Yarnie Spotlight: Walcot Yarns

So far, the third Shawl Society II design is still strictly under wraps. The yarn I used, however, has been revealed, and it’s another very special one. This time, instead of featuring an indie dyer, we have an indie yarn producer. Opus is a brand new yarn from the brand new company. Walcot Yarns. Walcot was founded by two true yarn connoisseurs: Carmen Schmidt from A Yarn Story, and Sharon Spencer from Great British Yarns. With years of experience selling gorgeous yarns and a shared devotion to quality and beauty, they decided to put their heads together to create their own line of small batch, luxury yarns, made in the UK. Opus is the first yarn, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. Soft, fluffy merino and alpaca blended into a cloud-like skein of wonderfulness in a versatile sport weight. They have also put together a fabulous collection of patterns to showcase Opus, which you can see on their beautiful website. This jumper in particular caught my eye. Those cables!

I was delighted to get a chance to ask them our series of questions: now that we’re a few interviews in, it’s really fascinating to see the differences and similarities in the answers from each producer and dyer. Their creativity and journeys are unique, but the passion for yarn and making is a common thread in everyone’s story. Sharon answered our questions today, and it was lovely to get to know her a little better. For even more on how Opus and Walcot yarns came to be, I recommend listening to Episode 53 of the Yarn in The City Podcast, where you get to hear Carmen tell her side of the story!


Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?
 
I always wanted to have a creative job, but sadly wasn't a very creative person in that I can't draw or paint or express myself in that way.  I used to make doll's clothes very badly and then found knitting which I could do marginally well.  I really really wanted to sew but can't cut in a straight line, not even with a ruler.
 
Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?
 
It's done so a couple of times - once in the 80s when I really wanted to make colourful, patterned sweaters such as those by Patricia Roberts and again about 10 years ago when I found hand dyers and their fabulous yarns.
 
How did you learn to do what you do?
 
If we're talking about knitting, my grandmother taught me when I was about 7. 

opus jumper.jpg

When did you decide that becoming a yarn professional was the path you wanted to take?
 
We had just sold our family business and wanted to do something different.  We both had experience of retail, websites, mail order etc and I had always wanted a yarn shop, so the decision was quite easy - persuading my husband only took slightly longer.
 
Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?
 
I don't really choose colours as I don't dye, but I like putting colours together and seeing what happens.  Two ranges of yarn I sell have a total of over 350 shades so it's great to get loads of those out and play putting them together and tweaking the look until it seems right to me.

Opus Collage.jpg

What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarnie?
 
I spend of a lot of time counting yarn and putting it in bags.  The best bit is researching and buying, that's great fun.
 
Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?
 
That's a difficult one, I love Opus of course as it's really soft and lovely to work with, however I love working with Shetland or tweed yarns.  I love the way they feel really 'woolly' and soften as you work with them.
 
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
 
For me, it was choosing the colours of Opus.  It was great fun to sit with Carmen and choose shades, it was surprising to see how in tune we were on this without having discussed it beforehand.

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What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you began your business?
 
That everything takes 100 times longer than you expected.
 
What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?
 
Do so, but make sure you have a plan B!
 
Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?
 
In terms of stock, yes.  I quite often feel disappointed when the last bag of yarn in a particular range sells.
 
When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?
 
At the moment, I'm enjoying knitting shawls, they are fairly quick, usually interesting and make great gifts.
 
Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?
 
I do tapestry, usually in the summer when it's too hot for knitting.


I loved getting another peek behind the scenes at the life of a professional yarnie, and I hope you did too. Big thanks to Sharon for giving us this interview, and to Walcot Yarns for being part of this season of The Shawl Society. I can't wait to hear what the members think of Opus: I know anyone who knits Shawl #3 with it will love it as much as I do. Just wait until you see what it turned into!

Keep an eye on what Walcot Yarns is doing, see their beautiful collection, and maybe get yourself a few skeins of Opus by visiting them online:

Walcot Yarns Website

Walcot Yarns Instagram

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Eden Cottage Yarns

I have been a fan of Eden Cottage Yarns for a long time. Victoria's palette never fails to speak to me: gorgeous, soft, naturalistic shades and semisolids. Even the softest, palest colours still have depth and richness, like illustrations from a treasured old storybook. I feel as though I have a special connection to this yarn: VIctoria lives and creates her hand-dyed skeins in the beautiful Cumbrian countryside. It is a part of England that is very dear to my heart, and for everyone that has visited a Curious Handmade Country House Retreat (or followed along with the photos online) falls in love with it as well.

I used Eden Cottage Yarn for a Season I shawl: the beautiful Thesus Lace became the large sample for Asana. For Season II, I chose Eden Cottage Milburn 4 Ply as the yarn for our medium-sized Fairyhill shawl.

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Living as close to nature as she does, it's easy to understand why Eden Cottage Yarn puts such a focus on sustainably sourced yarns. I love following Victoria on Instagram (In fact, that's where most of these photo are from) because she offers a lovely glimpse into a life filled with yarn, dogs, and the beautiful hills, fields, and flowers of Cumbria. In today's interview, she gives us an even closer look at what life is like as an indie dyer and how her work lights her up creatively.


Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

Funnily enough, yes I have! For as long as I can remember I have loved to create. When I was a child I would use cereal boxes to make multi-story carparks for my toy cars. Most birthdays and Christmases I would receive some type of craft based gift too. I guess it isn’t really surprising that I did art at GCSE and A-Level and then went on to do architecture at university.    

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

That would have been whilst at university. I had some spare time and wanted to do something creative. On a whim I picked up knitting and my passion developed from there.

How did you learn to do what you do?

This will sound like such a cliche but I taught myself through experimentation and tutorials on the internet. Trial and error really does work wonders!

When did you decide that becoming a yarn professional was the path you wanted to take?

I just kind of fell into it really. I moved to a cottage in Cumbria and didn’t have a job lined up. By that time I had been knitting, spinning my own yarn and experimenting with dyeing for a while and so I decided to take a risk and see if I could make it into a business.

Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

A lot of my colours are based on florals and my garden. My inspiration comes mostly from nature and the environment around me. I love photography and get quite snap happy when out walking in the countryside. Looking back through the pictures I get flashes of inspiration to try to recreate when dyeing.

What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?

A day in the life of a dyer is quite tough and physically demanding, whilst also being very repetitive at times. Last year I was working 18 hour days regularly just to keep up with sending out orders, responding to emails and the general day-to-day admin required when you run your own business. This is on top of single handedly dyeing all stock for updates and special orders.

Things have changed quite significantly since Luna came along and since taking on Sparkles. The day is now broken up with puppy wrangling and there is a lot less pressure on me to try and keep on top of everything.

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Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

I don’t tend to use fibres that I don’t love so all the yarns on the website class as my favourites. Thinking about it I do use a lot of Blue-faced Leicester so I guess that would probably class as a favourite.     

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing ECY in the wild, all the wonderful finished objects people make using my yarn. It makes it all worthwhile seeing other peoples creations.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you began your business?

I was horrified by the amount of tax and overheads that a small business actually incurs. The amount of paperwork that is required as well is astounding. I never thought I would need an accountant/bookkeeper but it is such a weight off my shoulders having an expert to deal with tax returns and stuff like that.

What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?

Be prepared for lots of hard work with very little reward in the first few years. It is very likely that you will not earn enough to pay yourself for a long time. But if you can, get a bookkeeper, it really saves a lot of pain!

Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

Oh totally! ALL the time!! I love my yarn and want to make aaaaalllllll the things. When I see a pattern, garment etc, I am always thinking about what Milburn colours I could use for it. I do have to remind myself sometimes that I have to sell it. There is also a little voice in my head saying that good quality samples will help to sell more yarn so it is a balancing act.

When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

Mostly I make garments and shawls. I tend to feel the cold alot and so love knitwear which means I can always find an excuse to knit more. I wear shawls almost daily especially now that I am regularly dog walking so in my opinion you can never have too many!!

Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

Unfortunately I don’t get much time to do anything else but on the rare occasion that I have some time I like to draw/paint and sometimes do a bit of embroidery or potter around in the garden.

How do you balance work projects and your own creative experiments?

To be honest I manage to blur the lines between the two. For any patterns that catch my eye, I will tend to choose my own yarns to use for it so that I can use the finished article for promotional purposes on social media. I know I keep banging on about it but I am such a fan of Milburn especially with all the new colours that I just want to knit with it all the time. I hardly ever knit from my stash nowadays.


Hearing Victoria talk about the everyday reality of making her living with yarn is so inspiring. I'm honoured that she joined us again this year for The Shawl Society Season II, and I know her wonderful yarn will continue to inspire me as both a designer and a knitter. I'd like to give a big thanks to Victoria and Eden Cottage Yarns for being a part of this adventure with us and for taking time out of a busy dying schedule to answer my questions. You can follow Eden Cottage Yarns and fall in love with some skeins yourself at:

Eden Cottage Yarns Website

Eden Cottage Yarns Instagram

 

 

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Julie Asselin Yarn

When I first began thinking about this new website for The Shawl Society, one of the most exciting aspects was creating a space to celebrate the incredible yarns I work when I’m designing each season’s shawls. As makers, the materials we use mean so much. The tactile joy and the aesthetic pleasure we get from working amazing yarn is at least half the fun of knitting. Even when we’re making for other people, that experience stays with us long after the finished object has gone on to its new home.

When I’m designing, the yarn really leads the way. It often spark the earliest idea for a shawl the first time I pick it up, and as I work and learn more about its qualities and “personality” it sometimes leads the design in fascinating new directions. But it’s not just the physical yarn itself that matters. There’s a less tangible but equally important factor that adds so much to the experience of working with yarn. The stories behind a skein of yarn, the huge amount of creativity and care that goes into its making, and the passionate people who make it all possible: every tidbit I learn seems to add more magic to an already very special skein.

I wanted to share as many of these magical tidbits with Shawl Society members as possible, so I’ll be interviewing our wonderful indie yarn partners as we go. Today we’re featuring Jule Asselin, the wonderfully talented Canadian dyer who made the delicious Merletto yarn featured in the lace-weight version of our still top-secret second shawl. Julie began dying wool about five years ago, and since then her yarn has become an indie success story, selling deeply-in-demand skeins in her Etsy shop as well as through over 50 venues online and in local yarn shops around the world. She and her husband work the dye pots together these days, and a small team of friends helps them manage all the moving parts of a small creative business.

She talks to us about her family’s generational legacy of making and fibre craft, what it’s like to run a yarn-based business every day, and offers a little advice for people with yarn dreams of their own.

Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

I always did. All the women and most of the men on my mother’s side are makers. Knitting and crochet have been a part of my life since a very young age. Add to that sewing, photography, music, painting and drawing, it was very stimulating creatively as a kid. I was taught to knit by my grand-maman and mother around the age of 4 and I've been hooked ever since.

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

In the form that is is today it was about 6-7 years ago when one day, being curious about how things are made I started researching yarn production. From there I really wanted to make my own colors and knew that I also wanted to be involved in the yarns conception as well.

How did you learn to do what you do?

My mother used to do, and still does, all sorts of things related to textile craft so I gravitated around dyeing for as long as I can remember. I made lots of experiments as a teenager with that when wanting to create my own clothing. Not always happy results by the way!

Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

Nature, music, people, state of minds, events, foods can all translate into colorways.

What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?

It’s hard to say because it changes everyday. As business partners we have to be ready to jump to any task that needs to be done. It can go from dyeing to putting on labels, shipping, social media, running errands.

Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

Too hard to choose. Different fibers means different ways of taking to the dyes so they can all bring something special to a yarn when it comes to color.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Color and yarn development of course but I also really enjoy the inspirational part of it like when it comes to recommending patterns for a certain yarns or putting color combinations together. Meeting knitters and making connection is also a big part of who we are.

What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?

Think outside the box, do your research and at the same time, even if you might not be reinventing the wheel, you have to be genuine.

Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

I never do, my stash is only other people’s yarns. If I need something for a project we make it when I need it.

When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

I am a sweater knitter. When it comes to accessories it is hats then shawls.

Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

Photography and Cooking.


I really want to thank Julie for being such an important part of The Shawl Society Season II, and for taking the time to answer my questions. Very soon I’ll be able to share some sneak peeks at the shawl which features her magnificent yarn. Until then, you can keep up with the magic Julie Asselin is making every day (and make fall in love with a few skeins yourself) by following her online:

Julie Asselin website

Julie Asselin Etsy

Julie Asselin Instagram

Helen Stewart
Tech Tip: Blocking your Shawl
 
blocking-a-shawl.jpg
 

Almost all knitting looks better when it has been blocked, but I think shawls are a special case. The difference between a shawl just off the needles and one that has been through a blocking bath is often night and day. After hours of work on a project, it can be discouraging to learn that there’s one more step before your beautiful shawl is truly finished. Blocking is one of those topics that can have new knitters feeling skittish, but it is actually one of the most magical parts of knitting. Stretching out your shawl to reveal its true beauty is a wonderful moment. All lace looks so much better blocked, even simple eyelets. The stitches open up and relax, the yarn fluffs up and “blooms” and the knitted fabric drapes beautifully once it dries. Here’s how to make the magic happen!

Blocking - five simple steps

Ingredient list:

  • Bucket or sink
  • Lukewarm water
  • Baby shampoo or wool wash
  • Large bath towel
  • Pins
  • Optional: blocking/dressing wires
  • Large flat area which can be pinned, like a foam mat or spare bed

 

Step 1: Weave in your ends. Make sure everything is nice and secure!

Step 2: Fill a sink or bucket with lukewarm water. Don’t use hot water: it can cause your yarn to felt. You can also add a tiny amount of a very mild shampoo, such as baby shampoo, or a little wool wash.

Step 3: Soak your shawl. Gently push your shawl under the water. Don’t agitate the water too much, as the friction can also cause felting. Just gently press until the yarn has absorbed enough water to be fully saturated. Let it soak for 10 to 30 minutes.

If you are using more than one colour in your shawl and you are worried about bleeding, stay on the shorter end of the soak time and check on it often. You might also want to add a little white vinegar to the soak.

After soaking, you can rinse your shawl by emptying the bucket, refilling it with clean water (hold the shawl out of the way so that the agitation of the tap water doesn’t hit it) and soaking again for a minute. Repeat as needed until the water runs clear.

Step 4: The towel roll. Have a large towel laid out flat before you remove your shawl from the soak. Gently squeeze most of the water from your shawl: it’s quite delicate at this moment, so it’s important not to wring it or treat it roughly. Then, lay your shawl flat onto the bath towel, and start to roll the towel and the shawl together like a swiss roll, squeezing gently as you go, then unroll and check how wet the shawl is. You want it quite damp, but not dripping. If it’s still very wet, repeat the towel roll with a dry towel.

Step 5: Stretch. Lay your shawl out on your soft flat surface gently. Once you have the general shape, you can start to stretch and pin. If you are using blocking wires, you’ll want to start with a wire threaded through the top and bottom edges. If you are just using pins, start by finding and pinning the center of the top edge. From there, just start gently pulling and pinning as you go. You can slightly influence the shape of the shawl by the way you pin. For a crescent shawl, the ends of the top edge can be curved inwards into a soft “horseshoe” shape: this will make the shawl easier to wear. If your shawl is finished with a picot edge or points, you will want to pin each of the picots or points down individually to make them stand out. Keep adjusting and repinning as you go until you are happy with the shape of the shawl. Leave it to dry thoroughly.

Your yarn may react differently to blocking depending on what type of fibre you used. Wool blends benefit from a lot of stretching, so don’t be afraid to be firm. Luxury fabrics, such as alpaca, cashmere, or silk may require a lighter touch. If you’re in doubt, check with your yarn manufacturer.

Once the shawl is dry, you can carefully unpin it and try it on. The change to the way the fabric drapes after blogging is quite obvious. You are likely to have an easier time getting a blocked shawl to lay nicely than the unblocked version. The most wonderful part will be the way the stitches have relaxed and opened up, showing off the gorgeous result of all your hard work.

 

 
 
Noa Nesher
Announcing... Season II

This week, we released the shawls from The Shawl Society Season I as individual patterns! It’s a pleasure to open up a little taste of The Shawl Society to people who missed the first season. I know there were plenty of knitters who fell in love with one particular shawl on Instagram or Ravelry, so this is a chance to finally add your favourite pattern to the queue!

It has been wonderful to revisit each of the designs for the single pattern release, and to watch new people discovering them for the first time. It’s a whole new context, and this has been a chance to see the shawls with fresh eyes. I really love this collection, and spending a bit of time with it over the last few days has heightened my anticipation for what comes next…

…a new season of The Shawl Society!

Season II will be opening for pre-orders very soon, and I cannot wait to welcome back our founding members and meet all the new knitters that will join our community with this new session. I have been deep in the design and planning process for months; this is where I get to encounter the surprise which is at the heart of the Shawl Society experience. Each shawl begins with the kernel of an idea, a special skein of yarn, and then slowly reveals itself to me as I knit. In a way, being a designer is like participating in a never ending mystery knitalong.

That might be why The Shawl Society idea was born in the first place: I love sharing that mystery and delight in discovery with so many knitters all over the world.

The specific details of the next Shawl Society season are still under wraps for now, but the basic premise is the same: for six months, members will receive a gorgeous secret shawl pattern each month. There will be detailed yarn advice for those knitting from stash, and special relationships with the amazing yarn producers behind each sample. There will be encouraging knit alongs and wonderful prizes for finished objects. There will be fun and chatter and a heaping dose of surprise.

In the meantime, you can learn more about what it’s like to be a member of The Shawl Society with a little sleuthing of your own. Our “testimonials” page is full of lovely words from Shawl Society Initiates about their experience last year, and if you visit the Curious Handmade Ravelry Group you’ll find threads full of chatter and sharing. The project pages for any of last season’s designs are a goldmine of inspiring photos and notes about knitting each shawl, and the Instagram hashtag #theshawlsociety has enough beautiful knitspiration to keep you going for ages.

We’ll be building the anticipation over the next little while (it’s all part of the fun!) and sharing tidbits with you through the newsletter (if you’re not signed up yet, just enter your email on the homepage and you’ll be on the list!).

 

Noa Nesher
The Shawl Society Beginnings
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It has been almost a year since I opened the first season of The Shawl Society. I had such a strong sense of what I wanted this project to be about, but I had no real idea what it would become.

From the moment I launched Curious Handmade I’ve been fascinated by the community aspect of knitting and other handmade arts. I experimented with different types of community projects and challenges, and the results were always incredibly rewarding. I love the way we bonded over our work, taught and learned from each other, and admired each other’s achievements.  That encouragement and mutual growth is one of my favourite things about the knitting community. There’s also such an irrepressible sense of fun when knitters get together, whether it happens in person or online.

When I was developing The Shawl Society, I wanted to capture all of that in something that was more than just a collection of lovely shawl patterns. I took all my favourite parts of mystery knit-alongs, events, subscription clubs, and storybooks about brave bands of adventurers and mixed it up together.

What happened next was magical. The anticipation and joy everyone shared over each pattern release was almost a kind of fairy dust. And six months was really long enough to build meaningful relationships. As we got deeper into the session, I was deeply inspired to see all the ways that the members were connecting with each other.

4179 Instagram posts.

5588 project pages.

More than 10000 forum posts.

Mothers and daughters wrote to say they had joined together as a way to bond across the miles. Strangers recognised each other’s TSS shawls at knitting events and struck up conversations. In some places, Shawl Society members gathered to knit the shawls together in person. Some people reported that the Society gave them courage to knit a shawl for the very first time, while others discovered that the group’s enthusiasm inspired a fresh love of shawl knitting, even after dozens of completed projects under their belts. As a group, there was so much momentum! The energy was thrilling.

At the end someone started a thread to display collages of all six completed shawls together. You wouldn’t think a thing like that could be so emotional, but it was. I was deeply moved to see everything The Shawl Society members had created together.

 

Noa Nesher