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.
Have you signed up for the newsletter to hear more about our yarn? You can do so here!
(if you are having trouble signing up, try selecting the ‘text only’ rather than ‘html’ option)
We are getting very excited here, as we are anticipating a large woolly delivery, and it will soon be time to announce the launch of our new yarn. I thought it was time to tell you a little more about it.
(my favourite sheep, from Colours of Shetland)
I am a great advocate for using local materials, and nowhere more so than where wool is concerned. Sheep, and the human work around them, are an incredibly important part of the structure and character of the British landscape and I find it very sad that so many yarns made and sold in Britain in general, – and Scotland in particular – are not raised here, from our native sheep. With some notable exceptions, much of the wool described as “Scottish” has little or nothing at all to do with the many sheep raised in this landscape by hard-working farmers and crofters. So I wanted to create a yarn that was truly raised in Scotland – a yarn that was part of the work of this landscape – but I also wanted to make a yarn that defied long-standing assumptions about what Scottish wool was or could be. I am so tired of hearing that British and / or Scottish wool is coarse or scratchy. Scottish sheep produce wonderful, wearable fibres that, when properly sorted and graded, spin up into truly beautiful yarns. Over the years I have knit with many such yarns from small local wool producers. You might describe these yarns as lofty or springy or smooth or soft – you might describe them as interesting – but you would never describe them as coarse. I wanted my wool to reflect the characteristics of the interesting sheepy yarns I loved and admired. My yarn would be woolly and springy and durable – speaking of this land, and of the animals that grew it – but it would also be smooth and light and soft enough to wear next to the skin. These were my requirements, and, after many months of development and hard work, I am very happy to say, that this is what we’ve got in the finished product!
Selecting the finest fibres of some distinctive Scottish sheep breeds, we’ve created a completely unique yarn that you won’t find anywhere else. The yarn blends wool fibre that hails from as far north as you can travel in Scotland, and from as far south, too.
The yarn is called Buachaille. The first thing you are going to want to know is how to pronounce it.
Am Buchaille (the herdsman), is the Gaelic name associated with two mountains – Buachaille Etive Mòr, (great herdsman of Glen Etive), and Buachaille Etive Beag (little herdsman of Glen Etive). These mountains are well known to anyone who has followed the West Highland Way, or who likes Scottish mountain walking, and I’d go so far to say that Buachaille Etive Mor is among the most familiar and iconic of all Scottish munros.
These are mountains for which Tom and I hold an affection of long-standing. They are rugged and rocky and elemental . . . yet they are also breathtakingly elegant and sublime. They are somehow what one pictures when one conjures up the idea of a Scottish highland mountain. This – and their relative accessibility – explains why they are so frequently photographed. I think you’ll immediately be able to see the relationship between familiar images of Buachaille Etive Mòr, and Beag . . .
and the logo we designed for the yarn!
Suggested by this one word – Buachaille – are a series of connections between humans, animals, and landscapes – all of the things, in other words, that we wanted the yarn to capture and express.
As you can see from the tag, Buachaille has been “raised in Scotland” and “made in Yorkshire.” As well as being grown by a host of Scottish sheep and farmers, and designed by us, Buachaille has involved lots of hard work from the best folk we know in the UK wool industry – these folk are in Yorkshire. Its important to me that the wool for Buachaille originated in Scotland, and its equally important that several skilled Yorkshire processors and manufacturers have been responsible for making it into yarn. As time goes on, I will tell you much more about the different processes involved in making Buachaille. . .
If you would like to be the first to know about our plans for the yarn, when it launches, and when you can get your hands on it, I have set up a newsletter. So if you’d like further information about Buachaille, please sign up here.
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. . .
I’ve found this hat to be quite an addictive knit — I’ve already worked up two samples, and I’m now knitting up a third, as Tom has requested one for himself (don’t worry, I’m making his in a different yarn so we won’t be insanely matchy-matchy)
The pattern is written for three sizes of hat — I’m wearing the slouchy large size in these photographs — so whatever the size of your heid you should be able to make a hat to fit it.
And one last bit of housekeeping: I am going to do a final run with my mail crates to the sorting office tomorrow morning (Saturday 20th), so if you would like a copy of Yokes posting off before Christmas, now’s the moment to order!
I wanted to include a smart, simple cardigan in my yoke collection. Something in a single colour; that might provide a showcase for a beautiful hand-dyed yarn; a garment that would be easy to wear and straightforward to knit. That cardigan is Fintry.
Fintry is a pretty village a short drive away from my home. Though the village nestles against the north face of the rugged Campsie Fells, its direct environs have an unusually gentle feel, with verdant lanes, hedgerows and fields. There is good grazing and growing here, and Fintry’s distinctive pastoral feel provides a stark contrast to the generally rockier, boggier, woodier – much more Highland landscape – which immediately surrounds me. I find this contrast rather interesting. In summer, the landscape around Fintry is extraordinarily green and pleasingly textured – and its those features that I celebrate in this cardigan.
Fintry is knitted all in one piece, with moss (or seed) stitch button bands, cuffs and hems framing a garment of simple stockinette. These bands of texture are then echoed on the yoke, which is shaped with short rows.
Fintry makes simple and versatile use of the seamless yoke construction and the finishing is really quite minimal. Mel and I finished this sample with five buttons, snaps and ribbon facings, but you could add more buttons, or no buttons at all, just as you wish.
The ribbon facing, incidentally, came from a box of cakes from Betty’s. I had been saving it for years and knew I’d find a use for it.
The ribbon turned out to be a perfect match for the yarn, which is Old Maiden Aunt Corriedale Sport Weight. I love Lilith’s colour sense, her particular style of dyeing, and especially the interesting British yarn bases she uses to show off her skills. This Corriedale is a wonderful yarn, which takes the colour in a beautifully matt and saturated way. The tonal variations in the yarn are so subtle and pleasing, and really enhance the textural interest of the knitted fabric.
The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.
We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.
At the cafe you can sample ice cream, yogurt, crowdie, and other dairy products made on the farm, as well as some delicious home baking.
You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.
If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.
The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.
Here is today’s yoke – Ásta Sóllilja. I began this design with the idea of using colour to create a transition from deep blue to silver grey around the edges of a jumper. I wanted the edges of the design to shimmer a wee bit, in such a way that they might seem to fuse or merge with a darker skirt or pair of jeans. I had fun playing with the Ístex lett lopi palette, and eventually came up with this:
After I’d established the chart for the edges of this design, I took a trip to Iceland. There I purchased this amazing book
This wonderful tome reproduces charts and patterns from the textile designs in the sjónabók manuscripts, which are held in the national museum of Iceland. It is a truly fabulous book, which blew me away, not only with the distinctive charts and patterns but with its fascinating analysis of the geometry and four-fold symmetry of Icelandic design. From many patterns in the book, I selected a single version of the hammer rose motif, and played with it, inverting and modifying it in such a manner that allowed me to feature it over the whole depth of a colourwork yoke.
(If you would like to learn more about this motif and its history in Iceland, see Hélène Magnússon’s important book Icelandic Knitting: Using Rose Patterns)
While I was working on this design, I was also reading Halldór Laxness’s dry and incisive Icelandic novel Independent People (1954). Laxness’s account of an Icelandic valley and its human and animal inhabitants had a profound effect on me. I found myself thinking about the book for several weeks afterwards, musing particularly on its relationship with another important twentieth-century account of rural life on the cusp of modernity – Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song (1932). There are many thematic comparisons to draw between these two novels, particularly as regards their representation of gender, sexuality and ideas of women’s independence (I would really rather like to write about this one day). The story of Laxness’s female protagonist – Ásta Sóllilja – in the end pans out rather differently from that of Gibbon’s Chris Guthrie, and the determination, imagination, and arrested potential of the Icelandic character was cause of much reflection. So I named this design after her.
Designing this jumper really made me fall in love with Icelandic wool: wind and weatherproof, light and warm, in such a beautiful range of colours. The finished yoke is a cosy, easy to wear garment, and is one of those jumpers that I find myself wanting to just throw on and head outside.
Equally well suited to an Icelandic glacial valley, or a breezy Hebridean beach.
PS In very exciting news, it looks as if the book is actually going to print today, so I will shortly be able to activate the shop for pre-orders.
The YOKE I am currently designing is made with this – Toft Ulysses DK – a deliciously smooshy, cushy, springy, woolly sort of wool. It is my new favourite yarn: a completely British wool, grown and spun here from a blend of several different breed-specific fibres (including BFL and Shetland). I could knit with it all day (indeed I’ve spent the past two days doing just that).
This is the silver DK and I’m enjoying working with it tremendously.
As well as supplying me with this superlatively tasty yarn for my current YOKE, my friends at Toft have also given me two pairs of giveaway tickets for an exclusive party they are holding on July 25th to celebrate the launch of Edward’s Menagerie – the inventive collection of crocheted beasties that Toft’s creative director, Kerry, designed for her son, Edward.
The party will be held at Toft’s picturesque HQ in Dunchurch, Warwickshire. As well as the human attendees, 200 alpacas will be there, and the party will also involve crochet workshops, Toft goody bags, and cake as well as general book-launching celebrations.
The animals in Edward’s menagerie have great names — Douglas (the highland cow), Siegfried (the monkey), Angharad (the donkey) – so all you have to do to win a pair of tickets to the party is to tell me your favourite ever animal name. (Living with a cat named Jesus, I’m looking forward to your responses). Please bear in mind that the prize is for the party tickets only – you’ll have to get yourself over to Dunchurch on July 25th – and this may exclude many overseas readers from entering. I’ll announce the winners here on Thursday, 10th July.