Spotlight on Northern Yarn
Northern Yarn is an independent wool shop with a strong focus on locally sourced British Wool including their own line from Lancastrian & Cumbrian flocks.
Not just a wool shop, you’ll find gifts from local farms and businesses, including handmade soaps and shampoo bars, and cards and prints from local photographers.
We spoke with owner Kate Makin and here’s what she has to share with us.
How would you describe Northern Yarn in a line or two?
Northern Yarn is an independent yarn shop specialising in natural fibres and sustainable yarns. With our own line processed from local flocks of sheep, Northern Yarn supports local farmers and British wool, whilst also stocking a wide range of more commercial lines and handmade products from small producers.
What was the inspiration behind starting Northern Yarn?
I saw a gap in the market and began looking at what I would want in a yarn shop, and that was British wool – a yarn that connected me to the sheep and farmers that were now my neighbours. I wanted to promote sustainability and natural fibres.
I had lived in London for 14 years and our return to Lancashire with our young family made me fall I love with the county through a mother’s eye – with all the green fields (of sheep) and open spaces. I began to meet farmers at the school gates and was able to ask questions about their sheep and what happened to their fleeces. I wanted my business to reflect all that and work alongside our local community and all its riches!
Within the first year, I’d had wool processed from local flocks of sheep, seeing the process from sheep to skein (and named after a 16th Century Lancastrian heroine no less!) I’m delighted to have a brick and mortar shop here in Kings Arcade – Lancaster has so many independent shops and community events, I’m proud to be a part of that.
What was Northern Yarn like in the early days?
It was really exciting, but hard labour! Knitting has been a passion since my grandma taught me as a child and I loved the community I became a part of, but never dreamed I’d have my own wool shop. A market stall ticked our boxes of being flexible (our youngest was 3) and low risk but packing up 50 kilos of wool twice a week and setting up in all weathers for 18 months was something else! The wool was stored in our house and we made a lot of sacrifices to make it happen and keep it going. But it was all new and fresh, I was so eager to learn everything I could about fleece and how I could help promote this undervalued commodity.
Just as I was launching my business someone told me I wouldn’t be able to sell proper wool in Lancaster, that there wasn’t the market for it. I have thoroughly enjoyed proving them wrong! I have met and continue to meet so many ‘proper wool’ lovers – now more than ever the knitting and crochet community are aware of environmental issues and understand the benefits of pure wool. I’m really proud that within a year of launching Northern Yarn, we had a totally traceable, locally grown and produced product.
How has Northern Yarn evolved over the years? I’m glad to say that our ethos is still very much the same; pure wools, natural fibres, breed-specific yarns and making the most of the sustainable resource we have around us. We’ve had several yarns spun from local flocks of sheep, something which we love and will continue to do. Of course, now I have the shop, pre-covid times, where we hold classes and groups, events and host other community groups. It’s amazing that three more wool shops have opened in the last three years in Lancaster, we’ve become a haven for wool lovers!
Encouraging our local crafty community to stick with British yarn is trickier now as there is so much more on offer, so we have relaxed our own laws and now stock a small amount of yarn from further afield. Not many, but lines we know our customers want and fit into our ethos, like Létt Lopi from Iceland, yarns we can’t get here in the UK – but 95% of our stock is British fleece and processed here too.
What are you excited about in the months and years ahead?
We have new yarns that have been at the mill for 18 months so I’m really looking forward to seeing them again – and it’ll be shearing time before you know it. I’ll be able to get out and meet new shepherds and their sheep, host new events and attend yarn shows. We are growing all the time, it’s wonderful having faced the challenges of the last year, to be able to see the light again.
What’s the most unusual item you’ve knitted or seen others knit?
A friend is currently studying to be an Embalmer and her tutor had commissioned her to knit and crochet a set of internal organs, so we spent a happy hour choosing the right colours for the pancreas and intestines! The whole thing is fantastic!
How many wool yarns do you have in stock at any one time?
Ooh how long is a piece of yarn?! (Sorry had to do it) There is a lot of stock and I’m always being tempted to bring in new lines. We’ve just brought in a beautiful range of buttons, all made from natural materials; horn, wood, coconut shell, corozo and shell. Everyone loves buttons!
What are your favourite wool colour combinations?
I learned pretty quickly that my own preferences and opinions are just that – my own! Everyone has their own taste and style, and even see different colours in the same yarn. I really enjoy the natural shades of fleece mixed with a pop of colour. Jamieson’s of Shetland have a fantastic range of heathered yarns great for colourwork and Fair Isle, we have over 80 shades and I love helping customers put together a palette for a sweater or hat.
We have one of our own lines ‘Methera.’ The name comes from an ancient system that was used in the North for counting sheep, Yan, tan, tethera and methera is four. We used four breeds of sheep from four farms and the yarn is four-ply – the base colour is a natural grey as we mixed a small amount of Zwartbles (a dark brown colour) into the mix. Initially, we only had enough for three colours, and we started with 250 kilos of fleece! However, we have more coming in soon and I can’t wait for them to arrive and play with different colour combinations!
Follow Northern Yarn on social to see what they’re up to!
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