A few months ago I discovered the lovely blog of Louise Scollay from Shetland. She promotes British yarn on her blog Knit British. Her aim is to support wool grown, spun or dyed in the UK in 2013, so I asked her to tell us more about it.
The Knit British campaign is a great idea – tell us more about it. How did you come up with the concept?
About a year ago I visited the museum in our village and they were selling local yarn…very local! It was from Sheep from a farm across the way from the museum.
I started thinking about how wonderful it was to knit with yarn that came from my area and I was surprised by the feeling of pride I had in using it – local wool spun in Scotland & dyed in the UK!
When I looked in my stash I found it consisted of yarns that were produced in places like Italy or South America, but nothing British whatsoever less a lonely ball of Jameson & Smith aran.
I have been knitting for about 8 years and I am absolutely ashamed to say that up until that point I had never really thought about where my yarn came from – I knew what i liked in terms of texture, etc, but I gave very little thought to where the wool came from. Which is worse when I tell you that growing up I spent all my free time on my granddad’s sheep croft!
It was the shock I needed though; I realised that there were farmers, dyers, producers, mills, etc here in the UK that needed me to buy my yarn from them and do some small bit for the British industry.
I started tweeting about it and quickly found my way to websites such as The Campaign for Wool and Rare Breeds Survival Trust. My eyes were well and truly opened: I thought, if I had been unaware of the importance of utilising UK fibre and yarn then maybe I should blog about my own discovery of it and hopefully, if I wasn’t the last knitter to uncover its virtues, then others might find it interesting and give it a go. The KnitBritish blog was born out of that. As soon as the idea of KnitBritish began to go around my head I put out a tweet asking people who their favourite dyers were and what their favourite breeds were in the UK. I was overwhelmed with suggestions.
I don’t really see it as a campaign, there are lots of other people out there also extolling the wonders of UK woo, but if I can do a little bit to promote British wool and can inspire someone else to put down their imported skeins for the home-grown stuff then I will be a really happy knitter!
What has been your most surprising discovery so far about British yarns?
I definitely didn’t understand the wealth of breeds and yarns out there and I was stunned by the amount of talented dyers we have in the UK. Until I started I never realised how discerning knitters truly are when it comes to knowing what they want to knit with – quite right too! I cannot believe how unaware and ignorant I was to the fact that by knitting in British yarn I would be supporting not only the breeds – some rare or endangered – but also the industry, the people involved in it and the economy too.
Another thing that has surprised me is the search terms that people use which bring them to my blog. I constantly see search terms like “Quality British Yarn for Under £1″ and in the extreme “Why is British hand-dyed wool so expensive”
No, you cannot buy yarn for under £1 – it is bad enough that the farmer gets so little for the raw product – but the finished product does not need to break the bank either. I think these are two big misconceptions, but thankfully the pages these searchers view are my blogs on British wool for under £5, Under £10 and a Few Pennies More - so I hope those folks were educated a little bit!
What is your favourite British yarn?
That is really tough! I like the stitch definition and slight haloed fuzz of Shetland wool and I recently knit with wool from Foula sheep; an isolated breed of the Shetland sheep, which have retained ancient the colour variations in the fleece.
BFL, alpaca and merino are an absolute delight, but I also like the knitted texture of something like a herdwick yarn.
Whatever the wool though, the fact that I can say exactly where the wool I knit with comes from, or where it was spun or who dyed it is such a great feeling!
If anyone else was interesting in knitting British I would say try everything! Get to know different breeds.
Often when you do a search of British yarn on the internet you get a lot of hits for BFL. It really is a wonderful wool, a dream to knit and incredibly soft – but it isn’t the only UK bred fibre. There’s over 60 different breeds of sheep in the UK – all with various qualities of wool to experiment with and do not forget the goats, alpacas, llamas and rabbits too!
I also keep a little swatch or sample of every wool I use – it’s good to keep a record of each yarn, how they knit up, wash/felt, how different breed yarns feel etc
I found websites like Woolsack and asking on twitter and Ravelry so invaluable when it came to finding different breed yarns and Blacker yarns are a one-stop-shop for various breeds.
To fully immerse myself in British wool I have made the trip down from Shetland to the mainland for a couple of the wool festivals and that has been one of the most wonderful things, meeting the yarn sellers, dyers and also the animals!
Sometimes it *feels* a million miles away – that box we’re in on the telly is rarely situated where actually are, which is closer to Norway than the British mainland. There are drawbacks as well as bit pluses to living on an island – but i think that’s jut part of the ebb and flow of island life. Personally, I think I preferred city life as I lived in Edinburgh for over 10 years, but my mind would drift over the water constantly, so it definitely has a hold.
I have been using quite texturey, sheepy wools of late and cast off two shawls recently, so its time for a wee change. I have some Orkney Angora that is just crying out to be made into a whisper soft cowl.
I am also beginning Christmas knitting and have a Tin Can Knits hat cast on in a Zwartbles/BFl yarn that I bought from the Woolclip at Woolfest.
I’m also knitting squares with anything I have left over from projects so that (if I have enough!) I will have created something with all the wools I’ve used.
I try not to think about the year ending! In terms of KnitBritish and the website I am not too sure yet, I have flirted with the idea of starting doing a podcast, but we will wait and see. I’d love to do a wool tour of the UK one day too, but that’s a way off.
I am also musing on a short film idea surrounding local knitters, so watch this space.
I have learned so much this year using British wool that I’m definitely going to carry on knitting with it and telling people of its wonderfulness.
Thanks so much Louise for sharing your yarns with us.
To read more about Louise, check out this month’s Let’s Knit magazine or go over to Louise’s blog to see about what else she has been up to on her year of knitting British!