This week is really quite special as I get to help launch a brand new yarn from one of my favorite yarn companies, The Fibre Co. I first met Daphne and encountered her yarns up close just over a year ago at a trade fair in Cologne, Germany. I was instantly in love with the luxurious fibre combinations and beautiful, rich colour palettes, which combined with the warm and inviting enthusiasm of Daphne, had me sold. I brought in The Fibre Co. last May when the shop moved to it's current location and it's been a staple on the shelves and on my needles ever since.
What strikes me most about all of the yarn in The Fibre Co. line is that they are designed to be worn and loved for years to come. They have staying power and are clearly developed by a knitter with a deep love of the craft. Which is why there are currently six Fibre Co. yarns on the shelves: Acadia, Cumbria Fingering, Knightsbridge, Meadow, Terra and Tundra - all of which are beautiful and unique.
And this Saturday I get to premier The Fibre Co.'s brand new yarn, Arranmore, to the world. It is fresh from the mill and absolutely gorgeous! Arranmore is a tweed yarn, spun in a traditional mill in County Donegal, Ireland - it even has the Gaelic name on the label: Árainn Mhór. What's not traditional is the fibre combination, this Aran weight yarn is 80% merino, 10% silk and 10% cashmere which makes it soft enough to wear next to your skin yet is retains the incredible texture of traditional tweed. I have a special place in my heart for all things Irish yarn and this really fills me with joy.
Daphne is the founder, owner and yarn developer extraordinaire behind The Fibre Co. and she has generously answered several questions for me about Arranmore and how she develops her stunning yarns in general. So I'll pass it over to her...Q: Where and how did The Fibre Co. begin?
Daphne: I launched The Fibre Co. in 2003 in New England on the working waterfront of a town called Portland in the state of Maine, the northeastern most of the United States. Although there are textiles in my family blood with a textile engineer father and grandparents who immigrated to the US to work in the New England mills, I did not have any previous industry experience. I loved the fibre arts and had a background in business, so when the opportunity to purchase a small mill came along I jumped at the chance. Originally I produced and hand-dyed all of our yarns in our own mill and dye house, but as we expanded to wholesale distribution I began to partner with other mills to pick up the backlog. Eventually all production was outsourced and I even went to Peru to train dyers in our techniques to have the yarn dyed for us. Although founded in the USA, The Fibre Co. is now based in the UK, within the Lake District National Park in Cumbria where I live with my husband. I love my new home and the fabulous outdoor lifestyle that comes along with being here.Q: What drives The Fibre Co. brand?
Daphne: Definitely there is a personal love of textiles, knitting and natural fibres in general underlying The Fibre Co. brand. When I first started making yarns, I wanted to create products to knit with that I had dreamt of but could not find on the shop shelves. Nearly 13 years later and that same goal continues to drive The Fibre Co. brand forward—we are uber focussed on creating and developing yarns that delight and inspire the enthusiast maker.Q: How do you come up with the fibre combinations you do?
Daphne: Here at The Fibre Co., it’s all about experimentation, blending fibres together to achieve an interesting texture and base onto which various dye techniques can be applied for really beautiful colour results. I begin by ‘finger spinning’ natural fibres together and playing with percentages and weights. As an example, to develop our Cumbria yarn, I began by wanting a natural brown wool to mix with a finer white wool to obtain a grey base. The goal was to create a long wearing everyday yarn in an amazing array of deeply saturated colours. I wanted lustre, so I added 10% mohair to the blend…just enough for a natural patina to each shade. Then, I go into the laboratory to see how various dye formulas look. I did over 80 lab dips to come up with the 14 that were in the initial launch palette.
Q: What is the process of developing new yarns and colors?
Daphne: I could definitely write several words on this topic. I mention some of the details in talking about how we come up with the various fibre combinations and in particular how we put together the colour combinations for Arranmore. Perhaps I could explain a bit about the actual process and timeline for developing new yarns. About 10 to 12 months prior to launching a new yarn, we spend 3 months generating ideas for new yarns and discussing options with a couple of producers. Then once we settle on a direction, we receive the first spun sample. Any refinements needed are then made and I begin to prepare lab dips for dyed yarns, a process which involves mixing dyes and trying a variety of shades on several small samples of the new base. These lab dips are then sent to the dyer and once we approve their lab dips, small sampling quantities in the selected shades are spun and used for marketing purposes such as design development, sales reps packs, shade cards, etc. The yarn itself and the various shades are named during this process and the brand is refined and rendered graphically for ball bands, skein tags, adverts, etc. The process is a bit different for fibre dyed yarns such as Arranmore and Knightsbridge as I do not do the lab dips but instead work with coloured fibre samples. Lately we have been launching two new products per year, one for the autumn / winter buying season and another for spring / summer.
Q: How did the new Arranmore yarn come about?
Daphne: We always have a couple of yarn development projects in the works. The project that we had anticipated launching for A/W 2016/17 needed more time to incubate than the schedule allowed, so we went to Plan B. We got in touch with the mill in Donegal and went to work creating a luxury version of the Donegal tweed.
Daphne: Like most words in the world of textiles, ‘tweed’ can be used to mean different things depending on whether one is talking about cloth, yarn, weave structure, and provenance. The word is believed to come from the Scottish word ‘tweel’ or ‘twill’, a common weave pattern. Generally, tweed normally means a type of wool cloth that is loosely woven. A tweed yarn is one that is used to weave a tweed cloth. There is Harris Tweed, a tweed from yarn that is made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. And there is Donegal Tweed, a tweed made from yarn that was traditionally dyed and spun for personal use in the South West region of County Donegal, Ireland in the early 1800s. The Donegal tweed was known for its flecked look derived from blending wool with nepps, small bits of tangled wool fibres. The Fibre Co.’s Arranmore yarn is a traditional woollen spun Donegal tweed yarn made in a mill that traces its roots to the early days of producing Donegal yarns on an industrial scale in the early 1900s. What makes Arranmore special is its use of fine merino wool blended with cashmere and silk.
Q: Since Arranmore is a tweed yarn, there are two, three, even fours colors working
together in a shade, how do you put those combinations together?
Daphne: To make Arranmore, each of the fibres are dyed separately. Some shades can have 4 or 5 colours of wool, but there is only one shade for the silk and cashmere in each shade of Arranmore. But then there are the nepps, which can number 4 to 6 shades of wool. All said and done, there can be a dozen or so colours if one counts the shades of the various individual fibres. Putting them all together to create an intended palette is not an easy task. Our partners at the mill have a lot of experience working with blends of colours. But when it came to adding the silk and cashmere, we had to go back to the drawing board. To do this I travelled to Donegal and spent several hours with the mill’s colourist to choose shades for the nepps and silk, which proved to be the biggest challenge. We got there in the end and as collaborative projects usually work out, the results are better than could have been achieved by any one soul.
Q: What is the first project you are going to cast on with the Arranmore?
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from for yarn development?
Daphne: Although I don’t usually follow a linear process, ultimately I draw inspiration from places and the stories they tell. The quote “Adventure is worthwhile.” has been traced to Aesop, the ancient Greek story teller. This is a quote that has driven and defined my entire adult life. The Fibre Co.’s yarns tell stories…stories of place, adventure and the natural world.
Daphne: Currently I’m doing quite a bit of swatching to understand the types of fabrics Arranmore makes with a variety of stitches. This is all in support of a collection that I’m co-designing with Maggi Toner-Edgar of Creative Style (http://www.toneredgar.com/about.html). The first real project I’m casting on is one of the designs for this collection that will launch at the start of the 2016/17 autumn/winter season. Stay tuned!
Well, I've been thinking about it too and my first project in Arranmore is going to be a cozy hat, something for early morning dog walks and then I can't wait to see what the pattern collection will have to offer.
Arranmore will be available in the shop and online from Saturday 30 Arpril. If you have a chance, do come by and have a squish of this very special new yarn.