Tuesday 21 August 2018

Exclusive Interview With Northern Yarns + Lancastrian Poll Dorset Wool Review

Today, to celebrate the forthcoming launch of her 2018 clip of Lancastrian Poll Dorset Wool, we have an exclusive interview with Kate Makin of Northern Yarn, who not only sells gorgeous British yarns but also supports local farmers in Lancashire.

Q. Where did your love of knitting come from Kate?
A. My grandma taught me to knit as a child. I used to go and stay with her in Manchester at the weekends as my parents were social workers and often worked weekends. My grandma knitted for her local wool shop and would knit tops for us all; I loved watching her busy hands, cleverly working their magic and I would be mesmerised for hours.

Q. What was your first knit?
A. A pink mohair glasses case for my brother (which never saw the light of day!) I came back to knitting in my twenties, I worked long hours in hostels and often had days off in the week where I could just on my bed and knit all day with an audio book on! It also helped me to stop smoking and detach myself from often quite distressing days at work.

Q. How did you go about starting a knitting business?
A. When we relocated from London to Lancaster several things seemed to happen all at once. My youngest was about to start nursery so I was looking for work, I had fallen in love with our new Northern abode and my county Lancashire, with its numerous fields of sheep and I was starting to see a world that I'd never been part of before - farming! Then our local wool shop closed. My sister-in-law Helen encouraged me to think about starting a business based around what I was passionate about - knitting, wool and local sheep.

Q. How did you find British wool to sell?
A.  I googled Lancashire wool and came up with my first line - Lancashire Farm Wool produced by Kate Schofield. Kate had wool spun from sheep looking out on Morecambe Bay in Silverdale and Arnside and needed an outlet to sell her yarn. I then found Teeswater Wool in Clitheroe and before long had gathered together a small selection of locally sourced British wool. I threw a launch party in the local community centre and was thrilled that people were delighted to see proper wool, wool that had a story and provenance.

Q. What's your ethos?
A. My ethos is no plastic, no airmails, just good honest wool. We had sheep all around us with farmers that didn't get very much for their fleece. It made sense to base my business around this. I like wool that has a story, I want to know who looks after the sheep. It makes the wool so much more than something to knit or crochet with.

Q. Tell us about your bricks and mortar shop.
A. After working the market for 18 months I found I needed to look at an alternative. I had so many more lines I wanted to bring in but I couldn't fit any more in the car or o the stall! I was sometimes stopped by the weather but a shop was a big step. Then as if by magic I got talking to a friend who was also thinking about sharing a shop. We found 74 Penny St, Lancaster straight away on a gorgeous little street full of independent shops. Customers love the eclectic mix of wool and collectables.

Q. Which yarns will readers find if they pop in your shop?
A. I have my own brand wool and have now had four breeds spun with many more in the pipeline. I also stock West Yorkshire Spinners, New Lanark, Jamiesons of Shetland, Doulton Border Leicesters, Dodgson Wood's Shear Delight, Knitting Goddess, Town End Alpacas and many more including breed-specific farm wools.

Q. And your online shop www.northernyarn.co.uk?
A. My online shop is my way to communicate with customers who don't live locally, so I try and write a regular blog post with information about new wools, farm visits etc. I have several unique lines that are not sold anywhere else and when customers buy from me they can read exactly where the wool has come from and know that they are supporting small independent businesses.

Q. We love your latest yarn 100% Pure Poll Dorst Lambswool. Thanks for sample! How did the yarn come about?
A. As I started my business up I immediately wondered about the possibility of having my own wool spun. I talked to a farmer mum at the school gates who kept pedigree Poll Dorsets and she invited me to the farm to meet the sheep and find out more about them. I went to watch the sheep being sheared and then a friend showed me what to look for in a fleece, checking for breaks in the staple, choosing younger fleeces - there was so much to learn. After a lot of investigation I found Halifax Spinning Mill in Goole. I drove the fleeces there and had a tour, watching wool being carded and plied above our heads!

Image courtesy of Dorset Horn & Poll Sheep Breeders' Association
Q. Then the finished product arrived?
A. Yes, a few months later I was able to squish my own pure Poll Dorset Lambswool 4ply and a DK blend of Poll Dorset and Bluefaced Leicester. It has long run out but I've now just got last year's clip back from the mill.

Q. Ah - that's the clip our lovely sample is from! What have knitters made with your Dorset Lambswool?
A. Winwick Mum used the lambswool the design her Easy Cable socks, Alitzah Grant designed a beautiful wrap called Fleetwood, and Wendy Peterson of YarnSub designed the shawl Northern Flurries.

Q. What do you like to knit in your 'downtime'?
A. My latest project was a Kate Davies Carbeth cardigan, I love almost all her designs. Karie Westermann is fabulous.  I recently knitted from This Thing of Paper, which is such a beautiful book. Jane Murison (Yarnison) has a really funky collection of patterns too.

The Review
The 100% Pure Poll Dorset Lambswool 4ply is crisp and springy to the touch, with a delightful slight aroma of sheep - you don't get that with acrylic!

I knitted a quick stitch sample and was pleased with the definition and look when blocked. It's not itchy against the skin, has a very slight halo and would be great for knitting jumpers, scarves and hats.

This year's clip of Poll Dorset Lambswool goes on sale on 8th September in the Northern Yarn shop in Lancaster to mark its first birthday. It'll be available to buy from 9th September from the Northern Yarn website. Each 100g skein will cost £12.

1 comment:

  1. What a great interview! Kate is just as lovely in real life as you'd imagine from reading her answers and it's been a joy to have met her and the sheep that created her very special Northern Yarn!


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