Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Garthenor Organic

A son and mother.

Jonny King and his mom, Sally, of Garthenor.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

I first heard of Garthenor Organic and their sheep-y, organic British wool yarn when I attended the Edinburgh Yarn Festival a few years ago. I was excited when they applied to vend at this year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show (now Indie Untangled Everywhere). Although they won’t be crossing the pond to join us, I’m happy to introduce them to you virtually.

Tell me the story of how Garthenor Organic came to be.

We’d farmed sheep here at Garthenor for a few years, and in 1999 our first batch was sent to a mill that was just five miles down the road. That first batch was simply that Mum wanted some yarn from the sheep! She sold it at local farmers markets, and at the time there was a real drought of proper wool yarns, so it was a bit of an instant hit. Within a couple of years, we were working with a handful of organic farms to source some other breeds and we really just grew from there!

White yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Basalt

Why did you decide to focus on organic products?

Ever since we’ve lived at Garthenor, the farm has been managed to organic principles. We got our certification in the late 1990s, and it felt like the right approach for making yarn too. We worked closely with the local mill to develop the first ever organic standards for wool, so as a result we actually produced the first certified organic wool yarns in the world! More than any certification, it really feels like the right way to do what we do, by treading lightly on the planet and using amazing, renewable fibre from high welfare flocks.

A man holds a black lamb.

Where is your fiber sourced from?

We work directly with farmers to source all the wool, rather than going through brokers. Each of the farms is based in the UK, with the exception of the fleece we get from a single flock on the Falkland Islands – that’s the only wool I don’t collect myself! By sourcing the wool like this, we have a real connection to the flocks that grow it, and we can also be confident of it’s origin, and that animal welfare standards are being met. All of the wool from our own flock also gets spun, though that’s a fairly small percentage overall!

How much yarn does your company produce each year?

Not enough! Last year we spun around 10-12,000kg, and this year we were hoping for more, but mill closures have put us a bit behind. We’re really conscious that this gorgeous fibre is a finite resource each year, so we’re focusing on making amazing yarn that has a story.

A brown, black and white lamb.

A Shetland lamb.

How big is the team at Garthenor and is everyone a crafter?

Just two of us! I think people are often surprised, but it’s just me and Mum. It gets pretty hectic, especially when lambing and yarn shows are in full swing! I’m quite a novice knitter, but Mum is the expert.

Can you talk about some of the business challenges you’ve had to overcome during the pandemic?

Day to day, we’ve managed to cope fairly well. Being on an upland farm in West Wales has meant that isolation is something we’re fairly used to! We’d normally have expected to be exhibiting at a dozen or so yarn shows, and we’re really missing the community aspect of seeing all our friends there. The two mills that spin most of our yarn also closed for a while during lockdown, so there have been some delays behind the scenes.

Orange yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Sunset.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

We have a couple of colourways that’ll be launched for Indie Untangled Everywhere, which I’m super excited about. One, in particular is a beautiful rare breed that we haven’t had for ages.

What are some of your favorite FOs you or your customers have made with your yarn?

I really love them all – it’s such a wonderful feeling to see that yarn that we’ve worked so hard to make being loved enough to turn into a FO! I always lean towards the undyed shades myself, and seeing some gorgeous neutral colourwork always warms my heart.

A weekend in NYC with Andrea Mowry

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Lisa of Indie Untangled and Andrea Mowry post with tote bags featuring the Brooklyn Bridge over a yarn ball.

Andrea and I pose with the Andrea Untangled tote bags.

A while back, I learned via Facebook that my friend Brian had created a new music venue in Brooklyn called Murmrr, a few miles away from my apartment, in a space he and his business partners leased from the Union Temple of Brooklyn. As long as I’d known him, Brian had been in a band, and one of my first train rides from Long Island into New York City sans parents was to see him and some of our other high school classmates perform as Pesantes at a long-shuttered club in the East Village (their cover of Guided By Voices’ As We Go Up, We Go Down was a favorite of mine). At Murmrr, he arranged for musicians such as Bjork and Nick Cave to perform at the space, also hosting live podcasts, comedy shows and author talks.

I had already been thinking about doing some Indie Untangled events in the city, but I wanted something that was different from the usual marketplace — especially since I already do plenty of shopping at my four Brooklyn yarn shops. After seeing a couple of shows at the new space, I knew we could put together something cool. And Murmrr would be a fitting venue, since so many knitwear designers seem like they’re rock stars.

It was with that in mind that I contacted Andrea Mowry and Kristy Glass last year about the idea for what would become Andrea Untangled. Kristy would interview Andrea in what was essentially a live version of her popular podcast, and afterward there would be a small marketplace with exclusive colorways available for some of Andrea’s designs.

In early January — eerily, a couple of weeks before tickets to Andrea Untangled were set to go on sale — writer Edith Zimmerman wrote a love letter to Andrea in The Cut, calling her “the knitting world’s Taylor Swift. Cute, talented, driven, precise, upbeat, and kind, with a wink and a flicker of darkness.

“This all feels a little like putting up pictures of her in my school locker, although that is kind of how I feel,” Edith wrote. “I love her!”

Kristy then had the brilliant idea to invite Edith on stage to begin the show, interviewing her before letting her meet her idol onstage. As she wrote to me proposing the opening act: “It’s like the ultimate fan girl moment — kind of like Kim MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie representing all the girls in America.”

Two women embrace on a stage.

Andrea and Edith after their meeting onstage at Andrea Untangled.

Even though I’m part of the industry, I have to admit that I was still a bit starstruck when it came to really meeting Andrea, not just in passing at Edinburgh or Rhinebeck. While I was not at all nervous about the show itself — I knew that Kristy was a pro, and I felt that if I could execute an event as large as the Rhinebeck Trunk Show, this would be a piece of cake — I did feel first-date jitters as I went out to meet Andrea for lunch Friday afternoon before her first appearance of the weekend at Knitty City.

I agonized over what to wear, settling on a black, lacy dress from WISP (a StitchFix find), which I paired with gray tights and a sample of Andrea’s Golden Hour shawl that Paola of mYak had leant me. I couldn’t believe that my job included sharing plates of pierogi and knitting with one of the knitting world’s It girls.

Showing off colorful skeins of yarn.

Andrea shows off some of her finds at Knitty City.

As the weekend went on, I discovered that Andrea was also awed by the fact that this was her job. That people loved her designs so much, they would wear her shawls and cardigans to meet her in unseasonably warm weather, travel to take her brioche class, or write a gushing article about her for New York magazine.

Two women pose onstage with a large triangular shawl in pink and mustard yellow.

Andrea and Kristy show off the famous Find Your Fade shawl. Photo by Emma Holter.

In her answers to Kristy’s questions onstage at the main event, Andrea came across as the kind of person that we could all relate to. After Kristy asked Andrea what her favorite food was, my friend Shameka said she whispered to her seat neighbor that hers was curried mango. Andrea replied that she loved mangoes and tofu, which Kristy then suggested would taste great in a curry. Later, when Kristy asked Andrea “What’s your favorite boy band?” and she answered, “The Smiths,” somewhere 17-year-old Lisa was incredibly impressed.

Two women take a selfie.

Andrea poses with Gaye Glasspie of GGMadeIt.

On Sunday, Andrea came to one of my local yarn shops, String Thing Studio, for the last event of her whirlwind weekend, which also included workshops and appearances at Brooklyn General and Argyle Yarn Shop. Her meet and greet turned into an afternoon hangout, with Andrea passing around her samples, giving knitting advice and answering questions as we sat on the cozy couches and in chairs that had been packed in and around the back of Felicia Eve’s tiny shop in Park Slope, not too far from Murmrr. Even as she posed for selfies/photobombs, it didn’t seem all that different from any other knit night.

Rock star knitters — they’re just like us.

Celebrating three years of Indie

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I’m sure you agree with me that time flies when you’re knitting. I can be doing the most mundane thing, including inching across the Manhattan Bridge on the Q train and, if I’m working on my latest WIP, I can almost (almost) forget the nonexistent “train traffic.”

Time has also flown for Indie Untangled, which officially launched three years ago, on April 4, 2014. Since then, I’ve sent out 157 weekly newsletters, published 766 Marketplace posts and welcomed hundreds of fellow fiberphiles to three Rhinebeck Trunk Shows. I’ve also given away countless skeins of yarn and, of course, some prizes are in order to mark this special occasion.

Today through Saturday I will be giving away three skeins on Instagram. Check the feed each day to learn about that day’s prize and how you can win.

Thanks so much for coming along on this yarn-filled journey with me!