Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Daughter of a Shepherd

A light-skinned woman with red glasses and a blue shirt with brown fleece.

Rachel Atkinson of Daughter of a Shepherd © Richard Jung

This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled, taking place from October 15-24, 2021. Tickets are now available!

For those of us who are excited about breed-specific, naturally-colored yarns, Daughter of a Shepherd is a must to add to your stash. Run by Rachel Atkinson, who is the literal daughter of a shepherd, the small UK-based operation celebrates natural black fleece in yarn as well as accessories, such as stunning tweed pouches by Julia Billings of Woollenflower, based in Scotland, and supports British shepherds and yarn producers.

Rachel will be participating in our online show in October, with a virtual shopping session taking place on Sunday, October 17 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

The story of Daughter of a Shepherd begins with the clip of the Hebridean sheep shepherded by your father. What led to you starting your yarn business?

I had been working in the yarn industry for a few years, initially at Loop in London before leaving to pursue my other job as a technical editor and book editor for various knitting and crochet publishers so was fully immersed in the yarn world. On a visit to see Dad he showed me the cheque received from the British Wool Board which represented 10% of the final value they would receive for the previous year’s clip. The cheque was for 94p (£0.94) meaning the final total would be £9.40 for approximately 300 fleeces giving each fleece a value of just 3p (£0.03).

As a knitter I would have loved to work with the incredible black Hebridean fibre and figured others also might. Just a few months later I was on a trip to the Swedish island of Gotland where you can buy natural yarn at farm stores right next to where the sheep the fleece is from are grazing and I began to wonder why we weren’t doing more of this in the UK?

I had savings for a house downpayment and decided instead to use that money to have the new clip of Hebridean fibre from Dad’s flock spun into yarn and the very first yarn launched in March of 2016. It was originally intended as a one-off project but by then I was absolutely committed to seeing where else this journey could take me.

Skeins of black, gray and cream yarn.

How do you decide on the blends that you mill?

Our first considerations are fleece that is undervalued or considered “worthless,” including the majority of naturally black or other non-white fleeces such as the tan colour of Castlemilk Moorit sheep. These naturally occurring coloured fleeces have a lower value as they are not commercially viable for dye houses whereas white wool can be dyed in a multitude of different shades. We are incredibly lucky to have 72 different British sheep breeds, each with their own characteristics and potential, it sometimes just takes a leap of faith to show others how good products from these breeds can be.

Additionally, we seek out fleece that is going to waste. Many sheep farmers bury or burn their annual clip as the amount they receive from the British Wool Board sometimes barely covers the cost of fuel to take the fleece to a depot and in extreme cases the shepherd can end up owing the Wool Board money, so our Ram Jam ranges of sport and worsted-weight yarns are all woollen spun from fibre that otherwise wouldn’t have seen a mill. We work closely with a longstanding mill in the heart of Yorkshire who spin both the black and white fleeces and blend the perfect grey gradient.

Other factors for blending, particularly with our worsted-spun range, is how well the main fibre responds to the spinning process. For our Heritage range, the Hebridean fibre is blended with Zwartbles, a similarly dark fleece, to enable a smoother spin and we then blend in a smidge of Exmoor Blueface to produce our Brume range of yarns.

A skein of dark brown yarn.

What do you think sets your yarn apart from that of other brands?

Not only do we spin natural black fleece, but we celebrate it and find uses for it beyond knitting wool, for example in blankets and tweed cloth which is then also used for creating accessories to make British wool available to different audiences, not just those who knit and crochet.

Our founding manifesto in 2015 included producing all our own label products within the UK using traditional processors to support jobs and business and ensure skills are passed on to the next generation. British wool has such a rich heritage and for these highly-skilled jobs and industry to vanish would be a crying shame. It often makes the job a lot harder and production costs much higher, but it’s hugely important to support businesses providing work for locals which in turn helps keep communities together and all employees work in what I know to be a safe environment within a company following employment law.

I have always been transparent about where the fibre is sourced, to where it’s washed, spun and finished, which often means I can tell you the exact journey a single skein has been on to get into your hands from the field the sheep graze to where the skeins were tied off.

At the end of the day Daughter of a Shepherd isn’t just about me, it’s so much more.

A flock of black sheep.

Do you have a favorite sheep breed?

It must be the Hebridean! They’re a small sheep, full of character, very hardy and live outside all year round even their lambs arrive in the open air. The flock my father shepherds are used for conservation grazing so also perform an invaluable job in an entirely natural way.

Their fleece tells the story of the year as they change colour with the sun and grow old with age; the natural black wool they are born with takes on tones of russet, gold, and silver grey. Just magical!

What are the most interesting things you’ve learned running your business?

Oh gosh, there’s been so much — it has been a steep learning curve — but learning how wool is processed within the UK has been fascinating. Going behind the scenes each step of the way and seeing the fleece being washed, to the actual machinery it is spun on, to meeting the incredibly knowledgeable people who have spun it always utterly inspiring.

A skein of dark brown yarn and a piece of lace knitting.

Tell me about how you learned to knit?

Like so many people I was taught to knit and crochet at a young age by my grandma with more advanced techniques and support provided by mum. I remember shopping for dishcloth yarn at the market with Grandma then returning to her house where I’d ferociously knit garter stitch dishcloths until the yarn ran out. Mohair (in the loosest sense of the word) sweaters soon followed along with a memorable batwing jumper.

Following on from this ’80s extravaganza, I put the needles and hooks to one side for many years before picking them up once more around 15 years ago during a long illness and got truly bitten by the bug!

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled?

There’s a special, limited-edition shade of Ram Jam Sport naturally dyed by Julia Billings of Woollenflower who I regularly collaborate with on yarn and tweed pouches, and you will also find a few seasonal bundles along with several surprises.

Many moons ago I was a personal shopper for Harvey Nichols department store so I’m looking forward to booking appointments for Indie Untanglers wishing to discuss project plans or pick out gifts for that tricky to buy for someone.

A brown/black tweed pouch in front of fabric with sheep.

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

When launching Daughter of a Shepherd I hadn’t thought beyond my hope that people would buy the yarn – it didn’t occur to me they would then go and knit with it and even wear their makes. When finished objects began to appear knitted and crocheted in our Hebridean yarn I was so overcome as it was the pinnacle of a huge and very emotional project. I still have the same reaction today whenever I see someone wearing a project made in Daughter of a Shepherd yarn and fabric or receive an email telling me all about plans for the yarn order just placed. There’s no feeling like it.

The sleeve and body of a dark brown textured sweater.Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

I’m most definitely not a monogamous knitter and currently have three sweaters on the go plus a shawl to finish and several pairs of socks and mittens awaiting their partners!

Work on a forthcoming pattern sample is taking priority, but once finished I’ll return to my Dew Sweater by Hiromi Nagasawa which has the most beautiful cabled-lace shoulder detail and is perfect for the indigo dyed Ram Jam Sport. The Spruce Peak Pullover by Amy Christoffers has been marinating in a project bag for a little too long and I’m keen to get it finished as the Ram Jam Worsted works up into a light but very warm fabric which I’ll need in my drafty studio come winter. Think I’ll have to speed up though as I’d also really love a Brume 4ply sweater – either Viburna by Fabienne Gassmann or an Eyelet Pullover by Orlane Sucche.

Wool sweater, shawl, hat, and mitten weather is my favourite time of year!

What to stash this week: summer into fall

Skeins of purple, gray, red and blue yarn.

Nikki and Jay of Laneras Yarn Company have released their new fall palette, available on wool yarn that is ethically sourced and sustainably produced in Uruguay and hand dyed in North County San Diego.

An illustration with green hills and red mushrooms and the words Gamer Days of Summer.

Wrap up your summer with Fairy Tale Yarn Co’s Gamer Days of Summer set. Dawn’s set comes with 12 individually-wrapped packages and includes 10 hanks of Dragon’s Magic 50 (Superwash Merino fingering weight) and three video gamed-themed extras.

A collage with gold, red, gray and brown yarn and beer pint charms.

Beer me a skein! The WoolenWomenFibers crew created this “flight of beer fade” mini set with beer progress keepers for BostonJen’s Pigskin party KAL.

Skeins of pink, purple and yellow speckled yarn.

Stitch Stuff Yarn is celebrating summer with a sale! Get 15% off all yarn with no coupon code required (the discount is applied at checkout).

A collage of national parks photos with purple, blue and orange tones and the words A National Parks New Year

You have until the end of the month — that’s this Tuesday! — to snag this December countdown box. It comes with mini skeins from 27 dyers and goodies from four makers interpreting wintertime images of U.S. national parks. A portion of sales will be donated to the National Park Foundation and the Native American Rights Fund, so it’s a purchase you can feel extra good about. I hope you can join us on this exciting trip!

Lit caves under a purple sky and purple, orange and green yarn.

This park is also closing: Faery’s yarn and fiber, inspired by Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, is only available preorder on Indie Untangled through the end of the day today. 

Pre-Spotlight Untangling: Hudson + West

Two women wearing red posing together in wilderness.

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Spotlight, taking place from May 14-16, 2021.

I first heard rumblings about Hudson + West during Rhinebeck 2019, where the rustic yarn brand had a soft debut, at the same fiber festival where the idea took root. This small company, started by friends Meghan Babin, the former editor of Interweave Knits, and Sloane Rosenthal, a knitwear designer, source and produce their yarns in the U.S., using a traceable, sustainable, and fair supply chain.

You can look forward to learning more about their two bases, Weld and Forge, and their stylish line of patterns at their virtual shopping sessions, and also learn more about the production of their yarns during their Let’s Talk About Wool session at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Tell us the story of how Hudson and West came to be.

Hudson + West started with two friends who were on parallel paths towards the same goal: making a yarn that would make the kinds of garments we would love to wear and could wear anywhere. Meghan and I met when I was an indie designer (and a full-time lawyer) and she was the editor in chief of Interweave Knits, when she hired me to design the sweater that became Tangled Up in Gray. We got to know each other and worked together on a number of projects over the next few years, and in 2018, both of us were trying to figure out what was next for us in the industry and were both talking to Mary Jeanne Packer, the owner of Battenkill Valley Fibers, about making yarn. MJ suggested that we work together, and we traded samples of potential yarns and got to talking at Rhinebeck in 2018 about how to make a yarn that would have the balance of durability, wearability, and ready-to-wear inspired polish that we craved, while doing it responsibly, ethically, and here in the US. H+W was born from those early conversations at Rhinebeck that year, and we opened to the public in November 2019.

Gold, navy, forest green, white and red yarn next to a map.

How have you found the sheep breeders you work with?

In our early batches of yarn, we bought our Corriedale from individual farmers and breeders in the Hudson Valley, mainly from farmers with some existing ties to either the Hudson Valley wool pool, or to MJ and our mill directly. We now work with a broader range of farmers in both the Hudson Valley and throughout the northeast and midwest, and buy a range of both raw fleece and combed Corriedale top, since our production needs have now (happily!) grown beyond being able to buy on a farm-by-farm basis. Like most US producers who use Merino, we get our Merino top from Chargeurs in South Carolina, which sources US-grown, ethically raised Merino from Colorado and New Mexico and scours and cards it for us.

How do both of you work together to decide on your color palette?

We have always been pretty aligned when it comes to the color palette, at least in terms of the broad guardrails: the colors had to be really easy to wear in a variety of settings, and feel rich and opulent and saturated while allowing some of the yarn’s underlying heathering to come through. We typically start with Pantone chips, and then I hand-dye samples in my office until we get the shade and saturation right (occasionally alarming my family members when I have multiple crock-pots of ten gram samples going in the bathroom of my office!). We look at those samples under a variety of lighting conditions and in the context of the rest of the existing palette, and the winners go to our dyehouse (Ultimate Textile in North Carolina) to go through their lab dip process and have the first test batches made.

Purple, orange, gold and pale pink yarn.

What are each of your responsibilities when it comes to the business? What are the unique things that each of you bring to your company?

We were super fortunate that we have a lot of overlapping skill sets, but also some distinct experiences that we bring to the table. Both of us are knitwear designers, and we have a lot in common in terms of our aesthetic sense and our overall creative vision for the company, so we collaborate very closely on both design work and those higher-level creative decisions. Meghan has a lot of experience with things like designer recruitment, managing editorial production, commercial photoshoots, and working with other third party publishers, all of which have been really critical to the development of our pattern support program, which has been a really important part of our journey in bringing our yarns to the world. Because of my legal background and previous start-up (and start-up adjacent) experience, and an admittedly deep love of spreadsheets, I end up having a lot of facility with more of the business back end and the production side, as well as managing our wholesale program. But overall, despite our geographically disparate setup, it’s a really free-flowing work environment, and we collaborate every day on both small and large-scale decisions.

Tell me about how each of you learned how to knit?

Meghan: My mom taught me the basics one weekend when I was home from college (I think I was about 19), and she had just learned how to knit, purl, cast on, and bind off. She promptly stopped knitting right after teaching me, but I kept on teaching myself, learning, taking classes, and experimenting with different yarns and techniques.

Sloane: Despite my mom, my best friend, and my mother-in-law both being knitters, I didn’t grow up knitting, and I actually taught myself after my older daughter was born in 2011. I was struggling with anxiety (like a lot of new moms), and the meditative nature of knitting really helped me at the time. I then got fascinated by the materials science of knitting and how our yarn affects our projects (after a few real bloopers on that score), and fell completely off the cabled sweater deep end shortly thereafter.

A woman models a black shawl with a rainbow of colors.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Spotlight?

We’re so looking forward to meeting new folks and talking about yarn! We love hearing from knitters about what’s important to them and how and what they like to knit — it’s part of what we’ve missed about this strange, trade-show-less year+. We’re also so excited to introduce Meghan’s wonderful Sunset Shawl, our show special, and to meeting some other wonderful new indie producers.

Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?

Meghan: Where to start? I enjoy so many crafts, but I definitely don’t have enough time in the day, weeks, or years to practice them all. I’ve ventured into crochet fairly well, spinning + weaving as well not as well, embroidery with enthusiasm, sewing haphazardly, and I’ve always loved cooking, baking, and mixology. I’ve always wanted to try home brewing beer, but I think I’ll have to make friends with an avid home-brewer willing to teach me.

Sloane: Mostly drawing and painting, which I find incredibly relaxing. I also love baking (especially with my kids), and block printing.

Purple, orange, red and gray yarn.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Meghan: I’m currently making myself, for the first time ever, a gorgeous black sweater. It’s Sloane’s Adams in Weld in Raven and I’m loving its sweet, simple texture. I can’t wait to wear it this winter! I als have several swatches going for our Autumn/Winter collection.

Sloane: I’m working on Melody Hoffman’s Aito shawl (from an old issue of Laine) in Forge in Cabernet. I’ve never been a huge shawl knitter (I mostly do sweaters and hats), but I’ve been on a kick of exploring shawls in my personal knitting this year, and it’s been really interesting to a) knit from someone else’s patterns and b) explore knitting something I don’t tend to gravitate towards. I’ve also really loved having something warm to put around my shoulders while I’m working!

What to stash this week: Spotlight on designers

A collage of eight people with the illustration of a brown and gold spotlight in the center.

We’re so excited to share more of what we have planned for our upcoming virtual event, Indie Spotlight, which is just two weeks away on May 14-16! We’ve partnered with yarn shop Scratch Supply Co. to put together two panels where we can meet and get to know a group of talented and fascinating designers. Since purpose of Indie Spotlight is to highlight newer businesses and those with under 10K followers on Instagram, our Spotlight designers fit that description, and were chosen because we feel they have unique viewpoints to share. 

We look forward to hearing from:

Vanessa Smith of Vanessa Smith Designs, who aims to inspire and empower other knitters feel confident in their ability to make show-stopping pieces of knitwear that they can proudly wear for years to come

Corrado Lark, an actor and singer who loves a good pop culture pun and brings that inspiration to his ornate designs

Jennifer Lassonde of Down Cellar Studio, who specializes in accessories that look complicated but are simple to execute

Chase Harpole of Chase Harpole Knits, who looks to build opportunities for individual customization into his designs so that people that knit them can feel empowerment and ownership of their own identity

Michael Green of MGZDesignsCo, who uses the beauty of Afrocentric motifs to create works that challenge the mind but are accessible to all types of knitters

Sarah Krentz of Swanky Emu Knits, who designs size-inclusive knitting patterns that automatically adapt to your unique set of body measurements with an accompanying spreadsheet

Crystal Hiatt of Milly’s Knit Designs, who designs patterns with size inclusivity at the forefront
 
Kacey Herlihy of Kacey Knits, who design patterns that are easier than they look, with low-pressure instructions and wearable results

Your $7 ticket provides you with access to shopping more than 20 vendors as well as these panels and all the other free activities in the Spotlight Lounge. Register now!

Cream-colored yarn with pink speckles.

A Wing and A Prayer Farm’s Garden Party 100% Vermont Grown Natural Hand Dyed 3-ply Cormo yarn comes from Tammy’s sheep Peter Pan, Martha, Bonnie, Bluma, Mary and Birch. Their fleece is spun at local mills and Tammy grows natural dye stuffs, or has it sourced from sustainable foragers to make these special and unique series of colorways.

Four bag with colorful animal sushi fabric.

If you’re craving some springtime sushi (I think that’s a thing?) then Alisha of KnitSpinQuilt will deliver with these bags featuring adorable sushi cats, corgis, otters and pandas. Bags are available in sock-, shawl- and sweater-sized drawstring bags and shawl-sized box bags.

A woman models a lacy cream-colored cowl.

To celebrate new color combinations in 100% Shetland wool for her popular Lemoyne Cowl kits, and Mother’s Day, Erika of Liverpool Yarns is offering 15% off the kits with the code LC15 from midnight Saturday, May 1, through end of day Tuesday, May 4.

Four skeins of wine-colored yarn.

Speaking of natural yarns, Sharon of Flora Adora Fibers is having a huge shop update tomorrow, May 1. She’ll be debuting four new non-Superwash bases will make their debut: Wisp mohair silk laceweight, Edgeland 100% Merino worsted weight, Mountain Sport gradient sets made with sportweight Rambouillet, and Meander, an organic single-ply Merino fingering weight. Lots of new colors will be also be added for existing bases: Highland DK, Zebra Crossing fingering, Merino Sock Sets and Meadow Rustic Sport. As a bonus, get 10% off May 1 and 2 with the code BOTANICA.

Striped ginger cat stitch markers.

Jillian of WeeOnes has ginger tabby cat stitch markers in her shop this week. These hand-sculpted felines come complete with hand-painted paw pads.

Gold swirled metal shawl pins atop a skein of light blue yarn.

Michelle is celebrating her birthday weekend with dazzling debuts, a weekend-long sale, and a free gift! Through Monday, you can preorder the Laurel Leaves MDSW 2021 Exclusive Shawl Pin in your choice of Shining Gold or Vintage Bronze. Along with free shipping within the U.S. on all orders over $15, you’ll save 10% sitewide with code MDSW2021. Each shopper who uses the code will find a free goodie bag of mystery notions in their order as a special birthday treat!

A collage of purple images and the words A MINI SUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM; 12 SURPRISE MINI SKEIN SET

Aimee of Pancake and Lulu is celebrating the Summer Solstice with A Mini Summer Night’s Dream, a set of 12 Shakespeare-inspired mini skeins to open each day leading up to the solstice from June 9-20. The listing will be open for a short time and available in limited quantities, so act fast!

Two hands hold up a white woven clutch.

Attention weavers: Gothfarm’s Kaolin yarn is perfect for the Gothfarm Yarn Summer Clutch. The yarn is made with natural white Lincoln Longwool sheep locks blended with Tunis sheep wool. The clutch pattern is free with at least one skein of Kaolin and the code Clutch.

Superwash versus Non-Superwash

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Skeins of gray yarn hanging on wooden clothespins.

Superwash skein left, non-Superwash skein right.

Superwash and non-Superwash yarns, what’s the difference? After all, aren’t they both wool? In my view as a knitter and a natural dyer, they are related in the way a horse, and the Emerald City’s Horse of a Different Color would be!

To understand, let’s look at the horse first, or in our case the raw wool! Sheep wool is made of natural fibrous proteins from the keratin group. The keratin is what gives yarn its flexibility, elasticity, resilience and memory. Each “hair” has a complex physical structure, and is made up of overlapping minuscule scales. The scales help repel dirt and allow the fibers to felt. In the case of some non-Superwash fibers, felting does not occur, as in down breeds. In their natural state, the fibers are coated with a waxy coat of lanolin which serves as a water repellent. During wool processing, the lanolin is removed.

Now, let’s look at the Horse of a Different Color, the Superwash. The most common treatment used to transform a yarn into “Superwash” is the Chlorine-Hercosett process. To etch the scales we talked about earlier, the fiber is chlorinated with either chlorine gas or a chlorine solution, followed by the application of a plastic resin to coat the fibers. The result is a yarn you can wash in the washing machine that will not felt.

Before I discuss the difference between the two types of yarn from a dyeing and a knitting perspective, I want to point out some of the negative environmental impacts of the Chlorine-Hercosett process. This process is not sustainable, it uses hazardous chemicals, and creates toxic waste. It uses more water and energy than traditionally processed wools, and the yarns, after they are transformed into garments or household products, shed microplastics during washing.

Because of the negative environmental impacts of the traditional Chlorine-Hercosett process, new processes have been developed to improve the washability of wool, and decrease felting. Among them, to name only a few, are the EXP process which does not use chlorine and instead uses natural salts as oxidizing agents, and the Naturetexx Plasma Process which uses air and electricity.

Now that I have said that, and that I am sure you are looking sadly at all the beautiful skeins of Superwash in your stash, you are wondering what to do. My answer is: use them! The resources and energy that were used to produce them have already been expended, and not using them would be a waste.

So how do the horse and the Horse of a Different Color compare? The two skeins below and their samples were knitted from 100% Merino fingering yarn, one non-Superwash, the other Superwash, with both skeins weighing 20g each.

Body in the skein

Two photos of gray yarn, with the bottom one curling over the edge of a table.

Non-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The difference in body between the two skeins is very apparent in the pictures below. The non-superwash skein which appears first has body, whereas the superwash clearly has not retained its natural structure. The yarn is flatter, and denser.

Drape

Four gray swatches of knitting.

No-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The difference in body translates into the drape. I knitted two identical swatches. The Superwash Merino drapes more than the non-Superwash, but is also more shapeless.

Color

Small balls of gray yarn.

This is where my experience as a hand-dyer comes in. Superwash yarns absorb color more readily than non-Superwash. Non-Superwash yarns appear more subtle, while Superwash yarns are deeply saturated. Even with natural dyes, my dyes of choice, the color difference is striking. Both yarns were identically dyed together using sequoia. In addition, the absorption of color is faster in a Superwash skein than it is in a non-Superwash skein.

Shine

The difference in color is only accentuated by the difference in light reflection. A Superwash yarn is smooth with a slight sheen, while a non-Superwash yarn is matte with a soft glow.

Elasticity/Memory

Gray yarn swatches hanging on wooden clothespins.

Superwash skein left, non-Superwash right.

Superwash yarns lose their elasticity, and memory. The absence of scales, means the fibers and stitches are sitting next to each other but are not interlocked, so they tend to stretch more readily. This would be fine for a shawl, but less attractive for a sweater. The tendency to stretch is visible when the samples are wet.

Gauge

Folded swatches and twisted hanks of gray yarn.

Superwash left, non-Superwash right.

With an equal number of stitches cast on in these samples, the Superwash swatch is wider and longer than the non-Superwash swatch. The stitches in the non-Superwash swatch are closely connected to each other, while the stitches in the Superwash swatch remain clearly separate, with minute gaps. This will have an impact on the warmth of the knitted garment, with non-Superwash yarn being significantly warmer. The Superwash swatch is flatter. Textured stitches will appear flat in the Superwash Merino, and round and plump in the non-Superwash Merino.

Softness

Both are soft, though in a slightly different way. In the case of Merino yarns, Superwash feels sleek and non-Superwash feels pillow-y.

Water

Water sitting on gray stockinette swatches.

Non-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The Superwash yarn will absorb water faster as opposed to the non-Superwash yarn which will repel the water. A non-Superwash garment will allow you to stay warmer even when wet.

As a natural dyer, a knitter and a spinner, I prefer non-Superwash fibers. Each breed-specific fiber has unique properties that make one fiber or another ideal for a particular project. The same way a Superwash Merino is drastically different from a non-Superwash Merino, Merino fiber is drastically different from let’s say Suffolk or Wensleydale. And as I hinted earlier in my post, some fibers felt and some do not. There is a perfect natural fiber for any project! This could be the subject of a whole new post, but for now, I hope you will look at your stash a little differently, and that you will explore the possibilities in using non-Superwash fibers.

References

It’s Not You, It’s the Yarn: Superwash Edition by Jillian Moreno

Why Not Superwash Yarns? from Knitting the Natural Way

Why Is Superwash Yarn Not Sustainable? by Making Stories

Are There Sustainable Superwash Options? by Making Stories

The Structure of Wool

My favorite finds at EYF 2019: Beyond Merino

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A collection of yarn, pompoms and buttons surrounds a poster for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

If the last two years at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival (and fiber events in general) were all about the speckle, then 2019 was the year of embracing sheep-y goodness in all its many varieties. The vendors at EYF have long promoted British wool, but this year it seemed like there was so much fiber content beyond Superwash Merino, even among the indie dyers who tend to gravitate towards that tried and true base.

My finds at EYF 2019 bore out that trend — in fact, I’m proud to say that there is no Superwash Merino in my haul!

Here are some of my favorite finds from this year’s EYF.

A table displayed with colorful yarn from La Bien Aimee.

One of the first things I had to check out was La Bien Aimée’s new base, Mondim. This yarn is collaboration between Aimee and Rosa Pomar, the owner of Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Lisbon, Portugal. Rosa has created yarn bases comprised of wool from Portuguese sheep and they take more than two dozen of Aimee’s colors beautifully.

Jars of pink-hued buttons.

There were already a few sweater samples knit up, including Andrea Mowry’s LYS (which stands for Little Yellow Sweater) and Isabell Kraemer’s Eula, with her sample using buttons from ultra-tempting EYF vendor Textile Garden.

A skein of light aqua yarn.

I was also excited to see London-based dyer Ocean of Ocean By the Sea, whose botanically-dyed yarn was available in a special pop-up in Ysolda’s space at the festival. There were so many tempting soothing colorways and bases, including this skein of Falkland wool in the appropriately-named Beachcomber colorway.

A pile of brown-gray yarn.

No EYF would be complete without yarn from one of Scotland’s many islands. Uist Wool is a mill that has been based in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland since 2013. I was particularly attracted to their Canach cottongrass blend, spun from Scottish Merino, a cross breed of Shetland and Saxon Merino sheep. The flecks of white in the dark gray yarn I ended up buying makes for a beautiful natural speckle.

A wall of colorful yarn.

A cream colored sweater with gray and gold colorwork.

Kettle Yarn Co.‘s colorful display of Northiam DK British Bluefaced Leicester, which is spun and dyed at a British mill, also caught my eye, as did her sample of Caitlin Hunter’s Tecumseh.

A display of yarn and patterns.

Martin’s Lab (who I’m excited to have as part of this year’s Indie Untangled yarn club) debuted a new base called Aubrey Sport, a blend of BFL and silk. It was used in the Homecoming Collection of mitts to sweaters by 10 designers.

A flared pink sweater with a cream colored yoke.

Speaking of patterns, a couple of my favorites from the show did actually use Merino: I loved Fiona Alice’s grown-up version of her Mabel baby cardigan. This sweater, called Mabel’s Sister, uses Viola DK and was available in kits at the stand for Loop London.

A pink shawl with a green stripe.

I also loved glimpsing Casapinka’s latest designs in the wild, including this new multicolored shawl, Botanique, in collaboration with Walk Collection.

What to make with handspun yarn

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I’ve been contemplating a What to make with handspun blog post for a while now, but since I haven’t quite fallen down the spinning rabbit hole yet, I decided to ask Anne of Middle Brook Fiberworks, my fiber and spinning guru, for some suggestions. She ended up sending me a terrific write-up to share with you. Please include your additional suggestions in the comments!

“What can I make with this handspun yarn?” is a question I answer at every show. I can see why: skeins are usually one-of-a-kind, with not a lot of yardage and the texture is often irregular. It’s certainly possible to find sweater quantities of beautifully consistent handspun yarn, but it would be a significant investment. Shawls and other accessories that require less than 400 yards are great for handspun because any irregularities won’t matter — unlike in a sweater or socks, where you don’t really want unfortunately placed lumps of thick slubs. Plus, woolen-spun handspun yarn (spun with a low twist from loose clouds of hand-prepped fiber, rather than a compacted commercial combed top), knits up into a thick fabric that is not only exceptionally warm, but is remarkably lightweight and lofty. My handspun hat knit from woolen-spun CVM under my rain jacket hoodie is integral for my winter farm chores!

Another option is to combine millspun yarn with smaller amounts of handspun yarn as a highlight–for a pop of texture. The Dragonwell Cowl, pictured above, which I designed with Jolene Mosely, has a section of consistent 2-ply yarn, and a small section of highly textured art yarn in a coordinating color. I’ve used handspun yarn for both sections, but millspun yarn would work just as well.

One of my favorite handspun projects is my Handspun Hansel, a handspun version of Gudrun Johnston’s Hansel. The pattern calls for 550 yards of a main color, and less than 100 yards each of four contrasting colors. I made mine with all handspun, but I think it would be terrific with a millspun main color, with handspun contrasting colors.

My next project is going to be Laura Aylor’s Between Oceans. I’ve spun four skeins of aran-weight organic Polwarth in Cirrus for the body, but because I won’t be spinning a fifth skein only to be cut into fringe, I’ll be dyeing a skein of millspun Targhee wool to match.