Slow Fashion October: Known

My journey for traceable yarns to knit with took me on an adventure this year that has changed my whole outlook on the way I knit. No longer satisfied to just shop local, I began wanting to explore the stories behind yarn production and in doing so befriended the inspiring team behind Blacker Yarns

Blacker yarns

As a reaction to Karen Templer's final prompt for Slow Fashion October, I'm honoured to host this powerful guest post from managing director of Blacker Yarns (and The Natural Fibre Company), Sue Blacker:

"I spend a great deal of time in the supermarket – much too much according to my family – even though I actually go there very rarely (I prefer to delegate!).

Why do I go there rarely?  Because we buy eggs from the farm on the way to my field, fish, fruit and vegetables from the local greengrocer who sources quite a lot locally, milk from the newsagent who gets it from a local dairy, meat from a butcher to whom we have been going for over 25 year and whose meat is all locally grown and slaughtered, bread from the local post office who get it from the local bakery, and so on.  Also I am in the fortunate position of breeding all my own lamb and when I have time I make jam, bread, etc., though growing fruit and veg I leave to my sister, who grows all her veg and lives in a city!  That I can do this is partly a result of living in a rural area and partly because that’s what I believe in.  We gave up doorstep mill in the end because deliveries were completely unreliable and the milk was less local than that from the newsagent – not because of price!

Why do I take so long when I do go?  Well, by the time I have checked where things come from and what they contain, it just does take a long time.  I have to reject things from regimes I don’t like, reject things which are out of season and/or have travelled too many miles and lost all flavour, reject things containing added sugar (except chocolate of course) and then of course there are few things which we simply don’t like much!!  Of course, I also select things which can show they are British, local, organic or have relatively few ingredients and taste good.

Fibre prep at the Mill- pin for later

Fibre prep at the Mill- pin for later

Being a farmer, as well as a wool mill owner has made me even more conscious of not just where things come from.  In the first place, unless animals are healthy, with good husbandry practice, they will not produce good things: whether it be eggs, milk, meat or wool.  So, of course, I want to know that a yarn is from a high quality version of the animal and not mixed up with some other stuff to improve it (like sugar or sweeteners in fizzy drinks!).  And I want to know where the animals have been, how they have been cared for and who they are! 

And then I want to know how the animals were treated in harvesting their product, how the products have been made, with low environmental impact and also that the workforce at every stage is also able to feel free.  Workers in the EU have the right to consultation about their conditions and to decent working conditions, even though this is not always adhered to in practice.  Worldwide, there are now also informal regulatory systems, such as Fair Trade or via standards set by individual businesses, such as Eco Age with its Green Carpet Challenge.  There is also the organic movement, through the Soil Association and other sister organisations across the world, where the standards and inspections also involve ensuring fair treatment of workers.  And in the UK there is also the Living Wage Foundation …

Why does this matter to me?  Because it does and I cannot cope with the idea of any other way of doing things.  I also like it to be fit for purpose, well designed and durable!

Fibre being carded at the Mill- pin for later

Fibre being carded at the Mill- pin for later

So how can we tell what it means to buy British or local wool and, better still, to buy farm assured wool?

-          The Five Freedoms laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee are at the beginning of all farming regulation in the UK: freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury and disease, to express normal behaviour and from fear and distress.  These are worked in tandem with EU regulation, so farming across the European Community is also based on these principles.

-          We know that there are scandals surrounding the treatment of animals, sadly even sometimes in the UK and Europe, and there are reporting systems, inspectors at markets and abbatoirs, such that sick animals cannot get into the food chain and the reasons for any signs of ill treatment or neglect will be investigated.  The recent news has been of tearing the hair off angora rabbits or kicking sheep, and I know from talking with them that it upsets our British farmers and shearers terribly to hear of it – because they are close to the animals, respect them and would not wish to harm them.

-          We have strong safeguards in place with a bio security regime, reporting movements, to reduce the risk of spread of infectious diseases.  The plans have been updated and improved since the horrific Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2002 and are now shared by farmers, vets and regulators alike for better, faster responses.

-          All of this puts into place assurance (using brands such as the Red Tractor) to show that the standards are being met for food – while we can assume that this is the case in the UK, because we can all go and see it if we wish, it is a little harder to be sure right across the EU and certainly across the world – also we know that differing interpretations of the same regulations can happen in different places, and that not all inspection regimes are as rigorous – this means that, when in the UK, we should seek British first.  The same applies to each country – we all know and understand our own culture and standards best and so are best qualified to make good choices locally.

-          The same applies to wool: the British Wool Marketing Board buys wool from all farmers with 4 sheep or more unless under various exemption schemes.  The Board then quality assures the wool, grades it and markets it worldwide on behalf of the farmers.  In addition, the Board operates a national training scheme for sheep shearing, with qualified trainers and inspectors to maintain welfare at shearing.  Their approach to quality control is summarised at http://www.britishwool.org.uk/page/wool-sales/quality-control.php

-          The Wool Board also has two trademarks. There are two levels: standard British Wool (when the wool is British but may be blended with other fibres) and Platinum Certificated (when the wool is 100% British, complies with the Board’s Life Cycle Analysis, ISO 14040 accreditation and has been collected and marketed through the Board).

Flock of Sheep

I also know that there are those who comply with the standards on paper but not in their hearts, and I have found that this shows if you visit, listen, talk and see, so we always encourage everyone working with us to come and see and expect to reciprocate.  Inevitably, we have to make some compromises to get things to happen sometimes, so we try always to think carefully about that before we do it and be willing to explain it.  Unless we can be trustworthy, we cannot expect trust from our customers.  We also have to own up to making mistakes and find acceptable ways of dealing with them.

We have a pride in our provenance:

-          at my farm

-          at The Natural Fibre Company where we guarantee that each customer gets their own fibre back when processed, into the product they have ordered

-          at Blacker Yarns where we buy fibre from people we know and trust, in long-term partnerships, and selecting quality by hand to make yarns totally under our control under one roof or sometimes with trusted sub-contractors

Within the mill, we have a system which starts at the entrance door, recording what comes in, from whom and from where.  We then keep track of it through every stage of the journey to final product – each batch going through the mill has its own individual “passport” – in this case a clipboard with the production sheet for the order, recording each process as it happens.  WE have been working on updating the system so that we can be even more exact, with the exact component sources of supply for each batch of Blacker Yarns identified as well as just the breed and a list of the suppliers from whom we buy.  So we know!  We know because it matters to our customers and it matters to us.

The final bit, about fit for purpose, good design and durability is partly down to the wonderful attributes of wool and other protein fibres, which can do much of this anyway.  Then we add expertise in selecting the fibre most suited for the yarn and end product required, and of we try to add as much timeless classic essence as we can in terms of colours and pattern designs. 

I expect to be able to wear my clothes for decades, not just weeks!  And to love and care for them and, given this, I am also willing to spend quite a lot on getting that quality. 

Most known and closest of all, I also have some very special clothes and a few pieces of jewellery, along with my fountain pen (which I generally use to sign copies of my book) and some pictures and furniture, which link me to my mother, father and brother, and other family members because they once owned them or gave me them, and so I can and do sometimes choose to take them with me when I need their support.  Many of these are old … and I care for them to make sure they will last.  The emotional importance of provenance is very powerful and links us back to the known, familiar, local, comfortable and valued essence of our lives."

Blacker Yarn giveaway on Instagram

If this story has captured and moved you as deeply as it did me, please check my Instagram later today for your chance to win a skein of Cornish Tin, Blacker Yarn's special 10th Anniversary celebration yarn. Cornish Tin is a steely grey woollen spun yarn is blended from a collection of the highest quality British fibres including Alpaca, Gotland, Jacob, Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain, Mohair, and English Merino. It's rich with local provenance and I can't wait to give a skein away. 

Slow Fashion October: Small & Loved

Karen Templer's Slow Fashion October has given me plenty of food for thought. Her prompt last week (SMALL) and this week (LOVED) has helped me make connections that I hadn't fully appreciated up till now. 

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

I don't craft particularly fast. I am not a speed knitter and I rarely find time for other making such as crochet or embroidery despite a keen interest in both. When I complete a project I'm thrilled but more often than not, I move on to the next thing as it's the creation that I crave more than anything. 

In my mind, my daughter and I wear hand knits all year round without any need to 'top up' with store bought items. Our sweaters are plentiful and there's the right accessory for every weather condition. I'd make simple skirts and a play apron for little one that would be a quick afternoon spent on the sewing machine rather than a guilt ridden click on a website for a ready made. 

In my mind, I'm living the life I crave: not consuming but creating. I rework clothes with hand stitching, sewing, patching or modifications which means that I don't need to constantly buy new. I am able to Make Do and Mend because I have the skills and time with which to execute these tasks. 

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

A small and very loved pile of knitwear

However, the reality is that I don't even make half as much as I wish and what's more, those things I do create have been slowly given away over the last few years. 

In searching my wardrobe for my most loved and cherished handknit while I prepared to respond to Karen's words 'Small' and 'Loved' made me realise that there is a limited supply of handknits in my wardrobe despite many years of knitting diligently. My ruthlessness when it comes to clutter means that handknits that are not being used quickly find themselves repurposed or donated. I recently gave 8-9 pieces like this to the collection for Syria, grief stricken that families would have come to us so cold from the water just to head into Winter without a handknit to bring them comfort. 

So this tells me a huge amount about my crafting and I've started to question how functional it really is. Am I whimsically creating or am I trying to clothe my family? There's joy in both and making something because it makes your heart sing to do so is certainly not a wasted endeavor in my humble opinion. 

well loved handknit socks

well loved handknit socks

However, as I look at my tired looking hand knit socks that I rarely photograph, I realise that the most functional items of my handmade wardrobe are the smallest and least celebrated. In my life it would seem that warm feet and cosy toes triumph over all. 

What about you? Do you have a few go to items that you've made?

Playful Parenting: Childrens Clothes

This sponsored blog post is brought to you by Yellow Lolly. Opinions and views expressed here are my own. 

Shopping for my daughter has become a task that fills me with dread. Whether it's new shoes, summer shorts, arts and crafts supplies or a new picture book, 9/10 I will return home empty handed and downhearted. Instead of an abundance of choice, I find myself woefully casting my eye over a sea of pink and references to ballerinas and princesses that bores me to tears. Finding her something that she can play with or wear that allows her to shape her own sense of identity feels like an impossible task. My friends with sons tell me it's not much different their side either with naughty little monkeys, endless cars and blue, blue, blue. 

That's why meeting Ellie from Yellow Lolly was such a blessing. She nodded sympathetically as I ranted about leopard print glitter shoes and agreed that if I wear clothes that are more ethically produced, my daughter should too. She suggested sending us some samples to road test to see what we thought and I was blown away by what arrived. 

Dress & trousers-  Papu Stories

Dress & trousers- Papu Stories

Patterns!

What's more, patterns and colours that were stylish and easy to pair with everything else in her wardrobe. I often buy plain tops and leggings as the more detailed options for girls seems to come with a wild array of buttons, ribbons, embellishments and more. I just want something fun without all the fuss and these hit the spot perfectly. 

We decided to put these new clothes through their trendy paces. 

Top & trousers-  Papu Stories

Top & trousers- Papu Stories

If you are ever at a loss for a low cost rainy day out in London with a little one, I can highly recommend the Sky Gardens. You need to book a little in advance but it's well worth the fore-planning. There's plenty to see out of the windows and space to run in. All of it was perfect for an active little girl, excited about her new togs. 

She climbed, danced, jumped and balanced for about 3 hours. (I took a video on the day which I've shared for you to see on Instagram). To say she tested the sturdiness of these new clothes is an understatement. 

Hoodie & trousers-  Papu Stories

Hoodie & trousers- Papu Stories

They held up just fine. 

Top & trousers-  Papu Stories

Top & trousers- Papu Stories

What's more, when I threw them in the wash, they maintained their size. I can't even tell you how many tees have become messy play tees as they skirt daintily above her belly button after just one warm wash to remove dirt or paint. 

The icing on the cake for me was these were guilt free clothes. I am often alarmed by how cheap and throw away clothes manufactured for children can feel. Sure, they grow fast but I'm not sure I wish to damage the planet because my child is shooting up like a weed. The dress, trousers and two tops felt soft and snuggly and like they were built to last. The fact that they are sustainably produced and made in organic cotton is a definite plus for me. 

I couldn't be happier and apparently.......

Dress & trousers-  Papu Stories

Dress & trousers- Papu Stories

..... neither can she.!

If you'd like the chance to win some Papu Stories for your little one, please head over to Yellow Lolly on Instagram where they will be hosting a giveaway to celebrate our collaboration. Good luck!

 

Guest Post: DIY Natural Deodorant

Since thinking about sustainable products and routines, I've been thinking a lot about the beauty and health products I use. Making your own beauty products seemed like a pretty good way to cut down on packaging, avoid products tested on animals and stop this constant state of anxiety that I seem to get myself into every time I stare perplexed at the array of choices in the beauty aisle! When I interviewed Jen of 'My Make Do and Mend Life' for the podcast last month, she mentioned she makes her own deodorant and my ears pricked. I'm giving this a go as I already have all the items in my cupboards.

I love the idea of cheap beauty ideas that are all natural!

Homemade deodorant.jpg

"I have been making my own deodorant for a couple of years now, ever since we spent a year Buying Nothing New. Not only have I saved money, and reduced the amount of waste I’m sending to landfill, I know exactly what I am putting onto my skin, AND I still have friends…!

My motivation when searching for a homemade deodorant recipe, was during a ‘Rubbish Diet’, when I was trying to reduce the amount of rubbish that we was going into our black bin every fortnight. I have to confess that I was massively sceptical that I would find something that would actually work. I assumed that anything I could make at home would never be as effective as something I could buy. And I also assumed that it would probably need lots of weird and wonderful ingredients that would be difficult to source.

I asked on the blog if anyone had any good recipes to share, and was surprised when one of my ‘real life’ friends got in touch to share her recipe.  I gathered together the ingredients (most of which I already had at home) and spent a grand total of about 5 minutes making my first batch. Then with some trepidation I tried it out…

And it worked!

Make Your Own Natural Deodorant

Make Your Own Natural Deodorant

Here’s the recipe, if you want to try it too:

  • 6-8 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • ¼- ½  cup of bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ cup of cornflour
  • 8-10 drops of essential oils of your choice (optional)

This is the easiest make ever!

  1. In a largish bowl, mash all the ingredients together using a fork until well combined. You are aiming for a smooth paste.
  2. Decant into a suitable container-I re-use a cleaned out body moisturiser tub, which is just about the right size.
  3. To use it, scoop up a small amount on the end of your index finger, and apply! You only need the tiniest bit, and the coconut oil melts at body temperature, so it goes on really smoothly.

You may to play around a little bit with the ratios of the ingredients, to get it to suit you. For example, my own personal version of this is: 8 tablespoons of coconut oil, ¼ cup bicarb, ¼ cup cornflour, and 5 drops each of lemon verbena, and tea tree essential oils. I find if I use more bicarb it can be a little astringent, and cause some redness and irritation. 

I just use cornflour from the supermarket, and you can also buy coconut oil and bicarb there too. As I use bicarb for cleaning, and coconut oil for all kinds of things (moisturiser, and hair conditioner to name two!), I buy both in bulk online from a site called Summer Naturals as it works out cheaper.  

I love this recipe! Each batch takes just minutes to make, and last for several months."

 

With thanks to Jen for providing this simple to use recipe for homemade deodorant. Do you make any of your beauty products? I'd love to hear them.