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 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.

New Yarn: From The Mountain ethical cashmere

With a name like Knit With Attitude, we are always on the look out for yarns and projects that are working to make the world a better place. For a long time we have had a policy of no cashmere, as most of it comes from China where the origin is impossible to trace and  the animal and human welfare conditions are impossible to guarantee. Even though cashmere is one of the most delicious fibres out there, we just couldn’t have it in the shop under those circumstances. It’s meant we’ve had to turn down carrying some really lovely blends as we just don’t know where the cashmere is coming from.

Skeins of yarn for marketing

You can imagine how we sat up and took notice when we heard of From The Mountain, a sustainably farmed hand spun cashmere from Afghanistan. How could we say no?! This is exactly the sort of project that we love to support.

goat-herd

Afghanistan has long been a producer of cashmere, but that quality was poor and most of it was used for carpets. In 2007 a US Agency for International Development (USAID) project called Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) teamed up with Abdul Basir Hotak, a veteran of the cashmere industry in Afghanistan, to open the first scouring and de-hairing facility in the country. Then ASAP was able to work with herders to provide veterinary assistance and encouraged them to comb rather than shear their goats, thus improving herd health and the quality of the fibre.

Spinning-womenWith the quality of cashmere now markedly increased, they were able to reach out to the community of hand spinners in the region to spin the fibre to sell to knitters. After decades of conflict in Afghanistan, many women are now the heads of their families, with limited socially acceptable means of providing for them. Spinning cashmere on a drop spindle for From The Mountain pays them the fairest wage for their work compared to spinning for themselves or for the carpet industry. This fair wage is an alternative to farming illegal crops such as poppies for opium and heroin and creates a more stable and sustainable livelihood for over 100 women, and also allows them to stay home and still care for their children and relatives.

The yarn company From The Mountain was founded by Susan Inglis, who has worked on many projects with USAID over the last 25 years as a consultant connecting traditional textile workers in over 30 countries with new markets. She met Hotak through her work with USAID in 2011 and helped develop the yarn that would be spun by the home spinners. From The Mountain is the sole exporter of the yarn, maintaining close links with the production lines back in Afghanistan. With the region still by no means stable, this yarn can be difficult to get out of the country, and has occasionally had to be smuggled out, recent fighting in Kunduz caused 4 kilos to be turned back.

Spinning

The yarn itself is a lusciously soft sport weight made of 2 bouncy plies and available in 4 natural undyed shades. The colours are natural white, light grey, light brown and dark brown. It is an absolutely gorgeous and luxurious yarn that has an ever so slight thick and thin texture due to its hand spun nature. The 100g skeins have plenty of yardage, so while they are an indulgence, 1 skein goes a long way. From The Mountain have a number of free patterns on their website that take just 1 skein to help you get inspired!

Christmas Wishlist: Jess

Things are starting to get a bit festive here at the shop. We asked all the staff to put together their wish list from the shop. You might not know if you haven’t visited our shop in person, but we are actually 2 shops in one storefront. The other shop is called Of Cabbages & Kings, and sells jewellery, prints and housewares all made in the UK. Our Christmas lists cross both shops, so extra reason to pop by and see if something catches your eye. Maybe it will inspire your own list, or help you find a gift for someone else!

christmasjess

First up is Jess’s list. She is the owner of Of Cabbages & Kings. We can see a bit of a colour theme going on here! Click on the links to see the products in the respective online shops.

Chris Andrews – Green Woodpecker print Maybe it’s the festive green and red combo that’s so appealing or memories of nature books and rambles through the woods?

Curve Hoops  I must be going through a green phase. These deco style earrings with the gold insert look super glamorous for party season. Want!!!

Pom Pom Quarterly Great little books. So collectable, they look lovely on the shelf and there are always two or three patterns I want to have a crack at. This winter it’s the Palindrome and Ondeto scarfs.

Sacred Saffron Beyul from Kettle Yarn  There’s a lace top I have in mind for this yarn. I love the rich rusty tones and silky sheen.

Project bag by Smock Shop Practical gift – these are so handy. And since I’ve usually got several projects on the go, I could really do with a different bag for each one.

Studio Noah Pots I have a fireplace in my new flat that’s just crying out to be filled with plants. These would be great potted with some succulents. Also, they’re made with volcanic ash and that’s just cool.

Soakwash This wash is so great for more than washing just wool, it’s saved a few of my silk tops that got a spot on them as well!

Thanks Jess! You can find all the items listed here online and in the shop! What’s on your wishlist?

Yarn of the Week: Lyonesse 4ply

This week’s yarn is Lyonesse 4ply from Blacker Yarns. Perfect for transitional seasons, it is a blend of Linen and Corriedale/Merino wool. This combination creates a subtle flecked fabric where the two fibres blend together. The yarn can have a very rustic appearance in the ball, but linen softens dramatically with knitting and washing, so don’t let that dissuade you from how fantastic this can feel worn right next to the skin. The linen also helps keep the finished garments from being too warm, making them perfect for the in-between months or cooler summer evenings.

Lyonesse Lapiz

The Drift Raglan Increase Shawl is a free pattern from Blacker, designed by Sonja Bargielowska to use Lyonesse. The simple lace panels with stocking stitch look meditative to knit, and so cozy to wear! You can get the pattern on Ravelry.

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Blacker Yarns is the yarn business of The Natural Fibre Company, a mill based in Cornwall. As a mill they process yarns for small farms and other yarn businesses, while producing their own yarn as Blacker. Their mill is committed to using 100% British yarns and working with local farms to promote industry and growth, which has also meant championing rare sheep breeds and ethical farming practices. This translates into care for their production methods and reducing waste as much as possible in a responsible way.

Use the code LYON15 online to get 15% off Lyonesse 4ply until Sunday August 28th, while supplies last. Mention the sale in-store to receive the same offer.

Yarn Shop Day Winner!

We are very excited to announce the winner of our draw on Saturday for Yarn Shop Day. Congratulations to Gail! She won 4 balls of Blacker rare breeds yarn. They include a Pure Polwarth in cream, Manx wool with Mohair, in a natural tan, Pure Black Welsh Mountain wool in almost black, and a Gotland in dyed blue.

breeds

Saturday was the kick off for our Summer Top KAL/CAL. It was fun to see the garments that people were planning for, we can’t wait to see them made up! Here in the shop we have cast on an infinity snood for a shop sample in The Fibre Co.’s Meadow. It’s an unusual blend of wool, baby llama, silk and linen. Despite the blend we think it would make a great summer top, and we can’t wait to show you the sample when it’s done, you’ll be able to give it a squish in person and see for yourself!

meadow

If you are planning on participating in the KAL/CAL we are over on the Ravelry group talking about our makes, feel free to join in! There is also still a 10% on all yarns that contain cotton, linen, bamboo or silk in the online shop if you need to pick up some yarn. The promotion runs until Sunday at midnight!

summerkalpromo16_medium

We would also like to announce the prizes for participants of the KAL/CAL! We will draw from finished garments posted in our FO thread by midnight on July 31st. First prize will be a gift certificate of £50 to spend online or in the shop. Second and Third prize will be goodie bags filled with yarn and patterns.

 

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).

Knitting with attitude

Why knit? I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are knitters out there, and even more so, because I for one have many many many reasons for knitting and for why I love this activity. Easiest to point out maybe, are those purely egocentric reasons, but knitting can also be used as a tool to build relationships, bring communities together and express attitudes.

When I moved to London not knowing anyone here, my first attempt to build a social circle was through attending a knitting group, and today several of my closest friends are people I originally met at this group.

For me, it’s always been important to make Knit with attitude into something more than a shop, I really want it to be part of the local community, a creative space not only for selling goods, but where people can meet, discuss, create and enjoy each other’s company. The second Thursday every month we invite to Knit Night, where this is exactly what’s on our agenda, creativity, chatter, and lots and lots of wine.

Knit the Common

Speaking about community, I really want to share one of the most amazing projects we’ve seen unfold during the last year, as several of our knit group members got involved with an exhibition at the local Hackney Museum. This is how the museum presents the exhibition ‘Side by Side: Living in Cazenove’; This exhibition explores Cazenove Road in the north of the borough as an example of how people from all over the world live side by side in diverse Hackney. The exhibition features a range of creative artworks, films and installation made by local people, community groups and schools working with local artists, filmmakers and photographers. 
They have explored the nature of their communities through different faiths, cultures, histories, fashions, languages and foods and what it means to them to live in Hackney today.

Knit the Common

So what is the link between our knitting group and this exhibition? Quite a few members of our knitting group are also members of SNUG – Stoke Newington Common User Group. Stoke Newington Common is a small park/green space next to the Cazenove Rd. which is ‘common land’ actively used and very much loved by the local community. The knitters came up with this brilliant idea: they wanted to knit the Common, and so they did! During the last year, to the delight of all our knitting group members we’ve seen the most amazing creations being made; trees, railway tracks, the playground with all it’s equipment, I’m not joking, if it’s on the Common it has been knitted! The engagement and enthusiasm surrounding this project have been amazing, and there are so many people who wanted to contribute in one way or the other. Let me tell you, this is how you build a community!

Knit the Common

The pictures here only show part of the process, and they give you an idea about what’s been going on. But honestly there really is nothing like seeing the whole installation in all it’s glory, so should you happen to be in the area you really need to pop by Hackney Museum and have a proper look, the exhibition is on until May 17th.

Knit the Common

Knit the Common

And by the way, tonight is Knit Night!

Indigo Memoirs

I’ve been so lucky to have Indigo Memoirs discover Knit with attitude. Indigo Memoirs is an online ‘magazine’ and this is what they say about themselves:
Indigo Memoirs are unseen experiences we seek and stumble upon as we search for a meaningful urban existence. We channel our intuition to discover such experiences in London and reveal them to you.

Lovely Ruby came to see us at our knit night, and I do believe we have a new knitting convert! To read what she thinks about Knit with attitude, just click on the picture.

Knit with attitude at Indigo Memoirs. ©Indigo Memoirs

Knit with attitude at Indigo Memoirs. ©Indigo Memoirs