As the months roll on, my May deadline approaches, and my spinning/knitting progress proceeds fairly imperceptibly… so I’ve been casting my mind to the rich variety of local resources I have access to here in Wales…
I began this project by defining a fairly small perimeter (mere yards) around my home as my ‘local’ precisely because I felt it would be ‘too easy’ to draw on the existing network of textile production in Wales. I already knew a fair amount about Welsh textile production when I began last May because when we moved here 7 years ago, in a whirl of enthusiasm I scooted around with my toddler, exploring the Welsh textile terrain and locating interesting textile producers and makers. Something about moving to a Wales inspired me to investigate the potential to create a local wardrobe, and I own some pieces already which would qualify as ‘fibershed’ status.
Suffice to say, I might well revisit the ‘too easy’ bit of my challenge. I’ve learnt so much this year from taking wool straight off a sheep’s back and processing it into yarn, but there has been SO much to learn, it all takes substantial time, and in a way I’ve been missing the point: The whole #1year1outfit project is about promoting dialogue about local resources and supporting/generating/reviving networks of local textile production – It’s not really about producing something in isolation …and, as I’ve discovered, it is a slow and sometimes lonely challenge to produce a garment entirely from scratch from your own back garden! A bit of shared knowledge/fibre/fabric is all part of creating resilience and joy in the textile community… and the community at large. I know now that I will need to reach out for some practical help in creating my outfit – some ready-spun fibre and some woven fabric – and it feels right that it will be made up of work by my own hands and the hands of the textile community that surrounds me.
So, I thought now might be a good time to share what I’ve found here in Wales:
Woven Fabric and Garments:
Curlew Weavers – A working family mill specialising in producing a wide range of woollen products including garments & made to measure curtains. They offer a scouring, carding, spinning & weaving service for rare breed wool, alpaca & mohair. Many of their woven fabrics are from natural wool colours and I’ve been inspired by a dress made from Curlew fabric here.
Llynfi Textiles (see the table in my special pair of wool trousers above) are a fabulous clothing company who I’m sure could qualify for fibreshed status. They’ve put a huge amount of research and effort into creating a range based on the most local fibres, fabrics and processing possible. Last year they worked with Ystrad Organics, a fibre-producing farm, on the Organic Welsh Wool Fabric Project to produce a very special 100% Welsh and organic woven fabric which is available for sale. Read here and here to find out more.
Melin Teifi are a weaving mill that produce fabric and garments in classic styles developed from garments traditionally worn by Welsh workmen. They make a wide range of flannel fabrics in traditional Welsh colourways and designs. The coloured fabrics are not made from ‘local’ dyes but the wool is 100% British. Raymond and Diane Jones, who run the mill get wool direct from the British wool board, but frustratingly it isn’t currently possible to specify only ‘Welsh wool’ from the wool board – although it is likely that much of the wool is from Wales. The mill is part of the fantastic National Wool Museum located in Dre Fach Felindre in the Teifi Valley, which has been the centre of the Welsh woollen trade since the nineteenth century.
Melin Tregwynt is possibly the best known woollen mill in Wales. It dates from the 18th century and has remained a family business, surviving the recession of the 1980s by developing markets further afield. Although they don’t use ‘local’ dyes and sell to an international market, Melin Tregwynt are a thriving rural business employing 20 local people and amongst their wide range of colourful woven fabrics, largely for interiors, they have some lovely subtle undyed woollen products. I haven’t yet checked that all their wool is British, but certainly the blanket I bought from them two years ago was woven right there in that mill (see above). Melin Tregwynt also open the doors of their working mill to visitors throughout the year, and our experience is that this is worth repeat visits… and a quick dip in the sea afterwards!
Fleece and Fibre:
There are a LOT of wool enthusiasts and smallholders breeding rare breeds and processing yarn on a small scale here in Wales. Many of them will have stalls at Wonderwool, a yearly festival in Builth Wells and others aren’t even on the internet… so below I have listed only those particularly local to me or who I have a personal connection with:
Cwmstwrdy: My friend from the Montgomeryshire Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers, Debbie, has a smallholding with Angora goats (see one of her kids feeding above!), Shetland and Bowmont Sheep and a menagerie of other wonderful animals. She sells her fleeces locally and I am keen to improve my spinning enough to be able to tackle some angora!
Lesley Wickham: I first encountered Lesley’s wool at the Wool and Willow festival in Llanidloes. Lesley has a particularly good eye for garment design and uses her designs to showcase her beautiful coloured wool through machine knitted textures (see my favourite cardi above) – I now own and treasure two of her cardigans. The moths are fond of them too… but Lesley has been able to provide me with the exact shade of darning wool. She is in the process of selling her farm, but also runs The Ewe Tree shop in Hay on Wye where she sells knitting wool, fleece and garments in colours bred specifically using various native breeds – “with the mingling of Icelandic, Shetland, Cotswold, Jacob, Wensleydale, Corriedale, Ryeland and Gotland breeds we get a hardy, prolific, friendly ewe with a heavy long-stapled fleece in various natural colours, and one which is also able to throw a good-sized meaty lamb.”
Olwen Veevers: I discovered only recently that Olwen is an old friend of my mother-in-law and that she was a founder organiser of Wonderwool (see below). Like Lesley Wickham, Olwen breeds sheep especially for their colour. She sells Corriedale, Blue Faced Leicester and Coloured Romneys – fleece and yarn.
Allinaspin – Dunja taught me to weave at last year’s Wool And Willow festival. She appears to have more hours in the day than me, and manages to run a spinning/weaving business as well as farm with her husband. She breeds and sells Zwartbles, Clun Forest and Lincoln Longwool: fleece, batts and yarn. I am particularly tempted by her super chunky yarn…
Aztec Alpacas: I first encountered this soft alpaca yarn in Rhayader just 20 minutes drive from where I live …in a charity shop! The yarn was in fact ‘first-hand’ in a special section with other local textiles and selling for a ‘real’ price. I bought a ball of ‘Jet”s black wool to experiment with. We’ve since been to visit Jon Matthews and his small herd of alpacas: Bianca, Damsel, Cloud, Hazel, Coco, April and Jet. He sells fleece and yarn in a range of 7 lovely colours.
I’m not sure if this is strictly textile… but I’m planning to include footwear as part of my #1year1outfit, if not by May, possibly during the next year. I am lucky to have got to know two shoemakers close by:
Jeremy Atkinson is the sole remaining traditional hand carver making bespoke clogs in England (he’s right on the border with Wales) – and he taught Geraint Parfitt, the only hand carver in Wales. He is an absolute wealth of information on all things clog and has some informative and interesting videos on his website. His workshop is an exciting treasure trove of clogness and well worth a visit. A few years ago he made me a pair of wonderful clogs (see above) with soles from local sycamore and I’ve been in touch with him about making me some soles from the sycamore in our garden for a #1year1outfit component…
Ruth Emily Davey – makes beautiful shoes. and where possible uses local materials – including a pair of rabbit fur boots, taking part in the organic welsh wool project, and working with Breanish Tweed. I don’t yet own a pair of her shoes… but I’m saving up.
Exciting Projects and Events for Welsh Textiles:
Gwlân Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains Wool is a project set up under the The Cambrian Mountains Farmers Community Interest Company, inspired by The Prince of Wales. The project aims to rekindle the historic links between local sheep farmers, wool processors, designers, makers and retailers, and facilitate a range of original contemporary wool products, from fleece farmed in the region, under an official Cambrian Mountains Wool label. A clear set of standards are in place which includes the specification that 100% of the wool used has been farmed in the region. Only wool products that are approved by the Group as meeting its standards will be allowed to carry the distinctive Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains label.
Organic Wool Wales has been set up by Ystrad Organics, who have done funded research into the potential to reinvigorate the organic Welsh wool market. The site isn’t regularly updated but has some useful information.
Wonderwool Wales in Builth Wells is the premier Wool & Natural Fibre Festival in Wales. It was set up in 2006 in order to promote wool and natural fibre production and its use in Wales. The event includes Exhibitors and Trade Stands covering all aspects of Felting, Knitting, Weaving, Spinning & Crochet along with Textile Art with raw materials, equipment, books and finished product. There are also demonstrations and a ‘wool school’ workshops and a selection of fibre animals on display including sheep, alpacas and angora rabbits. Nearly all of the producers listed above will be there this year… and so will I!
Wool and Willow is a month long festival of all things wool and willow in my own home town of Llanidloes! There is a month long schedule of textile workshops and stalls selling everything from raw materials to finished products. It’s a great source of local yarn in particular.