Yesterday I received the last parcel of yarn from Clara Parkes and the Great White Bale Project.
I now mourn the ending of an interesting and informative project. I have learned so much about the yarn industry, how yarn is created and dyed and the decisions and time frames needed to first envision, and then create the yarns that we work with.
Not all of the learning was positive. The yarn industry on this continent is pretty fragile. There has been so much outsourcing of wool production over the last 20 years to cheaper mills and factories all over the world that the local industries are struggling to survive. “Buy local” has so much more meaning now!
In Canada we have a fairly strong milling industry. Not large mills, but many small mills across the country. The bulk of the mills are in Eastern Canada and quite a few are fairly large. In Western Canada there is a largish Mill in Carstairs Alberta. And more locally there is a smaller mill on Saltpring Island.
It was last December when Clara Parkes posted about the Great White Bale Adventure in the Knitter’s Review. I had just received a cheque for a design and had a little extra money burning a hole in my pocket. I made the decision in an instant and have never looked back. I wanted the whole experience. The yarns have been stunning and the stories have been varied and educational. I feel that I have made a new friend in Clara. The $350 cost was more than reasonable for both the education and the yarns that I have received!
I hope that Clara writes a book about The Great White Bale. I would love to have a book in hand as I re-read what we learned in this last year.
The yarn was all from one farm. The sheep were Saxon Merino. A wool with incredible softness and crimp. We saw the sheep and learned their story and then we played with their fibre and it was turned into yarn.
From the first shipment of fibre to Lot 4 of the Great White Bale, this has been a carefully planned experience. Lot 1 was created in the last Mule spinning mill in the USA and left entirely natural. The Lots were each spun at different mills, each looking for a different look and finish. When dyed, each dye process was different. As a learning experience this has been a success; as yarn stash enhancement this trip was a haul of unique proportions.
Clara and Jane took each yarn, swatched and played with it; they then shared their experience and knowledge with us. Gauge and needles sizes were suggested, possible projects outlined, nothing was left out.
The yarn from the Great White Bale has been incredible. Soft and lofty and each one different, with properties and characteristics unique to each lot. Some have been undyed, and some dyed. Lots 2 and 4 included both dyed and undyed. One skein of lot two was hand dyed with Madder and two skeins of lot four were commercially dyed. Lot three is heaven, the saxon merino blended with silk, and then hand-dyed.
Every step of the process to create each hank of yarn I have witnessed and been able to comment on. I know my skeins of yarn. I know their story from sheep to garment. This was how our yarns used to be made. The designs from Shetland, Iceland, Estonia and all of Europe, all started with small farms, their sheep and the yarns they crafted from their sheep.
I know my yarns. I love wearing the garments that I have created so far. I know that I will love wearing what is still to be knit!
- Lot one became a capelet. Knit and then painted with dyes.
- Lot two became a shawl, with the edging from the undyed hank and the body from the dyed hank.
- The left-overs from lots one and two became a hat.
- Lot three is still under construction – but will be a triangular lace shawl.
- Lot four will be a vest, knit top down with the undyed at the top for painting and the gorgeous orchid colour will be the bottom. I am going to knit the vest in the frost flowers pattern.
The Great White Bale Experience came at a time when both opportunity and funding meshed. That doesn’t always happen – when it does – take the leap. You will seldom be disappointed!