In The Woolshed – a small producer with a world of experience
Designer SARAH HAZELL is here this evening to introduce us to In The WoolShed. A farm to yarn business, In The Wool Shed is a business created with passion for their product, a real love of the hand-made and interest in where their yarn goes next and what it will become.
Tucked away on East Chase Farm in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, there is a tiny woolshed that every knitter should know about.
I found out about In The Woolshed through the Warwickshire Open Studios event. This is a self-funding organisation that promotes artists and designer-makers throughout Coventry and Warwickshire area. Every year at the end of June and the beginning of July, artists open the doors of their studios and invite people in to see how their work is made. I was so excited to learn that 30 minutes from my house was a dye studio, where I would not only be able to buy yarn, but witness the entire process from fleece to skein!
In The Woolshed is the result of a vision shared by two sisters, Emma and Louise. They grew up in Kenilworth, but spent lots of family holidays on the Lleyn Peninsula in North West Wales. This was followed by several years travelling around India, learning and sharing textile skills with villagers and farmers in a remote Himalayan village. Fast forward a few years and back home in Kenilworth, Louise has married a local farmer and Emma has trained as a fine artist. However, the sisters still found themselves wanting to find a way of realising their passions for real craft, to create a business that embodied the simplicity and authenticity of the handmade. This has been made possible by them sharing both their skills and resources.
Louise’s farm is home to a flock of Lleyn sheep. In fact, these sheep are the first thing you see when you turn off the main road and drive up towards the farm. They are good mothers, have a high milk yield and produce beautiful white wool.
Louise also provided the container that sits in the farmyard and is the shop for all the gorgeous yarns and kits.
Emma has a dye studio in one of the barns and this is the real creative hub of the business. As you approach the studio you will find last year’s fleeces stored outside the door.
Lift the latch and you enter a world where yarn is dyed by hand using only natural dyes and environmentally-friendly mordants. Emma believes that by combining natural dyes with top quality fleeces she is able to create yarn that is not only beautiful but also unique! She first started experimenting with natural dyes as a student in Manchester and recalls that there were always pans boiling and fleeces soaking in the flat that she shared with other students. It is this sense of exploration and discovery that underpins Emma’s work.
It is only five months since I first met Emma, but we both recognised a shared passion for colour, texture and the desire for a purposeful way of working. The process and results of natural dying have been a revelation to me. I wrote a book several years ago called Exploring Colour in Knitting, (Collins and Brown 2011). I would love to be able to go back and write an additional chapter on natural dyes! The book describes how colours relate to each other and how to manage different aspects of colour in your knitting, given that the colours we want to use are largely dictated by those that the manufacturers select for us.
How often have we pored over a shade card and not been able to find exactly the right shade of red/blue/green etc? Natural dyes do not necessarily hold all the answers – there are some who would find the levels of unpredictability problematic, but they can help to satisfy several other issues.
To start with, they are a world away from the uniformity of chemical dyes, offering a wealth of variation. They mature with age, developing a kind of patina of their own. You can take part in the process and dye your own yarn. Natural dyeing has a low carbon footprint and encourages a slower, more thoughtful way of working. And then there are the colours…..yellows, so acidic they make your mouth water.
Deep and complex purples that conjure up sloes and damsons, rich paprika reds.
Dark indigo blues that will fade and age like your favourite pair of jeans, tranquil teals and greens and the calm of those neutrals that are difficult to describe, but you know you will never tire off.
I am so pleased that this Wovember the focus has been on the small producer. In 1973 an important collection of essays by British economist E.F.Schumacher was published. It was called Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. Schumacher’s central philosophy was one of ‘enoughness’. He believed that production should always be about appropriateness of scale, “obtaining the maximum amount of wellbeing with the minimum amount of consumption”.
Like Schumacher, Emma has had direct experience of village-based economics when she lived and worked in India. Those same principles of small-scale production are intrinsic to the Woolshed – it’s not fast and furious, it is slow – it takes nearly two and a half years from a lamb being born to a ball of yarn being ready to work with; it respects the hand made and promotes a slower, reflective response in the knitter. If you would like to find out more about In The Woolshed then visit www.inthewoolshed.com. You can follow the Woolshed story on the Facebook page.
I shall be continuing to celebrate Wovember when I release my Colour Block Cabled Hat kit next week via my website sarah-hazell.com . I wanted to design something that would be cosy in the country and chic in the city, so that everyone can experience the benefit of pure wool.
The kit uses yarns from In The Woolshed and comes in three different colourways – Grellow, Denim and Madder.
Thanks so much to Sarah and In The Woolshed for a little portrait of the work that is done there. Just looking at the Lleyn Mini Pots on their website is making my knitting fingers twitchy – look at the incredible colours and that lovely texture of the wool!
Sarah’s hat kit has been released to celebrate WOVEMBER and you can purchase a kit by visiting her website at sarah-hazell.com.