One of the questions that has repeatedly come up since the Fleeced post was published is asking what British yarn companies are doing to support British fleece and wool. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about what is fact and what is fiction and I’m gradually working my way through the list of well established British brands to find out more about 100% Britsh products in their range.
First off the block is Yorkshire born and bred company, Rowan. Some of my most precious yarn is classic Rowan tweeds spun in mills across England and Scotland. Other Rowan yarns, such as Felted Tweed and Cocoon have at times been spun in Yorkshire but no longer are. Now the only yarn within the range both raised and spun in Britain is the Purelife British Sheep Breeds 100% wool. I tracked down a ball of the Chunky in the Welsh Black shade to give it a test run…
The following is extracted from the Knit Rowan website:
“As an annually renewable natural resource, the Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds wool is shorn and blended from classic British sheep breeds: Bluefaced Leicester, Black Welsh, Jacob, Suffolk, Shetland, Dark Grey Welsh and Masham. Spun into beautiful un-dyed shades and with its natural lanolin maintained, our British Sheep Breeds Chunky is perfect for rugged outerwear designs.
Article Number: 9802110
Fibre Content: British Wool: 100%
Season: Autumn Winter
Yarn Ball Weight: 100g
Yarn Meterage/Yardage: 110/120
Tension/Gauge Stitches: 13
Tension/Gauge Rows: 18
Knitting Needle (UK): 2
Knitting Needle (US): 10½-11
Knitting Needle, MM: 7
Having contacted Rowan to ask for more information about British yarns in their range, I received the following response:
“Rowan Yarns are produced all over the world. The only yarn from England is the British Sheep Breeds range. This is produced all over England from different breeds of sheep though the spinning takes place near Bradford – West Yorkshire.”
I asked if they could elucidate…
“I was hoping for a bit more information than this such as the finer details about the yarn (although I can get yardage etc from the Rowan website), but I also wanted to know which specific sheep breeds are used, for example, when it says ‘Jacob’ on the label does that mean the fleece is purely from the Jacob sheep? Do you have any more in-depth or standard info that you send out to shops/press etc about this range?
Can you also let me know if any other yarns in the Rowan range are spun from fleece source in Britain and also if any are spun in Britain and where that fleece comes from.”
And received a more ‘in-depth’ response:
“Further to your recent enquiry, the Rowan Design Manager has supplied the following information leaflet (attached).
The Rowan British Sheep Breeds yarn is the only range that guarantees sourcing within the UK. The fleece is taken from the relevant sheep breed.”
So whilst it still isn’t clear whether or not it is purely one breed in each shade of the wool, I can confirm that the British Sheep Breeds range is the only yarn in the Rowan range classed as a 100% British product. It would be great if Rowan could confirm one way or another if it is a single breed in each of the British Sheep Breed ‘shades’.
The ongoing breed swatch-along hosted by Louise Scollay of the Knit British podcast, was set-up to encourage people to knit with British single breed wool, and report back on its qualities. One of the tricky things for yarn botherers when faced with a selection of breed specific yarn is that you may not know the qualities each breed brings with them – I know I certainly don’t! There is also the eternal ‘isn’t British wool coarse and itchy’ discussion and it is hoped that some of this myth can be dispelled by educating people through knitting and sharing their findings about single breed wool. Knitsonik sums up how it works:
“The premise of the KAL (knit-along) is brilliantly simple: make a swatch from a single breed yarn; block and wear this swatch to give it a road test; share your findings with others.”
Felix Knitsonik Ford has produced swatch-along stationery which you can download from her website. This checklist of sorts will help you to analyse your immediate reaction to the wool as well as look more closely at the finer qualities of the wool, and it provides a record which you can refer back to as your wool journey continues and share with others, building a reference library of British wool.
Anyhow, what started as a swatch with the Rowan British Sheep Breeds soon became a new hat. The pattern is Illyria by Bristol Ivy – a slouchy, chunky number with an asymmetric cable panel running up one side. I made a slight modification to the top, deceasing further to shape it rather than grafting across as it was looking a little too East 17 on my head! The various natural fleece shades within the yarn are a joy and the yarn itself gives great stitch definition, has kept its shape and I have to say, is not itchy in the slightest, plus its perfect for those colder winter days as it’s super-warm. The colour looks very different between the ball and the finished hat but I think it is purely down to different lighting and if you can combine the two then that will be the correct shade!
Purelife Chunky is available from Rowan retailers.
Disclaimer: I have not received any form of payment, monetary or otherwise for this review.