This week with our Be the Change focus, we really want to celebrate how each of us can be effective in ways both small and large when it comes to changing the future of wool. You can follow the hashtag #bethechangeforwool to see how folk are expressing that concept in different ways. This evening on the blog we are sharing a piece from Joanne. Joanne has been choosing photos every Sunday for the instagram photo competition, and her own journey with wool has seen her move from being an engaged blog reader to a budding knitwear designer. She is now actively promoting wool by producing designs that help to bring out the best in yarns made by small producers like Isle Yarns and Mama Wolf Yarns and we feel her story is a superb example of how we can find ways to turn the things we read into personal actions.

My Woolly Journey

The big shift from making a granny square blanket using rather brightly coloured 100% acrylic yarn purchased at my Gran’s local market to now designing knitwear full time using only pure wool happened over time and unexpectedly. Towards the end of my pregnancy in 2009 I began reading knitting blogs from the UK about wool and textiles and found myself wishing to attend some of the amazing events that I read about there…

…instead, I heaved myself to my local yarn store, purchased some big knitting needles and wool, and reactivated my basic knitting skills by producing scarves and baby trousers: our offspring would be clad in wool.

Linda clad in wool
Linda clad in wool

A while later I found myself glued to the settee with a nursing child and idle fingers. Feeling tired and a bit stuck I decided to challenge myself and knit some stranded colourwork hats. I remember the day the wool arrived all the way from the Hebrides: I was moved to tears and blown away by the colours and the sheepy smell. It must have taken me a good hour to knit 3-4 rounds; I would pick up one colour, drop it, then knit with the other. The hats were two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back… but how proud I felt when one of the warm woolly hats adorned my head on our walks.

Fast forward three years, I had recovered from an unpleasant and rather long stretch of what is commonly known as postpartum depression, knitting having been one of my saviours. I was still on the mend but determined to visit Shetland Wool Week to celebrate pure wool and join the knitting world I’d only known online…

Lerwick, Shetland
Lerwick, Shetland

In 2013, with my knitaholic mother and thrilled daughter in tow, the sea was crossed on a bumpy plane ride and I was in Shetland! Sheep! Knitters! Wool lovers! We loved it so much that we repeated the journey a year later and during both those remarkable visits I learnt invaluable techniques including darning (with Tom of Holland); Fair Isle knitting (with Hazel Tindall); hap-creation (with Gudrun Johnston); and drop-spindling with Deborah Gray. My skills and passion grew and I spent the next year knitting a lot with wool from the Shetland Woolbrokers.

darning with Tom of Holland - photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission
darning with Tom of Holland – photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission
Fair Isle knitting with Hazel Tindall - photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission
Fair Isle knitting with Hazel Tindall – photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission
hap-creation with Gudrun Johnston - photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission
hap-creation with Gudrun Johnston – photo © Ella Gordon and used with kind permission

In 2015 I took the plunge and began creating my own designs. By now I’d fully recovered from post-natal depression and since I couldn’t revisit Shetland – our daughter now being in school – I decided to join an online KAL hosted by Jamieson & Smith. This sparked an idea in me to design my ‘Welsh Memories’ hat using their wool. The design commemorates my grandparents who lived in Wales and is based on a blanket that was woven there. It reflects my own heritage and my love of the British Isles.

Welsh Memories by Fine Lightness
Welsh Memories by Fine Lightness

At roughly the same time Louise Scollay instigated a Breed Swatch-Along on her Knit British website and, during my research for this project, I found Isle Yarns. They’re a small family run farm which now also produces traceable Poll Dorset knitting wool. I ordered Sue Hole’s new breed specific wool in its natural shades and shortly thereafter she approached me about teaming up with her and some fellow designers.

Together we chose colour schemes for her forthcoming batches of wool, and began designing with her product. This collaboration culminated in a very rewarding and inspiring visit to the Hole farm in Dorset this summer: many of my current designs use her wool. Isle Yarns is a rustic yarn, which softens surprisingly after blocking. I enjoy knowing the yarn’s origin and the colourways which reflect the landscape in which these sheep live underscore its strong sense of place. The DK weight lends itself to warm jumpers and accessories whereas the 4-ply is perfect for haps and garments with a drape. Knitting this timeless yarn transports me right to the beautiful Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.

Swatch worked in Isle Yarns
Swatch worked in Isle Yarns
Henderson designed by Joanne
Henderson designed by Joanne

In Spring 2016, my little family and I made it to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival at which I particularly enjoyed the community aspect of knitting. I have fond memories of hanging out in a café with folks whose woolly work I know through Instagram, like Jeni Reid – Wovember’s photographer and Instagram interrupter – Julia Billings of Woollenflower, and Anna Maltz – the ingenious Sweaterspotter – whose knitted Pinglewin design delighted our daughter!

My home is in Germany so I’m currently branching out and working with local to me German dyers and wool shops as part of my aim to lead an even more sustainable life. Currently I am having my first hat design test knitted which I made using organic German wool which is hand dyed in northern Germany. Jule of Hey Mama Wolf Yarns creates a diverse colour palette using natural dyes at her home which is a lovely old mill. This forthcoming pattern, the ‘Pine Garden Hat’ will be available at yarn stores carrying her wool. It has been a fascinating journey so far and following Wovember has inspired me to think more about the importance of 100% wool and consequently influenced my design work; I try to be an ambassador for wool and anything natural. I have a general aversion to those man-made fibres and materials which damage our planet. But that’s another story…

For now I’m thankful to all the folk who work with wool and for many moments and conversations with fellow knitters and who believe in their woolly craft and in the power of wool: I have found my tribe.

Joanne is a knitwear designer with a passion for sheep, their wool and the environment. She shares her daily life on Instagram where she is @joannefinelightness. You can find her knitting patterns via her website finelightness.com.

One thought on “From reading blogs to designing knitwear – an inspiring woolly journey

  1. Dearest Joanne, thank you for your story! I’m glad you looked so much better and relaxed in Edinburgh than you did in Shetland. I also suffered from a postpartum problem, but it was anxiety. I did some knitting at the time, but I lost it after a while. While reading your story I thought: problably it was because I knitted with cotton and not with sheepy smelling wool…

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