Celebrating WOOL for what it is.
It is time to announce the winners of the WOVEMBER WAL and the WOVEMBER Instagram Competition. If you have won a prize we shall shortly be in contact.
We would really love to thank EVERYONE who participated in the WOVEMBER WAL on Ravelry, Twitter and Instagram. Sharing wool across these platforms really highlights its versatility and draws attention to all the amazing things that can be done with this inspiring and beautiful fibre. We really hope that you enjoyed working with WOOL this WOVEMBER and would love to hear about anything you discovered while working on your WAL projects this year.
The standard of entry was high, but the following projects really chimed with our award categories.
‘The Sheepy Rainbow Award will be bestowed on the project which most creatively exploits the palette of colours provided by natural sheeps’ wool shades’ and we felt that this beautiful selection of socks was an extraordinarily creative and fun design resource, created by @handmadebysigi. In celebration of this effort, one skein of grey Tarndie Polwarth yarn will be winging its way to you, @handmadebysigi, courtesy of the wonderful and talented Jules Billings of Woollenflower. You can read Jules’s post about this wonderful wool here if you missed it earlier in the month.
‘The Ewe-sain Bolt Award will be awarded to the crafter with the fastest fingers, i.e. to the greatest technical feat of WOOLWORK completed during the WAL’ and this, we felt, was probably this dress by yondercrawdad. It’s worked in 2-ply fingering-weight yarn from Notlwonk Springs in Utah (this is their Facebook page) and involved knitting 1911.1 meters (2090.0 yards) of yarn throughout the month… we think it is amazeballs! It is both an impressive achievement of knitting and a very contemporary and stylish use of rustic, farm-fresh, sheep-coloured yarn. One skein of yarn kindly donated from Ellie and the Doulton Flock will soon be on its way to you!
Finally in the WOVEMBERWAL, ‘The Golden Fleece Award will be bestowed on the sheepiest project – i.e. the project that from materials through to concept, most thoroughly celebrates the inspirational and material qualities of THE SHEEP’ and we strongly felt that this should go to Lindragon for her charming Dommett Hill Hat. We loved the associated account of going to a rural fair, procuring wool, and instantly turning said wool into a useful and beautiful hat and particularly enjoyed the notes in the ‘pattern’ section on Lindragon’s Ravelry project page. You will be receiving a prize very shortly in the form of Woolly Chic’s Pembrokeshire Wool, spun from her family’s flock of Dorset and Ryeland sheep. This prize contains 100g of the undyed yarn and two 25g cakes of dyed yarn and was kindly donated by Woolly Chic.
WOVEMBER Instagram Competition
A huge congratulations to everyone who participated in the Instagram Competition. Your beautiful photos amplified the WOVEMBER message across the Internet and are a joy to behold… there were 436 entries in total, and choosing winners was not easy.
However, we did keep coming back to a handful of posts that we felt really encapsulated the spirit of WOVEMBER.
For example you really cannot argue with the wonderful enthusiastic skein-smooshing baby in this photo by @knittersbitters. It’s a poster for the tastiness and pure tactile (and tasty?) pleasure of WOOL! HURRAH! A cowl created by Jules will soon be winging its way to you, @knittersbitters, in thanks for this joyous, expressive photo. Many thanks to Jules of Woollenflower for offering a lovely cowl as a prize.
We also love this image by @knittingiris, featuring a lock pulled from a sheepskin shared with a dilemma about what to do with the sheepskin. We love this because it makes a strong and poignant connection between delicious spinnable/knittable fibre, and the labour and animals involved of life on the farm. Also because crimp. For its full on sheepy credentials, we felt this photo should be rewarded with a selection of wondrous breed-specific yarns, chosen by Sue Blacker of Blacker Yarns, whom we are sure would know what to do with the sheepskin and associated locks. Many thanks to Blacker Yarns for offering this wonderful, sheepy prize.
However the photos that spoke most deeply to our WOVEMBER instincts were these ones, submitted by @la_lainiere and @knittingtastic. We just love how these images connect their creators’ lives in a deep and personal way with WOOL.
For those of you who have not read either story, @la_lainiere hand-made a mattress from local wool in preparation for the arrival of her baby and @knittingtastic is embarking on a quest to have all the fleeces from her father’s flock spun up into yarn. In both stories the connections between family, love, WOOL and life are intertwined very thoughtfully. We love the central place that WOOL occupies in your lives and would be honoured if you could join us and Martin and Adam Curtis on a celebratory outing to Haworth Scouring plant in 2016. You will need to make your own way to Bradford, but this jolly event can take place in 2016 on a date yet to be arranged and convenient to all. Many thanks to our very good friends at Real Shetland and Jamieson and Smith for offering this prize.
Congratulations to all our winners, and to each and every one of you that took part in this year’s WOVEMBER festivities! We are thinking hard about WOVEMBER 2016 and will be putting on our planning hats between now and then to make sure that this website continues to be an inspiring, activist resource. Thank you to everyone who contributed content and articles to WOVEMBER this year and to everyone who took part in any way, small or large, to make the celebration awesome. Thanks also to all our sponsors, and special shout-outs here to Kylie Gusset for Twitter FU; Emily Chamelin for keeping us engaged with the shearer’s work via instagram; MissGoggins for excellent roving reportage; JaneKAL for extraordinary activist skillz; and all the swatchers participating in the Breed Swatch KAL!
Finally, thank you to all the growers and shearers and processors of wool, to the wool-workers, and to the knitters, and to the wool lovers who wash and care for garments and woollen textiles so that they may warm us for many years to come.
YOURS IN WOOL,
We thought it was about time we shared with you the prizes up for grabs for this year’s Wovember contests. We shall be allocating prizes when we do the draw in a couple of weeks, but please do have a browse at these incredible prizes and our generous prize givers
Sue Blacker wrote last month about her favourite single breed yarns and has donated the breed wools she mentioned. These are Gotland, Jacobs, Welsh Mule, North Ronaldsay, Black Welsh Mountain, Wensleydale and Cotswold! Plenty for swatching or even starting your own breed blanket.
Woolly Chic is Helen Ingram who this year has launched her Pembrokeshire Wool, from her family’s flock of Dorset and Ryeland sheep. The yarn is a fine, dense, springy yarn with a lovely rustic handle. This prize contains 100g of the undyed yarn and two 25g cakes of dyed yarn.
Julia Billings has donated one of her incredible 100% wool cowls as a prize this Wovember. The cowls are a double-layer, colourwork neckwarmer to keep out the wind and cold. Made from 100% lambswool, her cowls are made on a vintage, hand-operated knitting machine. Team Wovember can vouch for the coziness of the cowls and we love her designs.
Jules has also offered a skein of grey Polwarth DK yarn from Tarndie – please read her incredible post about the Tarndie Polwarths.
Earlier in Wovember you heard from Ellie Stokeld, who keeps the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters. This year Ellie launched her first flock yarn and has offered us a skein as a prize. You will receive one skein of one of the above colours.
AMAZING WOVEMBER GRAND PRIZE!
We have a really special prize which totally and utterly celebrates 100% WOOL and the work that goes into creating our beloved wool products. From our very good friends at Real Shetland and Jamieson and Smith TWO lucky winners will receive a tour of the Haworth Scouring from Martin and Adam Curtis. The winners of this special prize need to be able to make their own way to Bradford (on a date yet to be chosen in 2016) and Felix and Louise will be accompanying you on the tour.
Kate has written on her own blog about visiting the Scouring, in Bradford, and more recently about Adam Curtis and how he helped her create Buachaille. This really is a tremendous prize and an fascinating insight into the world of wool.
We are so very thankful to Real Shetland, Jamieson and Smith and ALL of our incredibly generous prize-givers
TEAM WOVEMBER will be back in a couple of weeks when we will be announcing the prize winners of the Wovember WAL and photo contest. We shall also be writing one or two reflective posts on WOVEMBER too.
We are delighted that Jo Milmine is here today with her top tips which will help close the gap between small producers and wool consumers.
Provenance is a factor that is of increasing importance for a growing number of knitters and yarn loving folk – myself included – who want to know the story of where their yarn is coming from. A growing emphasis on sourcing locally and an attitude of supporting local business presents a fantastic opportunity for small producers to share their products with an eager audience.
Recently, I attended two yarn shows in Northern Scotland. Here, I discovered some amazing single farm yarns, including an organic yarn and another that was grown in the same postcode that I lived.
I was giddy with excitement at these yarns of great integrity. They were special. Single farm. Just round the corner! How’s that for provenance and shopping local? Amazing!
I had to share these wonderful discoveries with my yarn loving fibre aficionados around the world. They would be just as excited as I was. They were keen to try these beautiful yarns for themselves. They asked where they could buy them.
There was just one problem.
None of the yarns were available to buy online. Not one. And as Northern Scottish yarn shows aren’t the easiest to get to (although totally worth the trip!) my fibre fanatic friends would be buying none of them. This made me really sad. I was sad that so many people I knew would love the yarns were missing out and I was sad that the producers were missing out on sales that they need to stay in business.
This article is a plea, in the year of focusing upon the array of wonderful, home grown, small producers, to embrace the opportunities offered by creating an online presence. We love you. We want to support you. Please help us to find you and buy from you.
So in the spirit of enabling, I’ve put together five ways that you can start to do this, for free or minimal cost, today.
If you only do one thing as a small producer selling yarn (or anything else for that matter) building an email list needs to be it. With the highest return on investment of any online marketing tactic, it’s a business no-brainer if you want to increase sales and build a relationship with your customer base.
Do you need a website to do this?
It can be as simple as a sign-up sheet on your stall, although there are other ways to offer email sign-up online, such as linking through a Facebook App on your business page, or installing pop-ups or banners on your website if you have one. There are a variety of online solutions for this that offer what can feel like a bewildering array of options. If you’re just starting out, I recommend Mailchimp . It’s free (to 2000 email addresses), it has an easy to use drag and drop interface and lots of tutorial support, along with decent analytics. It also has the ability to grow with the business and offers more advanced features should you need them.
The benefit of email marketing over other channels is that the people who are giving you their email address already like you enough to want to hear from you again. Think of it as swapping mobile numbers with someone; you don’t just go around giving those details to anyone. You only give it to people you like.
It’s a similar concept with email addresses. These people want to keep in touch. They want your news and offers. You’re already well on your way to establishing that ‘know, like and trust’ status and these customers want your products. Having a ready group of interested buyers is great for business!
Which brings me on to my next point.
When you have these email addresses, you actually have to email people. Yes. That’s right. I’ve joined the mailing list of a number of small indies in the hope that I’ll be the first to know of any updates and I’ll never miss the latest news or yarns and I’ve patiently waited for my email. And waited. And waited. And it still hasn’t come, to me, or anyone else on the list.
Reasons for this varies from “I don’t want to annoy people” (when have you ever been annoyed by an email from someone you like?) to “I don’t know what to say” (talk about yarn!) and everything in between. It’s time to stop being shy and getting in your own way over this. These subscribers like you and they want to hear your news and buy your goods. Talk to them.
It is possible to create a really simple website in a few hours. You don’t need a developer and it isn’t necessary to have something super fancy in order to have a web presence.
But why do I need one?
Your website is your online home and the place most people go to find the answers to their questions is the internet. If you have no online presence, people looking for small producers will struggle to find you. If they don’t know you’re there, they can’t buy from you.
Your website allows you to tell people who you are and what you do every minute of every day and is not limited by geographical constraints or time zones. It also allows people who have found you at fairs or shows to find you again. Crucially, it gives them somewhere to send their friends, readers or listeners to when they are talking about or recommending your products.
As mentioned above, it doesn’t need to be a huge outlay in time or money to arrange a website. There are a number of online providers you can use to create your site, and I recommend starting with WordPress.com (which is different to WordPress.org). With WordPress.com, you have free hosting and can secure a top-level domain (i.e. one without the .wordpress.com URL, it would just be yourcompany.com) for $18 per year, which is about £1 per month. A good selection of themes (pre-coded designs) are free and offer scaling for different devices (mobile, desktop and tablet) already coded in.
If you want a website with e-commerce capability, you could consider the WordPress Business plan at $299 per year. At around £17 per month, I still think it’s a cost-effective way to host a store, but as we’re going cheap or free, I have another suggestion for you in the next section.
WordPress.org (often referred to as ‘self-hosted WordPress’) offers far more options for customisation but does need a little bit more outlay in terms of paying for hosting. There are many tutorials on YouTube that will walk you through building a website this way, step by step. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sd0grLQ4voU)
There are other website providers (Squarespace, Wix, Weebly are a few) that can be used if preferred. I suggest WordPress due to the large numbers of free resources and how-to guides available online and because WordPress is a very established provider.
I’ve found some beautiful yarns from interesting small producers at shows – and I go to a LOT of shows all over the UK – and nothing is more frustrating than wanting more and not being able to order it online. It’s a huge missed opportunity: instead of selling to maybe four or five thousand people at a large show on one weekend, you could be selling to millions whilst you sleep. Customers don’t want to wait for the next show or enter into prolonged email discussions about what vendors do or don’t have in stock. It’s a big barrier to purchasing and a lot of people will simply go somewhere else where they can buy easily.
If a full website with e-commerce capability is too much for you right now, consider using a ready-made store online. Again, there are plenty to choose from and I think Big Cartel is a great option to try this out. It’s free for up to 5 products, has a low monthly fee if you need more ($9.99 for up to 25 products) and is specifically aimed at artists, makers and creatives.
You might also consider Etsy or Folksy (both handmade marketplaces, with the latter being more UK focused) although the fees for listing and selling can soon add up, particularly as sales grow as they take a percentage of the selling price.
Yes. Just one.
There’s no point having an account on every single social media platform going, as it will be impossible to keep up. One profile done properly will be far better than five or six that you don’t get chance to interact with people on. Also, choose a platform you like working with, as if it’s a chore to go on there, you’ll just avoid it – who wouldn’t?
For example, Facebook is a huge network and an obvious choice for a lot of people as they are familiar working with it. It is, however, becoming increasingly a ‘pay to play’ environment for businesses, with posts being shown to fewer people, unless you’re doing paid advertising. Facebook advertising can be cost effective and highly targeted done well (but that’s another blog post entirely).
If you like short and snappy, Twitter could be a good choice. Instagram is becoming increasingly popular amongst crafters as it’s very visual; if you like taking and looking at photos, this may work for you.
Once you’re comfortable working with one platform, you can expand and establish yourself on another one or two. When choosing these, again, think about which ones you like using and also where your customers hang out.
Remember, just being ‘on’ social media isn’t enough – you need to be talking to people and building relationships for this to be a successful way of finding customers. Blasting out post after post of, “buy my stuff” will not increase sales – it will decrease followers though! Social media works best when you use it to get to know your customers better and communicate with them.
I’ve interviewed lots of people working in the yarn industry on my podcast, and when asked “What’s the one resource for yarn craft or business that you couldn’t do without?” around 90% of them say, “Ravelry.”
This is with good reason.
Ravelry has allowed independents to compete on a much more level playing field and make their designs and products available in a place where lots of their ideal customers are. It also does this at very low cost: it’s free to join, advertising is incredibly competitively priced as are the fees for selling patterns.
It also acts as an online portfolio for businesses. Members can upload details of their projects, or even just the yarns as they buy them and all of these will be linked back to your company. They’re searchable by the 5 million plus members, many of who will be interested in your products too.
I’d recommend making a profile with a name that is easy to link to the business, to which you can add all the projects you’ve made. You can also create a group where customers can hang out and chat together in the forums section of Ravelry.
It’s also really important to list all the yarns and/or patterns on the Ravelry database. This will allow existing customers to link to them with their projects (creating the portfolio mentioned above) and also contains all the technical details such as fibre content, yardage, WPI and gauge.
These suggestions for increasing visibility for your business online and enabling customers to find and buy from you are not quick fix options that will make you millions overnight. Implementing just one of these with consistency will allow you to improve the likelihood that people like me, who love single farm and small producers and want to support them, can find you and do just that.
They are designed to help those who don’t yet have any online presence take their first steps into the digital realm. Of course, there’s lots to explore and although there are many other things to be expanded into if you wanted to; this article is aimed at encouraging a small, achievable action which will bring producers and buyers closer together.
Team Wovember are very grateful to Jo for creating what should be the check-list for every small business. This year at Wovember we have shone a large spotlight on small wool producers and businesses and the work they do. Similarly, we have attempted to address the issues that consumers encounter when trying to access small producers. Without straightforward action, as Jo sets out here, small producers do run the risk of missing out on opportunities.
Just exploring social media can throw open what you do to the world wide web. Take for example Herdwick Shepherd – he has no laptop up on the fells, but through using twitter on his smart phone and capturing his work, his sheep and the landscape he has over 70K followers. Another example is Benjamin Hole, on Instagram, whose Isle of Purbeck Poll Dorset yarn sold out in record time due to regular photograph posting of the process from farm to yarn.
If you are reading this post and feel any of these areas are letting you down and are stopping you from connecting with your intended audience then consider this your call to action.
Today we are thrilled to share this bonus post by Katie AKA MissGoggins on Ravelry. Katie saw our Ravelry discussion about posts for WOVEMBER 2015 and suggested that it would be awesome to have a piece about West Yorkshire Spinners. We heartily agreed! In the activist DIY spirit of WOVEMBER, Katie set up an interview and tour date with the mill herself and has returned with this magnificent article for your woolly reading pleasure. Thank you so much Katie and all at WYS for putting another key element of the British Wool Industry on the WOVEMBER map.
In August this year, I made my first trip to the West Yorkshire Spinners (WYS) factory. I live in Bradford and WYS is fairly local to me – just twenty minutes up the road. I went with the intent to buy yarn (and succeeded) and, in the process, was delighted by a brisk walk through the operating factory, full of noisy machinery and fantastic woolly fumes. A new topic on the Wovember forum on Ravelry coincided with this visit; TEAM WOVEMBER were asking what wool enthusiasts wanted to see covered in the blog during Wovember 2015 and I suggested WYS. This resulted in my second visit to WYS headquarters during Wovember to find out a bit about the company and their yarn manufacturing processes.
WYS is based within Keighley, a West Yorkshire town, which during the 18th and 19th Century prospered through the woollen and cotton industry – although today this has virtually gone. Evidence of the industry still remains within the town, with old wool and textile mills and towering chimneys ever-present. These are now largely used by other industries, or as offices and residential properties. WYS is located to the north of the town, with the River Aire located close-by, beyond which lie hills of pasture fields overlooking the factory; to up the romance stakes I’d like to note that a number of these fields are grazed by sheep.
WYS formed in 1997 and the factory was originally based in Oxenhope, a small village outside Keighley in a traditional woollen mill. Increasing demand for their products resulted in relocating the company twice and they now reside in a modern industrial unit. This has allowed for a re-organisations of the plant, new machinery to be purchased and WYS becoming one of the most efficient producers in its field. Although producing on a much larger scale than many of the small producers covered during Wovember, a lot of their ideals remain the same. WYS have a strong desire to promote British wool and to support the chain involved in creating the finished ball of yarn – from farming to dyeing – with most of these processes being carried out within a 40 mile radius. This is all done whilst maintaining a traditional industry and keeping a skill-set with deep-roots within the local area.
On my second visit to the factory I was warmly welcomed to the factory by Peter Longbottom, the managing director of WYS, Richard Longbottom, the sales and marketing manager (and son of Peter) and Emma Ross, the marketing executive. We chatted in the meeting room located above the working factory, which is unlike your usual corporate meeting room; apart from the muted noise of the factory machinery, the room is home to two model sheep taking residence on an artificial lawn in the corner; shelves chocked with tantalising yarn line the walls; and woollen socks in the popular Country Birds colours festoon the office window, strung-up like bunting. This cheerful meeting room speaks volumes about the pride and belief Peter and Richard have in their products, but it makes for a difficult time of it for me, who would just like to be left alone to have a moment with the wool (you know, to throw it in the air money style, make wool angels, etc.) However, with a kindly offered obligatory cup of tea in hand I press on with finding out about the company’s history and future plans. You owe me, guys.
Peter – the company’s managing director – is well-versed in the art of industrial yarn spinning. From leaving school he started out at Hayfield and Sirdar in Glusburn, West Yorkshire where he worked until the mill closed in 1995. WYS were then formed in 1997 and commission spun for other businesses, producing yarn for hand and machine knitting. Around 3 years ago, WYS decided to throw their hats into the ring and launch their own brand of hand knitting yarns. Creating the WYS brand has brought a lot of satisfaction to the team, allowing them control of all the development stages and to work with natural fibres, which Peter affirms to be his great joy. When starting the WYS brand, Peter persuaded Richard – his son, who at the time was working in an advertising agency in London – to leave the glitz and glamour of the big smoke and return to Yorkshire to join the company. To gain background knowledge of an industry of which he had little experience, having a degree in marketing and advertising, Richard returned to university in Huddersfield to take a textile technician access degree; this he admits proved more difficult than his original degree and he had to often resort, at 30, to asking his dad for help with his homework! Peter continues in assisting Richard to gain further experience in the process of producing yarn. They make visits to Haworth Scouring Company in Bradford – where the fibre WYS source is scoured – and to ITMA (a textile machinery trade show) held recently in Milan to view the most advanced equipment in the production of yarn.
With Richard and Emma Ross – the marketing executive – on board, WYS continue to develop their range, which started with hanked-up Bluefaced Leicester yarn. The range is growing at a rapid rate, which Richard believes is down to customers becoming more discerning in their buying habits and wanting to know where the product comes from and the miles it has travelled to be produced. As previously mentioned, most of the yarn produced by WYS is undertaken within a 40 mile radius, with wool sourced from Curtis Wool based in Bingley, who buy from the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford. This is then scoured in Haworth Scouring Company in Bradford, and brought to the WYS factory to be blended, prepared, spun and twisted. Dyeing then largely occurs within the UK, with their Country Birds yarn taking place two minutes down the road and being printed by WYS themselves.
Peter, Richard and Emma also put the company’s success down to the power of social media, with knitters sharing their finished objects and their love of the WYS products online. Richard admits that if he’s having a stressful day this is often remedied with a visit to Instagram or Ravelry to see what the knitting community is doing with his yarn and he is continually blown-away by the far-flung locations of where the yarn lands. WYS also benefit from social media by being able to promote their products on their own social media pages; a recent example of this was prior to launching three new County Birds shades in the Signature 4-ply base, they encouraged customers to enter a ‘Name that Bird’ competition, asking to match the shades of the yarn to the bird which was the inspiration. They got a lot of response from this competition and also courted a surprising amount of controversy, with one of the shades being inspired by the non-native Peacock (gasp!). Although controversial, the Peacock shade is proving very popular and Emma quips that it is literally flying out the doors (pun definitely intended).
In addition to the mix of fun, controversy and stress relief provided by social media, having an online presence allows WYS to have a close relationship with their customers, which helps in furthering the development of their range. Richard commented that in the last 8 months they have seen an increase in the popularity of their single breeds yarns, with the company’s range also including un-dyed Wensleydale and Jacobs yarns. Due to this increased interest, Peter informs that new breed-specific yarns are currently being developed and tested as potential products within the WYS range for the future.
After a fascinating chat, Peter, Richard and Emma took me on a tour of the operating factory. I was surprised at the team’s enthusiasm for hosting such tours, with Richard mentioning that they have recently shown a group of thirty Women’s Institute (WI) members round the factory, but they are genuinely thrilled to promote what they’re doing. Peter’s enthusiasm for the machinery on site is infectious. Firstly I was shown the machine involved in blending the wool, which at the time of the tour was blending natural white wool with 15% dyed black wool in order to obtain a beautiful pale grey shade.
This blended wool was then sent through a number of machines, all of which were combing the wool. Combs used become progressively finer to make the fibres lie parallel; to remove short or irregular fibres; and to reduce the thickness of the material until it becomes a suitable diameter for spinning. This is how worsted-spun yarn is produced and it’s through this process that WYS yarns are predominantly spun. Blended and combed tops are deposited and stored in cans, each of which holds up to 40 kilos of fibre that will take one week to be spun.
The spinning machines in the WYS factory have a total of 400 spindles, and with the factory operating a double-shift system this allows 15,000 kilos of yarn to be spun in a week.
Once spun as a single ply, the spun fibre is transferred to an automatic winding machine (which Peter assures me is a very expensive piece of kit!) As the fibre is being wound, it passes through an electric yarn clearer which measures the cross sectional area of the yarn and detects any faults (thick/thin sections, any imperfections, etc.) A computer is set with what the cross-sectional area should measure and if the spun fibre deviates from this it is cut. Peter demonstrates a fault, by inserting a £10 note into the yarn clearer and the fibre is immediately cut. The machine then finds the cut end of the fibre, removes the fault and joins the fibre back together with compressed air. Pretty impressive stuff. The spun fibre is then plied on an assembly winder. Once the tour of this factory is complete Peter informs me that with these modern processes they can boast few imperfections in the wool they produce, such as knots, which Peter refers to as taboo in the production of hand-knitting yarns!
The efficiency in which WYS can produce yarn has allowed the company to become an exporter of yarn produced from British wool, with approximately 600,000 kilos of yarn spun on commission and exported to Scandinavia annually. In my opinion this is a contrast to a number of other British yarn companies who predominantly import their yarn from countries such as Turkey and China and it’s encouraging to think that a major player in the spinning industry remains faithful to, and is inspired by, British wool and the qualities it possesses. The export of yarn spun at the WYS factory is a major part of their business and allows them to invest in their own brand and its development. One such investment is a factory building housing the printing side of the process, allowing them to produce the County Birds shades. The factory is located two minutes down the road from where the spinning takes place and this is the final stop of the tour. Here, machines carry out the printing, which can involve up to six different shades and which is controlled by a computer set to produce different sequences of stripes, dots, etc. I am also introduced to Sarah who works as a dyeing technician and whose hands – being coloured a vibrant shade of pink – are testament to that fact. A lab is located to the corner of the factory and here the printed yarns are tested, with a large box of knitted-up swatches allowing decisions to be made as to which colours, sequences, etc. work and which configurations do not.
In conclusion to my tour, it is clear that the WYS team are enthusiastic in continuing to develop their range and maintain this once major industry within the Bradford area, with the desire to bring young people through in order to keep it alive. As Emma puts it, they are working in a traditional industry that’s been rejuvenated through the innovation of modern processes. Long may this continue.
Thank you greatly to the WYS team for welcoming me so warmly to the factory and for the fascinating tour.
Huge thanks to Katie and all at WYS for this wondrous feature, and for enabling WOVEMBER to continue a little longer…
As Wovember 2015 is drawing to a close we are very pleased to bring you a post from Elaine Hill, Fiona Curtis and Sally Antill, who organised and took part in the very first Tour of British Fleece, this year.
The conceptual idea for Tour of British Fleece was a seed waiting for the right moment to burst forth. Back in July, at the end of Tour de France, that blissful moment of calm which comes at the end of a challenge was interrupted by a reminder…. Aviva Tour of Britain will be riding through our area in September. A few thoughts were shared between Sally (castlemilk), Fiona (fionacurtis) and Elaine (elainethehill) about how we might celebrate this event,
Lets spin the fleece from sheep originating in the 8 areas the tour rides through! Each day, as the cyclists pedalled, we would treadle the fibres of the sheep in the countryside around them.
We threw out a challenge – Would anyone join us?
We three are passionate about our British Breeds and types and wanted to encourage others to try fleece they may not have considered previously. We realised that for some, sourcing fleece and fibre could in itself be a challenge and perhaps, at this point did not fully appreciate the generosity and camaraderie our fellow spinners would show each other.
Pretty soon Ravelry was buzzing with offers and seekers, swaps and sales were being organised, breeders and suppliers offered fleeces, rovings and samples, spinners and sheepkeepers all over the country shared information (is Kerry Hill from North Wales? Is the Border Leicester from the English or the Scottish side?) and arranged shipments of fibre.
Sally’s living room became Fleece Central – bags of fleece lived in the boot of her car, swaps were done in the street outside spinning events across the North of England.
Particular mention must be made of the wonderful Ellie of the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters, who gifted us an entire and beautiful fleece to be shared as widely as possible to raise awareness of this lovely fibre. And our friends at Sheepfold, who found us a variety of fibres we would otherwise have missed out on, and generously loaned us display materials to use at the Best of Gilsland display on the day the Tour rode through. And a tip of the hat, too, to the Campaign for Wool, who also came through with some lovely display and educational materials.
Suddenly it was Sunday 6th September and we were off!
Each day, Betsie Czeschin, one of our US participants, began the Ravelry thread for the day with information and pictures about the sheep and fleece types to inspire us for the spinning to come. People put up pictures of their spinning and shared their experiences.
The tour began in Beaumaris on Anglesey and progressed through north Wales. Participants commenced the tour, spinning fleece from a range of Welsh sheep whilst at the Sutton on Trent festival, travelling home on the train, at work, or tucked up at home.
The second day, from Clitheroe to Colne, saw us trying a range of fibres. Many loved spinning coloured Blue Faced Leicester (BFL).
Others sampled Rough Fell, and, proving that fleece from each breed has its own niche, Angela Jenner immediately knitted her sample into a shower scrub.
A few of us sampled Lonk fleece and fibre for the first time and were very taken by it, despite reports that it “tends more toward the carpet-wool end of the spectrum” (Fleece and Fibre sourcebook, Robson & Ekarius, Storey Publishing 2011). Sally commented that “It would be a crime to bury this beautiful fibre in a carpet. It should all be hand spun, by law!” We’re trying… a couple of us have our name down for a Lonk fleece next year.
Day 3, from Cockermouth to Kelso, brought contrasting fleece, from the coarser, kempy Herdwick to the short, blocky, soft Castlemilk Moorit and the long, crimped, lustrous locks of Border Leicester.
Elaine Hill seemed to bond with her Herdwick sample: “You know I swear I could see those cute Herdy eyes peering at me from the fibre as I spun it”, while Betsie Czeschin plied her Herdwick and identified a potential use: “It plied beautifully and smoothly. I think it will make a wonderful basket.”
On day 4, Edinburgh to Blyth, black cheviot from the Mowhaugh flock in the Scottish Borders was spun and described by Gil Hardstone as “very soft; like spinning kittens”.
Linda More tried longdraw for the first time with Border Leicester and fell in love: “what a fabulous spin.” Fran Rushworth “started spinning [Border Leicester] from the lock, but… with that bouncy crimp, it seemed wrong not to spin woollen.” Karen Ashley also spun long draw “love it, it wants to spin itself”.
Day 5, Prudhoe to Penrith, brought the cycling tour through the region inhabited by the Tour of British Fleece organisers. It seemed only right that they spin on the roadside at Gilsland and cheer the cyclists on!
Sally Antill opted for the North of England Mule, spinning it off the combs: “it was so lustrous I wanted a worsted spin. Love love loved it. And the skein looked and felt beautiful”. Subsequently she had “a very enjoyable spin” with Hexhamshire Blackface, making a “lovely soft yarn with a bit of a sheen”, ideal for a jumper. Meanwhile, Betsie Czeschin spun from a Swaledale batt, finding “it spun like silk – really. It practically spun itself. Drafted smoothly and I just had to keep up.”
Day 6, Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham, and heading south brought a fresh set of breeds to sample. White Faced Woodland (WFW) sheep were another breed whose fleece has been described as for carpets. This was challenged by WFW farmer, Peter from High Farndale, and Sally agreed: “very nice to spin, surprisingly soft, and very quick to spin. Really enjoyed it and really like the yarn.” Gil Hardstone also sampled WFW: “flick-carded the tips and butts of the staples with cat brush; used carders to make ploofy rolags. Nice, even, smooth spin. Yarn quite fuzzy, even with smoothing it down as I spun it. Produced a 3ply/heavy laceweight single. Has a slight lustre. I enjoyed this.”
Sue Routledge enjoyed the Derbyshire Gritstone so much she didn’t want to stop spinning it!
On the penultimate day of the tour, Day 7, Fakenham to Ipswich, we sampled Norfolk Horn and Suffolk fleece. Norfolk Horn, an existing favourite for Sally, soon became a favourite for others too: “a delight to spin, drafted easily from the batt and has made a lovely yarn” (Karen Ashley), “swoon Could. Not. Stop. Spinning. It.” (Gil Hardstone) and “a complete joy from the moment I started washing it. It has an almost translucent quality, a very resilient bounce, and is easy to work with… It was the smoothest spin I’ve had all week… The result feels soft, springy, and strong.” (Angela Jenner).
Day 8 arrived. We were exhausted (well those who hadn’t done all their prep in advance), but very happy! The final day saw the cyclists pedalling round the city of London. We stretched the point a bit, but decided that Romney and Southdown would be suitable breeds. Hazel-purls enjoyed the “squooshy loveliness” of Romney and promised to spin more in future “it’s a delight!”
A number of our participants attended a fabulous long draw workshop with Freyalyn Close–Hainsworth, and Sally managed to hand card and spin a sample of Southdown at the workshop.
Just in case you think we were all spinning only natural colours, Angela Jenner spun dyed Cheviot from roving, deciding that “it will be on [her] list of fleeces for the future.”
Hazel-purls was also spinning a myriad of colours she’d dyed herself.
| What did we achieve?
We each spun a range of samples from British fleece, many of which we hadn’t spun before.
Liz Tunnicliffe’s samples for days 1-7: Suffolk, Whitefaced Woodland, Swaledale, Cheviot, Border Leicester, Herdwick and Black Welsh Mountain.
Kate Knaggs’ samples: Kerry Hill, Oatmeal BFL, Herdwick, Cheviot, Brown BFL, Leicestershire Longwool, Suffolk and Kent Romney
We learned and achieved a lot in the 8 days of the Tour. Some realised they prefer the softer British breeds, whilst others found uses for the courser fibres. A few breeds surprised us with their wonderfulness (Lonk, Border Leicester, Norfolk Horn, Whitefaced Woodland, Speckle-faced Beulah and black Cheviot in particular.) We tried different methods of preparation and spinning, sometimes for the first time, which allowed comparison with others, and provided ideas for the future. Many identified breeds they want to spin again, and possibly one or two they might not. We all had our favourites, and we now have plans to spend a longer period of time studying some fleeces in more detail. Fiona says she certainly had her preconceptions of some breeds challenged and discovered breeds she hadn’t even heard of.
| What next?
We all know that feeling when a project is finished. Satisfaction, yes, but also a feeling of something missing, of needing something else to do. We had loved the wide variety of breeds sampled during the tour, but wanted more time to explore a smaller number in more detail – to try different preparations and draws.
A suggestion was made to spin Shetland fleece in the New Year. Around the same time, we realised that it was unlikely that the Tour of Britain would visit the Scottish highlands and islands, yet they provide homes to a wide range of sheep, including many rare and primitive breeds which are highly prized by spinners. From this emerged the idea for our next event – the Highlands and Islands Fleece Fling – starting on Burns’ Night. Please join us to discover the delights of Scottish fleece. Of course, we’ll be treadling where they’re pedalling during next year’s Tour of Britain – Tour of British Fleece 2016 too, and we hope you’ll join us for that too. The more the merrier!
To find out more about the Tour of British Fleece and the Highlands and Islands Fleece Fling, join us on Ravelry, comment on our Facebook page, send us a tweet or visit our website.
Dear WOVEMBERISTS and comrades,
Today marks the end of WOVEMBER… almost.
We hope you’ll agree that this year has been a particularly exciting edition of our annual woolly festivities. From this end it’s felt important to discuss issues around mislabeling, provenance, traceability and sustainability and to explore some of the potential solutions that WOOL can offer when farmed and processed locally and honestly.
We also featured several small producers and it’s been a real privilege to meet and learn about some of the inspiring people working with WOOL in the UK…
…and in Canada.
WOVEMBER is at its heart an activist site – it was set up primarily to inspire action. To inspire more work with WOOL; to provide enabling resources for people wishing to learn about WOOL; to encourage more wearing of WOOL; to campaign against mislabelling of textiles; to inspire greater consumer curiosity in the provenance of one’s WOOLLY goods and to model a level of excitement and curiosity that can be practiced anywhere and by anyone.
We are therefore extremely excited that this year Jane Cooper of Woolsack was inspired by our small producer focus to produce a wonderful list of single farm yarns… and this in turn has inspired us to think more on what could be done to Close the Gaps between those folks who are making yarn and those of us who wish to buy and work with it.
It has also been joyous to see the huge buzz created online by your participation in the WOVEMBER INSTAGRAM COMPETITION, and to see the many ways in which you are individually working to promote and celebrate WOOL by participating in the competition. There are 409 posts currently which is an incredible collective achievement! Looking through all the entries is extremely heartening and reveals the many ways in which you love and use WOOL. Well done for amplifying that message across social media!
Here is a handful of images from the photo competition so far to whet your woolly appetites… Remember, all images entered before midnight GMT tonight that feature the #wovember2015 hashtag will automatically be entered into the competition.
While we are on the subject of WOOL PHOTOS, can we just say a massive thank you to our resident WOVEMBER photographer Jeni Reid? Thank you Jeni Reid for your magnificent daily photos and for giving our eyes so much WOOL on which to feast…
…and I think we all need to see the amazing Levitating Sheep once more, don’t you?
The WAL also reveals some fantastic WOOLLY action. There is nothing quite like working with WOOL to show appreciation for this amazing stuff. Here are some of the wonderful things that people have been WAL-ing on this WOVEMBER:
As well as all this magnificent work with WOOL happening in the course of the WAL, many folks have been delving into breed-specific swatching, inspired and enabled by Louise and the KnitBritish Breed Swatchalong. Louise intended the Breed SAL to enable a different consideration to the wool we craft with – going beyond the squish of the ball to discover more about breed wool and the fabric it creates. We have been proud to feature some of the joy and discoveries of this swatching here on the WOVEMBER blog and we have been so delighted that the SAL has created an exciting exploration into wool – that’s what it’s all about: diving in, having a go, and sharing what you learn… whether swatching KnitBritish or KnitLocal. The swatch-along will continue into 2016, so do join in and start swatching with single breed wool.
We are so happy to see so much WOOL joy happening. Photos celebrating WOOL; projects worked in WOOL; journeys in swatching that are about discovering specific types of WOOL, different initiatives to help people to find WOOL, etc., etc., and we feel that all this WOOLLY GOODNESS needs some time to sink in.
As mentioned at the start of the month, WOVEMBER this year coincides with big projects for Felix and Louise, who have done the lion’s share of the work in running the blog and dealing with the email inbox this year.
Felix is completing a huge commission for The Museum of Oxford. It’s her largest to date and is entitled “The Fabric of Oxford”. It is a sound piece… a lecture performance and a gallery installation, in production since March 2015. The Fabric of Oxford offers a series of perspectives on the city of Oxford as perceived through its textiles. It’s not a 100% WOOL project, but an inclusive exploration of the city through its fabrics. Felix has been steadily working away on this project whilst also managing WOVEMBER work and badge and button sales but the project now needs her undivided love and attention in the run up to the launch on December 11th. Louise is also extremely busy maintaining the KnitBritish podcasting schedule, overseeing the Breed Swatchalong, planning the Podcast Lounge for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016 and working closely with others in the wool and knitting industry, behind the scenes. The day jobs of TEAM WOVEMBER are closely intertwined with the work we do here at WOVEMBER and in the threads of editing audio and examining breed specific swatches, the WOVEMBER work continues. This year, every now and again whenever we doubted our ability to manage WOVEMBER and all our other tasks, we reminded ourselves of the wisdom of Samuel the sheep, from Charlotte’s web. There is a Moji video on Skype that has become our favourite. We feel it should be a favourite amongst all comrades working to promote WOOL and that we should share it here:
There is a lot to think about… not only in terms of who shall win prizes for items WAL-ed and Photos entered into our competition, but also in terms of the issues we have covered here (and not covered) and the gaps between Producers and Consumers of WOOL that we would still like to see Closed.
In coming days we will be reflecting on this year’s WOVEMBER, choosing prizes, thinking about WOOL and its central place in fashion and in the future, and then gathering our thoughts for a series of reflective pieces and announcements for mid-December. In the meantime, enthusiasm and generosity from WOVEMBERISTS has been great, and we have several bonus posts to feature at 7pm in coming days… so although today officially marks the end of WOVEMBER, WOOL fans fearing the end can relax in the knowledge that there is more to come.
While we are reflecting and working on our other respective projects, we urge you to sift through this year’s postings in case you missed any, (at last count we had assembled and posted an incredible 96 posts to date in 2015!!!) to continue wearing WOOL, and to share your own thoughts on the month in the comments below and in our Ravelry group.
Thank you for being part of the WOVEMBER celebrations,
YOURS IN WOOL,
AT THE END OF WOVEMBER…ALMOST.
Felix & Louise x
This photo concludes the Daily Photo series of photos taken and curated by Jeni Reid especially for WOVEMBER. For the WEARING WOOL phase of WOVEMBER we have been delving into the joy of WOOL FESTIVALS – surely some of the best places to see WOOL being worn, and also some of the best places to see how we collectively wear WOOL as a cultural meeting point!
This is just a small selection of the sights I saw when attending festivals over 2015. I went to Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Woolfest in Cumbria, Shetland Wool Week and the In the Loop conference. Other festivals are available and I hope to go to all of them one day.
Monkl finds banana nirvana. You can match anything with yarn shades from Shetland. Here is Monkl, Felix’s faithful companion checking out the banana coloured yarns.
Thank you so much to Jeni Reid for the amazing Daily photograph series curated for WOVEMBER!
photo and text © Jeni Reid and used here with kind permission.
You can see Jeni’s photos by following her on instagram here and you can see Monkl with his mended woolly nose (stitched carefully closed with J&S Heritage yarn) and the sweater that Deborah Gray knit him for out of his banana-themed yarns here
Today’s Wovember Word comes courtesy of Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn, about the counting words used by Sussex shepherds. The following extract comes from Shepherds of Sussex by Barclay Wills (originally published in 1938), who regales the following story:
He [the farmer] told me that one job was ‘telling’ the sheep. The sheep were allowed to run through a hurdle, two at a time, and, as the boy, he had to stand there and count them, keeping time with the shepherd, thus:
—that ‘Den’ meaning a score, or twenty sheep through the hurdle.”
Recording of shep scores on”tally sticks” was once usual in Sussex, and specific instances have beennoted. Although I have not been lucky enough to find any specimens, some of the shepherds I have met have ysed them. One man referred to them, and said: “Most timesI used my crook-stick to cut notches in, so I never lost my count. ‘Tis a handy way if you beant much of a scholard. Pencil an’ paper be good in their way too, but not as good as a stick an’ a knife; the notches us allus to hand, an’ easy to remember.”
We cannot believe that this is the last photo competition round up of Wovember 2015! Here is Louise with the final round up of
images that stood out this week.
Do remember that you gain automatic entry to this competition by using the hashtag #Wovember2015 – but sadly you only have one more day! We shall be announcing the prizes and the winners in due course.
Did you read Tom’s amazing posts about Southdown yarns this week? Look at the structure of the cabling in that yarn and those glorious colours.
Spun yarn and thrummed fleece will keep @Janemaewren’s feet cosy this winter. I can feel the warmth from here!
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Will be chatting more about this wreath on Saturday's #woolgatheringpodcast but wanted to give you a preview. #churchmouse #fleeceartist
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Though I have been resisting the very notion of it, I admit that this woolly wreath, by @mereoshop stoked the Christmas cheer in me, just a little bit.
This Krainer Stone Sheep lamb belongs to the small flock of @wollhexie. Very sweet!
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So, are you taking part in @clare.devine Tea Party KAL yet? You should, the Tea Hats collection is simply amazing; and if this wasn't good reason enough, there are fantastic prizes to be won for KAL participants. Including a skein of my Phileas Yarns Wanderlust DK. I've made myself a Oolong hat with it, in the Acropolis colourway. I love this hat and I love this colour! The KAL runs until the end of the year, plenty time to join still and treat yourself to a hat or gift knit for loved ones… (Details on @clare.devine bio) #phileasyarns #knitsharelove #teacollectionhats #knitting #knitstagram #knittersoftheworld #knittersofinstagram #wollyhat #hat #makeitwearit #wovember2015 #handdyed #handyedyarn #indiedyer #dyersofinstagram #yarn #yarnaddict #oolong #oolongtea #pompom
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@Sylvielabellevie is combining two of my favourite passtimes in this image – tea and knitting with wool!
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Dorothy's tapestry weaving #wool #Suffolk #wovember2015
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@womenwhoweave’s image of colourful weaving is just a joy!
@la_laniere’s image gave me a bit of a lump in my throat – a very local yarn snapped in the local landscape of the poll Dorset sheep. I hope you enjoy swatching!
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My Bluefaced boys #homefarmwensleydales #bluefacedleicester #knitbritish #feltcraft #purewool #wovember2015
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Jane Dryden, from Home Farm Wensleydales, was back at Wovember last night in conversation with Felix. I love this image of her Blue Faced Leicester rams.
Established in November 2011, Wovember is both a celebration of wool and a campaign for clearer labelling and descriptions of garments. Team Wovember comprises Felicity Ford, Louise Scollay, Kate Davies and Tom van Deijnen.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wovember is about showing our collective appreciation of wool by wearing as much of this fabulous fibre as possible and by celebrating its unique qualities in stories and pictures throughout the month of November. Through our enthusiasm and creativity we can raise awareness of what makes wool different, and jointly create a force for wool appreciation strong enough to effect changes in how garments and textiles are described and marketed.
The copyright for all the content held here on the Wovember site lies with the original content creators. Therefore every post has a separate copyright holder - always attributed in the text - and the posts which are not specifically attributed to an individual were created by one of the members of Team Wovember: Felicity Ford, Louise Scollay, Kate Davies or Tom van Deijnen. For information on reusing any content found on this site, please email email@example.com.