As I mentioned the other day, I named my first cardigan design after one of the most inspirational people I know in the knitting world: Louise Scollay.
Louise lives in Shetland where she writes and blogs fuelled by her passion for wool – and especially good quality, local British yarns. She champions small local producers, encourages big companies to support the British wool industry and she is especially keen on making knitters aware that knitting British (or local) does not mean you have to spend a fortune. We have some incredible local yarns in Britain and we should be shouting to the heavens about them.
Needless to say, Louise and I get on very well! We share that passion for honest, authentic yarns that have a strong grounding in a particular landscape. Some people think I am mad for loving “rustic” yarns so much, but Louise understands. This shared understanding led to a good friendship and now .. an interview.
What makes you so passionate about championing wool – and particularly local, British wool?
When I started KnitBritish I just wanted to shout loudly about the wool I was using and really hoped that someone might find it interesting, learn something along with me and try British wool for themselves. Until a few years ago it never occurred to me to look at where the wool came from. I was just drawn to texture and colours. When I realised that there were over 60 breeds of sheep breeds in the UK - not to forget alpaca, angora, mohair and cashmere – I just knew that I had to try them all (spoiler: I haven’t managed yet).
What I am passionate about now is trying to move us away from the idea that British wool is not suitable for next to skin wear, or it is not suitable for hand-knitting. There are plenty of UK sheep whose fleece is more suited to carpets and upholstery, but we have an amazing resource of wool – varied in handle, texture, colour, and characteristics – which are not enjoying their place in the country’s stash next to the merino that many knitters are drawn towards. British breed wool is astonishing! Each is unique and different, e.g. Bluefaced Leicester and Wensleydale are both longwool breeds, but they do not provide the same kind of fleece. I urge more people to just jump over to Blacker, select a ball of yarn that they have never tried before and just give it a go.
Blacker Yarns, ah yes. Their selection is amazing. I got a sampler back recently and it’s mind-blowing just how different the various breeds knit up. I can see why it’s an absorbing project to try out all the various breeds. Along the same lines, I have to ask: What are some of your favourite British yarns?
Going into Jamieson and Smith is like entering the best sweetie shop ever! In addition to the vast range of dyed colours, you can’t beat those natural colours. The fact that the wool just gets softer and warmer the more you wash and dress it means your knitted item has longevity. I am also a big fan of West Yorkshire Spinners. Recently more commercial yarn companies are starting to think British and that is really heartening.
This is true. when I began getting into local yarns, there were very few available from commercial companies. However, in the last couple of years, even the commercial selection has become huge. You mentioned going into J&S – you obviously live in Shetland. Do you think the complex knitting heritage of Shetland plays a part in your desire to champion local producers?
Knitting here has had its big peaks and bigger troughs. When I think of Shetland’s knitting heritage I think about subsistence knitting, the exploitation and poor wages of many knitters. I think of Shetland knitting being the forefront of fashion trends through the beginning of the 20th century and declining again, until the oil industry into the 80s helped boost the industry and economy. Knitting has never gone away here – granted much of the industry knitting in the past was done with little pleasure for the craft – but you can’t really chuck a ball of wool here without hitting someone who can knit. Knitting was even a part of the curriculum in Shetland schools for many years (until recently). I feel very rooted to that heritage, coming from knitting and crofting stock, and maybe that is why I feel strongly about supporting our home-grown wool resources. KnitBritish started because I bought a yarn that came from a farm just a short trip from my back door, so it definitely started here.
Where can people learn more about local British yarns?
If anyone is interested in finding British breed wool there are three main havens for me; Blacker Yarns are a fantastic resource for British, organic, rare and specialist breeds. They source all fleece – and fibre for their alpaca and mohair yarns – from Britain and also from the Falkland Islands while all of the processing and spinning takes place in the UK. There is plenty of information on the characteristics of the wool, handle and information on the breed. Blacker is truly an invaluable resource and they are really committed to providing the best of British available. Garthernor is another excellent resource, particularly if you are looking for organic yarn. The website can be a little clunky to navigate, but it is jam-packed with information on sheep breeds and there is a shop. They do blends of British breeds as well, which adds new textural and colour interest. I always recommend that anyone interested in knitting with rare breed yarn, or in British sheep breeds in general, should look at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website. There is a watch list of the critical, endangered, vulnerable and at risk breeds – if you are interested in doing some small part in helping these breeds, knitting with their wool is a good place to start.
Finally, how has Knit British changed your knitting life?
…I think the most awesome thing is that I have been able meet such amazing people through what I do. I truly love the communities I find myself in through wool and knitting – particularly through social media. I count myself very lucky that someone I hadn’t met till this year (though I already called my friend) decided to name a cardigan pattern after me. That’s pretty awesome.
Well, you are pretty awesome, Louise.
Louise is part of the Wovember team and will also be cheerleading at the podcast lounge of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Go say hi to her!