The prep for unravel… a festival of yarn continues behind the scenes and this week we’re excited to make a special announcement that Garthenor Organic are coming on board as the sponsor for our new Inner Yarn Sanctum and talks series.
We’ll have more details to share next week about the Inner Yarn Sanctum, including who’s speaking as part of the talks series. We’ll also share our excellent international line-up of tutors who will be leading our bookable workshops. Get ready!
But first, we sat down with Jonny King, Creative Director at Garthenor Organic to find out more about this iconic British yarn brand.
Garthenor Organic is 20 years old this year. Tell us about your journey with craft and the evolution of the brand.
It all started by accident – back in 1999, there was a mill just a few miles down the road from the farm, we had some sheep – it seemed like the obvious thing to do! Since then there’s been a lot of change – we very quickly couldn’t grow enough wool from our own flock, so we now work directly with about 60 organic farms across the UK. In 2003, we became the first company in the world to get organic certification for wool yarns from sheep through to yarn. Then, in 2006, the Global Organic Textile Standards were introduced, so now everything is certified to GOTS.
How have you seen the yarn industry change and evolve over 20 years?
Our early customers were mostly just delighted to find real wool, in an era when man made fibres were dominating the craft landscape. Since then, there’s been a real shift towards crafters taking a much greater interest in the origin and production of yarn. When we started, there were almost no shows at all, save for the huge trade shows – it’s been amazing to be able to get to more shows and meet customers face to face. Behind the scenes, there’s been a huge resurgence in manufacturing – so many mills shut down throughout the 20th century, it’s really gratifying to see new ones opening up, and the mills that managed to survive now thriving.
What is the process in designing a new yarn?
Unlike most yarn companies, we tend to work forwards from the raw material, rather than backwards from a concept, trying to source fibre that will “fit” the design. We have the luxury of working with some outstanding farmers, so when the wool comes in each year, during grading and sorting we’re assessing how suitable it will be for various spinning options. Woollen or Worsted? Fine or Chunky? We really let the fibre dictate its own journey, and that guides production throughout.
Do you have a favourite breed of sheep to use when making your yarns? Why that sheep?
It’d be impossible not to say Shetland and Ryeland sheep! We breed a small flock of each here on the farm, and they were the original inspiration for spinning yarn. Shetland is a fantastically versatile wool, among the finest and softest of all native breeds, we really value their variation in fleece colour when producing our undyed yarns. Ryelands are a typical downland breed – short, crimpy and fine fibres make the best chunky yarns.
What is your favourite yarn that Garthenor has designed?
That’s an impossible question! Being able to produce yarns from a single flock, like we have with Cairngorm and Pentland is amazing – to follow a single source throughout production. On the other hand, designing, testing and then producing a blend of two or more breeds, like we do with our Manx Loaghtan/Hebridean blends has it’s own merit – it can transform the fleece into something new, that’s different to either of its parts.
What unknown or unexpected fact about the yarn design process or business would surprise people if they only knew?
How long it takes! For a new yarn, we’ll start the design and testing process up to 2 years before it’s available on shelves.
What can we look forward to from Garthenor in the next 20 years?
Lots more organic wool! We’ve got so much in the pipeline that we’re looking forward to sharing – some big projects, some small!