A conversation with Kate Davies
This evening, transitioning between Processing Wool and Working with Wool, we feature a conversation between TEAM WOVEMBER MEMBERS Felicity Ford AKA Felix and Kate Davies, speaking about Buachaille.
Felix: Greetings TEAM WOVEMBER MEMBER, Kate!
I am really excited because this WOVEMBER many comrades are knitting with your amazing 100% WOOL yarn – Buachaille – launched earlier this year. Buachaille is an inspiring and glorious yarn, and to me it feels like a physical manifestation of the dreams you held for WOOL when we established WOVEMBER four years ago… it is a truly woolly yarn made of 100% WOOL; it is a yarn-based celebration of provenance and landscape; its production is traceable and sustainable; and it very successfully closes the gap between the farms on which the wool is grown and the knitters who want to work with yarns like this. I wondered if we could talk through the process of developing Buachaille from WOOL DREAMS to WOOL REALITY and if you might be happy to reflect back on some of the ideas that have shaped the development of this amazing Kate Davies Designs yarn?
One of the things that distinguishes Buachaille from other yarns is its distinctive hand; I love the sense of life in this yarn – its light bounciness, and the even fabric produced when it is knit. The yarn strikes me as being an honest woolly workhorse wool, but it’s also soft and lustrous enough to seem luxurious. I wonder if you could talk us through the qualities of WOOL that you especially wanted to showcase in this yarn and how factors like softness, luxury and durability have featured in the development of Buachaille?
Kate: I think you have got it in one. I think that some fleece types often regarded as durable and workaday can also be very fine indeed, and one of the things I love so much about the wool we use in Buachaille is this combination of fineness and practicality. I was very particular about the qualities I wanted the yarn to display. I was keen that, when knitters picked up a skein, they would feel pleasantly surprised by the yarn’s smoothness and softness, as well as its springy handle and obvious sheepiness. I was keen that the yarn would knit up with superbly crisp round stitches, ideal for working colourwork and cables; and, when knitting was complete, I wanted the fabric to bloom, even out and soften further, creating a fabulously smooth finished fabric. I am over the moon that this is what we’ve got in the finished yarn. Processing, as much as fleece type and selection was key to our achieving these characteristics in the finished yarn. Worsted processing is a little more involved, and more costly than woollen (you lose a lot of overall weight by combing noils and kemp out of the fleeces) but this method of preparation and spinning really makes the fibre sing, in my opinion. On the subject of woolly luxury, I have to mention my recent acquisition of an amazing Shetland sheepskin beanbag from the Real Shetland Company. Enveloping oneself in those lovely, crimpy fleeces is the most luxurious thing I can imagine — like having a giant hug from a lovely bunch of Shetland sheep!
Felix: The word PROVENANCE is very important here on WOVEMBER.COM. One of the things that seems to breed confusion in terms of how textiles are described and marketed is the complexity of supply chains within the fashion industry – put simply, we do not know where many textiles come from, and this makes it difficult to understand their composition. Knowing the provenance of textiles – especially woollen textiles – makes it easier to understand what they are made of and where they are from.
But there is something deeper to provenance too – a sense of place and traceability that go hand in hand with that word. In terms of Buachaille, we know the areas in which all the wool was grown and all the places where its production takes place. However it strikes me that in conceiving the colours for your yarn you have sought to take the concept of provenance even further – to make the yarn itself sing of the places from which it hails! I wonder if you could talk a bit about the sense of place in Buachaille, in terms of its composition but also in terms of your creative vision for the yarn range?
Kate: Place and situation are certainly key to my creative vision—and for me they are key to pretty much every aspect of an act of making – or even an act of buying. To me it just seems natural that a consumer would like to know where the stuff they buy comes from, how it was made, and who made it. I am often surprised that this straightforward background information is not available, and frequently disappointed by the (excuse my frankness) bullshit that circulates in the name of marketing yarn and woolly crafts. I think the industry in general could do much more to promote wool clearly (and that’s why Wovember is here). If a yarn is grown and made here in Britain, why not shout about it? And if it originates elsewhere, and is manufactured in Britain, why not make that clear, and shout about it too? Just as it felt natural for me to be up front about provenance and manufacture, so it felt natural that the shades I created for Buachaille reflected the situated-ness of the yarn. If something is raised and made from this landscape, then its colours should reflect that too. I also have to say that, as someone who has always wanted to knit with something Highland-coo coloured, developing these shades was deeply satisfying! I’m excited to say that I’ve got a few more Buachaille colours up my sleeve, too, which should be appearing in 2016.
Felix: One of the things that is truly wonderful about the age in which we live is the relationship now possible between producers and consumers of goods. The internet enables us to communicate much more directly with each other! I love how you have shared the story of Buachaille’s production so immediately and personally with your readers over at KATEDAVIESDESIGNS.COM; you have brought the story of Buachaille to life and made it a woolly yarn to which many knitters feel a personal and emotional connection. I wonder if you could speak a bit about the role that social media has played in enabling you to develop your ideas for Buachaille; have there been specific articles that you have written, knitting projects on which you have worked, comments left by readers and so on that have especially contributed to the evolution of this yarn?
Kate: Without the internet and social media, I wouldn’t be able to make a living out of something I genuinely love doing – it really is that simple. I enjoy writing, and have a deep fondness for my long-standing blog—an online diary of so many things. As a visual person I am also very fond of Instagram. What I’ve found particularly lovely about developing and sharing this project is being able to really involve everyone in it from start to finish – and now I get the pleasure of seeing everyone else share their Buachaille projects on Instagram, twitter, and Ravelry. It is tremendously rewarding, and enabling – and it’s various social media platforms that enable that process to happen. I’m not sure that social media has influenced the yarn’s development specifically, but other forms of sociability certainly have. I vividly recall several influential conversations with you, Felix – for example, following our visit to Diamond Fibres, or after an inspiring day at Woolfest. Together we have often raved about the wool we loved, and discussed the kinds of qualities we wanted knitting yarns to have. I think Buachaille has benefitted enormously from the collective wisdom and enthusiasm of good friends like yourself.
Thanks so much Kate for sharing some of your inspiring vision for Buachaille here on the WOVEMBER blog! Hurrah for Buachaille and if you would like to read more about this wonderful woolly yarn we highly recommend Rachel Atkinson’s magnificent Q&A with Kate Davies to be found here.