The British Yarn Guide

If there’s one thing Britain has lots of, it’s rolling green countryside. And where there is grass there are sheep. We have a lot of wool going for us as a result. We have a national Campaign for Wool, a national Wool week and November has even been declared Wovember!

Yep, you’re famous!

Now, Britain has it’s well-known yarn brands – Sirdar, Rowan, Debbie Bliss and King Cole – but there’s a great deal more out there.

What follows here is a whistle-stop tour of some lesser-known names around the country. Granted, not all of these brands use 100% UK fibre, but they are all worth knowing about. From mills to dyers, minor institutions to indie backroom operations, I hope you’ll find something interesting and new!

Click the links to skip to a region:
South-West England
South-East England
Mid/North England
Wales
Scotland

South-West England

I’m starting here because I live here and I like it. This is the bit people think of when you say ‘English countryside’. Many breeds of sheep can be found idly trotting around and there are a number of original wool mills still in operation.

Blacker Yarns: A great place to start for British wool, they have a number of pure breed yarns, mostly in natural colours.

Cornish Organic: Pure Cornish wool from a selection of certified organic farmers in the St. Austell area. There’s a good selection of yarn weights and colours to choose from. This is absolutely as Cornish a wool as you can get!

Devon Fine Fibres: These guys produce cashmere, angora and Bowmont wool from their own flocks of sheep and goats. Notable for their dedication to rearing extremely rare and high quality wool-producing animals – a Bowmont sheep is a unique Merino/Shetland cross. Because it’s a small company the availability of it’s yarn and fibre is dependent on shearing seasons, but their products are very special if you care about rare breeds.

Fyberspates: This rapidly growing company is a great source for soft and practically glowing yarns. The 45% Silk, 55% Merino ‘Scrumptious’ range is the real star attraction.

Frangipani: Frangipani sells nothing but historically accurate British 5-ply Guernsey wool for the knitting of traditional fisherman’s sweaters; Ganseys, Guernseys, Cornish knit-frocks et al. They have a great colour range and sell their wool in 500g cones, at only £24 a cone. Why would you look anywhere else for knitting these classic sweaters?

John Arbon Textiles: This yarn company operates out of Coldharbour Mill – one of the aforementioned original mills. There’s still-operating waterwheel-powered machinery in there!  The company produces a good range of British-bred yarns. The two most notable: Knit By Numbers, a merino range with a massive colour palette, and Excelana, a reproduction vintage yarn spun from Exmoor Blueface.

Juno Fibre Arts: A small handdye company whose forte is muted, natural colours. There’s almost an antique quality about these yarns.

Violet Green:  A Gloucestershire company that sells some commercial yarns and also their own luxury handdyed yarns. A lot of these handdyed yarns are custom spun in the UK and come in extremely rich, bright colours.

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South-East England

I’m pretty sure there’s a rule where the closer you get to London the more artists you find. I couldn’t tell you how that applies to knitting but you won’t be lacking in pretty wool.

Aragon Yarns: In Romney Marsh there is a prize pedigree flock of Romney sheep owned by Aragon Yarns – so if you want some versatile native longwool yarn, look here!

Artesano: A company with admiral ethical values that support the fairtrade brand Manos Del Uruguay as well as stocking their own range of chunky British wool. Keep an eye out as they expand their range!

A Stash Addict: Lots of crazy sherbety multi-colour rainbows in yarn form, and most of them are superwash and Blue-faced Leicester wool as well. Yarn for people who seriously love colour.

Easyknits: A London-based indie dyer whose speciality is BLINDINGLY BRIGHT SOCK YARN. You can also purchase similarly blinding fibres! Of note is the ‘sock sushi rolls’ – machine knitted tubes that have been dyed after knitting, so you can simply unravel them and make them back into a gently gradiated sock.

The Knitting Goddess:  Another small dying operation with wonderful vibrant self-striping sock yarn. Oh, and Wednesleydale wool too!

Natural Dye Studio: Nothing but the best eco-friendly and ethically sourced yarns from these guys. All their wool comes from the UK and the more exotic fibres from a single family-owned Peruvian farm. Obviously the dyes are all natural too! Absolutely worth a look if you care about enviromentally friendly products – their values run through every part of their operation.

Skein Queen: Outstanding colours, all dyed by a one-woman machine. The name is justified! She has recently added a British yarn base to her lineup which is supplied by the aforementioned John Arbon Textiles.

The Uncommon Thread:This small Brighton brand aims to always stock a few unusual British breed yarns, often spun in small mills from small flocks. But here you’ll also find luxury fibres, such as cashmere, silk, alpaca and merino for your knitting pleasure.

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Mid/North England

The upper half of England is where all the ‘longwool’ sheep breeds were first bred centuries ago. This includes the Wensleydale and the Bluefaced Leicester, whose soft and shiny wool seems to be enjoying a certain popularity at the moment. Yorkshire remains the most active wool-producing region, whilst just north of the Lake District, the UK’s biggest fibre festival, Woolfest, takes place.

baa ram ewe: A yarn shop that’s branched out into producing it’s own brand, they hit the ground running with a spectacular British wool/alpaca mix yarn, Titus. Only available from their site, as demand is understandably high.

Babylonglegs Yarns:  A single-woman spinning and dying operation (what energy!) which means you can buy fibre and hand-spun AND yarn all in the same place. Lots of bright candy-like colours, but she seems to have particularly mastered blue and green dyes. Delicious!

Brigantia: A brand of luxury pure British wools, made in Yorkshire. Lovely and squishy!

British Breeds: A good variety of British breed wools available here in DK and Aran weight. A excellent place to look for winter jumper wool.

Erika Knight Yarns: Knitwear design Erika Knight has just recently released her own line of yarn – supremely squishy Yorkshire-sourced wool in classic shades. It’s a growing line and one to keep an eye on.

Flamboyance Yarns: An independent dyer with a wide range of good-quality yarns that are all from UK suppliers. Crazy strong handpainted colours abound!

Jarol: This aran weight yarn line is produced by Woolcraft and is 100% natural British wool. It’s spun at Laxtons – one of the more prolific Yorkshire wool mills. A bit of British wool worth tracking down.

Krafty Koala: This indie dyer covers her yarns and fibre in all sorts of bright and sunny colours. The silk blend yarns are an absolute treat!

Laal Bear: Another independent dyer who sells cute project bags along with her self-striping sock yarns and mini-skein packs (and more besides!).

Natural Born Dyers: A fairly new company, they are all about using local products and natural dyes (as the name suggests!). All their yarns have their origin listed on site.

Purl Alpaca Designs: Another Alpaca source, this time in Cambridge. More of a design house, but they only work with UK-farmed alpaca yarn…and they have plenty of that to spare!

Sheepfold: A marvellous selection of undyed single-breed wools from around the country can be found here. Sheepfold have also gone out of their way to include a few rarer breeds, to help farmers keep the gene pools afloat. Good prices too!

Toft Alpaca: If you drive through Coventry you may see a bunch of Alpacas hanging out by the M1. That’s the Toft Alpaca farm and if you buy one thing from them make it an Alpaca fur pom-pom. It’s like holding a bit of cloud.

Wednesleydale Longwool Sheepshop: Wednesleydale Longwool yarn is shiny, smooth, strong wool. This company will happily send you a shadecard if you want to try before you buy. Nice natural colours too!

West Yorkshire Spinners: Blue-faced Leicester wool is the primary fleece of choice for this small factory, and it’s worsted-spun to boot, which makes it silky smooth and soft. BFL is often described as the UK answer to merino wool. I would absolutely agree having felt their yarns for myself.

Woolyknit Crafts: These guys have just gone from selling wool products to selling wool products and lots of proper certified British yarn. Nice!

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Wales

Like the South-West of England, Wales also boasts miles and miles of wild countryside and has its own wool industry humming along nicely. As such, there’s some real yarn dyeing powerhouses to be found.

Colinette Yarns: You may well have heard of Colinette Jitterbug sock yarn. This is not a small company! The range on sale here is deep and broad and I just can’t help but have a good opinion of anyone who creates yarn shades based on Dali paintings.

Garthenor Organic Pure Wool: Another organic-certified wool brand, their yarns are naturally coloured and thoroughly British. There is a good range of Welsh breeds on offer as you might expect – specifically the Welsh Black Mountain, Balwen and Llanwenog.

Knitwitches: Here you will find hand dyed luxury yarns, silks, cashmeres, kid mohair and merino. The colours are rich, deep and shimmering.

Posh Yarns: This husband-and-wife team in Pembroke have been quietly dyeing extraordinary yarn colourways in large weekly batches for years. The week’s work goes on sale every Sunday evening and almost always sells out in 24 hours. This alone should tell you their fan-club is well earned! The yarns are luxurious, the colours are varied and unique and you may find yourself sitting at the computer come Sunday evening waiting for the checkout to open…

The Woolhunter: A small handdyer with a huge wealth of colourful sock yarn – quite comparable to the well-known US brand Lorna’s Laces, which the Woolhunter also stocks.

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Scotland

Up in the Northern-most isles we have the most internationally famous sheep of all: The Shetland sheep. With its ability to withstand all manner of rubbish weather, its fine wool is the wool used in traditional Fair Isle knitting. Accept no substitutes! Inland there are other fine-haired sheep such as the Moorit and your buying choices aren’t limited either.

Calana Crafts: Harris Tweed, the highest quality tweed fabric of all is protected and must only be woven with wool from the Outer Hebrides. Now you can knit with that famous wool yourself. Calana Crafts is a great source of speckled Aran yarn, for your own tweedy effects.

Elvincraft: Another Isle of Skye handdyer. Specialising in lace and 4-ply, these yarns incorporate some locally-produced mohair as well as native sheep breeds.

K1 Yarns: An Edinburgh wool shop which is the exclusive source of several local yarn brands: Belle Epoque, Old Town yarns, and Pure British Cashmere (WYSIWYG applies here!.

The Little Knitting Company: A fine source for fancy knitting accessories, but they also have their own yarn brands, spun in Scotland, too. They have a very wide range of fibres on offer.

Jamieson’s: Straight from the Shetland Isles, we have one of the two main superstars of the Isle (see entry below!)  Both have incredibly wide colour ranges in all weights, so check them both out and take your pick to create the Fair Isle of your dreams.

Jamieson and Smiths: Not to be confused with Jamieson’s, despite the names, despite both operating out of the Shetland Isle and despite both being your main sources of Shetland wool! Jamieson and Smiths now stock a historically accurate 3-ply yarn, so great for vintage knitting lovers.

JC Rennie: A milling company founded in 1798 that’s still run by family members, in the original mill. They make a point of using old-fashioned spinning techniques to keep the yarn truly authentic.

New Lanark: New Lanark is a beautiful historic mill that remains active and produces some seriously good-looking heathered and tweed yarns. You want rustic looking cables? Try here.

Orkney Angora: Here’s a wonderful place for 4-ply and DK weight UK-sourced Angora and Angora/lambswool yarn. All hand-dyed and incredibly soft, as you would expect of rabbit fur!

Old Maiden Aunt: An extremely luxurious selection of yarns, dyed in some delicious colourways. Check out the range and try not to fall in love.

Shilasdair: From the Isle of Skye, local breeds get a stunning dye treatment. Good for heavier weights of yarn, DK and Aran.

Ripples Crafts: Based in the North Highlands, Ripples Crafts sells mostly 4-ply and lace yarns, all dyed by one tireless woman. There are many, many colours to choose from. There is also an optional skein-winding service. Extremely useful for lace knitters!

The Yarnyard: A Edinburgh-based dyer who uses natural dyes on her luxury yarns, fibres and embroidery threads. Nice artistic colours.

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Have I missed any worthwhile brands out? Let me know in the comments! I’d like to keep this post as a useful directory of yarns!

25 responses to “The British Yarn Guide

  1. Mary E. Morrison

    Texere? RipplesCraft? J&S and Jamieson’s? Wensleydale Longwool Sheepshop? Wingham Wool Works? Frangipani? Violet Green? 21st Century Yarns? Colourmart? And for just plain sturdy wools–Cygnet and King Cole?

  2. Alison

    This is a great list. I saw just one mistake- Jarol isn’t Laxton’s own brand, it’s a brand name used by the Bradford based yarn company Woolcraft and Laxton’s spin for them just like they do for Rowan. You can see it on their website here (http://woolcraftbfd.co.uk/shade/index.php?/category/53 – you can even take a step back to the 90s when visiting their website!). Also, although each shade is named after a different breed of sheep, all the shades are made from Masham (cross)breed wool.

  3. Buttons and Beeswax

    Erika Knight’s yarn is 100% British – she sourced the mill herself in Yorkshire :) There’s some blue-faced leicester in the pipeline too I hear, scrummy! http://www.erikaknight.co.uk/newsdetails.aspx?ID=70

  4. Hello, me again! That gorgeous Angora I was knitting with last night is St Magnus 50/50 DK from http://www.orkneyangora.co.uk. I am completely in love with it!

  5. Online shop. local rare breeds, spun in Yorkshire. Some my own sheep. Mine are British ALL processed in the UK. http://www.artisanthreads.co.uk

  6. Hebridean Harris Wool from the Outer Hebrides 100% pure British Wool, spun and dyed on the Isle of Lewis, http://www.hebrideanknitwear.co.uk

  7. A Stash Addict Yarn http://www.astashaddict.co.uk is based in West Sussex all yarns British and processed in the UK, They specialise in vibrant whimsical fantasy colours as well as Rainbows and a darker pallet of colours; and also make bespoke stitch markers and shawl pins.

  8. Do you have any suggestions for where I could buy worsted weight, wool blend yarn in a wide range of vibrant colors? I’m looking for vivid Peacock Blue, Seagreen, coral red, lavender, etc…

  9. zedster66

    Thanks for this :)

  10. Alessandra Rigillo

    Just stay away from Australian merino because of the “mulesing”. Also Chinese angora and cashmere. The Chinese don’t have much respect for animals. Unfortunately the yarns might be spun here or in Italy but it comes from China.

  11. Hi, I have recently started my own business of hand dyed yarns – please could i be added? Raindrop Yarns :-)

    http://www.facebook.com/raindropyarns

    http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RaindropYarns

  12. Lancashire Farm Wool from conservation grazer sheep in Arnside/Silverdale AONB on the shores of Morecambe Bay

  13. I am a craftsmen with my own company from Sweden who knit on knitting machine. Where can I buy a good British wool yarn on cone that is suitable for machine knitting and at good prices? I would be very happy if you could help me.

  14. Jo

    What a fabulous list – thank you for your hardwork in putting it together

  15. Anja J

    http://www.ardalanish.com – Isle of Mull Weavers on Scotland’s west coast – not a huge range of colours but beautiful nevertheless.

  16. This looks lovely, and I would love to be added to the list. I have a yarn shop in Edinburgh called Ginger Twist Studio. I do my own range of hand dyes with British bases exclusively for the shop, and they are now available through my online shop: http://www.gingertwiststudios.com/shop/

  17. Please Advice / contacts … I need 4ply black cashmere to hand knit with several sweaters so cones would be best

  18. You’ve missed out Countess Ablaze- http://www.countessablaze.com

    The brightest most vivid colours on gorgeous bases with a huge fan base generally and on Ravelry. Also what about Solstice Yarns (Etsy) and Posh yarns? Ooh and The Little Grey Sheep.. She has her own herd and program’s and runs fab workshops too!

    Astashaddict site not working!!

    Janet
    Xxx
    http://www.magpielanecrafts.com (launching this week)
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/magpielanecrafts

  19. We are Yarn Garden based in the North East of England. We hand dyed luxury yarns and wools including Blue Faced Leicester and Teeswater sourced from Premium flocks in Teesdale by Chrissie Day Fibres.
    We work with designers to create interesting knit kits. We can be found online, in our workshop in Newcastle upon Tyne and at most wool shows where we also offer high quality knitting and crochet books. We also supply wool stores so if you’d like your local wool shop to have our yarns then please let them know and we can either supply them directly or visit with a trunk show.
    http://www.yarngarden.co.uk
    07702 493653

    • Hi

      I’m an indie dyer, the owner of The Cryptozoologist. I’d love to be included on your list. Thanks so much for collating this, it’s a great resource.

  20. Thank you so much for writing this post! I’m so glad to have expanded my knowledge of british yarns! I may have to purchase some :)

  21. You gave a lot of information I myself doesn’t know! Thank you for sharing!

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