Indie Across the Pond Untangling: Garthenor Organic

A label with teal print.

This is the third in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Across the Pond, taking place from March 19-21, 2021.

I featured Garthenor Organic on the blog last year prior to Indie Untangled Everywhere in October. I’m excited that this British yarn company has decided to return for our first international fiber event! I spoke with Jonny King to learn even more about his and his mom Sally’s commitment to organic, British wool.

What did the process of organic certification entail?

It’s quite a lengthy process! For an organic farm like ours, there is a minimum of two years of transition, which lets the livestock and land adapt gradually to a new way of farming. For the yarn production, it’s usually a little quicker, thankfully. There are a few key areas that come under the scope of a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certification, namely chemical inputs (like dyes and detergents), traceability, working conditions and environmental standards. For each of these, we need to be able to show complete transparency during our annual inspection and occasional unannounced spot inspections, so it’s pretty in-depth. I definitely don’t think we’d be able to keep it up if we didn’t truly believe in the process.

Yarn being milled.

How has your company evolved over 20-plus years?

This is an odd one for me, as I’ve grown up alongside the company – Mum (Sally) often jokes that she brought me up to join in with making yarn! We started with spinning yarn from wool only from our own flock, but we’re now working with 50-60 organic farms around the UK to grow this amazing fibre. As you can imagine, this also means a lot more yarn being made too! We’re still a tiny company though, with just the two of us working full time, and I think that means we can keep that raw connection to the way our yarns are made – without any compromise at all.

A black and white image of a man holding a dark lamb.

A woman leaning on a cane wearing a dark coat and knitted hat.

Are you still facing challenges due to the pandemic? What about Brexit?

Definitely! I think like just about every industry, we’ve had a few setbacks over the last year or so. Not having in-person shows has been so heartbreaking, as this is really where we get to connect with friends and customers, and we really get to tell the story of the fibre. We work with a few small mills here in the UK, and they’ve all faced closures and reduced staffing, so it’s been trickier than ever to keep up with demand!

Shipping has been a challenge, but I’m glad to say this is looking a little more stable now – we’re dispatching orders every day all across the world, and the postal services are doing an amazing job to get all the yarny parcels delivered as quickly as possible.

A sheepdog among a pile of brown and white fleece.

Tell me more about the rare breed that you debuted at Indie Untangled Everywhere last year?

One of our favourite things when introducing a new or single-release yarn is to introduce makers to a fibre they may have never discovered before. For Indie Untangled Everywhere, it was a blend of Manx Loaghtan and Hampshire Down, two gorgeous British breeds, woollen spun into a super soft and squishy yarn. Partnering this one was the pure Manx Loaghtan, and a marl of the two shades (we always love a good marl here!). The flock that grows the Manx Loaghtan fleece was one of our first supplier farms, and it’s that genuine connection the story of the fibre that makes us so proud to do what we do.

Like all our fibre, it was hand sorted by Sally – her experience and knowledge in working with fibre for years is really what sets each yarn apart. She has a knack to understanding how the fibre will be behave, and it guides us to make wool that reflects the landscape, the sheep and the story that surrounds us every day.

A skein of cream-colored yarn that says Dartmoor.

What new products will you be showing at Indie Across the Pond?

We’re going to be re-introducing a special edition version of our newest base, Snowdonia Sock. Spun from pure rare-breed Greyface Dartmoor wool, the texture is so unique and special, and captures what I mentioned about reflecting our landscape. We worked with a farm in Cornwall to source the fibre, and it was spun just a few miles down the road from where it grew. We only spun a very small batch, so it’s definitely not one to miss!

What to stash this week, across the pond and everywhere

A collage of colorful yarn and products.

Our Indie Across the Pond virtual event kicks off tomorrow and the collection of show specials from our vendors based in Europe and the UK is especially tempting — and the best part is you don’t have to worry about fitting your haul in luggage that you severely underestimated the size of!

A florescent yarn fade with mini skeins and a stockinette swatch.

Here’s a closeup of Botanical Yarn’s exclusive Across the Pond fade set! Dyer Sophie, a self-professed crazy plant lady based in York, UK, has created this aqua to lilac set that comes with 10 mini skeins, perfect for a variety of projects, including shawls, hats, garments, or a blanket.

If you’re registered for Indie Across the Pond, you can join Sophie at 10 a.m. EDT/3 p.m. CET Friday through Sunday for her Zoom livestreams or book a private appointment with her to talk project plans. Plus, you’ll also get a coupon code for 10% off purchases over £75.

Blue, pink, gray, brown and black stone-like stitch markers.

Ashleigh has stitch markers, progress keepers and more jewelry live in her shop.

Pink, blue and yellow marshmallow Peeps charms, with a chocolate bunny in a basket.

Fill your Easter basket with these new stitch markers from Jillian of WeeOnes that look good enough to eat.

Blue, green and orange hand-dyed yarn.

Sarah of Teton Yarn Company, who dyes yarn that celebrates the Grand Tetons, has created a new spring collection of colors.

A purple, pink and yellow floral tote bag.

Crista Jaeckel is having a spring shop update on March 27 at 8 p.m. EDT with mostly large drawstring bags in spring colors.

Bonnie of Yank Your Yarn’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle Again” Chain Row Counter is back in stock in her Etsy shop.

Indie Across the Pond Untangling: La Cave à Laine

A woman with gray hair peeking out from behind a blue floral bag.

This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Across the Pond, taking place from March 19-21, 2021.

Sara Maternini of La Cave à Laine has been a regular part of the Indie Untangled marketplace since her first post about her 100% cotton, extra light and washable project bags in 2018. She’s since expanded her range into hand-dyed bags — perfect for hand-dyed yarn! — oilskin backpacks and notions.

Making her home in Alsace, France, by way of Italy, Sara is also a prolific designer, so she knows a thing or two about what makes a great home for your WIPs.

What came first: knitwear design or bag making?

They came both quite close! I began designing and making the first bags, and then a few weeks after I published my first pattern, Fibonacci Ronde (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/fibonacci-ronde). I think I had to fulfill a sort of need to express myself with my hands, which is, still today, my daily call!

What did you do in your pre-La Cave à Laine career and do you find any parallels between it and your business?

I did many jobs, in different sectors: I began as a museum guide in Milan, Italy, where I was living at the time. I then moved on to the early stages of the internet and worked as a researcher (in a pre-Google era) and a social media manager. I had a brief but intense career as one of the first Italian food bloggers, that opened me many doors to different digital agencies and the job of social media manager. In 2011 we then moved to France, we had two very small children, and I felt the call for my needles!

A woman in glasses wears purple brioche cowl.

What made you decide to start sewing your own bags?

Mainly the possibility to choose fabrics that were more to my taste. I really like minimalist prints, bold, un-patterned colours, and austere shapes. The market was void of the kind of bags I wanted.
I feel our bags are the mirror of our souls: as an Italian I grew up surrounded by incredible beauty, and I always find myself looking for my own version of beauty and purity everywhere. I was always partial toward Renaissance artists and their infinite search for symmetry, beauty, and practicality in everything. And I look for these characteristics in everything I wear. Or make.

How would you say your project bags are different from others?

Some of the features I always stress about are that my bags are made only of natural materials (no plastic, no interfacing, no glue, no polyester), and that they are washable. These two rules are guiding me in choosing all the materials and the ways I design my bags.

Being a very practical person, I also try to reflect this in my bags: functionality is always my first concern. I fill my bags with pockets, adjustable handles, zippers…

Last but not least, my bags are designed and constructed to have no leftover fabric or waste: every single inch is used. And even with my hand-dyed line of bags, water waste during the dyeing process is reduced to a bare minimum.

A woman holds a yellow backpack.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Across the Pond?

For Indie Across the Pond I went a bit over the top! I had some lines of new bags in the making and to be released throughout 2021, but I gave a final push to make all of them a reality for Indie Across the Pond!

Many new bags will debut during the show, from crazy unicorns bags, to oilskin backpacks (inspired by cartoon characters), luxury notion pouches (full to the brim with gorgeous notions!), and Knits Cosy: a new series of bags created to keep your knits safe and sound wherever you go, with many other uses! Also during the show, the full range of new notions will be available, from super cute scissors to the new stitch markers I have been making in the last months: my iconic skull stitch markers got a revamp, and some new beads will also debut.

The booth will be in full swing and ready to delight all knitters and crocheters!

What are some of the best things you’ve learned running your business?

So, so many! One of the best lessons I have learned is to trust myself but double the time I think a certain task will take to be accomplished! So, instead of stressing about unattainable self-imposed deadlines, I enjoy the time it takes to make everything!

A purple dyed bag holding a skein of speckled pink yarn.
When and how did you learn to knit?

I first learned to knit when I was around 7 years old: my grandma taught me the knit stitch, but that was about it. No cast-on, purl, bind off, increases, decreases…

Then, in 2009, when pregnant with my first child, I learned, thanks to the internet, everything else!
Something that really fascinates me about knitting is that there is no end to the learning curve: not only there are always ways to improve, but also learn new stitches, techniques, constructions…

A yellow, blue, orange and cream striped crescent-shaped shawl.

What are your favorite skeins in your stash?

Too many! I am always ready to fall in love with new skeins without forgetting all the old ones!
One constant love, since 10 years, is Malabrigo, for their bold colours and type of fibers: give me some Plomo on any base, even singles, and I am happy!

Another love is Lanivendole, not only because Stefania and Giulia are dear friends, but also for the incredible project behind their brand, and the fact that their yarns are so alive: you feel it when you touch them, and even more when you knit them!

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

On my needles there is always a shawl at some stage of completion, and lately (too) many sweaters: a raglan in my size, ready for sleeve and body divide, and a saddle shoulder for my son in a size too big, because by the time it will be finished he will fill it just right! All these projects will be patterns one day, once the samples will be finished, patterns written in multiple sizes, tech edited, tested, and then tech edited once more!

How I’m turning an old Irish knitting factory into my dream home — and an arts residency for single moms

A white building glimpsed from a lake.

Betsy is giving a tour of her home in the Old Knitting Factory on Sunday at noon Eastern/5 p.m. Central European Time this Sunday during Indie Across the Pond. The tour is included in your Indie Across the Pond registration.

Last spring, I fell in love with an old Irish knitting factory. Now I’m living in it with my toddler, slowly renovating this tumbledown property and running a crowdfund to turn it into a childcare-inclusive arts residency for other single moms like me. I’ve been a knitter all my life, but I never could have guessed that knitting would become the foundation of my life and my home in such a literal way.

Ever since leaving an abusive marriage, home ownership has been a fantasy of mine, but it’s felt like a purely fantastic one for someone like me: a single parent, largely self-employed, an immigrant to Ireland. My son and I had gone from a domestic violence shelter to a hotel to a friend’s guest room and finally to a tiny bungalow where I struggled to make rent each month. Still, step by tiny step, I dreamed of something better. A place where we could feel safe, and could rest. A home.

That dream turned into a plan one day in 2018, when my friend Joan and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Knitting and Stitching Show in Dublin, a smorgasbord of yarn and fabric suppliers, craft demonstrations, and textile art exhibits. I’d spent much of our train ride to the city scrolling through unattainable real-estate listings on my phone and sighing dreamily.

Sunset over a lake.

The view from the factory.

Joan, 30 years my senior and eminently practical, rolled her eyes at my flimsy imaginings. “If you want to buy a house, there are ways to make it happen,” she said. “You’re a writer. Why not write about a house, and sell the book to buy it? You know, Under the Tuscan Sun and all that?”

It’s true: I’ve published five novels and many essays, and I teach writing at the National University of Ireland and at retreats in Kylemore Abbey. And, as I tell my writing students, sometimes clichés exist for a reason. My heart skipped an actual beat at Joan’s words. I felt it stutter.

I could write a book to buy a house.

“Joan,” I cried, plunging into cliché-land wholeheartedly, “that’s just crazy enough to work!”

I felt more energized rummaging through yarn and making plans that day than I had in months of sleepless, toddler-broken nights, or endless days working multiple jobs. On the train home from Galway, I wasn’t looking at real estate listings. I was knitting, and I was writing.

It’s taken me a long time to find the right building for my dream-turned-plan, though: the first few places I pitched the idea to had no interest in a single mom who would have to rent at first while I crowdfunded and saved and wrote my book. I could hardly blame them for that, but I couldn’t give up dreaming, either.

A paper zine that reads The Old Knitting Factory in teal.

The ‘zine created for The Old Knitting Factory crowdfunding campaign.

And like my child, my dream was growing all the while: I didn’t want just a home for myself and my son, I realized, but a place where I could offer the rest and safety I craved to other single moms who struggle to find space for creative work between parenting and paying the bills. I’d joined the survivors’ group at my local shelter, and those women inspired me and restored so much of my lost faith in myself. I saw through them that single mothers are worthy of being, not stigmatized, but celebrated. A childcare-inclusive residency became an intrinsic part of my plan; but it also made it even harder to find a property that would work.

And then, one sleepless night in March, I saw the Old Knitting Factory. The name, of course, called to me first: I had always loved to knit, and the plan to make my domestic dreams come true had been born at the Knitting Show.

The listing showed a long white-and-yellow house nestled on the rugged, overgrown shore of a Connemara lake. Built in 1906, it was a 114-year-old mess: full of crumbling paint and peeling vinyl floors, a leaky roof, and a cinderblock-lined backyard that had come straight from the dank armpit of the seventies. It had first been built, the listing said, to teach rural women knitting skills that they could use to support themselves financially.

A white building.

A house built to foster women’s independence. A place that had been centered on my favorite craft since its beginning, and that had been reincarnated several times already: as the first Irish-language cinema in the 1970s, and later as a jewelry-making studio. For the last several years, it had been a little-used vacation home, and parts of it were well-nigh falling down.

But mending, I realized, had been part of my dream all along. Like turning a long piece of string into a sweater that can keep you warm, I wanted to remake this tumbledown old factory into a source of warmth and care, not only for my own little two-person family, but for other single mothers who had walked the path that I’d found both so freeing and so hard.

A buffet with a basket of yarn at the top.

I wrote to the owner, telling him all my dreams and plans. I offered to rent the knitting factory for a year and buy it (I prayed) thereafter. I didn’t hear back for a month, and I thought I’d have to keep looking.

But then he emailed me, and he told me he was interested. We met over video, across edges of the Atlantic Ocean, from my little Irish cottage to his sunny Florida home.

A woman in a purple dress standing in a room with stone walls.

And he agreed to my offer. In fact, he told me he loved my project, and he wanted the knitting factory to go to someone who’d do right by it.

So here I am, every day, trying to do right. I am still raising my toddler, still working multiple jobs. I started a crowdfund that met its first goal within three days, and is now more than halfway to a down payment on a mortgage. And I am writing my book the exact same way I knit: word by word, stitch by stitch. Sometimes slower than I’d like, but every word, every stitch — even the mistakes I have to undo — a vital part of the finished whole.

I learned to knit when I was about eight years old, and knitting has always brought me a feeling of flexible strength that I can hold, and make, in my hands. When I was pregnant, I knit a stuffed dragon for my baby. When my marriage was unraveling, I knit a color-gradient shawl, from light to dark, that still feels like a security blanket on my shoulders. And when I was terrified of being separated from my child, I cut my baby’s outgrown onesies into long strips and knitted them together with my old shirts into a rug, thick and stiff. Something we could stand on.

A child walking in the grass next to a white building.

That rug lies on the floor of the knitting factory now. And I am working on something new: a knitting pattern I’ve designed myself. It’s still a work in progress, like the house, like the book. I’ve taken up embroidery, my friend Joan’s favorite craft, too, and I’m sewing the names of every crowdfund supporter into a tapestry that will hang on the factory wall. I hope to buy the factory this summer, and to start welcoming artists to the residency space as soon as the pandemic subsides enough to make such things safe again. I’m planning to prioritize artists who work in the genres that the building has housed before: knitters and fiber artists first, and then filmmakers, jewelry makers, and writers like me.

This project isn’t finished yet. Sometimes I wish I could finish it faster. But like writing a book, or knitting a blanket, I know that the most joy is found in the making.

Click here to support the crowdfunding campaign for The Old Knitting Factory.

Indie Across the Pond Untangling: Yedraknits

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A person in an orange coat holding a bouquet of flowers in front of their face and a magazine called Yedra.

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Across the Pond, taking place from March 19-21, 2021.

Back in 2019, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend Barcelona Knits, a new festival then in its second year. It was great to feel the warmth of a yarn community across the Atlantic and see the creativity of new indie businesses. Soraya García, a knitwear designer and the publisher of Yedraknits was a big part of that experience.

Yedraknits, formerly Bellota, is a modern knitting magazine published in Spanish (an English translation is available) with a focus on independent designers and yarn producers. It is built on community and Soraya is bringing that spirit to Indie Across the Pond and collaborating with fellow Spaniards David and Jackson of El Robledal to create a special kit for the show.

Tell me how Yedraknits came to be?

The idea of creating Bellota (which has now become Yedra) was to be able to grow and evolve the knitting community at the local level. Two years ago, there were no books or independent magazines in Spain, and those associated with brands had a very classic aesthetic. My idea was to “change the rules of the game” and raise the knitting community’s level in my environment. Almost three years later, I think I have succeeded. More magazines, on paper and digital, have been born, and the panorama of publications in Spanish begins to bloom.

How do you decide on which patterns to publish in Yedraknits?

First, we choose a topic and submit it. Among the proposals we receive, we think about those adapted to the theme, about the techniques that they bring together so that there are proposals for all levels and tastes. We try to find a balance between large garments and accessories and difficult and easy garments. Also, I like to give opportunities to at least one designer who has never published on paper. And in the last issues, you start to see designers from different parts of the world!

A woman in a red knit beanie smiles at the camera.

Soraya García

What did you do in your pre-design and publishing career and do you find any parallels between it and your business?

I studied art history and specialized in contemporary art. I have been knitting since my teenage years and have always seen it as a way to create and customize my clothes. I was very well known in my high school for my scarves and sweaters and they were always a way to express my personality and also (almost without knowing it) to empower whoever wore one of my pieces. For years, I didn’t knit anything. I studied, I set up a store with handicraft products, the store closed and I started working for a multinational company. At that time, I started doing yarn bombing installations and I started knitting again. So, I decided to study pattern making and little by little the weaving conquered everything again. It has helped me to be myself again. Rediscover me and see if I had a vocation. The years with the multinational company taught me to run a business and to make it grow and the years linked to art to work with creative teams and to be up to date with trends. Now it’s like everything fits.

You moved from Spain to Amsterdam in early 2020. Can you tell me about that decision?

After five years in the office, my work in Madrid was starting to stagnate. My boyfriend’s family is from Amsterdam and we always toyed with the idea of “changing of the scene.” So when we fulfilled our rental contract in Madrid, not finding a house that we liked, we thought about leaving there. My boyfriend was mobile and I wanted to go back to work for myself.

Pink socks and a skein of green yarn with the words Moffitt Socks Hiedra Special Kit.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Across the Pond?

Indie Across The Pond is a total experiment. The number 1 issue of Yedra sold out in a month, so I would like people to continue to know the project through our digital version. Also, we have started to create kits for my patterns with the original yarns with which I work, to publicize the dyers with whom I collaborate. I want people to ask about the process of creating the magazine or about the patterns in the private sessions. Also, El Robledal has created a special color for my special Moffitt sock pattern for the festival!

What inspires your own designs?

As I said above, I think what I want to wear myself inspires me. Those clothes make me feel like myself. My other passion is music, so sometimes I think about the sweaters Kathleen Hanna, Patti Smith, or Blondie would wear. Designing reminds me of who I really am. I like to put song names on my patterns!

When and how did you learn to knit?

My mother taught me to keep myself entertained. But, I remember perfectly that when I took it more seriously it was to be able to make a replica of the Mike Kelly doll that appears on the cover of Dirty by Sonic Youth. So I started compulsively knitting scarves and they became fashionable in my high school.

A person hlding open a copy of Yedraknits magazine.

What are your favorite skeins in your stash?

Oh! this is hard. I have skeins that come from the hair of the goats of my friends Jackson and David that are like a treasure. And I have four skeins of Brooklyn Tweed that I bought on a trip to Philadelphia years ago that I am unable to use because of the memories they bring back.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned running your business?

I have gained confidence in myself, I have learned to motivate the people who work with me, and I have distilled more than 10 years of learning to which I did not find meaning and that, suddenly — click! — they fit together. My passion for art, my ability to lead teams or connect people, my creativity, and my need for freedom! They have joined in a job that makes me be myself: D and that makes me happy and makes many people happy!