Northern Yarn - Lancaster and the great wool revival
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2017
A Lancaster mum is spinning a good yarn about wool produced from the county’s sheep, as Paul Mackenzie reports.
Kate Makin’s business ideas are decidedly woolly but that’s not stopping her knitting some impressive plans together.
When her local wool shop moved shortly after she moved to Lancaster, the mum-of-two launched her own business selling wool from sheep on farms around the county.
Kate, who was brought up in New Longton near Preston, was taught to knit by her grandmother and said: ‘She used to knit for her local wool shop and she always liked making things. I’d go home from her house and practice and I’d take my knitting everywhere. I started off making scarves and clothes for my teddies and things like that.’
Kate moved to London in her 20s where she worked with homeless people and she added: ‘Knitting was a good outlet. I lived in London for 14 years and joined a local knitting group where I discovered I could do more than scarves. The knitting community were amazing. We met every Thursday at someone’s house and ate cake, chatted and knitted.
‘I love all of it and find it meditative – you get to choose the wool, the pattern and to concentrate on what you’re doing. It’s repetitive and soothing and ties in with the current trend for mindfulness. You can shut your mind off and relax.’
The 39-year-old is married to IT Sales manager Andy, who she met when they were both pupils at All Hallows High School in Penwortham.
When the couple returned to Lancashire, she launched a knitting group at Lancaster’s Gregson Centre near her home but then her local wool shop moved and Kate began to find it difficult to locate wool she wanted to use.
‘After our second daughter was born I could either go back to work full time and put the girls in full time childcare, or move closer to family and start doing something I was really passionate about,’ she said.
‘I was looking for wool for myself and found there was nowhere to buy anything but acrylic yarns and blends and they were all made a long way away. It struck me as odd because my daughter is at school with a lot of people whose parents have farms and sheep and yet it was hard to find somewhere to buy British wool.’
After finding Lancashire Farm Wool, which uses the fleeces of sheep at Silverdale and Arnside, Kate went along to a local sheep farm to learn how the wool she knits with is produced.
‘I’ve never really given it much thought,’ she said. ‘I’d always just bought the wool and knitted with it, so it was amazing for me to see two or three hundred sheep being sheared. I helped move the fleeces to the barn and then took some fleeces from Poll Dorset sheep to a mill in Halifax where it was washed and carded and spun into yarn.’
She now sells wool from six farms around Lancashire online and on her stalls at Lancaster and Garstang markets.
‘It is special to me to stock wool from the sheep I can see when I go for a walk,’ she said. ‘It supports the local economy and promotes where we live and the people who live and work here. I want to raise awareness of how hard our sheep farmers work and how well they look after their sheep and how versatile the wool can be.
‘A few people told me I wouldn’t be able to sell the wool in Lancaster but it has gone down really well. I know the people who have looked after the animals that provided the wool and I think people are more interested in the provenance of what they buy than ever before.
‘Eventually I’d like to have a shop in Lancaster, but we’ll see how it goes. And I’d love to be able to stock wool from all the breeds of sheep in Lancashire.’
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