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!
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.
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.
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.
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.