Working with heritage flocks for a special dyed yarn
Katie Pearce is the hand-dyer behind Sylvan Tiger. Katie got in touch with WOVEMBER to talk about her work sourcing native sheep breeds that are a little different to the favoured BFL – yarns which speak volumes of the work being done with heritage breeds in the UK and the important relationships involved from the sheep’s back to the final skein.
I specialise in dyeing British yarns with natural dyes and my regular yarn bases heavily feature British Blue faced Leicester, a lovely soft yarn that takes dye very well with a lovely shine from the long staple fibres. However, as regular Wovember readers know, there is a wonderful variety of British fibres out there, not all of them as soft as BFL of course, but many of them deserve a greater value than they currently have.
One of my aims as a dyer is to work more closely with wool growers to branch out from BFL and explore that myriad of native sheep breeds. Last year I worked with The Nude Ewe to create the Limited Edition ‘Orchard Collection’ of lace weight yarn spun from 100% Wensleydale fleeces.
Sourced from The Nude Ewe, the yarn for this project comes from sheep grazing a Damson orchard on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, hence the name of the collection. The Nude Ewe is a not-for-profit community interest company that works with the owners of heritage breed flocks, giving back the profits from yarn sales to help keep the sheep grazing our beautiful countryside. Erika who owns the flock, used her first cheque from The Nude Ewe to fund a conservation workshop which discovered an incredibly rare beetle found only in the south-west of England and Kent.
Erika’s flock of 25 Wensleydale ewes and lambs runs with her husband’s commercial flock of breeding ewes. Her first sheep were a birthday present nearly 20 years ago. I asked Erika how the Wensleydale’s work in the environment of the Damson orchard:
“The orchard is part of the farm and although the fruit has no commercial value any longer we love it and don’t want to see it disappear totally – it is part of our local heritage. It looks beautiful, still bears us fruit, hosts a lovely rare beetle, many woodpeckers and other bird species and diversifies our otherwise grass dominated farm. Other livestock would damage the old trees and the trees in turn offer shade for the grazing sheep.”
Erika has the Wensleydales shorn once a year, I asked if she does anything special to look after the longwool fleeces whilst they are still on the sheep (the staple length can be 8 – 12 inches) and how working with The Nude Ewe has benefited the farm and flock:
“No, I would prefer to keep them away from brambles and mud but they go where the grass is in reality! Working with The Nude Ewe has definitely helped me to understand the beauty of the product and given the Wensleydale fleeces value they didn’t previously have. We have now been able to invest in small amounts of suitable conservation management and advice for the orchard and it’s made me more interested in the whole cycle.”
So thank you to Erika, the sheep and The Nude Ewe for this beautiful yarn. Processed at The Natural Fibre Company the yarn is 100% Wensleydale and is worsted spun to maintain the gorgeous sheen of the longwool. There’s 100g and approximately 580m per skein. As well as the almost silk-looking sheen, there’s a subtle mohair-like halo, so the yarn will trap lots of air making it snuggly and warm.
I created four colours for the collection, each named after an orchard fruit. There was Damson Delight, Blackcurrant Crush, Blueberry Blush and Greengage Glut. There are just a few skeins remaining from the collection, once they’re gone, they’re gone!
I’m hoping to work with more small producers of yarn in the future to create more limited edition collections. Please get in touch if are a fibre grower/small mill who might be interested in collaborating. I hope that by dyeing with yarns created from the different breeds in the British Isles we can show small fibre growers that there is value to their fleeces, please don’t burn them!
Thank you so much to Katie for her quest to promote British wool in the yarns she dyes and for giving us a valuable insight into the work and important collaborations which seek to conserve our British breeds, to create knitting yarns which speak of their origin, the landscape and which also preserve the unique characteristics of breed wool.
Visit Katie’s website and shop at www.sylvantiger.co.uk