Exploring the ancient art of yarn dyeing in Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 November 2020
Janine Sterland explores the ancient art of yarn dyeing and the role it continues to play across Derbyshire communities
‘As with most families, the older generations are instrumental in passing on their skills,’ explains Carrie Warr of Peak District Yarns, reminiscing over the journey of her unique yarn dyeing business.
Having learnt to knit with her Great Aunt Lillian as a child, Carrie reignited her interest in knitting during her thirties. ‘I started knitting socks, buying sock yarn and thought, I could do this better!’ she exclaims.
Fortunately at the time, through knowing a friend with some experience in this field, she began to learn different yarn dyeing techniques and over time became an accomplished self-taught expert with a unique set of skills, skills which eventually grew into a successful yarn dyeing studio and retail shop, based in Tideswell.
‘I did not want to be anywhere else’ Carrie explains, having found the perfect location for her business on the main entrance to the village near the historic St John The Baptist Church of which Tideswell is so famously associated.
Previously working in London, Carrie relocated to the peace and tranquillity of Derbyshire and has been living in the village for the past 16 years, seven of which have been spent dyeing the wonderful selection of colours which are seen today.
Meticulously written with inspiring descriptions, each ‘skein’ of wool forms a kaleidoscope of colour and texture, many of which take inspiration from the famous Derbyshire well dressings of surrounding villages and others, representing the beauty of our county’s countryside.
Using her natural surroundings as a constant source of inspiration, she creates interesting colour combinations; from charming wildflowers which delicately creep through drystone walls to the exquisitely jewelled tones of Castleton’s famed Blue John.
‘Heather is always inspiring me. I love the change in colour of the heather on the Derbyshire Moors. The work that I am most proud of relates to the environment around me’, she explains.
In addition to Derbyshire wool colourations, Carrie has also taken inspiration from specialities of other English counties; Henderson’s Relish – a Sheffield institution I understand, boldly adds a splash of distinctive orange and sits proudly amongst the selection of contrasting hues.
Accompanying the incredible array of wool colours, the yarn types vary from fine lace weights to 4-ply, double knit and heavier Aran-weight varieties which generate endless possibilities for potential creative projects. An aptly named ‘squishing corner’ allows customers to feel the full selection of yarns available in order to make an informed decision on the most appropriate type for their chosen designs.
Coinciding with Derbyshire colour inspiration, Carrie sources a selection of wool from the surrounding area. The memorably titled ‘Dahlia’s Curls’, spun from Ashbourne goats, produce lustrous mohair yarn and Derbyshire Gritstone sheep form a resilient wool with a loosely spun construction - recommended for designs worn during cooler Winter conditions.
Further afield included in the range, and originating from Peru, Merino wool farms produce high quality yarn of which these reputable businesses have exemplary working conditions and work closely with their local communities including sponsoring young girls through school.
‘It is so important to understand the provenance of the yarn that I am buying’ Carrie expresses as we move into the yarn dyeing studio neatly positioned at the back of the premises.
Surrounded by characterful cream washed Derbyshire bricked walls, I learn the basics in yarn dyeing and understand that the product development process can be somewhat challenging, with each colour blend taking several attempts depending on the complexity of technique involved.
A combination of well organised and precise processes mixed with experimentation produces a ‘recipe’ with measurements of individual dye colours of which after application, heat, rinsing and drying complete an enjoyable and unusual activity.
The end results can be surprising. ‘Dyes will not always behave as you want them to, says Carrie. ‘However, I challenge myself with colours that don’t usually go together’.
Carrie operates a series of workshops, including sock knitting and yarn dyeing, and hosts workshops with other local designers, which incorporate needle-felting and weaving. In addition to her others, the yarn dyeing classes have proved to be very popular over a number of years - personally, from my experience today, I believe this popularity is due to an exciting and unpredictable artform taught with passion and skill.
Finally, we discuss future potential sources of local inspiration.
‘I would love to visit the orchids at Cressbrook and the heather near Longshaw to see how the colour changes over course of a few weeks’ says Carrie. As I leave following a memorable morning at Peak District Yarns, Carrie’s sentiment resonates with my own artistic pursuits; ‘you learn by doing, experimenting, by making mistakes – even if something goes wrong you can create something beautiful out of it’.
Amongst the skills learnt from Great Aunt Lillian, this is valuable advice to pass onto the next generation of knitting enthusiasts.
Peak District Yarns is located at Commercial Road in Tideswell.