Home » Blog » Archives for April 2019

Month: April 2019

sealy macwheely and friend standing in front of a colourful wall of yarn in a yarn shop

Meet the Yarn Shop Owner – Sealy MacWheely

Welcome to the second feature where I celebrate my lovely stockists. This time it’s the turn of Katie from Sealy MacWheely, whose exuberant approach to colour and texture I’ve admired for years.  I’m delighted she’s chosen to stock my hand-dyed yarns in her shop in Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow.

What made you want to open a yarn shop?

The full story of how I fell into spinning involves a bag of alpaca poo and a boring summer during my time at university. (Note from me – that’s a story I need to hear one day).  That being said, the yarn shop dream in its current form was envisioned only a couple of years ago as an epiphany whilst suffering from the flu. I envisioned a space which celebrates the beauty of handmade and local crafts and is welcoming to everybody with an interest in yarn and fibre, irrespective of proficiency.

It took a lot of hard work getting from that point to where I am now, juggling my own small business with a full-time job, but it was definitely the spark that lit the touch paper. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and looking around the shop today it almost doesn’t feel real!

How long have you been a knitter/spinner/crocheter/felter/all of the above?

Like many crafters, I was first taught to knit by my beloved Grandma as a child but I barely managed more than a basic garter stitch square before giving up my needles for a few years. At age 19 whilst at uni I discovered the drop spindle and never looked back. That was nearly ten years ago now and I have since added weaving and occasional felting to my repertoire. My return to knitting has been quite gradual over the last decade but it’s impossible to be surrounded by so much beautiful yarn on a daily basis without being inspired. Crochet, however, has been a very recent addition and so far I can manage granny squares but cannot for the life of me read a pattern!

What’s your favourite thing about your shop?  What do you think your customers like about it?

Hands down the thing I love most about my shop is the brightness and variety of the colours! It’s the first thing most of my customers comment on too so I imagine they share the same sentiment. I find it fascinating how each dyer has their own distinct style and colourways, each one is so different and unique!

How do you choose what yarns to stock?  It must be mind boggling!

Sealy MacWheely is a bit unusual for an LYS in that I exclusively stock hand dyed or local yarns. I am really proud of the fact that I met each of my makers in person prior to opening the shop, mainly at festivals, and would describe each of them as a friend. We are so lucky to have such an amazing community of indie dyers and craftspeople in the UK and really the only pre-requisite for being included in the shop is that they are all lovely (and talented) people.

What’s your yarn philosophy? What does yarn mean to you?

I am first and foremost a spinner, it is the fibre itself which drew me towards yarn and I am fascinated by the full process of producing a finished garment from a pile of smelly, greasy fluff. The sense of accomplishment you feel after making something from scratch is irreplaceable and although I no longer have the time to fully process a fleece on a regular basis I am now hooked on every element of yarn creation.

What would you like people to know about your shop?

Sealy MacWheely is more than just a shop, it is a community space that is welcome to all, irrespective of skill, experience, age, race, sexuality, religion or ability. Just say the word and I will have the kettle on and the biscuits out in the Knit’n’Natter room! The shop itself was partially funded through a successful Kickstarter Campaign and as such I think of it as being created by and for the Yarn-loving community!

 

A plum of industrial smoke rising above a dark orange sunset

A Viscose Story

One of the things I really love about working with fibres and textiles is the variety of wonderful materials I am able to get my hands on: wool, alpaca, silk, bamboo, milk, pearl, the list goes on.  Natural fibres fascinate me and I’ve always seen viscose and rayon as natural and biodegradable. They are plant-based and I thought they were more sustainable and have less impact on the environment than cotton or acrylic.

One of my customers commented on a post I put on Facebook recently. She’d recently read a book called Fake Silk that shocked her, and she wanted me to know about it.  I had to confess ignorance. I had done some research into the sustainability of the fibres that I use, such as bamboo and other cellulose-based materials.  My conclusions were that viscose had less environmental impact than cotton, and was generally more sustainable, coming from renewable sources.

After reading Fake Silk and investigating further, I realised I should have dug deeper.  I did not know quite how bad the pollution from viscose processing plans actually is in Southeast Asia, India and China, where 83% of viscose is produced, or the effect that this has on people working in and living near these factories.

Viscose production

Viscose and Rayon production uses a chemical called carbon disulfide, which is used to dissolve the wood pulp before the whole solution is extruded like spaghetti into sulphuric acid baths, creating the viscose threads. Viscose began its ascendence in the mid 19th Century. The effects of exposure to carbon disulfide fumes have been documented repeatedly since then.  The findings have been ignored or repressed by the viscose producing companies.

Carbon disulfide has been linked to heart disease, fertility problems, serious eye damage (keratitis), psychosis, increased risk of suicide or violent behaviour and more.   It’s seriously life-limiting, life-changing stuff. The safe level of carbon disulfide exposure is extremely low, requiring significant health and safety measures to be put in place. The requirements are so stringent, viscose production in the US and UK has ceased altogether.

Drinking water in communities around the factories is unsafe. The air that people breathe is harming them every single day because of our insatiable need for cheap fashion and household goods.  Anyone who watched Stacey Dooley’s expose on fast fashion will have seen the horrific impact that viscose factories are having on communities in Indonesia. There is simply no incentive for the clothing companies or the government to insist on the regulation of factory conditions while the money is pouring in.

If you are interested in learning more in detail, this fantastic and extremely well-written report from Changing Markets is a must-read. It’s a gut-wrenching wake-up call to the reality of the viscose industry.

My viscose supply chain

The company that supplies the viscose that I use has assured me that they are produced on a closed loop system. These systems feed the chemicals and water used in production back into the factory process. While this is reassuring, I haven’t seen any proof of this in terms of documentation or supply chain transparency. I’ve given this a lot of thought over several months. My conscience tells me I can’t continue to use these fibres until I have this certification in my hands.

How does this affect Cat & Sparrow UK?

As a result, I’ll be using only viscose fibres that I know are sustainably and responsibly produced – Tencel and Seacell. I’ll be phasing bamboo and other viscose fibres out of my blends.  For example, the Tyrion blend used to include black diamond bamboo, which has now been replaced with bronze-coloured peduncle silk. I’ve replaced the bamboo in my Merino/bamboo blend with Tencel.  Any blends that do include bamboo or pearl or other viscose will remain in the shop until they have sold out, and then I will either discontinue them or replace the viscose with something else.

There are so many responsibly produced natural fibres out there that really, this doesn’t limit my options.  It just means I can explore more natural fibres, which is really exciting. I hope you’ll continue on this journey of exploration with me!