Small is beautiful

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Today I would like to share an article with you that is at the heart of this year's Wovember campaign. I wrote this piece because the focus for 2015 is on the small producer - and I am lucky enough to have one on my doorstep......

Tucked away on East Chase farm in Kenilworth, Warwickshire , there is a tiny woolshed that every knitter should know about.

I found out about In The Woolshed through the Warwickshire Open Studios Event earlier on in the year. Every year at the end of June and beginning of July, artists open the doors of their studios and invite people in to see how their work is made. I was so excited to learn that only half an hour from my house was a dye studio, where I would not only be able to buy yarn, but witness the entire process from fleece to skein!

In the Woolshed is the result of a vision shared by two sisters, Emma and Louise. They grew up in Kenilworth, but spent lots of family holidays on the Lleyn Peninsula in North West Wales. This was followed by several years travelling around India, learning and sharing textile skills with villagers and farmers in a remote Himalayan village.Fast forward a few years and Louise has marred a local farmer and Emma hastrained as afine artist. However, the sisters found themselves wanting to find a way of realising their passions for real craft, to create a business that embodied the simplicity and authenticity of the handmade. This has been made possible by them sharing both their skills and resources.

Louise's farm is home to a flock of Lleyn sheep. In fact these sheep are the first thing that you see when you turn off the main road and drive up towards the farm. They are good mothers, have a high milk yield and produce beautiful white wool.

Louise also provided the container that sits in the farmyard and is the shop for all the gorgeous yarns and kits.

Emma has a dye studio in one of the barns and this is the real creative hub of the business. As you approach the studio you will find last year's fleeces stored outside the door.

Lift the latch and you enter a orld where yarn is dyed by hand using only natural dyes and environmentally friendly mordants. Emma first started experimenting with natural dyes as a student in Manchester and recalls that there were always pans boiling and fleeces soaking in the flat that she shared with other students. It is this sense of exploration and discovery that underpins Emma's work.

It is barely six months since I first met Emma, but we both recognised a shared passion for colour, texture and the desire for a purposeful way of working. The process and results of natural dyeing have been a revelation to me. I wrote a book several years ago called Exploring Colour in Knitting, (Collins and Brown 2011). I would love to be able to go back and wtite an additional chapter on natural dyes! The book describes how colours relate to each other and how to manage different aspects of your colour in your knitting, given that the colours we want to use are largely dictated by those that the manufacturers select for us.

How often have we pored over a shade card and not been able to find the right shade of blue/red/green etc?. Natural dues do not necessarlly hold all the answers - there are some who would find the levels of unpredictability quite problematic, but they can help to satisfy several other issues. To start with, they are a world away from the uniformity of chemical dyes, offering a wealth of variation. They mature with age, developing a kind of patina of their own. You can take part in the process and dye you own yarn. Natural dyeing has a low carbon footprint and encourages a slower, more thoughtful way of working.

And then there are the colours......yellows, so acidic, they make your mouth water,

deep and complex purples that conjure up sloes and damsons, rich paprika reds,

dark, indigo blues that will fade and age like your favourite pair of jeans, tranquil teals and greens and the calm of those neutrals that are difficult to pinpoint, but you know you will never tire of.

I am so pleased that this year's Wovember campaign has celebrated the small producer. In 1973, an important collection of essays was published by British economist, E.F Schumacher. It was called Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered. Schumacher's central philosophy was one of 'enoughness'. He believed that production should always be about appropriateness of scale, 'obtaining the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption'. Like Schumacher, Emma has had direct experience of village based economics. Those same principles of small scale production are intrinsic to the Woolshed - it's not fast and furious, it is slow, (it takes nearly two and a half from a lamb being born to a ball of yarn being ready to work with), it respects the hand made and promotes a slower, more reflective response from the knitter.

My Colour Block cabled Hat kit is now available as part of the Slow Comfort collection. I wanted to design something that would be cosy in the country and chic in the city, so that everyone can experience the benefits of pure wool. The kit uses naturally dyed yarn from In The Woolshed and come in three different colourways - Grellow, Denim and Madder. Let's keep wearing wool!

Weaving in the Woolshed

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Last week I went to my first tapestry weaving lesson. I was inspired to join the class after visiting In the Woolshed at Chase Farm in Kenilworth a few weeks ago.. If you love sheep and hand -dyed yarn then you will love In the Woolshed. I will be sharing a lot more about the Woolshed over the next few months, but for now you may like to have a look at Emma's website to learn how this venture came into being and the ethos behind it.

So why does a knit and crochet designer with more deadlines than she would care to mention take on another craft ? I am always fascinated by different textile traditions and how they can relate to or influence each other. There is quite a lot of preparation, threading up loom etc, but once your bobbins are wound, you soon start to fall into a rhythmic flow. Warp threads, (that's the ones that run vertically) are lifted and the bobbin is passed under the threads. It is a slow process, but one where you immediately feel very connected to what you are doing.I'll let you know how I get on!