Skybluepink Designs: an interview with Jennie Howes

This month the supplier I am delighted to be talking to is hand spinner and dyer Jennie Howes of Skybluepink designs. Jennie supplies me with beautiful hanks of hand spun yarn and a delicious selection of her hand spun supercoil necklaces, all produced at her home in the Scottish Borders.

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

Once upon a time, I can just about remember when I didn't have yarn in my hands - but it was a very long time ago! Grannies on both sides were complicit in enchanting me into wool world at a very young age, with a knitting dolly made from a cotton reel and four nails and making hundreds of yards (pre-metric) of i-cord – I wonder where that went? 

I then progressed onto a crochet hook to learn about tension and finally to knitting.

I started more serious knitting whilst still at school; we had at least four Local Yarn Shops in town and my sister and I used to go to the French wool shop to read the pattern books, select balls of yarn from the bargain bin and go home, knit what we'd read, then back again next night after school to read the next bit of the pattern. We figured this way, we could spend more on yarn and make more stuff! We quickly learnt how to construct our own patterns with this method!

How many woolly miles do you do in a year and where do they take you?  

We do at least one big woolly show per month between April and November, so we cover a fair few miles - north to Dornoch in chilly but bright March for the Dornoch Fibre Fest, then a couple of miles down the road to the St Abb's in Eyemouth Wool Festival in April. May sees us heading south one weekend to Stocksfield for the Spinners Gathering then a week later back up north again to Dingwall for the Highland Wool Festival. 

June is the trip across from East to West to Woolfest Cockermouth, July is south again to the British Wool Show, this year at the auction mart at Thirsk in North Yorkshire. In August we have two events on the same day(!) so Steve will be taking fibres and such to the Broughton Gathering – organised by the Edinburgh Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers – just south of Edinburgh, whilst I will be taking my handspun yarns and other beautiful things to the first Selvedge Fair at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh (very very exciting!!!). 

Then there's the Glendale Show at Wooler at the end of August – fairly local and a fabulous day out; in September we drive south to Skipton for Yarndale - are you tired yet....!   October sees us heading south west for the Kendal Wool Gathering, November back to Eyemouth for the autumn St Abb's in Eyemouth Wool Festival and finally (so far) the Melrose Crafters fair in Kelso for the last event of the year! Sounds like a lot, but so not as many as some folk do! That's about 2,500 miles or so...

What is important for you about British wool?

The variety of breeds available in the UK – and the difference in textures of fleeces and the uses they can be put to, feels limitless. There is something wonderful about sinking your hand deep into a raw fleece, the smell, the texture and how the locks of wool close over your fingers, imagining to what use you could put it and how it will feel to spin.

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

I think it's in the blood and bones! My father's family were silk weavers and his mum (my granny) worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire.

My mum's uncle had a drapers/tailors in Wigan and her mum was a great knitter.

Who are your woolly heroes?

My mum and grannies for getting me started.

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

What is your most rewarding woolly activity? 

When I'm spinning, obviously I love spinning, then if I've got some needles in my hand, you can't beat knitting; a hook - crocheting is wonderful and so flexible, do you get the idea? I love it all!

An iris in the garden becomes ...

An iris in the garden becomes ...

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

My colours come from being outside and surrounded by an always harmonious mother nature. 

... The Iris - merino and silk blend fibre ready for spinning.

... The Iris - merino and silk blend fibre ready for spinning.

The names come sometimes from the places I've seen the colours (Milldown Rocks, The Silvery Sea, The Sea is Green) sometimes whimsy (Fade to blue, Blue for Ewe), other times after people who I've designed the colour ways for (Jean B, Michelle's Apples).Designing is a more fluid and intuitive process which I like to think of as sculpting – my yarns really do know what they want to be, so help me along the design path!

The green sea ...

The green sea ...

... becomes ...

... becomes ...

... The Sea is Green Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

... The Sea is Green

Photo: Fine Fettle Fibres

Photos: Skybluepink designs unless otherwise stated.

Judith Goodfellow