Recap of January 5 Guild meeting
On January 5 the Guild welcomed our first international speaker of the year: Carol Feller from Cork, Ireland. Carol gave a lively and very interesting talk on the yarn industry in Ireland and took us on a virtual tour of the three mills that produce yarn for the hand knitting market. She began by talking about her own development as a designer, how she learned to knit as a child in school as did most Irish children at the time, and how she went on to study not only textile arts, but engineering as well. Eventually, she meshed the two interests together and now finds both the artistic and technical sides of designing very rewarding.
Carol explained that although many people associate Ireland with lots of wool and yarn, there are only three mills in the country that produce yarn for hand knitters. Irish yarn has distinct characteristics. It is typically woolen spun Aran weight and dyed in the fleece before being spun so that different colors can be mixed to achieve heathered, multi-toned yarns. The yarn has a somewhat rustic feel and is well suited to the cables that she is well known for designing as well as those fisherman sweaters that many people associate with Ireland. She dispelled a myth that those sweaters were traditionally designed for individual fisherman to identify them by should they be swept overboard. In fact, the sweaters were developed as a business in the mid twentieth century to promote employment opportunities for the local population! She also told us that there isn’t as much traditional Irish yarn in yarn shops as one might think. And while there are sheep everywhere in the country, they are mostly raised for meat—the Irish are big lamb consumers—and not so much for their wool.
Kerry Woolen Mill was the first mill on the tour and they have been making the traditional Aran weight yarns for over 100 years. Their business has shrunk in recent decades, but they still produce beautiful, high quality organic yarns that are excellent for use in textured patterns such as cables and in garments or other items that require steeking, due to the “stickiness” of the yarn.
Cushendale Woolen Mills was up next and they are also a multi-generational family owned business. They manufacture for hand knitters both DK and sport weight yarns with beautiful heathered effects.
These two mills are smaller operations with a mix of old and new equipment but you definitely get a feel of old and rustic when visiting. The third mill, Donegal Yarns, in northwest Ireland, although in a rural location, is a larger factory operation. Over the years it has been government owned, semi-private, and private. It manufactures yarn for the wholesale market, under such labels as Debbie Bliss, Kate Davies, and many others. It developed its own unique processes known as “Donegal style,” which blend in flecks or nepps of different colors to achieve their distinct tweedy look. Carol talked particularly about one of their yarns, called “Soft Donegal” which blends some merino wool fibers along with the traditional rustic wool to get the tweedy look but with some added softness.
She also talked about some independent Irish yarn dyers, including Hedgehog Fibers who Carol worked with before Beata Jezek became well known for her association with Stephen West and for producing vibrant colors. Believe it or not, Hedgehog Fibers used to have a subdued color palette!
Her tour of Irish yarns included a description of her own yarns. If you missed the talk, or are interested in brushing up further on Irish yarn, I would recommend her book, Contemporary Irish Knits (published by Wiley and Sons.) It covers the mills that Carol spoke about and features patterns she designed using the yarns from each mill. Carol’s website is Stolen Stitches, which is worth exploring.
Carol also taught two workshops for us. The first one, on Cable Basics, was held, in a first for the Guild, before the general meeting to help accommodate the eight hour time difference between San Diego and Ireland. It’s wonderful to have international speakers, but it has required some extra flexibility from us all! Carol focused (among other things) on how to read cable charts and ways to enhance them for better readability and also showed how to easily do cables without the extra cable needle so as to speed up the process of knitting them. She included two patterns, one for a cup holder that could easily be expanded into a head band and one for fingerless mitts, thus giving participants the opportunity to practice their new skills while knitting flat and in the round.
Workshop number two was Top Down Knitting Tips and Tricks. Carol likes top down knitting for three main reasons: #1, you can try your sweater on as you knit, and therefore you can modify as you go. #2, you can make full use of your yarn (after you get past the bust area, you can knit both sleeves and then use up rest of your yarn on the body). #3, you can wear it sooner—when you’re done, you’re done—no seams to sew up! She focused on top down raglan style because she finds it a good style that is easily adapted to fit many body types. She had lots of tips on where to make adjustments for size and was very inspiring and encouraging—she feels a top down sweater is a great way to gain “garment confidence,” and certainly more than one participant was ready to start a new top down sweater!
– Nancy Lerer, Programs Committee, Programs@SanDiegoKnitters.com