The Woollinn Workshops!

I’m excited about Woollinn Dublin!

After the success of YarnFolk Festival of Wool in August last year, it’s clear we need more woolly events on this island 🙂  Ironically, it will take me as long to get to Woollinn as it does to Edinburgh Yarn Fest (door to door) 😂 😂 😂 😭. This island is so poorly connected. I think if you’re coming from anywhere else the Woollinn location is great, right next to the airport.

So! I was dithering and dithering about which days I would go, what I would sign up to. I have finally registered, so go get yours! In addition to the workshops, I am very excited to see Kate Davies talk about her work and her new book: Handywoman.

Handy Woollinn Workshop Guide

I found it hard to understand the workshop schedule since it’s just a list.

So I made this handy-dandy table if you were curious too. I don’t know if the schedule is subject to change, but is up to date as of 17 March 2018.  Continue reading

Crafts in the UK will be disproportionately affected by Brexit

The first time I realised craft related businesses were going to be disproportionately affected by Brexit was on Hilltop Cloud’s recent newsletter, Katie assured customers that they shouldn’t feel “guilty” about the sudden discount they were going to receive due to the pound crashing. Afterall, she is getting paid the same…

Problem is, soon her suppliers, and her supplier’s suppliers are going to make increases, and soon small business margins will be further squeezed. This will happen across the entire market.

The next sign, Artesano today announced on facebook they are ceasing trading.

“We have made our best efforts to get stock moving and to fulfil all orders, but once the Brexit was announced last week, our main suppliers took the view not to continue delivering to us.”

We’re not even OUT of the EU yet technically, and it’s starting already.

Small businesses struggle, that is a given. I don’t think this supplier issue was the only factor in their closing up today. Artesano was working on changing their business model, they were trying something new with online sales and new distribution.

Small businesses have to be nimble and take chances to adapt. They have to deal with smaller margins, and smaller scales. There isn’t a lot of “wiggle room.” Running a small business is a risky business on the best days…. but this is going to be like nothing else.

All the businesses we love are at risk right now. Small businesses are often labours of love, and sweat equity, and don’t benefit from big investment. They don’t have the wherewithal to weather this crisis.

As crafters we’re going to notice this most quickly. These businesses rely on other small businesses, they have smaller, niche markets, and they rely on international supply chains.

 

Vultures may delight in picking among the discounted detritus of crashed businesses. I just feel like saying, I hope you’re happy now. It’s positively infuriating.

I’m going to a local meeting tonight to see what is being planned, how we can advocate for our communities, and work towards solutions. I have to do something, because it’s all looking a bit hopeless right now.

 

 

An Irish yarn for St Patrick’s Day

With the Euro having reached parity with the USD and today being St Patrick’s Day, I’m hoping some knitters are considering a trip to Ireland.

One of the most active threads on the Ireland Ravelry group is regarding info for visiting knitters. People also want to know where they can get their hands on an authentic Irish yarn. Visiting knitters are seeking some wooly experience based on images of sheep grazing in the hills of some Craggy Island, with hearty sailors wearing wool jumpers bobbing on the sea nearby. Even if the origins of the Aran jumper are clouded in the mists of marketing mythology dating back to the 1930s. (This can be a touchy subject for Irish knitters, since visiting North Americans, obsessed with authenticity, are known to comment “why did you let this tradition die out?” when actually it was entirely manufactured and not that long ago.)

All of those visions aside, visiting knitters want a proper squish of the good stuff as a take-home souvenir of memories of hillsides dotted with lovely sheep. What they may find is that, yes, there are some great Ireland-based indie dyers, but they use bases from abroad which are, of course, popular and easy to dye. And yes, there is yarn spun here, but much of Ireland’s wool clip goes to Bradford, England for processing, or the mills use fibres from Australia. The Irish wool you see on the sheep in the field, gets clipped and thrown into the melée with any wool of a similar micron count and staple length, mostly over in England. And what mills get back is a mix.

Animal-Range-and-Farm-Illustration-Sheep-with-lambIf visitors do any digging at all for the history, they’ll discover a sad economic tale of systematic market manipulation and deprivation dating back to the 1600s which consistently stifled any economic growth around the wool industry in Ireland. It’s enough to “bring out the Fenian in ye,” as my niece might say.

Is this a rallying cry to “Knit Irish”? No.

As I write this point, I’m worried that this might be seen as some Republican rally cry to “not knit with that English yarn” because of something that happened centuries ago. Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t eschew knitting foreign yarn as Louise Scollay from KnitBritish has been doing for a couple of years. Making that statement might raise an eyebrow or two, but isn’t that what it amounts to? The KnitBritish efforts are honourable in that KnitBritish is raising awareness of British breeds and her local industry, which I do think is great!

However, it reminds me of some efforts to ‘buy local’ that misdirect well meaning passion away from supporting sustainable industries in other countries which could increase the quality of life all around with fair trade.  Instead, I think it’s important to emphasize we “#KnitLocal” as Louise mentioned on the KnitBritish podcast recently. This ideal in practice connects you materially to where you are and gives you an understanding of what the world around you is made of. Or “KnitLocal” could mean to buy items produced at a smaller scale and where the value chain is shorter and more value is transferred to the source.

So! I wanted to point out there are authentic Irish yarns available but on a much smaller scale. Argue with me if you like! I’m no economist. However, I know that even a single purchase can make a huge impact to these producers and makers, I hope you’ll support them.

Where are all the Irish spinning mills?

From fleece to yarn, there is minimal capability for wool scouring and processing in Ireland. There are a few remaining mills, and the focus from a farmer’s point of view is meat. So from end to end there are challenges if you’re looking for a single-source yarn. Carol Feller’s Contemporary Irish Knits has a great section on Irish yarns and the remaining mills. Carol also wrote an article for Twist Collective “The Last Mills Standing,” highlighting three mills:

Carol focuses on the modern fact that farmers are selecting breeds for meat, and not fleece. And now, people are more selective and prefer softer and softer wools, and Irish farmers aren’t offering a soft enough or clean enough product for use in artisan yarns that people want to knit with. From a manufacturing point of view, Donegal Yarns could argue they need to offer finished designs in Australian merino to fulfill market demands.

I used to assume the limitations were purely environmental in terms of what kind of fleece could be grown here, but there are great sheep breeds that can do well in these climates. I’m highly sympathetic to farmers, and I think opportunities are increasing for farmers to get more value out of their livestock and business, even when market pressures are driving food prices down and threatening food security and sustainability. I think Irish farmers would diversify their flocks if they thought they could get additional value out of them.

Ireland used to produce finer wools and had a burgeoning woolen trade. So much so that the English royalty successfully sought to destroy the competition from the Irish industry.

The_History_of_the_County_and_City_of_Cork_-_Google_Play

In the 1600s, England squashed competition from Ireland by putting in laws to limit both the woolen industry and industry in general in Ireland. By the 1660s, Acts were introduced to prohibit the export of Irish wool, cattle, etc. to England or her colonies, and prohibiting the direct importation of several colonial products into Ireland. So Ireland directed trade to France and Spain and prospered until yet again, the industry was systematically destroyed to improve business in England. Instead the linen industry was encouraged in Ireland, a more labour intensive, much dirtier and more dangerous industry overall.

If you want to know more, a detailed history is outlined on Ferguson’s Linen Mill website, and a threepart article on the the The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers site gives some more context to the somewhat infuriating History of Spinning in Ireland. The lack of woolen mills in Ireland or Irish yarn did not happen by chance and is not because we currently don’t have fine fleece here.

Authentic Irish Yarns

At the risk of excluding all the of the great indie dyers in Ireland (saving that for another post!),  I wanted to focus on yarn where the fibre actually comes from animals and farms here in Ireland.

S-Twist Wool The fleece is hand-selected, and hand-scoured using an ecologically friendly scouring method with minimal waste of energy and water. Diarmuid runs his own spinnery producing yarn on a small scale. Here’s a nice in-depth review of the yarn. This fella actually gave me my very first spinning lesson!

Cushendale / Zwartbles sell finished products and yarn from this lovely chocolate fleeced sheep. There are two mills in Ireland that handle raw wool and they won’t process less than an half a ton of wool. So collectively, participating farmers’ clip is combined with other Zwartbles fleece from around the country and sold through Cushendale Mills. See pics of the wool being collected and the wool getting processed at Cushedale Mills on the ZwartblesIreland.com website.

Dupre Knitwear produce made-to-measure handknits for clients. Literally, you give them your measurements, and knitters from their local area knit the finished goods. You can also buy the yarn in kits. Siobhan and her family keep a flock of Leicester Longwool sheep. The fleece from these elegant looking sheep is long, lustrous and in a range of true greys and warm greys. They send it to The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall who will process and spin the yarn in small batches. I’ve heard the more recent yarn is worsted spun, and even lovelier than a previous year’s yarn.

Updated to add: (Thank you to An Irish Knit Odyssey!)

Know of any more?

I’m hoping my list isn’t exhaustive and someone is going to see this point and say “Hey you forgot about this one!” If you know of more Irish Yarns, please comment below!

FYI, if you’ve made it THIS far, you might be interested in this upcoming book: These Islands: Knits from Ireland, Scotland, and Britain

Patterns for handspun part 3: Layering garments

The likelihood that you’ll reach your hand into the stash and come up with a sweater-weight of wool is highly unlikely. It’s more likely to find you have enough for a shawl or a cowl, and that would be a pretty clear solution. However, how many shawls can you wear? I’ve already rounded up some accessory patterns as well as using handspun as an accent yarn.

Another idea is smaller garments. (No, I don’t mean kid clothes.) It’s easy to find sleeveless vests, tanks, shrugs and boleros through Ravelry. There are also some examples using unique construction ideas and shapes. These smaller garments could be worn layered with other clothes.

This is my super favorite, L’Enveloppe by Sally Melville. She has made this work in a variety of gauges. Here’s a quote from the project page.

“Because I want everyone to knit this in whatever yarn they like, I offer this in 5 sizes, 4 gauges (13, 14, 15, and 16 stitches to 4” /10cm) and 2 stitch patterns (seed or the easier garter). AND, it is worth noting that I’ve seen swatches that combined yarns–from a shop or a stash: for eg, a light worsted + a lace yarn will give you gauge, a dk + a sock yarn will give you gauge. (You will need the full yardage for EACH of the yarns you combine.) Because of all these choices, the yarn amount (as shown above) is very inaccurate: the amount of yarn you use will depend upon a) your size, b) your gauge, c) your stitch pattern. All of this is clear in the pattern.”

It’s a funky layering garment, something different than a cowl or shawl. I love looking at the projects, people have taken different approaches to the length and size.

LEnveloppe_pattern_by_Sally_Melville

Here are some more interesting projects from my Ravelry faves. I tend to pick ones which use heavier weights because I’m not able to spin that thin yet myself. Handspun is more textural so it doesn’t need complicated knitting stitches, plain stockinette or a garter will do.

Cursor_and_Ravelry__Pattern_Search_-_garments_handspun

  1. VuxenVinkel by Yarn-Madness – freebie. Uses 350 – 580 yards (320 – 530 m) in Aran.
  2. Simplicity Cardigan by Mary Annarella
  3. Villeneuve by Espace Tricot – freebie
  4. Casablanca Side to Side Shrug by Cheryl Beckerich
  5. Verdant by Gina Bonomo. This is similar to the boleros, but without something that closes across the front.
  6. Alpinia by Claire Slade – There are many cap sleeve cardigans, I like this simple yoke pattern.
  7. All About The Yarn Jacket by Iris Schreier – This is only available in a pattern book purchase with yarn.
  8. Diagonal Shell by Laura Bryant – freebie

There’s some interesting ideas there!

Also see:

Opposing ply yarn

I was my FIRST TIME ever attempting a 3 ply. I weighed and divided up the braid of dyed wool. I spun one bobbin full and another. By the time I got to the 3rd bobbin, I spun for a while and realized that I had spun the 2nd bobbin the wrong way! I sought advice on Ravelry to unwinding and re-winding the singles. It seemed like an impossible task. Perhaps I’d just chain ply it, and forget the jumbled colour effect I was going for.

I went to my guild meeting, and told them my sad story. Immediately several people said: “Go ahead and ply it!” Apparently, sometimes people do this *on purpose*.

Yes, and it’s called Opposing Ply yarn. The singles twist in yarns generally relax when you ply them. If you have an opposing ply, then it gets added twist when you ply it. I’ve made a diagram to illustrate.

Opposing Ply Yarn Diagram - the ply twist adds energy to the opposing ply. Cool!

When I plied it, I could see indeed, the opposing ply was pulled tighter, and the two others sort of popped out.

Shows the opposing ply

 

Benefits of opposing ply yarn

In “The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs“, Sarah Anderson devoted a whole chapter to the technique. In her tests, the opposing ply added strength to sock yarn. The opposing ply added strength and durability and the two relaxed plies ensured the sock fabric was still soft and cushy. WOW! You can also use the technique to add elasticity to yarn because this opposing ply get “buried” in the finished yarn. This ply added energy into the yarn. She goes into way more detail of other ways you can use this technique. Pure genius.

The results

Before washing, I don’t think I could tell what the difference was.

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As soon as I added it to water it SPROING up into wee little curls.

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I didn’t add weight to it when I dried it.

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But it settled into a nice soft yarn with an interesting texture. I ended up using it in a garter stitch project, so I don’t think I really showed the yarn off to its potential. However, it’s always amazing to learn that something you thought was a mistake actually is a practiced and well known technique. 🙂

Nubbly yarn

Also for more Sarah Anderson awesomeness, I recommend the video Building Blocks of Spinning on Interweave.

 

Learning cables – Aran yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners

There’s a kind of mad sale on Craftsy now apparently. All classes up to 50% off. Here’s the knitting ones on sale.

Two great cables courses on sale

  • Explorations in Cables – with Patty Lyons. I’ve started this and she is so awesome. She’s funny and entertaining, and she has lots of tricks and insights.
  • Celtic Cables – with Carol Feller. I took her short rows course and she’s very thorough and clear. This is a crazy stretch goal for me. So it might be that I’ll be knitting along in my garter stitch while I watch her. I would love to make a cable sweater someday. This one looks great!

Since part of my job is e-learning, I consider this partly research *ahem*.

BFL from West Yorkshire Spinners – Lush and soft!

Yarn for cables Bluefaced Leicester from West Yorkshire Spinners – lush!

The yarn Patty uses is Lion’s Brand, a venerable old brand in the US available in all craft shops… but not here. As I’m trying to “knit local” I’ve chosen this amazing yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners. Wow, it’s crazy soft. I got one Aran weight, and two DK weight in two colours.

These prices are sooo good!

Lovely, so nice.

Last thing I need is a cable needle. I might McGyver one if I can’t get to a knitting shop this weekend.