In my listings on Etsy, I often describe my yarn bases as being ethically produced and fully traceable and I thought I would explain a bit more about what I mean by these terms.
My early bases were from a local mill, sadly now closed, which produced woollen spun bases using fleece from named farms around the UK. The mill owner knew the farmers, he knew exactly where the sheep grazed and he obtained the wool to spin in small batches. I collected the wool from the mill and saw for myself how the fleece were graded, washed, processed, carded, spun, plied and hanked up on vintage mill machinery.
My intention from my first shop update in September 2016 was to dye beautiful colour ways on unusual and ethically produced bases. I have worked hard to seek out small companies, mills and wool agents who are able to provide undyed yarn bases that are fully traceable to source (ie the sheep) and also that are not used by other indie dyers.
Traceable from sheep to skein
In the last couple of years I’ve had to find new sources of undyed yarn and have been very lucky to find a wool agent who runs a small business here in Yorkshire. He obtains fleece from named farms either in the UK or in the British Falkland Islands and has a processing and combing operation in West and East Yorkshire. Once its ready, the combed fibre is delivered to various UK mills for a spinning slot, including John Arbon’s mill in Devon and Laxtons in Yorkshire.
As before, I know the person directly responsible for sourcing the fleece direct from the farms that care for the sheep – which are all free grazing. Through my wool agent, I know the full story of the wool that I dye from sheep to skein.
I don’t have a huge variety of bases but I do have access to ‘limited edition’ bases that are fully traceable. And some of them are very unusual – such as Sock noir, a blend of 80% Corriedale and Polwarth wool and 20% black nylon.
My main sock yarns for my club is the same blend, but with white nylon.
I also have this white Corriepol base with nylon in a lace weight – super strong but works up so delicately.
One of my latest DK bases is a gorgeously soft pure Wensleydale with a fabulous halo.
Some of my bases, such as the white Corriepol sock base and the Falkland 4ply merino are non-superwash. This means they have been combed, spun and plied and that is the product that I dye. The yarn is not subjected to superwash treatment at any stage.
My bases that are super wash treated are processed here in Yorkshire under the strictest environmental and safety conditions. The process used is gentler than many forms of superwash treatment. Wool fibres have lots of bits that stick out in all directions – its these bits that get meshed together when the wool is agitated, causing it to felt.
Standard superwash treatment strips the wool fibres bare, often using a process that involves chlorination. The final stage involves coating the bare fibres with a plastic-based polymer.
My yarns are treated using a process that is not harmful to the environment or to the people carrying it out. It bends the fibres that stick out, easing them into a curved position so that they are less able to mesh together and felt. No coating is every used after this treatment. The treated yarns feel like natural wool and it can be hard to tell the difference between a non-superwash sock yarn and one that has been treated. Careful labelling by the wool agent and by me prior to dyeing is very important!
Ethically produced yarn bases
So, in summary, I feel able to describe my yarns as ethically produced because they all come from free-grazing sheep on family farms that are personally known to my supplier. He is either performs or oversees all the UK-based processing that results in the skeins of yarn that I dye and delivers the yarn to me personally here at home.
I am often asked if my yarn is organic – I cannot claim that because I do not know if the farms on which the sheep graze are certified as organic. Getting this certification is complex and involved and the description ‘organic’ can only be used when all the criteria have been fully met. I think some of the original fleece suppliers are organic, and hopefully it will become possible to have the full certification in the future.