childhood handknits. Jen and Rachel and I all appear in the essay, in knitwear made for us by the women of our family.
Both patterns come in 7 sizes, covering ages 1 to 12. Designing, and thinking about designing, these garments has been such a lovely project for Jen and I, particularly as we revisited our memories of our own childhood knits. We hope you enjoy knitting these patterns, and that they become the source of knitterly memories of your own!
Cross-Country Knitting, Volume 2, is available digitally via Ravelry, or in print via MagCloud.
You can also see more detail of the project, and each pattern, over on the Cross-Country Knitting website.
Hooray! Hooray! Wowligan is here today!
Apparently owl cardigans are much easier to dress a wee one in than owl jumpers and I’ve been asked about the possibility of such a pattern many times. . . one can never have too many owls, so I decided to make it. The Wowligan is basically a mini Owligan, knit up in a sport-weight yarn and carefully resized to baby and kid proportions.
Like the Owligan, Wowligan uses an all-in-one piece circular yoke construction and is knit from the bottom-up. The pattern includes a choice of charted or written instructions for working the cables, and comes with the option of knitting the sleeves flat, or in the round. It is a great pattern for any beginner knitter.
The pattern comes in 8 sizes, from 17 ins to 25 ins, and uses Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, which is a great yarn for kids garments. In the pattern you’ll also find a schematic and a very detailed sizing table, together with instructions for selecting and knitting the right size.
This sweet and cheery wee soul is Sofia, who is wearing her Wowligan in the fourth size. She was photographed by the very talented Fergus Ford. I’ve recently been working with Ferg on another exciting and, ahem, exceptionally cute project – which I should be able to tell you about next week.
Today I’m looking at another couple of recently-published books, from two very different independent designers, who both took completely different routes to publication. What these two books share, however, is an intelligent engagement with two specific aesthetic contexts, as both were directly inspired by artwork in other media. While Lucy Hague’s innovative closed-cable shawls are inspired by Pictish and Celtic knotwork, Julia Farwell-Clay took inspiration for her lovely collection from the prints, lives, and milieu of the Folly Cove designers.
Lucy Hague grew up in Orkney, and now lives in Edinburgh. Orkney has many important archeological sites, and abounds with examples of intriguing insular art. Inspired by Pictish and Celtic carvings, as well as by the work of George Bain (whose 1951 investigation into Celtic stonework, jewellery and manuscript illustration did much to revive interest in this iconic design style), Lucy has created a truly stunning collection.
Lucy’s book includes patterns for seven shawls, each arranged in order of complexity, from designs with a plain centre and cabled edging, like Carradal and Kyna, to gorgeous allover patterns, such as Morvach and Malgven.
Malgven, a beautiful centre-out shawl.
Lucy is one of those designers with a really distinctive aesthetic that she has pursued and perfected. I always enjoy reading about other designers creative processes, and you can get a great sense of the depth and thoughtfulness of Lucy’s work in this post about the Talesin shawl. Celtic Cable Shawls also includes an introduction in which she talks about her aesthetic inspiration, together with several clear tutorials for the key techniques involved in closed cable-knitting (elongated stitches, multiple increases and decreases, cabling without a cable needle). The photography is luscious and evocative and the patterns – though undoubtedly complex – are clearly explained and laid out with charted and written instructions.
There are so many things I love about this book. The designs are breathtaking, but they are also eminently knittable and – best of all – wearable. So many pieces of cabled knitwear have sources of inspiration that have been described as loosely “Celtic”, to the extent that some styles are so familiar that they feel hackneyed or ubiquitous. Lucy’s original shawls are the polar opposite of this. With their strong lines, their carefully worked twists and loops, these designs speak of their aesthetic past, but they strongly articulate the contemporary knitterly moment too. I think that it is the sheer depth of Lucy’s intelligent engagement with insular art that makes her work so appealling and so very distinctive. I love what she’s done in this book.
Kyna, and the jewellery that inspired it.
One of the most significant impediments to self-publishing is basic logistics: how are you going to store and distribute all those books? Lucy chose to work with Lightning Source – a large and well-established print on demand service. “It seemed like the least risky option,” Lucy told me, “you don’t have to put down a huge amount of money for an intial print-run (and you don’t need space to store thousands of books – useful for me, as I live in a tiny flat!)” And why, I asked, did Lucy choose self-publishing rather than to work with a larger publisher? “I knew that I would be making a book that would be quite long in relation to the actual number of patterns included (because of the complexity of my patterns, and the fact that I include full written instructions for all the charted sections), and I thought this might be off-putting and hard to pitch to to the types of companies who traditionally publish knitting books.” Print on demand has been ideal for Lucy: “I really love that I’ve been able to have complete control over the entire book-making process, from start to finish, and that I can so easily get my books to customers all across the world.” Celtic Cable Shawls is a beautiful, professionally produced book, that also comes with a complementary e-book, and a digital only option. You can buy the print book directly from Lucy and the digital book from her Ravelry store.
I’m a huge fan of the work of Julia Farwell Clay, who often produces hand-knit designs directly inspired by 20th Century literature, art, and music. Her patterns have a rich context, that speaks of their creator’s breadth of thinking, and her recent collection for Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series exemplifies her intelligent approach. From Folly Cove is a collection of eleven designs inspired by a group of artists and designers, who lived and worked around Gloucester, Massachusetts, from 1938 to 1969.
Many of you will know the books of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. You may not know, however, that under her leadership, an important collective of artists and craftspeople flourished in and around her Massachusetts home. Demetrios developed a design course, followed by several of her friends and neighbours in Gloucester. As the Folly Cove course grew in popularity, the group was structured as a guild, with regular meetings to scrutinise and support each other’s work. Few of the group were otherwise professionally trained, but the collaborative structure of the Folly Cove Collective enabled them to grow into designers of the very highest standard, each developing their own signature style. The Folly Cove designers were mostly women, and I find something extremely inspiring in the way this group supported and enabled one another to combine their creative with their domestic lives, growing together into artists and craftspeople of international repute. Julia’s collection is infused with the spirit of Folly Cove, drawing inspiration from the lives and works of these women.
Some of Julia’s designs are directly inspired by the graphic allover repeats created by Folly Cove designers, such as her Iarrobino Butterfly Cowl which echoes Elizabeth Iarrobino’s tesselating butterflies (above).
Other pieces are not only linked to specific Folly Cove designs and designers, but also seem to celebrate the ethos of the collective in a more general way. One of my favourite patterns in the collection is Hetty’s Garden Coat, a garment inspired by one of Julia’s favourite Folly Cove prints, Victory Garden , by Hetty Whitney Beatty.
“This scene,” Julia explains in the accompanying text, “speaks clearly of the community and hard work of this period and place. Making and growing what you needed was essential to comfort and survival during the Second World War and a lesson for the years that followed.”
This is a beautifully structured garment, whose flourishing sprigs really capture the mood and feel of Beatty’s victory garden.
Elsewhere in Julia’s collection, you’ll find pieces that are more about suggesting Folly Cove’s moment and locale than they are about direct design inspiration.
I love Lanesville‘s neat vintage details.
. . . and the cosy wearability of Natti, named for Lee Kingman Natti, a key member of the Folly Cove collective.
Taken together, Julia’s collection is powerfully suggestive of Folly Cove both as a place and a group of inspiring women. Many pieces have an eastern-seaboard, maritime feel, while others carry a graphic exuberance which echoes both the energy and the aesthetics of the Folly Cove collective.
And there are other important echoes with Folly Cove too, as Julia’s collection is not simply the work of one designer, but the product of a supportive collaboration. From Folly Cove is part of Classic Elite’s Viewpoints series, “an open collaboration between the indie designer and the resources at Classic Elite” the aim of which is to “give a talented designer the freedom to tell a story with a themed collection of their designs.” Julia worked closely with Classic Elite’s creative director, Susan Mills, honing her design ideas, and developing them into patterns that would work with particular Classic Elite yarns. “Classic Elite were a complete joy to work with”, says Julia, “they gave me this great freedom to imagine what the book would be about, and what it would look like, and then let me run the show.” Thus, in this collection, Julia’s voice doesn’t just speak through her patterns, but she has the space to introduce and talk about the inspiration behind, and context of, each design, as well as discuss the work of the Folly Cove collective more generally. I think this publishing model – in which an independent designer is commissioned and supported by a yarn company to tell their own design story in their own way – is really refreshing and inspiring. As I write this post, Julia preparing to talk about the Folly Cove designers and her collection at Slater Mill. How I wish I could be there!