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 Wool campaign, a national Wool week and November has even been declared Wovember!
Now, Britain has two big well-known yarn brands – Sirdar and Rowan – 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:
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.
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.
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.
Juno Fibre Arts: A small handdye company whose forte is muted, natural colours. There’s almost an antique quality about these yarns.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sweet Clement: A small indie dyer, I own some of her sock yarn myself and I’m a big fan of the bright, variated jewel tones on sale in her Etsy shop. The yarn is nice, give it a shot!
Flamboyance Yarns: An independent dyer with a wide range of good-quality yarns that are all from UK suppliers. Crazy strong handpainted colours abound!
Laal Bear: Another independent dyer who sells cute project bags along with her self-striping sock yarns and mini-skein packs (and more besides!).
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.
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 small line at the moment, but it’s one to keep an eye on.
Brigantia: A brand of luxury pure British wools, made in Yorkshire. Lovely and squishy!
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!
Woolyknit Crafts: These guys have just gone from selling wool products to selling wool products and lots of proper certified British yarn. Nice!
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!
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.
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…
Knitwitches: Here you will find hand dyed luxury yarns, silks, cashmeres, kid mohair and merino. The colours are rich, deep and shimmering.
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.
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.
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.
Jamieson and Smiths / Jamieson’s: Not to be confused with each other, despite the names, despite both operating out of the Shetland Isle and despite both being your main sources of Shetland wool! Both have good colour ranges, so check them both out and take your pick to create the Fair Isle of your dreams.
Shilasdair: From the Isle of Skye, local breeds get a stunning dye treatment. Good for heavier weights of yarn, DK and Aran.
Old Maiden Aunt: An extremely luxurious selection of yarns, dyed in some delicious colourways. Check out the lang-legged beasties range and try not to fall in love.
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.
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.
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. The main site doesn’t have any shade cards directly available so you can also have a look here.
The Yarnyard: A Edinburgh-based dyer who uses natural dyes on her luxury yarns, fibres and embroidery threads. Nice artistic colours.
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!
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!
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.
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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!