Saturday, 23 April 2016

A chat with Jane Burns - Lazy Sunday Socks

Hello Jane 

Many thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for BritYarn.  If you are sitting comfortably with a beverage to hand lets begin!

Could introduce yourself to BritYarn’s readers?  

I am Jane and I design knitting and occasionally crochet patterns whose magic lies in the simplicity.  Knitting time is precious and I help knitters make projects that have an easily achievable wow factor.  Until recently I worked full time designing for the UK knitting magazines, and now I have now started my self-publishing journey. 

What started your journey into designing knitting and crochet patterns?

Like many designers I had a ‘chance’ entry into the industry.  In 2009 I owned an online knitting shop  (specialising in sock yarns) and Let’s Knit Magazine approached me and asked if I designed sock knitting patterns.  I had designed a couple of patterns as yarn support for the yarn I stocked, so I jumped at the opportunity. 

What are your favourite woolly / fibre crafts?

I am a knitter, I would probably still be knitting night and day even if it were not my job.  A few years ago I taught myself to crochet as an alternative way to relax. Knitting had become my full time job, I thought crochet would help me unwind. But shortly after I was asked to design some crochet pieces…. 

You have just launched your new book ‘Lazy Sunday Knitted Socks’.  Could you tell us a little bit about it?

I wanted to design a collection of socks that were indulgent. Knitting time is precious and we rarely spend that time knitting projects to pamper ourselves. This is a collection of beautiful beaded socks to knit. The book teaches you how to apply beads using a crochet hook, which is by far my favourite method of applying beads to knitting.  . There is a range of patterns; whilst some of the designs look incredibly complex, if you can knit socks and follow a chart they really are quite simple.  For example, ‘No Room For Ravers’ may look a little daunting but in reality the chart has only an eight row repeat, coupled with some simple cables and eyelets you have some stunning socks, that are achievable for most sock knitters.  And if you are not a fan of reading charts, the book includes full written instructions for ‘No Room For Ravers’. 

Many people (including myself) may never have used beads in socks before…. can you share any hints or tips?

Find yourself a good video tutorial, there is one on my blog  seeing this technique demonstrated will leave you addicted to beading. Most people watch the technique and say, ‘that is so simple’.

All hooks and beads are not made equal, I highly recommend purchasing a Clover Soft Touch Steel tipped crochet hook, I have tried a lot of hooks and in my opinion these are the best.  Good quality beads such as Debbie Abrahams beads or Matsuno seed beads are also highly recommended. 

Is there one thing you couldn't live without when designing a pattern and why?

Stitchmastery!  Stitchmastery allows me to manipulate stitch patterns easily, it has saved me many hours of drawing charts on paper and rubbing them out! It also has a fantastic chart ‘checking’ facility that is a life saver.

It’s tea break time…. what is your favourite biscuit?

Oh Isla, I am a biscuit-o-holic, it is easier to tell you which biscuits I do not like…. Ginger Nuts! Ginger Nuts are pure evil, I think this may be a deep rooted psychological issue. I was the only red head in my primary school and it was harsh! I needed Catherine Tate and Tim Minchin when I was growing up, if I had heard the Tim Minchin song, ‘Only A Ginger can call another Ginger, Ginger’ life would have been so different.  

Are there any future plans / projects you can share with BritYarn?

Yes, throughout the year there will be more sock patterns, not all of them beaded. But even more exciting I am working on my second book.  I am sitting here resisting the urge to tell you all about it, but I must be strong…..

You can purchase Jane's book here.

Images used with kind permission from Jane Burns.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

British Wool Marketing Board - Part 3

Part 3 covers the tour of the Wool Grading Department at Bradford.  The same process happens across the BWMB eleven depots.

The sheets enter the depot, either from a sub depot or direct from a producer dropping off their packed sheets.  All the sheets are weighed as they enter the depot and are marked with the producers information.

Drop off area and Grading
The sheets are moved into position ready for the fleeces to be hand graded and sorted.  The fleeces are graded according to their type.  The grader takes around 5 - 6 seconds per fleece to access this is looking at among other things staple length, colour, breed and cleanliness.  That fleece is then placed in the appropriate blue tup (skep) depending on decision the grader makes.  The breed of the sheep is not always the main consideration when a grader sorts through the fleeces although breeds like Bluefaced Leicester are always sorted and kept together.

It is after this point that the fleeces are no longer farm specific (the weights and grades for each producer are recorded so that accurate payments can be made) but instead classified by their grade.  Every grade has a grade number which classifies it into one of the six categories (fine, medium, cross, lustre, hill and mountain) which are then broken down even further (hogs, ewes, breed, colour etc).  

Full Skeps (you can see the grade numbers above)

Once eight skeps of the same grade have been gathered they are then baled into large green bales using the machine below.  The machine compresses the fleeces and wraps them in plastic. 
Green bales
The green baler machine

The green bales are then placed in the warehouse area.  Once there are roughly 24 bales (around 8000kg) this can then go to auction as one lot.  Before the sale a core sample from each bale is taken which is scientifically analysed to provide additional information for potential buyers.  

Other things to note relating to grading and auctioning the wool

  • A producer has the option to drop off their sheets at a depot or one of the 14 sub depots.  If they choose not to do this then they are changed a fee depending on where the fleeces are collected from.
  • Here is a link to the different grades of fleece (scroll to the bottom of the page).
  • There are eighteen auctions a year.  They are all held at Bradford.
If you have any questions let me know! The next few blog posts will all be focused on answering the questions we had over in the BritYarn Ravelry group.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

British Wool Marketing Board - Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about a very informative presentation by Gareth Jones BWMB Producer Communications Manager.  In this second post about my visit to the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) I thought I would share some of the things I learnt during his talk.

I mentioned a few stats last time but another interesting and thought provoking one was in 2014 only 1.3% of the fibre produced globally was made from wool.  62.9% was synthetic, 29.1% was cotton with cellulosic, silk, flax and other animal fibres making up the other areas.  

When the board was established in 1950 there was 130,000 sheep farmers (producers) registered with the board.  The board was created to encourage farmers to keep sheep for wool after World War Two.  There was a price guarantee set by the government which dictated the price the farmers would receive for their fleeces.  

Currently there are approximately 45,000 sheep farmers registered with the board.  The demand for cheaper man made fibres certainly is a massive contributing factor to the decline in numbers of sheep farmers and the demand for wool globally has dropped in the last 15 years.  However, some of this decline in producers can be attributed to them not being registered with the board and instead using their fleeces for their own business ventures.   

An area which surprised me was just how much the BWMB try and help registered producers regardless of size of flock (58% producers produce less than 500kg fleece) or their location in the country.  

One thing we all need to remember is that sheep must be sheared for welfare reasons, and so those costs are part and parcel of keeping sheep.   The board provide an end to end service from providing the sheets (see part 1), collection of the fleeces from a farm (or a farmer can drop them off at a local depot), grading and auction.  

In theory 'all' the farmer has do once a sheep has been clipped is to ensure their fleeces are packed into the sheets ready for collection.  These sheets are huge and must be packed according to BWMB instructions.   Having seen them being manually moved on a recent BBC programme 'This Farming Life' and read how unpopular they are on social media I can understand why producers might not be happy.  Not just with the physicality of using them them but also in the time taken after a sheep has been sheared to correctly pack the fleece into the sheet.  However, I can now appreciate and better understand why the BWMB insist on them having seen the process in action (more in Part 3). 

The BWMB aims to achieve the best possible market price for British wool for the producers (don't forget the board is made up of farmers) and to make buying British wool as attractive prospect as possible to merchants.  It does this by assisting merchants with things like haulage services and storage.  

Also each and every green bale in an auction lot is scientifically tested to provide additional information to a buyer such yield, vegetable matter, micron count and colour.  This not only ensures quality control but also provides much needed information so a buyer can make an informed choice on auction day.   The services the BWMB provide make then unique.
A lorry being loaded with sold lots

Like I mentioned in part 1 British wool is such a tiny percentage of the global market. The BWMB are trying to go one step further and get British wool noticed on a global market by working together with producers.  For that they certainly get my respect and thanks.

Part three will all be about the grading side.