Woolly New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a New Year, which means new goals and intentions. I have made my usual resolutions – lose a few pounds and do a bit more exercise – but they will be forgotten as soon as I realise that it’s freezing outside and sitting indoors with a mug of tea munching biscuits is more appealing than hiking across the moors in horizontal sleet. I have also made two crochet related resolutions.

My main goal for 2017 is to publish some of the numerous crochet patterns I have been filling notebooks with during 2016. Some patterns will become free tutorials on this blog, and some will be paid patterns sold through Ravelry and/or Etsy.

The second thing I intend to do in 2017 is use more British wool. In recent years I have discovered how much more I enjoy crocheting with wool rather than acrylic. I love the feel, the smell, the way different wools behave, and most of all the fact it is natural. In the past I assumed that, unless it was labelled ‘merino’, wool made by British yarn companies was probably made from wool from British sheep, but I was wrong. Unless that ball of wool is specifically labelled as British wool or bears the British Wool Marketing Board’s shepherd’s crook mark, the chances are that it is made from wool from the other side of the world.

I have spent almost all of my life living on the fringes of the West Pennine Moors, which is hill sheep country. I only have to look out of my living room window to see a flock of sheep grazing within fifty metres of my home. Until recently there was a llama in the field too, but the llama is sadly no more (although it’s hard to be too upset about her passing because she bit me on the shoulder and sneezed in my face whenever I tried to politely introduce myself). Although the wool of the hill sheep breeds that are so common around these parts is a bit tough and carpety, I only have to walk five minutes from my home to find Jacobs, Blue Faced Leicesters and a pick-and-mix selection of interesting sheep, many of which would produce great wool for knitting and crochet. It seems daft that I’m surrounded by sheep but have mainly been crocheting with wool from Australia, South Africa or Peru. By buying more British wool I will be supporting British farmers and British wool processors, and I will get to explore the wonderful variety of wools that British sheep breeds produce. We have more native breeds of sheep than anywhere else in the world!

Here are just a few of my sheepy neighbours:

p1090183-2  p1090169-2

p1080468 p1080587

p1090164-2 p1080463

I am slightly obsessed with sheep, which is why I take so many photos of them.

I try to support my local yarn shop as much as I can, but it is a small shop and the only British wool yarn they had in stock last time I visited was West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply in the printed colourways. It’s a lovely yarn, and great for stripy socks, but it isn’t what I need for the projects I have planned. After trying my local branches of Habiknit and Abakhan I was still empty handed, so next stop was the internet.

I ended up putting in an order with Wool Warehouse, who have the biggest selection of yarn I have ever encountered, which meant I managed to get the perfect yarns for my next five projects. They delivered very quickly, despite the holiday season. The yarn even arrived in two big mesh drawstring bags, which means I don’t have to repurpose another pillowcase or canvas shopping bag to store all my new wool.

The British wools that I bought in my yarn splurge included two 100g skeins of West Yorkshire Spinners undyed Jacobs DK in slightly different shades of browny-grey. It’s spun in Keighley, which is only an hour’s drive from where I live. I thought the wool might be a bit itchy and prickly, but I needn’t have worried. While it’s not as silky smooth as Blue Faced Leicester, it is squishy soft. I’d be quite happy to wear a hat or scarf made from it, although more sensitive folk might not want to wear it next to their skin. I like the fact it is Jacob wool, as my local farmer has a small flock of Jacobs and quite often keeps them in the field next to my home. They are wonderful brown and white spotty sheep with magnificent horns. I also bought a ball of West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley, their 75% British wool, 25% nylon blend, which is also softer than I expected. The colour, Blueberry Bonbon, is a rich bright blue which is stunning, and the hat I make with it is going to look great with the bright blue waterproof jacket I wear to go hiking.

West Yorkshire Spinners yarns
West Yorkshire Spinners yarns

I’ve also been spinning lots of British wool on my drop spindles. After my birthday in November I treated myself to a couple of new drop spindles of different weights, a pair of mini hand carders and an assortment of British combed wool tops from Wingham Wool Work. I have Whitefaced Woodland, Jacob and Black Welsh, all of which have a similar micron range. The Whitefaced Woodland feels softest, and the Welsh is the coarsest. I have been carding the natural coloured wools into little rolags with tiny amounts of dyed Merino ‘waste wool’ in a variety of colours (see previous post for the shawl I made for my Mum out of more ‘waste wool’). The rolags that the mini hand carders make are perfect for using with a drop spindle, as they are hand sized and easy to manage.

Rolags and carders
Rolags and carders. The cardboard box has holes and notches in it because it serves as my makeshift lazy kate when I’m plying yarn.

I’ve been spinning each wool breed individually, then plying them together so that by the time I’ve finished I will have a gradient going from white to very dark brown. I’m about a third of the way through the spinning and so far I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out. The subtle flashes of colourful Merino mixed in with the natural fleece is making a very interesting yarn. The final 2ply yarns are slightly thicker than DK and I am hoping to get enough yardage to make a sleeveless lace cardigan-shawl type thing (a shawligan?) that should look very rustic. I washed the hanks that I have finished so far, and here is a photo of them drying in front of a radiator (ignore the brightly coloured acrylic ties, they aren’t part of the yarn). The hanks aren’t in gradient order, but I’m sure you get the idea!

Hand spun yarn hanging up to dry.
Hand spun yarn hanging up to dry.

If you are reading this, I hope you are enjoying the new year and have some woolly, crafty goals for 2017!

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