Interview with Jule from
Hey Mama Wolf

In our effort to create a full range of ethical and environmentally sourced yarns, we have spent a long time searching for a company making yarn dyed with plants, or naturally dyed yarn. This is an inherently niche idea, so while there are people out there naturally dying yarn, it was difficult to find someone dying that could also handle the larger scales required to supply orders from yarn shops. We were so excited to meet Jule who came to visit the shop while she was in London attending Pomfest this summer and discover her yarn company, Hey Mama Wolf. Not only does Jule dye all of her yarns naturally, the yarns themselves are also sourced and processed locally to her in Germany, greatly reducing the carbon footprint of the yarn. We have started off with the Sockyarn #04 and kits to do your own natural dying at home.

With all this to consider, we were excited to ask Jule a few questions about Hey Mama Wolf and learn about what goes on behind the scenes.

jule hmwHow long have you been knitting?
When I was about 10 years old we visited my great aunt Agnes and she told me that I needed to learn how to knit. Without further ado she just taught me. I don’t think I had a choice but I enjoyed it very much. First things I knitted were teeny tiny things for my Barbies – scarfs, hats and even mittens. Aunt Agnes was also the one who taught me mending and gave me my first sewing machine.

kupfer mordantWhat inspired you to get into dying and specifically natural dying?
Again I will start with my aunts and my grandma. Aunt Agnes was a garden architect, my grandma has a huge garden and another aunt is a herbalist. My mother often took me for long walks in the woods and the botanical gardens. They all planted the love for plants in me. I was always especially interested in healing plants. I became a textile and surface designer, and when I graduated from art school, I was a freelance knitwear designer. After having our first daughter I started looking for sustainable local yarns. I love natural wool colours very much but what would knitting be without colourful yarns? Two very good friends of mine asked me why don’t I do plant dyeing. I love to explore and I love plants. So these friends were absolutely right. I find great joy in dyeing with plants.

farbkarte birkeWhere and how do you source the dyes that you work with? Can you tell us more about the plant origins?
I started with using only hand gathered plants from walks in Berlin and Brandenburg, leftovers from friends (flowers, onion skins, avocado pits…) and what I got from the local organic market – turmeric, carrot greens, whatever wasn’t suitable for selling anymore. But I knew that I wouldn’t get far with that if HMW wanted to grow. Right now I’m using plant dye extracts that are made by a company nearby in Magdeburg. I was so thrilled when I found out that there is actually a company in Germany who does that. They come as an easy to use powder. The difference between these and chemical dyes is that they are still a natural product and are much more influenced by other parameters – water, weather, mordants, the yarn itself. Every dyer will get different results.

Some colours I prefer to dye with plant matter itself. I try to buy them organically and preferably local grown. I still get stuff from the local market and of course I’m still exploring the colours that surround me, my local dye plants. We live in an old water mill surrounded by nature, so when a tree falls down in a storm I gather the bark and leaves. When tansy and St. John’s Wort are flowering in abundance I will go and gather. Right now I’m very interested in using mushrooms as a dye material. It is a whole different story to plants though, I’ll have to get acquainted to the fungi world.

johannis etsyDo you have a favourite plant to dye with? 
Oh yes, many. The first that comes to my mind is birch bark. It smells so good when you cook it and most of the time it makes the most beautiful dusty pinks or golden browns. Then fresh St. John’s Wort flowers. You can dye at least four different colours with it, bright green, golden yellow, orange and maroon. I also find many oak galls on my walks and I love the greys that I can achieve with them.

birkenrinde topfThe fibre for your yarns are all sourced locally to you in northern Germany, can you tell us more about where they come from and how they are made?
Yes, the wool comes from small organic farms in northern and eastern Germany. The farms sometimes only have some sheep to mow the lawn, while others have as many as 200- 300 sheep to produce cheese and meat. I don’t know many of the farmers personally. The wool mill gathers the wool. They sort and scour it (just with plant based soap) and it is then spun. The natural brown wool is from the Frisian milk sheep of my neighbour Anna. She has about 150 sheep and makes the best cheese. Anna is a very inspiring person. She makes everything from the wool of her sheep. Carpets, woven fabric, mattresses and pillows, wall hangings and of course she spins and knits. It is lovely to stand next to her watching the sheep. She can tell a story of every single one of them.

faerberknoeterichHow do you develop a new colour way? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it a happy accident? 
In the beginning there was exploring and many happy accidents. Now I can predict the outcome much better. Still natural dyes are always surprising. Some weeks ago I dyed a colour that I often dye, a best seller, a golden yellow with St. John’s Wort. I made two batches at the same time, doing everything absolutely exact according to my recipe. One batch was golden yellow, and one was green. A beautiful green and I would love to dye it again, but I don’t have a clue what went wrong. I can’t even blame the stars, because I made them at the same time. As a textile designer I work pretty much according to the books when developing a shade card. I make a mood board, then think about which plant can give me which colour.

muehle herbst 1What’s currently on your needles?
Too much. I have the Whinfell sweater of Jenn Steingass from Woods on my needles with my own hand dyed and hand spun yarns. There are mittens for our children with my Rauwerk wool. I’m working on a striped pullover with my #02 yarn. A pair of socks with the Mistletoe pattern by Verena Cohrs. A vest from my #03 yarn. But my favourite project these days is not knitting related. We’re currently renovating our old house and I’m trying to make plant pigments to use in my own wall paint.

Interview with Ann Helen from Garnsurr

Here at Knit With Attitude we are always on the look out for new and exciting companies to work with. Maya was so excited when she met Ann Helen of Garnsurr at the Oslo Knitting Festival in October and heard about their project to help refugee women integrate into Norwegian culture through language courses, gainful employment and social outreach. Garnsurr is the newest yarn in the shop and we are loving all the new fun and exciting colourways.

We were able to ask founder Ann Helen a few questions about why she started the business, and the inspiration and women that keeps it going. You can find the Garnsurr yarns in our webshop.

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Where and how do you source the yarns that you work with?
We buy all our yarn from Chester Wool in the UK and the yarns originate from Peru.

06_nyh_Garnsurr4What does social integration mean, and how have you built your business around it?
Social integration means that we try to help refugees in our area to become a real part of the community. That means in every way – both creative, workwise and social. This also means that we always have to work with the social part of our business, not only the business side. I use quite a lot of my time  helping them handle their personal economy, and other problems they encounter in our society. This comes in addition to the dying job and language training.

How has Garnsurr been received by the wider community in Norway?
We’re quite young in our business life, but have been very well recieved both at Bergen and Oslo Knitting Festivals. The local community is also very supportive,  we get a lot of emails and comments on our project from all over the country. We’re quite overwhelmed by this support.

IMG_20170613_212159_766Can you tell us a about the women that are currently dying with Garnsurr?
We have three women at Garnsurr at the moment working full time. The first one is Akberet, 50 years old from Eritrea. She became a widow earlier this year, and she has five almost grown up children. Three are living in Norway, a daughter in Sweden and a son in Germany. She is the most experienced dyer at Garnsurr at the moment. Second is the single mother Leila, 35 years from Afghanistan. She has four children from 9 to 14 years old. She has a wonderufl devotion for Garnsurr, and her tremendous spirit inspires us all every day. The third lady is called Hawa, 45 years old  from Somalia. She has a real big family, she has given birth to thirteen children, but only eight are alive. She has a special eye for colour, and gives a lot of our colourways a real “african” touch.

Recently we also got another women from Eritrea, who will have language practice with us one or two days a week.

IMG_20170929_105521How do you develop a new colourway with your dyers? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it a happy accident?
The Garn Surr ladies decide most of the colours nowadays. Some days I wish for colours, and they try to make what I dream about. Sometimes we also make “happy accidents” on purpose – just to try out new techniques and ideas that appear in the team. Most of our time goes to turn on the “sold out” signs in our webshop, and make deliveries for our stockists.

2-7What’s currently on your needles?
At the moment, I’m about to finish Cobaltoan hat by Lesley Ann Robinson from Pom Pom magazine 23. The brioche pattern is my first, and I really enjoy it. I’ve sadly made a mistake on one side of the hat, but I close my eyes and forgive myself! I’ve also just finished another hat by Stephen West – Syncopation Adoration which is just waiting for the ends to be woven in. A jacket by Pickles (a very fashionable yarnstore in Oslo which we are collaborating with), “Big Nore” is just waiting for buttons. The very next project on my needles is Comfort fade cardi by Andrea Mowry – I will attend her KAL in December, and all of my earlier projects in November are also parts of our #garnsurrKAL which started the 1st of November and ends on Christmas Eve. As you see – I knit as much as I can!

Interview with Layla from Qing Fibre

We have been so enjoying having Qing Fibre in the shop this summer, the bright colours are so much fun! It’s been flying off the shelves and onto everyone’s needles, but we recently got a restock and some new colourways in. We asked Layla, the brains and head dyer at Qing Fibre to answer a few questions that we have about her inspiration and of course, all about her beautiful yarn!

Qing-Fibre-2
How long have you been knitting?

My grandma was very good at knitting/crocheting and sewing, so I guess I was inspired by her since I was a little girl. I started crocheting and knitting in 2012 and I found peace by doing these crafts. It helped me to get through many difficulties.

What inspired you to get into dying?
I studied art design at university and so I can do some painting. I taught myself how to dye yarn in 2016 and started Qing Fibre. It’s my happy place to try different methods to paint colours on yarn. And I feel so much joy watching people knit with them.

Qing-Fibre-3
 You are originally from China, do you find that there is a different colour aesthetic in Asia than in Europe? Does this influence your dying? 
In China people love red, yellow and some vintage colours. But I myself am a little bit different, I’m a neon lover. I also love all the happy colourful colours and antique colours. I sometimes translate some classic old Chinese colours into my kind of colours.
 Qing-Fibre-4Are there any knitters in the community that inspire you?
There are so many great designers that have inspired me, I love Joji Knits, Junko Okamoto, Hansigurumi, and Stephen West is the King of knitters! I love all the fun and colourful designs from him. Sometimes I dye a new colourway just for a West Knits project. So he is truly my inspiration.

Qing-Fibre-1
 How do you develop a new colour way? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it a happy accident? 

I’ll start with a combination in mind and also just dye it sometimes. I find interesting colour combos in everything and I’m eager to try them in the future.

Qing-Fibre-5
 What’s currently on your needles?
Currently I’m knitting the Marled Magic Shawl, a So Faded Sweater and am trying to knit something without a pattern. I’m also going to knit one of the sweater designs from Junko.

Qing-Fibre-6
Thanks so much Layla! You can see the Qing Fibre yarns we currently have in stock on the website or in the shop. For more yarn inspiration you can follow Layla on Instagram, which is where all these photos are from.

Interview with Beata Jezek of Hedgehog Fibres

We love getting new yarns in the shop, and having Hedgehog Fibre as a new brand is extra exciting! Their colourways are beautiful and speckled, from subtle neutrals to bright neons and everything in between. We currently have Twist Sock and Skinny Singles in the shop, but they are going quickly. Our first shipment sold out in two weeks!  We are going to do our best to keep this yarn in stock, but due to lead times of it being dyed in Ireland, we do expect some gaps of availability.

We were happily able to ask Beata Jezek some questions when Natalie visited their offices in Cork over the Christmas holidays. What a colourful office!

HedgehogFibres_Beata

How long have you been knitting?
About 8 years and I learned from YouTube tutorials.

What inspired you to get into dyeing yarn?
As soon as I got sucked into the knitting world I knew I wanted to create my own line of hand-dyed, soft, squishy yarns. I was always very visual and colour obsessive and I felt that none of the yarns on the market really offered what I was into at the time. I love creating new colours, changing things up and staying current. I think Hedgehog Fibres really reflects that as an extension of my personal style. 

HedgehogFibres_yarncube

You have quite the operation going in Cork, Ireland, and it is exciting to hear that you are continuously growing as a company. What has been the most surprising thing about being a small business owner of a company like Hedgehog Fibres?How far you can get with the right product by word of mouth alone.

The colours of HF are stunning, and have unsurprisingly caught the eye of many knitters around the world, including designers such as Steven West. Do you see any particular trends in what knitters make with HF, or are they more universal?Our customer is not afraid of bold colours and interesting designs. Stephen West in particular is such an innovator and he has changed knitting so much in the past few years. I work quite closely with Stephen and I think together we are making knitting new and fresh again. We even have a few surprises up our sleeves!

How do you develop a new colour way? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it happy accident?
Sometimes we come up with a great name and then create a colourway to match (like Teacup), sometimes I realise there’s something missing in the line and then get completely obsessed with a colour (I had to have lilac, so we have ‘Birthday Cake’) Some colourways were definitely happy accidents. Crybaby was such a good potluck that we added it to the line.

twist_teacup

Do you have a favourite colour way?
Yes! Always the newest ones 🙂 I’m really into speckles and brights with a good strong contrast like Graphite or Electric at the moment. 2016 will be a big year for pastels and mohair I think.

Are you a process or product knitter?
Product knitter all the way. I’m on a mission to knit faster and to knit all of the things.

What are you currently knitting?
I’m swatching for a new design of my own and I’m making a little brioche jumper for my doggie who likes to wear stuff.

Getting to Know: Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe

Here at the shop we have been looking for some ethically produced, knitter friendly hand products to carry for our customers. We were so happy to find Sweet Sheep Body Shoppe, a small business in the US that produces just that. We have a few scents in a solid lotion bar that includes lanolin, a natural oil produced by sheep in their fleeces, and also in a goats milk soap. The scents are all made from essential oils.

We were happy to have a little interview with Alicia, the founder of Sweet Sheep and ask her a few questions about her business, and of course, knitting!lotionbar

How long have you been knitting?
I learned to knit in 2006 when I had knee surgery and was stuck in bed for 6 weeks. However, I didn’t really get obsessed with it until 2009 when I began graduate school. I needed a creative outlet to balance out all the left-brain thinking I was doing and knitting fit the bill nicely.

What inspired you to get into making all natural body products?
I began making natural body products when I came across a lotion bar at a Stitches East event. I liked the concept, especially for knitters and anyone who works with wool, because my hands are always so dry from handling yarn. However, I didn’t like the texture or intensity of fragrance of the bar I tried, and decided to come up with my own recipe. Plus, I really wanted to use lotion that contained lanolin, since it’s great for your skin AND derived from sheep’s wool, so I had to make it myself.

You are a biologist by day and a soap and lotion maker by night. Is there any crossovers between your two professions?
My biology training comes into play when I’m reading up about essential oils or the different properties of the plant-derived oils, waxes, and butters I use in my products.And because of my ecological background, I’m conscious of the environment and of the chemical effects of the things I use on my body, so making and using skin care products that don’t contain petrochemicals (derived from oil) is important to me.

Can you tell us a bit more about how you make your products?
My lotion bars and lip balms are made following a similar process: I first melt beeswax in a double boiler, then add vegetable butters and allow them to simmer for a while, then the oil components, lanolin, and finally the fragrances. Then the mixture is poured into molds or lip balm tubes and allowed to set. The soap I make is the melt-and-pour variety. I purchase large amounts of high quality, pre-made soap and then melt it down, color and fragrance it, and pour it into molds or layers depending on the type of bar I’m making. Since the lotion bars and lip balms are the same process every time, soap-making has been a really fun way for me to get more creative with colors/textures/etc.sheepsoaphand

Are you a process or product knitter?
I like to think I’m a product knitter, since I’m a selfish knitter and love to keep and wear every FO I produce, but in truth, I have so many WIPs on the needles that I don’t think I can say that. I feel like a product knitter would be more dedicated to the finish than I am, and sometimes I just cast on socks to have something simple to knit while I read, not because I need more socks. 🙂

What are you currently knitting?
This holiday season has been extremely busy for me with Sweet Sheep orders, wholesale orders, and moving to a new apartment so my active knitting time has suffered! However I recently finished a bulky weight hat (Galicia pattern on Ravelry) and I always have a pair of socks on the go. To switch it up from socks a little bit, I’m currently knitting a Sockhead hat, but it’s still very simple, on-the-go type travel knitting (my favorite kind).

Getting to know: Fiona Alice

We are always on the look out for new knitting designers and books here at the shop. We were so excited when East London local Fiona Alice’s new book came out! Take Heart: A Transatlantic Knitting Adventure is published by Pom Pom Press out of Dalston, so this book is really made in our neighbourhood!

Hot off the press - the stunningly Take Heart - A Transatlantic Knitting Journey

Hot off the press – the stunningly Take Heart – A Transatlantic Knitting Journey

To create a proper celebration we are running a KAL (knit-a-long) to knit the Ketch Harbour Shawl from the book. You can pick up a kit with the yarn and the book on the website or in store with a whopping 15% discount (that is £66 for the yarn and the book compared to the regular price of £78. If you already have the book, don’t worry, you can join the KAL and get the yarn from us still with a discount. Just use the code KETCHKAL when making your purchase online or mention it to us if popping by the shop. Please note that the discount only applies for 3 skeins bought at the time as this is the amount needed to complete the Ketch Harbour Shawl. One lucky participant will win the value of their purchase back to spend on even more yarn!!!

Ketch Harbour - stunningly constructed - a new take on  the shawl

Ketch Harbour – stunningly constructed – a new take on a shawl

Read all about the Ketch Harbour Shawl KAL right here – Also check out this blog post for some yarn pairing ideas for all the patterns in the Take Heart collection.

We were able to grab Fiona over the holidays and ask her a few questions about her new book, and of course her knitting adventures!

How long have you been knitting?
I’ve been knitting since I was little. My mother, Wendy, taught me but it was just a hobby I picked up from time to time as I grew up. I’ve seriously been knitting for the last six years. After graduating university I had time again for my hobbies and began to work at LK Yarns, a little yarn shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Shortly after starting there my interest in knitting began to grow, along with my yarn stash.

What inspired you to get into writing patterns?
While working at LK Yarns I found I was continuously altering patterns as my knitting skills and conference grew. Eventually I stated knitting and selling my own accessories at various craft fairs and boutiques around Halifax. However, I was often approached by other knitters inquiring if I sold just the written pattern. It was because of their interest I decided to try my hand at it and that’s when I submitted my first design to Pom Pom Quarterly, Take Heart. 

Take Heart

This book is an exploration of costal areas, as well as your journey from Canada to England. Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration for the patterns, and especially Ketch Harbour?
Many of these patterns are ones I’ve always wanted to design and own myself. I played with simple textures and motifs that slowly grew into a reoccurring geometric theme.

Ketch Harbour originally began with a few classic textures I was inspired to combine such as  the lace and over all simple knit and purl texture. I also wanted to play around with the negative space of the piece and created interesting cutouts. Eventually the subtle whale tail motif grew out my sketches and I decided to keep it.

When naming the patterns afterwards I chose beaches and harbours. Ketch Harbour is a small finishing village in Nova Scotia often know for it’s stunning views of the ocean and whale sightings. 

Ketch Harbour

Ketch Harbour

How did you go about choosing yarns for the book?
From the beginning it was an intentional decision to only use yarns from Canadian and British companies. I still had a hard time narrowing down the selection so I picked a few I have always loved working with, such as Illimani, Handmaiden and Toft. Plus a few I was finally excited to try for the first time, like Viola and the Uncommon Thread.

Most of them are blends of fibres I personally love to work with so there’s lots of alpaca, llama and silk throughout the book. 

Do you have any plans for future designs?
Of course! I’m looking forward to head back into the yarn festival season. I’m excited to be able to promote the book at the Waltham Abbey Wool Show, Unravel and Edinburgh Yarn Festival this winter. Plus I’ve have a few ideas for some new accessories in my head for a while so I’m looking forward to getting back to my sketchbook to start getting these ideas down. 

Photo Credit: Fiona Alice

Photo Credit: Fiona Alice

Are you a process or product knitter?
I would have to say both. The process is a very important part to me. I often start with sketch and lots of swatching before I move on to the final piece. However, the time and effort I put into the evolution of the design is to achieve a desired final product I envisioned when starting. Often the piece can change through the swatching stage, but it is really satisfying when I can produce a wearable accessory from a initial sketch in my notebook. 

What are you currently knitting?
I’m actually going back through the book and knitting a few pieces from myself. I’ve almost completed my own Ketch Harbour shawl. I also have the Caswell Bay mitts and Martinique Beach on my needles too. After this is will on to new designs in the new year! 

Thanks Fiona!

Getting to Know: Woolly Wormhead

We are ridiculously excited to be welcoming knitting super hero Woolly Wormhead – hosting, not just one, but two brilliant workshops at Knit with attitude. Focusing on construction and techniques renown designer, independent publisher, traveller, textile artist and all around hat geek Woolly will guide us through knitting in the round and turning sideways. Both workshops will be on the Saturday, January 30th, so why not make a day out of it! We’ve created a blog reader’s special offer – when signing up for both workshops – enter code WOOLLY into your cart and receive £10 off! We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

And while we wait for the big day – we’ve asked Woolly to tell us a bit more about herself. Happy reading!

Tucked Hat

Tucked by Woolly Wormhead

How long have you been knitting?
My Mum taught me when I was 3 years old, so this year marks 42 years of knitting! (that makes me feel rather old…..)


What inspired you to get into teaching?
I used to be an Art, Design & Textiles teacher for 11 to 19 yo, and so teaching knitting feels like a natural progression. I find pattern writing and teaching overlap – the same knowledge can be applied to both.
Marina Hat

Marina by Woolly Wormhead

You have written many books focused on Hats. What it it about heads that provides so much inspiration for you?
I consider Hats to be wearable sculptures – well engineered 3D forms. Prior to teaching I trained in Textiles Arts, specialising in conceptual and sculptural textiles. Prior to that I was an electronics engineer, and in my mind, designing Hats brings all of these elements together.

Is there a particular shape or stitch pattern that you are drawn to at the moment?
Short rows have always been a favourite, as has sideways construction. I’m enjoying tucks at the moment, combining them with short rows. And garter stitch – it’s simplicity lends itself very well to all types of construction and approaches!
Alveare Hat

Alveare by Woolly Wormhead

What is your design process? Do you start with a shape or a texture, or does it start with the yarn?
A bit of both – sometimes the yarn speaks, sometimes I see a stitch pattern and sometimes I see a structure or form somewhere that I’d like to try and recreate in knitted form.

Are you a process or product knitter?
Process, totally! Similarly I’m a process designer, although I do consider the product, too. But the process doesn’t end with the Hat – it extends into the photography and the wearing and the wearing, and taking the Hats to trunk shows to be tried and exhibited and so on. It’s all part of the process, I guess.
Bimitral Hat

Bimitral by Woolly Wormhead

What are you currently knitting?
I’ve a jumper and a dress on the needles for myself *somewhere* but it’s been so long since I had the time to knit for myself that I’m not even sure where to pick them up again. I do have a few Hats on my needles, though.

 

 

Getting to Know: Clare Devine

One of our guest teachers is Clare Devine, who is teaching ‘Two at a Time Anything’ on Saturday November 14th from 12-3pm here at the shop. Clare is about to swap windy UK for sunny Australia, and will be moving overseas at the end of the year. We are so glad she found time in her schedule to do a workshop with us – and what a cool workshop this is! Do you live in fear of encountering second sock / mitt / sleeve syndrome? Why not learn to knit two at a time. This technique is perfect for socks but works equally well with mittens and sleeves.

Working on Clare’s Crumpet Mitt pattern you will in this class learn how to cast on and knit two circular items at once on a long circular needle and how to create a pair of mittens with afterthought thumbs. There is more information about the class on the website, and you can call the shop to book your spot.

We thought we would do a little interview with Clare to find out more about her inspirations as a knitter and as a teacher.

Crumpet_1

How long have you been knitting?
I started knitting when I was travelling in Australia during 2010. The story goes that I wanted to buy a hand knitted hat in this cute little shop but my budget conscious husband suggested it might not be the best use of my limited dollars. He was probably right – although at the time my stubborn streak stepped in and I decided I was going to knit my own hat, and I did. The rest, as they say, is history.

My grandmother was a very talented knitter but we lived at opposite ends of the globe (she was in the UK and I grew up in South Africa) so while there was a little bit of childhood knitting I only really caught the knitting bug later on in life.

What inspired you to get into teaching?
I love teaching. While we were in Australia I taught English as an additional language and in South Africa I qualified as a high school English and History teacher. Education is such a huge part of my life. When we moved to Scotland I wanted something that would fit alongside caring for my little girl – teaching knitting part time seemed like a natural progression. I love nothing more than helping people learn new skills and watching them enjoy their knitting more.

You grew up in South Africa, then lived in Australia, then Scotland and now England. Do you feel like there are differences in the knitting culture in these different places?
In all honesty there isn’t a huge knitting culture in South Africa. It is pretty warm most of the year and while people do knit there is not the same range of knitwear wearing opportunities as there are in the colder northern climes. My grandma used to send us cosy Aran jumpers but we never really got to wear them. The knitting community in South Africa is certainly growing though and there are many interesting indy dyers and designers emerging.

My experience of the knitting community in Australia is limited but I cannot wait to start finding a new fibre community there next year once we have settled (we are moving in early 2016).

One thing I will miss about the UK knitting scene is the wide range of fibres and yarns available. Coming from South Africa I was truly spoiled for choice here.

Through designing patterns you have worked with a wide variety of companies. Can you tell us about how collaboration is important to you and your business?
Collaboration is key for me – I love working with other people. It is always so inspiring forming bonds with other creative folk. Often this work can be quite isolating as being a freelancer I tend to work from home alone a lot. Working with other like-minded fibre lovers keeps me sane and provides a constant source of inspiration and motivation.

We are seeing more and more online shops dominating the market. You have collaborated quite a lot with Ginger Twist Studio in Edinburgh. What role do you think bricks ’n mortars shops play with modern knitters?
There is nothing like having a local yarn shop. When we arrived in Edinburgh the first thing I did was look for a local yarn shop – finding Ginger Twist Studio quite literally changed my life! The community that grows from a great local yarn store can’t be compared to online. That said, online communities are so important too. The community I have found online has shaped and formed my life over the last few years. I have met so many inspiring, knowledgeable and kind people connected to the fibre community through online channels – many who are now ‘real life’ friends. As with all things it is about balance. That said ….. long live the local yarn store!!!

Are you a process or product knitter?
I think it depends what I am knitting and when. The process of designing is what I love most. Finding a way to make the yarn shine or to incorporate a stitch pattern that doesn’t just slot in are part and parcel of that process. I also love construction, especially sock construction and that is all about the process. Then there are times when I want something quick and easy because I have fallen in love with a skein and want to wear it, or more likely have decided I am freezing and need some new knitwear.

Welcome to the world of Blacker Yarns

We are so excited to introduce a brand new yarn company in the shop. You all got a preview of Blacker Yarns with the limited edition Cornish Tin that flew out the door. Now we have three of their lines in stock more permanently. We have Lyonesse (a linen/Falkland wool blend), Blacker Swan (Falkland/Shetland Wool), and Westcountry Tweed (British wool). The mill is based in Cornwall, and deals exclusively with British wool companies. This fits in perfectly with our mandate for ethically and environmentally friendly yarns, and local as well!

Sue Blacker, owner of Blacker Yarns and their parent mill The Natural Fibre Company was gracious to answer a few questions to help us all get to know their yarns better.

lyonesse_instaHow do you think that Blacker Yarns fits in with the KWA ethos (environmentally and ethically friendly)?

I think we fit very well!  Our whole approach is based on our values, which we apply to all our work spinning for others as The Natural Fibre Company and also in making Blacker Yarns.  So we try to give value for money, develop long-term trusting partnerships with customers and suppliers and limit our impact on the environment.  We lay out ouf values on our website, at http://www.blackeryarns.co.uk/about/our-values

What is the most important thing to you when you are choosing a new yarn/fibre to introduce into your company? What sort of process do you go through?

We start from two ends and hope to meet in the middle and the yarn has to be lovely!  We will be looking for the very best quality fibre we can find, and known provenance with continuity of supply, while at the same time seeking a single breed or a blend for which we think there will be some demand, which does not conflict with any of our values, which fits with and complements our existing ranges and which is a bit different from what everyone else is offering!  Simple, really!!

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The Natural Fibre Company is your mill, and Blacker Yarns is the yarn company. Can you tell us a bit more about the relationship between these two companies?

The Natural Fibre Company was there first, and has a wide range of customers across the UK and Europe, working from as little as 10kg up to around a tonne per batch.  Blacker Yarns, in some senses, is just another customer!  Blacker Yarns has the opportunity to promote British wool, made in Britain, to a wider public than can be reached by the smaller and specialised local breeders who are the main customer base of The Natural Fibre Company.  The experience of each side of the business does help the other: so Blacker Yarns’ knowledge of the yarn, knitting and crochet markets can help The Natural Fibre Company advise its customers on marketing their yarns while The Natural Fibre Company has experience and expertise in spinning an enormously varied range of fibre types.

You work a lot with smaller sheep farmers and heritage breeds. Do you have your own sheep? What does it mean to your business to work with wool on a breed to breed basis?

I do have my own sheep and they came before the mill!  I started with sheep in the 1990’s and was originally a customer of The Natural Fibre Company, taking it over when the previous owners retired.  It is incredibly important to us as a business to know and understand sheep, and to know people with goats and alpacas as well … we know if there has been disease or bad weather, or a really good season for lambs, or if the price of meat or feed is rising or falling.  This helps us understand what it is to grow good quality fibre and to know the differences between the fibre produced by different animals – each has its most appropriate end use so we can help ensure none is wasted and the best value is added to each type.

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The 10th anniversary yarn Cornish Tin went down a storm and sold out UK wide in a week! Do you have plans for more limited edition yarns in the future?

Aha!  That would be telling, though I think you can probably assume we felt it was a very worthwhile adventure!  So we may well think about something for our eleventh birthday.  Meanwhile, all of our British Breeds yarns are limited editions and we will in future be able to give the provenance and dates, just like fine wines!

Are you a process or a product knitter?

A bit of both really … I feel that the design is integral to the item being made – so the way in which it is worked, how it looks and feels, will also determine what the item is – I would work differently on a hat than a jacket, than a shawl, in terms of texture, colours, style, etc.

westcountry_instaWhat’s your current knitting project?

Well, I’m sort of between things right now and doing some swatching – I have two different jacket/cardigans in mind, which have been taking imaginary shape for a while, so will soon be ready to begin to materialise.  Like many people, having just completed a design which is about to be published, I’m still trudging through the tech editing as well!

Summer Knitting with Maya

We’re so lucky to have travellers from all over the world visiting the shop during the summer holiday season, which create a lovely atmosphere in the shop and great conversations while preparing for our own go aways as well. We’ve organized an interview with the staff of the shop to see how they plan their vacation projects and what they may be bringing along. Next up is Maya, who is preparing for her family holiday.

What sort of holiday are you going on? Are you going to be on the beach, staying local, flying, train? Does this influence your project planning?

Coming to the summer holidays, we do the same every year, we go home! And every year, following a tightly planned schedule, we find ourselves racing from place to place, trying to meet and see as many of our loved ones as we can. It is exhausting and exciting at the same time. Our families are scattered across two counties in mid-Norway, and so this involves quite a lot of travelling time by boat and car, I try to convert travelling into knitting time to wind down in between. I’m not very practical thinking when it comes to what to bring though, I just bring all the projects I might want to work on. Some summers that have had been six different ones, this year I’m bringing two.

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What are you working on?

Well, this is slightly embarrassing…remember this blog post from last year’s holiday planning? I still haven’t finished my green cardi. The thing is that when you run a yarn shop there is so much knitting that needs to be done for the shop; samples, window displays, installations, I never seem to be able to find time to knit what is specifically for me – and for me only. I’ve just got the collar and sewing up to do though, and I haven’t lost interest in the project yet, nor the lush Scrumptious 4Ply Jen’s Green I’m making it in, so the Larch Cardigan is definitely on top of my knitting list this summer. I’m also working on another secret project that I really can’t reveal the details for yet, as it part of the great 5 year anniversary we’re planning for the shop – but I can tell you that it coincidentally involves more of the Scrumptious 4ply – so as you can see my bags will be filled with gorgeous vibrant colours to get that knitting mojo going!

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What’s your ideal holiday knitting scene?

I actually love knitting on the road when we’re driving through the striking Norwegian scenery – there’s something with the long stretches of road, mountains, forests and fjords, that I find, works particularly well with the rhythm of my knitting needles. Having said that, I am comfortable knitting anywhere, especially if it involves a glass of red next to me.

Do you think that you’ll come back with a finished FO (finished object) or a WIP (work in progress)?

I’m telling you, I will have that cardi done!

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