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!
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:
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!
Fyberspates: This fabulous company is a great source for luxurious, soft and practically glowing yarns. The 45% Silk, 55% Merino ‘Scrumptious’ range is the star attraction but there’s plenty more besides.
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 for various indie designers as well as their own Knit By Numbers, a merino range with a massive colour palette.
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.
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.
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. They’ve since added Dovestone DK, another unique blend of rare sheep breeds.
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!
Black Bat: Black Bat are passionate about British Rare Breed Wool and sell fibres not just for yarns, but all sorts of other uses as well.
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 released her own line of yarn – supremely squishy Yorkshire-sourced wool in classic shades. It’s a fabulous line and one to keep an eye on.
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 yarn company that’s 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 gone from selling wool products to selling wool products and lots of proper certified British yarn. Nice!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 vintage reproduction 3-ply yarn, Heritage, 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!