Its been a frantically busy time since I last wrote introducing this lovely Norfolk Horn yarn. June is always horrendously busy. This year more so than normal.
In between getting out out and about giving a hand with shearing and sorting fleeces for this years clip I’ve also been carrying out more research into the Norfolks history – more on this exciting project as the next few months go by. All this squeezed in between the usual events, craft fairs and festivals that seem to run back to back from May till now. Introducing my lovely yarn to its public in addition to my usual hand dyed fibres and hand spun yarns has been great. I’ve met so many interesting people and gained new contacts. The network grows. Its been overwhelming at times.
Family life has also taken a busy turn in the past month or so. With children returning home as adults (a memorable day trip to Lockerbie for lunch and bringing home a kayak). At the same time Sean’s mum is transitioning to live with her children. A busy time indeed.
But now things have slacked off and I have had time to play in the workshop with this lovely Norfolk Horn yarn. Putting it through its paces and seeing what it can do well. I hope these swatches will give you an idea of the sorts of textures and patterns that it will work well with.
I’ve tried it out in plain, eyelet and cables. Its giving really good stitch definition and a nice handle. Its the best of sheepy yarn: bouncy, soft and not too tickly. The following swatches were all knitted on 3.5mm needles.
Cables. 3.5mm needles gauge 29 stitches 42 rows to 10cm
Its has a delicate pearly shimmer to it. And I’m really liking the oatmeally and the peppering of dark dusty flecks of colour in it.
I am experimenting with dyeing it. Its going to take some time as I really don’t want to loose that special shimmering colouration that is so Norfolkish.
I’ve also been working on some one skein wonder patterns, these I will publish on Ravelry as I finish them to the point where I am happy with them. I am learning to accept that these things can not be rushed.
If you wish to get you hands on some don’t wait too long, its going fast. Full details on the yarn and how to buy it can be found here.
Ok, so the whole online shop thing is taking me a wee bit longer than I’d planned. Doesn’t everything? So many choices and decisions. And charges! Boy do those one stop shop easy peasy e-commerce providers hide their charges! Any way I think I’ve found my perfect (for now) solution based in the UK, transparent annual charges and carbon neutral. Perfect.
So I’ve decided to take the plunge any way and debut my ladies.
Drum roll please…
Launching today some very lovely and extremely rare limited edition 2017 norfolk horn yarn.
Squishy, sheepy and softer than you imagine.
Yay! I cannot quite believe I’ve got my act together enough to get to this point. But here we are.
If you are itching to get your hands on some and cannot possibly wait any longer then read on.
The totally professional (cough cough) handspun approach to online e-commerce…
Here’s the important stuff:
£8.00 per skein
Skeins are 50g approx 160m
Knits to 4-ply
(photos show all info on label)
Postage UK £3.40 (royal mail 2nd class – I will ship signed for UK £4.40 specify if you prefer this option)
I will ship globally but will quote shipping cost when you order.
Payment will be via PayPal
To place an order please email me (jennatfibreworkshop.co.uk) with how many skeins you would like and we can take it from there.
I’ve been preoccupied with the labelling for this delicious Norfolk Horn yarn. Honestly, I am so excited by this project its ridiculous. My preoccupation with tiny details is knowing no limits. I really am sweating over the small stuff.
My current preoccupation is labelling. What do I want you to think and know when you see, squish, sniff and work with this precious yarn?
This has meant getting to grips with new software. Once upon a time it felt like the computer ruled my every waking moment. Its overwhelming hunger for the production of data to be analysed in spreadsheets, databases, powerpoints and the words. The words. The terrifying enormous volume of words. So much guff!
It took a while before I could spend any length of time with a computer or device of any kind. I did anything to avoid it. The thought of it gave me the heeby geebies. I would get this clenching in the gut just thinking about it. As time has gone by I have been able, bit by bit to rationalise those away. And, for the first time in a long while, I lost some hours working on a borrowed computer teaching myself to use graphics software so I could produce a logo and the labelling for this limited edition Norfolk Horn yarn. I had forgotten how much fun it was loosing yourself in the creative process of representing ideas and concepts visually. Not just the creativity of it but also the challenges of learning the skills to make them.
This is one of Olivers lovely ladies from down the road. She contributed her fleece to the 2017 clip. She was my starting point.
I think she is a perfect example of her breed. I love her blackface, those slim long black silk stockinged legs, the swept back open horns and that slightly wild-eyed look. I knew that the logo had to be a representation of the physical characteristics of the Norfolk. But I also wanted it to convey their character. A little bit wild, a wry intelligence and quirky in a sort of just off left of centre way.
It is to be simple, direct, and unfussy. A bit like the Norfolk Horn. In other words, I see more than just a rare breed of sheep. The Norfolk represents so much more to me. The Norfolk horn personifies its place and its people. In other words, everything that I wanted the yarn to encapsulate and express.
This is she:
Sean thinks she’s a wee bit devilish, but I like her. What do you think?
And the other side:
Just in case you are interested its printed on 100% recycled, unbleached, unlaminated white card printed with environmentally friendly inks at a printers that actually has an environmental policy. I like companies that sweat over the small stuff . It means that you and I don’t have to…
The yarn has arrived safe and sound. It was a surprisingly emotional moment. I confess I did well up a bit. Silly, but it was a bit of a moment for me.
No you can’t see it yet. I’m being quite possessive. Its not ready for its debut yet. I want everything to be perfect. It deserves it.
It is exactly what I had hoped for. The care and effort taken at each step of the way was well worth it. In the husbandry of the shepherds, the shearing by the shearers, my fussiness in sorting only the best of the fleece before taking it to the mill, and the exceptional milling by The Natural Fibre Co.
Just to tease you: It is so soft, bouncy and fluffy as tufts of clouds and just a bit tickly. A proper sheepy yarn.
But I am only half way there. There is an extraordinary amount of stuff that needs to be done to get a yarn to market. I think I may have just done the easy bit. I have a budget so low it’s almost non-existent so buying in expertise is not an option. This is going to be a one woman operation. Production – me. Marketing – me. Admin – me. Sales – me. Do I have any experience of these things? No. This is going to be interesting.
For example, labelling. How will it be labelled. Tags or bands? What information needs to go on it. Whos going to print it? On what paperstock? What size? So many questions that need answers. My head might just explode.
But what has been exercising me most is how to minimise the environmental impacts of what I am doing. If you know me or have read my blog, you will probably have noted that these things are important to me. I try to do less evil wherever I am able to. So for me all the packaging for this project has to be as low impact as possible.
Paper? Have you ever thought about swing tags, you know those attractive tags that you will pull of your yarn and then chuck in the recycling/bin/compost. These are the choices that need to be made in producing it: Paper stock: 100% virgin woodpulp from sustainably managed forests or 100% recycled paper? Either kraft (unbleached brown) or if white then chlorine bleached or can I get unbleached? Laminated with plastic for that shiny smooth professional look or unlaminated? That’s an easy one. And then there’s the inks and how it’s printed. And the list goes on. And then there’s finding a printer that not only offers these choices but also has the environment embedded in their own practise and thinks the same as me.
Packaging? This is another huge (and very topical) issue. FFS we’ve been recycling since the late 1980’s so you would think we would have this thing sorted by now. I hate those plastic postal bags. I’ve taken the decision to be as plastic free as possible with packaging. My customers should be able to throw their packaging straight on the compost heap where it will biodegrade. Luckily there are now a huge choice of recycled card options. I’ve even sourced a 100% recycled paper parcel tape that is completely biodegradable as it uses latex based adhesive to seal my parcels with. How good is that.
In the meantime. Me and the Norfolk Yarn are having a cosy time of ‘getting to know you’. As you can imagine, lots of squishing and sniffing and lots of swatching. I’ve been testing out different needle sizes, different stitches, lace, cables, textures.
More on this soon. I’m not ready to share yet. When she is ready for the big reveal you will be the first to know…
Its ready! My Norfolk Horn yarn is finished. It will be wending its way to me very soon.
Gulp. Golly, shit just got real! I’m having a bit of a panic attack. What have I done? Is this project going to do what I want it too?
Its been a long journey already. Beginning in the winter of 2015 when the first itching of wanting to do something for these regal wonderful sheep who helped me out so much.
The itch would not go away. I knew from my spinning life that many small holders have nowhere for their fleece to go aside from the odd one to spinners like me. Most talk of using them for mulch or compost or worse still burning. This lead to more research into what happens to wool in the UK. Phone calls with the wool board. The prices paid. Conversations with local sheep farmers, small holders and their shearers. The appalling situation that people who keep small flocks of rare breed sheep face when it comes to their fleeces made me more convinced to do something. I wrote up what I found in a post on the issue here . Rachel Atkinson (Daughter of a Shepherd) wrote a particularly impassioned blog post : fleeced in her blog My life in Knitwear. Recounting how her father received less than £10 for his entire clip of Herdwicks from the Wool Board, roughly 3 pence a fleece. I was convinced that this was absolutely a good thing to do.
More research. How exactly did you get fleece turned into yarn? Is it possible to produce a yarn from Norfolk Horn that would be beautiful and economically viable? Who would spin it? It had to be done properly. And by properly I meant not just spinning the breed to its best but also with care to the environmental impacts from this process. If you know me you know I live my life trying to do less evil so this is a non negotiable part of it. The Natural Fibre Company had answers to all my questions.
It was a fun spring and summer finding the people who keep Norfolk horns that would sell me their fleeces. People like Oliver in the village with his tiny flock. The team of volunteers and Richard the farm manager at Gressenhall Museum of Rural life who gave me their entire clip. Waiting on people who turned out not to be able to help me. The weird and the wonderful. I’m not a sociable type, so for me this was well out of my comfort zone. But it was good for me to have something to focus on.
Another question was how do I raise the funds to pay for it all? This project had to stand on its on its own. No funding. No raiding the pension fund. No savings to draw on. I spent the summer at local events with The Fibre Workshop squirrelling every penny into to the Norfolk Horn Project fund. So thank you to every one that bought a mini batt, handyed roving, spindles, fleece and felted nicnaks. I could not have done this without you.
And, in October 2017 I took my tiny crop of 3 bags full to the mill. You can read about that adventure here.
So, would you like to know what I did this weekend? I am so excited I can hardly contain myself.
You will probably have picked up that I have a bit of a thing about Norfolk Horns. Well I have decided to do something with it and have a wee project. And on Friday I took a whole load of fleece to the mill to be spun into yarn.
All summer I have been tracking down flocks of Norfolk Horn with the aim of sourcing fleece from small local producers. I’ve been hunting up and down byways and highways, chasing leads. I’ve met some really grand folks who couldn’t have been more helpful and others who were less so. All were passionate about their sheep. I have to give thanks to them.
This has seen me spending a few days at Gressenhall Farm during shearing. Where I was privileged to watch and learning about shearing with Richard, the farm manager. He even let me have a go at shearing. I’ve never actually handled a sheep before. The closest I have ever got is petting some on the head. It’s no wonder she has a mad terrified look in her eyes. Junior is a wee bit curious…
The clippers were surprisingly heavy and vibrated strongly, nothing like the ones I use to clip Sean. I was a bit of a jessy and did a terrible job. I don’t think I will make a shearer!
The flocks tend to be tiny. In general their fleeces are in such small quantities that they do not send them to the BWMB. It’s too complicated and doesn’t earn any money. The price for Norfolk Horn at last check was about 80 pence a kilo. The average fleece weight for a Norfolk Horn fleece is about 1.5kg so thats less than £1.50 a fleece. Selling via the BWMB won’t even cover half the cost of shearing. Other markets are hand spinners or selling on line. Here the price is better, £5 – £8 per fleece. But this is time consuming, reliant on word of mouth and networks and there are only so many hand spinners to go round.
I wanted to do something about this. Can I source local fleece, pay a fair price and produce a yarn that is economically sustainable? This is very much a pilot project. We will see what the answer to these questions are in the coming months.
On Friday the 13th October (an auspicious date) I packed all the fleece up into the back of the van and drove them to the Natural Fibre Company in Launceston, Cornwall for the next stage in the adventure.
The Natural Fibre Company is a specialist in processing rare breed fibre. Its also the sister company to Blacker Yarns. I think it might be the largest small mill in the UK that spins both wool and worsted yarns under the same roof! Most importantly for me, in addition to a wealth of experience of spinning single breed yarns, they have tip top sustainability ethics and environmental credentials including a licence for organic production. The mill has been in Launceston, Cornwall since 2005. Though the company has a longer pedigree. It was started by Myra Mortlock in Methyr Tydfil in 1991 with her husband Phillip. In 2004 the business was taken over by Sue Blacker, one of their customers, and moved to Cornwall. In 2008 the company installed a dye plant and launched Blacker Yarns. Quite a heritage.
So on a wet windy Friday we pitched up with our three bags full and were met by Cyd. The mill itself is not what you would expect from the outside. As you pull of the A30 onto the Penygillam Trading estate you think this can’t be the right place but there it is at the end of the line. A very modest non-descript typical trading estate building that gives nothing away of the magic that is happening inside!
We took our bags and put them on the scales with fingers crossed. The minimum quantity was 20kgs. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the scales tipped in at 30kg.
Cyd was wonderful, despite being ill and looking like death warmed up, she gave us a quick tour of the mill where Sean snapped away. I was so overwhelmed I forgot to take any pictures! We started up on the Mezzanine where the incoming batches of fleece were stored.
Quite a load!
After sorting, the first thing that happens is the scouring where the fleece is cleaned. It’s then carded into lovely fat fluffy rovings.
After this the production line is split in to either woollen or worsted.
The woollen spinning takes the carded fibre, which contains fibres of different lengths and arranged in all directions, and teases it out into the thinnest ‘sheet’ of fibre I have ever seen.
This is then drawn into rovings. Which is then spun and plied.
The worsted spinning takes the carded fibre and combs it a number of times to remove all the short fibres and aligns the remaining fibres in the same direction. This is what gives worsted yarn that sheen and density. The resulting tops are coiled like soft coiling snakes into drums. I love the beautiful symmetry of the coils.
The tops are then spun and plied into lovely luscious yarn. The yarn is then finished as either skeins or balls on the amazing balling machine.
Sssh don’t tell anyone but I had a good old squish of some of the beautiful Blacker Yarns. Oh my goodness, you should see what they have planned for next year! I could tell you but I think they would have to kill me. And the Samite!!
I can’t wait to see those fleeces back as yarn. I will keep you posted.