John Arbon Textiles and its indie flock

John Arbon at work at his mill.

John Arbon at work at his mill.

Earlier this year, Linda Lencovic of Kettle Yarn Co. posted to the Indie Untangled marketplace about her new custom yarn base. Baskerville, a fingering-weight blend of two British wools — Exmoor Blueface and Gotland — plus silk, was born of a collaboration between Linda and John Arbon Textiles, a small worsted spinning and processing mill in North Devon, on the coast of southwest England.

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Linda described the process on her blog, noting that she was looking for a blend of British wool that was sheep-y and rustic, but still soft against her sensitive skin. “I wanted a yarn that looked like handspun and had enough tooth to hold its shape, without the scritchy qualities I normally associate with these types of traditional yarns,” Linda wrote.

It’s the perfect marriage between small fiber businesses.

The mill has been built up over the last 15 years by founder John Arbon, who, awesomely, spent his teen years as a guitarist in a punk band, later studied textiles at De Montford University in Leicester and then came to Devon to work with the British Alpaca Fibre Co-op. After a while, he decided to go off on his own, and began buying, refurbishing and reconditioning old manual mill machinery. While many UK mills have since gone overseas to utilize cheap labor, John Arbon is one of only a handful of mills still operating in the UK, producing specialty yarns and tops using local and rare breed fleeces, as well as luxurious wool and alpaca socks.

A roving frame at the mill.

A roving frame at the mill.

Several years ago, the mill began working with independent yarn dyers on custom bases, putting together a blend of their own fibers or using fiber that the dyer supplies. The Exmoor Blueface in Linda’s Baskerville, a cross between the Exmoor Horn and Blueface Leicester sheep, comes from the sheep farmed on fields in nearby Exmoor. She has offered it both naturally dyed with indigo, and in its raw, undyed beauty.

John Arbon has also put together its own fibers to create personal blends for other indies, including Debbie Orr of Skein Queen, Joy McMillan of The Knitting Goddess and designer Ysolda Teague, whose Blend No. 1 — a 3-ply, worsted-spun sport weight made with Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles, which gives the creamy wool a touch of gray — I got to pet when visiting my friend Sherri’s last weekend (unfortunately for me, it sold out lightning fast after it was released in March).

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The mill also creates yarn for dyers using their own fiber, including The Little Grey Sheep, a small family farm on the border of Surrey and Hampshire counties, and Rachel Atkinson of My Life In Knitwear.

“When we produce a specialist blend for a customer, it usually starts with John chatting to them at a show,” writes Juliet, John’s wife and business partner. “He finds out what sort of yarn they would like and how they would like it to perform and why they are making the yarn and what they want to use it for… Then, he will suggest some fibres, and so will the customer, and after many a chat and a tweak and a trial, a new yarn is born!”

Yarns in action on the skein winder.

Yarns in action on the skein winder.

The mill produces the commissioned yarns in small runs, with 12 kilos or more per blend.

Some knitters may also know about John Arbon’s collaboration with Emily Foden, the talented dyer behind the nuanced, speckled colorways of Viola. A few years ago, Emily came over from Canada to do work experience at the mill, and then ended up staying on as an employee. The company created a line of special Viola yarn, a DK-weight, worsted-spun yarn made of organically farmed Merino, with colors created through a special technique of blending dyed tops that the mill refers to as “dry dyeing.”

The blend came about when John showed Emily how to blend pre-dyed yarn shades in such a way as to produce the effect of a hand dyed yarn. “She loved this and spent ages creating… and our Viola range evolved,” Juliet says.

I asked Emily about her experience at the mill. She wrote that while, as a hand spinner, she had an understanding of how yarn is made, she learned how that translated into machine spinning. Eventually, after John patiently walked Emily through all the steps in his worsted spinning process, she learned to operate the “big, clattering machines,” and could even anticipate a machine mishap before it happened.

“My time with John, Juliet and the team at the mill taught me more about fibre growing, buying, scouring, preparing, processing, spinning, yarn construction, the history of spinning in Britain… I could go on here, John knows a lot about yarn,” Emily wrote. “But I also enjoyed working with the close knit group at the mill and in the shop, tackled my fear of scary machines and picked up lots of small business owning skills. Most importantly, John and Juliet are downright lovely people and I’m so happy I got to spend that time with them!”

What to stash this week: Great wool

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Bijou Basin Ranch had taken their softness factor further, and recently created a worsted-weight version of their popular Bijou Bliss sport weight yarn, a 50/50 blend of Tibetan yak and Cormo wool. Called Big Bijou Bliss, the new base comes in 160 yards and would be great for hats, cowls or fingerless mitts. It’s available in five new limited-edition colorways dyed by Colorado dyer MJ Yarns. The colors are also available on BBR’s popular Tibetan Dream sock yarn base. This is a limited-edition base, so if you’d like to get a start on some fall projects (maybe for Rhinebeck?), you should jump on it now.

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It’s Christmas in July out in California, and the Slipped Stitch Studios crew is celebrating with a Black Friday-level sale. Now through Sunday, use the codes above to get big discounts on limited-edition Bag of the Month bags and accessories. That includes Prince and David Bowie tribute items, as well as Adventure Time, Doctor Who, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies… and tons more!

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If shark sightings are keeping you out of the ocean this summer, then get close to these creatures with Laura Patterson’s latest pattern. Great White is a crescent-shaped shawl with a not-so-scary shark’s tooth edging.

Save the date: The 3rd annual Rhinebeck Trunk Show is set for Oct. 14!

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Rhinebeck Kickoff artwork final

Since catching up on sleep after last year’s Rhinebeck weekend (which took a few days…) I have been very busy planning for this year’s kickoff event. My goal was to expand it a bit so I could make the shopping area bigger and also allow a few more new vendors to join us. I also decided to collaborate with an illustrator to create a design for the event that could be printed on souvenir tote bags (more on that in a bit). Well, everything has come together, so I am excited to announce that the third annual Rhinebeck Trunk Show will take place Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, from 5 to 8 p.m.! It will again be held at the Best Western Plus in Kingston, N.Y., and we’ve expanded into a third room. (Early shopping will begin at 4 p.m., though tickets sold out shortly after they went on sale last Friday.)

The full list of vendors is on the event page. I am thrilled to welcome several newcomers: Blissful Knits, ClayByLaura, Feel Good Yarn Company, A Hundred Ravens, MollyGirl Yarn, Spun Right Round, Voolenvine Yarns and The Woolen Rabbit. There will also be some newbies in the Indie Untangled booth, which will have a selection of yarn from Dark Harbour Yarn, Oink Pigments and Sincere Sheep, along with patterns from designer Jennifer Dassau, while Featured Sponsor Yarn Culture will be bringing yarn from Rosy Green Wool. Many of the vendors have some kits in the works that they will debut at the show, some of which you will be able to preorder beforehand via Indie Untangled.

Speaking of preorders, you now have the opportunity to purchase souvenir tote bags, screen printed with the illustration on the event page, to pick up at the show (and help support the work that goes into organizing it!). The illustration was created by Eloise Narrigan, a fellow knitter who you may know from her adorable bag designs for Ravelry. I reached out to Eloise a couple of months ago and explained what I was looking for — a collection of Rhinebeck-esque items, such as animals, fall leaves, skeins of yarn and apple cider donuts — and she executed my vision perfectly — and adorably.

So, get your Rhinebeck sweaters, shawls and shopping lists ready!

What to stash this week: sheep season

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If you’re not able to make it to New York for Rhinebeck this October, you might consider… Switzerland? Well, even if you can’t travel to the Swiss Wulle Festival in Zug on Oct. 8 and 9, you can still make the official event shawl and dress. October Rendez-vous is a new shawl design by Nadia Crétin-Léchenne, knit in Siidegarte’s Siide-Liind, made from 51% silk, 29% merino and 20% SeaCell. If you sew, you can get the pattern for the Karlotta dress, also pictured above, designed by Stefanie from So! Pattern, as well as the Japanese cotton fabric. The shawl and dress kits both come in three different colors and can be pre-ordered until tomorrow to be shipped immediately.

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Yet another reason why I wish teleportation was real: Third Vault Yarns is heading to Fibre East in the UK and will be bringing a number of kits. One of those is Lambton Panes, a collaboration with designer Kate Bostwick of Cowtown Knits. Even if you won’t be at the show, you can preorder one. 

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Four words: Sheep. Rainbow. Stitch markers. My mouth was agape when Ann posted to the Marketplace this week. These glass stitch markers are handmade by Ann in her Indianapolis studio, along with an ever-growing selection of other markers. These snag-free stitch markers are available in two sizes and come in a small storage tin.

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Knitcola is a husband and wife team based in Ashburton, New Zealand, where they know their sheep. Dyer Nicola offers 4-ply Merino Superwash, 75% New Zealand Merino/25% nylon sock yarn and decadent blends of yak and silk and 100% New Zealand alpaca. Knitcola also offers a selection of complementary patterns.

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Holly of Fish Belly Fiber Works is offering shawl kits that would be perfect for designer Katie Degroff’s MKAL, A Big Shawl for Fall. Available on Ravelry, the first clue will be released July 24. Some kits are available now and additional kits will be added to the shop this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

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Dew drop in and knit Laura Patterson’s newest shawl design. Called Dewpoint, the triangular shawl can be made in one of five sizes, which are provided, or simply knit until you’re close to running out of yarn, or, says Laura, get bored. 

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ColorPurl has some more fun color kits, with a hint of sparkle. Kits come with five 87-yard, fingering-weight mini skeins comprised of 75% Superwash Merino, 20% nylon and 5% Stellina.

Kettle Yarn Co. recently had a shop update with a new deep sea teal in Islington DK, blood red Beyul lace and two new colors in Wesminster called Blue Jean and Sage.

Knitting and yarn: There are apps for that

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Knitting apps

With the seemingly overnight sensation that is Pokemon Go, and virtually everyone more obsessed than usual with their smartphones, I thought it was an appropriate time to write about the knitting and yarn apps that I love and use fairly regularly (and yes, that is yarn wallpaper on my phone).

Countmeme
Usually when I’m knitting, my phone is by my side, but not (always) because I need it to look at yarn on Instagram or at patterns on Ravelry. I no longer use a physical row counter, and instead use Countmeme, which you can download here from the Apple app store. I’ve tried other row counter apps, but I’ve found Countmeme to be the easiest to use for keeping track of pattern repeats or multiple projects. You can add a seemingly endless number of counters and easily reset and delete them.

Stashbot
This brilliant app by designer Hannah Fettig, which can be purchased for iOS here for $4.99 — less than an extra skein of hand-dyed yarn! — is absolutely indispensable for fiber festivals (and the Rhinebeck Trunk Show). Pick a project, such as an average length sweater, a hat or a scarf, enter the size and the gauge, which you can find on the tag or band, and the app will give you an estimation of the required yardage.

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I’m still exploring this app (you can download it for iOS here), but it lets you import pattern PDFs from your computer, Ravelry library and Dropbox and has a sliding bar to track your progress, highlighters and ways to add notes, as well as other tools that can be purchased within the free (!) app. It also has built-in designs. I’ll have to play around with it more and see if it will replace my current method of taking a screenshot of the pattern on my phone. Another friend recently recommended Notability, which lets you make hand-drawn notes, and costs $7.99.

The Plucky Knitter
This app is a must-download for Plucky obsessives, with reminders about upcoming updates and a full library of Sarah’s beautiful colorways, and even more creative names, as well as a list of patterns that use Plucky yarn. I myself am not a regular Plucky collector, but I very much enjoy looking at the fabulous color combinations and color/pattern pairings.

What are some of your favorite knitting or yarn apps? Is there an app (aside from a Ravelry one, of course) that you wish someone would create?

What to stash this week: Colors and clubs

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Karen of Round Table Yarns is back with another yarn club, really a monthly color option that you can preorder if you’re in love. Preorders for this month’s colorway, a vivid purple called Ynys Avallach (you’ll get the story with the yarn) run through July 12.

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Peggie of ColorPurl has unveiled some more new naturally-dyed colorways on Finnegan, her popular BFL Donegal Tweed yarn. There are tones of pink, blue, yellow and green that Peggie has created using indigo, cochineal and onion now available.

Quarter 3 of the Colour Club from Sara’s Texture Crafts, inspired by textile artist Hans Peter Sundquist, is live.

What to stash this week: Blast off into summer knitting

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Sign-ups for the SpaceCadet SpaceMonster Mega Yarn Club are now open! The club offers exclusive colorways on worsted or bulky bases, perfect for quick knits, a note on the colorway inspiration from dyer Stephanie and serious swag every third package. Hurry — sign-ups close July 10.

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The latest shop update from Cedar Hill Farm Company includes new colorways of her fingering-weight Journey (100% Superwash Merino), Traveler (75% Superwash British BFL 25% Nylon) and Gypsy (100% superwash Australian merino) bases in fun colors, like the appropriate-for-this-weekend Ellis Island, as well as Tokyo and La Rue de Paris. All three are pictured above in Journey.

Indie dyer Melanie of Go Knit Yourself has a yarn subscription club called Wool Box that sends out two skeins three times a year in a surprise base and color.

ColorPurl has 18 new colors in her BFL Donegal Tweed fingering-weight yarn called Finnegan.

Travel knitting tips for airplanes and road trips

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Travel knitting

June gave me a bit of a whirlwind travel schedule, between a road trip to Block Island, a bus trip down to Washington, DC, for TNNA, and flight to Colorado to celebrate a milestone family birthday. If those trips had anything in common, it was that my knitting was a constant companion.

Summer travel is an excellent way to make a dent in your WIP pile. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

Yes, you can bring your needles in your carry-on luggage.

At least when flying within, or out of, the U.S. I have even heard of fellow knitters bringing super pointy Signature Needles along on domestic flights. However, different countries have different rules. When I flew home from Australia in 2013, the pair of small, blunt-tipped children’s scissors I bought just to take on the plane, with a blade shorter than 4 inches, and which got through security in New York, were confiscated.

I’ve never had a problem taking my metal ChiaoGoo RED Lace circular needles even on international flights. However, if you’re worried about your pricey Addis or Sigs being confiscated for whatever reason, take some bamboo circulars to be on the safe side. If you’re really worried, I’ve also heard fellow knitters recommend bringing straight needles or interchangeable tips in a pencil case, and a self-addressed stamped envelope to mail back needles if they’re not allowed in your carry-on luggage. Another common tip is to bring a package of dental floss to cut yarn in place of scissors or a thread cutter (which is always prohibited). And, of course, slip a lifeline into those complicated lace projects. And speaking of lace…

Simpler is better.

When it comes to travel knitting, garter and stockinette are my friends. I’m not sure about you, but there’s nothing like getting frustrated with a pattern when your GPS is acting up in the car, or you’re sitting in a cramped airplane seat next to someone who needs to use the bathroom every 20 minutes and the thimble-sized bag of snack mix just wasn’t enough of a snack and OH MY GOD I AM NOT PAYING $10 FOR CHEESE AND CRACKERS.

Ahem.

I did make an exception to that rule during the trip to Colorado when I started the lace edging of my Flying Fish shawl, but I also made sure to pack my chevron striped scarf, just in case.

You also don’t want a project with a lot of different color changes (think mini skeins) because you will not be happy if one of those roll away, especially on a plane.

Take pictures of your patterns.

I’ve learned the hard way that as much as you think you’ve memorized your pattern, there will be that moment when you need to refer to the PDF and… there’s no cell service or Wi-Fi. When I start a pattern, I make it a habit of taking a screenshot of it on my iPhone (by hitting the home and sleep/power button at the same time) so I can easily refer to it even if I don’t have access to the Internet. Printing the pattern works, too, but getting a screenshot is the best option if you want to go paperless.

I actually sort of look forward to plane rides and long car trips because of the time available to me to knit. Hopefully this will help you prepare for one of your upcoming trips!

What to stash this week: Perfect pairings

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Christine of Skeinny Dipping and designer Bristol Ivy have teamed up for Bristol’s latest pattern. Rillmark — an elegant pi shawl that depicts, in lace form, that spot where the water meets the shore — uses two skeins of Christine’s Alpaca/Silk Sport, a blend of 80% superfine alpaca and 20% silk. The yarn is available to preorder in the Skeinny Dipping Etsy shop.

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Sue of Invictus Yarns has teamed up with the ultra-talented Casapinka and created kits for Bronwyn’s new Koi Pond shawl, a gorgeous use of a gradient. Each kit contains one set of six 100-yard mini skeins and one 400-yard skein in a contrasting color.

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Here’s an unusual collaboration between an accessory maker and a dyer: Laura used artwork created by one of her favorite dyers, Julia of Pandia’s Jewels, to create bags, cases and stitch markers inspired by the film Labyrinth. They will be available to preorder today starting at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. 

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If the yarn above — the second installment of The Golden Skein’s 2016 Power of 3 yarn club, dyed by Eden Cottage Yarns, Dublin Dye and Triskelion Yarn and Fibre — gets your heart racing, then you’ll want to mark your calendar. Sign-ups for the third club installment open July 1.

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Ah, cupcakes and yarn, another winning combination. Sunshine of My Mama Knits has dyed up Cupcake Mini Skein Sets, a lovely pastel rainbow available with or without “sprinkles.” The sets of a dozen 10-gram mini skeins are available on a Superwash DK or 75% Superwash Merino/25% nylon sock base.

A reason for yarn

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Editor’s note: At TNNA last weekend, my friend Anne Choi of Middle Brook Fiberworks ended up hopping on the train from New Jersey at the last minute to attend the show and help out Dalis of Dancing Leaf Farm in her booth. Anne was also doing some research on the perfect fiber mills to help her create a custom blend of yarn, to include fleece from the sheep that would soon call her rural New Jersey property home. While our group was at dinner at Momofuku, Anne took out some fiber and a handspun prototype for us to pet and admire the natural creams, browns and grays.

This post originally appeared on the Middle Brook Fiberworks blog and I thought it was a fascinating exploration of the process of creating a custom-milled yarn.

I’ve been thinking about yarn lately. Don’t laugh; I’m usually focused on the front end of working with fiber, so this is actually a departure. Abby Sarnowski (Folktale Fibers) and I share a booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, and we like to pass the time by asking each other questions along the lines of, “how could we breed a miniature cormo sheep?” and “what breeds would you cross to spin the ideal sock yarn?”

On the long drive home, I mulled over what fibers I would blend to produce the ideal shawl or sweater yarn. The Shetland Islands has been a leitmotif in my life this spring, so when I envisioned shawls, I had haps in mind. Unlike the intricate lace wedding shawls that, according to tradition, were fine enough to pass through a wedding ring, hap patterns were written with a simple lace design and knit with a thicker yarn, for everyday wear.

My yarn, I decided, would be lofty for warmth, durable–no wimpy pilling!, elastic because my hands are getting arthritic, and able to hold a lace pattern like a champ. The yarn would need to make a finished fabric that was lightweight, but have enough substance and body so that it didn’t just puddle around my neck. And on top of all that, it needed to be soft enough for my sensitive skin.

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The more I thought about it, the more requirements I kept dreaming up for my yarn. I wanted to be able to hand-pick each fleece from sheep I knew personally (or at least knew the shepherds), and I wanted a range of natural colors. But natural colors with depth and tonal complexity. And the last thing? I wanted heaps and heaps of this wonder yarn, which meant that I’d getting it spun for me. So it needed to be a blend of fibers that could be processed by a small fiber mill, and still retain its homegrown roots.

When I got home, I started weighing, carding, and blending some fibers together.

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For weeks, I played with percentages and color combinations, and I spun and knit several test samples. I took the yarn with me everywhere, showing it to knitting friends and asking for feedback. It wasn’t until I finished my Hansel Hap Shawl by Gudrun Johnston, and blocked it, that I was certain I got it right.

It was time to go mill shopping. I heard so many glowing recommendations for John and Lydia Piper at Gurdy Run Woolen Mill, and when I spoke with John, I could see why. I’ve never dropped off fiber to be processed before, and he was very patient about walking me through the process. We talked about the the fibers I’d chosen, and the best way to draft them individually and together. We talked about starting with a combination of combed top, carded roving, and raw fleece to end up with a yarn that had all the qualities I wanted.

Yesterday, I drove to Gurdy Run with my bags and bags of fibers. I met with Lydia, and we made the final decisions about colors, yarn weights, and put-ups. It was an incredibly educational trip.

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The process of mill-spinning is both more high-tech and at the same time, more hands-on than I’d thought. Sure, the machines do the actual carding, drafting, and spinning, but it’s not all one run-through. I didn’t exactly think that John and Lydia just dumped fibers into a chute, tapped a few buttons on their laptops, and enjoyed iced tea on the porch while they waited for the machine to spit out skeins of yarn. What did I know? Not much, apparently.

The raw fleeces are washed by hand, and the carding, picking, pin-drafting, and spinning are each individual steps, requiring human oversight and adjustment. They handle the fiber between each stage, to weigh and evaluate what went in, and what came out. There’s complex math involving weights and measurements, which Lydia explained and I nodded whenever I thought she needed the encouragement to go on.

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There are cool gadgets like an air splicer (I want one!), but the skeining and tying are done by hand. I hope to go back for a visit on the day they’re working on my yarn, and Lydia said if I’m lucky, she’ll put me to work tying up the skeins. I can’t wait.

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