Deneburn Meadow – an interview with Fransje Sansom

I'm very fortunate at Fine Fettle Fibres to have some wonderful local yarn suppliers producing high quality yarns with something different to offer. Each of them uses British wool in different ways - using premium raw materials and spinning or dyeing them to create yarns that are a joy to knit with and which showcase the skill and diversity of the woolly folk of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

So I have decided to publish a series of blog posts in which I ask my suppliers to talk about their relationship with wool and the ways in which they use it. First up is Fransje Sansom of Deneburn Meadows near Wark in North Northumberland.

So Fransje, how did you first get into working with wool?

I studied Occupational Therapy in my early twenties. The course included art and craft subjects. One of these was textiles. I was intrigued by wool processing then, bought my first spinning wheel and got a fleece from a local farmer.

  • How many woolly miles do you do in a year and where do they take you?
Some of the beautiful colours Fransje achieves with natural dyes

Some of the beautiful colours Fransje achieves with natural dyes

I travel locally mainly. I have visited Woolfest and different agricultural shows in the borders and the north east, or when on holiday further afield. I sell my wool products at local wool events such as North Pennines Wool Fair, Wool on the Wall, Horsley Wool Fair, Hexham Farmers Market and Tynedale Guild Gathering. My wool is also stocked in a few local wool shops and studios. We only have a small flock and wool stock is never high so I don’t go very far!

  • What is important for you about British wool?

Britain has such a great variety of sheep breeds and every wool type has its own merits. Wool is not only used in the clothing or furnishing industry but also in building and for other practical applications. We need to recognise it more, wear it more and use it more. I value sustainability and if you can produce or purchase something local, that is important to me. It is an environmentally friendly product and can be grown again and again.

Shearing time!

Shearing time!

  • Who are your woolly heroes?

The sheep for growing wool on their back! I don’t really have a hero but learned to felt from Ellie Langley, who is amazingly skilled. She taught me about British wool breeds and how to felt. I also value the support I get from Shetland sheep breeders, many of them breed for wool and have a wealth of knowledge. For me wool and sheep are one entity.

One of Fransje's beautiful felted bowls made with fleece from her flock

One of Fransje's beautiful felted bowls made with fleece from her flock

  • Where do you get your inspiration from for your colours/yarn names/designs?

My local environment provides me with a pallet of colours. I use natural powder dyes and like warm, bold colours. Meadow, flower, heather, tree, sky, there are plenty to choose from. Our breeding ewes have wild flower names as well!

Fransje's flock near Work in North Northumberland

Fransje's flock near Work in North Northumberland

  • How connected do you feel to our nation's woolly heritage?

When travelling I will always find out if there are local mills, historic buildings, heritage centres or wool crafters to visit. I like reading and gathering books about wool and sheep. Having our own flock and working with local shepherds, I hear many stories – old and new – through hanging around the sheep pens! In medieval times wool was a money maker and until quite recently in history, the clip would pay for a farmer’s rent. Prices have been really low in modern times and most farmers breed for meat more than for wool.

It is great to be part of a world where people are promoting British wool and share the many ways of working with it, celebrating its heritage.

Locks from one of Fransje's flock

Locks from one of Fransje's flock

  • What is your most rewarding woolly activity?

Spinning gives me most satisfaction. I love quietly perfecting the skill. Feeling the wool slide through my hands. Appreciating different textures and colours. It is such a mesmerising and therapeutic activity. Once the bobbin comes off the wheel and the yarn is plied, washed and set, there is great pride in an even spin and balanced yarn.

  • Without giving away any closely guarded secrets, what new woolly ventures do you have in mind?

Being a keeper and breeder of sheep, my mind is always on the next generation of lambs and what wool they are going to grow. Though the majority of our flock are Shetlands, I have a Bluefaced Leicester ewe and some cross breeds. Both breeds produce a premium, fine wool. By interbreeding I hope to create the best of both worlds in their fleeces and thus the yarn. I try to build up stock of natural colours in the yarn and carded wool for traditional Fair Isle knitting. With a good quantity of white yarn, experimenting with new colour dyes is always on the horizon.

There are always too many projects on the list. Such are the possibilities with wool. Most of all; I’m still learning and I never know what will tickle my fancy next!

Judith Goodfellow
Cambrian Mountains Wool

I am absolutely delighted to be able to say that I am now a stockist of Cambrian Mountains Wool! This wonderful yarn is spun from 100% Finest Welsh Mule. The Welsh Mule is a cross between a Welsh Mountain or Beulah or Welsh Hill Speckled ewe and a Bluefaced Leicester sire. The wool is soft and lustrous, and is worsted spun to retain these qualities.

Cambrian Mountain Wool DK and 4ply

Cambrian Mountain Wool DK and 4ply

DK swatch

DK swatch

Cambrian Mountains Wool is a Community Interest Company.  A CIC is a limited company with some differences which ensure a fairer way of doing business, such as a greater proportion of net profit being retained for projects beneficial to the community. Cambrian Mountains Wool was set-up following much work with – and the support of – the Cambrian Mountains Initiative. This is one of the rural Initiatives founded by HRH Prince of Wales to help support and develop upland hill farming regions.

An opportunity was presented in 2014 to carry out a Feasibility Study to look at the possibilities (if any) of bringing wool, produced in the region, back into Wales as yarns for knitting and weaving in commercial and repeatable (and traceable) quantities. With the co-operation of the British Wool Marketing Board and Curtis Wools Direct, the  study was launched with the 2015 International Design and Make Challenge which gave designers the opportunity to find ways to use the tops, yarns and fabrics that were being trialled. The resulting collection was toured as an exhibition to gauge interest, with much success.

Which is how I first encountered Cambrian Mountains Wool! I saw the exhibition when it was displayed at the Hay Literary Festival in 2015 and was greatly impressed by the quality of the wool and its versatility.  Depending on their craft the designers could use either 1kg of wool tops, 1kg yarn, or up to 3 meters of fabric of a plain woven structure (or a mixture of the three) to create a unique textile work – whether functional or purely decorative.

I remember the exhibition clearly as the results were stunning: soft furnishings, wall art, garments, bags and more. In particular I remember a delightful wool sculpture of a knitter and her sheep by North Wales artist Ceri Williams that I couldn't resist photographing, and a knitted jacket with Elizabethan overtones by Sue James from Llynfi Textiles.

ceri-williams-sculpture.jpg

Above: Wool Sculpture by Ceri Williams on display at the Hay Festival 2015 – so endearing!

Right: Jacket by Sue James of Llynfi Textiles 

It was this same jacket that caught my eye at this year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival where I met up again with Sue and began the process of becoming the first stockist of Cambrian Mountains Wool outside Wales! 

The yarn is available in DK and 4ply in a wonderful range of colours, all inspired by the landscapes and life of the rugged west of Wales:

Hafan: 'haven' or 'home'. And the name of an old mine yielding a beautiful blue mineral.

Welsh Red: a mix of oxide red and rusty old madder, with a dollop of mystical rowan berry. Not too red, not too rusty – Cottage doors and flannel petticoats.

Mineral Yellow: a deep sort of yellow, not acid or bright. The yellow of the earth and the mines rather than the hedgerows.

Ironstone: warm and cheery orange, not glowing. The slightly rusty orange that colours the local stone.

Slate: that greyish, dusty purple – it’s all in the name.

Shale: the darkest grey, softer than black – the abandoned spoils of the mine darkened by rain.

Arian: in English -silver!

Cegin: kitchen, homeplace; smokey warm, limestone and hooded fireplace.

I'm just back from the Hay Festival, where this journey started, and delighted to receive my first supplies of Cambrian Mountains Wool project. I'm eager to get my first project on the needles but there will still be plenty left in the shop for you to come and squish ... I can't recommend it highly enough so do come and see for yourself!

Judith Goodfellow
Walcot Yarns

Edinburgh Yarn Festival is a very dangerous place for a yarn-aholic and 2017 was no exception! Already laden with bags of unresisted temptation, I stumbled across Walcot Yarns. I think the stylish labelling on the subtle natural grey and white shades of their Opus 4ply first caught my eye, but it was the feel of this soft and lofty yarn that sold it to me: one squish and I was lost. One sight of the swatch of coloured shades (at that time yet to come) only made matters worse...

It was only later that I learnt a little of the story of the development of this yarn – a wonderfully soft blend of 70% Falklands Merino and 30% Baby Alpaca spun into a 4 ply yarn and available in 9 colours and 2 natural shades. It is the first yarn from a new collaboration between Sharon Spencer of Great British Yarns and Carmen Schmidt of A Yarn Story who, at the time, both had yarn shops in Bath.

Sharon told me:

'We both really wanted to have our own yarn and after lots of discussion came up with the Opus blend. It took a while to find a mill that could make something as lovely as we wanted and we were very lucky to find a British mill that could do everything from sourcing the fibre to spinning the yarn.'

The yarn is then sent to be dyed by a UK company which usually dyes cashmere and so is used to handling luxury yarns. Sharon and Carmen have come up with a striking palette of rich, subtle and saturated colours that blend well with each other and with the natural grey and white shades. It's then returned to the mill to be hanked and packaged.

Sharon and Carmen have also put together a stylish collection of patterns including accessories – both knitted and crocheted – and garments, that complement Opus.

Sharon told me:

'We felt strongly that the yarn had to have really strong patterns that show it off beautifully and again, we were lucky to find designers such as Amanda, Rachel and Jo who have produced gorgeous patterns.'

Sharon told me:

'Our future plans are very exciting. We are planning a new collection and a few new shades for autumn and then we hope to launch another yarn next spring.'  

I am delighted that Sharon and Carmen have agreed to take me on as their first stockist of Opus (apart from themselves, of course!). As a firm believer in – and supporter of – independent yarn producers, I really applaud their initiative in taking the risk and putting in the sheer hard work involved in creating their own yarn. It can't have been easy to do that but the results are stunning and show what can be done by individuals who are passionate about yarn and can see the potential of their ideas.

With so many large, commercial yarn producers dominating the yarn market, it is really encouraging to see what can be done by two women with enthusiasm, determination and vision. Serious knitters have always valued the diversity and individuality of small scale, independently produced yarns and Opus 4ply is a worthy addition to their options.

My first project in Opus 4 ply is already on the needles beside me as I write and will be on display in the studio as soon as it is complete. Given how successful Opus 4ply has been, I await with great interest the next yarn from Walcot Yarns and confidently expect you will be finding it on the shelves of Fine Fettle Fibres in due course.

Judith Goodfellow
Knitting Tips: Woollen or Worsted?
Woollen spun 2ply Jumper Weight Shetland yarn from Jamieson & Smith

Woollen spun 2ply Jumper Weight Shetland yarn from Jamieson & Smith

Worsted spun Dovestone DK from Baa Ram Ewe

Worsted spun Dovestone DK from Baa Ram Ewe

So what's the difference between woollen spun yarn and worsted spun yarn, then? And what difference does it make?

It all starts with the preparation of the fibres. For woollen spun yarns, the fibres are carded into a web, evenly spread but going in all different directions. This produces a yarn that is:

  • an even thickness

  • light and fluffy
  • more likely to have bits of vegetation remaining in it
  • uses all the types of fibres in the fleece
  • strong enough for knitting but probably not weaving.

Worsted spun yarns, on the other hand, are carded and combed in such a way that the fibres are all going in the same direction. This produces a yarn that is:

  • denser and heavier than woollen spun yarn
  • smooth and soft 
  • unlikely to have bits of vegetation in it
  • uses only the softer fibres in the fleece as the coarser ones are removed 
  • stronger and more suitable for weaving

Woollen spun yarns are, on average, more economical to produce, as a smaller proportion of the fleece is discarded during the preparation for spinning.

When choosing a yarn for your project, it helps to know whether you have a woollen or a worsted yarn, as they can behave differently when knitted. For instance:

  • woollen yarns are better for insulation as they contain more air, whereas the denser worsted spun yarns tend to have a better drape.
  • a  ball of woollen yarn is likely to be longer than the same weight ball of worsted yarn.
  • woollen yarns, with their longer, coarser fibres, are less likely to pill or shed than a worsted yarn with its shorter, smoother fibres.
  • if you use a woollen spun yarn for a pattern written for a worsted yarn, you may find that the garment comes out longer and wider with the same number of stitches and rows. Using a worsted yarn for a pattern written for a woollen yarn will almost certainly make the garment smaller and shorter.

RELATED ITEMS



Judith Goodfellow
Baa Ram Ewe Trunk Show
Baa Rame Ewe truck show - patterns and yarns and special offers

The Baa Ram Ewe Yorkshire Shores Trunk Show is arriving at Fine Fettle Fibres, in Felton (between Alnwick and Morpeth) in Northumberland next week! And we are the very first place it is coming to!

This is the first of a series of trunk shows I will be hosting over the next few months at my knitting studio at Gallery 45 and showcases a selection of the garments in Baa Ram Ewe’s new Yorkshire Shores pattern collection by Alison Moreton and Graham Knowles-Miller.

All the garments are knitted in Baa Ram Ewe’s Dovestone DK - gorgeous, soft pure wool British yarn, spun and dyed in Yorkshire. All the colours in the range, including the three new colours just released for the new season, plus the pattern book, are available to buy from Fine Fettle Fibres.

Please come along and see the trunk show at Fine Fettle Fibres. The display can be seen anytime the Gallery 45 is open (i.e. Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 - 5.00 and Sunday 11.00 - 5.00) from Friday 15 July until Wednesday 27 July when it will have to wave goodbye and make its way to the next lucky retailer in the queue! My studio will be open for yarn and pattern sales Wednesday, Friday and Saturday but I will try to squeeze in a few extra hours on the Sunday and Thursday afternoons!



Judith Goodfellow
Socks, glorious socks...

Just wanted to show you some of the new sock yarns I've just unpacked to top up the stock in the Studio. I've expanded the colour choice in the Manos del Uruguay's vibrantly coloured space-dyed Algeria yarn (so soft and squishable...) and now I can also offer you the full range of solid colours in John Arbon's Exmoor sock yarn. This is an 85% Exmoor Blueface/15% nylon super wash treated light 4 ply yarn with about 400m in 100g hank. 

The Algeria is £17.50 per 100g and the John Arbon Exmoor sock yarn is £10 per 100g. 



Judith Goodfellow