I won’t deny it, I love a factory. I have a deep love of industrial heritage and there is something so thrilling to see human ingenuity and the brilliance of engineering in practice. In another part of my world I have spent half a life-time telling the stories of the industrial heritage of Britain, both good and bad. Much of the time we talk in the past tense. However in the last year I have been to visit two factories which have been operation for over a hundred years and produce tradition products using the the latest high-tech machinery. The first was a biscuit factory which makes wonderful products like Custard Creams, oh my I could bore for Britain on that subject (and I have).
I had my second adventure a couple of weeks ago. Just an hour away from where we live, a little hop, skip and jump over the Pennines is Spa Mill, home to Spectrum Yarns who make the new brand, Yarn Stories. On a sunny Friday afternoon I arrived at their imposing Factory building to be met by the wonderful Juliet Bernard. Those who are in the know about the knitting world will remember Juliet’s impressive tenure as Editor of The Knitter Magazine and her extensive career, supporting, developing and celebrating knitting talent and design. She is in the knitting celebrity category and I was in some awe to meet her. Luckily like so many of the people you can meet connected with yarn, she is the most joyful and enthusiastic person. She was keen to show me the home of Yarn Stories and the people who are at the heart of making this wonderful brand.
I was introduced to Mick, who has spent his life dedicated to spinning wool and is the head operation honcho at the factory. He kindly gave me a tour of the factory from the very base to the top. Seeing wool spun, on an industrial scale is quite some spectacle.
Right from the early ‘slivers’ of soft fibre, through to the finest suiting wool thread ready for weaving into cloth for Saville Row. I was able to see the intensity and the precision of spinning wool for weaving suiting cloth.
I literally lost count of processes which were undertaken to get this majestic fibre from fleece to fine lines of yarn.
The machines used combine traditional wisdom with up-to-date technology. Breakages, knots and faults are detected and eliminated. The wool being spun in this British factory really is of the highest quality to make some of the most luxurious yet hard wearing material. It is no surprise that the woollen cloth originated from this Yorkshire town is so sought after across the world.
The factory has a number of different specialisms, which include making fine Merino yarn for sports jumpers. I was like a giddy school girl in the embroidery section. Look at these colours.
I also saw the massive distribution operation, yarn packed up and ready to be sent out across the country, indeed across Europe to yarn shops. Tons and ton of hand-knitting wool for fans of Stylecraft. I also popped into the laboratory to see where they test the yarns and the fibres which are spun for their quality and consistency.
What struck me, is the passion and the seriousness which this brand family take with their job. When I had completed my tour, my general feeling was pride. Pride that English woollen spinners were still spinning, that the industry is not only evolving and developing, but we are also still at the top of the international tree in terms of quality.
At the end of my visit I was able to hear about the vision and the products Yarn Stories are developing. I already really like the wool. Making the Steiger hat was a joy. Juliet is right, once you hold a ball of this softest yarn in your hand, you just want to whip out your needles and hooks and start creating something. I met the Head Designer, Amanda Crawford, and we chatted about the upcoming designs and projects for the brand. The lovely thing is that this British Company wants to invest in British design talent. If you go to the website you can see the design collections and the range of yarns.
If you get a chance get hold of a ball of wool. It is a delight to knit with and there is something so satisfying to know that care, time and some great love has gone into producing it. A brand and a yarn family worth investing in.