A warm and woolly how do you do……

blue faced leicester swatch

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to practise up my knitting skills, and where in the run up to the holidays my days were spent sewing and embroidering for Christmas craft fairs, early mornings and barely lit evenings would find me with a wrinkled forehead and my knitting needles in hand….I started setting the alarm an hour or so ahead so I was able to magic up a few minutes for me where I’d be able to play, trying out new stitches and getting a bit more familiar with what should be happening on my needles as I knit….slowly slowly slowly and my confidence began to grow…Bernard, the cat that is all curiosity, soon began to squidge himself up next to me before the heating came on, a quick pat of the wool before curling up and taking forty winks…..

I’ve mentioned before about serendipitous moments and last Autumn felt full of them…..first up was reading Felicity Ford’s piece about wool and knitting, this resonated within me so much, and then from reading that I found the wonderful Knit British site….this was then at the end of October/start of November or I should say Wovember which is a month long celebration of Wool……..


Norfolk Horn from Kentwell Hall

Part of the way Knit British celebrated was by starting a British Breed swatch knit a long over on Ravelry (I was a bit late joining it as it had started in October)…..there are over 60 different breeds of British sheep and they all have fleece so they all have wool for knitting….I think it would be fair to say a lot of knitters are only familiar with a few and tend to pick up a ball and squish it, rub it, sigh if it’s all soft and marshmallowy (I do this each and every time I walk into my local yarn shop)……wools that are a bit more characterful with coarser fibres can all too often get over looked…and that’s where the swatch knit a long is so interesting  becasue it’s encouraging you to try out a breed you’ve not used before…..

blocked Norfolk Horn

I’m just a beginner and to be quite honest hadn’t really given a whole lot of thought to my wool or yarn buying, well most of the yarn I use for crochet is second hand tapestry wool t when I’ve bought wool for scarves I’ve not thought about where it comes from, the sheep it was shorn from, the farmers who’ve looked after those sheep or whether those sheep were rare or endangered breeds….anyway the swatchy kal is really making me think a whole lot more about the wool and the people behind it.

I made some enquiries about buying some locally produced wool and while I was waiting to hear back about those I bought a ball of Blue Faced Leicester wool…I’d not actually used this wool before, but had read that lots of knitters liked it……it knitted up so soft and dreamy…after the swatch was all knitted you need to test it so after I’d washed and blocked it, I had it pinned under my thermals to see how if felt against my skin….it was like being kissed by sheep, so gentle and warm… When I was just turned 20 I had to have a pretty serious operation on my back and it left me with a huge scar, this is very sensitive and I have to be careful what I wear as a lot of things make it feel all nettle stingy and take my very life away….the Blue faced Leicester however was lovely, and I’d happily wear winter vests knitted from it.

I heard back from Kentwell Hall which is just over the border into Suffolk, they  sell Norfolk Horn and I bought 3 balls of dk weight for a tenner….it felt very different from the Blue Faced Leceister, had a warm sheepy scent (I love my wool to smell all Baa Ram Ewey) and was a beautiful porrdigey colour….it felt lovely to knit with and really slipped along my wooden needles…..


flecks of darker grey and wispy fibres

Finding some wool from a Seely Suffolk breed was a bit more difficult, and NellieAnneJane was kind enough to reply to a request on Ravelry on where I could source some……one of the places/people she suggested I contcted was June Ongibanjo and she came up trumps with this lovely Aran weight Suffolk wool, while the breed is Suffolk it’s not from sheep with an actual Suffolk postcode, I’m still looking for those……(she didn’t have the Suffolk on her site but I contacted her and she had some in stock so I bought a huge skein along with a lovely fat skein of Blue Faced Leceister which was also in an Aran weight)…..

blocked Suffolk swatch

The Suffolk was completely different to the other two wools, the ply making up the body of the wool was much looser, seperating as it pulled through my fingers then coming back together again as the stitch was formed on my needles….stroking the stocking stitches felt like that short hair on an animals muzzle, all donkey nose soft and warm……but having it tucked into my thermals was a whole different matter….the wool was full of tiny coarser fibres which while making a wool that looked really interesting, felt like a hedgehog scurrying around under my clothes…..I then pinned the swatch onto my outer layers (just a layer of very fine thermals was enough to protect my skin from those tickly and scratchy fibres) and this is where the wool really came into it’s own…no pilling or piling or whatever, no tiny bits rolling all up and looking dreadful, instead those coarser fibres slowly lifted in the warmth and gave the swatch a beautiful haze, like early morning mists over the marshes…..this is my favourite wool I’ve knitted with so far.  It would be ideal for using in a cardigan, the sort you slip on as soon as the weather turns nippy and the evenings become right cold, and which you keep on til April or May.  A real old friend of a wool.

wensleydale wool

The other local wool I was able to source came from Serena Plenderleith who has a flock of Wensleydales out at one of the Saint villages around Bungay in Suffolk (which is pretty much just down the road from Norwich)…..this feels so lush and lustrious, all silky and is more like a lock of Rapunzels hair than wool…..I haven’t knitted this one yet though I’ve stroked it plenty……it’s so golden and shimmery and I think I’m going to feel more than a little like Tom Tit Tot spinning his flax into gold when I have this on my needles.

I’m really enjoying knitting these swatches, it’s a bit like having a hello and how do you do with the wool, getting to know them and find out their secrets……I don’t expect to knit all the breeds in one go, but slowly and surely, steadily…just buying a ball or skein when and where and with what the purse allows.

I’ve also bought some single breed wool from Brit Yarn, their service was excellent and Isla was very kind and answered all the 101 questions that I had about the different qualities of the wool I had ordered.

And as I’m sure you can imagine, Bernard is loving having lots of wool around, he’s not been too naughty, he’s just cuddle up to what ever is on the sofa with me, generally laying on it, there’s been a little licking, a little snuffling and paw patting but he’s been much better than when I’ve used brightly coloured balls of acrylic or tapestry wool.