Daily Photo: Festivals 5

Part of the Daily Photo series of photos taken and curated by Jeni Reid especially for WOVEMBER. For the WEARING WOOL phase of WOVEMBER we are 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.


Levitating sheep. A surreal moment at the Shetland Flock Book judging. The Flock Book judging and sale is one of my highlights of Shetland Wool Week.

photo and text © Jeni Reid and used here with kind permission.
You can see Jeni’s photos by following her on instagram here

Wovember Words: Pratchett

Thank you so much to WOVEMBER reader KATA, who wanted to contribute a little nod to knitting from the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.



I have been re-reading the Discworld novels and although Terry Pratchett does not seem to have had a soft spot for sheep, there is this episode in Carpe Jugulum:

‘Yeah,’ said Nanny, in what Agnes thought was an odd tone of voice. ‘Just as well, really. Let’s go. Oh, I thought we might need these…’

She fumbled in the bottomless storeroom of her knickerleg and produced a couple of pairs of socks so thick that they could have stood up by themselves.

‘Lancre wool,’ she said. ‘Our Jason knits ’em of an evenin’ and you know what strong fingers he’s got. You could kick your way through a wall.’

The heather ripped fruitlessly at the wire-like wool as the women hurried over the moor. There was still a sun here, or at least a bright spot in the overcast, but darkness seemed to come up from beneath the ground.

That last sentence seems like it was written for these cold, dark winter evenings!

Thanks, Kata!

In 2008 knitting fans of Terry Pratchett created the Pratchgan quilt. The Ankh Morpork Knitter’s Guild were inspired to create the blanket – each square with a different motif relating to DiscWorld – after Practchett’s diagnosis of Altzhiemer’s. They got to present the finished quilt to him in August, 2008. You can read more about this project here.



Images: Jeans Socks. Free pattern from Blacker Yarns. The Pratchgan – image shared from The Pratchgan Group on Flickr, via SA CC license.

Between Producers and Consumers of WOOL…

Today we wanted to try something out here on the WOVEMBER blog and share a conversation between a Producer of Yarn (Jane Dryden of Home Farm Wensleydales) and a Consumer of Yarn (me, Felix, TEAM WOVEMBER MEMBER and WOOLFAN). Jane sent me some of her different hand knitting yarns and I swatched with them, noting characteristics and qualities and my observations as I went; I then sent these to Jane, who offered her own comments in exchange. We thought you might enjoy our conversation and we hope – naturally – that it will lead to more discussions between Producers and Consumers of WOOL.

3-Ply Pure Wensleydale, Home Farm Wensleydales

3-Ply Pure Wensleydale, Home Farm Wensleydales

The Pure Wensleydale yarn – natural 3-ply

Felix: I was immediately drawn to your pure Wensleydale yarn and have worked a swatch on 2.5mm needles using your white 3-ply. I’ve learnt a lot through knitting this swatch; it’s given me new perspectives on what Wensleydale can be used for and it’s made me think about the difference between how yarn feels in the ball and how it works up into knitted fabric.

Knitted swatch worked in 2-Ply Pure Wensleydale yarn, Home Farm Wensleydales

Knitted swatch worked in 2-Ply Pure Wensleydale yarn, Home Farm Wensleydales

I’ve worked with Wensleydale before and generally found it to be quite a drapey sort of wool and therefore perfect for lace and openwork, but this particular 3-ply yarn works up beautifully in stocking stitch when knitted at a tight gauge and I can’t believe how light and lofty the fabric is, not to mention warm. It does have a delicate prickle but I enjoy the feeling of life and character in that sensation. I keep looking at my little swatch and wondering about making a shawl – something that involves acres of plain stocking stitch and some lace details…

Beautiful crisp stitch definition and a lovely cool translucence with this 3-Ply Pure Wensleydale, Home Farm Wensleydales

Beautiful crisp stitch definition and a lovely cool translucence with this 3-Ply Pure Wensleydale, Home Farm Wensleydales

An initial squeeze doesn’t do justice to this yarn; it is a glorious golden colour and you can really see the lustre in the Wensleydale fibres. But the initial squoosh – what my friend Louise calls “the hand squish grab” – gives an impression of crispiness that all but disappears after you’ve knit with it. I feel this yarn is transformed through knitting, and my finished swatch has very good stitch definition and a glorious fuzzy halo on its surface. I can’t stop petting it – genuinely – it’s so airy for Wensleydale, and the plies – which look quite defined in the ball – smooth out into little plump stitches on the needles. I remember a hand spinner telling me that 3-ply yarns are more “round” than 2-ply yarns and this round quality really shows in your lovely pure Wensleydale 3-ply.

One thing I did find was that when I was knitting this 3-ply my swatch kept kinking up on me and rolling up at the cast-on edge in spite of my working a garter stitch border to stabilise the knitting. I wondered if this is something to do with the twist of the plies themselves or perhaps even the curliness and bounce in the fibres of the Wensleydale fleece?

Jane: I’m not sure how much is the spinning process or the natural fibres, but I do know when I look at the fleece hanging off the sheep the Wensleydale fleece hangs beautifully with the natural weight of the fleece curling down with the white lustre moving to golden at the tips.

Look at the fabulous lustre!

Look at the fabulous lustre!

Felix: I love the words on the ballband: “Natural Rare Breed Wensleydale From our farm in The Cotswolds” is music to my ears, along with “100% British Wool washed and spun in Yorkshire”. It’s also superb to see a sheep from your own flock peeping out there from the label, making the connection between your farm and the yarn! However – and I hope you won’t mind my pointing this out – I was wondering how the knitter who encounters this ball of yarn might learn more about its provenance? Given how beautiful your sheep are and that you have a lovely website where people can learn about them, I did wonder whether your URL couldn’t be there too. And it would also be really useful to know roughly how many metres/yards there are in a ball of this stuff so that if I did ever get around to making a shawl out of it I could plan how many balls to buy!

Jane: You are so right, I should have included the url on the ballband but I very much started off in the order of building a beautiful flock of sheep, then finding people who could turn the fleece into the highest quality yarn and then lastly the marketing and the internet which I am afraid I am not very good at. My later ball bands do include http://www.homefarmwensleydales,com. The meters/yards is an interesting story in itself. I can recall Laxtons calling me and asking me where the meters/yards were on the ball bands. My response was “why do you need to know that” and the spinners response exactly matches your question – how many balls do you need to buy. I am learning quickly and this will be on the ballband from my next spin – hopefully back with me by end January in double knitting and 4 ply.

Felix: I have some other balls of Pure Wensleydale from you and you put in an explanation of why each is slightly different; I wondered if you could tell me a bit about working with different spinning mills, and how your yarns have developed in relation to the mills with which you work?

Jane: My aran was the very first fleece that I had spun and at that time my shearing weight was 30kg fleece. With smaller amounts you are very limited to who will spin for you and it can work out quite expensive. This first shear was kindly spun for me at The Natural Fibre Company. My second year I had only 23 fleeces to spin and decided to try Halifax Spinning Mill, where Paul was absolutely fantastic. He spun the black and white fleece separately into 2 and 3 ply but he was only able to spin woollen style and I believe Wensleydale really should be spun worsted.
I then visited a number of different spinning mills and realised I needed to increase the size of my flock in order to have a wider choice – which meant lambing and sheep health for the next few years became my priority. I went to college for a year and studied ‘Sheep’. I have now found Laxtons in Yorkshire who offer an excellent service and are full of great ideas.

Felix: In your journey to find the right mill, you have created several batches of yarn. Will the 3-ply Wensleydale ever be repeated or is it like a vintage wine from a particular year that we will probably not see again?

Jane: I am getting a trial spin done in naturally coloured pure Wensleydale which should be available in January but it won’t be the same as all mills seems to spin this fibre differently and of course this will be worsted spun.



Felix: I just have to ask: who is the sheep on the ballband for the 3-ply?!

Jane: Well, all of my flock are my favourites, but there are always one or two who either through illness or feeding(!!) become your best friend!! The white Wensleydale on the ballband from my first wool is Eileen and she was one of the first sheep that I ever bought. Their fringes can cause problems sometimes and Eileen managed to pick up a thistle in her fringe which infected her eye. She was in our garden for several months being carefully nursed and thankfully can see properly again after this trauma. Eileen is so helpful when I need to gather the flock in – I shout ‘come on Eileen’ and she comes running!

100g Big Wool – natural

Felix: This yarn is a revelation and I cannot stop petting it. I’m knitting a swatch on 6mm needles and am thrilled with how it’s turning out. I am not usually a lover of soft wools because I feel they tend to lack personality. Also in my experience the really soft wools seem to pill and look ratty really quickly because they don’t usually possess the qualities that make a yarn hardwearing – high twist, a little bit of grit and prickle… But your buttery soft Big Wool yarn is an exception! It’s got presence and woolliness yet feels silky and smooth to the touch and it looks to me as though it will wear well in my road testing.

super squooshy Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend

super squooshy Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend

There’s less of a difference here between the airy plump yarn ball and fat bouncy stitches worked in this yarn; the hand-squish-grab really gives an instant impression of the soft and silky nature of the yarn. As with the 3-ply there is a pleasing golden hue to the natural white, though I notice that the Big Wool is lighter; is that something to do with the addition of the Bluefaced Leicester wool in the blend?

Jane: You are exactly right. The Bluefaced Leicester is an incredibly fine fibre and given that the Bluefaced Leicester originated from the same ram as the Wensleydale, the wool seems to blend perfectly together and retains the lustre of the wensleydale but is lighter with the BFL.

Pure Wensleydale on the left, Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend on the right

Pure Wensleydale on the left, Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend on the right

Felix: The 3 plies in the Big Wool have the same rounding effect as in the much slimmer Wensleydale, and stitches come out beautifully defined and plump. Your label for this yarn is in a whole new league from that on the 3-ply yarn which makes me think that these two yarns come from different points along a learning journey of producing and marketing yarn. I love that you have included the URL for your website and a photo of the beasties from which the yarn came. Do I espy a Wensleydale and a Bluefaced Leicester sheep grazing side by side?

Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester, grazing side by side in the field, their wool spun together in the yarn

Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester, grazing side by side in the field, their wool spun together in the yarn

Jane: Yes, I could not believe my luck when I saw the two of them grazing together in the field and for once, had my camera with me!

Big Wool comes in bright colours

Big Wool comes in bright colours

Felix: You have created a very vibrant palette in the Big Wool range and I wondered if you could tell me about the inspirations behind the different colours?

Jane: We are incredibly lucky to be able to farm on ancient ridge and furrow, in the Cotswold Conservation Area and there are so many inspirational colours on our farm to give to the wool. Boysenberry – the sloe berries that we use in our sloe gin in October, Amber – the oxlip wild flowers which come in spring into our woodlands, Tangerine – rosehips in our hedgerows in autumn, Leicester Blue – the blue mist from the wild garlic which grows in abundance on Edgehill.

Felix: Lastly it feels to me as though these are two very different yarns for very different markets. The pure Wensleydale wins on sheep factor for me; it is the sort of yarn for which I would really enjoy finding a very special lace pattern and planning out a project to show off my knitterly credentials. Perhaps a shawl with acres of stocking stitch and a fancy border… I love how it works up at a tight gauge and it gives me a sense of having come from a very particular kind of animal. I love Wensleydale sheep with their long locks and large frames, and the lustre, loft and hairy halo are all full of their personality somehow. But I am a sheep nerd with a professed obsession in particular sheep breeds and yarns with character… and things like the kink in the yarn and the interesting darker shade of white really appeal to me. Is this sort of yarn harder to market to a mass audience of knitters than, say, the Big Wool? Because the Big Wool strikes me as being a real crowd-pleaser. It’s like the track on a record that gets the whole room dancing because it still has significant sheep factor, but you don’t need much commitment to work with it. It’s huge, knits up really fast, feels satisfying and warm, and won’t alienate anyone with prickle factor! The colours feel like a totally different sort of thing from the landscape-like shades of the natural pure Wensleydale yarns you have produced; they are somehow much more urban and contemporary. I wondered if you encounter different types of knitters when you are selling yarn from your farm, and what part customers have played (if any!) in influencing the direction in which you have taken your yarns?

Big Wool: a real crowd-pleaser

Big Wool: a real crowd-pleaser

Jane: The pure Wensleydale is loved by enthusiasts and knitters who understand and value rare breeds whereas the ‘big wool’ is targeted for a wider audience, either first time knitters or lapsed knitters who want to try again and a younger market who are up and coming knitters. I find that the first thing they do is pick up the wool, put it against their cheek and love the softness. I don’t want to process the wool into supersoft or wash easy – I want to keep my wool as pure and simple and, of course, every fleece from my own farm.

Buttery soft Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend, Big Wool, Home Farm Wensleydales

Buttery soft Wensleydale and Bluefaced Leicester blend, Big Wool, Home Farm Wensleydales

It’s been really interesting to think about these different yarns in terms of what they might best be used for, and to knit with two such different products from the same farm… It’s also been wonderful to learn more about Jane’s work through her Wovember postings and to get to know the yarn from the farm that we heard about during Growing Wool. I hope it was useful for Jane to hear my thoughts about her yarn – for me it is a privilege to be able to correspond to directly with a wool-grower. If you are at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show this weekend please say hi to Jane from all of us here at Team Wovember! Fx

Daily Photo: Festivals 4

Part of the Daily Photo series of photos taken and curated by Jeni Reid especially for WOVEMBER. For the WEARING WOOL phase of WOVEMBER we are 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.


The Whalsay Bairns – incredibly talented young knitters from Shetland, seen here during Wool Week. The Peerie Makkers are currently crowdfunding in order to be able to teach even more children in Shetland about knitting.

photo and text © Jeni Reid and used here with kind permission.
You can see Jeni’s photos by following her on instagram here

Wovember Words: Breed swatch-along – the feel of the fabric

Louise is back with more woolly words as described by participants in the #breedswatchalong.

Last time I shared with you some of the words and phrases used by knitters to describe the feel of the ball of yarn as they approached the crafting of their swatch. After casting on and noting observances of the feel and over the creation of the swatch, the next step is the wash, block and wear test.

For my own swatches it has been interesting taking just a little bit notice of the washing process; how much grease, if any, escapes? How the wool swatch reacts – some tighten and firm in the water, denser wool takes longer to sink, softer, drapier wool gets deliciously languid.

After blocking I think it is really important to wear the dry swatch somewhere on your person to check a) how the wool fabric feels against the skin and b) does the fabric change from being rubbed against another fabric. The wear test has been the topic of much hilarity over in the KnitBritish Ravelry group as SAL participants try to find an appropriate place to wear their swatch. I go for the up the sleeve placement, but some of the larger swatches contributed to a Popeye look for some of the swatchers! We carry out at least two wash, block and wear tests because the breed swatch-along is also about exploring how the wool fabric changes over time.

| How did the knitted swatch feel against your skin?

JessieMcKitrick’s Lincoln longwool swatch:

While it’s softer than I would expect for what I had read of Lincoln, it is definitely not baby-soft. I wore this swatch for a whole day inside the arm of my woollen sweater. I was aware of the different texture against my skin and could feel it very slightly itchy.

LINCOLN Jessie McKitrick Canada


BlitheSpirit’s Norfolk Horn swatch:

No real visible sign of blooming. I wore the swatch against my hip for about six hours including a two mile walk. I mostly forgot it was there. No itchy factor at all and no reaction to bare skin.

NORFOLK HORN Blithe Spirit

JaneyD’s Jacob Swatch:

First test: Wore this swatch under my t shirt all morning and forgot it was there  -am used to wearing wool though!

Second test: Softened again to a pleasing texture, few hempy fibres sticking out but no piling at all.


Verveine’s Coburger Fusschaff swatch:

Felt not scratchy at all, worn against the inside of my arm, no irritations. Fabric warms up very quickly.

verveine's COBURG

JessieMcKitrick’s Manx Loaghtan swatch:

First test: Pinned it to the inside of my sleeve; a bit more prickly here, and I noticed it occasionally, but it was mostly fine.

Second Test: Wore it inside my sock most of the day, where I pretty much forgot about it. I do find that it doesn’t take much for me to find a sock too itchy to wear, so the Manx Loaghtan passed that particular test with flying colours!

MANX Jessie McKitrick

Leira’s Suffolk swatch:

I wore the swatch under my shirt at the shoulder, tucked into my bra strap! There was a distinct little prickle that did not subside. It was not itchy, but I was aware of it all the time the swatch was worn. There is no sign of pil or felting. The swatch has remained the same.

suffolk LS

A few mentions of a ‘prickle’ in the descriptions and, of course, there is a prickle factor where wool and knitted fabric is concerned. Where finer fibres can bend, larger diametre fibres do not and they press into the skin and cause the receptors in the skin to become activated – hence the slight irritation.  Of course some of us have more sensitive skin than others and even fine fibres can prickle whereas some of us have skin that likes even the woolliest of wools.

Tarndwarncoort: birthplace of the Polwarth

We are sure you will agree that today’s posts have given a lot of food for thought.  We have one final bonus post tonight from natural dyer and knitter Julia Billings, AKA Woollenflower.

This summer Jules was back in her homeland of Australia to teach natural dyeing workshops at Tarndwarncoort, Western Victoria. This is where the Polwarth breed was developed in the 1880s, by Richard Dennis – Jules visited with the current Dennis family at Tarndie and finds out more about the Polwarth breed and the yarns they create.

Since moving to Glasgow from Australia earlier this year, I’ve been struck by the sense of place and tradition in the Scottish (and larger British) wool industry and community as a whole… Hefted sheep, the traditional cottage industries of Shetland, Fair Isle and the Scottish Fleet, the fact that entire communities were once built around and supported by mills producing yarn and cloth and the many associated side industries-all this gives weight and importance to the push by so many to re-energize the British wool industry.

It’s all got me thinking about where my wool tradition is… For a country not long on the international stage, Australia has a rich wool history, due mostly to its strong links with Britain; it literally “rode the sheep’s back” to prosperity. But, although my grandmother’s family were Scottish immigrants who made it running sheep in South Australia in the 1860’s and my grandfather worked as a wool broker all his life, like most of my generation born in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t learn to knit as a kid. So, as a relatively new knitter, I’m just realizing how deeply enmeshed wool is in the development of the country, both economically and culturally.

The Australian wool industry dates from 1797, when John Macarthur and Reverend Samuel Marsden imported Spanish Merinos in an attempt to start a wool industry (up until then, the only sheep in the colony were the fat-tailed sheep brought by the First Fleet from the Cape of Good Hope and used primarily for meat). In 1821, the first Australian wool was sold at Garraway’s Coffee House in London and, by 1840, Australia was producing more than two million kilos of wool each year, making many squatters and pastoralists hugely wealthy. Much of the wool produced in Australia over the next 100 years was funnelled back into the British wool cloth industry.
By the 1880s, business was booming and sheep breeders gathered in large numbers in metropolitan centres to buy and sell stock and wool each year:

“One of the most remarkable sights in Sydney is that of the Wool Exchange in full blast. Both buyers and brokers are men of weight and substance and responsibility in the community, but when the auctioneer puts up a lot, the buyers spring to their feet, wave their catalogues over their heads, and shout their bids frantically at the seller… It is not unusual for 100,000 [pounds’] worth of wool to be put through during an afternoon.” Sydney Mail, October 16, 1897

By the late 1890s, falling wool prices and the Federation drought had devastated the wool industry; flock numbers were halved and industrial action by shearers seeking better wages and conditions took its toll (interestingly, the unions formed as a result of this action were the forerunners of the Australian Workers Union and, in turn, the Australian Labor Party). Two world wars and the 1929 depression affected wool prices, demand and jobs, but the industry boomed again in the 1950s. By now, other agricultural industries (wheat and cattle) had overtaken in economic importance and the focus for sheep farmers shifted from wool to meat. Various dual-purpose breeds, such as Merino and Corriedale, now form the core of the Australian wool industry and are run on huge stations with many thousands of sheep. Local Merino wool forms a huge part of the industry, producing a high-quality, luxury product on a large scale that is largely sent offshore to the international fashion and textile market.

So where does the small producer fit into the Australian wool industry? What if you aren’t running thousands of Merinos for the international market? Is there a place for you?
I’ve visited the small, wool-producing property Tarndwarncoort (or Tarndie, as it’s fondly known by locals) several times, most recently in September, when I met up with owners Wendy and Dave Dennis and son Tom to run a natural dye workshop.

Tarndwarncoort in south-eastern Victoria in 1880. With its vast, dry conditions, Australia is relatively well-suited to sheep production and merinos imported from Spain and Africa coped well with the warm, dry lands of New South Wales. However, in the southern, cooler and damper areas of Australia, they coped much less well, resulting in stress to the animal and an inferior fleece. Growing up in Australia, Richard Dennis knew the environment and he realised that the traditional Merino needed a boost to adapt to this antipodean climate. He crossed Saxon Merinos from Tasmania with Victorian Lincolns and then joined the progeny back to the Merino and bred to a fixed type. These un-mulsed sheep were named Dennis Comebacks, later renamed Polwarth after the local electorate. Polwarths are now mostly found in higher rainfall regions of south-eastern Australia with improved pastures and have been exported into many countries, including South America, where they are known as Ideals.

Shearing polwarth

Shearing Polwarth sheep at Tarndwarncoort

With the clip, Tarndwarncoort

With the clip, Tarndwarncoort

Dave and Wendy continue to grow Polwarth wool at Tarndie, maintaining the original bloodlines in a flock referred to as the “Blue Dots”. Tom and I had a great chat about the joys and challenges of running Tarndie…

Dave Dennis and his Polwarths

Dave Dennis and his Polwarths

Julia: Was the Polwarth predominantly developed by the Dennises as a dual purpose breed or more for fibre?

Tom: It was bred as a dual-purpose sheep – but more so, it was bred as a way to grow wool in marginal sheep country, because the southern regions of Australia have a higher rainfall than the initial flocks of Saxon merino were suited to.
The breed is now marketed by the Polwarth Association of Australia as a dual-purpose sheep and is considered a conservation breed.

Who was the customer for the fibre at that time and over the next century?
All fibre was sold at auction– our agent was Dennys Lascelles in Geelong, the initiator of wool auctions in Australia, and our wool was part of the very first auction in 1857. From there it would have been sold to British cloth manufacturers. It was sold as “AAA or Dennis Comeback” until the 1950s, when there was a push to sell it as branded Polwarth wool. Polwarth is around 23 microns, so it sold to a similar client base as Merino– for clothing mainly.

Which qualities do you most value in the Polwarth, both as a breed and fibre? And what do you think the fibre works best for?
Breeding Polwarths is made so much easier by their quiet nature and good lambing. The fleeces are heavy, averaging 6-7 kgs, and the fibre has great softness and length (up to 130mm), all of which make it lovely for handspinning and felting. And of course, the beauty of the natural colours, the blacks and browns and especially the silver-greys, is a wonderful quality…

I know your tops and yarn are prized by local craftspeople… How much of your fibre is sold as unprocessed fleece, compared to tops and yarn? And where and who to?

We sell more unprocessed fleece than tops or yarn; most goes to local spinning guilds and spinners but we export about 20% of our annual clip to overseas handspinners! Our main overseas wholesaler is based in Kyoto, Japan, but we also send fleeces to customers in a wide range of places – such as the US, Russia and Europe – through our online shop. We coat some of our sheep to keep their fleeces as free of dirt, dust and vegetable matter as possible. It optimizes the quality of the fibre and some people really appreciate that… so our fleeces are in high demand and people know that they need to pre-order before the March shearing to get one!
Actually, sales of yarn and tops represent only 10-20% of the annual wool clip. Some years, we will stockpile part of the clip and other years we will sell some at auction. This year, possibly due to the recent interest in breed-specific or single-farm, naturally-coloured yarns, we sold out of several of our yarns quite early. There is plenty more just in from the mill but it’s lovely to see so much demand for what we know is a lovely product.

Removing the coat to reveal a much cleaner fleece underneath (the sheepy equivalent of a farmer’s tan!)

Removing the coat to reveal a much cleaner fleece underneath (the sheepy equivalent of a farmer’s tan!)

So how long has the farm been producing yarn?
Wendy has been producing yarn since 1985. Over the past thirty years, we’ve worked with a variety of mills in Victoria, including Meskills in Kyneton, Woolabar in Ballarat and CSIRO in Geelong, but unfortunately all of these mills have now shut.

I know that Wendy had to make the decision to go to NZ for processing- is there any hope that it will be able to be done locally in the future? Is processing the biggest challenge for you and other producers in Australia?
The spinning mill in New Zealand does a fabulous job with our fibre. The mill itself has an extremely high-quality setup and, with the long staple-length of the Polwarth, our wool is well suited to their processing. Importing and exporting, even just across the Tasman Sea, adds many layers of complexity and cost, but we think it’s worth the effort.
There are a number of micro mills in development stage in Australia, and we’re definitely watching them, but we can’t compromise the spin quality, so any new mills have a high standard to reach. We put so much effort into growing good fibre that we need the final stages of processing to bring out the best in what we produce. Processing is our biggest challenge – outlay, reliability, handling – but we want to provide products that textilers want, so we take on that challenge.

Tarndie yarns in natural white, silver and brown

Tarndie yarns in natural white, silver and brown

By the look of it, all your yarn is spun worsted- why is that? Is that reference (and if so why?) or available machinery?
Worsted is suited to soft, long-stapled fibre. We’ve spun both woollen and worsted over the years, but we feel woollen-spun has a different feel – perhaps a little firmer or harsher – despite it being the same base fibre. Knitters comment on how our worsted spun yarns are smooth and easy to work with.

And you also sell hand-dyed yarn- does Wendy dye it all herself? Any particular inspiration for the palette and colours?
Wendy dyes it all herself using Landscape dyes from Melbourne in the dye studio on the farm. She says her inspiration comes from the garden, trees, nature and anything she sees outside on the farm- she doesn’t spend a lot of time indoors! She also admitted that she sometimes “gets pots and throws in whatever dye is there” which is quite characteristic of her, but she obviously has some deep-seated sense of design!

Tarndie yarns

Tarndie yarns

Handsome Tarndie Polwarth

Handsome Tarndie Polwarth

Thanks so much, Wendy, Dave and Tom – and long may the Dennis family hold the Polwarth dear and grow such beautiful fibre for us!

Thank you so much, Julia, for an incredible insight into the Polwarths and how the Dennises have worked for generations with the breed.  It is heartening too, to read of their pride in their product and how they strive to keep production as geographically concentrated as they possibly can, as challenging as that is in Australia. 



Friday Night Vi-EWE-ing – the 150 mile wardrobe

Good evening WOVEMBERISTS! This evening’s Friday Night Vi-EWE-ing follows on from today’s earlier and highly recommended post from Kylie Gusset. Kylie closed her discussion by speaking about the importance of buying “close to farmer fibres” and sourcing textiles from within a 100-mile radius. This inspiring film made in the USA focuses on a very similar project: Rebecca Burgess speaks here about sourcing all the textiles within her wardrobe from within a 150-mile radius.

Burgess has subsequently founded Fibershed – “an international system of regional textile communities that enliven connection and ownership of ‘soil-to-soil’ textile processes”. WOOL is a pretty key component within the Fibershed project, as you may imagine! Rebecca Burgess also speaks really beautifully in this film about collaborating with other makers to create a locally-produced wardrobe.

This film was created by Kirsten Dirksen and is available to view on her channel on YouTube.

Kylie Gusset on Sourcing Ethical Wool

Good afternoon, WOVEMBERISTS! Today we have an important BONUS POST from Kylie Gusset, creator of the awesome Ton of Wool project. This afternoon she speaks about sourcing ethical wool and several issues for us to better understand as consumers of WOOL.

How Climate Change Is More Painful Than Mulesing Ever Was.

When we talk about sourcing wool from credible, ethical sources one of the first words to enter the discussion is mulesing. However in terms of the health of animals, planet and people, there is a far more insidious and less well-known problem: Chinese processing. I really wanted to write about mulesing for Wovember because as consumers, we need to be able to make buying decisions with our eyes wide open.

Mulesing: “The process of removing folds of skin from the tail area of a sheep, intended to reduce fly strike.”

I don’t think I’ve seen another word as divisive, deceiving, and maligned in the farming world. When it comes to the truth about Australian wool there’s been an awful lot of pulling the wool over your eyes. In terms of animal welfare, mulesing isn’t the massive issue that it’s been made out to be; Chinese processing is a far larger and more insidious one in the Australian wool industry and it needs to be talked about, understood, and changed.

Is someone pulling the wool over your eyes?

Is someone pulling the wool over your eyes?

Sheep Welfare

One of the primary concerns for knitters is that our yarn comes from happy sheep. Here’s one way of looking at the concept of happy sheep through the key principles to sheep welfare *:

  1. Health – the best possible care
  2. Nutrition  – permanent access to food in its most natural state, as much as the sheep needs
  3. Behaviour  – sheep should be sheep
  4. Handling – the least amount possible in order to enable the other principles

(* When it comes to sheep welfare, the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) [have the following guidelines to wool sheep]. (.pdf))

The key thing for all animals is good health. So when we want to have happy sheep, let’s start with live sheep. It’s estimated that around 3 million sheep in Australia die each year due to flystrike, which mulesing helps to prevent. Fly strike not only causes death but also hideous suffering to sheep. I’ll spare you the photos but as Deb Robson – Internationally renowned fibre expert and animal lover says “The difficulty is that the problem for which it is the cure (flystrike) is worse than the mulesing”.

Flies are attracted to dirty rear ends of sheep. Keep that rear end of the sheep clean through restricting their diet over their lifetime, and you have your “happy” unmulesed sheep. Diet restriction can occur through overstocking, or simply putting sheep onto poorer pasture where their nutritional needs may not be met.

Breeding to create sheep at less risk of flystrike, if done according to PETA’s estimate of 2 years, would require major human intervention such as through artificial insemination, which needs hormone therapy, a stomach puncture, and 2 insemination needles… that is quite a lot of Handling. This is an extremely brief introduction to these topics, but as you can see, animal welfare surrounding mulesing is complex and non-mulesed sheep doesn’t necessarily automatically equate with “happy” sheep.

PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment Of?

How did you find out about Mulesing? If it was via PETA, bear this in mind – their version of ethical is that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.”  Animal farming is absolutely verboten in the PETA paradigm. No matter it’s history, how thoughtfully, small scale, or carefully it’s done, PETA frames all animal farming as exploitation.

Here’s an exchange on twitter between myself & Metal Musician/PETA spokeperson Jona Weinhofen as an example:

The slightly difficult thing about PETA’s aim is that they want to end a farming industry that currently has approximately 1 billion sheep around the world. PETA says that to end the “cruel” wool industry, consumers must stop buying wool. But by reducing the demand for wool, PETA force small-scale farmers to take options that damage the welfare of animals and planet alike.

The slightly difficult thing about PETA’s aim is that they want to end a farming industry that currently has approximately 1 billion sheep around the world. PETA says that to end the “cruel” wool industry, consumers must stop buying wool. But by reducing the demand for wool, PETA force small-scale farmers to take options that damage the welfare of animals and planet alike.

Here’s what I’m seeing in Australia: struggling farmers selling to larger industrialised farms such as the Macquarie Bank owned Paraway or swapping over to raising and selling fat lambs for which there is no end of demand thanks to diets such as Paleo which rely on grassfed meat. How can bigger agribusinesses and more meat lambs involve less cruelty than small scale wool production?

PETA’s Propaganda Tactics

If I modelled PETA’s use of language, I have been mutilated, bruised, disfigured, prodded, poked and hacked into. In other words, I’ve had laser eye surgery. In PETA’s terms “mulesing” – which is a surgical procedure – is called “a mutilation”. The word “mutilation” is emotive and paints the bleakest possible picture of mulesing. But is this picture the truth?

Then there’s the numbers – hundreds! “Every year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.” Given there’s around 69 million sheep in Australia, when you know PETA’s hundreds translates to roughly 0.0014%, you can see that those death rates aren’t dissimilar to that of human babies.

Fact-checking PETA’s statistics and emotive use of language is essential, for example claims that “A wool jumper is just as cruel as a mink coat” are simply untrue. The production of fur coats involves the death of animals. Shearing wool from sheep requires the equivalent of an annual haircut which enables sheep health, not their deaths.

Using emotive language and shock tactics, PETA spread information using a technique known as an information cascade:

“Information cascades occur when people rapidly repeat or share information from others without first verifying its validity. Once the cascade reaches a critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are.” – Anita Sarkeesian**

(**Anita Sarkeesian is part of the online gaming community where she’s frequently harrassed, and details how an Information cascade happens in her presentation at the XOXO festival.)

There’s the press from 2014 of sheep being “Killed, Punched, Stomped on, and Cut for Wool”. A year after its release, nobody featured in the video of incredibly upsetting and disturbing footage mentioned in the articles has been named or prosecuted. Where was the video made? Who is pictured in it? How can they be brought to justice? How is this a more truthful or accurate representation of sheep shearing than the hundreds of videos of shearing held on YouTube in which animals are not treated cruelly?

The Real Problem

PETA’s emotive use of language, statistics and video footage have whipped up a frenzy of fear around wool consumption; we all want assurance that the wool with which we knit has not involved the suffering of sheep. The far larger issue that no one is talking about is Chinese processing, using Australian coal as the energy source. The double whammy of needlessly exporting wool and coal to another country so we can do there what we won’t do in our own backyard is a spineless, thoughtless, destructive move that the world is paying for.

Why Chinese Processing Sucks

One of Australia’s main exports to China is coal. Air pollution from coal mining in Australia is causing more deaths than car accidents. Coal consumption in China has increased from 1.5 to 3.8 billion tons:

World Coal Consumption

World Coal Consumption

China is the world leader in carbon emissions and these are having a direct impact on climate, with our hottest year ever:

China has one of the highest pollution rates in the world now reaching record levels, and is the largest contributor to global warming. Textile processing is incredibly resource intensive which requires large amounts of energy (coal, to heat water, power machines, and light factories) and water (cleaning and dyeing). What has occurred is that water from textile processing in China has become so toxic that “you’d shed a layer of skin if you jumped into this water”

06/10/07, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. In May of 2007, a bloom of toxic cyanobacteria (also known as pond scum) erupted on Lake Tai (or Taihu in Chinese), as a result of emissions and dumping from the hundreds of chemical factories on the shore of the lake. Local fisher women use helmets attached to wooden sticks to remove algae on Tai lake in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. Photo Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times Assignment# 30044687D Water Pollution on Taihu Lake, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China

06/10/07, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. In May of 2007, a bloom of toxic cyanobacteria (also known as pond scum) erupted on Lake Tai (or Taihu in Chinese), as a result of emissions and dumping from the hundreds of chemical factories on the shore of the lake. Local fisher women use helmets attached to wooden sticks to remove algae on Tai lake in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. Photo Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times Assignment# 30044687D Water Pollution on Taihu Lake, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China

Unrestrictive chemical laws in China enable toxic textile processes such as the superwash treatment where wool is bleached and then coated with a polymer (plastic) coating, with untreated effluent going into local water supply. Worryingly, the protective plastic coating applied to wool during the superwash process is removed a little with each wash, sending it back into waterways, for animals to ingest to their detriment.

The amount of deaths to humans and animals caused by carbon and waste emissions is difficult to quantify, because the damage being done is incremental and compounding. What we know for certain is that any claims that Australian wool is sustainable if Chinese processing is involved, are bogus. We desperately need a divorce from the coal/wool marriage.

There’s also the issue of human rights where workers in China can be poorly paid, and work under extreme conditions as shown in these photos.

Minimum wages can be as low as $1 an hour, compared to the $15 an hour in Australia. These reasons are why Chinese processing of wool is very much kept off the radar for consumers as much as possible.

Examples of concealed Chinese Processing and unclear supply chains

Unfortunately, the involvement of Chinese processing – mainly the scouring (washing) of wool and top processing (aligning fibres and removing vegetable matter) – is very easy to mask through labelling and PR. This makes it difficult for consumers to make informed buying decisions.

1) Rahul Mishra – as featured on ecoterre:
“His mission is to encourage slow ethical fashion that celebrates imperfection, and to achieve a form of fashion democracy. The Mumbai-based designer is a stickler for hand-made fashion, and currently works with over 500 families who have participated in the creation of his award-winning sustainable collection.”

I checked with a Rahul Mishra stockist, and they finally conceded, that yes, yarn was sourced and processed in China. Even if Rahul used the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the standard contains no energy standard for use of renewable energy sources.

2) Honest By. “Honest By is the world’s first 100% transparent company”
“The line is unique in being entirely open about its supply chain and pricing.”

If that’s the case, then how come the wool for their mini skirt goes straight off the sheep’s back in Australia, then into a spinning mill in Italy? Could it be because there’s Chinese processing in between? I emailed, tweeted and tried to call Honest By in 2012, with no response.

Checking with New Merino in Australia who supplied Honest By, their response was that a fashion designer simply wouldn’t know where the wool for their collection was processed. Wovember have also recently emailed Honest By, and received the reply that “not all companies we work with agree to be transparent, and even though they give us information, they don’t always agree that we publish it on our website”. Honest By also told Wovember that “the raw wool is scoured and processed in a wool refining facility in Australia, then transported to the spinner in Italy. The wool refinery company doesn’t wish to have their name and contact details made public on our website”. Honest By are trying to show transparency in their supply chain. However company wishes for privacy mean they have had to leave out a chunk when explaining the production of the wool mini skirt. This missing chunk makes it difficult to understand what is going on from a consumer’s point of view, and shows how hard it is for a fashion company to be transparent if everyone isn’t on board.

3) Australian Country Spinners.
“Founded in 1923, the Wangaratta Woollen Mills was created to provide a sustainable industry for the town, situated in regional Victoria. Enduring through many changes, the mill remains an icon of the Australian textile manufacturing industry. They are the proud makers of Australian Superfine Merino for Cleckheaton.” If, by making, they mean scouring, top processing, and spinning into yarn which you’d assume that a company called Australian Country Spinners would do…spin, in the country…it’s incredibly deceiving copy. Australian Country Spinners has been spinning in China for years since laying off their workers.

What can we do?

One way that we can think of wool is along the same lines as food. Back in 2008, the 100 mile group on Ravelry came up with the fibre version of Michael Pollan’s food rules, and it’s a good one for knitters to live by:

  1. Don’t craft with anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize.
  2. Don’t knit/craft anything that won’t eventually rot.
  3. Shop at small local community based guilds, festivals and farms, or wherever craft materials are the least processed.
  4. Craft everywhere, that way you spread the word and act as a good will ambassador for crafting with local materials.
  5. Stash less (the craft equivalent of “stop eating before you’re full”)
  6. “Pay less, Craft more” – meaning buy the material at a less processed stage (cheaper) like fleece, then you have more work to do before you can knit it.
  7. Craft with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure.

Following simple rules with the consumption of food has seen the rise of the farmer’s market and championing great suppliers. As wool consumers, we have the same choices with wool that we have with food, and those choices shape what is available to us. When you see Australian Superwash Merino you are looking at the woolly trifecta that’s like white sugar: highly processed and to be used in moderation if at all.

If you are looking for readily available Australian wool that your great-grandmother would recognise, here are my recommendations:

Something to note with all these yarns, and a good rule of thumb, is that like most farmers market food, they don’t have a barcode.

How do you ensure that the yarn you’re buying is ethical? How do you know that it has been produced in a way that is kind to the planet, to our non-renewable resources, to human beings and to sheep? The thing is not to jump on the emotive bandwagon of PETA’s anti-wool campaign, but to thoughtfully base the bulk of your purchases on close to farmer fibres.

Many thanks to Kylie for putting together this piece on sourcing wool ethically. All words © Kylie Gusset and used with kind permission.

Daily Photo: Festivals 3

Part of the Daily Photo series of photos taken and curated by Jeni Reid especially for WOVEMBER. For the WEARING WOOL phase of WOVEMBER we are 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.


There are some things that even Tom of Holland can’t fix. In The Loop was held during a Glaswegian monsoon and I quickly regretted buying my umbrella from the Pound Shop.

photo and text © Jeni Reid and used here with kind permission.
You can see Jeni’s photos by following her on instagram here

Wovember Words: KnitLocal

Today’s WOVEMBER WORDS post was written by one of our long term WOVEMBER supporters, Nadine Haarich, who writes about her own discovery of local wool. Nadine lives in Germany and was inspired to explore her local breeds for knitting her Shetland Wool Week Baa-ble hat. She has extended this adventure by swatching wool from breeds local to her. We love Nadine’s piece because it shows how folk all over the world can seek and celebrate local wool, and because it also shows how events like Shetland Wool Week – which celebrates the links between people, places and wool – can inspire every knitter to think more deeply about textiles and locality. Nadine’s piece is the very essence of what it means to KnitLocal!


| What are we doing?
Using British breed wool, or wool from our local area, we will be knitting a square swatch and noting observances each stage of the knitting process from fibre, where applicable, from skein to square. This swatchalong is about celebrating the natural textures, colours and characteristics of single breed wool.

| What are the rules?
– Your wool needs to be British breed wool from the British isles (KnitBritish)


– any breed wool that is local to you, including British breeds which are located outside the British isles (KnitLocal)

– definitions taken from the KnitBritish website here

KnitLocal with Nadine

In September I made the journey to Shetland for the first time; my longest trip yet. Shetland wool and the knitting heritage of the islands naturally were the main focus of Wool Week and were very much on my mind. However, even before I began packing my suitcase, I found myself thinking about wool and knitting traditions closer to home.

This year’s signature Wool Week hat – the Baa-ble Hat – uses the Shetland technique of Fair Isle knitting and was designed by Shetland Wool Week Patron Donna Smith. Naturally, I wanted to knit it in (you can guess) Shetland wool. The pattern was written for an Aran-weight yarn and unfortunately when I worked the hat as directed, it turned out too big for me. It slides down over my eyes so I can’t see very well while wearing it!

What to do? With less than a week to go before I was leaving for Shetland I didn’t have time to adjust the pattern for fewer stitches so I decided to change the yarn weight. While looking through my stash my eyes fell on a hat I had made last year, entirely out of natural shades of Foula wool and I remembered that I had collected yarns from Germany in natural shades and from different breeds that were almost all in roughly DK weight. And so a second incarnation of the Baa-ble Hat was born.


The chocolate brown brim, the grey of the sky and and the white of the snow are all knit out of merino yarn from a German yarn company in the south of Germany – Frankengarn – who source their wool from local farmers and sheep flocks. It’s a special merino yarn made by cross-breeding merino sheep with regional German breeds. It feels both soft and sturdy and has proved its longevity in a cowl that I’ve worn for the last three winters. I also love that the yarn comes in several natural shades and not only in white!

By far my favourite yarn in this hat is the one I used for the sheep. It’s from a breed called Coburger Fuchsschaf – roughly translated as Coburg Foxsheep – and I got so excited when I discovered it that I wanted to know more! The Coburger Fuchsschaf was once a very popular and widely spread breed in Germany but became endangered even before the Second World War. It is native to the lower mountain ranges and quite hardy. Conservation efforts started in the early 20th century and today there are a small but growing number of flocks. Though several organisations are promoting the Fuchsschaf in German, it is still on the list of endangered breeds. In 2013 there were around 4,000 sheep flocks of varying sizes. Coburg Foxsheep are, like most German sheep breeds, not bred primarily for their wool but rather for more mixed uses such as landscape preservation and meat production.

The fleece of the Foxsheep is special: The lambs are born with a reddish brown coat which gradually lightens to a warm cream shade and with 30 to 36 microns the fibre belongs in the medium range, comparable to that of the Welsh Mountain Sheep.


The reddish hue stays in the form of longer hairs which lends the resulting yarn both a bit of a halo and a reddish / golden shading. Because of this the Coburg Foxsheep is celebrated for its “golden fleece“ – Goldenes Vlies in German. The wool is now mostly used by individual hand-spinners and other textile artists and crafters, but some smaller enterprises are making use of it for garments and home textiles and a few yarn shops sell natural or dyed shades of the yarn and fleece. My feet will be warmed by Foxsheep slippers this winter!


When I heard about the single breed Breed Swatch-Along organized by Louise of the KnitBritish Podcast, it was a natural step for me to start working with the Foxsheep yarn. In turn, that then made me think about what it means to “Knit Local” and the sheep native to Germany.


My swatch is made from the DK/sport weight yarn with which I knit the sheep in the Baa-ble hat. It came in a hank of 200m/100g. To my amateur spinner’s eye it looks like this is a worsted-spun yarn (short forward or backward draw) from a woollen preparation because while it bloomed a lot after the first wash the stitch definition is very good and the fabric feels light but dense. The drape in the swatch is very nice and I love how the wool instantly warms up in my hands, much like Shetland yarn does. There was very little pillage after a day pinned between my jeans and my shirt, which can be partially attributed to the 3ply construction of the yarn.


Apart from the yarn I had some carded fleece and I’ve spun a sample of it as a true woollen 2ply (long draw and woollen prep) and I might try to get my hands on a combed top (or make one myself) to get some perspective on a worsted-spun preparation.


After soaking and fulling it slightly the yarn bloomed a lot and became very soft and lofty. I suspect most of the longer red hairs will fall out while knitting, making it even softer. Depending on the way it is spun, the Foxsheep yarn could be suitable for a wide range of garments from socks and cardigans/sweaters and possibly even a shawl or a cowl made out of a woollen spun and slightly fulled yarn. So, a very versatile yarn with lots of potential!

I’m glad that knitting the Baa-ble hat has made me take a closer look at this yarn and recall that box of local and regional wool in my stash. It also made me realize that while I know that I can knit very sturdy socks out of Southdown yarn, which won’t felt, and that Manx Loaghtan is soft enough to wear next to my skin, that I don’t really have a lot of knowledge about the wool from sheep breeds native to Germany, like the Coburg Foxsheep and lots of others. So this year’s Wovember I will make swatches out of single breed German yarns, spin samples out of the fleece I have, and try to find out what I can about the sheep breeds and wool production on – or at least not too far from – my doorstep.

Links / Sources:


Images used with kind permission.

Sheep close up:   Andreas Franzkowiak (under license: CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Sheep group shot:  Matthias Schäfer (AG Fuchsschaf),  from his private collection

Thank you so much for this lovely piece Nadine; HURRAH FOR THE COBURG FOXSHEEP and for KNITLOCAL!

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