handspun yarn

Handspun yarn stories

From sheep to shawl, Clare Devine reflects on the unique beauty of handspun, and how it makes us think about the origins of our yarn

13th June 2016

This story starts with a simple skein of handspun yarn, a treat to myself purchased in 2014. That skein has led me on a journey of discovery to the slower side of fibre crafts, with a definite focus on local. In a world of fast fashion and ever-closing gaps in the market due to globalisation and ease of access online, I’m starting to find that it pays to stop and slow down…

Knitting is a relatively slow process, each stitch carefully formed by subtle movements of the hand. In our fast-paced world, knitting sits very firmly in the ‘slow fashion’ side of clothing production. Slowing the process further by carefully examining our materials is something that many knitters are beginning to consider. Discovering the origins of our fibre, and learning about the farmers, the mills and the process, bring us closer to the craft and more in tune with the materials we use. 

The following two stories celebrate tradition and value the slower side of fibre craft. While they are only a small part of the much wider fibre industry, I have experienced a real sense of joy and a renewed passion for learning about the source of my materials through meeting these inspiring women. If you’d like to learn more about this subject, then there’s a great new book called Farm to Needle from Tolt, a beautiful yarn shop in Washington State, USA (available here). 

I urge you to pause for a moment and look local, slow down, find connections and absorb the beauty of the journey that yarn goes on – I hope you enjoy it.

Home of Snath Island Handspun - Islay

Snàth Island Handspun

Susan Campbell embodies the essence of slow crafting, carefully handspinning fleeces selected from local farmers into magical skeins. Originally from the USA, Susan has lived on the Isle of Islay in the Outer Hebrides all her adult life. After learning to spin as a teenager, she has spun yarns from local fibres since the 1970s, meaning that over the years she has witnessed the changes in fibre crafts and fashions. 

Handspun yarn

Her business is firmly rooted in the local community, and she sees the yarn she produces as “a continuation of the thread of skills and tradition that has come down to us through generations of hand spinners.”

blended yarn with local wool

Over the years, Susan has worked with fleeces sourced locally and from further afield; however, she finds her best work comes from local fleece, where the connection with the fibre, its origins and the land it comes from is strongest. She is inspired by the colours of the land and sea around her island home, reflecting the changing seasons and weathers in her yarns. This passion for her adopted home, its long-standing fibre heritage and the importance of investing in local products to keep traditions alive for future generations, is evident in each strand of Susan’s yarn. It has a real sense of life and place; there is something quite moving in the energy contained within the yarn. Susan’s business is small – that’s the nature of something so deeply rooted in the process of creating materials by hand. To me this is the joy of handspun; it encourages us to stop and pause for a moment of thought as we wait for the creative process to take place. 

a skein of Snath Island Handspun

Yarn inspired by the Hebridean sea

Twitter: @islandhandspun

Blog: islandhandspunyarns.wordpress.com

Chopped Ginger – Wool Project

Like Susan, Sariann from Chopped Ginger is another Scotland-based spinner with an equally interesting story. She has a background in animal science and works as a chef, but it is her passion for fibre that has enabled her to connect her roots in small farming with knitting, the hobby she loves. 

Home of the Fa'side flock

I first encountered Sariann when searching for a complementary skein of handspun for my lovely grey yarn. While she still spins beautiful yarn, more recently Sariann has embarked on a fascinating project promoting small flock farmers. The Wool Project engages with farmers around Britain, bringing them into the yarn-making process and bringing knitters closer to the source of the fibres they use. 

Chopped Ginger's yarn range

Sariann believes the latter is especially important, keeping small farming alive and encouraging understanding of the “integral role we play as yarn consumers in saving heritage and rare breeds in Britain.”

Chopped Ginger Wool Project yarn in Wensleydale Natural

The yarns are purchased in small batches directly from the farmers and spun at the Border Mill in Berwickshire, Scotland. Sariann is keenly aware of the importance of supporting local business, valuing traditional knowledge and skills. Each batch is crafted into an heirloom yarn that tells a story – a beautiful celebration of the journey from fleece to fibre. 

Wensleydale yarn also available in natural grey

During the Wool Project’s first year, there were four yarn releases: Wensleydale, Teeswater, Bluefaced Leicester and Gotland. Each batch of yarn will be available in natural shades plus a limited-edition, hand-dyed option for those who love a splash of colour. 

Twitter: @chopped_ginger

Instagram: @choppedginger

Website: www.choppedginger.com

Small is beautiful

The nature of these projects means that availability is limited, so if you are unable to get yarn from these projects then take a look at some of these other great small-scale producers.

Little Grey Sheep: a small family farm in the Surrey-Hampshire borders with a flock of Gotland and Shetland sheep www.thelittlegreysheep.co.uk

Nude Ewe: a not-for-profit that sells wool from conservation projects in Bedfordshire www.nude-ewe.co.uk

Sheepfold: a Cumbrian-based company specialising in single-breed yarns www.sheepfold.co.uk


If you enjoyed this, you can read more about new British yarns here.

Or discover more about Manos del Uruguay's Fair Trade yarns here.

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