Spinning a yarn in British wool and alpaca – from Yorkshire to Dalston

Spinning a yarn in British wool and alpaca – from Yorkshire to Dalston
March 25, 2014 Ally Bee
Halifax Spinning Mill skeins of British wool yarn

Ally Bee heads north

Reporting back from recent travels! Ally Bee has been from Yorkshire to Dalston, to learn more about British wool and British Alpaca spinning. With the vast majority of British mills spinning exclusively imported Merino and Mongolian cashmere, it’s refreshing to find quality spinners and weavers dedicated to British-grown fleece.

British Wool: Halifax Spinning Mill

First stop this month was Halifax Spinning Mill (not particularly close to Halifax…). Owner Paul Crooks showed us around the mill pointing out the many steps in the process of ‘woollen’ spinning. (Note – wool spinning falls into two camps – ‘worsted’ spun’ or ‘woollen’ spun – more on this in a later!). Specialising in British rare-breeds grazed by smallholders across the UK, Paul cleans, processes and spins the fleece of breeds including Gotland, Shetland, Bluefaced Leicester, Manx, Portland, Wenseleydale … and alpaca! Adorable natural colour blends make Halifax yarns a treat for anyone who goes ‘doolally’ over sustainable natural fibre yarns with a 100% Made in Britain stamp.

British Wool: WY Spinners

Next stop was way west of Halifax to visit West Yorkshire Spinners, located just outside of Bradford. A large scale operation, in a squeaky clean factory, WY Spinners can produce 750,000 kg of yarn per year. Specialising in ‘worsted’ spun yarn (a topic for another day), WY Spinners produce large orders for export to Europe, such is the demand for British-grown wool. In addition to their wool blends from the mixed blend fleece of multiple breeds, WY Spinners produce the deliciously soft pure Bluefaced Leicester yarn featured in Ally Bee’s forthcoming AW14 Knitwear collection, and beautiful blends of Bluefaced and British Alpaca. Peter Longbottom, and his son Richard, kindly showed us around the spinning mill, a finely tuned operation that processes washed and prepared rovings into various weights of yarn spun onto hanks or cone.

And as for the onward destination of woollen spun yarns from Halifax Spinning Mill, much of the yarn is used for hand-knitting and domestic machines. And the fine single ply yarns are perfect for weaving natural fibre textiles… and this brings us full circle back to London, to the London Cloth Company in Dalston, a customer of the Halifax Mill.

British Wool: London Cloth Company

This month saw a trip to a mill closer to home, in Dalston, London. At the London Cloth Company, London’s only micro-weaving mill, British-grown and spun wool is high on ingredients list for luxury tweeds and cloth produced by owner, Daniel Harris. In fact he’s a big customer of Halifax Spinning Mill.

On a recent visit to the Dalston mill, we were greeted by Daniel, most apologetic about the mess as he handed us a cuppa and explained he’ll be moving to new premises in the near future – no small undertaking given the massive and ancient equipment needing to be dismantled and reassembled in its future home.

What started as a hobby has now become more than a full-time passion for weaving, mostly in tweed varieties and an exquisite denim cloth, much in demand by Saville Row customers and premium fashion houses, including Ralph Lauren, one of Daniel’s first major orders. “Forget what anyone says about British manufacturing being dead – British textile manufacturers are busier than ever”, Daniel informed us. His order books are full – no surprise given the quality of the textiles he is producing on looms and machinery rescued and resurrected from old factories from all corners of the UK. The London Cloth Company is the only fully operational micro-mill of its kind to have operated in London in around a century. With a growing appetite for the discerning customer to discover a point of difference and heritage textiles with the Made in Britain stamp, London Cloth Company ticks all the boxes.

Whether produced in volume, or bespoke for niche customers, British wool is in demand. I think I am on the right track…

Alison B.

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