Angora is a special kind of fibre; much more exotic and ‘animal’ than wool, due to its unstoppable furriness! I love lace, graphic patterns, and the details of hand-knitted fabric, so it took some time for me to come around to knitting with angora, because the halo of angora lends itself to simpler projects focused on silhouette and colour.
A beautiful skein of Orkney Angora yarn changed my mind and inspired a new shawl design for my upcoming collection Handmade in the UK.
This feature is the fourth in a series of posts featuring the dyers and yarn companies who have contributed to Handmade in the UK. A full list of features can be found below.
Orkney Angora : business inspired by island lifestyle
Orkney Angora was founded in 1982 by William and Elizabeth Sichel. I spoke with William last week, and he told me the fascinating story of his business, which has evolved over the past 30 years.
William and Elizabeth moved from the south of England to Sanday in the early 80’s, each looking for a change of lifestyle. Elizabeth had bought an old croft with a ruin of a farm building. Kindred spirits, the couple met, married, and proceeded to figure out how to support themselves in their new far-flung home. William and Elizabeth were among many people who moved north at that time following Scottish Island Dream, a version of the ‘back to the land’ movement popularized in shows like ‘The Good Life‘.
As romantic as the island lifestyle may seem in concept, William describes the early years as quite difficult and lonely, as they lived in a caravan with no TV, no phone line, and no running water. The local shop was the main link to civilization and the centre of the community. While many of the would-be island dwellers soon left, Elizabeth and William remained. Over time they gradually rebuilt the property, moving into the farm building and refurbishing it into a beautiful home, one room at a time.
The business evolved over time as well, in step with their home and family. In the early years, they raised rabbits for meat, then moved into angora production. They did some hand-spinning in the 80’s, but over time developed a mail-order business selling hand-dyed yarn.
With the mail-order business established they were well positioned to move onto the internet, and Orkney Angora yarns are now carried by several shops in the UK and North America, and also sold directly via the website.
The yarns (blends of angora, wool, and cashmere) are spun to specifications in the UK and overseas, and hand-dyed in small batches on Sanday. Learn more about angora here.
Aurora in ‘scarlet’
Orkney Angora Aurora is an exquisite blend of 70% angora and 30% wool in a 4-ply weight. It gains the characteristic angora halo with washing and wearing, and is ultra-soft. While I sometimes find angora in garments to be a bit prickly, this angora is as soft as my kitten’s belly.
The yarn is dyed to a colourway called scarlet, but I find on the angora blend the result is more of a soft coral. Very lovely, and perfect for a floral-inspired lace design!
Botany is a semi-circular shawl pattern, with options to knit a smaller shawlette, or larger shawl. Because the yarn blooms beautifully, this piece is designed to be knit at a looser gauge than normal for a 4-ply lace pattern.
Handmade in the UK will be available as an ebook (including single pattern downloads) in late April 2012, and print copies will ship a month later. If you are itching to get started, the Lush cardigan is available now, as a sneaky pre-release! Be sure to sign up for our email updates and we will notify you when the book is ready.
Other yarns used in Handmade in the UK:
I am fortunate to have the support of several UK dyers and yarn producers on this project. In the process of writing the book, I am speaking with and blogging about each of these great businesses – click the links to learn more!
Patterns that would be beautiful in Orkney Angora Yarns: