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Baaaah! Why does Britain have such good wool?

by Ruth Strickley

Is it the weather? Maybe it's the geology, or the quality of the land, the way the land lies, our location on the face of the planet. Whatever the reason, Britain has long been known as the home of particularly good quality wool.

These days the nation is one of the world's biggest wool producers, generating a massive 22,000 tonnes of wool every year. There are 45,000 sheep farmers in Britain, between them looking after around 34 million sheep, which fall into 60 breeds, 25 of which are rare. But at the same time the country only has two wool scourers these days, people who clean the raw wool to remove grease, sweat and muck so it's lovely and clean. In total you have to go through ten different processes to transform wool to fabric, but despite the hassle an increasing number of people and organisations are starting to champion 100% British wool in all its beautiful glory.

Useful for a lot more than mere carpets and rugs!

Traditionally the idea is that British home grown wool is only any good for carpets. British wool is indeed very strong, with a high micron, but it's also brilliant for tweed and upholstery fabrics. There's more – a particular wool's use tends to depend on the breed it comes from, and where the sheep live.

As you can imagine because of the harsher weather, wool from northern and Scottish sheep breeds produces coarser yarns which are great for tweeds and interior textiles. The sheep living in warmer, dryer places like Dorset and Devon produce finer wool, softer stuff that's less harsh, the ideal for yarn for clothes. No wonder the UK's finest wool comes from the comparatively gentle, warm, calm landscapes where the Blue Faced Leicester breed thrives.

We've been breeding sheep in the UK since 4000BC or maybe even earlier, originally horned brown sheep like today's Soay. Preserved wool from the Bronze Age has been found, and it looks very like Soay wool. You don't spend at least six thousand years with an animal without getting to know it very well, becoming an expert in everything that keeps it happy, fit and healthy. Poorly or unhealthy sheep have poor wool. It takes experience and expertise to breed healthy sheep and keep them that way, and as a nation we've got plenty of that!

Where does British wool go?

Specialist wool merchants still trade British wool across the planet. More than half of it is sold to China, a fast-growing market that doubled between 2013 and 2015 and remains healthy. The remainder is mostly bought by other nations. Because the wool preparation process is so long and complex, comparatively little British wool stays in the UK from start to finish. It's often scoured and spun in China then sent back here to be woven.

A growing trend for wool from dedicated flocks

Cherchbi, which insists on gorgeous British Herdwick wool from a particular flock, isn't alone in its love for British wool. They also keep their entire supply chain in the UK. As Cherchbi says on its website:

" The Herdwick has a 1,000-year heritage and worthy reputation as Britain's hardiest mountain sheep. Reared primarily for it's specialty meat, the breed has EU protected food name status and appears on menus of many of the country's best restaurants. However the fleece is considered almost worthless and is sometimes burned.

Over four years and nine weave trials this low value fleece was transformed into a high quality cloth. Herdwyck No.10 is a pure wool, it's colour and texture derived from the distinctive Herdwick fleece. It is spun, woven and finished entirely in the British Isles.

The fleece originates in the Cumbrian Lake District and is spun into yarn in Kilcar, County Donegal. The spinning process is slowed giving the yarn greater strength. This is woven into cloth in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Extra picks are added into the loom creating an unusually dense weave. The tweed is sent to Galashiels in the Scottish borders where it undergoes specialist finishing. Finally, in Lancashire, the finished wool tweed is bonded to its cotton lining with a natural rubber core."

Buy British alpaca wool

We sell the most deliciously soft, gorgeous alpaca wool, 100% British from the field to our shop. If you fancy knitting something lush, it's perfect!

Canada's Salish women and their amazing wool dogs

by Ruth Strickley

What do you do when there are no sheep or goats, they live so far up the mountain it's too dangerous to catch and shear them, or the local tribes herding them are not keen to sell you the wool? You get creative. You make your fabrics out of dog fur.

The Salish Wool Dog was also called the Comox dog or Woolly dog. Now long extinct, it was a small, white, long-haired dog rather like a Spitz, bred by the native people who lived in what is now Washington State and British Columbia. So far, so ordinary. But the extraordinary thing about these dogs was their fur, which was unusually beautiful, soft and pale. In fact it was so good the tribe wove it into a beautiful, soft fabric.

The Salish Wool Dog was kept in packs of as many as twenty animals and fed on luxurious raw and cooked salmon, a precursor of a modern scientific discovery. These days we know for sure that fish oils are really good for a dog's coat. It's used widely by breeders and people who show dogs.

To keep their coats pure and white the dogs were prevented from cross-breeding, confined on islands and kept in gated caves, then sheared like sheep in May or June every year.

Incredibly thick wool and a strong fleece

The Wool Dog was selectively bred to create wool, while other dogs kept by the tribe were treated the same way we treat dogs today, as companion animals and hunting partners. In fact their 'wool' was so thick that the explorer Captain George Vancouver reported one could pick up an entire dog fleece by one corner and it would still hold together, something a sheep fleece just wouldn't do.

No wonder Salish blankets, made by the tribe from the fur of their dogs, were so highly prized by Native American tribes. In fact they cost almost as much as a slave, the ultimate in luxury. While the yarn quality of the pure dog wool was pretty good, the tribe often improved its quality and made short supplies go further by blending it with mountain goat wool, feathers and plant fibres.

Goodbye to the wool dogs

When the Europeans finally arrived in North America, the Salish Wool Dogs started to decline. There was better access to sheep. Hudson Bay blankets became a popular staple, sold widely across the new nation. And the Native American tribes were destroyed, displaced, forced to leave their homelands. The Salish Wool Dog eventually interbred with other dogs and lost the precious traits that made it so popular. By the mid-1800s there were no pure bred wool dogs left. And in 1940 the breed's last known descendent died.

All this happened so long ago that people eventually started to doubt the Salish tribe's oral history. But recent DNA analysis has proved dog hair is an ingredient in historic fabrics made by Salish weavers. Today all that remains is a strong oral tradition commemorating the dogs. A wool dog pelt was found in Washington D.C's National Museum of Natural History, a dog called Mutton who accompanied a scientist studying the tribes long ago. And a few photos of Salish people with their dogs have been unearthed. Other than that they're a lost doggie tribe all of their own.

Could you knit with your dog's fur? Have you tried? If so, what breed are they? We'd love to know!

Sheep of the month – The rugged, tough Herdwick breed

by Ruth Strickley

You might think that Brighton, in sunny East Sussex, is a balmy place where every breed of sheep can survive. But the Downland behind the city is home to a council-run conservation flock of almost 1000 sheep, many of which are Herdwicks and Herdwick crosses. The South Downs are not as harmless and pretty as they look – far from it – which means Herdwicks, Swaledales and cross breeds of both are the only sheep hardy enough to remain high up on the Downs, in the teeth of the westerly winds, all winter.

Welcome to our first sheep of the month feature. Introducing the Herdwick.

All about Herdwick sheep

The Herdwick is a domestic sheep native to the Lake District in Cumbria. The name comes from the ancient Norse herdvyck, which simply means 'sheep pasture' and reveals how old the breed is, dating back to the tenth century, maybe a lot longer. The Vikings brought their Herdwicks with them when they invaded the north, and by the end of the 1200s Herdwicks were a familiar sight in The Lakes.

Grazing these sheep keeps the fells bare, without trees, and the dry stone walls dividing the fells and valleys were mostly built to keep the sheep corralled. No wonder so many of the area's ancient words relate back to sheep and sheep farming. In fact to this day 95% of Britain's 50,000 or so Herdwicks live in the Lake District.

Herdwick lambs are called hoggs or hoggets, born mostly black then slowly getting paler as they age, ending up either pale or dark grey. Unlike many sheep breeds they have particularly stocky, sturdy, wool-covered legs. They don't have many lambs and their unmistakable grey wool is not as popular as wool from other commercial breeds, but Herdwicks are widely prized for their robust outlook, good health, ability to thrive on poor quality forage and tendency not to stray far. Their meat is famously strong-flavoured.

These are one of the slowest-maturing sheep breeds, no wonder when they spend their time as high as 3000 feet up the fells in all weathers. They spend the entire winter up there, in the open from December to April, grazing freely in their own 'heaf', a heaf being the familiar, small area a Herdwick won't move away from.

These sheep are so tough that they've been know to survive for several days underneath the snow, eating their own wool. And Herdwick wool is as tough as the beasts it grows on. It comes with coarse, thick, bristly fibres that stick out and can feel all prickly. The advantage of this is clear when it's cold, when you appreciate the most amazing protective barrier layer full of cosy, warm air, working on the same principle as a dry diving suit.

The Herdwick breed survives thanks to farming subsidies, and it is still widely found on National Trust properties, Places of Historic Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These days the breed is iconic, so typical it's hard to imagine The Lakes without it. They remain more common in Cumbria than their fellow high country breeds, the Swaledales and Rough-Fells. But there's more. 2008 saw one Oregon sheep farmer importing semen from Herdwick rams into the US for the first time. In response, during 2013, Lakeland Herdwick meat was awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Union.

Because it's so hard to dye Herdwick wool, it is mostly used for carpets. And because it is such an excellent insulator, it is often made into natural insulation for buildings, fireproofed first for safety. When they're crossed with Suffolk, Cheviot, Charollais and Texel sheep, the resulting lambs are worth more than pure bred Herdwicks.

What's your favourite sheep breed?

Do you have a breed of sheep you'd like us to feature? If so, we'd be delighted to hear from you.

What is Bohus Knitting?

by Ruth Strickley
Bhus Knitting

Bohus knitting is a thing of wonder and beauty. But what's it all about?

It comes from a vintage Swedish knitting co-operative named Bohus Stickning, which operated as a cottage industry between 1939 and 1969. Designed to provide income for poor families in Bohuslän, Sweden, during the Great Depression, the resulting knitwear was sold to shops all over the world, with designs by people like Emma Jacobsson proving particularly popular. The work of the women of Bohuslän Province remains highly desirable, a knitting style loved by millions.

How Bohus Stickning started

Emma Jacobsson was the wife of the governor of Bohuslän. In 1937, when times were hard, a group of local women asked her to help set up a co-operative to improve economic opportunities for local low-income families. After some experimentation they decided on knitting, which didn't require special equipment, large amounts of space or much training.

Hand knitted clothes became their focus, and Bohus Stickning was officially opened on 12 th September 1939, led by the inspirational Emma Jacobsson. In the early days they made mittens and socks, sold by Emma to department stores in Stockholm and beyond. The wares proved so popular the women soon started making scarves, hats, sweaters, and jackets, specialising in women's clothing.

Bohuslän didn't have a tradition for knitting, so they started from scratch. The 1940s saw the characteristic Bohus Stickning style emerging, a series of gorgeous multicoloured patterns in lightweight wool or angora created using a unique combination of knit and purl.

As more women joined, more luscious designs appeared

Over the years Emma was joined by Vera Bjurström, Anna-Lisa Mannheimer Lunn, Annika Malmström-Bladini, Kerstin Olson and Karin Ivarsson, Mona Reuterberg and plenty more, with Göta Trägårdh acting as a fashion advisor. It didn't take long for the Bohus Stickning brand to take over Swedish fashion, worn by famous women like Helena Rubinstein, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.

1995 saw Wendy Keele publish a brilliant book, Poems of Color: Knitting in the Bohus Tradition and the Women Who Drove This Swedish Cottage Industry. It drove a dramatic revival in the craft, and Bohus Stickning style work went international. In 1999 a master dyer working with the Bohusläns Museum, Solveig Gustafsson, decided to recreate a number of original designs and offered both the patterns and dyed yarns for sale. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A tradition that has spread the world over

Ever since then the tradition has carried on, through different people. At one point an angora rabbit farmer, Pernille Silfverberg, took over and expanded the number of patterns available. In 2009 Susanna Hansson and Wendy J. Johnson curated an exhibition called Bohus Stickning. Radiant Knits: An Enchanting Obsession, which opened at the USA's American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it drove even more publicity.

These days knitters all over the world are creating Bohus knit masterpieces, and the style has become a legend in its own lifetime. You'll be glad to know what alpaca wool is the perfect yarn for the job!

Les Tricoteuses de la guillotine - The knitting women of the French Revolution

by Ruth Strickley

Knitting is innately peaceful. Or is it? Not when there's a revolution in the wind...

Tricot is a plain, fine, warp-knitted fabric, either natural or man-made. A Tricoteuse is French for a 'knitting woman', both a nickname and a specific term to describe the women who sat beside Paris' deadly guillotine while people were publicly executed, calmly knitting. They apparently carried on knitting right through the executions, and knitted all sorts of items including the infamous liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian bonnet, a conical cap whose top bends forwards, worn in ancient times and not dissimilar to the Roman cap of Liberty, a 'pileus'.

Knitting can be political - When the market women marched on Versailles

One of the earliest signs of rebellion was the famous market Women's March on Versailles, which took place in early October 1789, intended to rail against rocketing food prices and chronic shortages. Thousands of poor women from the markets of Paris spontaneously marched to the Palace of Versailles to protest, and their efforts gained them a great deal of respect. King Louis XVI met their demands and was even forced to abandon Versailles and return to Paris, to rule from the nation's spiritual home.

The march wasn't expected to be a success. Louis was egotistical and edgy, and many predicted revenge-fuelled carnage. But the market women fast gained an almost magical status and soon became famous in their own right. They didn't have a leader as such. But their powerful group identity, and the way they took the moral high ground with ease was celebrated far and wide. The so-called Mothers of the Nation were the celebrities of the time, and their opinions were widely sought by politicians for years afterwards.

Sadly the women's ongoing straight talking, rebelliousness and disrespect for those in power eventually made them a political liability, and the increasingly authoritarian revolutionary government became totally fed up with them. In 1793 the revolution began in earnest and the market women, by that time seen as dangerously unpredictable, were not made welcome. In May the same year they found themselves excluded from their seats in the spectator galleries of the National Convention. A few days after that they were prohibited from joining any political gathering, of any kind, and their voices were finally silenced.

The veterans of the march and their supporters didn't go quietly, though. They met at the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution, these days the Place de la Concorde, and performed the role of disapproving onlookers as people's heads rolled. The knitting they did while they sat there led to them being named Les Tricoteuses, the knitting-women.

Next time you pick up your needles and yarn, remember that knitting isn't always the peaceful pastime we imagine it to be. It can affect politics, change lives, and drive cultural and social change.

Knitted lace traditions from around the world

by Ruth Strickley

Many countries have their own distinctive style of lace knitting. Britain is no different. The most famous British lace knitting of all is probably from the Shetland Islands, which lie on the shipping route between Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, the Mediterranean and the United States. Here's some insight into an ancient tradition that can be broken down into three categories: Orenberg lace, Shetland lace, and Estonian lace.

Lace Knitting on the Shetland islands

Knitting on the Shetlands goes back at least as far as the 1600s. By the 1700s the islanders were profiting from their skills, exchanging their work for money and goods, and by 1901 around 30% of all islanders were involved in the hosiery trade.

Lace knitting on Shetland kicked off in the 1840s, thanks to better transport links between the islands and the mainland. Islanders brought in the latest, most fashionable lace articles to copy, and the northernmost island of Unst profited thanks to its legendary finely spun yarn made from the neck of sheep, perfect for delicate, expensive lace shawls and scarves.

Shetland lace was expensive and luxurious. It was also unique, with no casting on or off. You'd simply start off with one stitch then knit the edges diagonally on the bias. No wonder it was loved so much by Queen Victoria, who often commissioned it for herself and as gifts.

Shetland lace tends to be either garter or stocking stitch, and the pattern is worked on the right and wrong-side rows.

Russian knitted lace from Orenburg

Orenburg lace can be traced back to the Orenburg region of Russia, at the remote, dramatic southern tip of the Ural Mountains. It's an oral tradition passed down through countless generations. The industry was so vital to the area that the Russian government subsidised the production of lace for many decades, something that only came to an end in 1995.

Traditional Orenburg knitted lace features ten main motifs: peas, honeycomb, fish eye, mouse print, strawberry, large strawberry, cat's paw, accordion, chain heart, and diagonal. In Orenburg lace, the pattern is worked on both right and wrong-side rows. The lace tends to be knitted in garter stitch and the holes in honeycomb, sometimes with two and sometimes three rows.

Estonian knitted lace traditions

Estonian lace has its own set of unique stitches, used to create the Lily of the Valley pattern that's so famous in the region. They're also hot on edging. Estonian scarves and shawls usually have a scalloped edge, made via the region's special nupp stitch, and often feature flower motifs.

The town of Haapsalu, on the west coast of Estonia, sat at the hub of all this activity, which started around 200 years ago when Russia ruled Estonia. The women in Haapsalu, on Estonia's west coast, started a lace shawl knitting tradition that remains to this day.

The lace they make features dozens of complex patterns including twig, leaf, ash leaf, birch leaf, blueberry, ligonberry and lady bug, and the famous nupp – a bobble-shape – completes the picture. They also create interesting and unusual textures thanks to varying the placement of knitted-together stitches.

Can you learn to knit lace?

The simple answer is yes, you can learn to knit lace. There might even be a class in your area. There are certainly plenty of books to start you off, including the First Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel, first published back in 1972 and still available second hand at Amazon.

Fun with wool - Continental versus British knitting styles

by Ruth Strickley

You go to Europe, and people knit in the exact same way we do here in Britain... or do they? In fact knitters don't all knit the same way, and the difference is about much more than simply the way you hold the needles. Every individual knitter has their own unique way of placing and holding the yarn, and creating the right tension. It all goes to create your own knitting style. And we tend to do things very differently over in Europe than we do over here.

What's the difference between continental knitting styles and the way we do things in Britain, on our lovely little island? The first thing to say is that neither one is right or wrong, they're just different. There's no rivalry, and learning both styles will liven up your knitting life no end.

What's the difference between continental and UK knitting?

The main difference in English vs. Continental knitting is the way the yarn is wrapped around the right needle before you pull it through to create a stitch. English-style knitting is sometimes called 'throwing' or 'American knitting' while continental knitting involves 'picking'. Continental knitting is also called German knitting, left-handed knitting, or European knitting. Here's how the two methods differ.

About English style knitting:

  • You hold the wool in your right hand
  • You throw the wool when wrapping
  • This style is a lot easier when using chunky yarns

Continental-style knitting:

  • You hold the wool in your left hand
  • You pick up the wool when wrapping
  • This style makes for much faster knit stitch, but a slower purl stitch
  • Because it's easier to alternate between knits and purls, continental knitting is perfect for alternating seed stitch and ribbing
  • People who already crochet tend to find this style easier to learn that English knitting

Which to choose?

Some say knitting continental style is faster than English style, and plenty of the planet's fastest knitters use the continental style because it takes fewer movement to make a stitch. It's also popular with people who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. And while some believe continental style knitting is best for the left-handed amongst us, both methods are fine for both hands. After all, one always knits with the right and left hands!

Changing your knitting style has physical benefits

Knitters, like anyone else who makes lots of repetitive movements, can suffer from RSI, repetitive strain injuries. Changing your knitting style can relieve your wrists and hands, reducing the pain and strain. English style demands a completely different hand and wrist action than continental, where the yarn is 'picked'.

Both can leave you with RSI, but combining the two means the effect of all those repeated actions is lessened. Plenty of people also find that the continental method demands a different tension, which also helps reduce pain.

However you like to knit, our stunning wools and yarns will help you make something totally stunning. Why not explore our collection and get inspired?

Get Hooked on Crochet – Spring into action with alpaca wool!

by Ruth Strickley

Do you like knitting? How about crochet? If you're looking to make beautiful garments and accessories from our lovely, soft, warm alpaca wool, crocheting is just as fascinating as knitting, with the same much potential. Here's a potted history of crochet to inspire you.

What is crochet?

Crochet is a means of making complicated fabrics using interlocking loops of yarn and a crochet hook. It comes from the French word crochet, a small hook, which in turn comes from the German word for hook, croc. It differs from knotting in that every stitch is finished before moving on to the next one, while knitting involves keeping a long string of stitches open until the garment or other item is finished.

When was crochet invented?

The Dutch women's magazine Penélopé mentioned crochet in 1823, also featuring a colour illustration of three silk thread purses made using it. One was made using the very simplest open crochet, merely a mesh of chain-stitches. The second alternates chain stitch with long slip-stitch, and the third is made entirely from double-crochet.

In the UK garments made from crocheted cloth – often called Shepherd's Knitting – were mentioned in the memoirs of a Highland Lady, a book written by Elizabeth Grant in around 1812 but not published until 1898. The 1840s saw a flurry of books published on the subject, one of which mentions that crochet was originally a Scottish craft, practised by the peasants in Scotland and says, "This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention."

The end of the Victorian era saw trendy Edwardians adopting crochet as their own, and between 1910 and 1920 it was incredibly popular, becoming more elaborate and complex in response. It was popular through the WW2 years, when making do and mending was the done thing, and again in the 1970s, when super-skinny models wore super-short dresses and tabards made from colourful crochet squares. And now, in 2018, it is fast becoming a trending topic again thanks to a resurgence in handicrafts and DIY, along with today's strong trend for recycling and up-cycling.

Who designs with Crochet today

The British design team Body Map has used crochet to explore the appeal of 'home made' inspired clothing. Irish designer Lainey Keogh uses crochet widely in her wonderful work. Vivienne Westwood is a big crochet fan and Jean Paul Gaultier has combined knitting and crochet to subvert fashion. Helen Rodel, Celia B, Katie Jones Knit, Anna Kosturov, Dolce and Gabbana, and John and Simone Rocha all use crochet in their couture collections.

7 basic crochet stitches to learn

There are seven basic kinds of crochet stitch apart from your initial foundation chain, which is how every piece of crochet starts life

  1. Chain stitch
  2. Slip stitch
  3. Double crochet
  4. Half treble
  5. Treble
  6. Double treble
  7. Triple treble

You can also do longer basic stitches, called Quadruple Treble, Quintuple Treble, Sextuple Treble and so on, created by winding your yarn multiple times over the hook at the start then wrapping / drawing through two loops several times to finish complete the stitch.

There are some advanced stitches too, many of which are made using combinations of basic stitches, or by inserting your hook in unusual places. Once you've mastered the basics you can move on to exciting things like shell stitch, V stitch, spike, Afghan, butterfly, popcorn, cluster and crocodile stitches.

Things to make using crocheting

You can crochet with really fine silk thread if you like, for a stunning delicate result, or go big and use really chunky wool, even string, twine, rope, unravelled winter woollies, even strips of thin fabric knotted together. And crochet can be used to create a huge range of lovely things, including:

  • Beautiful hats and scarves
  • Thick, warm throws for beds and settees
  • Gloriously colourful winter coats and jackets, lined for extra warmth
  • Dresses, skirts and jumpers
  • Blankets
  • Headbands and leg warmers
  • A cup holder to keep your coffee cosy
  • A case for your smartphone or spectacles
  • Baby blankets
  • Cushion covers for settees
  • Pet beds

5 easy places to get crochet inspiration

Here are some links to great places stuffed solid with excellent crochet ideas.

20 quick, easy and beautiful things to crochet

45 fun and easy crochet projects for teens

100 free crochet patterns for beginners

101 simple crochet projects

Easy free crochet patterns for beginners

Have you seen our lovely art deco Brittany Birch crochet hooks- why not treat yourself. If you are just learning you can use any wool or yarn from your stash to practice with. However once you have mastered it wouldn't it be lovely to tackle your fist project using our lovely Chilla Valley Alpaca or one of our other luxury yarns from the range.

15 Interesting Facts About Natural Fibres

by Ruth Strickley
Natural Fibres

Fibres are hair-like threads that form the building blocks of most wools, yarns and fabrics. There are two groups of fibre, natural and synthetic. Natural fibres come from animals and plants, for example alpaca wool from a quirky South Andean mammal; linen, hemp, cotton, jute, coir and sisal from plants, and silk from moth pupae.

Fabrics made from synthetic fibres include Nylon, Acrylic, Viscose, Microfibre, Polyester, Lycra and – the ultimate in 1960s and '70s fashion horror stories – Crimpelene, originally discovered through boiling Astronlon-C polyamide yarn and Astralene-C polyester yarn in a pressure cooker. Nasty!

Just like natural fibres, synthetics can be spun into filaments, threads, wool, yarns or twine that can then be woven, knitted, matted or bound into a remarkable variety of materials. Natural fibres usually have short fibres called staple fibres, but synthetic fibres can be made as long as they need to be.

It's fascinating stuff, don't you think? Here are 15 of our favourite facts facts about natural fibres.

15 fun facts about natural fibres

  1. Silk fibres, unlike other natural fibres, feature incredibly long continuous filaments up to a kilometre long, unravelled carefully from the silkworm's pupa case either by hand or by machine
  2. Silk was first harvested by the Chinese as early as 2700 BC. Like us, have you ever wondered how they discovered that the strange stuff that came from moth pupa cases was weavable?
  3. Fragments of ancient cotton cloth dating back to 5000 BC have been discovered on two different continents, Mexico and Pakistan
  4. True cashmere only comes from the Kashmir goat, which lives in the Himalayas. Their fine undercoat hair is used to make luxurious and desirable cashmere yarn
  5. More than 100 nations produce wool, on an impressive half a million or so sheep farms
  6. The world's oldest ever woollen cloth was found in Denmark and dates back to 1500 BC
  7. The oldest woollen carpet was discovered in chilly Siberia, found to date back to 500 BC
  8. Manila Hemp, AKA Abaca, was long the best fibre for making ship ropes and rigging. It was also the favoured material for making Manila envelopes, hence the name. These days it is about to enjoy a resurgence as a greener, kinder alternative to the glass fibre used in cars
  9. Hemp fibre comes from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, not to be confused with marijuana. Some countries have become confused, however, and have restricted its production. Hemp is one of the earliest plants to be used for it fibres, by ancient peoples as early as 4500 BC
  10. Cotton remains the king of natural fibres, selling more than any other fabric worldwide
  11. Flax is one of the strongest natural fibres ever discovered
  12. The hair of baby camels is incredibly rare and luxurious, harvested from Bactrian camels in remote Mongolia to make stunning camel hair yarns
  13. Also called China Grass, Ramie is a coarse plant fibre used to make nets and rope. But when spun wet the yarn is wonderfully fine, lightweight and silky-feeling, very like quality linen. Korea's traditional costumes are made from Ramie
  14. The angora is an Old World domestic rabbit breed whose fur grows twice as fast as other rabbits. The resulting hollow fibre is classified as a wool, seriously luxurious
  15. Humans first domesticated sheep around ten thousand years ago. The animals are native to Europe and Asia, where they live high up in remote mountain ranges

Talking about beautiful, durable natural fibres... we sell the most gorgeous wools and yarns, perfect for scrumptious knits of every kind. Hop over to our yarns page for inspiration, including wool from our very own herd of alpacas,

Knit and Crochet Your Way to Health and Happiness

by Ruth Strickley

You know that feeling you sometimes get when you've just woken up? Your mind is perfectly empty. You are at perfect peace. All is well with the world. Well, that's what it's like being engrossed in your knitting. You are in the zone, in the present, not worrying about the future or fretting about the past, not thinking much at all. And it's one of the best feelings there is.

If you've ever settled down to enjoy a lovely, chilled knitting session, you'll already have a handle on how wonderful the process of knitting and crochet feels. Did you know that knitting can genuinely benefit your health and mood? Knit for Peace has created a report on the many health benefits of knitting, exploring evidence-based research as well as the results of a survey that quizzed a thousand keen Knit for Peace knitters. It looks like our favourite pastime is much more than mere fun.

Hypnotic, repetitive, rhythmic knitting

Knitting is almost hypnotic. You carefully count your stitches, you calmly repeat the same actions again and again, and the item you're creating grows rhythmically. You zone out, using your muscle memory instead of your conscious mind. That rhythmic, repetitive motion has the same benefits as actual meditation or self-hypnosis. It's a powerful form of mindfulness, and mindfulness is big news these days. Mindful people are widely thought to be calmer and happier thanks to a calm focus on the present moment, and an acknowledgement and acceptance of their feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. It can be a life-changer.

Everybody's doing it!

No wonder knitting is more popular than ever. Hop on the Brighton to London commuter train and you'll find a men's knitting group doing their thing. Look up 'knitting groups' on Google and pages and pages of them pop up. Check out Knit for Peace, which began life as a way for victims of war and strife in Africa to generate money then spread like wildfire to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan.

According to Knitters for Peace there are more than 20,000 knitters in Britain. Most are retired, but the fast-growing trends for making and mending, re-purposing and reviving traditional crafts means younger generations are joining in. More or less everyone who gives it a go finds knitting enhances their pleasure in life and improves their well-being. Knit for Peace's report on the Health Benefits of Knitting supports these facts.

The many brilliant health benefits of knitting

Knitting stimulates almost all of your brain at once. It lights up like a Christmas tree. The frontal lobe, the bit of your brain that processes rewards, attention and planning, is kept happy. Your parietal lobe, the place that deals with sensory information and spatial navigation, is occupied. The occipital lobe, the processor of visual information, is involved and the temporal lobe where your memories are stored and language interpreted is kept busy. Your cerebellum, the area that coordinates and times movement, is happy and active. You can see why knitting helps people with Parkinson's disease by improving their motor functions and fine motor skills as well as distracting them from pain.

It's clear that knitting lowers the blood pressure and provides a real sense of well-being. It works against depression, slows the onset of dementia, and you can carry on knitting through thick and thin, into extreme old age, as long as you still have the use of your hands and eyes. Over 60s find knitting for other people makes them feel part of their community, useful and not so socially isolated. Knitting and crocheting can lower your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And, even better than meditation, the beautiful and useful things you make also serve to improve your self-esteem, giving you a well-deserved sense of pride in your creations. Last but by no means least, working with wool makes for healthier joints. Exercising your finger joints keeps them in good condition, building up the cartilage effectively without strain.

Join the knitting revolution

If you love the look of our sumptuous wools and would like to make knitting part of your life, there's bound to be a knitting group near you. If you would rather go it alone, you'll also feel the very real benefits knitting brings to your physical and emotional life. Go on, tap into that amazing knitting magic