What better place to launch our 100% Welsh yarn than at April’s Wonderwool in Builth Wells! Jennie has had a stand there as Owl About Yarn for several years, and I had gone with her to help sell. Previous to that we had been as visitors for a few years, so it really feels like our home show. We dyed like crazy in order to be ready to sell in April’s show, which is held every year in the Royal Welsh Showground just outside Builth Wells in mid-Wales.
We set up on the end of the Owl About Yarn stand, and had great fun arranging the yarn in a rainbow, hanging out the samples and tension squares, and using our sign for the very first time.
Many of the other vendors and visitors are firm friends of ours, and it’s always a highlight of any show to catch up with them all. Many of them came over to have a feel of the yarn, and find out more about what we had been up to. Michelle of The Loveliest Yarn Company was our very first Cartref customer! She bought some yarn for herself, and also a few skeins for a friend who wasn’t able to make the show.
As ever, we thoroughly enjoyed Wonderwool, and it was a huge relief to show people our yarn and hear such positive feedback. It was quite nerve-wracking launching our wool into the world, but we were thrilled that people were as enthusiastic as we were about supporting Welsh wool, and small independent businesses.
A few weeks later we took the plunge and did our first ever online update. This was even more nail-biting, as buying a new yarn without being able to feel it in person is quite a leap of faith for a knitter. Jennie and I couldn’t be together when it went live, but video-called each other, and there was much excitement as the orders came rolling in! We were amazed at how far afield our yarn was going to travel. We sent parcels to Norway, America, all over Europe and even as far as Australia! We felt a bit bad for the Post Office staff at all the parcels they would have to work through…
We couldn’t have asked for a better launch for Cartref Yarn, and wanted to say an enormous thank you to everyone who has supported us, whether that has been buying yarn, liking and sharing our posts, following us on social media or offering words of encouragement.
Finally, the day had arrived! After asking me for months, “Is it time yet? Do you think it’s ready yet? Do you think Roger will phone us soon?” we were on our way to collect the sacks of finished yarn. As we didn’t have to cross moors and navigate through single track lanes this time it was a much smoother journey, and before very long this was my view from the driver’s seat!
If I’d thought Zoë was excited when we first visited the wool depot, it was nothing on how she was when she got her mitts on the finished yarn! She practically fizzed the whole way home, and spent a good part of the journey huffing in the new-yarn-smell.
I dropped her off at her home on Barry Island, and I think that before I had even got home, fourteen miles away, she had cast on and knitted a large amount of her first tension square!
We had already drawn up a wish list of colours that we wanted to dye, and so when we had our first dye day we were able to draw upon my yarn dyeing experience to develop our first range of colourways. Of course, we made a few mistakes and learned a lot about how our particular yarn would take the dye. It is amazing how differently it dyes up compared to the white yarn that I buy wholesale for Owl About Yarn. Our yarn is not superwash treated, which means that it could felt if you tried hard enough, but also seems to make it harder to make it take all the dye. I noticed a considerable rise in dyeing times. But it was all worth it when we were able to view our kaleidoscope of yarn colours all ready and waiting for our launch, marketing drive and then debut at Wonderwool Wales!
…so it was a real relief to find Sam Goodlet of SamDrawsThings who agreed to design our branding. She was fantastic from beginning to end, and I would thoroughly recommend her for any and all of your drawing needs!
We knew more or less what we wanted, but lacked the skills to transfer our thoughts to paper or screen! Luckily we were able to put together a mood board of colours, fonts etc and Sam psychically gathered our imaginings and made our very gorgeous logo!
We wanted a heritage feel, and decided on the parchment-type background. Green and red seemed obvious colours for the details as they are the traditional colours of Wales, but we decided on deeper, more elegant versions of the primary colours used in the Welsh flag.
Sam knocked it out of the park. When we got the first draft we were amazed by how clearly she had understood our incoherent ramblings! She gave us a choice of outlines of Wales to choose from, as well as a handful of fonts. Zoë and I narrowed down our choices and in a very short space of time Sam sent back the finished branding pack. As well as the logo she made us banners for web pages and social media sites and ball bands and told us the name of the font she had used so that we could keep our own branding work consistent.
One morning in June 2018, Zoë and I packed up picnic, flask, one husband, one mother and many teabags and hit the road. We had no idea how many fleeces would fit in our cars, and not really a clear idea of how many we would be allowed to buy, so we took both of our seven seater cars to the wool depot, as well as Zoë’s VW Polo!
When we arrived at the massive warehouse we were overwhelmed by all the carts and carts of raw fleece, sorted by breed and quality. The wool graders were all so friendly. Apparently they are quite accustomed to hand spinners turning up to buy themselves a fleece or two to prepare from scratch, but I think they were a little bemused when we told them how much we wanted and the type of fleece we were after! I gathered that Welsh Mule (a breed combination of Welsh Mountain and Bluefaced Leicester) wasn’t the most regularly requested fleece. However, they were very accommodating and took us over to the right carts and commenced hauling out bundles of rolled up fleece on to the floor for us to choose from. They soon realised that we hadn’t the first idea what to look for in a good fleece (graders apprentice for many years to learn their trade) and that we were just so excited to be surrounded by all of this yarny potential! Efficiently, the best fleeces of the bunch were chosen, swiftly joined by a heap of Bluefaced Leicester. It was all packed up in a canvas sheet and heaved into the back of Zoë’s car, and we were off!
Well, the journey to Ceredigion to the mill was an adventure! We followed the sat nav, as you do, and quite soon deviated from the main roads (I say ‘main’ in the loosest sense of the word, as none of the roads in Mid-Wales are particularly big!) and were led down a progression of winding country lanes. I was completely bemused when we ended up on a moor, treeless as far as the eye could see, populated only by some hardy sheep (who were liberally bedaubed with turquoise paint) amidst bracken and scrubby bushes. I’ve lived in Mid- and South Wales for over thirty years, and whilst I knew about the many mountains and valleys, I had no idea that we had vast areas of moorland too.
Eventually we arrived at the mill. Roger helped us unload the wool and showed us around the workings of the mill. It was fascinating seeing the looms with partially woven cloth as well as all the machines which would process our fleece and turn it into lovely, lovely yarn!
Zoë was sad to leave all the wool behind, and more or less immediately started counting down the six months which we had been told was the time it would take to produce the yarn. I had daily messages for a while, “Is the yarn ready yet? How about now? Now?!” which of course never grew old!
So, how did Cartref Yarn come into being? Who thought of it? Why?
It all began when I left Zoë alone for a week while I went on a family holiday to Tenerife in April last year. Apparently leaving her unoccupied (apart from her business, husband, three kids and dog) is a bad idea because it gives her extra thinking time. Anyway, I had no phone service or internet signal, and so hadn’t been able to be in hourly contact (as we generally are, most days). Eventually I logged in to the hotel WiFi one evening and was horrified to see seventeen messages ping up in rapid succession from Zoë! Being a catastrophist, my first thought was that someone must have died, and my second that my house must have burned down, so it was with great trepidation and anxiety that I read the messages.
And that’s when I learned of her idea to jointly produce an entirely Welsh yarn. After heaving a sigh of relief that none of the awful things I had imagined had come to pass, I video called her and she laid out the idea. We then spent the rest of my holiday pinging thoughts about names and colours and timetables back and fore.
After getting back I was straight into Wonderwool Wales prep and so only talking over the idea happened until we got to the show. Whereupon, the next step in the process was talking to Roger of Curlew Weavers at the festival and establishing that he would be happy to spin for us. Now we had only (ha!) to source the wool, and we could get this show on the road!
Last weekend we had our annual visit to Wonderwool Wales, but this year there was an important new addition to our stand – we launched Cartref Yarn to the world! We had so many lovely compliments, and we’re both really looking forward to seeing what is created by the purchasers.
As you will remember if you were in the UK last weekend, Storm Hannah made things very windy and cold on Saturday. It was bitterly cold in those big barns! They are ventilated under the eaves for the comfort of the animals in the summer. Unfortunately that, coupled with the concrete floors, meant that the temperature was a good couple of degrees colder inside than out.
Sunday was much warmer, plus I got my annual helping of pierogis from Old Granary Pierogis who were selling in the street food area. The ice cream van was definitely doing a better trade on Sunday too!
Zoë and I managed to have a nice wander around the show before it opened on Sunday morning, and a look at what everyone else had brought. Once the show opened, it quickly felt busier than Saturday, which is very unusual. Maybe it was just that everyone felt warmer and so was moving a little faster, like water molecules being heated that I was taught about at school! Sunday flew by with more interest from local yarn shops as well as plenty of sales to lovely knitters. And before we knew where we were, we were all packed up and on our way home again.
Since the weekend it has been thrilling to see our customers share their purchases on social media and even start to knit some up! We will be announcing the online launch for the yarn very soon, but in the mean time, make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter so that you don’t miss out! We will also send notices of future yarn releases plus patterns we will publish for the yarn and other relevant news.
This yarn has been a year (and a bit) in the planning, but finally our launch date approaches! We will be presenting our yarn to the public for the first time at Wonderwool Wales on the 27th and 28th April 2019. We’re so excited! Zoë is busy labelling all the skeins and I am making sure that all our online places are as ready as I can make them!
Shade cards are prepared, patterns (designed for our yarn) are in testing, skeins are being packaged up ready to go on the road next week. Our year has been fuelled by tea and enthusiasm for the project, and we so hope that you love our yarn as much as we do!