Meet the Maker: Suzi from Folkestone Harbour Yarn

Suzi from Folkstone Harbour Yarn

The scarf featured above is Suzi’s Folklore scarf – the pattern and kits are available from her Etsy store, Folkestone Harbour Yarn

This month we’re focusing on sustainability in the crafting community, and asking what we can do to become more eco-friendly. So, while commissioning issue 103’s cover project, we looked into ethical yarn and found the lovely Suzi, creator of sustainable yarn company Folkestone Harbour Yarn. She stocked up our designer Rosina Northcott with all the gorgeous yarn, which she turned it into issue 103’s beautiful cowl cover project (Suzi will be selling packs of the yarn you need to make the cowl over on her shop, so keep your eyes peeled!).

To learn more about the ethos behind Folkstone Harbour Yarn we sat down for a chat with Suzi to talk all things eco, natural and sheepy!

Hi Suzi! You kindly provided us with the yarn for issue 103’s cowl cover project, but what is it that makes your yarn sustainable?

Well, the first thing I’d say is that it’s sustainable because it’s wool! Pure wool fibres don’t pollute the water system with microfibres when washed because they’re biodegradable. Plus, the sheep can be let out to pasture with minimum input from the shepherd so they live healthy outdoor lives, and the wool can be shorn many times over with no harm to the animal. The fibres can be spun and dyed with minimum processing as it has been for centuries, meaning wool can be one of the most natural and environmentally friendly products on the market.
Mollie Makes issue 103 cowl cover project

Issue 103’s cowl cover project using Folkestone Harbour yarn

My natural dyes are all plant-based with one exception, cochineal, and I forage as much as I can from my local environment. I also ask local cafes for waste – my local Mexican is great for avocado skins and pips! Some of the more exotic colours such as logwood do come from abroad. I don’t like the air miles involved, but the colours are just too good to not use! So I try to check my suppliers source their products responsibly.
I’m lucky enough to live in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter so I have a really supportive landlord, and we’ve been discussing a spare plot of land that I can turn into a dye garden this year. When I can grow some of the basic colours such as weld yellow, madder red and woad blue within a hundred yards of my studio, my naturally dyed yarn will become even more sustainable.
Folkstone Harbour Yarn studio

Suzi’s yarn assistant feline named Herman.

What did you use to make the different yarn colours we used for the cowl? They’re so vibrant and bright!

The set for the cowl uses cochineal, indigo, madder and turmeric, but I have about 64 colours I can produce from different dye stuffs, and I’m always trying out new weeds and plants.
I pick up things while I’m out walking, like fallen branches covered in lichen, so it’s not uncommon for me to turn up at a friend’s house or cafe with twigs sticking out of my pockets. I think it used to embarrass some of them since I’d be scrabbling about on the floor for a piece of bark or dive into a patch of weeds – I do get some funny looks from passers by – but they’re used to it now!
Nowadays people bring me things; just this morning someone rang my doorbell with a load of twigs and some plumbers pipe offcuts for me. I use the pipes to make my own mordants from discarded metals such as copper or iron nails.
Regarding the vibrancy, it took a few years of experimenting and a lot of reading old texts to get the techniques right. There’s many factors including heat, time and water type in your area, and of course there’s always a slight quality variation when natural products are involved, so experience helps. I wouldn’t want to put anyone off from having a go themselves though. You can get some really strong colours at home using kitchen waste like onion skins on wool, with a few spoons of vinegar in the dye bath. And if anyone really wants to experience the magic of natural dyes I’d recommend an indigo dyeing kit (D. T. Crafts sell a good one). Watching the colour change from white-yellow to blue as you take the yarn out of the water makes my heart leap with delight every time.
Folkstone Harbour Yarn studio

Suzi’s workspace studio

How do you source your yarn, and what yarn would recommend for natural dyeing?

Personally, I prefer to dye pure wool, but plant fibres like linen or cotton can produce some amazing results too, especially with indigo.
My current favourite yarn base is from Romney sheep, a breed which originated just a few miles from Folkestone on the Romney Marshes. I actually grew up on a farm there with a Romney flock about 2,000 strong, so as well as being a local breed, they are quite close to my heart. Romneys produce one of the finest and softest fleeces of all the British breeds, so the yarn is lovely to knit with and very hard wearing too. And I like it that the fleece hasn’t travelled too far from the flock to the mill to the needles. I use other British sheep breeds, and some Australian Merino (non-mulesed, of course).
I have a variety of suppliers, and try to get it direct from mills or wholesalers if possible. If I’m in a pinch and need something fast, World of Wool have a huge range of yarns and I always know I’m going to receive a good quality product from them.
When I started out I’d dye anything I could get my hands on. I even unravelled and recycled moth-eaten sweaters, or bought cones of ‘unidentified’ fibres from charity shops just to practise on.
Folkstone Harbour Yarn Studio

Folkestone Harbour Yarn Studio

How did you discover your love of dyeing and sustainability?

I’ve always had a love of textiles and the environment. I think I was born with it really. And I really, really love the chemistry of dyeing, even though I never really enjoyed science at school. If I’d known then that beautiful things can be produced through simple biology and chemical reactions, instead of being taught what seemed like abstract concepts, I’d probably have paid a lot more attention!
As I grew up on a farm, I’ve always had an appreciation of nature and a sense of responsibility towards the countryside. Also, my mother had a dressmaking business in the 80s and encouraged me and my sister to make or repair our own clothes.
I studied Textile Art at Winchester School of Art in the late 90s, and I remember my tutors trying to get me interested in high tech Japanese fabrics and fibres. They were very technical and attractive, but they just didn’t make my heart sing the way natural fibres do. I pretty much rebelled and went the other way, producing a collection of Tudor-inspired Goldwork hand-embroidered onto leather for my final degree show.
mollie makes issue 103

Mollie Makes issue 103, get yours today!

Finally, what do you think us crafters can do in general to become more environmentally aware?

I have three basic words that I try to follow in all aspects of my life: fibres, water, repair.
We can all be more aware of the fibres we use in the things we make. Natural fibres such as wool, cotton, linen, silk and bamboo are biodegradable and don’t release polluting microfibres into the water system when washed. I have a bit of grumble every now and again about yarns made from other fibres being sold as ‘wool’, but I don’t want to be a downer, so I’ll just say that an item you put hours of hard work and love into deserves to be made from a good quality natural fibre.
Another way we can care for the environment and the clothes we make is by using an eco-friendly washing product, such as Ecover or Bio D, plus there are some great no-rinse wool washes that make your knits super soft whilst protecting the fibres and using less water.  I take my empty bottles back to my local Wholefoods shop and refill them with eco washing products. It saves money too, so it’s worth the effort!
Lastly, repair. I keep a tiny bit of spare yarn from everything I knit or crochet so I have a matching yarn to darn any holes with if need be. I also repair my clothes where possible, and use recycled or vintage materials in my makes as well. Finding a set of vintage buttons in a charity shop gives your garment a completely unique look, and gives the buttons a second lease of life too!
I also adjust things I buy in charity shops so they fit better. It might seem scary at first, but if you can sew a line you can take up a hem or take in a skirt waist. Many adult education centres or local fabric shops do short inexpensive sewing courses that would teach you the skills you need for this. The more you do it the easier it gets, and you’ll be saving money as well as having a wardrobe full of fab vintage finds. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, maybe do a skill swap with a friend that sews. I often repair things in exchange for someone else’s modelling skills or photography expertise, or simply for the promise of a good cup of coffee and homemade cake!
Let us know your sustainability tips over on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to pick up a copy of issue 103, or subscribe to Mollie, so you can crochet your own cowl and craft all the eco-friendly projects from our fab designer-makers.