Joy McMillan of The Knitting Goddess joins the show today to talk about how her business has moved towards sourcing solely British and some very local yarns. Topics discussed include the difference between British and British Overseas Territory when it comes to yarn, mislabelling of yarns, wanton misrepresentation of yarns as British and what you need to think about when doing a custom blend yarn.

The Knitting Goddess is one of my personal favourite dyers and has been since I began to become interested in hand dyed yarns around seven years ago. The love affair started with the Terry Pratchett themed yarns and even gifted some to Clare Devine, who later, went on to work with Joy as a designer for a number of yarn clubs.

Screen Printed Project Bag. Image Copyright The Knitting Goddess

History of The Knitting Goddess

The Knitting Goddess started around 13 years ago, and having originally been a stockist of yarns from across the world, has steadily moved to all British yarn offering. By this, Joy means mainland Britain specifically, and she works hard with UK based mills to source yarn as locally as possible even within the UK. This includes having her own, custom yarn spun, One Farm Yarn, a truly Yorkshire yarn, with a total mileage from sheep to yarn of just 72 miles.

British Overseas Territories and Yarn

Joy and I discussed the difference between British and British Overseas Territories when it comes to wool: specifically here, the Falkland Islands. Whilst I am a huge fan of Falklands Merino because it is great quality and the sheep are not dipped as there are no pests, and there is no pollution, Joy is less keen. This is not because it isn’t excellent quality, but because it has to travel so far to be processed, which is inefficient. We discussed the relative merit of opening a scouring plant in the Falklands and how, if fleece has travelled so far, then why not use Merino from Australia of New Zealand instead.

Whilst Joy is very keen to stay as local as possible, I am more liberal in my yarn tastes, but I like to know where it is from and as much of the story as possible, so I can make a good buying decision. This brought us on to marketing and labelling of yarn.

Misleading Marketing in Yarn Labelling

This was a big focus of our discussion, probably because it is a huge bugbear for a lot of people. Whilst it’s ok to make informed choices to buy yarn from further afield, it’s not ok for companies to try and pass off yarn as being from a certain place, when it isn’t. Don’t give a yarn British branding when it is spun in Peru, then be coy about it. That is not cool and devalues the British cachet.

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How Do You Find Out If A Yarn Is British (or Local?)

It can be hard to know where to go to look for information on where a yarn is produced, from fleece source, to spinning and dyeing . It is definitely not a habit of yarn companies to show this sort of information, although consumers are becoming increasingly aware of it and are asking the question, thanks in no small part to people like Louise Scollay of Knit British and Felix Ford of Knitsonik and their clear labelling campaign.

Joy recommends asking the mills who produce the yarn  as a first stop, but also that dyers and sellers need to make it their business to find out where yarns are produced, if they don’t know already.

Joy has a personal preference to buy from as close to home as possible, but advocates buying Falklands Merino (or anything else that is clearly labelled) as long as you actually get what you are buying. You know where it has come from and you have an awareness of the level of treatment of the animals and labour conditions in the supply chain, which allows informed choice. Basically, if you’re buying something super cheap from the other side of the world, somebody will have paid for it somewhere down the line.

British Yarn Has Value

The number of dishonest brands trying to piggyback the British yarn label indicates clearly that British yarn has value, and that these brands need to be called out on their mislabelling. Simply putting a label on in the UK does not make it British yarn.

Support Local

Joy is such a fan of supporting local as there is a rich history of wool production in Yorkshire, which continues to this day. Although she is based in the affluent area of Harrogate, she is right next to West Yorkshire, which has a high unemployment rate and associated issues which come from that. Joy believes in making a difference to local businesses through her business, and this ambition dictates a lot of her decisions, even down to moving spinning of her yarns to Yorkshire-based Laxton’s.

How to Design a Custom Spun Yarn

Joy has a number of custom and small run yarns under her belt, and it’s an interesting subject to discuss. A lot of hand dyers buy blank yarn that is already mass-spun and has specific qualities designed for a more mass appeal product. J

Joy worked very closely with Laxton’s to develop her One Farm Yarn. Creating a custom yarn is mildly terrifying because you don’t actually know what you are going to get until the yarn comes back, at which point, it’s too late to change it. She put a lot of trust in Laxton’s to help her make the right decisions, and as the company has incredibly experienced staff, which have worked in a variety of places in the wool industry, they were perfectly placed to advise and ensure success.

Spinners have more knowledge about how certain fleeces and spins work together to produce the characteristics that a dyer wants in their yarn.

Laxton’s also assisted in the creation of Joy’s BFL and Mohair yarn, a no-nylon sock yarn with all British wool and Mohair.

Woolly Wool and Breed Yarn is the New Craft Beer

Joy and I compared the recent interest in craft beer to that of more niche breed wools and small batch yarns. What would once have been the preserve of Birkenstock wearing, bearded anoraks (real ale) is now super hipster and called craft beer (the beards remain, but are more fashionably kempt). Has the same thing happened with yarn, and now we’re moving away from the Fosters of yarn (merino) to something a bit hoppy, with bite?

Listener Discount Code

Joy very kindly has offered 10% off to listeners of the show with the code SHINYBEES10 until 17th September 2018. Only one code per order.

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Find The Knitting Goddess Online

You can find Joy at http://www.theknittinggoddess.co.uk

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Music for this episode used with kind permission of Adam and the Walter Boys, with ‘I Need a Drink’, available from iTunes